Wednesday, July 7, 2010

June 15 to 22, 2010

June 15 sunny morning with a light east wind. We headed off to South Bay in our kayaks. Leslie saw one loon fishing over Granite Slate shoal. We headed to the bays west of the south entrance to the Narrows and enjoyed hundreds of little fish and fry. Leslie spotted a curious hole in the muddy bottom about 10 yards from the beaver lodge. There were a few sticks stuffed into it. I’ve suspected that muskrats make holes under a pond bottom to allow another avenue of escape, but I think beavers are too big to do that. No signs of beavers being in that huge bank lodge, so this hole is evidently old business. We only saw one pair of mallards in these bays. Two noisy osprey flew over head. There were three large patches of flowering yellow spatterdock and only one blooming white water lily. We crossed the Narrows and then paddled down the north shore of South Bay. I warned Leslie that she might bump into ducklings and she soon pointed out a mother mallard and five ducklings swimming out in the bay. I told her there should be 10 ducklings, I saw them yesterday evening. As I wondered what might eat 5 ducklings, we saw another mallard mother leading 5 ducklings with another bunch of ducklings spraying ahead of her helter-skelter. That was the group I saw last night. Leslie insisted I call these little guys “duckie-wuckies” not ducklings. They were that crazy. We saw one mid-size carp in the bays west of the Narrows. Now we started hitting the big boys and two were obviously in the throes of spawning, curling their big body as they surfaced. I expected to see more blooming water lilies but only two or three were in full bloom; others were just opening. With the east wind we could make a quick exit from South Bay, but it slowed our progress as we rounded the headland for our home cove. About 50 yards out, we heard a loon and then saw some violent wing flapping by two loons not far from a granite point. Then we clearly saw two loons, both chortling in their usual fashion. Then one flapped away about 15 yards, but not leaving the water. Then facing each other they alternately chortled and the one left behind slowly swam out toward the other, and after the loons sang, they dipped their beaks into the water. When the one approaching reached the other, it turned and faced the same direction as the other and they sang at the same time in a curious harmony. One seemed pitched lower. They seemed to drift in the wind faster than I was because they got closer to me. Leslie was positioned more behind them. I paddled backwards and let them move out in the river, and soon they started chortling again. Along with beak dipping, they reared up flapping their wings and one especially puffed its breast out, then flapped up so it could dive down into the water landing on its breast. After about 10 minutes of that show, they both dove and disappeared for a minute or so. When they surfaced they stayed low in the water, back into their fishing mode. Most of the shore around here is civilized so I’ll be surprised if this courtship leads to nesting.

We went to the land in the afternoon. I sharpened my saw and made faster work of cutting logs down to firewood. Then I checked on the beaver work. Once again another hemlock joined the legion of the beaver-stripped, probably on the way to being girdled.

Then I saw a little reach-up-and-strip that made the dry bark look tasty.

Not that I took a bite. I didn’t notice any more work on the hemlocks. I followed the trail up the ridge east of the pond that I saw a beaver start up the other night. As I continued up higher than the beaver went, it continued to seem plausible that a beaver could have gone that high, but looking around and down I didn’t see anything cut or eaten and nothing that a beaver might relish.

But climbing the ridges here is always interesting. I saw a display of lichens and I’ve never seen the white lichens, which are relatively common here, stained with brown, which I assume is another type of lichen or dying lichens.

And above that I saw the ripples of the ancient seas locked still forever on a squally day.

Crossing the dam I noticed that the wallow below was getting stagnant. For the first time since the beavers built the dam, I think they have stopped any flow through it.

Walking up the west shore of the pond I saw a beautiful elderberry bush in the shade.

The beavers are starting to taste the hemlocks along this shore. One small tasted hemlock is surrounded by ironwoods not much bigger, a large elm and ash, the latter not in the photo.

These beavers rarely strip all the bark off an ironwood, but they do cut them down. Ash trees are not a favorite, but other beavers I’ve watched have stripped bark off the entire trunks of large ash trees that they’ve cut down. These beavers used to prize elm, but not recently. Another small hemlock that they girdled is on one of the moss covered “islands” in the Last Pool channel.

And then a beaver is starting low on one of the larger hemlocks.

No beavers out in the pond this afternoon.

June 16 cloudy morning with rain threatening so I hurried out to check the beaver ponds to see if any otters had visited. Crossing the plateau on Antler Trail, I heard the songs of two towhees. Then as I walked down the woods toward the Big Pond, I focused on some incessant chirping and saw a rose breasted grosbeak on the low branch of a tree. Since it didn’t move, I thought it might be a fledge, though it looked rather in full plumage. Then it flew high up in a tree, so perhaps it was papa looking for fledges. Then as I walked on, I heard a different style of chirping and looked up in a higher branch and saw a male scarlet tanager. Then I saw a deer lurking down by the dry creek and am pretty sure it wasn’t a fawn. When I walked up to the south end of the Big Pond dam, I saw a small fresh trail up from the water and through the lengthening grass,

Enough to accommodate one otter, I thought, and a few feet up in the grass I saw a fresh black otter scat.

It was fresh enough for me to stay behind the cattails as I walked along the dam. I scanned the pond several time with the binoculars but only saw wood ducks snagging bugs. So I looked down at the dam to check on beaver developments. I think more mud has been pushed up on the dam,

And I think the pile of little sticks to nibble has grown.

One photo could hardly capture it,

But this is rather small beer even for small beavers. I still haven’t got on my knees and tried to identify these little twigs, let alone discover where the beavers cut them. Coming up to the pond, I noticed that the ubiquitous shrub around here is in bloom so I took a photo hoping I could identify what that is, though I am not sure the beavers eat it.

I saw some ripples as I approached the Lost Swamp Pond, then noticed that the wind had picked up. A quick scan of the pond revealed no otter, and I admit that I was looking for just one since the lone scat at the Big Pond dam supported my idea that as usual in June over the years I’ve watched otters, one otter settles into a pattern of marking these ponds. Then, as usual, I walked over to rock over looking the mossy cove latrine. I first noticed that the moss and turf beside the rock seemed a bit more disordered.

One otter could have done that, though there were no scats near the scraping. Then I looked over at the rock, saw one fresh scat just off it on the pine needles, then another scat where I usually sit, and then several scats, looking black and fresh, along the top of the rock where I often step as I go down to check the mossy cove latrine below.

One otter did not do all that.

Since most of the scats looked rather fresh, I moved over to a rock where I had a better view of the whole pond. I saw a family of geese swimming away slowly toward the southeast end of the pond. There was a goose feather up where the otters scatted and it crossed my mind that I was too hasty in my identification. Perhaps I mistook thick black goose poop for otter scat. Not that I rushed back to clutch at that straw to save my one-otter theory. I waited another 20 minutes for otters to appear in the pond and finally saw a muskrat swim out of the grasses back to its den in the point across from where I was sitting. Going back to the scat covered rock, I first checked the nearby beaver bank lodge which is so porous that walking to it should scare out anything lurking inside. Nothing came out. Then I took a photo of the rock from that angle.

I think the otters (or geese?) came up behind the rock. At least that route looked rather scraped down.

There were no new scats in the latrine below the rock, no scraping, no scent mounds. So I climbed the rock and saw that a third of the scats looked a few days old, with wind blown seeds scattered on top.

But then one after another I studied rather wet, large, obvious otter scats.

Geese poops do not reach that level of design.

There were a half dozen more. I headed over to the dam to see if the otters scatted there. On the way along the north shore I saw goose feathers scattered in the water under the just blooming swamp milkweed.

I saw trails through the vegetation where the otters had latrined but they didn’t lead to otter scats. Geese would come up the same way. However back on the big rock below the dam, I saw some strips of otter scats, call them drips, but they weren't as fresh as what I had seen on the rock on the other side of the pond.

Meanwhile, the beavers keep pushing mud up on the dam, though I don’t see any sign that it really needs it.

But I have my hands full second guessing otters. No sense trying to second guess beavers. I went home more or less the way I came and when I went back along the Big Pond dam I saw scats on the perch I usually sit on.

They were old scats but there was also a fresh scat under the perch, not the scat I saw when I came out. Here was proof of sloppy tracking. I was so anxious to see evidence of just one otter that I walked right over another scat suggesting at least two otters had just been here. But I wasn’t hard on myself. My persistence in checking these ponds has given me a new perspective on otters, confusing as it may be for the moment. According to other studies, that the mother stayed with family beyond March is novel. Even if the mother has now separated from the family, that the three siblings might still be together is novel, too. It would be nice to see these otters again, which might provide some clarification.

June 18 yesterday we worked at the land and during break from sawing I saw two green darners at it.

Their tail dips in the water seemed so well considered unlike the frantic tail dips of smaller dragonflies. One kingfisher was about, a few green frogs and at least one bullfrog. Today I took a morning hike on the island to the interior beaver ponds not knowing what to expect. There were no new scats at the otter latrine south of the Big Pond dam. Perhaps there was another trail in the grass. The beavers have heaved up more mud, really heroic mounds.

I am not sure what had marked up the mound in the photo above. A close-up reveals smaller bird prints and bigger bird-like prints but that could be beaver fingers and then there is a small canine print. I don’t think there are any otter prints. Then muskrat prints might account for the general scratched-all-over look but why would a muskrat paw over a mound of mud.

A leopard frog was sitting on the next mound of mud, almost all brown skinned, but my photo of it was out of focus. Where the beaver has been sitting on the dam having its meals cut grass stalks have covered over twigs.

There is a contradiction here. I have often seen beavers cut a twig or collect grass or other vegetation and then eat it all. In fact, that is usually the case save when they are collecting branches for the winter. Yet when I see these piles of uneaten vegetation, I think the beavers are doing well. As I continued along the dam, I saw a leopard frog hanging in the pond water.

What a nice collection of vegetation it had, as it waited for bugs to eat. There were no new otter scats at the mossy cove rock or latrine. I still sat for a while to watch the pond, and only saw the same goose family I saw the last time I was here and a few wood ducks scurrying about eating bugs. As I walked around the west end of the pond and up the north shore, I saw a muskrat swim out from the burrows along the bank. It dove before I could get a photo of it, but I saw another muskrat hunched up next to a log in the water.

The turtle in the background was one of several turtles enjoying the sunshine. Up at the otter latrine near the dam which the otters had rather expanded when they were active, I didn’t see any new otter scats save for one scat, two days old, that was in the middle of some scratched up grass.

It’s possible I didn’t notice this the last time I was here, since there were juicier scats to catalogue, and this is the outer edge of this extensive latrine,

But it is also possible that an otter did this after I left the pond. Meanwhile I saw something on top of the beaver lodge next to the dam, a huge snapping turtle.

This was probably the same one I saw on the beaver lodge in the middle of the pond about a month ago. I thought of getting closer to get a better photo but decided not to disturb it. Well, not moving a story along is always unsatisfying so I headed down to the Second Swamp Pond dam to see if the otters had revisited that old latrine where they have not been for weeks, even though they’ve visited the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond latrines. As I walked down the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond, I didn’t see anything stirring, not even ducks or geese. A heron did fly up from the north shore. The dam was thick with vegetation and as I struggled through it I had a feeling that I was not where I was supposed to be. I looked back and saw that I had walked through the thick cattails that now fill the small spill over area where the pond water trickles into the creek below.

I had never done that before and first assumed that meant the otters had not been through here because they usually knocked down some vegetation. But as I looked back, I saw a narrow trail through the grass at my feet. Probably a deer trail. I followed and it led to the area beside the little creek where the otters had also latrined a few times. The otters had been there. The vegetation on and around several mounds of grass had been crushed down,

Those three were along the creek, and another two went into the meadow.

And I saw scats on top of three of the mounds.

The scats were a few days old. I don’t think the otters came along the “deer” trail but directly down from the dam. And the trail continued down to another mound or two where the otters might have scraped.

Did they continue on to South Bay?

The trail became a bit hazy with crisscrossing grass stalks. Back when it was easy to walk down in the remnants of Otter Hole Pond, I never saw an otter latrine. I went back to the dam to see if I could exactly where the came out of the pond and went into the pond. (No way with all this vegetation to tell which they did first.) There certainly was no well worn way.

That suggests that the otters went one way, either up from the wet meadow into the pond, or from the pond into the meadow. But I am probably over thinking this. However, I think I can conclude that more than one otter came down here and latrined and probably not after fishing in the very shallow and weedy pond, but simply to renew their marks at an entrance to the pond. That the otters ignored their low and near latrines at the Lost Swamp Pond and Second Swamp Pond and instead scatted farther away suggests that they were marking territory, and that in turn suggests that they return to these ponds not necessarily because they are very comfortable and bountiful, but also because of their atavistic urge to claim their space. It is much easier to spout these abstractions when you don’t see the otters because when you do see them it is easy to see that they vibrate through space in a ways that defy human calculation and imagination. I went back through the woods to the Big Pond dam and as I walked along the north end of the dam, I heard wood duck ducklings squealing. As I continued they emerged from the cattails with their mother

They lined up and away. They must have been there or near there when I had crossed the other way a little more than an hour before, but they had laid low.

We spent the night at our land and of course after dinner I went down to check on the Boundary Pond beavers. While I was still in Grouse Alley, I saw the stump of a sapling that the beavers had recently cut.

I had never found the stump of the elm sapling a beaver cut and left on the trail, but I don’t think this was that stump. I didn’t see the new sapling. I did see that a beaver had nipped some branches off the elm sapling, most of which was still on the trail.

On the way down the ridge on the west side of the pond, I saw one of the yearling beavers eating vegetation on shore at the end of a small side channel through the duckweed.

When I got down to my chair above the beaver lodge, a beaver swam under me but didn’t seem to notice me and then for the next hour or so I was treated to what looked to me like a normal active evening in the beaver pond. A beaver swam down from up pond, perhaps the one I saw walking in, and it went directly up a channel through the duckweed on the west shore and then climbed out on shore where I couldn’t see it. In a few minutes it came back with a small sapling, looked like elm, and it pulled it down another channel through the duckweed toward the lodge, but it didn’t take it into the lodge. While still in that channel, almost at the end, it stopped and started eating the leaves of the sapling.

I had a pretty good view and watched it through my camcorder as I was recording. I thought this was a yearling beaver, and while it munched on, an adult beaver came out of the lodge and swam slowly toward the sapling, but it didn’t butt in on its meal. It continued slowly up another channel through the duckweed and went up pond. A few minutes later another beaver came out of the lodge, and was definitely a yearling. It swam directly up toward the sapling and the beaver there turned to face it.

I expected shoves but instead heard hums and soon the two beavers were side by side eating leaves and twigs. The newcomer was about three-fourths the size of the other beaver.

I have been assuming that the mother has been staying in the lodge with the kits, but it is possible that the beaver that got the sapling was the mother or the father, and the big beaver that swam up pond was the mother or father. Or the bigger beaver next to the yearling was a two year old. I generally identify the mother when I see an adult beaver with a kit or two hanging on when kits finally come out into the pond. I kept expecting one of the beavers to take twigs or leaves into the lodge where I pictured hungry kits and perhaps a mother. Eventually, a yearling twice did take a twig into the lodge, and once it got into the lodge, I didn’t hear any hums. Perhaps the kits were asleep. The sapling continued to be a focus of attention. After the first yearling that horned on the meal left, another one swam down from the upper end of the pond, nosed around the adult, pulled a twig away, and joined in the meal. Then after the sapling seemed to be completely devoured, an adult dove around that area doing I know not what. It eventually got back out in the duckweed and frog bit and ate that.

Then another beaver, the two year old or other adult, went out in the same area, but ignored the duckweed and ate the grass on a spit of dry earth. Again, I kept expecting more humming if not activity from the lodge as the kits got restless, but all was quiet, and I could count four beavers up pond. However, when I finally went up pond myself. I didn’t see any beavers in the pond.

June 19 hot and humid and I kept to the shade and cut down dead ironwoods around the Teepee Pond. I also headed down to Boundary Pond to see what the beavers have been up to. Once again their hemlock stripping operations have moved up pond. There is an big old dead birch with about 20 feet left of its rotting trunk that is surrounded by hemlocks like they were dancing in a fairy ring around the dead birch. A beaver has begun girdling one of the hemlocks.

The roots of two other hemlocks have been gnawed too.

Few hemlocks on this shore have been spared so I expect all of them will be girdled, unless the beavers begin craving other bark or content themselves with the lush green vegetation from duckweed, frog bit and grasses. Not far from that circle of trees, a hornbeam seems to be getting a little taste of the same type of gnawing as a nearby hemlock.

In the fall the beavers cut down hornbeams like they were weeds. Then at another small hemlock now getting the treatment, I saw big strips of bark on the ground, raising the question of exactly what are the beavers eating when they do this.

I walked below the dam, which while judging from last night, they still visit, there doesn’t look to be major heaves of muck or addition of logs. I sat in the chair half way up the ridge west of the lodge, which was just out of the hot sun. Not much was happening, then it dawned on me that I was hearing a peewee repeating its song over and over again. It was in the trees below the dam and didn’t come close enough for me to try to see it. I also heard a few beaver hums come from the lodge. I walked up the west shore next to the water and tried to see where the beaver cut the elm sapling that I saw it bring into the pond last night. I had no luck. The ridge is more a cliff there and it is choked with vegetation.

A little farther along, I saw another elderberry bush. I know that four beavers had been up pond last night but as far as I could see they didn’t do any more tree cutting. One at least got up to the wallow above the Last Pool as it was very muddy.

I also checked to see if they took more of the elm sapling that has been lying on the Grouse Alley trail. No. I also looked for the freshly cut stump that I saw last night. I couldn’t find it.

It was easy to spot in the gloaming but not in the bright day as the shadows chose what you could and could not see.

Back on the island I paddled over to South Bay in the kayak. For the first time in this year of low water, I paddled down the south cove. The water-level has gone up 3 inches (Leslie) or 5 inches (me) and I was able to make good progress, that was also made possible by the carp and geese eating enough vegetation, milfoil, river grass, etc., so it was easy not to get hung up in vegetation. Left behind were more blooming water lilies than I recall ever seeing in South Bay.

I came back in the boat two days later and drifted in and took photos which I will paste in here to try to illustrate what poetry and analysis I can muster. Of course, the flowers are perfection.

Yet, one can’t ignore the pads and the other vegetation, like the muddy milfoil in the photo above that looks like rope. Some blooms seem to be in the process of separating from the pad, and others are buoyed up by several pads

That said, when you get a good over view of a perfect bloom than all else seems immaterial.

While it is obvious that the mechanisms for all this growth and beauty is under the water, lily pads often wear something on their sleeve, so to speak.

I assume the muddy dollops and puddles, often in the middle of the pad,

were left by pooping birds. I have seen blackbirds dance over the pads searching for bugs. The tangle of stringy things could be lily seedling roots, but probably it is the remains of geese vegetarian dinners washed up on the pads by waves. Most perplexing were little tubers that I saw on several pads.

These too could have been washed up or left by birds or perhaps more likely a muskrat. But I best figure out exactly what they are, in time. This is the season for paddling through the beauty.

Carp were lurking in the mud but there was no thrashing about. There were at least four herons about and most were roosting in trees, until I paddled under them. One was on the rock right at the point and loathe to fly off, but it did, which is for the best. I don’t think I would ever trust a “tame” heron. Not much to herons but bone and feathers and that awesome beak and claws. I had an eye out for otter, beaver and muskrat signs and didn’t see any. All the lilies testifies to the lack of muskrats and beavers.

June 21 Beautiful sunny day and the river was relatively calm so I motored out to Picton Island passing a few seagulls, cormorants, one loon, and one Caspian tern. That’s actually more than you might expect to see on the river at 11 am. I tied the boat up at the usual rock a bit southwest of Quarry Point even though looking up from the river there didn’t look to have been any new otter scats, digging, or rolling. I had trouble finding old scats so I had to conclude that no otters had recently visited any of the latrines on the point or just southwest of it. However the big flat rock angled down to the river had black poop all over it.

Some of these many efforts of geese almost looked like the otter scats that I had seen on the rock over looking the mossy cove latrine at the Lost Swamp Pond.

But upon closer look I could see that the poop was not black enough and the grit in it was leafy and not scaly. The smaller poops and flattened poops were even more obviously the products of geese.

While I snooped over the poop, I noticed a strange bug dragging a tail almost as big as a caterpillar trying to use me for shade.

I rowed around Quarry Point rehearsing a story line in my brain: otters have abandoned the Picton latrines. And at first glance the latrine on the north shore of the quarry looked untouched by otters

but then I saw a spread of scats a bit to the right of their usual scats.

This scat was new to me and the longer I looked at it, the fresher it looked to me and some flies. I even saw drips of black liquid on the edge of some scats.

Then as I walked around the latrine, I saw more scats that looked the same as these. Otters had not abandoned their latrines on Picton Island. I have been looking for an invitation to paddle out here at dawn to look for otters, and I think this is it. On the way home I detoured into the lilies at the end of the south cove of South Bay. I used the photos I took today to illustrate a kayak tour I took of the lilies a few days earlier. Again there wasn’t much carp action. One jumped out of the water and one pair was briefly in the throes of passion.

After dinner I went out to check the beaver ponds for otters scats. By waiting to do this after dinner, I increased my chances of seeing beavers. I thought of biking over but decided leaning over on the bike wouldn’t aid my digestion. So I hiked in via Antler Trail. I didn’t see any new otters scats around the Big Pond dam. I sat briefly on my perch but thanks to the vegetation growing all around it, I couldn’t see much of the pond nor feel any wind. Sitting there did provide a good angle to take a photo of the two toned cattail spikes.

Just like the last time I was here in the evening, when I stood up I saw one beaver eating pond vegetation out in the middle of the pond. It looked to be a little closer and I had hopes it might tend toward the dam, but the light wind was at my back and the beaver soon disappeared. Farther back in the pond I saw the usual complement of wood ducks, minus one, because as I walked along the dam one duckling scurried out of the cattails there to find refuge in the cattails in the marsh behind the dam. I can no longer resist taking a photo of the wakes left by speeding ducks.

It looked like a beaver had pushed more mud up on the dam, but I got the best measure of the beaver’s recent visits to the dam by photographing the little clearing along the dam where it gathers things to eat. There were more cut cattail leaves and stalks, and even a cut willow like shrub.

Despite the beavers’ recent tending of the dam, my feet still get wet as I walk along it. Beardtongue has been blooming in the meadows for a while, and I finally had good light to get a photo.

As I came down to the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw a beaver swimming around the point and I sat and watched it swim over behind the dam and then climb up on shore, up a little knoll, going along the edge of the otters’ latrine, and then eating the greens.

It munched for about 10 minutes. When it got back in the water it seemed to be heading back the way it came and I thought I might see it swim back up to the lodge in the southeast end of the pond. But to my surprise it slapped its tail. It was so far away that it crossed my mind that it was angry at an osprey perched on a dead tree limb high over the dam where the beaver had been swimming.

Then it slapped again and again and I got the point. The beaver finally dove and since I didn’t see it swim up the southeast end of the pond, I figure it swam underwater into the lodge not far from where it was slapping. I waited a bit longer thinking some muskrats might materialize. Then I thought I best check the Second Swamp Pond. As I left my rock perch above the mossy cove and walked below another osprey perch, ferns sprayed white with poop.

The Second Swamp Pond was quiet and though it was getting dark, I craved a little more excitement. So I headed over to the East Trail Pond hoping to get a beaver tail slap as I walked around the upper part of the pond where I twice saw the beavers. Last time, I looked I didn’t see them or much new activity. I crossed the old board walk over the now dry areas of the pond and then when I got to the north shore -- out of the meadow, I saw where the beavers had moved. Where the creek coming down from Shangri-la Pond enters the old East Trail Pond, the beavers built a dam principally by dredging up the silt.

And a large amount of that silt washed down the creek when their dam at Shangri-la Pond was washed away in May 2009. This shouldn’t have surprised me. In the winter of 2009 they cut some alders down here. Now they’ve cut some more. They have fashioned a pool just below this dam,

suggesting they might turn the East Trail meadow back into a pond, but they’ve also fashioned a pool behind the bridge that goes over the creek, back toward Shangri-la Pond.

It didn’t take much mud to turn the debris that jammed up behind the bridge last May into a dam. Indeed, the beavers might be denning in that debris. They cut a maple tree next to the creek that fell conveniently over the pool.

By moving here these beavers can utilize their skill in dredging. But it is a rather small area, and rather expose with the trail going right over it. These beavers always surprise me with their skill, their genius so I can’t predict what they’ll do and just hope human harassment won’t keep them from making another brilliant move. Of course, there are other predators out there. I heard what sound like a broken siren turn into the yodeling chorus of coyotes coming from the ridge just to the east.