Friday, January 6, 2017

June 11 to 17, 2004

June 11 I am back after four days away at a dismal conference on otters. Naturally I hurried out to the ponds to see what was going on. There was one rainstorm while we were gone and with the front having gone through, it was a bright, cool day with a north wind -- what I fancy is an otter wind, given the direction I approach their favorite ponds. I headed to the South Bay trail and noted that the woods have achieved their summer darkness. No fawns in the grasses, and the grasses are so high along the South Bay trail that any otter trying to get through would have to leave a trail, and none did. The grass is short around the creek coming down from the New Pond, but there were no signs of otters here either. I did see a tufted loosestrife plant in full bloom,

next to plants with white flowers, woodane.

The water in the river remains high which, along with the cool weather, perhaps accounts for more flowers. The otter trail up the New Pond knoll seemed unused too. I took a photo of the drying scat I saw the last time I was here, almost a week ago. The New Pond continues to shrink and unless one is studying duck weed there is no mystery to solve by sitting above it. So I headed on up to the East Trail Pond. I went down the trail to the dam and as I glanced up from checking for otter scats, I saw a raccoon working along the dam. I was poised to get some video, but it stopped pawing around and disappeared into the grasses down stream. I didn't see any fresh otter signs and sat under the tree on top of the now well dried scats -- and there weren't very many. The pond remains more shallow than I've ever seen it, but there is water and fish jumping out of it. I would not be surprise if otters found this a paradise. I sat under the tree for a half hour or so, saw two herons fly over; no turtles today. I walked up the pond a bit and saw some pawed up dirt, but when I saw the same pawing on the dam,

I decided a raccoon had done it. On the east side of the dam, a raccoon hit paydirt and dug up some turtle eggs.

Over on that bank I saw some trails in the grass but much too narrow for otters. There is probably a ground hog about. I've been waiting for one luxurious looking plant to bloom, but it's only putting up flowers that look like grass seeds. To stay right with the wind, I crossed the dam just below the Second Swamp Pond dam. The beavers had definitely refurbished the mud dam here,

but I don't think they've been back for a while. I noticed a luxurious clump of blue flag iris up pond.

I sat briefly on the rock at the south end of the Second Swamp Pond dam, and saw a big male mallard on a log, but nothing else to report in the pond. As I walked up the south shore I did flush the wood duck with, I think, a few less ducklings. I quickly checked for otter scats on the trail between the Lost Swamp Pond and Second Swamp Pond, nothing fresh and probably nothing new. I do not take the lack of scat as a sign that there are no otters about because when the mother emerges with pups there might be a different pattern to the scatting and the male otters might stop their usual rounds. With the north wind, I knew that if I waited at the Second Swamp Pond for action, the beavers behind me in the Lost Swamp Pond would get wind of me, and this was a perfect evening to sit behind the bank lodge on the south shore, which is what I did. I soon saw that at least two beavers were already out and when I sat down another beaver swam out from that lodge.

Thus began a rather complex bit of beaver choreography. But first let me dispose of a major distraction during it: a humming bird hovered above the green cap on my head! Usually I watch these beavers from the other side of the pond, the northwest corner or north shore, facing the southerly winds. I have seen as many as five at once. This evening I had a full view of all the pond but the northwest corner. After I accounted for five beavers where I usually see them, I saw two beavers at the far southeastern corner of the pond. Those two were quite active bringing up roots. The beavers near me were their usual selves doing more swimming than eating, although right in front of me I could see two nicely stripped logs.

At least three, two juveniles and an adult, came in and out of the lodge in front of me. I had seen some nosing together near this lodge before, but not tonight. A juvenile and an adult went nose to nose out in the middle of the pond. Some beavers went over toward the dam. None went up to the far northeast corner of the pond, where there were three deer grazing in the shallows, but I don't think that was the reason, because I saw two deer out in the southeast corner of the pond where the beavers were. The goose family swam right in front of me and then they went over to graze on the otter rolling area. Then some curious things began to happen. A beaver seemingly on its way out to the northeast shallows stopped and stared in the grasses along the shore of the peninsula and slapped its tail several times. I did see a deer in there, but it was well on shore. Then as I contemplated that I heard a chorus of coyote or fox yipping, much closer than usual and as always difficult to pin point -- could fox have been in there? I know otters have denned in there but I heard no responding screeches from them. Very curious. I also saw what looked like a plump blonde-brown log on the lodge far out in the pond, that disappeared but didn't materialize into a goose nor anything else swimming in the water. The angry beaver moved on up pond and another beaver came over to the same shore, with the same stare, but without splashing. It swam back to the northeast section of the pond.

Meanwhile proud bird parents were noisy but pondering the beavers sapped my brain power. They all, young and old, act like lords of the pond, seem to have no hang ups about sharing this designation with other beavers in the colony, and look askance at other creatures. I pressed on to the Big Pond and a muskrat swam out from the dam, collected some emerging grass and took it to the burrow behind the lodge. No beaver came out to greet me, and it was already 7:30. The mud work on the dam is awesome and seems to be on-going. Since these beavers came from upstream it is almost as if they are straining to connect their two worlds.

June 12 cold night, and cool, sunny day with a northeast wind. I kayaked to South Bay between 2 and 4. The theme of the trip was bird chases. I saw what appeared to be a swallow chasing a tern and both did an amazing piece of flying. The tern only gained relief by flying higher and then flew off the pond for a while. Then a heron escorted a gull out of the pond, only to be escorted away from that shore by another heron. I saw group of geese with the goslings sporting dark feathers and another in which they were still baby green, but growing. They were pulling at the grasses in the water which are coming up. Especially at the end of the cove much of the grass seems unattached. 

On the south shore of the south cove some spatterdock was blooming. There were many heron as usual. Coming down the north cove, I had five of them in view. Coming out, one surprised me by flying off with a sizeable fish it had just snared. I had good luck seeing fish today, several carp with their wavy dorsal fin, a rock bass, many minnows, and some turtles in the water. I found one large dead bullhead, bloody from a fish hook and evidently ignored by the piscivores and scavengers. I'm always looking for half eaten bullheads -- a good sign of otters, but I've seen none this year. Two different types of bugs seem to be predominating now. Especially bobbing into the water are relatively large brown almost moth like bugs. On the land I see light tan, almost white midges and one day I briefly eyeballed one and thought it had yellow eyes! I didn't see any fresh beaver work, and no critters prowling the shore.

June 13 I headed off a little before 5 pm for an early evening sojourn with the beavers. I could see that a bit of weather was coming in, but of late showers have been slow moving. Not this one. I did get to check the South Bay latrines and New Pond knoll latrine, where there was nothing new. As I approached the East Trail Pond it began to rain. Once the rain brought a family of otters out into the pond so I sat tight under the tall pine, even though there were no new scats at that latrine. I am working on the following optimistic theory: the male has stopped marking because the female is beginning to take her pups into the ponds. And the perturbation of the beaver the other day may have been because the otters were in the grasses of the peninsula. With the beavers so aware of her presence and the need for a shallow pond pressing, the mother will now move her pups to the East Trail Pond, which is shallow and has no beavers. Nice theory. The pessimistic theory is that the otters have found better pickings on other islands. Raccoons continue to have good pickings. I saw scratching on the moss covered rock at the East Trail Pond probably done by a turtle. Two green herons were noisily vying for territory. When I went to sit under the cedars above the Second Swamp Pond lodge, I noticed two batches of freshly dug up eggs.

Indeed I could smell one bunch. I watched the rain and wind swept waters hoping for something to poke out, but nothing did. Another large beaver stripped log was by the lodge, and one twig, so beavers still come by if they don't live inside.

The shower stopped and I almost moved on to the Lost Swamp Pond but knowing that I'd get soaked and that sitting on the grass waiting for beavers would be a moist experience too, I went home the way I came.

June 14 I headed off for the ponds just after lunch on a warm, sunny and breezy day. Out of respect for the deerflies and the heat I didn't cross the meadow behind the golf course, but went up the TIP ridge and then along the ridge above the first swamps. I went down to see how the Middle Pond is doing. The heavy spring rains washed the dam out some more and now the pond is lower than I've ever seen it.

No sign that it is proving of use to any of the larger critters, but I didn't hang around. I crossed over the creek there and as I walked up the meadow to the Big Pond, I came across deer bones and fur nestled in the grass -- a small deer.

A heron flew off the Big Pond dam and a mallard stayed on the Big Pond lodge. No sign that beavers have been about the north end of the dam. One of my objects of study was the Lost Swamp Pond, so I found a shady spot with a full view of most of the pond and watched. A kingbird entertained me, and the geese family of six was about, and I began noticing the turtles, including a snapper hugging a log out on the pond.

Nothing else materialized and I even dozed a bit. I checked the old otter latrines near the bank lodge and found only goose poop. Then as I moved on around the pond, I heard a beaver splash, looked up and saw three of them out in the pond, an adult who did the splashing and two juveniles. I was impressed that they were so sensitive to my being near the lodge, and that got me to thinking that they have otters on their mind. But really they had me on their minds. Despite the adult doing the splashing, one juvenile kept coming closer to me, though it never splashed its tail. The adult swam back and forth with nose cocked up. Here is a series of three snapshots showing the juvenile not getting alarmed as the adult slapped its tail. The first shows the adult moving away

Then the juvenile does turn after the adult slaps its tail

but it stays close to me, just behind the dead birch, as the adult swims well behind it.

I moved on around the pond and the adult at least kept an eye on me. Nothing on the north slope of the pond persuaded me that an otter had been through last night and close examination of the slope above the upper Second Swamp Pond revealed nothing fresh. As I walked slowly along the mossy ledge, I flushed two big wood ducklings who motored across the pond, and then a beaver swam out of the grasses below me. I had to double-take because I have never seen a beaver swim more like an otter, keeping its head briefly out of the water and then diving again. Only when it got up into the Upper Second Swamp Pond did it swim more like a beaver. These beavers are playing with my mind! Clinging to my old theory that beavers out in the noon day sun during the summer might be out to ward off otters, I sat for 15 minutes to see if any otter would come out. I did see a muskrat and a wood duck hen with four or so small ducklings. I went back over to the Lost Swamp Pond and checked the old otter rolling area where I saw goose poop and trails up into the grass, I presume, made by geese. I also found a painted turtle up on the shore.

It dove back into the pond and since it was slow to react to my being there, I presume it was on an egg-laying mission. Meanwhile the snapper had climbed up on the little lodge in the middle of the pond. There were no otter signs near the dam, nor any signs on the upper Second Swamp Pond dam. I walked down the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond and saw no signs of beaver activity in the near bush. Soon I was gazing down on the East Trail Pond and when I saw something swim out of and then back into the lodge in the middle of the pond, 

I spared 15 minutes to see if it would happen again. It did and with a spyglass, I could see that it was a muskrat. Only one green heron around today. On the rocks above the dens I found some light fluffy brown fur around a gnawed bone.

I have no idea what animal had been killed since the fur had no feature. I'd guess that it was a baby raccoon. As I walked around the pond I notice what a hazard the empty beaver canals make. If I did not know where they were I could trip into the three foot drop they make.

To make sure the beavers here did not go upstream to the high park ponds, I hiked up there. On the wood chip trail I saw some spikey mushrooms, clavaria argillacea, one book suggests.

The beaver ponds up there are quite low and no sign that any beaver had been around. I did see a mallard in the huge marsh beyond, and scared a deer there, which made a huge splash as it fled from me. I also noticed a little stand of phragmites around a small beaver dam.

With the water in the pond so low I could see how the beavers seemed to have dammed their channel from a side pond to the main pond

to try to get a little more water to cover the entrance to their burrow in the channel. Going back up the beautiful rocks to south of these ponds, I saw a type of honeysuckle, northern bush, that I don't recall seeing before.

That inspired me to sit awhile and enjoy the shady view. On my way home I checked out Thicket Pond, saw a little bit of fresh work and the pond still has muddy water. I bet some beavers have moved down stream, but checking that is another trip. No scats at the end of South Bay and a few carp were thrashing about.

June 16 a warm sunny day with a light wind, so I headed off in the boat to check the otter latrines, just after lunch when I would surely not disturb any sane animal. The trip out was remarkable because I didn't see any geese, only one mallard and then in Eel Bay, only one cormorant. I checked the latrine on the large rock on Murray Island and found no scats and only one minor wrinkle in the turf. I picked up a bit of the bleached bones from one old scat and while I saw some fish bones, much of the material seemed to be crayfish shells -- no claws, though. But that was all old and there was no evidence that an otter had been there in a while. I motored over to the latrine on Picton Island

and I found the freshest otter scat that I've seen in a while; several fresh smears,

plus some old ones and two large crayfish claws.

So the rocky bottom between the two islands, especially at this time of year before the pond vegetation grows seems to be a good foraging area for crayfish. I motored back to South Bay and docked at the rock closer to the end of the cove. I found some heron fluff there.

I tried to get a photo of one of the herons I so often see here, but it flew away before the camera was ready. I checked the old latrine at the creek into the cove and found nothing but there was a new, almost fresh smear on a rock almost at the crest of the New Pond knoll.

Nothing else there and no sign that the otter had gone over the knoll. I hiked up the East Trail Pond and found the pond rather quiet, and no fresh scat. I sat for a few minutes and then headed for Audubon Pond. I was expecting to see more evidence that some beavers moved down from Thicket Pond to Meander Pond, but instead I found some freshly cut ironwood just off Thicket Pond. I have found ironwood cut into logs before,

but the logs generally stay put and aren't taken to the pond. Ironwood strikes me as a juicy wood and perhaps beavers find it irresistible at certain seasons because of that.

The beavers had trimmed and taken the branches though. They also cut down a small elm. There were no signs that beavers had been in Meander Pond, but the dam is still holding back water, ready for beavers if a drought develops.

By the way we did get almost an inch of rain yesterday. At Audubon Pond, I had to make a detour around four hikers admiring a grazing deer. I also moved three other deer along during my brief hike. Judging from the stain of mud, the muskrats have moved into the burrow a bit behind the bench.

No sign of where the beaver or beavers might be, but over in the southwest corner of the pond, another tree had been cut down. There is no trail in the grass over the embankment in front of the drain which shows how unadventurous the resident critters are. No geese here today either. At first glance the docking rock seemed to have no scats, then I found a small fresh one in the grass.

See the bug in the upper left hand corner heading down to it. I hope to get up at 5 am tomorrow and see some otters.

June 17 I got up at 4:40 am and was amazed at how light it was already. I had ideal conditions for seeing things -- no fog, no wind and then a light wind that pushed me across Picton point. I heard a turkey gobbling on Picton Island, and now and then a turkey on Murray Island gobbling back. I was treated to a beautiful sunrise.

A heron flew over me and a loon,

to my amazement slowly swam right by my boat.

It was preening and fluffing up, even stretched one leg up and back, and seemed for a moment almost sleeping.

It made a few low sounds, but no call. The rising sun warmed Picton point in a red glow,

but no otters appeared to dry off in the morning sun. I only saw one brief wake, probably a snake. At 6 I went to South Bay where I saw herons, a raccoon along the shore line and carp thrashing in the mist at the end of the coves. I also saw one duckling along the shore.
Being in the boat provided little exercise so in the afternoon when I was rested and restless, I headed out to the ponds, checking the Big Pond first with the sun almost out and a light drizzle making it an eyeglass fogging afternoon. The foamy white insect galls of the spittlebugs that I noticed last year are all around again, mostly on the grasses, but they are larger this year and also on more photogenic plants.

I sat on my perch beside the dam and the bobbing head of a black bird prompted me to put the spyglass on the lodge. Last year prior to the beavers moving to ponds upstream there was a lot more harvesting around this pond. Now I don't see evidence of any and would say the beavers have moved upstream again, save for a nice, small beaver marker on the middle of the dam.

They are probably still here getting things out in the middle of the pond by rooting in the grasses there, but I'll have to go out and check that in the late evening. The cattails are maturing nicely

and painted yellow look almost gay in their same-stalk marriage.

The heaves of mud along this dam make it almost a gallery, much unlike the jungle of greenery in most years, though as these exuberant roots show,

it's hard to keep the vegetables down. The Lost Swamp Pond was quite active for a warm afternoon. I saw a muskrat taking the usual route from the north shore burrows to the peninsula. Then I saw a wake way out in the southeast portion of the pond. The critter dove enough to make me think of an otter, but it went too slowly and the excitement died -- probably a muskrat. Indeed another critter swam past it coming my way and later I saw it climb on and mark a log -- definitely a muskrat. Then there was interesting activity right in front of me. Usually two adult muskrats work a portion of a pond, but I seemed to be seeing four. And usually they graze along the peninsula and then take the grass back to the north shore burrows, but this time I saw one come out of one portion of the peninsula and swim into the pond and disappear. I've suspected that there is a burrow there, and have seen otters appear from out of there. One muskrat walked the logs closer to me, quite religiously. Two muskrats converged but there was no contention. 

I stayed away from the bank beaver lodge, heard humming from inside but there was no evacuation today. Then I checked for otter scats and found none. It's possible that these ponds now form the boundary of two otter territories and that a male periodically loops in from the east and marks the trail between the Lost Swamp Pond and the Second Swamp Pond; and otters from Eel and South Bay come in from the west and mark the New Pond knoll and perhaps the East Trail Pond. This theory explains a lot and with the ponds between the two big ponds and South Bay more or less empty, it might make sense to the otters. It also explains why two families were raised in these ponds last year. 

When I got down to the upper Second Swamp Pond a muskrat swam out of the grasses and disappeared into the bank next to where I was standing. Here again I've always suspected there were burrows which I've never been able to clearly see. It was getting after 5pm and I decided to wait to the quarter hour in case that early beaver should come down, and sure enough, it did. This time it swam quite purposefully, fast with a few dives, and so I followed wondering if it was going to check the dam or do some marking. However, I caught a glimpse of it bobbing in the middle of the pond, then I lost it, which probably means it found something good to gnaw well in the grasses so I couldn't see it or any ripples. I checked Otter Hole Pond and just to show how dry it is, there was a large flock of turkeys grazing in the grass!

I checked the New Pond knoll and there was nothing new there and then as I walked down the creek, I startled a porcupine and her baby.

The big brown mother climbed several lengths higher up the tree and the small black baby stayed within reach, though half concealed by a leafy twig.

Some Mom.