May 30 We had light rain yesterday which stymied my hope to get out and see some beavers in the evening. But this morning there was a rare outbreak of sun, and warming up as I headed off for the ponds. I moved under the warbling vireo and came down to the South Bay trail, still damp and puddled from the more or less week of rain we've had. I didn't see anymore fish parts, but there was fresh scat in the same area the otters used before.
But on a rock and so moist that I had to kick it to make sure it was not just mud from the trail. I decided to follow an otter's possible path up the creek. Unfortunately this spring everything is too wet, making it difficult to discern an otter path through the grass, and the creek is overflowing so there are no stretches of mud to take the impression of prints.
Two years ago at about this time, during a dry spring, I was able to see an otter's route up this valley and eventually saw the male otter making the tour. Today, all I could do was take some photos showing how untouched this area is by beavers,
who had created the series of ponds back in 1993 and 1994, much to my delight because it brought the beavers very close to me. The photo above shows the lowest pond the beavers had a lodge in. The photo below shows the Middle Pond. When the beavers were around all the meadow below was a pond too.
The beavers are still using the Double Lodge Pond, not exactly tending the small dam which was overflowing from the water coming down the creek from the ridge behind the golf course, but bringing in willow and nannyberry and leaving piles of nibbled sticks.
There were also two sets of goslings in the pond, one with about 8 goslings and the other with just 2 or 3.
I followed them up to the Big Pond dam and got some video of them climbing over the dam. There's something very engaging about the way geese manage their charges in such a situation, gently nodding, and murmuring in an undertone while keeping just ahead of the goslings. I was chagrined at how far they fled, going to the far end of the huge Big Pond. The dam still has water flowing over it so there wasn't much mud for otter prints. Nor was there any scat that I could see. Before, when I crossed the dam, I credited muskrats for trimming the broad leaves of the cattails. Now I see that they are cut so high that the deer must be doing it.
As I crossed the dam a deer fled from the grasses below the dam, and, as usual, I could see deer prints all along the dam. I went up to the lodge where the nearby shore had been caked with otter scat. Now all that is flooded and there were no signs of otters up there, and no sign that the beavers have been using the lodge either.
I had hoped to get to this pond last night to see what was going on with the beavers. Of course the damp conditions have unloosed a legion of mushrooms.
The Lost Swamp Pond might have presented an interesting spectacle before I came, but my arrival sent three heron, who had been fishing together, flying off in different directions. Four geese steadily moved away, and I was more or less left alone until a kingbird showed up and a muskrat did some foraging. I saw the latter seemingly cruising from the den on the north shore and going all the way to the point of grassy land that almost divides the pond. Then I saw it swimming back and expected it to swim back to the north shore, but it dove near some logs in the middle of the pond, came up with some greens, climbed on a log and began eating.
It also did some brief scratching with its back leg which just reminded me of how seldom I see muskrats grooming, compared to beavers. It dove for three mouthfuls before I decided I had to move on. While this was going on a blackbird landed on a log in front of me, stabbed what looked like a fish and flew off. I didn't get the camcorder on in time to see what it caught. I checked the north slope and trail over to the Second Swamp Pond for fresh otter scat and couldn't find any big new piles. Nor were there any scats along the shore up to the dam. I crossed the upper Second Swamp Pond dam and found that not only had beavers firmed up the larger dam, their engineering had also slowed smaller leaks.
The four sticks behind are testament to the persistence of the rain, usually a push of grasses would do fine to contain the water. I headed up to the Third Ponds and had to tax my memory to see if there was any fresh beaver work. The poplar and red oaks looked about the same, but closer to the last and largest of the ponds, there was a downed ironwood that had just been cut,
plus there were paths made by the beavers coming up from the pond,
and at least one stripped stick in the pond. Heading down to the East Trail Pond, I saw a group of about eight morels, half knocked down,
and one, as I found when I turned it over, feeding a slug.
The East Trail Pond was quiet, save for a cameo appearance by a flycatcher. Last year I noticed them nesting in a hole almost on top of a dead tree trunk. One came flying in, sat on top of the trunk with a big white thing in its mouth,
looked around, and flew into the hole (just when I clicked off the camcorder.) When I crossed the dam I saw an otter scent mound closer to the pond, just under the downed tree trunk that otters over the years have enjoyed scatting under, on and around.
Up on the ridge, it looked like the latrine had been freshened and in one area of dirt, I thought I could discern otter tracks heading down toward Otter Hole Pond, but that's a tough call. I checked on Otter Hole Pond and ears alone were able to ascertain that the dam still leaked. The wild geraniums are blooming
I walked all the way down past Beaver Point Pond and the New Pond, and it was worth it. I found fresh otter scat about ten feet from the still rushing creek.
Although I know the otters come through this area, I've rarely found scat. So, as best as I can determine, I am now tracking a touring otter that marks the interior ponds most every day but probably does most of its fishing in South Bay. Indeed, two days ago I kayaked around the bay, and when I cruised into the coves where the creeks come in, the mud bubbled with fish. The large carp are also moving in. However, I didn't see any scat at the rock and under the willow where the otters scatted last year. Nor was there any scat along the Narrows, save for one point of rock where I caught a whiff of scat as I paddled by. I investigated and there may be scat up there. I'll have to go by foot and check -- another day.
June 1 a busy then rainy day yesterday. A cold, cloudy morning, then, chomping at the bit, I headed off a little before 3 pm just as the sun was coming out. It was remarkably calm and quiet as the clouds moved off. The north winds didn't pick up for an hour or so. On the TI Park ridge I saw an adult deer with a reddish coat. She (probably) stood looking at me and I approached slowly, but she ran off before I got a photo. Fawns will be dropping soon. Down on the South Bay trail there was more fresh otter scat, solid scat on the rock that had runny scat before
and another spread a few feet up the trail. There was no fresh scat close to the other creek, as there was two days ago. A heron flew off as I walked up to that creek going up the bay and I noticed a lot splashing as it flew off. I first thought it might be poop then I saw how broad the swath of splashing was and I think the heron's flight was alarming the many fish in the shallows. I decided to walk around the bay up to Audubon Pond, and paused to see if I could see any fish swimming, but couldn't. Two Caspian terns were working the bay. Up above the docking rock along South Bay, I saw new piles of leaves but couldn't discern any otter scat on them, nor was there even a hint of scat on the rock. Up at Audubon Pond there likewise were no signs of otters. Three pairs of geese swam on the pond, all apparently childless. On the slope above the drain I found two broken goose eggs, and in the water between the shore and the drain I saw an egg that looked whole.
Going up to the Short-cut Trail Pond, I flushed four male mallards out of one of the smaller ponds. As I crossed the little bridge below the Short-cut Trail Pond a small goose family crossed the grassy path in front of me: just two goslings, both big enough to manage the grass well.
Despite all the rain, the upper Short-cut Trail Pond is dry, largely because the Meander Pond dam is so well tended. I leaned on a tree by the dam hoping a beaver might appear, but none did. Still it was a pleasant spot to ponder from:
The fresh beaver work is up pond, principally a medium sized red oak cut down leaving a crown of fresh leaves wilting. Indeed, there is more work at the Thicket Pond. The dam has been tended;
a tree that was half cut a week ago is now cut and hanging up. A red oak has been half girdled. There was path from the Thicket Pond to this work. The old lodge doesn't look lived in but there is much to hide in at this pond.
As I walked around it on my way to the East Trail Pond, I saw a freshly cut tree up on the bank.
Once the beavers wintered in this pond living off the huge clumps of willow roots available to them under the ice, an amazing feat in a pond that can't get much more than two feet deep. I went up the ridge between Shangri-la Pond and the upper East Trail Pond and eased down to the rock just above the old beaver lodge. I expected to find muskrats using the lodge and beavers further out eating the ferns. I found a goose family that promptly left and then a rustling in a willow clump in the pond right next to me. I saw the brown furry back, and then a thwack of the tail -- a beaver not a muskrat. It splashed me just in front of the lodge. I thought for a moment that it might have gone into the lodge, then it splashed me again at the next clearing in the pond, and splashed me again as it moved down pond. I had to admire how it waited to splash until it had enough open water to have proper effect. I at least got a photo of where it had been when I scared it.
Unfortunately, my plan to spend an hour watching beavers munch ferns was ruined. I kept studying the way down pond and never saw the beaver go there so I think it simply found another secluded patch, of which there are many, and continued its munching. A red tail hawk flew over high, being chased by smaller birds. When I got up to leave I noticed a fresh beaver path to girdling work above on two big red oaks, and they had cut a pine.
These beavers have a taste for pine, in all seasons. I also took a photo of what I wanted to see them eating: luscious ferns:
I walked slowly counterclockwise around the pond but saw no beaver, nor muskrat for that matter. I was going to stay longer if there were fresh otter scats near the dam. There weren't so I walked over the ridge where I didn't see any fresh otter signs either. I got a whiff of scat down at the creek, but the only scat I saw looked twisted, more like a mink's or a fisher's.
It was now after 5 pm and the wind was in my favor for sneaking up to the Second Swamp Pond dam to see if there were beavers working there. No. But I think they continue taking trees around the small pond they fashioned below the dam -- or reopened, because a pond had been there in other years (even a lodge 10 years ago.) As I came up to the dam, I saw a wood duck on the end of a log in the pond, head tucked into his wings, I guess, taking advantage of the rare glimpse of sun and defeating the wind that kept getting gustier. A click of my camera soon had him stretching his wings and then flying off, rather quietly for a wood duck, only squealing when he was well away.
I crossed the dam which is still hazardous. The water is being held back by pure mud, another six inches of it, and it's not doing a very good job. I sat on the rock on the south side of the dam for 45 minutes and was treated to the following entertainments: a kingfisher flew in chattering, perched high on a dead trunk. It didn't fish so I sagely told myself that the pond was of no use to kingfishers. Indeed, I haven't seen them much at all this spring. Then another kingfisher flew in from the Lost Swamp Pond, flying high, swooped down and their was a brief kingfisher dogfight and they both zoomed off to the west. Evidently the pond is worth fighting over. Then a deer waded into the water off the north shore eating the pond vegetation.
At the same time a muskrat appeared out of the grass I had been staring at for 30 minutes, swam over to a clump of grass I could get a good view of, and put on a fine show of subduing the grass, almost pouncing on it to get it down and then setting its mile-a-minute mouth to work eating. Then it swam up pond and I could no longer see it. However no beavers, even as late as 6 pm. What I want to do is roughly judge the working hours of the various colonies. Last year these beavers were good for an early 5 pm start. So far, not this year. Although it is always possible that they had already left the lodge and gone up pond to forage. I didn't stay long at the Lost Swamp Pond after I determined that there was no fresh otter scat on the trail they had been using between the two ponds. In the damp wood I saw three or four kinds of mushrooms, these two being the most intriguing. Both were in clumps. First, peziza badia (I think)
The light brown ones, which I should have peaked under so I might have a chance to identify it, were more or less evenly dispersed every five feet or so along a deer path for about 20 to 30 feet.
I also saw a tanager relatively low doing its "chickburr" with such a burr to it that at first I thought it was a woodcock peinting.
I flushed a heron off the Big Pond Dam and sat briefly at my usual spot and watched the wind play over the pond.
June 3 I went to the Big Pond after dinner to see what beavers are there. Two years ago I had frequent close encounters, day and evening, with the beavers there. I went via the meadow behind the golf course and it was almost soggy enough to get my shoes wet. Up on the rocks, I knew I would be treated to thick green moss. I was surprised by the patches of red made by the blooming sheep sorrel.
Just off the rocks were choke cherry trees in full bloom.
I scared up some deer along the meadow, but none on the ridge. I heard towhees and an ovenbird. What I've missed this year, so far, is a rose breasted grosbeak which is usually up here. While still up on the rock ridge, I saw a busted goose egg. Did a crow fly it up and crack it on the rocks? I got down to the Big Pond at about 7:15. As I came in a common tern flew out, a few mallards as well. I didn't see any geese. I sat in my usual spot, looked out over the smooth surface of the pond,
and waited which afforded time enough to speculate on the near future of the pond. The blue flag iris, which usually blooms in early June, looked stunted in the clumps of grass in the pond. Perhaps the pond being drained from January to May didn't help. I didn't see any fish fry at my feet, but there was continuous nippling in the pond, and I saw one fish jump out. There was a good size splash along the dam and my impression was that a larger fish in the water made it, but bullfrogs are getting active. I noticed that at my feet there was a bit of muskrat scat and a bit of clipped grass.
At 7:30 I saw a wake in the middle of the pond and then saw what looked like a beaver cruising into the grasses on the south side of the pond. I couldn't be sure where the beaver came from but a straight line back would put it at the beaver lodge. I trusted it would come out of the grasses soon and head my way, but it didn't. About 15 minutes later a muskrat swam out of a part of the grassy area in the water closer to me. It swam to the lodge and dove into it. After that, the only action at the pond was a seagull flying around and evidently finding things to skim off the surface. An osprey flew high over the pond
headed, I suppose, for its nest on the concrete navigational cell in the river. At 8:30, chilly enough to put my jacket on, I began walking up the south shore of the pond, hoping to flush out a beaver. I didn't and I didn't see any evidence of beaver work at the end of the several canals that come to the shore. A few weeks ago I walked along this shore marveling at the lack of water. The suddenly dry pond bottom lost all its mystery. Now, the mystery has returned; once again I expected a beaver or a muskrat to pop up anywhere, though I now know the channels, to which a beaver would likely to confine itself. As I stood at the little spring where the otters had been so active in the winter, I saw a beaver cruising straight down the pond, coming from the east. I suspected but never proved that the beavers moved to the ponds up there in the late fall. Of course, this could be the beaver I saw earlier returning. It swam down until it was about even with me, dove, and I never saw it again. I walked back down to the dam. I really don't think it was concerned about my presence. I suspect that it went into the grassy area along the north shore of the pond. Fog was wisping up above the pond. One whip-poor-will was singing but didn't follow me up the big rock and then to the golf course and home. At least I saw a beaver, though I learned precious little about it.
June 4 a beautiful day with rain on the way, so after finishing chores I hurried to the East Trail Pond for lunch before going off to saw wood at our land. Nothing much happened in the half hour I was there, save for the beauty of it all.
A kingfisher was around and perched over the upper end of the pond away from me. A flicker was about, hurrying, probably feeding some young. I heard an oriole and probably a scarlet tanager. Grackles out numbered redwing blackbirds. On the way to the pond, I saw this oak apple gall
with its curious seed-like inside
Of course ants joined my picnic and I noticed that the large black ones had a touch of gold on their rump -- couldn't get a photo of the fast moving interlopers. I went down to dam to check for fresh otter scat. I noticed something more on the last scent mound they made, but it was quite hard so I can't say an otter had been by that morning.
However, the trail looked like something freshened it. I went over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond and on the way saw these squawroot sprouting up
On a log almost at the pond I saw what looked like raccoon scat with goose egg shell bits in it
The other day, looking down at Otter Hole Pond as I went to the Second Swamp Pond, I thought the pond looked higher, but the rain could account for that. We've been dry for a couple of days, yet the pond looked higher. As I crossed I first noticed a hole in the dam made from the front; looked more like digging for a home than a raccoon digging for turtle eggs
As I went further along I saw water going down a hole in the dam that had been high and dry for months, then, sure enough I saw the patch at the main hole. All that was visible was a good sized dollop of mud on the dam
The pond is certainly not restored to its former glory. The beavers will have to patch the other hole to manage that.
I had been telling myself that it was perhaps more likely that the beavers would patch the hole in Beaver Point Pond dam and then let the water fill back into Otter Hole Pond, as it did two and three years ago. Beavers proved me wrong, as the photo of Beaver Point Pond shows
I flushed ducks and a heron off Otter Hole Pond and set geese at the upper end to honking, too far away to see if they had goslings. I doubt it because parents are usually quiet. Seeing a heron fly off prompted me to rethink my idea that wing flaps stirred fish in the water to come to the surface. I think the tips of a heron's wing must get wet and when it flies off drops of water nipple the water below.
June 6 quite a bit of rain yesterday, sun this morning and a promise of warmth. I headed off at 11 with half my lunch eaten. I avoided the wet meadow behind the golf course, and went up to the Middle Pond along the swamp side of the ridge. At the Middle Pond I hoped to see goslings and muskrats -- a combination I've often seen before. Instead I saw a gaping hole in the dam
which didn't preclude those animals being there, but which got me curious about the state of the dams further up, so I moved on up to Double Lodge Pond where the water was flowing over a dam that the beavers have been tending, judging from the mud pushed up all along it. The Middle Pond dam must have simply worn out with all the overflow. By the side of the dam the beaver left a bit of nannyberry with blooming flowers sunk in the muddy water.
There is a good bit of this for the beavers to eat. And at every little inlet as I walked up the pond there were sticks the beaver stripped. The Big Pond dam is also overflowing a good bit, but has been tended. The beaver has even worked some honeysuckle branches into the mud.
I've seen beavers take honeysuckle now and then; once they get a taste for it they'll have an endless supply of food. As I finished my lunch, a common tern worked the pond but seemed to do more flying and skimming than diving and eating. However, to answer my question as to the state of the fishery in the pond, a dead bullhead about four inches long was on the dam. There was also a speckled bird's egg. I went up to the lodge on the north shore and saw no signs of beavers. I did flush three dark ducks, didn't get a good look at them. Along the surveyor's trail to the Lost Swamp Pond, I flushed a woodcock family. Four or five little ones went in the direction I was going; the adult went the opposite way. As I walked along I scared up three of the fledglings. I went to the rock which gives such a good view of the upper Lost Swamp Pond. Around the rock were two holes in the turf but with no turtle egg shells; nor any sign that an otter might have done it.
In the fall they did use the rock as a latrine. I sat until the sun got too warm and then decided to sit over at the shady, mossy cove. On my way I kept flushing myriads of those tiny damselflies who wings seem to move like a helicopter's. I tried getting a video and some photos -- tough because they are so tiny. Indeed, they are glittery in the sun. Of course, the big dragonflies are about: green darner and white tail. On my way to my perch I almost stepped on a black snake. As I stood there, it was perfectly still, though its head was up. I moved five yards behind and its tongue sensed the air and then it slowly slithered forward, making a slow u-turn.
I very seldom see a snake this large here -- perhaps ten years ago. I finally sat for my nap, but I scarcely got my eyes shut, there was so much going on. The many blackbirds and grackles as always were indefatigable as they harvested bugs from the logs and stumps in the pond.
I thought I saw one chase a kingbird, which I thought curious for the latter is the bird called tyrannus tyrannus. The kingbird stayed riveted to a dead branch while the grackles hopped around. Was it chastened? stricken? No, it was standing watch over his mate in a nearby nest that was in the top of a truncated rotting birch.
The top ten inches of bark had been cleared of rot and the kingbird nest was in there. The guard kingbird then chased away two more grackles, indeed, ruling the pond. Then I saw a quick change of the guard at the nest. So I waited to see that again. This time the female flew off and the male promptly parked itself on top to the birch bark so that its tail shielded the eggs, I presume, inside.
When the female returned there was a brief squeak and the male flew off and she hurried in. While this was playing out I saw a small mink working the far shore of the pond, darting ten yards, then stopped, darting, stopping, sometimes swimming in the water, sometimes going high on logs.
It stopped where the muskrats burrow, then in its usual pattern, moved on, and I lost it as it went up to the dam. And in the third ring, a downey woodpecker in the dead tree above me:
Time to move, I went around the pond to check for otter scat. As I came around I saw that something had been up out of the pond, then I saw goose poop; then right next to that a gooey pale otter scat.
Some pancaked scats were nearby, not as fresh. The trail up and over to the Second Swamp Pond looked roughed up. But the scent mound I saw up there was rather neat, with leaves over crossed sticks, and no scat was on it.
I never think of otters as being neat, so I wonder if a beaver went all the way up there just to show up the otters! While I didn't see any fresh beaver work, the dam had mud all along it,
and this is the season for beavers to eat fresh green plants in and out of the pond so I shouldn't expect much lumbering. The upper Second Swamp Pond dam has also been well tended, with grass, principally, pushed up all along the old dam so that there is now a real pond, not just some skulking knot in a creek, forming behind this dam.
I'll have to park myself here some evening. I decided to check the Third Ponds again, and while I didn't see any trees freshly gnawed, there was a large smear of marking mud that hadn't been there before.
Again, beavers can be coming up just for the grasses. The last of the Third Ponds is especially sunny. I went toward the East Trail Pond along the morel beds and enjoyed how the monsters looked completely played out. I checked for otter scat along the East Trail Pond dam before parking myself and while the trail looked used, I didn't see any certainly fresh scat. Up on the ridge there was new scat. With the damp weather I'm at a loss to explain why the scats didn't look fresher. Perhaps the dullness arises from being washed out, which means the otter toured before the rain. I went back down and spent ten minutes watching the pond, seeing orioles chasing around, the flicker hustling to feed baby and the swallows, as ever at this pond, high above the trees. A pine warbler is singing again, and a yellow warbler. A pair of geese with two goslings went to the lodge, perhaps where the hatching had occurred just a few days ago. I went home via Otter Hole Pond. I admired its fullness and noted the cackle of a kingfisher. Then to my surprise I saw that the pond was leaking again, at the old hole, but the water was not rushing out so deeply.
A beaver will have to come back to do another repair. I sat along the dam for a few minutes. Geese in front of me were quiet; a pair down behind Beaver Point Dam honked loudly. No goslings to be seen. Also to my surprise there was no sign of an otter going over the South Bay cove causeway. So perhaps the scats I just saw are not from the touring male, but from a mother, tentatively stepping out before unveiling her young. At the gate to the park were some blooming mayflowers
-- seemed a tad late this year, since it is now June. In the evening the midges were low in the trees over the river shore
pulsing like a black aurora in the sky, with music, of course -- a-hum.