Sunday, February 16, 2014

June 17 to 24, 2003

June 17 I woke up early and headed for the ponds at 6:30 -- just 50F but sunny. I expected it to warm up quickly and it did. My plan was to check out the possibility that an otter came into the East Trail Pond from the northeast, as was the case during the winter. So I headed to the East Trail Pond as quickly as possible via the South Bay trail. As I came down to South Bay, I could hear the carp spawning all around the end of the bay. Two groups were sloshing around in the cove. There was also an array of otter scat along the usual latrine area. There were four different scats, grass mussed and stomped 

and even a stick left in the array. At the creek from the New Pond, there was only one scat. I'll have to check for otter ravaged carp along the South Bay shore -- I did find one last year at about this time. However, so that I wouldn't be deflected from my purpose this morning, I went directly to the north shore of the East Trail Pond, only pausing to get a photo of the raccoon-digging up on the ridge,

where they did succeed in finding turtle eggs. Then I sat for 10 or 15 minutes watching the East Trail Pond,

and saw nothing stirring, except an oriole behind me. Somewhat surprising not seeing a beaver that early in the morning.

There was no trail in the grass to today, and I could pick out trails here and there, most likely made by deer. As I went up the ridge I didn't see any of the muss in the grass that I associate with otters in transit. Usually when I retrace routes that I took on the snow, the going is much slower in the summer. However, the forest in the broad plateau above the swamps I watch is quite open, and I made better progress than I did in the winter. So an otter could easily get from the swamp up on the plateau through the open forest and down to the East Trail Pond. On my way to the swamp I saw a raccoon trotting through the forest. When I reached the swamp, which is huge,

I sat on the height of land that afforded a good view. I didn't see any herons, nor any other fish eating bird. I saw wood ducks near and far. Not the best place for an otter. However, the otter trail in the winter ignored this swamp. I walked to the west and found the small beaver pond nestled between the broad swamp and a granite rock cliff.

The winter otter trail had touched this pond though I saw no evidence that any otters stayed there. I immediately named the pond "Paradise Pond," though it did take some work to build -- a dam at the runoff into the swamp and a mud wall around half of the pond to collect the water.

It also had another small pond connecting and a relatively new lodge right where the ponds connect.

I suppose this is a paradise for someone watching the pond, not necessarily for the beavers in it, because the open forest is not the best area for foraging. I think beavers are there. There was mud on the dam, one small scent mound, and nibbled sticks, though I couldn't vouch for their freshness, and above the small pond some fresh girdling on a large red oak. Of course, the foraging area this time of year is in the huge swamp with its seemingly limitless supply of vegetation. There was a trail through the duck weed, leading from a hole in the bank. It looked like raccoons had dug out turtle eggs, and then dug into an old beaver burrow. The photo on top is of the hole into the hole on the bottom.

But, there was no otter scat, and so I can't be sure that otters came to the East Trail Pond via this route. On my way home I checked the East Trail Pond latrines, no scats there, but I forgot to check the log where I saw scat before. I crossed Otter Hole Pond dam which still has a leak.

June 19 after four dry, mostly sunny days, with temperatures in the low 70s, we had a cool rainy day. A little before 5 pm, about two hours after the rain stopped, I went out for a hike. Eager to get into the thick of it, I crossed over the meadow behind the golf course and soon got between a grouse and her chicks. She flew off and then came at me, almost growling to get my attention and then whimpering off in the opposite direction, away from her chicks. Almost as quickly as the ruckus began all was quiet, and I was left contemplating a new ant hill.

Up on the ridge, where bushes heavy with leaves and rain make the going tough, it was also quiet. I saw a butter and eggs flowering, seems early.

I came upon a deer eating the grasses around the rock outcrops. She hopped away before I could get a photo, and I was left contemplating the lush grasses and mosses.

Going down to Double Lodge Pond, I flushed more deer. That dam is overflowing, with water and milkweeds (some strangely rouged)

The dam doesn't seem repaired of late, nor did I notice any certainly fresh beaver work. But they must be eating grasses. They are thicker than I've ever seen them, as are the vine weeds choking small plants themselves more robust than usual.

Blue flag iris are blooming away from the pond helped by pools of standing water that seem to have no place to go. The Big Pond dam is also overflowing but seems in order and probably tended on a nightly basis. I crossed over the spillway to get to my usual perch, and noticed amidst a clump of iris, and on the opposite shore, a few tufted loosestrife plants.

We have these in a shady bog in our land. That they are growing in a sun drenched pond indicates how cool, wet, and shady the spring has been. I saw a trail going by my perch and mussed grass.

I checked back at the usual area for a latrine and found about four squirts of otter scat, two crowning bunched grass, and one a classic otter-on-the-run scat.

So the otters who scatted at the end of the cove probably continued up to the end of the creek as far as the corner of the pond I so often sit at.

The north wind playing on the pond invited hopes that otters were there, but the only things swimming were some wood ducks and mallards. The grasses were full of vibrancy, blooming as I had never seen them before

As if to compensate for the otters horning in, the beaver made an obvious scent mound on the north shore of the pond near the long dam.

As I walked away from the pond a common tern began circling over the pond. I also saw two dragonflies, one posed next to an iris

and the other quite striking, a "widow" dragonfly

Coming down to the Lost Swamp Pond, I sorted through geese, goslings, muskrats and beavers, in that order. The two beavers I saw seemed to be coming out of the lodge by the dam. All the critters disappeared into the grasses fringing the pond. I got the closest look at two rather small wood ducks who I suspect might have been chicks. They too swam into the fringe of grass. Geese have been all over the shore of the pond so it takes some time walking around it, since the disturbance geese make looks like what otters might do. At the north shore slope there was a fresh trail out of the pond, and there were four or more fresh scats

-- all in a row at angle to the usual trail. 

a bit further up than usual,

There was a trail going west, but I also found fresh scat further along the usual trail up and over to the upper Second Swamp Pond. I walked up to the dam, to see if the otters used any of the old latrines -- no sign of that. Some of the pink flowered spreading dogbane that flourishes here

was roughed up, but not, evidently, by otters. Probably by geese or deer. I walked down the south side the Second Swamp Pond where all was quiet. In upper Otter Hole Pond, I flushed about five deer, reddish body, white tails, leaping above the lush green grasses. Down at the dam, I sent the usual heron aloft, poop staining the pond -- like a fool I didn't have the camcorder ready. I took the short-cut home only pausing at the end of the south cove of South Bay where there was more fresh otter scat, gobs on both sides of the trail. If I let my imagination run, I'd credit these fresh scats in groups of four to that group of four males (I think) that came into the ponds from the east during the winter. But it would be nice to see these otters! And on the road almost home, a handsome slug.

June 20 I took Trevor and Samantha over to patrol South Bay for spawning carp but there was no spawning (I'll have to check again to see if they are still doing it in the early morning) and only one or two carp to be seen. The bullheads are still bubbling and at least one was hanging just below the surface. A baby turtle was out,

and not as many adults as I would expect. Dead fish are being enjoyed,

and a great rarity, two terns resting on part of a busted dock in the middle of the bay. I also saw a crop of yellow flag irises on the shore but the great treat, all tucked far enough away to preclude a good photo were great blue herons and and blue flag irises

The underwater vegetation is slow growing this year and what has come up has been well worked by the geese, who kept slipping away from us

June 22 a last moderately cool morning before summer conditions, heat and humidity, arrive. However, the woods remain moist enough for mushrooms to grow on mushrooms. 

I checked the South Bay trail for otter scat first, and found nothing fresh. I decided it behooved me to check above the rock half way up the South Bay shore. As I came up along the old dock I heard a splash in the water and assumed it was a turtle diving off its perch on a tree. Then I saw a huge carp jump halfway out the water, at about the spot where, seeing grass move, I had rammed the boat hoping to make a carp at least show a fin for Trevor and Samantha. When a fish leaps straight up like that I always think it's trying to tell me something, but what? Meanwhile, as I walked I launched at least a half dozen herons, one must have been too well fed because it crashed in the middle of the bay before getting aloft and away. As usual the leaves on the shady shore above the rock looked raked over and haphazardly piled. I snooped about and just beyond the grandest pile, with a stick crossing through it, I found a pile of leaves with otter scat. 

As I probed deeper I found more otter scat below. But once again my expectation that otters might then have left signs around Audubon Pond was not fulfilled. Either that area along South Bay is an otter bulletin board of sorts, or otters mark territory to warn away otters coming down to the bay via the land -- though that would be rather nonsensical on an island this small. The two families of geese were still in Audubon Pond, rather slow to escape from me as I walked along the embankment peppered with goose poop.

The patch of blue flag iris off the northeast corner of the pond is almost in full bloom. Of course with such patches flourishing throughout the swamps this is not as special this year, but still quite beautiful.

A few ducks were in the grassy areas of the ponds, but I didn't see any ducklings. I went up to Meander Pond and it is evident that the focus of foraging is to the east. The Thicket Pond lodge had more sticks on it and muddied water around it.

I soon saw that the beavers had made two trails from the east end of that pond to harvest small trees.

They are now just a few yards from the limit of the East Trail Pond beavers' harvesting. Of course, this year, the East Trail Pond beavers are going upstream to the east. Beavers wintered in Thicket Pond in 1998-99 and so at least one member of the colony may have a memory of it. I sat for awhile about the East Trail Pond and watched two cedar waxwings eat insects off the bark of the dead trees in front of me. Perhaps for this activity they break up their usually tight knit flocks of a half dozen to a dozen birds. Then I continued down to the dam checking the usual latrines. Some moss was pawed up on the mossy rock, but no scat. Then at the foot of the otter trail down the ridge a wide patch of grass had been worked over and several scats spread about.

The otters who had marked the South Bay Cove, then the Big Pond dam and Lost Swamp slope had come here too. Some scats were old but many were fresh. Judging from the lack of kingfishers and from the dearth of shiners in the ponds I drag a net in on our land, I suspect that the long cold winter, combined with a cold wet spring cut down the shiner population considerably. But I think I saw scales in the scats, though the freshest remains looked like the innards and hard head of a small bullhead.

(In the ponds on our land, bullheads are lush.) I checked for scats up the ridge and found none, nor were there any across the dam. I also walked around to that trail I saw a few nights ago to see if these otters might have marked there, but they had not. I did flush a green heron. Though the kingfishers are not about, the herons continue to work the ponds. From that northeast end of the pond, I weaved through the third ponds toward the upper Second Swamp Pond dam. The beavers left a muddy trail through the long canals that connect the small ponds.

I saw some trees gnawed to the east. Going down to the upper Second Swamp Pond I passed the poplar that they had cut and cut again. Since then they have cut it two more times, and appear to be doing some desperate gnawing to cut it again.

A medium size birch is holding the poplar up and it seems to have been tasted. They have done much more work on the upper dam, mostly with grass and mud. 

I must keep an eye out for a new lodge back in the grasses. The old one there is almost flooded over. I checked the channel the two beavers seemed to fight over a few nights ago and found a clump of willows cut high about a foot to two feet off the ground, which is what they appeared to be doing when I saw them, as if the newest shoots were the best eating. As I came up to the Lost Swamp at the dam, a muskrat swam in front of me and dove with an angry flourish of its tail.

Then as I walked along the shore I sent another muskrat diving. Such mid day work must mean that there are babies that must be fed. I didn't see any fresh otter scat which leads me to believe that the otters are not touring every day, but have stayed in the East Trail Pond for a couple days at least. That in turn might mean this season's mother otter may have relocated to a small backwater pond to teach her young. Such imaginings are in order on the first day of summer. When I got down to the Big Pond, a tern almost flew over my head. I took some video of it, but for all its circling it never dove. I'm beginning to think that terns have certain territories where they generally confine their foraging, why else this unproductive flying over this pond. That said I am seeing small fry along the shore, here, and in the Lost Swamp Pond. 

Other than a muddy dam, there were no signs of beaver activity, nor had the otters left any more scat. On my way home, going along the ridge above the first swamp ponds I saw such a bodacious forest of foam in the grass,

that I picked a stalk, blew back the foam to feature one of the perpetrators.

All through the hike I kept an eye out for fawns, but saw none, only a few fleeing deer, some even snorting, so I don't think they were happy mothers.

June 24 I was out of the house by 5:30am, resolved to see otters. A red sun peaked over the first fairway of the golf course, promising another hot, hazy day. Deer scooted into the woods and the robins were melodious as usual. Coming down to South Bay I heard and then saw the carp spawning throughout the cove, though not down at the very end. I saw a smear of fresh otter scat closer to the causeway than usual. It was difficult to read the grasses for tracks because tree trimmers had been through servicing the power line. I didn't see any scat at the inlet to the north cove. Then as I walked around to get a look at the cove there, I saw two otters swimming across the neck of the small cove at the end, heading for the marsh. Otters, at last!

Once again I faced the challenge of getting a good video of the otters and at the same time trying to ascertain how many there were. Soon I knew there were three because as they came down toward me, one seemed to lead the way and another two followed. And I got an inkling that there was another. They didn't seem to me to catch any good size fish, and since they were heading for the end of the cove, I wondered if their fishing was done and they were planning to go up to the beaver ponds. However, I heard some distress beeping as they neared me. I went up the small ridge and got a glimpse of one otter at the usual latrine by the creek. That otter returned to the cove and then the group of them swam back out for more fishing.

I also noticed another noise, a kind of staccato rolling purr, not unlike the sound adult geese make when they are controlling goslings. As they swam out, I got a view of four at once, 

before they moved out into the bay. Then I heard that rolling purr back over in the marsh across from me, and I thought perhaps it came from a goose that I was not noticing with all the excitement. However, soon an otter's head popped up, then another, and those two otters disappeared into the rather formidable looking marsh. I walked up along the South Bay shore, where the carp were spawning (and perhaps that leaping carp the other day was trying to tell me to come see the otters!) I saw fishermen in a boat. So I reasoned that the otters saw them and backtracked quickly into the marsh. I didn't see any fresh scat at the rock I usually check and I asked the fishermen if they had seen any otters -- no. I saw a small porcupine going down to the shore, eating the greens it could fish out of the water -- these critters do not have such a dry life after all.

I had an excellent opportunity to see what a porcupine by the water would do when frightened from the rear, but in the spirit of a peaceful morning, I walked on without bothering it. I continued on to the East Trail Pond, first sitting on the high rock overlooking all. As I cooled down, I kept an eye out for otters coming up from South Bay. The birds did the entertaining: two goldfinch either feeding together in a flurry, or gently fighting; I think there were two green herons in the pond because I heard stereophonic croaking; chickadees were right over my head; I heard but did not see an oriole. A painted turtle made such a stir of the water when getting on a log that I first thought it was an otter's head. As I went down to check the otter latrines, the reddish beaver swam off its favored marking spot,

and splashed me with gusto, again, and again, and again. This beaver will not get used to me. I did find one fresh scat at the latrine,

and as I went up and over the ridge, the grass was bent toward South Bay. I also saw a scat, perhaps older, ten yards above the creek between the ponds.

Plus the mud in the creek seemed to have an otter trail in it. I rested again in the shade affording a good view of Otter Hole dam. Two geese families relocated, one with three and the other with five goslings. These birds, so noisy in the spring, are all elegant silence now, young and old. I went down to check Beaver Point Pond dam. The pond is dry enough for me to use the old boards across the swamp with only a few feet of fallen log to negotiate over what water remains in an old beaver channel. There was some digging in some moss on the rock next to the dam, but no scat there, or on the dam. Little Porcupine Hotel Pond sports three clumps of blue flag iris.

I checked the latrine near the trail over the outlet creek into South Bay, and couldn't find a scat. I did get a photo of some wood anemone which has been out a few days.

So it is possible that my presence got the otters off their usual routine -- then the fishermen out in the bay. I think it probable that they denned in the East Trail Pond, went down to South Bay and were possibly on their way back. Of course, I know they have dens in the cattail marsh. I assume these are the group of males, even though one seemed bigger than the others, and even though they beeped and purred so much. The other supposition would be that they are a family still together after over a year. If I had seen this group in late October or November that's what I would say they were. Generally at this time of year I've seen a lone otter, easy to assume that it was a male, or two otters, easy to assume they are one year olds not old enough for mating. Now, I guess, I am assuming that I saw one adult male and three younger otters. These are enjoyable conundrums as long as they come after a half hour watching otters swimming and fishing.