Wednesday, December 21, 2016

April 15 to 22, 2004

April 15 we were gone for several days and missed cloudy and moist days. Sunny today, but all was soggy. I headed for the ponds after four. Robins remain the ubiquitous bird, but the flocks of starlings and red wing blackbirds make more racket. Going down to South Bay from the TI Park ridge, I saw a few deer race toward the swamps. As I approached the small causeway, I heard two splashes and soon saw the turtles who made them come back up to the surface of the water and poke a nose out. Some turtles also scrambled off the matted cattails in the cove. I assume they were painted turtles and since the temperature was about 50 with a brisk wind, I was surprised to see them out. There were no otter scats on or near the causeway, but there was a neat pile of dead grass fashioned in an otterly manner. There was a good flow of water under the causeway, but a rush down the creek from the New Pond. No bullheads running up it yet. I went up to the knoll and found many signs that otters had been there, principally a nice pile of scat on the path,

but three or four days old.

There appeared to have been some digging or at least rolling in the bare dirt beneath the tree,

and the pile of moss had been moved and nearby was a small scent mound with a squirt of scat on it. As I came up several ducks flew off, but I noticed some more ripples. Soon enough a muskrat swam down toward the dam and briefly went up on the bank. I waited from my vantage on the knoll hoping it would swim down toward me. But it was content to nibble something in the shadow of the dam. When I moved closer, it dove and disappeared. I crossed the dam which being very squishy, leaks liberally. The dam seems to be all grass and sticks with no mud giving it any heft. I went atop the porcupine hotel but didn't see any signs of otters when I looked down into the rocks. I stood on top and studied the depleted ponds below me

when what should appear but another muskrat, that looked larger than the other. It swam to one of the grassy islands in the small pool and seemed to mark more than forage. As soon as I moved to get closer, it disappeared. I crossed Beaver Point Pond dam which is still quite firm save where the water flows through it. The dam is quite dug out here as if some animal took a dry route into the old lodge beavers had built into the dam.

No signs of otters. I walked up to Otter Hole Pond and contemplated it for several minutes. No muskrat appeared. I took the ridge route over to the East Trail Pond and well away from the pond, up on the plateau, the beavers had cut several trees, segmented at least one and were in the process of segmenting another.

Despite this activity, the beavers have still not patched the dam. Indeed when I crossed it, I didn't see any mud pushed up on it at all, though it is possible that they had jammed down sticks into some of the holes in the dam, but two major leaks, at least, remained. When I reached the other side of the dam, a small beaver swam out from the bank lodge, soon surfaced, and soon began banging its tail. It swam back and forth in the gleaming reflection of the sun and I wasted time trying to get a dramatic photo.

As for why the dam is not patched, perhaps the beavers ( I assume there are still at least two more around) are content with harvesting the trees on the ridge and once they tire of that they will think of the grasses up pond and build up the dam to re-flood the pond so they can get to them. There is a pool of water below the dam which almost looks like it is dammed, but not quite and they could certainly do a better job. Not many ducks here as usual, only a few geese. The wind was coming from the east so I went to the Second Swamp Pond dam, parking myself up on the rocks on the north side of the dam, which afforded a good seat for a concert from the peepers below me. Most were in bell like unison but two kept trilling providing a more intimate melody and rhythm. I even had to try to record it. A heron flew right over me and when it saw me twisted its neck, as if wincing, and flew away. The ring necked ducks remain in the pond, most paired up and quite sedate. There were also several swallows catching the season's first wave of insects. Just after I turned off the camcorder, I saw a beaver swim into the lodge, evidently crossing over from the other side. I waited for it to reappear but after 15 minutes decided to move on. I crossed below the dam and noticed that the beavers are letting a good flow of water go into the pool where they had done so much cutting in the fall. They have mudded up other leaks and the dam at the major spillways is quite well done and even firm to my feet. I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond at the west end, but no beavers were out and I flushed but one duck. I checked the north shore for otter scats and while it had the look of something having been through, I didn't see any fresh scats. And there were no signs of otters all the way up to the dam. I did scare a small muskrat just outside the burrows. It snap splashed but soon surfaced. Just as I was about to leave the dam, a beaver came out of the lodge and I expected to be splashed right away, but the little thing swam right up in front of me

and started nibbling on a twig. It seemed to have its eyes closed, and before it nibbled the stick, it smelled it.

When it sensed me, it snapped into the water with a splash, just like the muskrat, but with much more power. It soon surfaced and swam back and forth trying to get an angle on my stench, but that didn't provoke any tail pounding. There was a large stripped log at the dam, but I couldn't see any downed trees nearby. I headed for the Big Pond, looking back, but the beaver didn't follow me down pond. Just beyond the large oak that marks my path, I saw some fresh tree work by the Big Pond beavers along the fringe of the meadow and as I approached the pond, a beaver splashed its tail. I think these beavers plan to live here. The beaver kept splashing me and as I walked along the dam, a muskrat dove off it into the water. There was a goose curled up on the lodge, and a lone male wood duck nearby. Then another duck flew in.

On the other side of the pond, I saw one bufflehead diving into the pond. The pond is brimming but the dam still leaks a good bit. None of the masterful repairs and water management as exhibited at the Second Swamp Pond. Being almost at the top of its watershed, the Lost Swamp Pond doesn't have a problem with flooding, and hardly has any leak at all. I didn't notice any new bird arrivals, though I probably flushed twice the usual number of sparrows as I walked along the dams.

April 17 warmed up and then showers hit late morning, ending around 2 pm. I headed off to the ponds at 4 pm with the mist and drizzle winning out over some slight clearing to the north. As I got my boots on I saw an osprey with a stick in its beak fly over the yard and out to its nest on the buoy. Once again I saw several deer on the other side of the TI Park ridge. Down at the causeway there were no turtles, some tufted grass but no scats. As I had my nose down on the trail, a grouse flew away from the nearby bushes. I saw no otter signs at the creek coming down from the New Pond -- a heron flew off from the shores of South Bay. Up on knoll above the New Pond, I saw otter scats all around 

just above the pond.

I plan to start getting up at dawn, and this knoll will be the first place I stake out. For now I had to content myself with a muskrat swimming below me, marking one log

and then going into the grasses toward the old beaver lodge. I continued up the South Bay trail and saw a muskrat swim into the marsh. Just a few ducks on the Bay. There was one startling piece of fresh beaver work, a girdled tree along the shore.

But I didn't see any piles of nibbled sticks. I checked some areas of compressed grass but found no indication of which critters -- beaver, muskrat, otter or goose -- might have been sitting there. Just above the docking rock I saw piled grass and a frog's head with a bit of mangled body attached.

No otter scats near there but down on the rock I saw a relatively fresh scat half washed away by the rain. I went up to Audubon Pond and was amazed at how full it is. The beaver patched the drain and it is almost flooded over with a beaver stripped stick lying across it.

Of course, I checked for scat and saw none. I did see a lot of mud on the banks, in some places in a line.

A little beyond that I saw a muskrat nosing along the shore. I hoped to see it marking with mud or eating a clam, but it soon sensed me, dove and swam away. The mud marks are so extensive, I assume a beaver did it. I continued around the pond admiring the beaver's fresh work on a large oak and root it had girdled in the fall.

It felled a small tree that had been half cut in the fall, did some more girdling and even took a bite out of the base a shag-bark hickory.

I blamed the demise of the previous colony on its disinclination to eat a bit of this tree which surrounds the pond. There were marks all along the shore including on top of two side by side ant mounds.

As I walked above the burrows on this western shore, something swam out, and soon enough I saw a beaver swimming out of the marsh on the north shore. It promptly splashed me several times. As I continued around to the bench, it swam well out into the pond and acted like a floating log with its nose facing me. After ten minutes it slowly swam over to the embankment to the south, went ashore briefly and then swam over to the burrows on the west shore, but didn't swim right in. It may den there but I think I flushed a muskrat and that the beaver lives in the refurbished bank lodge in front of the bench. The beaver seems to have fished out more old branches to build it up and patch it with mud and grasses.

I find it strange that it favors this lodge when there are so many burrows along the shore to live in. The greater activity of this beaver suggests that it isn't the tentative beaver that was here in the fall. However, it manages the bank lodge in much the same way the beaver did in the fall. The lodge in the pond was almost flooded over but a goose could get some use out of it, evidently preparing to nest there.

I headed up to the other ponds and was surprised to see the Meander Pond dam well tended.

I didn't see any sign of beaver nibbling until I passed the end of a canal at the upper south end of the pond -- a tree root had been freshly gnawed.

While I sat on the bench at Audubon Pond, I heard chorus frogs -- comb frogs -- in the vernal pools to the west of the pond. Thicket Pond was thick with scraping combs, as well as a few peepers and one leopard frog singing. A beaver also made an appearance and splashed a few times, demonstrating that frogs were not in the least intimidated by that noise. But these frogs were almost oblivious to me as I continued my walk around the pond admiring the freshly stripped logs glowing in the gloaming.

The East Trail Pond dam is still not patched and I didn't wait around to see the lazy beaver. There still appeared to be some fresh marking beside the dam. With it getting late I hurried to the Lost Swamp Pond for a chance to see the little, possibly blind beaver, but all I did was flush some mallards and wood ducks. I cast a glance down at the Second Swamp Pond and saw that the ring necks were still down there. Walking passed the digging in the rolling area, I wondered if the deeper and busier work this year arises because the beaver doing it doesn't see well. At the Big Pond I saw two pairs of buffleheads, and more fresh beaver work.

Then as I approached the spillway of the dam I saw a beaver on the dam. So I fished my camcorder out, missed a wood duck taking off and a heron flying over and waited for the beaver to do some patching, but it just swam down into the small pond below. The dam has more mud pushed up and freshly stripped sticks pushed over it, as beavers are supposed to do,

but the dam still leaks liberally. It must be very difficult to patch a dam when it keeps raining. This was too drizzly a night to loiter but I saw three muskrats and three beavers and heard a million choice notes from the frogs.

April 20 a headed off at 4 pm on a cool and sunny day with a light east wind and high clouds coming in from the west. Although I am anxious to get out in the boat and check otter sites in Eel Bay, I also want to see more of the beavers in the interior ponds while they are still spry in the early spring. Once again painted turtles scrambled off the matted dead grasses as I came along the South Bay trail, and I found a neat otter scent mound, though a bit old.

Coming to the north South Bay cove I flushed a heron. No signs of otters by the creek but I did have a thought as I watched the flowing water. Otters also benefit from breached beaver dams because it allows fish to swim and spawn up stream. There is more scat up on the New Pond knoll, though nothing piping fresh. Once again I saw a muskrat in the New Pond, so I sat down to see what it might be up to and my patience was rewarded by my seeing another muskrat. They both foraged independently and I suppose as a testament to how cold the pond water is, they almost always took their nibblings up on the log.

One of them turned a tiny twig in its hands, taking a few minutes to relish a glorified toothpick. Muskrats teach the joy of very small, rapid bites. As I watched the rats I heard something that sounded like a snapping turtle over in the creek bed and soon one emerged making its slow way up to the dam.

When I went over to take a photograph, it stayed still

displaying beautiful yellow browns and rich greens, so rich I think because the flowing stream washed off all the mud, and powerful paws.

In the grasses nearby hepatica were poking through.

Going up to the New Pond knoll I found some Dutchman's britches.

Only a few ducks on Beaver Point and Otter Hole ponds. I sat on the rock overlooking the Second Swamp Pond from its southwest corner, positioned perfectly, I thought, to see a beaver mark the dam in its usual spot, but evidently I was too early for beavers, or they had all gone up pond. I have a theory that they tend to forage into the wind which would have taken them away from me. The wood ducks fled when I came up to the pond. Several pairs of buffleheads remained and then a pair came in that I thought were wood ducks when the male reared up, flapped its wings and clapped. I got the spyglass out and saw that it was not a wood duck, but, and I had to look this up, a blue winged teal. As I walked up the pond, I thought I saw a muskrat, but couldn't see it again. Up at the Lost Swamp Pond I sat at the west end of the pond, right on some fresh beaver work -- a small maple with its branches just trimmed and some bites out of the bark.

When I came in I thought I saw a beaver, but it must have been ducks in tandem. Finally I saw a muskrat cross the pond; then one beaver going very slowly cross pond and not towards me, but when I walked up I couldn't see it. Then I saw wakes near the lodge by the dam but one at least proved to be a muskrat. Otherwise a heron flew in and perched high on a tree -- always a diverting sight,

and swallows came through briefly. Approaching the Big Pond dam, I saw what appeared to be a muskrat going into the far cattails, and then one swimming right toward me until it veered back up on the dam. Then a beaver swam up to the dam and almost immediately got on my case, pounding its tail and weaving back and forth with its nose cocked way out of the pond. Of course it tended to come closer, then it backed off and another, smaller beaver, swam out from where the lodge is, and briefly joined in the criss-crossing getting fairly close to the other beaver who I thought started making an insistent humming grunt, which I took as a sound of warning, and briefly the little beaver followed it toward the lodge and another beaver came out from the lodge and then turned up pond with the grunting beaver. But the little beaver didn't join them. It went to a nibbling station on the shore of the pond, and when I moved it swam out and swam right up to me trying to get my measure. When I moved again, it too started splashing but it kept following me all the way to the other end of the dam. That dam by the way has many dollops of mud,

is filled to the brim, but still leaking a good bit.

I stood under the dam and tried to get a classic photo of the beaver swimming back and forth behind it.

Once again I got a confusing lesson on beaver communications, once again seeing a young beaver with an independent streak as the old beaver swam to the very far end of the pond. On the golf course I saw a deer and a turkey grazing almost next to each other.

April 22 headed off in boat a little before 5 to check on what's happening at Audubon Pond. Cool evening, even colder in the boat but it was good to be back on the river. As of two days ago the water temperature was 38 and I've already collected the bodies of some midges, I assume, who were out briefly and died. They also attracted swallows. I assume the insects came out of the water because floating next to the bodies seemed to be larva cases. Out on the river this evening I saw, other than the usual geese, a few pairs of buffleheads. The water level is high enough and going up so I had no trouble docking. There were no fresh otter scats on the docking rock -- we had a rain shower last night, but up on the land there was new scat, though nothing looking very fresh. Audubon Pond remains full and as I walked along the embankment a deer ran off it and a muskrat swam into it. The drain leaks at the top even though it looks like the beaver has continued to pile on mud.

Up on the embankment I found some fish bones, picked clean.

I always attribute such neat work to raccoons who have light fingered paws so much like our hands. Walking around the west shore I didn't see much beaver work, perhaps some biting deeper into the wood of the the large girdled oak. No more work on shag-bark hickories but there were more old logs and some mud piled on top of the small bank lodge on that shore.

So I suspect the beaver is living there and the muskrats live in the embankment. On my way to the bench I saw a painted turtle on a log in the pond that didn't scurry off too quickly.

On the path I found a broken goose egg, and the geese were no longer on or protecting the lodge where they had their nest. I sat on the bench briefly and there seemed to be nothing added to the bank lodge there. I moved on expecting to come back that way to get back to my boat. Crossing the long causeway a pair of geese were slow to move off and quiet when they did so. There was another busted egg on the causeway. Their ordeal of procreation over early either these geese were relaxing or they were depressed. I walked along the South Bay trail at the cove I saw a male mallard and a pair of blue winged teals -- the latter much smaller than the former. Up on the knoll I found more new otter scat -- but nothing too fresh. A heron flew off when I came in, and no muskrats were about. I went to the East Trail Pond on the trail and I noticed fresh beaver work on the plateau above the pond, which I could get in the same picture with some bleached deer bones on the ground.

A pointless commentary on herbivores I suppose. Then when I could see down to the pond, I saw the beaver leaning on the maple it had felled across the mossy rock last fall.

I tried to get closer and it moved into the water, splashed me once and swam around in circles. Then two loud geese flew in honking at me but swimming closer to the beaver. When the beaver turned toward them, they moved off and the beaver dove and disappeared. The dam remains unpatched, which remains difficult to account for since the beaver is capable enough to cut some good size trees. I waited a bit to see if there were other beavers, as I suspect, but none surfaced. I found some fresh otter scat on the trail down the ridge.

So some otter has not completely forgotten the interior ponds. I know mother otters raise their pups in this pond and it stands to reason that one might give birth to them here. As I went up to the west end of the pond, which remains shallow, I saw a muskrat swimming about. The bank lodge there that I think otters have used is almost high and dry, There is a pathway of mud not water to it. When I got to Thicket Pond, I also saw a head swimming into the thickets. It could have been a muskrat. The comb frogs were singing, accompanied by a couple leopard frogs. These clicks and snores make a good combination. As I waited for a beaver to appear, I noticed that they had built up the dam that had made a small pool in front of the pond. The water flooded back, half over the original dam.

So ponds grow. I saw fresh work, but no beavers. I went to where I had seen some beaver nibbles at the end of a canal of Meander Pond, but there was no new work there. There were pathways through the pond grasses, but muskrats probably made them. At this pond the peepers were in loud chorus. In a smaller venue at our land we heard some undertones of the peepers' song, sort of like shuffling dice, and asking about that, Fred on the Nature List suggested that it came from the peepers' vocal sacs shutting. Listening to this chorus I thought I heard the same undertone which before I would have factored out as bird chatter. I continued on to Audubon Pond and approached the two geese at the same spot on the causeway. However this time I noticed that the beaver had done some work on the other side of the causeway. I saw a long stripped log and a pine had been felled on the other bank of the pond above Audubon Pond. I also saw a beaver swimming along the embankment heading for the fallen pine. It swam under the causeway through the conduit pipes and then gnawed on a log,

reached up for pine needles and sampled some grasses in reach. Then it went into the water, swam toward me and came out on the causeway where the grass was greener. I moved closer and the geese quietly moved back into the pond -- no alarm at all to alert the beaver. At first I thought the beaver had some patchy fur but when I got a closer look, it appeared healthy, thought for some reason a beaver eating grass

never quite seems to be doing what it is cut out to do.

Of course when I got too close, it swam off and started pounding its tail, swam under the causeway back to Audubon Pond and pounded some more, and thus seemed healthy in that respect. This is a small beaver but judging from its patching the drain, repairing the lodges and cutting trees, it is quite capable. While snapping away at the beaver, an osprey flew over. Red wing blackbirds were also foraging along the pond shores, and back at Thicket Pond I saw a towhee rooting through some leaves.