Saturday, December 31, 2016

May 2 to 13, 2004

May 2 yesterday I was out on a bike for exercise and I decided to ride over and check the New Pond knoll for otter scats. There were none fresh or new. I sat until it started raining and saw at least one, perhaps two snapping turtles swimming mostly under the water. Several painted turtles were on logs. I hurried back when the rain got heavier, but still noticed the many violets just out along the South Bay trail, and mayapple just up. At night we tried a little bullhead fishing, but without luck. Incommoded a few herons. Heard toads singing.

Today I hiked out to the New Pond knoll, a humid, cloudy day in the mid-70s and first had to pause and take in the serviceberry blossoms.

Up on the ridges, the beavers who have developed a taste for this tree, can't get them. I also heard an oriole in the trees on the ridge. Then I tried to get photos of the violets

and a pale butterfly fluttered under me, hungry for violets. I also noticed two varieties of violets, with one a bit paler.

Up on the New Pond knoll, again there were no new scats. No matter the pattern in otter travel I think I begin to discern, that pattern stops after a couple of weeks -- or maybe I am just getting impatient. Then I saw a white flower that looked like a big hepatica. 

A little ways beyond that I saw clumps of saxifrage.

Up at Otter Hole Pond I sat on my old perch -- a depression in the grass on the ridge, but not before checking to see if the last patch of trillium on this part of the island was blooming, and it almost was.

As I contemplated the almost empty pond, I saw that the beaver lodge, now exposed to its very foundation, had the characteristics of a living organism, with two large claws sticking out in the shallow water.

Where is the beaver who will patch this dam? Then I saw a snapping turtle swimming through the pond, sometimes at a good clip, but mostly slowly, head up and head down, like it really was getting something out of the pond. It kept approaching mud banks but not going up, but finally did, pausing out of the water for a minute,

and then when it got back into deeper water it swam quickly up pond. More likely it is looking for a mate than looking for food. Before seeing the turtle, I was going to ponder why the New Pond seems so lively and this pond -- once the heart of much activity, seemed of no use. I heard a kingfisher in the distance and they used to love this pond. Herons too, and no signs of muskrat, but I only sat there for 25 minutes. I noted that a good flow of water was coming down from the East Trail Pond, but there was also a flow from the Second Swamp Pond. So I went out on the dam there, to the consternation of two geese, but saw only good patching and no leaks. However, the water level is lower, despite the showers we've been having, and the pond below is bigger.

I suspect that the beavers have worked on the dam below and, as they did last year, have water flowing into the pool below the other side of the dam. I'll check that theory the next time I come out. Maybe just as they did 20 years ago, they are making their slow way down to recreate Otter Hole Pond in all its former glory when it backed up, a full pond to the Second Swamp Pond dam. Just off the dam I saw more saxifrage quite striking in moss and set off with small ferns.

I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond, moving three pairs of buffleheads along. Since it was little after 3pm I didn't expect to see beavers so I concentrated on finding otter scat. The north shore slope looks used but I could see no scats that I was sure were new. But on the other side of the slope, above the upper end of the Second Swamp Pond, I saw several scats there were not there the last time I checked. However, none were soft.

At this time of year with plenty of sun, wind and no shade otter scats seem to firm up quickly. If this scat means an otter is staying in this area, there are two muskrat pushups near by. It may also be a means of claiming the Lost Swamp Pond from any otter coming up from South Bay, but then why shouldn't I see some new scat up at that pond? I walked up to the dam and noticed that a rotten limb that fell from a dead tree near the dam had been brought up by a beaver and placed on the dam. I also saw a serviceberry tree half cut and still blooming.

The next task I set for myself was to check the ponds below the Big Pond to see if the beavers are using them. Just like last year they repaired the dam of the pond just below,

Double Lodge Pond, but all the other dams below are in disrepair and the water flows out.

In the meadow of one of these ponds I found the remains of a deer stretched out as if straining for water.

I think deer I find down in these bottoms are those wounded by hunters and the ones up the ridges are more likely killed by coyotes -- if they are small enough. But I know precious little about this. I thought a beaver had visited the Middle Pond, but it certainly didn't come back as it is low and absolutely no beaver work around it.

May 5 it rained two days ago and then this morning; and we had two chilly nights, but no frost. I headed off a little after three on a gray, humid afternoon, with diminishing wind and temperature a little over 50. I went up and over the TI Park ridge which I should call the serviceberry blossom ridge at this time of year. I nosed along the South Bay trail looking for otter scats and I think there is a fresh one on the rusting pipe next to the creek coming down from the New Pond.

I've lost track of the markings on that pipe, which the otters scatted on a lot last year, but what was there seemed a little wet when I scratched it with a stick and being under trees, it shouldn't have gotten that wet from the rain. However, I would have liked to see scat on the New Pond knoll too, and there was nothing new there. I sat a bit on a rock to see what might materialize, and soon heard and then saw an oriole. No more pleasant bird to have above you. There was also a flycatcher -- a phoebe, I think, getting bugs off the pond. I walked up along South Bay and saw that the wind was dying. Then in the dirt above the docking rock,

I saw a fresh wet otter scat

-- only one and no pawing of grass around it. Up in Audubon Pond there were two gosling-less pairs of geese on the man-made embankments. As I walked down to look at the drain, the pair there went into the water and the male insisted on pushing over to the other pair, which set off a spate of pointless honking. The pond is quite full and I didn't hear any water leaking at the mudded over drain. Along the slope there were three neat mud piles.

Further along the slope I noticed beaver marking incorporating clam shells.

Going around the southwest corner of the pond, I admired the well gnawed oak and think the beaver has been gnawing it even more.

Another smaller tree was down and half stripped near by. As I walked up the west shore, I muskrat swam off before me and dove into the beaver bank lodge, which seems to have more mud on it, if not more sticks.

While I stood behind it, bubbles came out and this time the beaver surfaced closer to me, but was still its usual cold self. When I went to the bench, it went off to the opposite end. I think I got three splashes and after the last it disappeared. I sat on the bench, planning a brief rest, but then two terns flew in and entertained me,

flying rather close.

There seemed to be no contention between them even though they squawked and only one dove after a fish. As I was walking away, an osprey flew over with a fish in its talons. I also saw the muskrat again, going off into the grasses. I headed up to Meander Pond, passing some horsetails in the grass,

and saw a muskrat there too. It also looks like the dam has been tended, and perhaps the lodge in the middle of the pond had a stripped stick next to it. In the back of the pond there was much fresh beaver work 

and the tree I saw had been stripped of its bark, no gnawing,

and I've read that they use the strips for bedding, so perhaps they have moved into Meander Pond. However, there is still fresh work up at Thicket Pond, and some stripped bark too. However, the distraction of the moment was a pileated woodpecker. I heard another but didn't see it. The one I saw got down onto a log in the pond and threw wood about -- who needs beavers.

A few comb frogs were singing from the meadow below Meander Pond and some leopard frogs in Thicket Pond. As I walked along it, I sacred a half dozen ducks, some of them wood ducks. The East Trail Pond is still low, indeed, it looks lower,

which got me to thinking that an otter might have been by, but I saw no evidence of that at all. Not having this dam patched almost upsets me, and I can't account for it. Why couldn't one of the masters of mud from Thicket Pond come over and repair it? I even went down to the outlet creek on the old otter trail, but saw no otter signs. Up at the Second Swamp Pond dam, there is some leaking on the north side but not much. All the cut trees are ash and old ash cuts age least of all, but I think there is some fresh work below the dam. Going up to the knoll behind the dam, I heard an oriole again, might have been the same one. I did notice some freshly cut ash in the woods

as I walked up the side of the pond -- where, by the way, I saw no buffleheads. The upper dam seems to be even higher and crossing is getting to be difficult and when I got up to the Lost Swamp Pond, I heard a beaver splash behind me in the Upper Second Swamp pond. The Lost Swamp still has a goose on the little lodge in the pond and she had two guard geese. Just as I came up to the dam, a muskrat swam along, perhaps coming out of the lodge by the dam. I followed it around to the burrows on the north shore, sneaked some photos 

then it dove when I stepped on a stick. And behind that trusty old burrow den the mayapples were coming up.

No sign of fresh beaver work. Once again I face the delightful chore of figuring out what these beavers are up to. I checked the otter trail between the ponds for scat and think I saw one or two new ones on the north slope and perhaps one new one on the south slope to the Second Swamp Pond, but I want to see a fresh scat, gooey wet fresh. As I came down to the Big Pond I could see that more trees had been cut in the woods edging the meadow and then who should be coming up from a dive when I got to the pond but the little beaver. And I saw a beaver swimming from the lodge at the same time. The little beaver splashed and the other beaver turned around and went back to the lodge, and I soon heard some humming from there. I crossed the brimming and soggy dam, noticing that the little beaver was keeping an eye on me. When I crossed over, I sat on my low tree perch and the beaver came over to inspect me.

Not as closely as some beavers, but a brave piece of work on its part all the same. So I think some beavers have moved in here. I saw another muskrat too, in the pond below. Plus the two terns had made it over to this pond, but they flew off as soon I arrived, and a large hawk flew off too. Nature seemed quite relaxed today, with every critter making proper progress with the season... been awhile since I've seen an otter.

May 10 indifferent weather, working on the garden and writing history have conspired to keep me out of the ponds. I did get out on the river yesterday, a brief bit of kayaking, and once again I found flying bugs of some type in the water. In certain areas there was one every five feet or so. I fished one out that was clinging to a piece of bark. I got it home for a photo

and then it flew away. Today, I headed off at about 3:30 to see what has been happening. We had a brief shower this morning, then clouds and humidity and it was sunny when I began the hike. On the TI Park trail I saw a cordyalis, only one plant. There were no otter scats on the South Bay trail but up on the New Pond knoll there was a new scat, not fresh, thick with big fish scales.

I sat to see what might be happening in the pond. An oriole singing in the tree seemed to offer an invitation, and while several painted turtles dove in the water, one or two clung to the hot, dry tree trunk. Two or three ospreys had been flying and calling high above. Then what to my wandering eyes should appear but a beaver, swimming in from my right and stopping in the middle of the pond and gazing up at me.

The wind was more or less at my back and I couldn't understand why it didn't flee. Then I saw a raccoon foraging along the shore to my left. The beaver did the floating log routine and I was entranced by the pattern of ripples coming from its mouth, almost like it was caused by the beaver slowly and heavily exhaling, but it was probably chewing to make the ripples. Then to my further amazement it swam right toward me and climbed up on the bank below, nibbling a bit of grass and then grooming. I noticed that it had a bald patch or cut on the back of its head.

It groomed slowly, not the usual vigorous preening I see, and soon moved along the bank under a downed trunk of a mid-size tree, and it fell asleep.

Even shrugging about to get comfortable just like we do. I was close enough that any abrupt move would interrupt its nap. So I sat quietly for 20 minutes and then I think I got away without disturbing it. I headed up the South Bay trail, noting the bullhead fishermen there. Perhaps that was the beaver that I saw staying in the marsh last year trying to get away from people by going into the pond. There was no signs that it was making itself at home in the New Pond -- no work on the dam, no nibble sticks. I saw the small pileated woodpecker again. There was nothing new at the docking rock. Up at Audubon Pond, as I expected, the park people put a hole in the drain.

I threw some sticks to see if the rope was attached to a trap but nothing snapped. The water dropped no more than two feet and there wasn't much of a rush going out. They also cut the oak tree the beaver had been gnawing -- and that it would have never cut down. Beavers often don't like help from man, but in this case the beaver recognized a gift and had cut some branches off the cut tree. I was curious to see if it had abandoned its bank lodge but when I stood over it two trails of bubbles emerged. A beaver and a muskrat? I soon saw one beaver surface out in the pond, as usual. But I didn't see any muskrat. When I sat at the bench I saw a beaver on the far bank eating grass,

and then I saw the beaver in the water. So there are two beavers in the pond now. I also startled a muskrat in the marsh next to the bench but didn't see it. I saw some new work in the next pond up, but not much. They are probably living off the fresh green grasses like the two pair of geese that are still there. When I crossed the bridge below the Short-cut trail pond I startled another muskrat, just seeing its tail as it dove into the dam. There didn't seem to be that much fresh beaver work at Meander Pond, though I didn't linger near the dam because a goose was still in the pond vegetation -- perhaps with goslings. I did sit under an oriole for a bit.

I sat on a downed tree next to Thicket Pond, enjoying a good number of tree frogs singing, thinking I was too early to see a beaver. Then I heard gnawing right in front of me and stood up and saw a beaver in the grass by the shore. When it realized I was there, it swam slowly out into the pond and disappeared into the thickets.

I hiked up the East Trail today to get a look down on Shangri-la Pond. It has water in it and I soon saw two muskrats, one swimming into one of the old rambling beaver lodges along the shore. On top of the ridge there was some striking porcupine work.

On the other side of the ridge, the upper East Trail Pond is virtually dry -- just mud around the upper lodge. I could walk out on the old boardwalk and admire the mud.

I've worried about disappearing ponds cramping the otters' style before and have been wrong, but this year with three large ponds in a row almost empty -- East Trail, Otter Hole and Beaver Point, well we'll see. At least a kingfisher flew in. Going around the pond I noticed some trillium blooming in the open where deer could easily browse

-- small plants and blooms and some didn't bloom; but I've never noticed them before -- could the three week deer hunt have had more effect than I thought? I also saw yellow violets

and pussy toes. Going around the bank lodge on the northeast corner of the pond, I disturbed a pair of geese and their goslings. The little ones seemed rather loath to stir

The parents were patient as the goslings negotiated a bit of water between two mud banks. After I got my photos I hurried on, even passed up a chance to get a photo of how deep beavers make their canals. Further on there was another canal, empty and almost as deep. I sat on the slope next to the lodge contemplating the depleted pond. I assume the beaver has left now. Perhaps it was the one I saw in the New Pond. However, as I rued the day, a raccoon came out from below the dam and foraged along it quite successfully, even nabbing something when it waded into one of the holes the otters and beavers had made. I knew these were tasty treats because its tongue was licking a good bit and even when it noticed me it kept probing the water and mud until it got all the good stuff, then it moved down the other end of the dam. As it did the geese swam along, book-ending the goslings, and they all went over to the opposite shore for some grass. I bet they wanted to come where I was sitting, where the grass is thickest. So I moved on, and when I got up, the raccoon ran up the otter trail toward Otter Hole Pond. It was late enough for the Second Swamp Pond beavers to be out, but I didn't see any and was too hungry to wait. The upper dam is brimming and well padded with mud and grass. I looked back into the pond it makes and could see no sign of a new lodge. Up at the Lost Swamp Pond, all was quiet, a beaver I think was swimming off to the east. Again I didn't wait around, but did check for otter scats and found nothing new. I walked down to Otter Hole Pond, and when I walked up to it, two heron flew off. So even though I may be able to crawl into the lodge in the middle of the pond -- perhaps the lodge I have spent more time looking at than any other -- otters still might find something to eat.

May 13 yesterday I took a before dinner tour of South Bay in the kayak. The same bugs floundered in the water save that one I rescued was blacker and judging from how it clutched my finger as I fished it out of the water, much stronger.

I actually saw a bullhead wagging its tail out of the water at the end of the south cove, but must confess that I saw no signs of otters. I did see beaver nibbling here and there, principally on the over hanging willows and saw beaver scent mounds along the shore. I flushed at least four herons along the shore. The terns exhibited some curious behavior. One flew over me with a nice sized fish in its beak and it kept squawking. Another flew over to it and they both landed. I was too far away to see if the first gave the second the fish.

Today I went off to the ponds at 5:30 and going along the South Bay trail saw a fox walking toward me. Of course, it ran back when it saw me. While seeing no otter markings on the South Bay trail, I did see much bullhead activity at the north cove - tails in the air and ripples from several spots.

The temperature was in the 80s and a still day. Otters should be around, but there were no new scats up on the New Pond knoll. Coming up to it I saw a nice array of columbine

and for the first time this year, a chipmunk. I sat for a spell though the pollen coated pond didn't even have turtles out -- perhaps too warm for them. I did see a bug nestled on a trillium leaf

and then got a glimpse of something ducking into the old outhouse on the other side of the creek. I thought it might be the fox, but when it came out it was too slow for that. Then I thought it might be a porcupine but it seemed too brown and too prone to reach up and nibble leaves. I walked down the creek and got a good view of a rather sprightly groundhog.

In farmers' fields they seem almost to roll, but in the woods they appear to be a more intelligent and lively browser. In the sun, it sometimes seemed to have red fur on its belly. I took the East Trail up to that pond and found that a pair of mallards enjoyed what water that remained. It was also easier to trace the moves of a turtle in the shallow water. This is a pond famous for Blandings so I won't assume what I almost saw was a snapping turtle. The raccoon was again nosing along the muddy shore. I dutifully checked for otter signs and to my surprise found four piles of grass under the large pine where I often rest and the otters often scat.

One pile had otter scat on it -- not fresh,

but an otter has been to the pond and thought it worthy of marking. Crossing the dam I saw why -- two plump pollywogs latched onto an underwater log.

I got to my perch above the Second Swamp Pond beaver lodge at a little before 7:30. I soon saw a muskrat cruise into it, heading from the dam, and then another muskrat bringing a bouquet of green. Soon enough they both came out. The first did some nibbling in front of the lodge then headed to the grasses to my right. The other came out and headed to the grasses to my left. Then I saw a porcupine go up on the rock at the south side of the dam, and then, what I've never seen before, the porcupine crossed on top of the beaver dam. No beaver sounds. I went up pond as quietly as I could expecting a beaver or two to be in the grasses there or in the woods. But all I saw was a luna moth latched on to a low bush.

Quite a beauty and perfect poser. The wing deserves a close-up.

The upper dam is bigger still

and the heaves of mud make it obvious that for the moment this is the beaver chef d'oeuvre.

I lingered but elicited nary a splash. Up at the Lost Swamp pond dam, I found beavers. The little one came close to me

and perhaps would have come closer but a beaver twice its size splashed further out in the pond.

Soon in the growing gloaming I saw five beavers. Two splashed and the little stayed closest to me. It was too dark to see otter scats but it didn't look like any on the otter trail. I expected to see beavers at the Big Pond, but the pond was quiet. I noticed a porcupine silhouette in the sky up a tree below the dam

Then when I was about half way across the dam, two beavers swam out, the small one leading the way, then a third followed them, and then a fourth. When I got to the end of the dam, I saw freshly churned mud and little nibbled tidbits. Could all four of them have been crowded into that corner having breakfast. I do believe seeing nine beavers on an evening walk like this tops my personal best. The curiosity is that these two now huge ponds are truly the areas the beavers have lived the longest. It is almost like a new breed of beaver has moved in and adapted to relatively treeless ponds, but I've said that before only to have the beavers lead me to a new clump of poplars, ash and red oaks I never quite noticed before. At least two whip-poor-wills were singing. Wood thrush singing on my way out to the pond and a veery on my way home. Wood frogs all the time and peepers in the dark. I saw a handsome leopard frog in the grass by the Second Swamp Pond.

And a screech owl along the golf course. I continue to see deer in the woods, and continue to see trillium here and there with one bloom in plain view.