Saturday, January 25, 2014

May 11 to 19, 2003

May 11 warm cloudy morning with a storm obviously on the way so I went directly to the East Trail Pond to see if the otter or otters had renewed their scent mounds there. On the way I had to sort out the birds. Yellow warblers are all around; the grouse in its usual spot down by South Bay; in the tree above the grouse a wood thrush was singing; down where the creek from the second swamp comes into the bay I saw either a wood thrush or a female towhee in the thickets down by the running water. Since it escaped up into the high trees I think it was a thrush. I kept an ear cocked for the rose breasted grosbeak and a scarlet tanager, but the only fluting I was sure of came from orioles. Indeed up on the big rock overlooking the pond I saw an oriole preening and occasionally singing -- though always piping out something. Unfortunately the dull day didn't make for a good photo or video

It also started sprinkling so I moved down to the dam to check for otter scat and there were three squirts -- and I mark the area on the photo with the red circle

There was a spray of black scat to one side, a gray green scat in the middle, and another spray of black scat on the other side.

From my experience the scats that aren't black can look fresh for days so this may have been spread over time. The close up of the grayish scats looks intriguing but I can't fathom what it contains

The close up of the black scat is also interesting and indeed does look fresher. It is so easy for that black sheen to fade, dry and get washed away. I don't know what the circle on the top is -- a part of a fish spinal column?

Since these scats betokened the presence of otters, I sat under the tree and still smelling scat, noticed a squirt near the tree and near one of three piles of loose dead grass probably scratched up by the otter.

I walked up the trail to Otter Hole Pond but didn't see any fresh scat up there. Then I crossed the dam and noticed that the leak through the hole the otters made is down to a trickle. The water was clear enough to see down and it looked primarily packed with mud, though one small stick was wedged in. There was no scat on the other side of the dam and I doubt that otters would den over there now. Of course, I don't want to snoop too closely to where the mother otter might be. There were some strawberry plant blooms about to open all the way.

And in the woods I enjoyed a horizontal shadbush tree with suckers full of blooms shooting straight up.

It was sprinkling harder when I reached the knoll overlooking the Second Swamp Pond and I nestled under a cedar, noting more cedar tasting by the beavers. Then a muskrat swam up right below me, but dove as I got my camera out. It evidently went to the beaver lodge because a few minutes later I saw a muskrat swim off crossing the pond.

I didn't get the camcorder out but wished I did, because the muskrat climbed up on several logs, checking, if not leaving scent, I assume. A few ducks had flown off, mallards, and today only two geese honked at me. With rain falling, I hurried up to the Lost Swamp Pond, since I deemed it important to determine if the otters had marked their whole territory. A pair of ring-necks were still there but on the other side of the pond. No scat along the shore. The beavers continue gnawing trees on the west end. I noticed a flicker, a chickadee and perhaps a swallow using three perfect holes in dead trunks in the swamp. I waited for the flicker to climb into one -- saw the bird, also waiting. She out waited me. Rather than go the usual way to the Big Pond, I went down the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond. Of course the beavers have been out here and I did a study of a birch, inspired first by a slug on the freshly exposed wood,

then by the shaggy look of the beaver ripped bark,

and finally by the contrast of last fall's stripping with the latest work.

Otter Hole Pond remains low but I came in quest of the patch of trillium the deer can't get to. The beauties were almost out and I bowed to protect my camera from the hard rain as I snapped a photo.

May 14 a few days of rain kept me from my self appointed rounds and when I went out this morning it was cloudy but no scent of rain. Going down the TIP ridge I flushed two deer who with their mottled and old brown coats blend in perfectly with carpet of dead leaves. Their white tail, however, cannot be mistaken for flowers since they ate all the trillium. I soon noticed a commotion out on South Bay. A common tern had arrived and was bothering one of the Caspian terns which have been fishing the bay for a few weeks. The common tern seemed faster and caused the larger bird to cackle whenever it got near, but the Caspian tern seemed to win the day celebrating with several unimpeded dives at the end of the bay. The common tern flew out toward the river. More deer on the ridge around the bay.

I had my camera ready when I got to the creek rushing into South Bay. Three yellow warblers danced in the low trees above the water.

Going up the South Bay trail I saw another Caspian tern diving close to a pair of mallards who were unperturbed by that -- but flew away when I got too close. Otters have been up above the "docking rock" along South Bay making several scent mounds,

one with a good bit of old scat.

They did this last May too, and like last year, there is no evidence that they continued up to Audubon Pond -- no scat up there. So if they are claiming the route to the pond, there is no evidence they are using the pond. Or are they informing otters who might come down from the pond that South Bay is theirs? I wouldn't ponder this so much if the scent mounds didn't look so busy, so insistent, as if every time an otter goes by it feels compelled to climb up on the rock, and go five feet higher up on the shady shore. As for Audubon Pond, ever since the holes in the long causeway were covered over, mammals seem to have scant interest in the pond. The small nuisance to humans (and it only had to be patched so tractors could go over to cut grass) provided major security for animals. And without a long bank of burrows, this huge man-made pond must seem a scary place. Thinking these thoughts I saw a snapping turtle, large one, suspended underwater.

Please, don't be dead, and soon enough it drew its legs in a few inches and sank a little deeper in the pond. Geese use the pond and a common tern flew over briefly. I saw a goldfinch along the Short-cut Trail dam. Perhaps it was looking for the milkweeds that were so famous there in the fall. Without beavers, the pond is a shadow of its old self. As I came up to Meander Pond dam, it looked as if the beavers there had resorted, as other families have, to expanding some of the tree girdling they did in the fall.

But I soon saw many freshly stripped logs near the lodge in the middle of the pond.

Of course, that could have been done in the winter, but I also saw that there was much fresh work to the southeast and east of the pond,

far from the dam to the west, which, by the way, is freshly mudded.

The beaver even girdled a tree up near Thicket Pond, but no sign they went back into that pond, where one winter beavers wintered -- in retrospect the most amazing winter saga I partially witnessed.

Needless to say I'll have to come see these beavers, and how difficult it will be to spy them in their labyrinth of grasses. One small maple they cut down had an exquisite bird nest in it.

I walked up the ridge to get a look at Shangri-la Pond which beavers haven't used since the park foolishly put a pipe through their dam. Still it is amazing to see how close the four large lodges in the pond are to each other -- perhaps 50 yards from the first to the last. The second lodge, at least, had a nesting goose.

Then I went down the slope to upper East Trail Pond where there are beavers still. Today I saw muskrats, at least two of them. As usual I puzzled over why they swim so far from the den to get a bit of grass. Two of them dove into the old beaver lodge up there.

I didn't see any otter scat at the usual spots up there. I walked along the north shore of the pond, where I saw the first buttercups,

and the heaviest fresh lumbering was at the eastern end, even some across the first pool of the series of little ponds I call the Third Swamp Ponds.

With all the rain the way around the east end was wet and the exuberant clumps of grass were more show than a footrest from the standing water.

The water is quite high along the dam now. And on the other side, just off from the usual spot, I found fresh otter scat in a clump of grass.

Last year I discovered, too late I thought then, that the otters made a latrine along the rock of what I call beaver point of Beaver Point Pond. So I went there, and found no signs of otters. A green heron flew off from the little pond below Beaver Point Pond dam -- very pale as if its feathers were bleached. I could see from the cut grass along the dam that muskrats have been there

I used to blame the fallen grass on muskrats, but no, they want the thicker shoots coming up in the shallowest water. I also saw two flickers mating. Then the male saw me and hopped back, all circumspection

May 15 This morning we went out in the kayaks to South Bay. I forgot to bring and camera, perhaps for the best. As I paddled toward the "docking rock" that otters frequent, I saw half a bullhead swimming in spasms in the water. Something had bit off its tail, I assume an otter. Then closer to the rock I saw another smaller bullhead in the same predicament. Of course, I checked the rock for fresh otter scat but there was none. I went down to the end of the cove and then over to the old otter latrine below the large willow along the shore of the south cove of the bay, but found no signs of otter. Again a Caspian tern worked the bay. What we first thought was a loon turned out to be a cormorant.

I headed off for the ponds, on foot, at 6:15, and went to the east side of Meander Pond first. My hope was that beavers would swim up the grassy pond with the setting sun at their back and revisit the fresh work that I saw in this area yesterday.

A goose swam the other way, and three ducks flew off. Redwing blackbirds were all around the area and I saw the wake of what was probably a snake -- but no beavers. As I walked up the East Trail onto the ridge overlooking the East Trail Pond, I saw a muskrat swimming to the end of the pond, then it turned around and swam back, which I took as a good sign. Even before I got to the small rock where I like to sit overlooking the old beaver lodge there, I saw two beavers diving in the shallow water in the pools between the many clumps of grasses. The wind was in my face so I moved forward, and, to my surprise, both beavers left, swimming down pond. However the muskrats picked up the slack. The one that had gone up pond swam back and then another that had been foraging down where the beavers had been swam back to the old beaver lodge. Now the confusion begins: with an east wind the truck noises from I-81 are quite bad but I soon discerned a high pitched mewing coming from the lodge. Then two muskrats who looked smaller popped out in front of the lodge and didn't go anywhere in particular and I heard the mewing coming from at least one of them. They didn't hazard more than a few feet from the lodge, working through the stand of willows there. Then they went, one after another, into the lodge. A few minutes later a muskrat popped out of the lodge and swam, without hesitation, down pond, along the usual foraging route. Then another muskrat came out and followed the same path. I sat confused and now can only hope the video, taken in the gloaming with sticks in the way, might help. Was I seeing four muskrats including two babies or the usual two suddenly switching into a different behavior pattern? The latter sounds like a pretentious pseudo-scientific question, but muskrats are like that, predictable little engines that sometimes do stranger things. From the video, it looks like there is certainly one mewing muskrat a cut smaller than the others. Of course, the redwing blackbirds watched the whole scene too and only whistled in derision. I walked around the pond counter-clockwise, heading for the dam. In the darkness the huge pine seemingly girded by white rocks looked striking

As I recall when I investigated it years ago, the rocks are granite boulders with white lichens. When I started walking down to the dam I saw a pale fuzzy head peak over the mossy rock. This is where beavers and otters are want to mark, so I paused. But nothing else happened and I decided it must be a porcupine and it was. It wasn't exactly down there drinking water. It had its tail draped over a log in the water, with feet in the the water, probably on another log, and nose facing the rocky shore

It kept perfectly still as I walked by and then, grudgingly, walked up the rock and back into the woods. In the dark I couldn't tell if there was any fresh otter scat. As I left the pond I saw probably a beaver steam in from the upper pond toward the active bank lodge, and I saw ripples by the lodge in the center of the pond, made, not by otters, but by three mergansers. It was still light enough to take a look at Second Swamp Pond. As I came down to it, I saw an animal by one of the huge poplars down and partially logged. I'd always wanted to come down on a beaver working here, but this turned out to be a porcupine who realized there was no need to climb trees with beavers around cutting them down. It saw me as soon as I saw it and edged toward the knoll. As I came down the hill I thought it would climb a tree, but instead it angled the other way toward the large vernal pool. Younger porcupines seem less prone to panic. When I went up the knoll I at once heard the truncated call of a grosbeak and saw some redstarts, all in the cedar. I got close enough to the grosbeak to try some photos, but nothing came out. I had more luck with a redstart

There were no beavers to be seen in the pond, and I would sagely remark again that beavers foraged far from the lodge at this time of year except that they had just cut a small tree that fell on top of the rock I like to sit on up here. I walked back to the East Trail, casting an eye once again at the East Trail Pond where I have seen otters in the early night before. An eventless walk home, save for a few white tail flags from the deer -- perhaps still too early in the night for whippoorwills. I was surprised that the wood thrushes that sing in the day were now silent. Crossing the TI Park plateau, I heard some toads shrilling in the distance.

May 17 I headed off to the ponds at 4 pm on a warm, partly cloudy afternoon with a brisk wind from the east. I saw two groundhogs in a pile of rubble behind the golf course. Usually I see only one at a time -- something must be up, which I took as a good sign for an interesting hike. Yet I was soon struck by how quiet it was through the meadow and even in the bush up on the ridge -- only one towhee call, and little else. I didn't even sit on a ledge, as I often do, to listen harder. The dam of the Double Lodge Pond continues to be tended by the beavers and a few larger sticks were about. The pond water is brimming the Big Pond dam. So the deep hole in the dam was easily repaired and the pond recovered all its glory in a few short months. Next to the fresh mud here and there along the dam were piles of dry grass.

I found a pile of stripped sticks by the downed tree I sit on at the south end of the dam.

As they have for many years the beavers go up into the thick willow bush and bring down something to eat.

The dam is still relatively easy to cross because there are so few leaks along the whole length of the dam. With the pond slowly refilling, all necessary repairs could be made. Yes, the whole hole-in-the-dam ordeal begins to seem like a blessing. That said, at this time of year the common terns are usually zooming over this pond -- none today, so perhaps the fish have not recovered yet. I varied my path to the Lost Swamp Pond only slightly and stumbled upon another deer carcass, from the fall, because the head still had antlers.

The parts of this carcass were scattered a bit so perhaps it has just been dragged into my way by fox or coyotes. This is the anniversary of one of my best evenings at the Lost Swamp Pond. In 2000 I saw muskrats, beavers, and three otters in the pond. But that was the year when both the ponds and the river were high and bullheads were running up the creeks. I sat down leaning on the downed log right at the crook of the pond. And here too, there had once been much more activity because the girdled maple there was still alive and several different kinds of bugs and bees feasted on the sap. This year all was dead and dry, but I could console myself with an array of violets.

I did make one interesting observation. On our land the beavers have been putting branches in front of their bank lodge. Such caching is usually a fall chore and I didn't recall seeing it before this early in the year. I noticed that way out in the pond, the beavers had cached some branches beside their lodge.

which is interesting but doesn't answer the question why. So just as I reconciled myself to a boring night, I saw a beaver out of the corner of my eye making the turn toward the dam as it came down from the lodge far up the pond. The beaver turned again and swam right by me.

With the wind in my face it didn't pay me any heed. Since it was only 5 o'clock, I was shocked by the beavers appearance, which says much more about me than the beaver. After all, I was headed to the Second Swamp Pond where I expected the beavers to come out at five, indeed, I wanted to get their early so I wouldn't miss them as they dispersed throughout the large pond. So why was I surprised to see a beaver in the Lost Swamp Pond at 5 pm? Because for years, and earlier this year, the beavers here had generally only come out at dark and around 7 pm at the earliest. I didn't try to follow the beaver for fear of alarming it before it showed what it intended to do -- work on the cut trees at the far west end of the pond, I expected. Then about 15 minutes later, I saw another beaver swimming by the crook of the pond and this one turned right going up pond away from me. So I decided to stay longer to see if this unprecedented parade of beavers continued. It didn't, and soon enough the beaver to my left sensed me and splashed. I checked the wind and saw that it had shifted, coming more from the southeast, thus crossing me. The beaver splashed three more times and once came close enough so that I could see it. I decided to move on. Herons flying toward the pond kept flying at the sight of me. A kingfisher flew over without a pause, and ducks were scarce. Only muskrats could keep me there and I saw none -- which surprised me. As I walked around the west end of the pond, I didn't see the beaver that splashed me. The trees they have been working on are still standing, but I noticed something interesting around the luscious maple. A beaver also gnawed the long dead logs nearby revivifying the deadly gray with white scars.

I checked the north slope for otter scat, and finding none was about to move onto the Second Swamp Pond when I saw a muskrat swim into the bank hole up closer to the dam. I went up there and sat right above the hole, well, ten feet away. I thought I could hear some commotion down in the ground just below me and I didn't have long to wait for a muskrat to pop out and swim out into the pond. I followed it with the camcorder and then noticed that another muskrat was out and up on a stick in the pond right in front of me.

It noticed me and dove back into the pond and hole, though without much commotion. I waited for the other rat to swim back and it did with not much grass, for a muskrat, clenched in its mouth. Seeing me, it veered to its left and then its right

and then dove and swam the remaining ten feet to the hole. The muskrat bringing home the grass struck me as being smaller than the other. Was that the father and the larger rat, out briefly for air, the proud mother of little rats still inside the burrow? Perhaps I should have hung around, but felt I had bothered them enough. I also saw the beaver again, swimming down from the dam, slipping underwater, which I had seen this beaver do frequently. A few minutes later I saw it on the shore not far from where I had been sitting.

If that is its preferred munching spot no wonder it sensed me. I walked down the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond deeming the east wind too changeable and fearing that it would blanket the pond with my scent, deaden the pond, I might say, as I crossed the upper dam. Plus I had not waited for beavers on the south shore. I leaned against a low cut birch, half concealed by grass, but I saw no sign of beavers in the pond. So I went down to the rock which gives a better view of the pond, and perfect view of the dam where beavers usually go. I soon saw a muskrat but it disappeared into the grass. I heard some bullfrogs, and the ducks were soon in such a tizzy that I don't think they were merely reacting to my presence. Several times I heard splashing and then four ducks circled above only to land again in the tall grasses about 50 yards up pond. Finally I saw a beaver on the north shore luxuriating at least for a while, in the fresh tall green grass over there. For some time I have been telling myself that these beavers might go down to Otter Hole Pond to harvest the green grass there, much as they did when they lived below Otter Hole Pond. Yet that was back when this Second Swamp Pond was virtually dry, and I could see now that no pond had ever had such luscious expanses of emerging grass.

Yet as I walked down to Otter Hole Pond, I saw something swimming across the small upper pond. It could have been a beaver, but since I never saw it again, it must have been a muskrat as they so easily get involved in a patch of grass and disappear. A cruising beaver makes its presence known. And Otter Hole Pond continues to be shallow. I tarried long enough to get a photo of the trillium below and between the rocks.

The elderberry bush also had blossoms.

As I went around South Bay, the terns put on another show. Only this time there were two or three common terns and they seemed to drive off the one Caspian tern. The an osprey flew over the ridge, made one skimming dive before me and continued its flight to the north. There was much cross cackling between the terns.

and like stumps in the bay, there were two herons.

May 19 I went over to South Bay in the boat on a calm, sunny, warm morning. I was hoping to bump into some de-tailed bullheads, but no luck. However as I rowed by the docking rock where I saw the heads before, there were several explosions of mud from the bottom of the bay. Bullheads do lurk there. I docked further down the cove, at the rock I usually dock at when the water level is up. I noticed beaver nipped willow twigs as I stepped on shore

which I took as a good sign. As I came into the bay I saw two common terns fishing, but as I walked down to where they had been fishing, they were no where to be seen. There were at least a dozen or more painted turtles draped on logs but most proved camera shy.

I went up the East Trail toward the rock overlooking the East Trail Pond. These woods often have a scarlet tanager, and I thought I heard one, but it was too deep and too high to have a chance to see. As I came over the rock, flushing two herons off opposite shores, I saw rippling on the pond which cause my heart to beat faster, but I soon saw that geese made the ripples. A closer look was rewarding because there were goslings. Babies were out in our cove yesterday. It looked like there were six to eight, and they had four adults to watch them. I sat on the rock to see what else might happen. The redwing blackbirds were more ferocious today. One zoomed down from the other side of pond with its red epaulets so prominent, I thought it might be a scarlet tanager. The bird belligerently challenged another redwing blackbird, his epaulet blazing too, for the right to a log. The swallows seemed content to just collect insects high above me. I heard two pine warblers and then a scarlet tanager on the ridge between the upper East Trail Pond and Shangri-la Pond. Over the years I've often seen one there. Then I heard the distance shouts of a class of school kids. Such intrusions used to alarm me -- the kids are always loud, but I've learned to appreciate them. There is no better force to flush beavers, otters and muskrats out of the clumps of grass in the upper pond. However, today, evidently, there was nothing to flush. Two of the geese flew off, and the scarlet tanager stopped singing. When the kids left I went down to the dam and as I approached saw the goose family on the grassy slope on the other side of the pond. Of course, they were quickly into the water,

but I was surprised to see both adults in front of the goslings. Not until they got 20 yards out in the pond did they get in the proper order. I couldn't find any fresh otter signs but this is the most difficult time of year to discern them, unless the otters are so persistent that their urine scat kills the emerging grass. I walked around the pond counter-clockwise and first admired how the beavers were using one of the canals up into the small third ponds.

Then by the bank lodge I noticed that the emerging blue flag irises had been trim where they blocked the usual path. Of course, I looked for the geese, but they successfully concealed themselves from me. I also had my eye out for Blanding's turtles out to take advantage of the sun, but none appeared. Plus the scarlet tanager stopped singing as I walked up the ridge, and began again when I left. I eyed the large vernal pool at the upper end of Shangri-la Pond, and saw a leopard frog hovering over the sunken carpet of dead leaves.

Many flying insects just above the pond, but nothing swimming in the pond. I went along the north shore of Meander Pond and cast a critical eye at the beavers' work. The other day I noticed gnawing on long dead wood with a fresh cut maple still standing. Today I saw that the beavers girdled standing red oaks but ignored two large, and still living, red oaks that had been blown down almost horizontally. I don't fault these beavers for their seemingly wasteful ways because they certainly are survivors. I think the colony in nearby Audubon Pond didn't survive because the beavers didn't girdle large trees. As I was pondering this I saw something swim by the lodge out in the pond. I first thought it was a muskrat but on examination saw that it was a beaver and it swam up a channel right in front of me. I pushed too close and it went away, I think, back into the lodge.

As I walked down to the dam, I was surprised to see a beaver clamber up from the other side of if, and get into the pond. I thought it would go right into the nearby bank burrow, but instead it swam toward me. It paused, looking in my direction,

then veered to its left and ducked down to bring up some morsel from the bottom. It ducked down three or four times. Indeed, this little beaver liked to swim underwater. When I rustled some leaves, it would dive under the water and the bubbles popping up to the surface seemed like its well considered thoughts. Then it would surface and sniff the air again, Finally we got too close to each other, it made an emphatic dive and all its thoughts tended toward the center of the pond. I hurried away because, since it was 11 am in the morning, I considered the encounter a special gift. I continued on to Audubon Pond, in the main to see more goslings, and I did, a family in the pond below the Short-cut Trail Pond and another in the pond just above Audubon Pond. The poor mother goose on the drain pipe lodge in Audubon Pond was still on her eggs, even looking like she was bearing down on them.

Meanwhile a common tern was fishing, almost crossing paths with a heron circling overhead, obviously depressed by my arrival. At a certain point in the season, herons begin squawking their displeasure, and today we reached that point. I also had an eye out for otter scat, and there was none, but as I shifted my weight what should dart from the thick green grass to my left but a handsome water snake. I followed it along the shore until I got a good photo.

I went down to the dock rock and saw leaves scrapped up in a pile but no attendant scat so otters might not have done it. As I looked I heard some rustling and then saw that I scared a porcupine out onto a willow overhanging South Bay. Then back to the boat and home.