Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 1 to 7, 2010

June 1 I headed off around 4 pm to see if the otters were in the beaver ponds and I was almost relieved to see that there were no new or fresh scats at the latrines at the Big Pond dam, mossy cove and Lost Swamp Pond dam. I did see a butterfly near the scats on top of the mossy cove rock. It was probably fooled by the morning rain making the old scats look fresh.

It didn’t land to dine on any scats, just enjoyed the wet and warming granite. Otters have been in these ponds since December and over my many years of watching otters here, I’ve never seen evidence of them staying in them so long, and in most of the years I watched there were twice as many ponds to watch. While tracking these otters it crossed my mind that they may specialize in surviving in meadows and beaver ponds, but whenever I saw them they looked as rambunctious as a typical otter and fully capable of filling a range of several miles with their energy. I took a closer look at the scat in the mossy cove latrine that appear to have the bones of a small animal, bird, or perhaps turtle.

I couldn’t make too much sense of what I saw but since the bones I could identify had a slight curve, I wondered if they might be from a duckling. Ducklings were on my mind because I was seeing a few as I scanned the pond, and it did look like a few were missing. A hooded merganser only had one duckling, and that high crest made her look mighty proud of it.

Then a wood duck brood looked about half the usual size, only about six ducklings instead of the usual dozen. In the photo below you can see a heron standing in the nearby grasses and as far as I could see, the ducklings swam by it without incident.

Then a few minutes after I took the photo, a male wood duck landed raucously in front of the heron, and kept flapping at it. The heron gave a low harrumph and flew off. The male didn’t stay with the family, not sure where it went. There were also pairs of geese with goslings and without, all swimming about regally including the goslings who looked well over half grown. I had gone over toward the southeast reach of the pond to get a closer look at a beaver eating grasses in the pond. It’s big head was just out of the water. Looked like a relaxing meal.

I walked over to check the other bone-laced otter scat I saw the other day, which was at the top of a spate of grass scratching and digging on the north shore of the pond not far from the dam. But I couldn’t find the scat and not because an otter scratched over the area again. A turtle, probably not an otter, had been up digging out possible nests, and a raccoon followed because some eggs shells had been dug out, though I wonder if turtles themselves ever dig out old egg shells.

Nothing else doing around the dam, but I did notice some old otter scats with crayfish parts in them. I crossed along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, and saw digging in the middle of the dam where a snapping turtle might have deposited her eggs, and I saw some bubbles in the shallow pool behind the dam where that snapper might have been lurking. Instead of going down along the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond, I climbed up on the rib of granite north of the pond and walked down its ancient undulations to the East Trail Pond. For years this pond was completely full and now it is mostly meadow.

Beavers are back in the far west end, not in the pool of water in the foreground of the photo. I crossed the old boardwalk through the meadow and above a channel coming down from where the beavers are, there was a huge coyote poop laced with reddish hair.

Deer, muskrats and beavers all get that color in their fur at this time of year. From that point I could get a view of the pool where I heard a beaver slap its tail the other day, and perhaps there is a bit of a dam there.

I’ll have to wait until it gets drier before I can get closer to check that out. I walked along the slope to the north of the pond and then at the foot of the steeper ridge. I took a photo of where there had been a beaver lodge in the old days.

There may still be one. How could I tell? On the slope a little farther along, I saw some beaver gnawing on the base of the big tree that had been gnawed long ago.

And there was a trail that I could discern out of a channel and up a rock, scratching through some mosses and grass.

Then as I went a bit higher on the rocks, I heard a beaver slap its tail in the water under the thick shrubs. I sat and waited to see it. After about ten minutes I saw some ripples and then got a glimpse of a beaver’s nose, which you can’t see in the photo below,

And then it disappeared and I saw no more ripples nor heard any beaver made noises. At the next pool of water there were a couple stripped sticks floating near the shrubs and ferns.

The beavers didn’t move over here to eat bark but to eat the fresh greens which I would like to see them do, but they seem rather touchy about me being around, unlike when I watched them in other ponds. As I left the pond, I could see the remnants of the maple tree that I saw they had cut the last time I was here. Then the trunk was leaning up on the ridge. Now only one log remains and the leafy crown has, branch by branch, been taken away by the beavers for food and perhaps a lodge or dam.

As I walked home, a porcupine crossed the path in front of me, and then instead of scurrying off, walked down the path in front of me.

Of course, I was able to over take it, keeping my distance, and then it went over to a tree and I got an interesting photo which seems to show it bristling its quills.

It didn’t really want to climb that tree, so it didn’t and as I moved along it went about its business. Then at the small causeway I saw a snapping turtle nosing up from the swamp side heading toward the bay.

How could something with such a legendary jaw have such a delicate nose and innocent little eyes?

June 2 we’re finally getting rain, with a smart shower last night. That put a little water in the wallow above the Last Pool and smoothed the mud beyond it, so I could get an idea if any beaver ventured along that trail late last night or this morning. It didn’t look like it.

I went down the east shore the Boundary Pond to see if a beaver or two would be sitting on the bank, once again exiled from the lodge for the day. As I walked along I took my usual photo of the striking stripped wood of the hemlocks,

And then I tried to figure the new stripping. It was easy to see that the tree where they stripped a long root was now, slowly getting girdled.

But it seems somewhat puerile to measure the stripping here when the over all effect is so striking

which I suppose is completely lost on the beavers doing it. Hemlock bark is not usually eaten by beavers and the extent of the stripping here makes me wonder if it is a bit of “worrying” by other beavers as the mother nurses the kits. I haven’t seen evidence that the strips of bark were used for bedding in the lodge and a good deal of bark is on the ground around the trees. Then there is not much gnawing suggesting that the beavers aren’t relishing some inner bark. And not one hemlock has been cut down. Last year they did cut down a few and stripped more of the trunk. I expect all these hemlocks to die soon and it will be interesting to see what green plants, perhaps regular beaver fare, will spring up. Not that beavers think that far ahead, but over the ages, I suppose, they have not suffered from girdling and killing high trees and bringing more sun into a valley. Then I slowed down and looked for a beaver on the bank, but there was none there today. I got a photo of where a beaver had been. From afar it looked like the beaver was lying sphinx-like on a little mound, but at the spot I saw that a beaver had dug a hole.

Or was the hole dug to get roots and didn’t have anything to do with a vigil? Finally, another thought, the mother beaver has a yen to get away after bearing the kits. Usually there are other lodges or burrows in a pond for her to go. Is it possible that she came to the bank to get away and yet still be available if the kits needed her? But, I didn’t think the beaver on the bank looked as big as a mother beaver should be. The mosquitoes were not as bad today which can lessen one’s vigilance. As I sat in my chair contemplating the pond below, I didn’t notice a mosquito that landed on my hand until it was filled with my blood. I didn’t mind sitting in the sun, nor did some painted turtles below me on logs in the pond,

But I wonder if the sun drenched lodge is too hot for all the bodies inside it, and that is the reason a beaver took a break over along the shady bank.

The turtles were rather frisky. One chased another off a log. Usually they always buddy up to each other and enjoy the sun peacefully. I heard a few green frogs twanging and also heard them splashing. A gusting wind also made the pond seem lively despite the noon day sun. I checked the ridge for any new beaver cutting but didn’t see any. As I walked up the sunny west shore of the pond, I saw where a beaver stripped some small hemlocks there.

And the channel behind the hemlocks looked rather muddy so the beavers are still cruising up and down there.

The Last Pool did not look quite as muddy and, to my surprise, there is still no accumulation of nibbled sticks along the shore

Though the beavers may be dredging there a bit.

June 3 after doing chores on our big house on the island, I kayaked over to South Bay on a cloudy afternoon. Down at our dock I saw a big carp swim by which I thought boded well for seeing carp spawning in South Bay. Then I had to fight off a few swarms of shad flies. They are our new gift from the river. On the way to South Bay I saw one osprey fluttering over the water showing off a bullhead in its claw. The water level has risen four or five inches so now most of the north cove of the bay is accessible, and a pleasant paddle with many yellow spatterdock blooming and a few white water lilies. I paused to watch a heron fishing on the north shore, but I forgot my binoculars so I couldn’t contemplate the finer points of its performance. I got too close and it flew up the shore. When I poked around the rock, which in other years had been an otter latrine, I flushed a pair of mallards. They didn’t fly far. There was only goose poop in the latrine. I saw some large rhizomes floating in the water which I assume a beaver had munched. I didn’t take a close look at it, being a bit lackadaisical on this trip. From the swells in the water as I paddle along, I could tell that there were many carp around but I heard one brief splash of carp nudging carp, and didn’t see any spawning. Going up the north shore of the pond I flushed that heron again and as it landed on a tree another heron took off and of course as I paddled along the heron moved again. Eventually I flushed both herons from the same tree and one flew over to the south shore of the bay and other flew over the island. I saw several clumps of yellow flag iris and one blossoming high bush cranberry right next to the water, which made it very easy to see the circling crown of delicate white blossoms at the end of the green boughs. I so startled a mother mallard and her ten ducklings that they decided to stay put along the shore. Then on the high grassy bank almost to the otter latrine, I saw a dozen geese up in the grass at varying heights, most of them looking out at the water, and all spread evenly on the slope. I have never seen anything like that. I’d like to suggest that they were all looking at me but judging from the cock of their beaks they didn’t notice me at all. Nature seemed as lackadaisical as me. I had to nudge a brown bullhead floating aimlessly just below the surface of the water to remind it to swim down where it belongs. Could it have been angling for a shad fly?

June 5 we got to our land late in the afternoon and to recover from cleaning our house and battling red squirrels in the attic, I took my usual circle hike down to the Deep Pond, up through the woods, up Boundary Pond, and back to the house. I didn’t notice any new wrinkles around the Deep Pond save for another set of raccoon tracks in the silt along the inlet. On my hike up the ridge in the woods, where it was cooler and no deer flies, I found a pattern of green and brown. All the Spring flowers are gone. I got into my chair overlooking the Boundary Pond beaver lodge a little after 5pm. There were more mosquitoes about but instead of buzzing around my head, they kept landing on my hands which made them easy to manage. There were no beavers out as far as I could see. As usual the first ripples I saw in the pond were made by some mallards who flew off. Then gusts of wind kept the pond rippling, though damped by the spreading duck weed.

A phoebe or kingbird made a daring dive straight down, after an insect, I suppose. Then at about 5:20 the ripples in front of me began to rock, and soon enough a beaver appeared, didn’t seem to notice, and swam up pond through some duck weed.

However, it did swim a long ways under water. As I tried to read the ripples in order to figure out where it went, a female mallard flew back into the pond, stepped up on a log and preened her feathers.

Then the beaver reappeared, swimming slowly by her.

I thought it went over to the east shore where the stripped hemlocks are, which made sense. But I didn’t see it climb on shore. To get back to the house I walked up the east shore of the pond. I got another photo of the hole next to where I saw a beaver camped out during the day.

It looks a bit more dug out but that could just be caused by light and shadows being different than the last time I took a photo. While I didn’t notice any new stripping of the hemlocks, it looked like a beaver had rolled away the rocks I used to protect the engirdled bark of a big old maple, and that it did some more gnawing. Here is a photo the natural blockade that I put up back on the 31st,

And here is how it looked today.

I can’t think of any other animal that would have moved the rocks. So much for my theory that a little impediment can divert a beaver browsing for something to gnaw. Then up along the west shore of the channel through the Last Pool, I saw that a beaver cut a hemlock down and stripped most of the bark off the trunk.

The beavers have girdled a couple dozen hemlocks of various sizes along the east shore of Boundary Pond and not cut down one. Finally I checked the wallow above the Last Pool to see if the beaver had gone through it. I didn’t see fresh tracks leaving the wallow going up the valley, but a beaver had pushed up a little more mud in the front of the wallow.

I can’t quite figure out why a beaver would feel comfortable here and why it would want to keep pushing up the mud. No water will flow down here until the late fall or next spring.

June 6 we had steady rain in the night, much of the morning, then wind blown drizzle, and it was cold. I walked down the road and saw swirling fog on the Deep Pond formed by the cold kissing the warm water of the pond. I continued down to White Swamp and at three places saw where raccoons had dug out turtle eggs along the edge of the road, including the spot where I had seen the turtle at work.

When I got to the edge of the woods down where the road crosses the shores of the swamp, I heard some frantic whistling and then at least two male rose breasted grosbeaks and two females flew by me. I saw the two males rest briefly on a branch in front of me and then they flew out into the rain and down the road. I assume they were battling but I couldn’t see them any more. We went home to the Island, and then when the rain finally stopped in the late afternoon, I walked around South Bay to take photos of what I saw on my kayak trip a few days ago and to see what was new. Well, everything was wet and green. I saw the white wood anemones all around but none of the photos really worked. I did better capturing the geese families leaving the shore and converging with their prides and joys.

A pair of mallards had led the way, and just after I snapped the photo, a kingfisher flew by. I managed to get a photo of one yellow flag iris.

They usually grow in bigger clumps. Then I got a photo of the spread of water lilies,

and, while standing on the shore, a good a close as I could get of one lily.

And I took a photo of some spatterdock.

On the shore I saw a sleeping white moth trying to pass as a flower, latched underneath a green leaf.

Then I checked for otter signs. There were no otter scats in the docking rock latrine, and the only new wrinkle that I had to explain at the latrine above the entrance to South Bay is why big clods of moss have been ripped off the rock.

There are also crayfish parts that I haven’t seen before because I know I would have taken a photo of two blue claws.

But I only saw goose poop. Otters leave more tokens of their presence so I have to credit raccoons. Or do birds snag crayfish and then bring them to the rocks to break them up -- hard to imagine that. Then I walked up to Audubon Pond to see if the beavers are still making themselves at home in the little pond they fashioned below the embankment. I didn’t see any major new work and the pond didn’t look muddy,

but there has been a lot of fresh water pouring down the drain and into the little pond. I headed back along the South Bay trail not expecting to see any more activity but when I got down toward the end of the cove, I saw that the largest and youngest family of goslings was up in the grass just off the trail.

I saw the parent round them up and then lead them and herd them down into the water. I took a video because this was an interesting operation, fairly orderly with, as far as I could see, only the tall grass causing some of the goslings some consternation. The other day I saw about a dozen geese standing, spread out on a grassy slope up toward the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay. Today I saw a dozen geese at the end of the north cove swimming in orderly procession. When I saw them the other day I thought they were all adults without goslings.

Seeing them in the water, most of them looked small and so I don’t think they are a random gaggle of geese, but no gosling hatched this year could be that big. So how are they all related?

June 7 We took advantage of a cool, sunny morning to motor out to Picton Island. Before checking for otter scats around Quarry Point, we drifted down the bay that forms the southeast end of the island. There was only one pair of mallards at the end of the bay. We saw a heron briefly attacked by a kingbird before it settled on a tree limb well away from the kingbird. Then we went up to Quarry Point. From the boat the usual otter latrines looked unused. I made a quick inspection on land and didn’t find any new otter scats, and few old ones. Our recent rains seem to have washed them away. Over near the latrine on the north shore, I saw a large dead fish,

But I didn’t see any evidence that otters had anything to do with it. The rain had washed almost all remnants of old scats off the big granite boulder that had been peppered with them.

There were a few big scats on other rocks that looked relatively old and judging from the photo I took on May 26, the scat in the photo below was just washed a bit down the rock.

I was hoping to see fresh scats which might inspire me to come out here at dawn when it is more likely to see the otters here. There was only one feature around this latrine that looked curious. There seemed to be a watery hole in the middle of the carpet of rocks with grass around it, like something dug it out.

When I walked along this shore last fall I noticed holes in the dirt behind the rocks and got the impression that this old quarry area which is honeycombed with loose rocks allowed for animals to fashion routes from the river through the rocks up to the shore, but I’ve seen no evidence of an otter or mink doing that. We continued going along the shore down to the big pine where I’ve seen otter scats but through the binoculars, I couldn’t see any there today. We crossed Eel Bay, which the northeast wind seems to have cleared of ducks and birds. As we left the Narrow we saw a heron standing in the shallow water and I know it was standing on rocks.

That’s not a place I’d think fish would wiggle by -- maybe the herons are nabbing crayfish who venture out from under rocks in the day. I rowed down the shore and showed Leslie some clumps of yellow flag iris barely rooted along the shore.

The blue flag iris is a native plant. The yellow flag came from Europe and as is easy to see here is just hitting the beaches. My impression is that otters have not been active in South Bay recently, but I had not checked the latrine they’ve been keeping the last few years on the little island that forms the point in South Bay. I didn’t see any scat up there but I did see where a raccoon dug up turtle eggs.

Because of the low water level, it’s easier for raccoons to get out here. They certainly gave the thin moss covered soil on the granite a thorough going-over.

We went to our land in the afternoon and I took my usual tour of the Boundary Pond area. At the head of the Last Pool I saw several white tail dragonflies and managed to get a photo of one.

They have been around for a week or so and this is the first good photo-op I had. I walked down the east shore of the ponds and saw that a beaver has stripped more of the bark off the one hemlock that’s been cut down this spring.

Down at their next work station, which had been a satellite of hemlock and birch stripping and gnawing about 20 yards from the main body of their work, I saw a first strip of a small hemlock,

Which I expected, but also some major gnawing on a venerable old maple, which I had hoped they would ignore.

This tree has had half of its roots underwater for a few years now, and it is not doing well. I saw many dead leaves up in it crown which looked rather thin.

The other two big maples that the beavers have been girdling and that I am trying to protect are not flooded and quite healthy. I didn’t have much time to tarry around the pond and all was quiet for the few minutes I sat in the chair half way up the ridge. Walking up the west shore of the Boundary Pond, I saw a clump of interesting Christmas ferns that gave the initial impression that they were dying since the tips of the leaves of their fronds were brownish yellow.

But with a closer look, and feel, I saw that I was seeing a kind of hard casing around the leaf and I guess time will tell if this is healthy spore making or something is amiss.

I took a photo of the cut hemlock looking from the stump

And couldn’t resist taking a close-up of the stump which seems to show how easy it was for the beaver to cut through the wood.

I’ve been noting how few nibbled sticks I’ve been seeing in the Last Pool, which last year was littered with them. Today, I finally saw a very small pile of stripped sticks in the back middle of the pond.