Monday, January 13, 2014

April 22 to 30, 2003

April 22 we were away for five days. Showers today with temperature just below 50. I left my camcorder behind since these are conditions famous for fogging lenses. I cut across the meadow behind the golf course, sending deer up the hill, while I examined more holes deer had made in the turf. In about a third of the holes I could see roots. In some holes there were bites of root left by the deer.

It is always startling to see something for the first time which looks like it should be an annual occurrence. Up on the ridge, there were more deer, at least seven, and, of course, I kept them moving. Honeysuckle bushes are getting their leaves, nothing else that I could see. I think I got a glimpse of a towhee ducking into the underbrush. As I came down the ridge heading for the Double Lodge Pond, I could see that it was muddy, and that the pond below was drying out a bit -- sure sign that the dam has been repaired. A pair of mallards flew off as I drew closer. All around the small pond were small signs of beavers. The dam repairs were not massive, just dollops of mud right where they could make a telling effect.

Gnawed sticks were in three neat little piles. The beavers favor the dark red twig of the red osier, and some were budding.

The gush from the Big Pond dam has also been silenced. Here again the repairs seemed minimal.

And I found another pat of mud imprinted as if the beaver was signing its work. At first look I thought it was a goose print, but on closer study I think it a beaver's hind foot with four toes.

There were fewer gnawed sticks here. Here is how the Big Pond shapes up now, just after the dam repair.

The beaver seems to prefer the cozier world in Double Lodge Pond below.

As I came up to the dam, a noisy shore bird flew to another mud flat up pond. It kept flying away before I could train my monocular on it.

It had a raucous call and white tail when it flew, so probably a yellowlegs. Even with the dam patched the Big Pond has risen grudgingly -- perhaps six inches to a foot. I walked around to the lodge and there were no signs of beaver out there; and this time no otter prints. I took a new path to the Lost Swamp Pond, trying to follow the way I think the otter might take. As I came down to the Lost Swamp Pond, I flushed a number of ducks, principally mallards, but I also saw a few male wood ducks, and, I think, some ring necks. There were not as many geese as I expected -- perhaps a half dozen in the lower end of the pond. I checked the rocky area near the mossy cove, and while otters have not been there, a beaver has, leaving a gnawed stick and a small scent mound. At the west end of the pond, there are bigger mounds

and a beaver had gone on shore to freshen a bit of girdling beavers had done last year.

Moving further along, the tree they brought down had been segmented and trimmed some more.

I studied the north slope for otter scats and think I found a fresh, liquidy, brownish squirt on a clump of grass where they had scatted before. There were no other signs of otters from there up to the dam and rock by the lodge, so I formed a picture of a touring otter using as little scat as possible to mark its territory. I sat by the dam and my patience was rewarded by the appearance of a muskrat. It swam by me and I thought it was going to go off to the far shore. Instead it dove and came up with some greens -- dark greens I should say, and then swam back,

slowly enough for me to ponder the mystery of why it swam so far to get something that must be nearby as well. The muskrat swam by the lodge and by the look of the mud stains, has a burrow in the bank nearby.

I noticed that the pushed up grass in the crook of a bush in the middle of the pond was gone. The dam had fresh mud on it, but no sign that the beavers had been eating up there. No sign of beavers at the lodge, and no otter scat there. As I moved down to the Second Swamp Pond, ducks flew off but geese stayed. Here is where they were concentrated, in the shallows of the upper part of the pond. There were a good dozen, plus a snow goose,

and a heron. I was hoping to get around the pond without scaring off the geese, but just as I was about to get around them, they all left. I think the beavers marked the upper dam but there was no sign of foraging off the canals. The comb frogs cheered me along as I made my way down the north shore of the pond. I sat up above the beaver lodge, not expecting to see beavers at 3 PM. I did see two muskrats. One swam from below me and explored the flooded marsh between me and the dam.

Then I saw another one in the same area. Their technique, if you can call it that, was to hump into a clump of grass and pounce on something green. When that failed they dove into the water. If they were getting anything it was tidbits, and they both continued on to the dam and how much farther I don't know. Seeing muskrats foraging in the early spring makes it seem like life is indeed full of promise. Of course, there is much beaver activity along the shore below the knoll and hard to tell what is fresh, but when a stump of a birch turns red, it seems that the beavers and the birch roots are cooperating to make something interesting.

The beavers also cut that large elm down -- large, that is, for beaver teeth.

On the way to the East Trail Pond, on the ridge, I found a scene that epitomizes the problem of early spring. Throughout my hike I saw trout lily leaves poking up out of the leaves, but those beginnings are so overshadowed by the vigor of the moss and lichens that you can't justify a photo of the lily. This perhaps makes that point:

Over at the East Trail Pond all seemed quiet and as I lay on the slope, I even dozed, despite the chilly wind. Funny how the call of a woodpecker, in the realm of half consciousness, can seem to be in the middle of your forehead. And I even heard otter snorting, but that I think was a dream. My eyes were bolt open and I saw wakes that an angry otter might have left. I did see a chipping sparrow on the dam, a hawk inspected me. Then I saw violent splashing at the far end of the pond and with the monocular spied three male wood duck. One was sitting motionless on a log and the other two were preening themselves in the water. Then one would get the notion of splashing, diving and splashing again, which would set the other doing the same. After that noisy repositioning they would both return to placid preening for a few minutes, then splash again. The other wood duck seemed completely uninterested. I got cold enough to continue my tour and immediately suffered that spring and summer frustration of seeing the frogs jump into the water before I could see them on the dam. The dam is still leaking even though the beavers have been pushing mud up on it.

I think there problem is that there is such a flow of water through the dam that it undoes what patching they do. I expect they might build a small dam below this one and back some water up, but no sign of them doing that. Just up from the dam on the west end there were three piles of greenish scat,

that I first thought were left by the geese until I saw that they were filled with fish scales.

What are the otters eating? There was also a similar scat on the mossy rock. However, up the ridge there was a darker wet scat. For some reason, I could clearly see the otter path up and over the ridge

and I found little squirts of black scat all the way up and over to confirm it. Last year I suspected that at times the otters denned by the creek down to Otter Hole Pond, roughly where the fallen tree was. I could see the otter path through the area, and out of the creek, but no scats around the moss that, I think, makes this secluded area comfortable for otters.

Meanwhile there is beaver work almost to this point, done by the beavers from the East Trail Pond. However, there is no sign that beavers have touched Otter Hole Pond dam. The beaver colony along this valley had used this pond as a good source of greens when they could swim up from Beaver Point Pond. The principal still might be the same, only this time they will swim down from the Second Swamp Pond. I think there is a new otter scat there, but not especially fresh and not green. This suggests that the otter or otters in the East Trail Pond are residents, not just visiting on their incessant spring tours. Early one morning, I'll go out and check. No otter scat along the south South Bay cove, but two Caspian terns kept screeching at me.

April 24 wet snow fell most of yesterday and melted as soon as it hit the ground. Sunny and brisk this morning. I made a quick tour of the ponds beginning with the East Trail Pond. It felt like old times going up the ridge on the trail with expectations of seeing an otter -- or at least a wood duck. The raking wind kept the pond surface lively. Geese made all the substantial ripples. The wind must have been too much for the ducks. I saw on pair of wood ducks. Meanwhile the birds entertained me. A small flock of black birds made a quick cloud through the pond. Redwing blackbirds ringed the pond and kept up constant calls. At least three flickers kept sparring at the tops of the dead trees. A half dozen swallows divided their time between catching insects and popping into holes high in the trunks. These are the first swallows I've seen in the ponds. I saw one about a week ago on the river. I checked the old otter latrines along the shore, and found nothing fresh. A beaver had been there smearing some scent mounds and nibbling sticks.

When I checked the current otter latrine by the dam, I noted how juicy fresh one of the scats I saw two days ago was. I checked the trail up the ridge for fresh scat, tried to recall if I had seen one spread there before, and then I went back down to the dam was about to conclude that I couldn't conclude that otters had been there since I saw fresh scat two days ago, when I almost walked on two squirts of fresh scat.

So the otter remains. I crossed the dam which I don't think had been visited by the beavers. The water behind it was very clear. I took a photo of the area behind the leak so I might be able to tell if the beavers worked on patching the hole in the future.

While the water continues to leak, the pond remains full enough, as with the day of rain the flow into the pond continues. I wanted to cross the Second Swamp Pond dam, but as I started I began wading into an inch of water on the grass. The water was lapping over the dam at a couple of points. With the day young I wanted to keep my feet dry, so I went up the north shore of the pond and then up to the Lost Swamp. Once again I kept the camcorder running as I walked up to the pond from below the dam, and I was rewarded with a pair of ring neck ducks just behind the dam. Then a flock of them, I think, flew up from the west end of the pond. I quickly checked for otter scat and saw none, and without any ado, pressed on to the Big Pond. A day of wet snow brought the pond level up a few inches. The "mark" of yesterday was now flooded over.

There was also a fresh dollop of mud where I think the patch is.

After dinner I went off across the golf course, counting grazing deer -- at least twenty, but not the many geese. My goal was to see the beavers in the Lost Swamp Pond. The first sight to note was a porcupine in my path up on the trail to the big rock face. I chatted as it chattered. Then we both moved on.

When I got down to the Double Lodge pond something at the edge of the pond dove in the water and I saw a trail of bubbles -- more likely a muskrat than a beaver. There was no beaver to be seen in the Big Pond, only a honking goose. I moved on to the Lost Swamp where I saw a score or more ring necked ducks who swam up pond but did not fly off. They, as well as the many geese, seemed to distribute themselves in smaller groups around the pond like they wanted to avoid bumping into each other during the night. I saw ripples in the western end of the pond and I soon saw that a muskrat made them. It swam over to the burrows on the north shore. All told I saw five different muskrats and they too were distributed around the pond. With the slowly paddling ducks and geese, and luminous wakes of the muskrats, and the songs of the beepers, I was far from bored, but I wanted to see a beaver. I gave myself until 8:15, and a few minutes before that I saw a beaver swimming down from the eastern end of the pond -- I assume it came from the large lodge down there. It had its nose up, and a slight wind was at my back, so I braced myself for a splash. Instead it swam directly in front of me, as I stood about 20 yards back of the edge of the pond by some trees, and came up on the land. It stayed still for a minute and then sort of sat down and groomed the toes of both hind feet, then it turned to the task at hand, grazing in the turf and eating some leaves at least if not some emerging grass. It nosed about in an area with a radius of about five feet. At times it paused to sniff the air, but once, head up looking right at me in the gloaming, it contentedly munched away. As it got darker the camcorder got fuzzier. I kept trying to move closer hoping to get in range with the light on the camera. Of course, the beaver got alarmed, hopped into the pond, and sent me off with a series of tail splashes. I went back via the Big Pond which was as quiet as before, save for the goose. However, the chilling air shrouded Double Lodge Pond in wispy fog and the clumps of grass in the pond seemed to move like beavers were munching the pond weeds.

April 27 rainy, cold day yesterday kept me from my usual tour. At about 2 pm today the sun came out and the temperature climbed over 50, and we were soon on our way. I first showed Leslie where the deer have been digging in the meadow behind the golf course. At our land they are also doing this, and it became apparent to me that they were eating elecampane roots. Many of the stalks remain on our land, but here, where there are more deer, few stalks remain, though I remember a good crop here last fall. An osprey and a hawk flew over as we went down the ridge. Ospreys are working on a nest out on a navigational cell in the river and yesterday I saw one fly over our house with a fish in its talon. Along the north shore of small Double Lodge Pond a beaver, at least, continues to leave small red osier sticks stripped and unstripped. Now there are piles well up on the land

and some in the pond water. Up where the water flows down from the Big Pond dam, there were cattail roots and green stalks in the water.

But the muskrat could have been eating them. Up on the Big Pond Dam, I could see that the water level continues to inch up and the dam looks like it might in late summer. The beaver has been up there having found a small ash, we think, floating with a cut cattail -- and are we to credit that to a muskrat? On our way to the Lost Swamp we saw a deer skull and a flurry of fur but no other bones, which was strange. As we came down to the Lost Swamp Pond, a score of ring necked ducks swam slowly up pond. There were also a few pairs of geese, and one neck down on the nearby lodge. We saw one male bufflehead or scaup. A pileated woodpecker flew above us in its swooping roller coaster flight. A flicker sampled dead tree trunks for nesting sites. Two vultures circled over. A heron flew in way up pond and then briefly another one closer to us. As we got up from sitting we saw a muskrat making its way to the burrows in the north shore of the pond. And we saw a few barn swallows near us, and other swallows circling up where the vultures were. There were swarms of insects flying up out of the leaf cover -- gnats that didn't bite. We then checked were I saw the beaver grazing the other night. There was a small spruce in the water, and small stripped sticks on the shore

but it was impossible to see what grasses or leaves I saw it eating. Leslie went back home and I continued around the pond where I saw a few beaver stripped sticks and, almost around to the north shore slope, a half cut ironwood.

I get the impression that there is one beaver bopping around sampling this and that, but that is probably too romantic a view -- probably a crowd of them, as usual. Also along the north shore there were several turtles taking advantage of rare sunshine

I couldn't spy any fresh otter signs, briefly admired the water brimming on the dam and moved down to the upper Second Swamp Pond, where I startled a large flock of blackbirds, up out of the grass and onto two trees.

I also flushed the usual large number of ducks and set several geese off honking. As I walked down along the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond, I saw a little pile of stripped sticks and small branches at the end of one of the channels well up from the lodge.

I didn't go into the bush to see if they are downing any big stuff. I sat up above the lodge, hoping to see muskrats again. Instead I saw a beaver up on the dam. It slid off before I could see what it was doing and then swam behind the length of the dam and going up on the shore at the south end. It disappeared over the dam and though I sat another 20 minutes it didn't reappear. Then I saw a muskrat swimming along the dam and nibbling things on it. Perhaps that muskrat, perhaps another, swam from the dam back to the lodge area below me. I didn't see exactly where it swam into a den. Then another beaver swimming away from the lodge began pounding its tail at me. Not wanting to scare it unduly, I didn't stand up and so didn't see if it swam back into the lodge or off to the far reaches of the pond. I suspect the latter. All the while a goose sat majestically on a clump of grass in the pond

I have never seen one so well nested. As I came down off the knoll, I noticed how a beaver had been pawing and gnawing down on a root of a tree that had been girdled some time ago.

Beavers have a knack of getting life out of the seemingly dead, which we often don't give them credit for. I went up and over the ridge to the East Trail Pond and slouched down on the usual slope. The new arrival today was a kingfisher, and I also got a glimpse of a green heron, I think. Other than a few ducks in the far reaches of the pond, all was quiet. Then just as I crossed the dam, checking for beaver work and otter scat, and finding neither, a beaver splashed me from the direction of the up pond bank lodge. I soon saw the beaver swimming down toward the dam, heading to the area I had just left. I seemed to confuse it because it swam in small circles several times before heading toward me to pound the water some more. It looked like the small beaver I saw here two weeks ago. Up on the mossy rock, I saw some possibly new, if not fresh scat -- grayish green like so much of the recent scat. The trail up the ridge looked used but I couldn't see any fresh scat. I formed an idea that the beaver that went over the Second Swamp Pond dam might have gone down to Otter Hole Pond to do some repairs. No. However, that pond still gets enough water to make it look viable. I didn't go down to Beaver Point pond, which looks the same. I found two otter scats at the causeway over the south cove of South Bay. One was flattened on a rock, the other dark and tubular. Not far away from that, a frog had emerged from the cold and sat still in the sun

April 30 a nagging cold, and getting the garden ready have kept me away from the ponds. But with the engine now on the boat I could at least test my theory that with the bullheads massing, the otters begin denning in the marsh at the end of South Bay. I did see the scats on the causeway on the 27th. As we approached the rock with the willow

where I've seen many bullhead heads and actually once saw an otter gorging on a huge carp, we saw not an otter, but a porcupine high in the willow tree.

So I had an audience of two as a ducked around and though the old willow, where many a new shoot had already been snipped off by the porcupine, and saw no signs of otters.

Next stop was the dock rock and on the way we herded a half dozen buffleheads. One still bobs about off our dock. I challenged Leslie to get a photo of them taking off -- with poor results.

The docking rock had old scat on it, but nothing fresh, and up on the dirt above, where otters had marked religiously last year, that was also old scat, but I think from this year. All animals disperse in the spring and perhaps my idea that the otters in the ponds I watch simply moved a few yards down into the marsh is too simplistic. They probably have a circuit of fishing spots throughout the wide river here -- six miles across with many more miles of shoreline along islands. We also checked the rocky point at the southwest entrance to the Narrows, perhaps an old scat there.