Friday, April 30, 2010

April 14 to 21 , 2010

April 14 I took a break from sawing and collecting firewood at the land and went down to sit above the beaver lodge after lunch, which is a quiet time especially with only two leopard frogs snoring. When I walked along the shore a few little frogs jumped in. One peaked out from under a leaf in the water to get a look at me.

One bunch of hepatica up on shore was showing its liver-like leaves, which I rarely see apart from the usual ground litter at this time of year.

If the beavers are taking trees along the pond, they are small saplings. I’ve been up and down the shore many times now since the ice melted and I should be able to spot major new work. My object of study is now at the end of the Last Pool where the beavers continue to strip the upper trunk of the poplar that fell.

That’s easy to follow; more perplexing is what they are doing in dirt on the side of the trail, which has been there a couple years, leading up from the Last Pool.

At first it seemed like they were digging in the dirt like they were nipping roots, now it looks like they are spreading mud, or pushing water to make mud, up into the dirt, and what had been digging now looks smoothed over.

A close look at the mud doesn’t reveal anything and I don’t want to probe it myself and ruin the aesthetics of the beaver operation.

Is it the beginnings of a new dam, or at least a beaver exploring the possibilities of a new dam? Much would depend on how easy it is to dig here. Or is this the preparation for an elaborate scent mound to warn off other beavers from the development below? Perhaps arguing for the latter, a beaver left some of its sawdust like poop on a prominent spot on the little mound behind the Last Pool.

Not that I think beavers mark with this inoffensive poop, but they generally don’t poop like this out in the open.

April 15 cloudy morning and a bit chilly, we headed off to see the otters, getting off at 8:30, and going directly to the Big Pond via the Antler Trail, where we roused a half dozen deer. I saw some new scats in the grass at the south end of the dam, three separate arrays, which suggests a group of otters,

But the scats were not especially fresh though there were more scales than goo so it was hard to tell.

There were no otters in the pond and since we can come back this way, we hurried on to the Lost Swamp Pond. As we approached we saw ripples but mallards were the cause. Geese were swimming slowly up in the southeast end of the pond. And it started to rain, but we sat patiently above the mossy cove latrine. After 15 minutes, I checked the latrine for new scats and saw that they had expanded the latrine more to the west leaving two small scats.

The scats were smaller than usual and not necessarily fresh. If the otters had just been there and scatted, given the damp air, we would have smelled fresh scats.

But they were new scats and it was hard to be sure that there were not new scats in the rest of the latrine where there are now so many scats. Do smaller scats, you can hardly see them in the photo above, mean that the otters are getting less to eat, and hence might have been compelled to move on? I walked over to look down at the Second Swamp Pond and saw no signs of otters and then went back to sit with Leslie, who was getting a little chilled. At least the rain stopped. Then we saw a bright wake going to the beaver lodge out in the southeast end of the pond. I tried to focus in on the action with the camcorder and thought I saw a blurry image of an otter head up on the south apron of the lodge. Then we saw a bright wake going off in that direction. Then nothing and I could not see a head swimming in the water. Then when the wake headed back to the north shore, through the camcorder, I saw something in the water, that could have been a duck or otter, and then that something dove toward me and I saw it roll into the water, and saw no tail. In the camcorder it seemed big enough to be at otter, but if it was as otter we should have been able to see it with the naked eye, even from that great distance, and we couldn’t. However, hooded mergansers, the diving duck in the pond now, are usually paired up and they generally don’t swim to beaver lodges and back again. So I think it was an otter, and that it was alone, and that there is less scat around might suggest that the otter family is in the process of breaking up but I have been thinking that for the past month. We waited for more action and there was none. We went home via South Bay and I checked the Second Swamp Pond dam for otter scats. Here is where I frequently found the fresh stuff. Not today, but because it was cloudy it was easier to get photos showing what has been happening at this latrine, a chaotic combination of digging and tufting up dead grasses.

I’ve never seen this much digging and am beginning to think they are digging for insect larva, not that I’ve seen any remains of such, nor actually know what they would look like. Or the digging is just compulsive wearing off of excess energy.

I followed what looked like a trail heading down into the marsh beside the creek. The otters have expanded their latrine in that direction. I did see some shallower digging there, but no scats. Looking back to the pond, I can’t say that it looked like the otters spent much time there.

So I’ll come out again in two days and see what I shall see.

April 16 we went to the land late in the afternoon giving me a chance to sit above the beaver lodge until 6:15. Ten days ago a beaver was out at 5 and I heard gnawing in the lodge. Walking down Grouse Alley on my way to the lodge, I saw evidence that a beaver had been back up there. A hornbeam had been dragged out on the path and a bit of the lower part of the trunk cut off and taken away.

As I walked along I was attacked by many black flies. It was a chilly enough evening for me to have a hood, and I still had gloves in my pocket. And fending off black flies was about the only excitement I had. There were few frogs singing, and one sleepy hum from the beaver lodge. I did hear a pine warbler again up in the tall pine trees. I’m kicking myself for not coming out after dinner weeks ago to count the beavers. Now, when I try again, I’ll have black flies to contend with and soon mosquitoes. I walked back along the west shore of the pond. We’ve been having rain so the pond’s water level is up so I think the levies I see along the channel are the result of recent dredging by the beavers as they swim up and down the channel.

The Last Pool channel which should be shallower than the Boundary Pond channels has muck lined up on both sides.

I checked above the Last Pool to see how the mud work there was progressing. I’m not sure if the rain or more beaver activity accounts for the different look. Now it doesn’t look like beavers are digging for roots but that they are fashioning a bit of a wallow there.

Of course, one thing can lead to another.

April 18 it rained yesterday, with much wind, as a cold front moved through. There was a weak sun this morning that strengthened as we walked along Antler Trail and the birds in the thickets were appreciating the growing warmth so we sat and tried to distinguish their songs. We heard towhees and a cardinal, but smaller birds with high pitched trills were lurking. The shadbushes are blooming

And we noticed a clump of them that had the usual smooth bark on a trunk never more than four inches in diameter but also much thicker shadbushes that had thick bark that only smoothed out where the trunk thinned.

Never noticed that before. At first glance we didn’t see any otters in the Big Pond and then we had to figure out an odd threesome on a nearby muskrat lodge. Two geese and a mallard were standing up on it and the mound of grass wasn’t that capacious.

As we moved closer the three waterfowl moved off in orderly fashion, the geese protesting with honks. Judging from the otter scats in the latrine south of the dam, the otters had been there recently.

We saw two scats worthy of a close up. One had seemingly undigested internal organs of a fish or frog,

And the other had fish roe

That scat looked especially fresh. There were also fresh scats on the grass right up from the water behind the dam. Easy to think that four otters did all that scatting. So we hurried on to the Lost Swamp Pond. As we approached we heard loud calls not unlike otter chirping, but there were hawks circling high above. We didn’t see any otters out in the pond. A lone muskrat plied the pond from the point of the peninsula over to the south shore and back again. The swallows snagging the many midges put on the best show. I checked the mossy cove latrine and saw some fresh squirts of fresh scat east of the latrine proper. And the lower part of latrine looked like it had been rolled down to bare dirt.

There were fresh scats in the grass just west of the mossy cove latrine.

I noticed an otter or two scatting over there the other day. Now there were two areas of thick scats. One array was beside a rock an otter scatted on the other day.

The other array was spread out on some nearby moss.

Again this looked like the work of more than one otter. No reason not to think the family of four that I’ve seen here did this. I walked over to look down on the Second Swamp Pond and saw no otters down there. I checked the otter latrine west of the Lost Swamp Pond dam and while I didn’t see as many scats as I did across the pond, I saw one scat strategically placed on a mound of grass next to the water,

Though I have no basis for suggesting that the otter put it there on purpose. But the scat was not typical and had some light colored matter in it, certainly looked like an important otter statement.

Meanwhile it looks like a beaver is still tending the dam, though I still haven’t seen any evidence of a beaver eating anything in or around the pond.

I went back over to the south shore to sit with Leslie and wait for otters to appear. She noticed that the mayapples were sprouting up and starting to stretch out leaves.

I thought we sat long enough to give otters a chance to appear unless they were resting on the beaver lodge out in the southeast end of the dam. Then some geese moved up on the lodge, and I figured that otters weren’t there. Usually geese nest on the lodge out in the west end of the pond near where we were sitting, but that lodge seems to be losing its logs.

I wonder if a beaver raided those logs to build up one of the other lodges. We went home via the Second Swamp Pond dam. As I walked out on the dam heading for the otter latrine, I heard some mammal-like purring in the marsh around the little creek draining the pond. I walked back there but nothing materialized.

There were fresh scats here too, but not as many as in the other latrines.

So we felt like we had just missed seeing the otters. We had a late start and tarried on the way listening for birds.

April 19 I got out of the house before 8:30 and brooked no distractions on my way to the Big Pond. It was a bright sunny morning with a north wind, perfect for looking for otters. I didn’t see any in the pond, nor any new scats, which was fine. I picture them coming to this pond after they forage in the other two ponds. So I headed to the Lost Swamp Pond expecting to see them, but they were not there. Geese and ducks swam placidly in the pond. An osprey flew off from the dead tree behind the dam. I checked the mossy cove latrine and saw that a pile of grass had been scraped up next to the scat in their new latrine area just west of where the otters usually scat. But I couldn’t see any new scats next to the grass, nor anywhere else.

I walked down to the Second Swamp Pond, where I often picture them beginning their day, but there was no sign of them and no new scats in the latrine. I got the feeling the otters had left these ponds, but I had one more place to check, the marsh below the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam where they had often latrined and probably denned last summer. I saw some old scats, but no new ones. Then as I walked up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam, I saw two piles of grass scraped up well down from where the otters latrine.

So I think another animal scraped up the grass at the mossy cove latrine. I didn’t see any fox or coyote poops so I can’t give them credit. There were no new otter scats in the latrine by the dam, but it looked like the beaver pushed up more mud on the dam,

And as I walked down the north shore of the pond, I saw some beaver nibbled sticks, the first evidence I’ve seen this spring, or winter for that matter, of a beaver eating here.

Then at the west end of the dam, I saw fresh greens pushed out of the pond in a beaverly fashion.

It was almost as if the beavers were letting their hair down now that the otters had gone! I waited another half hours for otters to appear, and only used the camcorder when I saw some hooded mergansers diving around the beaver lodge in the southeast end of the pond. So I was wrong in a previous entry. Mergansers can be attracted to beaver lodges. Well, I have been expecting the otters to leave, and the family to break up, for well over a month. That the four of them stayed together until the middle of April is remarkable. So I relaxed and noticed other things, strange gnawing around an old beaver cut on a tree still standing

Probably done by a porcupine since there was no path up from the pond made by a beaver. Then I deigned to take a photo of a small deer back off Antler Trail

And it rewarded me with a classic leap, white tail flagged high.



When went to the land for lunch and I took a circular walk I’m growing to like: down to the Deep Pond, over the knoll, up the ridge along the boundary line to the Boundary Pond, then up the pond and back to the house. On the way down the road to the Deep Pond, I saw a porcupine dancing at the end of a bouncing branch of a small tree trying to snag budding leaves.

It had a light touch giving no impression of claws digging into bark, as if its quills added buoyancy. I saw nothing stirring in the Deep Pond but a few frogs. The trilliums were blooming beside the knoll, relatively small blooms so far that are perfect for group photos

These modest beauties are the most cheering companions of the spring.

I saw some patches of flowers going over the ridge and then enjoyed the hepatica and a few violets along the west shore of Boundary Pond.

The trilliums there were almost blooming. As is my habit now I walked up to where the beavers have been alternately digging and smoothing mud along the wet trail above the Last Pool. Once again they seem to be smoothing the mud.

Perhaps I am obsessing on this but I’ve long thought that mud is extremely important to beavers and so how they manipulate it may be important. Patience. The end of the poplar is well stripped, but the beavers don’t show any interest in the rest of the trunk which is not that high off the ground. There are some deeper cuts along the part they stripped but they never seemed close to cutting off more logs, as if swimming up to it that 100 yards or so from the lodge was too pleasurable, so why carry logs back to the lodge.

All along the shore of the ponds, I saw amphibians scooting under leaves. Hard to see them, but I don’t think they are frogs. I assumed they were tadpoles, but caught a glimpse of one that had me thinking it might be a salamander. I best try to net some. Then I walked up under the mossy ridge toward some ironwood logs I needed to haul out. A red squirrel scurried out of my way and half hid under a mossy sandstone ledge.

April 20 We headed off in the motor boat in the late morning and scattered the buffleheads off Goose Island. This is the first spring I can remember when they have spent so much time on Granite Slate shoal which is between us and the main channel of the river. There were only a few ducks in South Bay, two were a pair of common mergansers, the most beautiful ducks on the river. I checked the otter latrine on the point where I had seen scat last time I was out in the boat a few weeks ago. I saw a bit of scratched up grass

But only one scat, relatively fresh.

A little higher on the point I saw more grass tufted up, a bullhead barb, but no scats.

Now I am getting the impression that there has only been one otter hanging around South Bay for the last month. I scared a goose off her nest and she and her mate gave me what for.

Then as I rowed down the north cove to check the flat rock otter latrine, we passed a nesting goose.

The water level in the river is still low so I don’t think the rock would be attractive to otters with water less than a foot deep around it. However, muskrats don’t seem to mind. One left a nice spread of leftover stalks and rhizomes on the rock.

We noticed a congeries of noisy red winged blackbird perched on cattails and venting their ire at something below them in the dry marsh.

I went to investigate and didn’t see anything in the marsh but did see some fresh raccoon poop on a nearby rock. Usually this marsh is flooded by now providing some inviting nooks for muskrats, beavers and even otters. This year all is dry.

I did pick up a lot deer ticks walking through it. As I row out of the cove, we saw an osprey shake water off its wings high in a tree and then flow off with a wiggling bullhead dangling from its claw. We also saw a Caspian tern fly over, without any squawking. We pressed on to Picton lounging in the bays southwest of Quarry Point. Not that many frogs but one leopard frog had an extra long sonorous snore. As we eased up the granite shore to the point, we saw the large head of a fish, maybe a small pike, rather ripped where it was cut

And since there were scales on the neighboring rocks, we wondered if an otter might have done the deed. We were just a few yards shy of their last latrine west of the point. I could get out on the rocks there and hurried up but I didn’t see any more of the fish, nor did I see any fresh scats there. The pathway up and the scraped up grass could have been like that for days. The few scats I saw were old. But a bit closer to the point,

I saw some major digging in the dirt, and some almost fresh scats.

But nothing from an otter that just ate a big fish. I can say that for sure there were more scats and fresher scats in the mossy cove latrine in the Lost Swamp Pond. We also checked the rocks around the trail back to where an otter family was denning last summer -- no new scats there. As we motored across Eel Bay was saw pairs of scaup spread throughout that portion of the bay that had a nice chop generated by the rising west wind.

April 21 We worked at our land in the morning which afforded me a chance to see new blooms, yellow violets out today,

And then I went down to contemplate the beavers digging at the end of the Last Pool. The best theory I can come up with now is that just as beavers feel more comfortable fashioning a little wallow below the dam, they also like a little wallow above the dam.

But the puddled water is no more an inch or two deep. And there is no denying how comfortable the water in the back end of the Last Pool looks. Indeed a beaver might have done some tentative dredging there.

Of course it would be nice to see beavers operating here. Maybe in a few days when we spend our first night of the year here. Sitting on the old downed poplar I could get a perspective on how the beavers might do on the new downed poplar. They are gnawing down the trunk of one section of the crown, but have a lot more trunk to gnaw on.

After lunch I walked slowly down the sunny shore of Boundary Pond with a dip net to see exactly what keeps wiggling away from me: tadpoles. Don’t recall them being here last year.

Back on the island I headed off a little after 3pm to not see otters. I wanted to confirm my hunch that the otter family had left the beaver ponds. So I was pleased not to see any new scats around or along the Big Pond dam. Then I was heading down to the mossy cove latrine on the southwest shore of the Lost Swamp Pond, I heard something splash in the water from the latrine, and saw ripples consistent with a splash made a large turtle but why would a large turtle be there. As I walked around the rock behind the latrine, I heard otter snorts, looked around and saw an otter out in the water about ten yards floating head and tail up. It snorted a few more times as I hurried to get out my camera and took a photo and then switched it to video and hoped I was capturing the image of the large, unruffled otter with a large tail curved behind its back. Then it dove and swam underwater toward the dam, I think. Unfortunately, as I positioned my camera I did not notice a branch with leaves just budding right in front of me and those buds attracted the focus of the camera, not the otter. In a short video clip one can hear the otter snort and see its blurred image dive. The tail that so impressed me is not visible. I moved behind the tree and waited, but nothing surfaced in the pond. There were two new scats in the latrine

The fresher of the two was on top of a pine cone just in the sun.

Then I sat up on the rock behind the latrine waiting for an otter or otters to appear, none did. This is exactly the type of otter sighting I have learned to expect in April. On April 19, 1999, I saw a male otter come up on a mossy ledge above Beaver Point Pond (now a meadow) and scat, all the while looking at me. Then it swam off but not before snorting at me several times. Perhaps I just saw the same thing. Certainly this otter didn’t behave like the ones I have been seen here. So the family left, and the bull male toured its territory. Leslie suggests the male’s return prompted the family to leave. The family should break up, should have broken up a month before now. No need to jump to conclusions. I may see these otters again. It seemed a pity to walk away from the pond before seeing a second act, so to speak. I finally saw a muskrat swim over to the dam and go up and over it. So I walked over there hoping to get a good look at the muskrat. But just as I was taking a photo of the dam, packed by the beavers with fresh mud,

The muskrat swam out just beyond the lodge by the dam, saw me and swam back to its burrow. I saw a goose nesting on the lodge out in the pond, but, strangely, there was no male protecting it, swimming around honking at me.

There were no new otter scats in the latrines by the dam. I thought that if the otter I saw was a touring male then he should have scatted down at the latrine on the Second Swamp Pond dam that the otter family has been wearing out. There were no new scats there. So? I went over to Meander Pond. Hearing a pine warbler on the way -- other than that, blackbirds and chickadees, I didn’t notice many birds. It was late enough for a beaver to be out in Meander Pond so I sat on a downed tree trunk flanking the east end of the pond. A few wood ducks flew off and a large duck, I could only see its profile as I looked into the sun, swam up toward the lodge. When I later saw something swimming around the lodge, I couldn’t really tell if it was a beaver or a duck. I think it was a beaver because when I began walking around the pond, no duck flew off, but I didn’t see any beaver again either. I couldn’t take my eyes off the leaning red oak trunk that I think a beaver has been walking up and gnawing bark high off the ground. I was convinced that the beaver had been up again since I was hear 10 days ago, this was no winter project, and comparing then and now photos confirms that, though the then photo

Shows the same amount of very high work as the now photo

What has recently been gnawed is in the middle of the trunk and a beaver reaching up could not have gotten to that. There is absolutely no porcupine work on or around these red oaks. I tried to look at all the half finished beaver projects, red oaks half cut, white oaks half girdled, so that I could tell if a beaver is working on them now. I sat a bit longer to watch the lodge, nothing stirred. Down at the dam, the beavers have perfected their wallow below the dam and now have a wallow below that wallow.

Will they keep moving down and recreate a big pond that I called Shortcut Trail Pond? I didn’t go that way but continued around the pond and saw that the beavers finally trimmed all the branches out of the crown of the ash tree on the south shore of the pond that they cut in the fall and that blew down in the winter.

Other than that and some tentative girdling on some white oaks, I didn’t see any recent lumbering south of the pond by the beavers. I thought they’d get back up in the woods here, but not yet.