Monday, December 19, 2016

April 2 to 8, 2004

April 2 the weather turned cold again, and rainy, and I couldn't shake a cold as soon as usual, so I lost touch with the final disappearance of the ice, save for that which drifted by the dock. Ottoleo got some photos of it.

It seemed thicker than usual and broke up in more massive blocks; less like glass palaces floating by and more like low fortresses. The rapid thaw left some interesting intricate patterns on the ice. Last night there was heavy, driving rain -- a northeaster, so I headed off on a land that was soaked, puddled and almost flowing. Rather thin worms were struggling atop the dirt road. But the first interesting sights were ducks out of water. Four wood ducks (I hope they were two pairs) flew out of a tall oak. One perched on a limb giving a good profile but flew off before I could get the camera out. I scowled at the wet turf of the small causeway and around the outlet creek from the New Pond and saw no otter signs. Up on the knoll above the New Pond there appeared to be a new bunching of leaves but I saw no scat. I didn't go up to the ponds because I haven't checked Audubon Pond in a while so I went there. I checked the docking rock first,

saw some digging in the bank and then some otter scats on the bank

and below it. I am pretty sure this is fresh, though it is hard to judge freshness on such a damp day. There were no scats on the rock itself. I would like to see the otters on this rock some day, to see exactly where they sniff and if it is indeed them doing the digging. I assume they come in the early morning. Marking here doesn't always correspond with activity in Audubon Pond. Along the big embankment I did see a scat right at the spot they scatted in the snow, so it might not have been new. Along the shore, where I knew the otters had been active under the ice, I saw the remains of several large fish.

At first I assumed the otters did it, but then I noticed that the wind was collecting a good number of large dead fish, 

almost a dozen, at the end of the pond. These were winter kill and I suppose it is possible that raccoons, minks, and gulls who have been active here, scavenged them out of the water.

However, I fingered some of the remains and they didn't strike me as long rotten.

So I credit the otters for the above but these meals might not have been that recent because I didn't see fresh scat. Of course, I was also curious if the beaver here survived the winter. I saw a pile of leaves and grass on a rock at the southwest corner of the pond, an area where the beaver liked to go, and then along the shore I saw a freshly girdled tree which looked like beaver work,

and it was an ash, and I read that porcupines don't touch ash. Then along the shore where there is a small old bank lodge there were more piles of grass and mud.

Then at the bank lodge by the bench there were more piles, and a gurgle of water. I sat and just when I saw one beaver head surface on the other side of the lodge, I heard another beaver smacking its tail repeatedly out in the pond. I lost the latter as it cruised toward the embankment. The other beaver balled up on the shore, munching what I could not see. When I walked around, it swam out

and banged its tail a few times. The size and manner of these beavers remind me of the ones I saw here in the fall -- or rather one was here in the fall, but I knew another was out in South Bay. Anyway I think it shows beavers can survive in a large pond without a cache pile, eating roots and the accumulation of grasses and old logs on the pond bottom. As I sat a seagull flew by and deftly snagged a shiner. Coming to the pond, a crow chased off a hawk, and going from the pond a heron flew over me. Otherwise, the robins were full of song and busy after the worms.

April 5 yesterday began with driving rain which soon turned to snow and then cold, with a pipe rattling northwest wind. At dawn it was 15 degrees, cloudy, but the wind had stopped. There was an inch or two of snow on the ground, so we headed off to do some tracking. Most of the way to and around South Bay we were following a fox's tracks. Then out on the bay, a large bird diverted us, large enough to set the ducks off and large enough so that crows perched nearby didn't chase it. We saw it perched on trees, and save for looking a bit brownish, we would say it was an eagle

Then we saw activity along the north shore of South Bay which, being out of the wind, had some thin ice on it. We could see tracks on the snow and holes in the ice, which had us thinking otter, but the tracks in the snow were definitely made by a mink

and after we saw some nibbled sticks and limbs,

we decided that a beaver had broken through the ice. I didn't see any beaver tracks on the shore. There was broken ice along the marsh where a beaver lived last fall. My guess is that one, if not both of the beavers, in Audubon Pond had moved down to South Bay. Only the mink had crossed the docking rock. On the way to the narrows, I noticed that the serviceberry trunk that had crossed the path was now down in the water below, completely stripped.

No fresh signs of beavers in the snow, nor any otter signs, even out on the low rock at the entrance to the Narrows. There were two geese in Audubon Pond, trying to cling to the north shore to keep out of the wind. There was a fringe of ice there and a few bubbles coming from the bank lodge by the bench, but no other signs of beavers. I decided I had to check some of the ponds and I headed up to the Lost Swamp, seeing and disturbing, mallards, wood ducks, and others quite black. I admired how well patched the Second Swamp Pond dam is

and tried to get out on it just to make sure an otter didn't pop up on it. More wood ducks on the Lost Swamp Pond, and I picked up mink tracks again. I saw some in the New Pond, but none above that, so I think I crossed from one mink's territory to another. Here again the pond is full. 

I expected the Big Pond to be lower, but it was quite full. Then I saw a scent mound on the dam with much tramping in the snow.

I suspect a beaver did it but I did see one otter like print. Then I saw another scent with mud and another. Plus what leaks there were along this section of the dam were patched. However, at the other end of the dam, where the big leaks are, the big leaks remain, but there, the scent mounds are even bigger. It looked like something had gone over the dam, leaving a trough but not quite like an otter's, and came back up. So I went down to the next dam and saw mud smeared on the dam and the ice broken in several places

with a slide on the ice,

but I am sure a beaver did this. I went further down stream and at the Middle Pond saw ice broken, but two huge gaps in the dam. So I thought a muskrat could be down here, then I saw a large recently used hole into the dam,

which gave me the notion that a beaver had come up from South Bay before the snow. Last year the beavers up on Nunn's land above the Big Pond tended the Big Pond dam and the next dam down. They never bothered with the Middle Pond, as far as I could tell. I am gratified to see a beaver here, surprised that a beaver was so active as the temperature plunged, and hope it does the major repairs that these dams need.

April 6 another cold morning but sunny, then it warmed up, and I planned to go out around dinner time to see if I could see the beaver working on the Big Pond. In the afternoon we took a brief trip to our land on the mainland, and as I walked down to the largest pond, I noticed that several holes had been made through the ice,

unlike what the beavers there would make. This is a relatively deep pond and I am familiar with where the beavers go -- along the shore. As I got close to the pond I saw something black along the shore, saw it slither and knew in an instant that it wasn't a beaver. Then I saw the tail of what I took to be a large male otter. It disappeared under the water than surfaced along the mud bank of the pond, dove again and after a minute, I heard ice break on the other side of the pond and it popped up there.

It dove, rolling its body into the water, popped up again, making another hole in the ice and I think got an inkling that I was there. It came up one more time, closer to me, but only put its head up, like a big turtle,

and ducked down, rather than role, back into the depths. I waited for twenty minutes and it didn't reappear. I walked around the pond and didn't see any scat. It must have just come in. In springs past pike have spawned here (stocked years ago.) Over the years otters have gotten at least two in the spring. This might be an annual ritual for this otter.

I headed across the golf course at about 4:30 pm, few deer to be seen, but a good number of geese, some exercised enough by me to do some honking. I heard a few comb frogs over in the swamp below the fifth hole. Once in the woods, I admired the old porcupine den in the tree with its wonderful talus slope of poop.

No sign of the porcupine. There are some nice vernal pools at the top of the second valley and a good number of comb frogs were busy there, as well as a small flock of robins, rather insistently working their way through the leaves. Down at the porcupine den above the rocks I took photos of the stripped oaks

and admired the poop on its rock porch, again, no sign of the critter. So down to the pond where, of course, there was no ice to cross, and what a contrast from last year when at this time the pond had been reduced to a stream. In the area that half stays open in the winter, fed by a weak spring, I saw a large school of minnows,

and periodically one would jump up out of the water, and in the water there was more than the usual friskiness. I usually don't see schools like this until the warmth of May, and no leaping out until the heat of July. I walked down to a comfortable pine and camped out with a view of the dam hoping to see a beaver get to work. But after an hour nothing happened. On my way to the dam I noticed that at one canal some ice was broken as a beaver would do it and there was a handsome scent mound on the shore.

I looked up the path into the bush but didn't see any work up there. At the dam, water still rushes through the leaks but I did see some fresh mud up on the dam. I saw a muskrat steaming toward the dam. I tried to get an angle to see it working along the dam, couldn't, but at my feet saw some fresh beaver nibblings, 

including a branch (can't pin that on muskrats.) I decided to go across the dam and over to the Lost Swamp Pond and then maybe see a beaver in the Big Pond on the way back. As I approached the Lost Swamp Pond, I heard what I thought were robins with their usual clucking as they foraged. Then I saw a somewhat frantic flotilla of ring necked ducks. When I got closer, I could hear that the clucking was coming from the ducks. After admiring this for some time -- a pair of mallards and some black ducks flew off but not the ring necks. I finally saw what I took to be a dozen males surrounding one smaller, browner and plainer female. There were at least two active groups and then some small groups

and single ducks who weren't in the hunt, as it were. Soon enough the beavers swam around this maelstrom of ducks -- all ignoring each other. Indeed one beaver started splashing me. From their size and the way they floated I decided there were three almost yearlings out in the pond. Then over on the bank I saw an adult sitting like we humans do,

with tail out, soon scratching itself. One of the little guys was next to her and came in for some scratching, and it groomed its mother right back.

At one point she gently rolled it over a bit. Her belly hung down in cascading folds and she appeared quite the queen of the world. Then the baby swam off, pulled itself out on a log in the pond and ate some greens. Another beaver swam over, came close, but not up to the other beavers. Meanwhile the third little beaver was out in the middle of the pond on a log and then a muskrat swam out from the burrows on the north shore. Pure contentment watching this, but as the sun sank, the temperature dropped into the 30s, and the wind was still blowing. So I crossed the Big Pond dam again, still no beaver. Going up the huge rounded rock cliff I saw the last of winter dripping away. 

Coming back I saw at least 32 deer on the golf course and two grazing porcupines. The deer fled; the porcupines stayed.

April 7 I didn't go to the land today, but Leslie did and saw the otter working the banks of the pond for fish, and then circling with a series of quick dives, either celebrating or riling the fish. I headed off a little after 5 to see what was happening in the ponds on the island. I headed for Thicket Pond first and on the way saw that an otter had scatted on the little causeway of the South Bay trail.

By my calculations otters should be after the spawning fish like bullheads in the bay. I also flushed a heron from that cove. I also noticed that the creek was not running as fast as before and wondered if that meant a beaver had patched the Big Pond dam. At the creek draining the second ponds, the flow was still rapid. I went on the knoll above the New Pond and saw no scat. I flushed about 8 wood ducks off the little pond. As I went over the ridge to the Thicket Pond, I noticed a porcupine on the ground but couldn't quite see what it was eating. Sneaking closer, I snapped a twig which got the porcupine trotting over to and then up a tree. I walked over to look up to it which inspired it to climb higher. Gods are like that.

The ice is gone from the Thicket Pond

and I still think the beavers are doing most of their dining at their winter restaurant, where they had come out under the ice during the winter.

It's hard to tell what they have just gnawed, but it looks like they have dug a bit of a channel so they can get to the work more easily.

As I climbed the trail that goes above the East Trail Pond, I could see right away that the dam has not been plugged. The upper pond, which in other springs the beavers seemed to especially enjoy, was quite low.

I continued on, watching the wood ducks and mallards fly off. Last year I almost always saw a beaver here, but none tonight. However, while the dam is not patched there are mud mounds on the shore

and drag marks on the ridge trail. I scanned the plateau above the pond and thought I could see some fresh work. I crossed the dam and saw again that all the wherewithal for patching is there.

The only thing I think of to explain this is that a lot of water flows through this pond and the beavers are just being patient. I should check the small third ponds above this. The beavers might be building dams there. I did see one otter scat on the dam which looked relatively fresh. As I got close to the Second Swamp Pond, I could see a beaver swimming up from the dam, but when I got to the lodge it wasn't there. I could hear the ring necks and a menage a trois came swimming over toward me, clucking quietly. Just when they were close enough for a good portrait, they flew off. There were several pairs around the pond. I recall that I saw them at this pond last year. Then a muskrat popped out from the lodge below me.

I noticed a commotion at the far end of the dam and the spy glass revealed a beaver sitting on the dam. I notice some old otter scat, from the winter, I think, on the knoll above the smaller bank lodge the otters had been using. Walking up the north shore, I saw some delicate, long white feathers

-- perhaps a heron's neck feather. Never seen them on the ground before. While water flows over it, a beaver has done some patching on the upper second swamp pond dam.

I had camera ready when I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond at the dam -- but nothing but a goose and four ducks swimming away were to be seen. After all the activity of yesterday to see nothing much was a bit of a surprise, but typical. As I walked away from the pond, a beaver did splash me from way back at the dam. I did see a scat on the north shore latrine which I think is new

so I think an otter made a tour of the ponds. At the Big Pond dam, I saw the beavers I was looking for yesterday, two of them. The first was along the north end of the dam and it swam back and forth in front of me,

pounding its tail several times. And in this case the commotion did alert another beaver that I was about. It seemed larger and simply swam far up pond, letting the little guy keep an eye on me. Eventually both beavers went up pond, suggesting they may be refugees from the colony on Nunn's land. They did patch the dam, cutting about three-fourths of the flow using sticks and mud, 

though it looked a little tentative. Going back home across the golf course, I counted at least 40 deer indicating, I guess, that the fall hunt didn't amount to much after all. I also saw one turkey, which is odd to find one alone, and one grazing porcupine.

April 8 The otter did not appear at the land today. We looked twice, at 10:30 and 1:30. I walked around the edge of the pond to find scat and was amazed to find none at the dam nor along the bank. I did find some fish remains, with eggs,

right along the inlet into the pond, but no scat there either. Then I crossed the inlet and a few yards up it, tucked behind some tall grasses

was a line of otter scat.

In this exposed pond, this is where the otter came to hide. It shows how much good eating an otter can get in two days. There is also a new leak in the dam, a hole dug just below water level.

But I'm not sure I can pin that on the otter, as the muskrat might have dug into the dam for some grasses. I was surprised that the beavers didn't come out, nor did I hear a hum or a bubble as I walked over their burrows. Last year, they left at about this time -- after an otter's visit.