Wednesday, December 28, 2016

April 24 to 30, 2004

April 24 headed off at 5pm on a sunny evening that was getting quite chilly especially when I was exposed to the brisk north wind. I crossed the golf course where there was nary a deer nor goose and went up to check the old haunts of the porcupine. No sign of it, and I noticed that the small pine trees it girdled still look healthy with all their needles a rich green. There were a few chorus frogs, comb frogs, we call them, scratching away in the vernal pool up there. I went down the first valley and then veered into the willow thickets hoping to come down on the pond just behind the dam. I flushed a snipe out of the thicket, checked to see if it had been on a nest, but saw nothing. The pond was brilliant gold and blue, brimming the dam, and raked by the wind. The goose over on the beaver lodge was neck and head down, motionless, and the guard goose had disappeared. Seeing no beaver, I went down to my perch to wait for them. I soon notice a huge brown lump on top of the beaver lodge along the north shore far up pond. The lump crawled over the lodge but when I trained my spy glass on the area, all I saw were some deer back in the woods. Then as I scanned the water, I saw two beavers, one swimming up pond and the other heading back to the lodge. I waited to see if any of them would head down to the dam, and about fifteen minutes later, one came down toward the nearer lodge and then went back into the marsh along that shore. Two handsome male wood ducks splashed down and headed into the same warmer area. I waited another ten minutes and then began to cross the dam. Just as I got even with the lodge, the beaver reappeared and began diving just off the lodge seemingly dredging up old sticks from the cache.

It was under water for about 30 seconds with each dive and seemed to just go up and down, so it must have been rooting around down there. Then it swam back toward the marsh, so I moved on to the Lost Swamp Pond. Just as I passed the trusty old oak where I first step up on the rocks of the gentle ridge, I noticed that a beaver had half chopped a poplar further up in the woods, a good fifty yards from the pond.

Given the wind direction, I should have stayed on the south shore of the pond, but I would freeze. So I went up to the dam and huddled behind the rocks which only got me half out of the wind, and the sun was at my back. The first critters to appreciate was a pair of ring neck ducks, and with the sunlight on them, they were quite handsome ducks. The white V and ring on their beaks were so fetching that it seemed strange they were named after their neck. There was a goose draped over the lodge out in the pond and the guard goose was cheating the wind by hiding behind the peninsula. Geese were quiet everywhere this cool evening. Then a muskrat swam out of the lodge near the dam and swam in a circular fashion almost to the lodge in the pond but dove, came up with some vegetable matter and took that back to the lodge. A heron flew in and quietly avoided me. Then I heard a "quock" and looked up and saw a green heron perched high on a tree. I heard some beaver humming from the lodge near the dam and then one beaver appeared, well out from the lodge, but swimming right toward me. I was looking for closed eyes, a possible blind beaver, and as best as I could see both of its eyes were open, though it shut its right eye now and then. It swam close to me and then headed to my right, away from the lodge and left me with a rather sharp smack of the tail, making me doubt that this was a baby beaver after all. While it was out I heard more humming in the lodge, and after an interlude with a muskrat swimming back out in front of the lodge, a beaver reappeared again which I thought looked like a different one. It too swam for me,

showed me both eyes, and then swam back toward the lodge without splashing me

and I saw it swimming down to the other end of the pond. Meanwhile I was getting cold, so I left. I was hoping to see a beaver at the end of the pond to the right of me, confirming that I saw two, but I didn't. I still think I saw two, and both of them definitely were not blind. There are a half dozen dead trees out in that area of the pond they were in and they weaved through them all. The last blind beaver I saw frequently bumped into trees, much as if they were what it used to navigate the pond by. As I walked along the north slope, as I call it, going toward the dam, I saw gathered grass and strained to see scat. Then I walked up the trail in the grass the otters have used for years. On top of the ridge I found a freshly cleared patch of dirt

and a little ways beyond some fleck of still black otter scat. Going down the ridge to the Second Swamp Pond the trail looked even more used, with more dirt dug out,

and then just above the pond, there was a generous bit of otter scat -- hardened but still black.

I have suspected before that otters have used this upper end of the Second Swamp Pond as a natal den.

But why would a mother be scraping dirt and calling attention to herself? More likely it is the bull otter marking its territory that loops up from South Bay through these ponds. I kept an eye out for beavers in the Second Swamp Pond but just saw ducks. It was too cold to terry. I went home that way in hopes that a beaver had patched Otter Hole Pond, but it remains severely low. I walked out to the gap in the dam and the water was still running through. This is an analogous situation to the Big Pond valley, where beavers came down to patch the Big Pond dam even though they didn't live there, but lived well upstream. The beavers in this valley seem to simply have no interest in patching this or Beaver Point Pond dam. Two years ago I counted eight beavers in the Lost Swamp Pond, and five beavers in the East Trail Pond. There is no lack of beavers. Is there a dispute between the two colonies over who controls these lower ponds? I should add that I saw a good number of deer as I walked between the ponds. Are they in the woods to keep out of the wind, or are there good things coming up to eat?

April 26 a little after noon yesterday we had cold rain, in low 40s. Then it warmed up and by the time I headed for Audubon Pond, at 2 pm today, the sun was out, 50, with a stiff west wind. After these changes in weather I'm curious to see if otters are inspired to remark their territory. So the New Pond knoll, after I saw no scat on the South Bay trail, was my first stop. First I saw tufted grass and then fresh scat here and there along the trail and at least two dollops near the tree. When I saw carrion beetles in the scat, I couldn't resist a close-up. I think there are two beetles working the bounty.

It's hard to think just one otter is doing this. I went down to the dam and took some photos to show how the knoll was oriented to the pond and South Bay beyond.

I flushed a pair of wood ducks and one mallard when I came in. No sign of the muskrats. I did hear and then see an osprey over head. On my way up the South Bay trail, I saw a porcupine high up an elm.

and I saw a kingfisher for the first time this year. There was also new scat, some of it looking fresh, on a downed tree trunk above the docking rock,

but nothing down on the rock. So otters have been here too. On my way up to Audubon Pond, I thought I saw some muss on the trail. Of course, I thought an otter might have gone up, but at the peak of the trail I saw fresh beaver gnawing on a root.

So that got me to thinking that a beaver might have come out of the pond, especially since no fresh beaver work jumped out at me. (I did see a heron fly off.) The cut pine seemed untouched, and nothing more had been done with the old thinner trunk on the ground that I saw the beaver gnawing. Walking along the causeway, I did see a bit of mud in the water perhaps coming out of a burrow in the bank, but a muskrat could have done that. I went to the bench to sit awhile and there seemed to be no fresh beaver activity there. Finally, I checked the bank lodge and burrow on the west shore of the pond, and here I thought there might be freshly gnawed logs added on top.

And looking at the photo from the 22nd I see there has been. As I stood there some small bubbles came out, and then small bubbles went back in -- muskrat I thought, and then a line of larger bubbles came up from muddied water heading out to the middle of the pond.

I sat down to see if a beaver would emerge, and in a few minutes a beaver did, just off the east shore of the pond a good 70 yards away. It swam back and forth, and then splashed its tail. There has never been a beaver in this pond so careful to give me such a wide berth. I headed up to the Narrows curious to see if otters had marked there and also to see if a beaver was taking trees there, as one had in the late fall. I didn't see signs of either critter. There were two osprey in the nest atop the power pole across the Narrows.

From the trail along the shore, I went down to the large rock where I saw otter scat in the winter. There was scat there, some of it fresh, but I think it was raccoon scat. I don't think an otter could have scatted there without mussing up some of the leaves. Raccoons don't seem to do that. Then I headed home on the South Bay trail and made it interesting by trying to photograph the spring beauties.

I also saw what appeared to be small snake skeleton curled up on the trail. And then I noticed some major beaver gnawing on one of the large stumpy willows hanging out over the river.

April 28 cold night, and brisk chilly day, but sunny. I headed for the Big Pond a little after 5 pm and aimed to take the second valley down and sit across from the lodge where I saw the beavers the other day, to see if they have moved in. I made my way first through the tangle of dead trees, limbs, exposed roots, etc, then I mushed through the soggy "level" areas -- oh for the clarifying snow and cold. I looked into the porcupine den down there and saw enough fresh poop to make me think that my old friend at least stops by there now and then. I sat under a pine tree and waited in vain for a beaver to appear. There was even only one mallard, and then a noisy gull flew over. The water around the old and small lodge on the south side of the pond was muddy, but it looks more like a result of muskrat browsing, or geese or ducks. 

As I walked down to the dam, I checked the canals and could see where the beavers had been out and nibbling, but there was no fresh marking or work. The dam had been patched recently, but I didn't see any fresh gnawing there either. So often after waiting in vain, just as I get to end of the dam, a beaver appears and steams toward me, as if to say "gotchya!" But not tonight. I did see two voles scoot through the grass avoiding my heavy tread along the dam. The goose was gone from the lodge too. Nor did I see any fresh tree cutting up in the woods. So I couldn't come to any conclusion. That they show fewer signs of activity, may actually indicate that they have moved in and don't have to range around earlier in their day and are content to bring up goodies from the bottom, the results of which I can't usually see. At the Lost Swamp, I missed the two ducks that first flew off. I paused before some old beaver work. Why didn't they take the last bite and cut the log? 

Then as I was snooping up the north slope latrine for otter scat, I saw a heron on a far tree, then another heron fly in. The first left and the second landed on another tree. Of course, when I moved, it flew off.

All this was done silently. There were no fresh otter scats. I did bump into a deer carcass on the little ridge above the end of the Second Swamp Pond

which explains why I saw eagles soaring over this area during the winter. No beaver appeared in this pond either. A goose is still draped over the small lodge out in the pond. This is the same lodge I saw a mink duck into just before the goose pair claimed it. I knowingly observed that this would be an unhappy pair, but as of yet the predator has done nothing. These geese have lasted longer than all the other pairs I saw in the spring. I decided to check the East Trail Pond and on the way, admired the upper Second Swamp Pond dam

which has been well tended and, I think, even raised an inch or two. One gap away from where the creek flows through the dam was well packed with clumps of mud and grass. The beavers also threw in an old log,

and a recently stripped log where the creek flows.

But again no beavers. I did see a pair of blue winged teals fly out making their charming whimper in flight. Though it was getting late, I took the trail up to the rarely visited third ponds, on the chance that the beavers have been busy refurbishing that series of small dams, and thus not patching the big dam at the East Trail Pond. But as far as I could see through the chaos of old downed trees, all the ponds were in the same untended state. Down toward the East Trail Pond, I saw some trees cut in the late fall, but nothing that looked fresh. Once again the geese on the East Trail Pond greeted me with honking. And once again there was no sign that beavers had done anything on the dam. I checked the ridge trail for otter scat, and saw none. Then it didn't look like the beavers had taken any more trees from the plateau, but I may be wrong about that. Finally saw some deer on the way home. It's strange that I didn't see any beavers or muskrats, perhaps the cold night got to them. Or I just went out a bit too early in the evening.

April 30 hot day, mid-70s, the only cool place was on the river. I kept the engine on the boat until January 10 when the cove finally froze over. I had hoped to get out when the ice stabilized to try to track otters on the river all winter, but the ice froze thick, and with so much slush at first, that the boat was frozen in and even if it had been free, the ice was everywhere. Then after the thaw it was either too cold or too windy to go back to Eel Bay

to see if the otters would return to the rock on Murray Island that they had used as a rolling area and latrine in the late fall and early winter. So today I went, expecting to find fresh use because my current theory is that only mothers should be in the ponds, the other otters should be in the river, where with fish spawning, it should be easier for them to catch fish. As I approached the rock, a heron was on the low shore next to it, which I thought was a good sign. And from the boat the rolling area looked freshly used.

But to my surprise while I found three rolling areas and much bleached otter scat,

I only found one small squirt of black scat and that was none too fresh.

I motored over to Picton Island, and took a photo of the rock the otters used, showing how it fit into the large scheme of things.

At Picton Point I've seen scat before in other years. I found deer remains just up from the water, and at the point, I saw some piles of dead grass higher up, but no scat low on the rocks inviting me up.

I cruised along the old quarry, with perfect sunlight on the rocks and I saw no scats. I slowly went around the rock island off the point trying from the boat to distinguish otter scats from the plethora of goose poop. I saw a large bullhead head,

so I got off. I found the bleached bones from old scat, and a few smears that might have been scat but were probably crushed goose poops. I noticed much goose fluff and nosed into the brush on the island

and a goose left her eggs and hissed at me. Meanwhile, in the river I saw two cormorants and several pairs of buffleheads. As I went down South Bay to check the docking rock, I saw four terns contesting territory at the end of the bay. There were larger groups of buffleheads here, and a pair of geese honking at me. I got out on the rock and saw some stringy scat that might have been from an otter, but I'm not sure.

I checked the hill above and thought there were flecks of fresh stuff. Back at the my dock, where I had seen a few perch scurrying about, I noticed a large flying insect floating in the water. I fished it out with an oar for a photo and it looks like a crane fly

and when I picked it up, it flew away.