Saturday, May 16, 2009

May 17 to 21, 2007

May 17 a front came through two nights ago with thunder and downpours and then settled into a northeaster that gave us showers most of yesterday -- needed rain. Today, was cold, blustery and cloudy with the thermometer fighting to get to 50. Actually not a bad day for botanizing as the damp and the clouds make the flowers shine even more. Violets are rife and there are clumps with flowers thrusting back like they are about to launch themselves

But blue violets are old hat now. The treat of the day were the yellow violets, always making you wish there was more violet and less leaf.

and they are joined by Canadian mayflowers just reaching out

Up around our Bunny Bog we usually see golden threads and bunchberries, but not much of a show this spring yet. In the water it looks like the yellow loosestrife is coming out.

Then back of our southern most ridge at the sunny, at least for now, base of the belichened sandstone, the Canadian violets spread

and vary into violet violets, with some blossoms of delicate beauty

There's a thick stand of columbine looking on

Another advantage of cold weather botanizing -- no blackflies in your face, and mosquitoes are forced to mull things over for another day. But watch out for the stickers. I hestitate to identify the mean looking bush below, even the
leaves have teeth.

The white trillium are aging into pink all over.

On my way back to my saw pit, where I was working, I went down to the valley where the beaverless ponds are full. A muskrat could do well in the pool at the head of the valley

anad a beaver would have an expanse in the joined Teepee and First ponds

The birches at least are recovering from the last beaver colony, almost two years gone. Vigorous sports from the roots of the beaver-cut stumps surround the old clump.

Finally, as I circled back to my sawing rock, I saw that the blue cohosh had turned green. I wonder why it joins the crowd at this late date.

As I sawed, a raven entertained me as usual. I could report on their doings every time we visit the land, but a butcher's dump attracts most of them, as well as many crows and sometimes vultures. Every time a raven flies overhead it is worth watching, but.... Anyway, today the raven perching on a tall pine just across the pond got the notion to imitate the clunking of a bittern. After each fairly convincing rendition, the raven cackled immoderately as if congratulating itself.

I decided that the clouds and northeast wind made it a good evening to sit by the Second Swamp Pond dam to see if the beavers had indeed moved into the lodge below the knoll, a lodge they had abandoned three years ago. I trusted I could brave the cold as the sun went down. At the little causeway along South Bay there was another huge poop, and hairy, and the old poop now showed hairs, so a coyote is doing this. But, of course, in this cold there was no frog on duty like two days ago. A heron was in the little pool of water behind the causeway, and there must have been good things to eat there, because after it flew off, it flew
back, and low, and squawked hoarsely at me for all it was worth. I took the shortcut over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond and then as I walked along the upper meadow I saw white crowned sparrows, or so I guess judging from the blurry photo, in the bushes.

At the Second Swamp Pond dam I sat beside the large rock to try to block out the cold wind. There was nothing out on the pond but the ripples and it didn't look like anything had been added to the lodge across the pond, which was
disappointing. Beavers generally don't seem to do their lodge work in fits and starts. A common tern hovered behind the dam but didn't dive. The redwinged blackbirds seemed so involved in their own affairs, they paid little attention to me. After almost 45 minutes of waiting, not even a muskrat and they were all over
this dam the other day in the afternoon, I decided to walk up to the Lost Swamp Pond to keep my body from reaching the shivering point. Walking up the Second Swamp Pond shore I saw a muskrat in the grasses along the south shore, where, indeed, there was, and perhaps still us, a little grass lodge. I heard whistling and looked for another muskrat but this one seemed alone. It went about like it had just discovered the place, checking greening clumps of grass, but no lingering over a meal for more than a minute. Watching it wasn't warming me up so I cut up to the Lost Swamp Pond, coming down to its south shore, into the wind with a view of everything. At first all I saw was a heron flying away. So I checked the mossy cove otter latrine to see if the otters, whot left so much scat behind at the Second Pond the other day, left as much here. I saw what looked like more scratching -- don't I always say that? -- and there was a small back scat amidst the woody rakings just below the rock

Of course I suppose something else could have raked up an old scat preserved black in the litter, but that seems farfetched. So an otter had paid its respects, probably briefly, which suggests that they didn't den in the beaver bank
lodge nearby, where they did den at times last fall. I moved away from the rocks to get a good view of the pond and saw a beaver swimming toward the dam. As dams go the Lost Swamp Pond dam is rather short and I have waited for years to get a video of the
first beaver out hurrying over to inspect the dam. They always get distracted by something else, and so did this beaver. I looked back at the lodge in the southeast reaches of the pond where the beavers spent the winter, and in the far distance I saw
two heads swimming toward me. I was too far away to see muskrats swimming, so I thought they might be otters since they frequently swim together, but their brief dive was not otter like and I soon saw the triangular heads of beavers. Much as I like to see otters, this was an interesting sighting. These beavers were swimming twice as fast as beavers usually swim and either the larger beaver in the rear twice swam over the smaller beaver or the smaller slowed down. Last year I saw a larger beaver bullying a smaller one and thought that perhaps the matriarch or patriarch
was trying to make a two year beaver uncomfortable enough to leave the pond on its own. But this seemed different. The smaller led the way to the point across from me

and they both got up on shore and checked marks, if they didn't make one themselves.

Then they got back in the water and the larger beaver seemed to swim over and push down the smaller beaver and flip it on its back and the larger beaver dove and emerged a few feet away

and then they swam off, at the same fast speed, the smaller beaver in front and the larger right behind.

They were heading for the dam but cruised right by it, going down the north shore of the pond.

Then they both got up on a log and did a little grooming -- side by side, no strife here. Then another beaver swam up to them, stopped in front of them -- I couldn't hear anything with the wind -- and swam up toward the dam. The pair got off the log promptly and swam to the low grassy shore. As they got out, yet another beaver climbed out too.

It looked two of the beavers nuzzled, but I think when beavers are balled up on the shore, they often look like they are bumping into each other when they aren't.

They did separate and all three seemed to be eating grass.

Soon enough the two beavers left, the inseparable pair judging how closely they swam in tandem up to the dam. They swam up to the east side of the dam and went up into the grass together, eating the grass, I think.

Meanwhile a lone beaver remained behind.

I studied the pair and at one point they both leaped into the pond. They certainly couldn't have seen or smelled me. This was the only time I saw them separate, one going toward the nearby lodge and the other out into the pond behind the dam. They quickly returned to the shore and together, went back up into the grass. Then the fourth beaver swam up to that point and climbed up to join them. This is not the time for beaver mating and courting. Likely the matriarch is back in the lodge about to give birth or nursing kits. Female beavers are supposed to be larger than males. Could a two year old female, anticipating her on-coming sexual responsibilities be play mating, if you will, with one the yearling males, or her brother? Were they imitating the monogamous companionship that is the keystone of the beaver colony? Probably not. I got cold and that broke my concentration on the beavers, but I think I had seen enough for now. I noticed that these beavers still have a taste for wood. There was gnawing around the old girdle of the dead tree in front of me.

As I walked around the pond, the lone beaver on the bank retreated to the pond, but didn't splash its tail, so it might not have been because of me. I wanted to check the Upper Second Swamp Pond. After all, I came out to see what those
beavers were doing. As I got over the ridge overlooking the pond, I saw a beaver slip off the dam back into the water and swim along the dam. Then it dove and surfaced and walked up on the dam, as if inspecting it.

And in an instant I thought I knew what I was seeing. These beavers had all but patched this dam but a small leak and two weeks without rain forced them to prepare another option which was to repair the lodge in the pond below. The dam below was holding water, and now with the recent rain, water had
backed up to the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam.

Beavers have been in this section of the valley for almost twenty years at least. They created ponds almost down to South Bay. The ponds below the Second Swamp Pond are virtually dry, and after expanding the Upper Second Swamp Pond, last year they tried to build a pond above it, Paradise Pond, I call it, but that has not been growing this year -- I'm not sure why. Anyway, the older beavers in this colony know where they have been and they were concerned enough about how their newer ponds were faring to at least give themselves the option of removing to
their old lodge below. This colony has stretched itself over three ponds and in doing so had to stretch their minds, their memory, and have had to teach more to the younger beavers in colony than the happily isolated Thicket Pond beavers have to
learn. I have seen beaver colonies make decisions before, but usually just the decision to relocate to a new or old lodge. I have never sensed the colony creating options and then making a decision. The beaver that inspected the dam, swam up pond,
turning its back on the Second Swamp Pond. Then another beaver swam behind the dam, without inspecting it. It swam back into the meadowsweet. This bit of eclaircissement warmed me a bit as I headed home to dinner. The little muskrat was still enjoying the flooded grasses in the Second Swamp Pond. I took a photo of the
lodge across the pond.

If it is worked on again, my theory might be wrong. And tomorrow I'll check the other lodges and Paradise Pond.

May 18 I headed off a little before 2 pm with Ottoleo just as the sun was taking command of a cool day. We hurried along Antler and South Bay trails, even though Ottoleo had reported seeing a great congregation of crayfish up the bay
with eggs and hatchlings and birds feasting on them. But I was bound for Paradise Pond to prove the sagacity of beavers. I didn't even pause to listen for scarlet tanagers in the high trees along the East Trail Pond. We slowed down at the East Trail Pond, as a heron flew off, even sat down on a log so I could explain what I was looking for, which was solid evidence of the beavers' commitment to one of their three ponds. But first Ottoleo pointed out a herd of horsetails around the rotting
trunks below the East Trail Pond dam.

As I expected there was no fresh beaver work below the Second Swamp Pond dam, nor on the north end of the dam. Then we were briefly distracted by other stories. Ottoleo saw a muskrat out in the middle of the pond, and I saw the geese with the goslings up pond, but too far away to count the goslings. So to prove that the beavers were not in the lodge below the knoll, I danced along the rocks on the shore, and boldly walked on the lodge. That in itself was evidence of their repairs because I had stopped walking on this lodge, it was so full of holes. Nothing
swam out, not even a muskrat. While I couldn't be sure if a beaver had not tossed on an odd log during the night, it was easy to see that the lodge was not habitable by beavers because looking down through the logs we could see water. Vegetation had
been pushed up to cover the largers hole, but no mud to make the lodge safe.

So far so good. I showed off the coyote signs up on the knoll. The intestines had been kicked around. A busted bird egg or two had joined the turtle shell.

That suggests that a crow is making these designs, not a coyote, which makes a little more sense. There were no new scats at the otter latrine and I was amazed at how quickly the large scat there had bleached gray. There were fresh
goose poops at the latrine. There were no beaver signs as we walked up the north shore of the pond, and no sign of the goslings. I could see that the Upper Second Swamp Pond had much more water, but it wasn't brim full.

I could see no fresh work, stripped sticks or mud heaves, there or on the nearby lodge. So we continued on through the wet bush aiming to go around the upper pond to the pools I call Paradise Pond. This is a bad time to bother the bush
and we flushed a few mother sparrows. I saw one nest

and we snuck a peak at the eggs, probably song sparrow eggs.

A little farther on, a leopard frog jumped and, as with the nesting bird, I probably wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't jumped.

To make hard going sound easy, we didn't see any fresh work at the principal pool nestled in the year old beaver work. There was not much water in the pool, but Ottoleo saw tadpoles.

We walked the beaver path back to the Upper Second Swamp pond which looked unused. But I thought the canal to the pond looked more dredged than I remember, plus there were piles of small stripped sticks on the mud piles along the canal that looked relatively fresh.

As we continued around slowly, trying to keep our running shoes dry, I saw the cut stumps of small willows that appeared relatively fresh

but there were no production lines, if you will, no visual remains of the beavers breaking paths and pulling saplings out.

All to say, I didn't see that commitment that I was looking for. When got around to the bank lodge of the Upper Second Swamp Pond, I had camcorder ready and sent Ottoleo ahead convinced the beavers would swim out as they did back in the late winter. Nothing came out of the lodge, and here too there were only old stripped logs and sticks.

I'll have to study old photos to see if there are new wrinkles. So, Sherlock Holmes would say that the beavers must be in the lodge behind the dam, that we can't get close to, since all the other options are excluded, but Holmes never saw beavers, so I don't know. No eclaircissement today. Except there were two black gobs of otter scat

beside the lodge, where otters had made a latrine in the fall.

Up at the Lost Swamp Pond, I couldn't see any grass cut by the beavers I saw last night. I did see fresh heaves of mud on the dam, which still leaks liberally since the water level rose.

We sat and watched the pond and Ottoleo saw a muskrat. We stalked that to no avail. Then I remembered the goslings and went up on the ridge to look for them. Two geese were on the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, then Ottoleo saw two
geese more concealed in the grass and I knew they were protecting the goslings. I walked down the ridge far enough to get them back into the pond and saw six goslings following the parents in a tight line. The two other adult geese paddled along with them. Now the six goslings have four protectors. Pretty good odds. I saw a blooming trillium along the shore of the pond. Ottoleo saw the muskrat again. Up on the ridge, a black and white bird flew by me, startled me. It landed on a bush and then down on the ground. I couldn't scope it. Ottoleo saw a patch of red under the beak. So it was a grosbeak but I so rarely see one from above that I was sure it was a rare bird. On the way to the Big Pond, I paused at one of my wonders of the world, an overhanging oak branch that as long as I've known it, at least fifteen years, has
been hollowed out and growing plants -- a hanging garden of Babylon, if you will, now made more amazing as a good sized pine crashed down right beside it.

We studied the knot between rotting trunk and rotting limb that has locked this wonder in place.

The Big Pond dam still leaked thanks to the usual haphazard patching of these beavers.

Meanwhile a muskrat was grazing behind the dam, dove, and then swam along the grasses behind the dam where there are at least three muskrat lodges.

There was much mud behind the south corner of the dam. Was it raised by muskrats, geese, ducks, deer, or a combination of same?

As walked up through the woods toward home, we flushed deer, and heard scarlet tanagers but didn't see them. Then their song gave way to grosbeak songs, didn't see them either.

May 19 My job at the land today was to find stones to pave our muddy little driveway. Doing that I bumped into a mottled hare. Unfortunately ants red and black had claimed several of the flatter stones. Good place to nurse eggs.

After lunch, during which we were serenaded by grosbeaks and wood thrushes, I walked down to check the ponds. The willow shoots and green grasses of the Third Pond remain undisturbed. Our apple trees seem a bit feeble in their
blossoming. After two good years for apples perhaps we are due for a dearth. I saw a muddy trail coming up from the Deep Pond leading into the wooded ridge behind the pond, but the trail didn't lead to anything. I walked up the inlet pond and only a
few smaller fish darted back to the pond. I didn't see any concentration of muskrat activity, nibblings or muddy trails, until I got around to the emburrowed section of the dam.

But I paused there, not for muskrats, but watch three yellow warblers chase bugs and each other in and around the honeysuckle bushes.

They have an uncanny ability to hang in the air as they fight and of knowing when to disengage and scoot before they splash into the pond. Yet they manage all that aerodynamics rather inelegantly for such handsome birds.

Then I had another treat: without leaving any other signs of its being there, save, perhaps, for that muddy trail out of the pond, a beaver had patched the dam, a rather modest job but enough to hold back water.

That got me singing as much as the catbirds.

When we got back to the island I headed off to South Bay in the kayak. Ottoleo had gone earlier and had a fabulous journey, seeing the bowfin, bullheads, goslings and the makings of a new beaver lodge. But the wind had picked up and when I arrived in the bay, all was riley and hard to see in the water. I went behind the yacht club dock hoping to see some crayfish, but only saw some small sunnies. Herons entertained me a bit. I even flushed one when I curled into the cattails in the little channel east of the willow lodge. I saw some willow sprouts nipped -- a porcupine could have done that, but there were a few more stripped sticks on the runway beside the dam and a possible beaver scent mound. Saw no signs of otters. I also curled into the channel in the cattails leading to the ash tree
the beavers cut last year. There was some relatively fresh work on the crown, now in the water, and a beaver scent mound on the shore of the bay nearby. I went around the point and didn't see any otter signs, nor beaver signs, on the island. I saw a beaver scent mound on the rocky neck of marsh below the island. When I got to the rock where the otters have been scatting, I thought I saw fresh black glints in the sun, and as I paddled around in the wind I smelled fresh scats. I went over to the north shore of the bay, but saw no more otter signs. I did see the lodge Ottoleo
noticed, which I had noticed before. I think it marks a convenient burrow that, jogging my memory of old beaver routes, has been used by years. The nearby new willow branches had been nipped. I was hoping to see crayfish, or crayfish remains, on the rocky bottom off the north shore. I saw several dead crayfish there last year, but the waves from wind and speeding boats made it difficult to see, but I don't think there were any. Going up the shore, a floating log in front of me turned into a muskrat doing some serious chewing -- perhaps of a shell. It dove, surfaced, noticed me and disappear. As I tried to study the latrine at the entrance to South Bay -- rather green with grass now -- a mink with a light reddish brown coat hurried along the rock above me, and kept to the shore. First mink I've seen in a while. Heading back around the headland, I bumped into another muskrat, coming out of the new dock. Then another muskrat was swimming in our cove. This is the best year for muskrats in our neck of the river for some time.

May 20 I headed off at 4:30 PM hoping the showers had passed through, and just as I went outside, the wind shifted from the north, cold, and sprinkling, which did not bode well for sitting on the pond shore waiting for beavers. I took the Antler Trail, and instead of deer happened upon three baby
raccoons poking around a dry runoff bed and then almost falling over each other as they tried to climb up a jumble of granite rocks. Never seen kits so young off alone, but they certainly seemed to know what they were doing, purring as they hurried along. I took the First Swamp ridge to the Big Pond and sat on my perch facing the cold wind, more of less to kill time before I went to see the Upper Second Swamp Pond beavers where I would be more exposed to the wind. I saw a muskrat well up pond and it swam into the grasses. Then I saw a group of geese swim out from
the grassy north shore of the pond. Among the eight adults there were no goslings. The geese were quiet, almost huddled together, except for one standoffish pair.

The beavers have repaired the Big Pond dam, but it still has a few high leaks.

There was a pile of dark poop at the north end of the spillover, a significant spot and I seldom see raccoons poop with such meaning, but it was too soft and rolypoly for fisher scat, too loose for fox scat. I didn't even take a photo, better to keep it out of my confused mind. Then farther along the dam I saw two otter scent mounds,

with scat, rather classic in form with the scat just in front of the tufted grass,

but off kilter. Otters usually pay their respect to the grass in front of and behind my perch at the south end of the dam. I saw roughed up grass along the short canal at the north end of the dam, but no scats. When I got into the woods I saw a log marked with what looked like fisher scat. And in the winter I had seen fisher tracks along the margin of these woods. This settled my scatterbrain and I did take a photo.

Standing and looking at the Lost Swamp Pond and the north wind at the same time was no treat, fortunately there were muskrats swimming hither and yon. I saw five of them in the space of about twenty minutes. The first was way up in the
southeast end of the pond marking a dead bush stump in the middle of the pond, then veering past the active beaver lodge and heading toward the lee shore. The next came from the north shore of the pond, far north shore, perhaps from the east side of the
bank lodge and swam over and into the burrows in the point. Then two muskrats swam out of the beaver lodge near me in the middle of the pond, as opposed to the active beaver lodge up pond. Both swam quickly parallel to each other and ten yards apart. One soon dove and got a mouthful to take back to the lodge. The other continued around the point but only far enough to forage among the plants emerging from the water there. Then it went in a line, marking a bit on the way, to the burrows in the southwest corner of the upper pond. All that warmed me a bit, but I had to move on. No new otter scats in the mossy cove latrine but I saw a neat pile of muskrat poops on a rock just off shore.

As I came around the pond, I saw a muskrat swim down the north shore, one of the western muskrats. It nosed along the shore, eating a bit and then swam out to sniff the muskrat poop on a log in front of me.

Then it climbed up on the log and left two blobs of poop.

It slipped easily back into the water

and thanks to the video I noticed how it belongingly slipped its tail over the log.

Never thought of muskrats hugging and otherwise keeping in touch with the world with their all purpose engine of a tail. It swam out and marked and parked briefly on another log,

but I had to move on. I was anticipating a cold wait for beavers to appear and what should I see as I came over the ridge, but a beaver with its back to the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam. It dove and disappeared. Then I saw another beaver swimming down from the upper end of the pond, and it seemed to turn and dive toward the lodge behind the dam. At least it didn't surface along the shore. Then I saw the beaver swimming from the dam making a wake far up pond along the edge of the flooded meadowsweet. The wind was right for checking the lodge up pond, the one they used in the winter. So off I went, almost on tiptoe hoping to the see the beaver. I got to the lodge without incident which is not what I was hoping for. I got close to lodge and saw a vole or shrew scurry quickly over it, and I got the notion that
I might get a video of it. So even though I was suddenly on tenterhooks exposed to the cold north rain and now and then a cold spit of drizzle, I was hot on two chases. I heard beaver gnawing, but so faintly I wondered if a vole could gnaw up such a noise. Then the vole moved and stopped at a clump of grass on top of the lodge, in full view.

I have seen these animals darting at my for years and have been trying to capture them on my camcorder for ten years. I once videoed a dart from clump to clump, a blur, and now I was getting a close-up of a balled up meadow vole,
studying the line of its recessed ears. Of course, in the camcorder viewer it filled the screen, but to my naked eye what a sweet half handful of fur, a bit reddish in the grey light. I hoped it would show its belly and tail. As it moved on I just half saw the latter. Then, I think, it saw me, and disappeared into the cracks of the lodge logs. I climbed on the lodge the better to scare out a beaver or see the one gnawing out in the meadowsweet. Nothing happened and I saw nothing. It began to rain. I hurried down to the Second Swamp Pond dam to get a photo of the bank lodge on the north shore the better to see if the beavers have made any additions to that. I don't think so.

What an effortless walk home, with the wind at my back. I scattered three small deer as I hooked up with the Antler Trail. Good they hurried, I felt lightfooted enough to capture them.

May 21 chilly night, almost down to freezing, but the day warmed up nicely, though as it warmed up the wind picked up which kept it from getting hot. I headed off in the boat a little before noon, and checked the otter latrines in the
north cove of South Bay. Save for a pair of mallards I didn't see any ducks. I took a photo of one of the beaver scent mounds on a bit of solid ground along the marsh

No sign of otters being there. I expected to see scat at the rock latrine where I've seen several fresh scats this spring, but not only did I not see a fresh scat, I didn't see any remains of the old scats. I walked back on the island
checking rocks where I expect the mother otter to take her pups, but no sign of anything enjoying those hideaways. I rowed up to the island that forms the point. Last year we spied otter scent mounds along the shore; none this year. But out at the very point, in a grassy area surrounded by granite, I saw a good bit of scratching

and bleached otter scats with crayfish parts.

and some old scats that just seemed to have every bleached bit and piece of fish and crustacean.

Can I picture myself with a microscope putting back together this jigsaw puzzle of an otter meal? I motored up to the latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay, on the north shore of the bay, and I found a black scat in the grass, a
smear looking relatively fresh.

There was a good bit of scratching in the grass but no other scats. The river was calmer today along this shore and I looked down in the water for crayfish. I didn't see any, but I did see some crayfish parts on the bottom.

So, good chance at least one otter is taking advantage of this bounty. I headed out to Quarry Point of Picton Island, again no birds to enjoy on the way. From the boat I couldn't any scats or new wrinkles in the grass, but when I
walked about I saw some old scat with crayfish parts -- that is probably a week old. Then high up in the grass just below the upthrust of granite,

I saw black scat rich with crayfish parts that some bugs were still enjoying

There were two well scratched trails going about five yards higher up, one in the grass and the other in the piney dirt at the edge of a rock face.

Over on the other side of Quarry Point, really the point proper, I saw crayfish laced scats, bleached white but probably only a week old. There was scratched up grass and leaves, but no fresh scats.

So otters are out here as usual. Time to get up at dawn and see what's happening?