Friday, May 15, 2009

May 7 to 15, 2007

May 7 Instead of going out in the late afternoon, I got to my rock perch at the Lost Swamp Pond at 2pm to catch the early muskrat show. But only a downey woodpecker entertained me, debugging an ancient stump nearby. When a heron flew down toward the nearby shore, the woodpecker flew up to a higher trunk - a heron landing looks a bit awkward in its beauty and never strikes me as menacing, but my eyes are not sharp enough to see that beak. Of course, the heron saw me, aborted landing and flew to the farthest shore of the pond. The woodpecker did not seemed panicked. It preened its feathers and then flew off. I saw a deer browsing the shore line, heading my way, but didn't make it. I also noticed the absence of geese, all were drifting to the southeast of the pond. I didn't see the
nesting goose on the lodge. After an hour of no muskrats, I decided I had to be more scientific if I was going to determine if the western muskrats, as I call them, were about. I had to look for their claims. The elbow of a log just to the west of my
perch is, I think, on the other side of the line between the middle muskrats, that I've seen so often, and the western muskrats that I saw once. Looking down on it, it looked unmarked recently, but from the side I saw that there were two muskrat poops, at least, on it.

Muskrats often seem to wipe the slate clean, so to speak, so this was probably from a recent visit, but maybe the middle muskrats did it. I continued along the shore, ignoring the circling whirligig beetles. There are
several logs along the west end of the pond that I have seen the western muskrats mark. Today I only saw the hint of a mark, and it might be duck poop

Then I looked for trails cleared by muskrats swimming into the burrows of the north shore, and realized that the pond level seemed too low to make the burrows that serviceable. Of course, this is common, and in the past the
muskrats have moved into the lodge by the dam or the burrows just east of it. Earlier I had seen muskrat poop on the dam, but the beavers have pushed mud up all along the dam.

though muskrats could have marked the end of the log sticking up. However, there is a rock in the water next to the lodge, untouched by beavers, and here I saw some clear muskrat claims.

From this angle I could also see the top of the lodge in the pond well. There was no goose and much down spread around. Then two geese flew in, male and female, and landed near the lodge, and without the usual honking. The last few springs I have become quite a student of bereaved geese parents, seeing, in a few instances, their confusion at the eggs or goslings being gone, but usually seeing their stoicism, their quietly staying together, waiting for goslings to appear from successful pairs that they might help protect. Here to, I needed a better camera, but did take a video of the emptiness. I used to blame mink, but I haven't seen a mink at this pond this spring. I once saw coyotes swim out to the lodges here -- as the geese meekly watched. And on the lodge just off shore I saw fresh coyote poop, and some more on the rock behind me. Then when I turned to go down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond, a pair of geese came over that dam, but no goslings followed, another bereaved pair. Walking along the north shore of the Lost Swamp Pond I sent a handsome sunning snake into the pond, and I did the same as I
crossed the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam only this time the snake came back to the shore, I got a photo of it.

It swam along the shore, then I'd get too close and it would duck back into the pond only to come back again, so I found myself following a snake which seemed a portent. The snake got to the end of the dam, swam over to the other shore and after a long pause, I guess to see if I was still following, disappeared. As I followed I did notice some new wrinkles of mud pushed up on the dam by beavers, but not much, and maybe a nibble or two, but nothing significant. So I went down to the Second Swamp Pond dam to see if beavers had been
there. Then I stumbled upon something stranger than following a snake. Up from the pond on a moss covered rock there was a coyote scat, not large, with a turtle shell right behind it, not fresh. There was nothing but dead turtle skin, black as a mummy, inside the shell. The shell was a dull brown. I've seen scat next to deer bones, which seemed a pretty clear message, but this arrangement still has me thinking.

Meanwhile I saw no fresh beaver signs along the north shore, and then sat up on the knoll to watch the dam a bit, more to enjoy the wind than in expectation of seeing anything. Then I saw some splashing, almost enough to
be an otter, but it turned out to be a muskrat on a mission, not whistling, but going fast, through the labyrinth of grass clumps and then toward the lodge below me. There I saw another muskrat, also not whistling, that the first muskrat appeared to be chasing, but I only saw one muskrat go into the lodge. The other surely dived, because I could no longer see it. I waited patiently and soon a muskrat came out, swimming at a normal pace and it swam through the grass clumps and then along the dam and dove at the spillover of the dam and I wasn't sure if it swam under water to the dam -- looked like it might have. Then five minutes later I saw it swimming out of the marsh on the other side of the pond, and it swam back to the lodge below me. Then a bigger muskrat swam out of the lodge, stopped on the first clump of grass where there seemed to be a little niche. It groomed a bit then fell back into the water and went off into the labyrinth

as if off on an Elizabethan romp. This muskrat also went along the shore and marked logs and the bank of the dam. Then it too dove behind the spillover and disappeared. And I didn't see it reappear until it was almost back to the lodge. I got out my camera and just caught its dive into the lodge.

Again I waited patiently and again in a few minutes a muskrat came out, the larger one, and it went back into the labyrinth and didn't go to the dam. Then I turned and saw a muskrat swimming down the pond, not coming out of the lodge, and it went into the labyrinth of grass clumps and I thought now something would happen, but nothing did. Ten minutes later I heard whistling and looked around and saw just one muskrat swimming up pond and then curling back into the marsh on the
south shore. Well, the lodge below me is in terrible shape, so I thought the muskrats had checked it out, found and wanting and were moving into some burrows on the other side of the pond. That seemed a sensible conclusion and then a muskrat appeared swimming across from the south shore, and dove into the lodge below me. I
didn't understand what I had been watching, but I felt rather bound to the swamp below wishing I could see it with a muskrat's eyes. I didn't see any fresh beaver work below the dam. I tried the middle dam of Otter Hole Pond and found that easy to
negotiate. Then I went up on the knoll from which, in other years, I spent hours watching beavers and otters, but there is no more water in the pond, just a pool about twenty feet wide, behind a 200 foot dam. I looked down into the rocks where a stand of trillium usually survives the deer, and it was about to bloom.

May 9 We leave today for a trip south, but I had an hour to go off in the boat and check the otter latrines. First I had to idle my engine and watch the ducks. I saw some pairs but also a boisterous group of drakes pumping their heads
and flapping theirs wings in brief chases, I'll have to study the video to see if I can make sense of what I saw. Then I parked the boat at the side of the large flat rock that fronts the small island in the marsh between the two coves of South Bay. I first checked the interior rocks and saw no scats nor any scratching in the grass. I did admire the redwinged blackbirds bobbing on the
dead cattail stalks.

Then I walked around the rock on the shore, and once again I saw scratching on the grass and moss

and a fresh scat, brownish and wet

and nearby an older scat with what looked like crayfish parts in it. Unfortunately I didn't get a good photo of it. I also saw older scats that had not been there when I was last on the rock. Then I motored over to the latrine at the
entrance to South Bay, and immediately saw that tufts of grass had been scratched up

and then I saw a few squirts of fresh scat in the grass.

So at least one otter had been around, probably more. Before going off to the Picton Island latrine, I hurried on foot to take a look at Audubon Pond. I wanted to see if the goose was on the nest -- no, both geese were in the pond together and no goslings around. I also checked the beavers' progress on the curvy ash tree. My it looks elegant now

even as it is being cut down.

The beavers are also girdling an ash tree about ten yards deeper into the woods. No fresh beaver signs on or near the bank lodge, nor any new otter scats there. It was a beautiful morning to go to Quarry Point, and it looked like there was a good bit of freshly scratched up grass and dirt, but I couldn't find any new, let alone fresh otter scats.

May 13 I headed for the ponds a little after 1 pm and went via Antler trail and then over to the Big Pond. As I walked along the wooded ridge, I flushed a beautiful brown and white hawk, that I half saw, and I think another hawk that I just barely saw. Perhaps one hawk was trying to dominate the other by forcing it to the ground. I saw that once around here a few years ago. With the robins busy getting worms to feed hatchlings, the orioles' songs filled the trees. I saw one picking at some tent caterpillars between sonorous whistles. I got close enough for good video, I think, of the oriole scaring up bugs from under the leaf buds. Then a distress call from another bird seemed to drive the oriole away. Distress soon turned to melody and I saw a rose breasted grosbeak vary its song. He jumped onto a limb closer to me, so could it have been distressed at me?

Perhaps the oriolo was bugging it. As I crossed the little rivulet that drains into the small Double Lodge Pond, I sent a deer leaping into the bush. There had been no rain while we were away, so the pond seemed lower, and three turtles were on the bank basking. I had never seen painted turtles here before,
nor basking on grassy dams for that matter.

They prefer logs and rocks. But those are in short supply in the Big Pond. I wondered if the might be another type of turtle. They seemed to have necks not unlike painted turtles, but the shells were more golden than black. Thanks to the pond mud, I guess. Then a pair of yellow warblers hopped through the bushes near me, and then off. As I crossed the dam I saw that the water behind the south end of the dam was quite muddy, and some of the emerging blue flag iris stalks had been nipped.

I think deer are doing it -- I saw some deer prints on the dam and in the mud leading into the marsh. Plus iris on the dry side of the dam had been nipped, but plenty of iris plants remained. Without rain the water behind the dam has
lowered so it now looks like the dam is in good shape, with some duck weed, I think, accumulating behind the dam.

Two herons flew off as I came down to the Big Pond, and two herons flew off when I walked down to the Lost Swamp Pond. I sat in my rock perch with a commanding view of the pond and for the first half hour mostly watched the few swallows who were catching bugs in the brisk north wind. It wasn't strong enough to make ripples big enough to ruin muskrat watching, so I was patient. I was rewarded by seeing the western muskrats and at first I thought I was seeing them fight off incursions from a muskrat denning in the lodge in the middle of the pond, one of
the middle muskrats.

But that simple narrative was soon complicated by two muskrats who came out of the burrows on the north bank at the west end of the pond seeming to tussle with each other -- or was that mating? Plus while I saw a muskrat dive into the middle lodge four times, I never saw a muskrat swim out of the lodge. But thrice a muskrat coming from that direction simply seemed to appear. When on the attack or the make do muskrats stealthily swim long distance under water? Once I was alerted to the muskrat's emergence by the sound of whistling. The most interesting rencontre was when a western muskrat was being chase by what I took to be a middle muskrat, near the far western shore of the pond. Then another muskrat overtook them, and the muskrat being chased hurried to catch up to that muskrat. Then I thought I saw those two muskrats engage as if mating, but it is a simple view of things to think each time muskrats snarl nose to nose it is a fight and when they engage nose to rear it is mating. I must say I've seen more violent muskrat fights in my day than what I
saw today. Then confusing the matter more, I am pretty sure I saw a fourth muskrat, and, I'll have to study my video, but I think I saw a muskrat who emerged from the western burrow go around the west end of the pond, swim right in front of me, and then go into the middle muskrats' lodge. I saw much marking along the western end of the pond, and I think the muskrat from the middle lodge marked there too. During all of this, I saw my first snapping turtle as it climbed up and over a log in the pond, just below me.

Meanwhile I had been noticing a slight change in the contour of the mossy cove latrine, across the cove from me. This latrine has seemed scratched and scraped since the fall, but.... So I went over and saw that the bump I noticed was just a rock, but on the rock and all before it was a generous spread of scat, not fresh, but a bit glinting in the sun.

It was mostly black with here and there a reddish brown tint, and filled with scales and bones and crushed shells, held together by a sticky hard black goo. Sometimes scats just seem to have an attitude, like you should be able to tell the otter's demeanor and what it was thinking by the variations in the scat. Of course, a succession of dry sunny days made these scats all apiece. Certainly gave the impression of more than one otter visiting. I stepped back and took a photo with the scat in the lower left had corner and the world in the rest of the photo.

This trip around I did not have to peer down to discover muskrat poop. I knew they have been here. I saw blobs of poop on a trunk just out of the water, and what looked like grassy leftovers on the trunk too and some agitated plant matter floating in the water.

Enough of looking at poop. I let the painted turtles take my eyes off that. I checked the north slope otter latrine, where otters have not pooped for about a year, and no scats today either. Then I paused to watch a heron fly into the
tall dead tree just behind the dam. Good thing I was slowing down because a muskrat was out cutting down the grass stalks emerging in the shallows along the shore.

I tried to get closer and take video. Then another muskrat swam out of a burrow in the bank just below me, I braced for a fight but the one placidly eating grass, got up on a log,

looked at the other muskrat and, I thought, trembled, and quickly retreated. It might have helped my theories if it had retreated toward the lodge in the middle of the pond. Instead it swam down closer to me and I think started nibbling grass there. I could see the ripples but a dead tree and slight hill kept me from seeing the muskrat. I tried to use the obstructions as cover and moved closer. The muskrat promptly swam out into the pond, and dove without any tail snapping. I saw no underwater swimming nor rising mud nor wakes welling up to the
surface. The other muskrat seemed to take that disappearance as an opportunity to see what might be leftover from the interrupted nibbles. I got a nice photo of it as if swam by me.

But it got wind of me -- wind was at my back after all. It seemed to swim to the same spot the other muskrat did, dove and disappeared. I waited and saw no sign of it underwater. Could these muskrats have a hole into a burrow that
runs under the pond into the bank?

I never conceived of anything like that. So, the muskrats sharing the same burrow are not in good humor with each other. The question is how many are in that burrow and what exactly are their relationships. Well, my walking around added to the mysteries and ended the action. I continued up to the dam, and as I expected there was otter scat here too, much like the other spread, hard and dry. The otter aimed further back on the shore than usual, almost covering the old coyote scats.

There were some nipped branches on shore and floating in the water, probably beaver gleanings.

Muskrats have been here too, pooping on a fine rock at what looks like a significant distance from each other.

As I was looking at all of this three geese landed near the lodge where the nest had been and kept honking at each other. Still no sign of goslings. The Upper Second Swamp Pond dam still has a deep, slow leak. There was fresh mud pushed up by the beavers on the dam near that spot. Once again I marveled at how wide this dam has suddenly gotten as silt keeps collecting behind the dam.

Of course, without rain the pond's water level is low. I'll have to find old photos to illustrate how fragile this dam seemed just last year. Now there is a permanent embankment in the making. And I noticed a trail of mud in the
water below the dam at the spillway.

One year this colony had their lodge in Beaver Point Pond dam, evidently something is going in there, more likely muskrats, but as this dam has become so substantial there is room for beavers. However, when they did den in the dam they piled logs and mud high on the dam. I expected to find otter scats at the north slope latrine of the Second Swamp Pond. There did seem to be some from fresh scratching, but I couldn't see any fresh scats, nor a spread like I had been seeing. I saw a slight string of dry scat on a clump of grass just up from the water.

As I approached and walked down this pond, I kept scaring mallards and other ducks I couldn't identify. This pond was more protected from the wind. From afar it looked like there were a few more logs on the Second Swamp Pond dam, but
there were no collections of nibbled sticks that I could see. This pond is still brimming the dam so I didn't walk along the dam to check. I looked for fresh work below the dam, and didn't see any work on the ash trees they had half cut and girdled but I did see two more cut saplings.

Of course, I could have missed seeing them until now. I decided to skip checking on the Thicket Pond beavers and instead headed for the South Bay otter latrines, with a brief check of the East Trail Pond, where there was nothing new,
excepting some stunning clumps of grass in the now dry creek bed.

Nor did I find any scat at the old dock latrine, just another pair of mallards. There were no scats at the docking rock latrine either but there were fresh fish parts that could have been left by an otter, or an osprey, or heron, or
fisherman for that matter. It looked like parts of a carp and I suppose an otter is more likely to get a carp then any of the other suspects. I veered up to check Audubon Pond and I saw the pair of childless geese in the pond, as well as two muskrats, one swimming toward the embankment and one swimming away from it. One
found a burrow and the other turned and swam back to the embankment, and dove before I could get too close for a photo. I could study the logs along the shore that the muskrats signed with their poops

Perhaps I could have stayed and learned something, but I had already had a 55 minute class from muskrats. I did notice as I walked around the pond to check the beaver work, that a muskrat swam from the embankment which forms the south shore, all the way to the north shore of the pond, so if there is a division of territory it is on north-south lines. The beavers had begun girdling a large elm, really getting down to the roots of it too,

And their work on the two ash trees is so impressive I took two photos, from front

and back.

The larger looks so elegant but it may soon come crashing down. No sign that the beavers (or the otter) are using the bank lodge nearby. Finally I went to the otter latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay which from afar looked
scraped in a new way. And I did find two piles of leaves

with an otter scat right between them.

Looked like there should be more scat and I did find one dried out pancake of scat, not unlike the scats I saw at the Lost Swamp Pond. The hike ended as it began, with two large birds flying over me, this time two handsome high whistling ospreys.

May 15 warm with showers off and on, and I headed off after lunch even though they were on for that moment -- but just a light drizzle to start with. It was nice seeing the mosses on the ridge moist again, but they were still a dull
green. I saw five deer fleeing as I walked along Antler Trail, all still dull brown. As I approached the little causeway at the end of the south cove of South Bay, I recalled the year when otters put up a dozen scent mounds there during the spring. Well, I didn't see any scent mounds but I did see fresh poop right in the middle of the trail and a frog colored to match waiting for bugs attracted by the smell.

Yes, there were birds singing in the trees but I couldn't raise my eyes. The animal marking the area once prized by otters, that had been busy in the fall and early winter, was active once again.

I had blamed a mink for this, certainly a mink didn't leave this. And I blamed a fisher, but these scats had no twist to them. Raccoon poop is usually more fulsome and not so orderly, so.... I don't know. And then what should I see as I
headed out to check the willow latrine, more poops lining a large log.

I'll have to read up on raccoons to see if they draw lines like this. I'm used to their piles of poops especially under large pine trees. Oh, for a pretty flower, but I was too busy to take a photo of the violets spread out below me. I was studying another black ball, but this one is cute, the baby porcupine was about five yards from where I saw it last time, but five feet higher than I ever saw it before, up a sapling trying to eat the budding leaves. I took video first and as I got closer the porcupine backed down the sapling, balled up on the ground and brandished its tail, as much as a little porcupine could

then it climbed back up another sapling, with only a few slips on the way up. I rewarded it with praise, and bothered it with a photo

and then left it alone. Meanwhile drizzle gave way to rain, and I enjoyed some protection sitting on the willow trunk, and saw a common tern. I saw a fresh stripped beaver stick at the base of the lodge, lapping in the water, but it could have been washed up. Probably not, so a beaver probably has been by. As for otters, where they had made their last latrine, the turf was scratched over again but I didn't see any scats. On my way back to the South Bay trail I saw that the baby porcupine was back on the ground, balled up beside a tuft of grass larger than
it. I shouldn't be calling it a "baby," since it is off on its own with no mother in sight. I walked along the edge of the marsh looking for fresh trails out of it. I saw one but it didn't lead anywhere. I also checked the area under the large oak
next to the water. Earlier I saw a beaver scent mound here. That hadn't been tended recently, and where I'd expect to see raccoon poop close to the tree, I saw two large poops, one like the usual raccoon poop, but the other was greyer and had large fish scales in it.

But otter scats, expecially at this time of year are usually surrounded by scratching and tufts of grass and leaves. No sign of that here. I broke open the scat with a stick and found that other than the scales, it looked well ground like raccoon poop.

Must say, I was getting tired of poop, and rather than check more latrines, I headed up to the Lost Swamp Pond to see today's muskrat show. The rain stopped and the sun came out when I got up to the Second Swamp Pond dam and I saw
that the logs on the dam were recently placed on the dam, and the dam was being mudded up higher.

And across the pond, at the base of the knoll, I saw new logs on the lodge -- the lodge was being re-inflated, so to speak. The beavers were moving back into the lodge they abandoned two years ago.

So I now knew my route home, but first the muskrats. As I came down to the Lost Swamp pond, a heron flew up from the shore where I expected to see the muskrats. I still took a seat ring side to where I saw the fighting and courting two days ago. The wind was light and shifting and for fifteen minutes no muskrats appeared. I enjoyed the birds, principally male redwinged blackbirds chasing each other. A kingbird briefly posed on a dead stump.

Then I saw a muskrat swimming from the lodge in the middle of the pond to the north shore but closer to the dam, so, by my calculation, more or less in the middle territory. Then I saw another muskrat swim out from the lodge and dive for a bite and take it back to lodge. Then another or the same one swam from the lodge to the burrows on the south shore, below my usual perch. So far, so good for the territorial view of the action. Then a muskrat appeared below me, nibbled on grass, and then it swam toward the lodge. Because the air was mostly calm it was
easy following the muskrat trails, and I got my camera ready to take a photo of a muskrat's wake as it crossed the pond. Then several mallard drakes crash landed onto the pond, roiling the pond and flapping to boot. And I lost sight of the muskrat. To
make a long story short, I continued to see muskrats and they generally kept to the territory I assign for them, but today there was absolutely no contention. Two days ago every muskrat move seemed to be contentious, leading to fights and chases. Today, all was peace and quiet foraging. From my ring side seat I got a view of a placid muskrat diving and nibbling without any other muskrat bothering it.

Conclusion? Muskrats know how to back off and get along, on some days. Really, no conclusion, much to think about. After an hour's watching, I walked up to the dam, pausing to note the line of muskrat poops on a log right between

and then was delighted to see two small butterflies feasting on the otter scats there.

I wondered if an otter freshened up the scat. Maybe the light rain was enough. Looks like the beavers cut some honeysuckle and left it at the dam. I crossed the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam without incident, a goose quietly watching me. Not as many ducks in the Second Swamp Pond today. I headed directly to the knoll to see the work on the lodge. I nodded at the coyote's magic -- poop and turtle shell lined up together. And then a few yards beyond that, I stopped at what I first took at the longest coyote scat ever. Then I saw that a coyote had positioned what I took as the intestines of a small beaver, or perhaps a groundhog, next to some older scat

and behind two rather fresh scats.

The whole arrangement pointed, if you will, out to the pond, just like the turtle shell did.

The end of the intestine near the scat looked much like a scat itself.

Then behind me I saw another piece of intestine or bladder hanging on a log.

And between that log and the scats I found what might be the stomach of what I prefer to think was a groundhog, since beavers have been relatively scarce in this pond.

All the innards looked a bit used, certainly not fresh, but close-ups showed dry sawdust inside -- another indication that a beaver bit the dust.

More food for thought. The otter latrine was nearby and I looked down and saw fresh scats there, lots of them

and rather fresh.

Clearly more than one otter had fished this pond. I have seen otters fish these ponds in May, once seeing what I took as a reunion between two yearlings and their mother. Finally I got to the beaver lodge and the work looked impressive.

This lodge had been all holes and I had stopped walking on it for fear of falling in. I decided to sit to see if any beaver, or muskrat, for that matter, came out, because a few days ago the muskrats were using it. Nothing stirred from the lodge. I saw a muskrat swim out of the marsh on the south shore and swim to the dam. Perhaps the muskrats had moved. I also enjoyed the bodacious blooming of a hickory sapling.

Quite a production, flowers that could be mistaken for orchids.

As I headed off the knoll to go down and check for beaver work below the dam, I flushed two geese, and yes, they were followed by goslings, seven of them.

And as they swam out in the pond,

I saw a muskrat swimming from the dam to the lodge below me, bearing a bouquet of grass,

and it took it into the beaver lodge. During the springs a few years back when the beavers were here, they always shared the lodge with muskrats. To my surprise, I didn't notice any fresh beaver work below the dam. So I headed to
Thicket Pond, if I didn't catch beavers out at 5pm, I could at least catalogue their recent work. I checked the old East Trail Pond otter latrine, nothing from otters, but dropped, I think, from a tall pine were the leftovers of a hawk's or owl's meal of a muskrat, some balls of fur and a head,

as well as a claw.

Checking for new Thicket Pond beaver work was not difficult. As I walked down the south shore of the pond from the east, I was greeted by a maple just cut and blown down.

I sat behind it hoping to see a beaver discover the bounty -- nothing had been nibbled off it yet. I could see some stirring in the pond near the lodge, but no beaver came toward the maple. So I moved down pond, noting bark stripping, as opposed to gnawing, from a large red oak.

Then I saw a little beaver swim toward the shore and stop to gnaw at a log that looked completely stripped. It worried a knob on the log. Knobs always seems to be tastier to beavers. But soon enough the beaver sensed me, and first I got
tail slaps, and then some stares.

I was hoping the little beaver's slapping would prompt a bigger beaver to check on what was happening. No. So I headed home, pausing to note more bark stripping, with just a little feeble bit of gnawing. It's said they use the stripped bark for bedding. Makes sense. The mother beaver might be in need of a soft bed with kits on the way or already out.

And I saw that the beavers have a taste for roots, even under stumps that look rather dead.

I checked the old dock latrine along South Bay for scat, none, nor were there any on the New Pond knoll. I did see a huge columbine flower there.

A good hike.