Wednesday, November 23, 2016

May 1 to 6, 2005

May 1 sunny with a stiff wind out of the southwest. Two Langmuir rotations streamed past our dock.

We headed to our land in the morning and first I did some walking around. Still no beaver at the Deep Pond, and no muskrat today, but I saw a snapping turtle swimming up to the surface of the water along the west shore, then it saw me. I went up on the knoll, which at this time of year, hosts a nice array of flowers, principally Dutchman's britches, but also trillium, trout lilies, and spring beauties. I sat up on the knoll, which with the leaves just starting to come out, still provides a good view. But nothing else materialized on the wind swept pond. I continued walking around and noticed areas of nibbled grass, probably harvested by the muskrat -- since we've seen few ducks in here. I prompted a leopard frog to jump into the inlet stream, which still has a good flow, and watched the frog swim up stream to some cover. Why it didn't go with the flow into deeper water, I don't know. I climbed up to the lonesome pine and the only flower I saw on that shady slope was saxifrage. From the top, I headed down to the Third Pond, with an eye out for fresh beaver work, but saw none. The muskrat is still muddying the pond, especially around the entrance to its burrow. Up at the beaver pond, I noticed more work on a large birch just in the pond, 

and one fresh log added to the lodge.

Then as I walked around I saw more stripping of the bushy pine, and the beavers are nipping the branches and stripping them right on the shore. I checked the large pool where I had left a lot of red oak branches. I've been expecting the beavers to go up there and at least sample that fare. I could tell by mud in the pool that a beaver had probably been through, but it went beyond the red oak pile to start cutting down another tree on the shore. When I got around to the far shore of the pond, I saw more work on birch and with one small log, I noticed that the beaver had peeled off and left the birch bark.

I continued around to their feeding station under the pine, and saw more birch stripped in that fashion.

Painted turtles were out in their usual line-up.

I saw more slime oozing on the stumps of trees cut by the beavers in the fall. A few appeared to be bleeding.

After lunch we hauled stone up from an old sunken stone wall. Leslie noticed that mayflies were out, dancing above the growing green grass around the old tree trunk just up from the Third Pond. We assume the mayflies fancy the grasses, because there are no leaves to hide in, and some of them rest on the dead tree trunk, perhaps attracted by the white of it.

When the wind blew the mayflies disappeared and we watched two towhees rooting around the leaves nearby. Then the wind would drop and the mayflies were back up. As she dug around for stone, Leslie also pulled out a porcupine skeleton.

I headed off to tour the ponds at 4 pm and took my summer route through the meadow behind the golf course. The meadow was wet from the recent rain, but not profoundly flooded as it has been after winters of heavy snow. Even the deer had a muddy trail through the meadow, though perhaps due to the recent rains, I didn't see as many deer made holes into the elecampane roots. After seeing towhees at the land, and late arrivals they were this year, I wanted to see if there were towhees in their usual haunts up on the grassy ridges, but I didn't hear any. I did see a porcupine walking on a deer trail, and when it saw me, it didn't head for a tree, merely bristled and held its ground.

I came up to the Big Pond at the south end of the dam, and saw a new otter scent mound farther away than they usually make one at this pond.

The dam is still leaking and there was no sign of recent beaver repairs, or beaver work. I suspect they are feasting on grasses. There were a couple of small groups of ring-necked ducks. With a brisk southwest wind, I approached this pond with the wind at my back, likewise the Lost Swamp Pond. So I didn't expect to surprise any animals. Still pondering a wind swept pond is always fascinating and I sat back against a tree with a view of the whole upper pond. I noticed a lump on a log in the middle of the pond, and through the spyglass saw a muskrat. Then farther away, I saw two lumps on a log and that proved to be muskrats, side by side.

They were too far away to get a good video, so I watched them through the spyglass. Once again it seemed like one muskrat was trying to get the vegetation the other was eating, but the other rat did not swim off. Indeed they dove together and seemed to come up holding different ends of the same clump of grasses, and once on the log they came closer. Then when one got in the water and swam around the log, the other was right behind it. I didn't have a good view, but at one point it's possible that one mounted the other. Then when they both got on the log, they simultaneously scratched their own backsides with their right back leg. They may have very briefly groomed each other, and then they were back in the water for another go around. Eventually one got in the water and didn't swim around the log but toward shore. The other followed and when they both began to swim back, the muskrat swimming in front went toward a tree stump in the water and the other went back to the log they had been on before. I walked around the pond, looking for new otters scats, saw none, but did see a lone trillium sprouting out in plain sight of hungry deer a few yards from the pond water.

As I checked for scat on the north slope I saw that the beavers had started cutting another red oak, even though there are plenty of trees cut down in the winter and hardly utilized. The Lost Swamp Pond dam still leaks as always which means the Upper Second Swamp Pond continues to brim over. It was too wet below the dam, and the dam itself too fragile, to try to cross. I used to have a theory that beavers patched holes in the dam by positioning long logs perpendicular to the dam to fill in a hole. I haven't seen beavers do that in years, but these beavers have,

and with a rather long log.

Meanwhile, that birch that had been stripped in stripes had been subjected to a more thorough gnawing, and I saw a maple stump with garish slime, orange to almost pink.

Walking down the Second Swamp Pond shore I enjoyed the flying feeding frenzy of a couple dozen swallows. Could they be getting mayflies blown off of South Bay? There were no otter signs at the dam and only a few fresh dollops of mud pushed up by the beavers. I sat above the East Trail Pond waiting for something to appear in the shallows. Nothing did, but a raccoon foraged along the shore, with its front paws, more than its eyes or nose, appearing to do most of the sensing for something to eat.

I saw it eat one thing. I was expecting it to continue along behind the dam, but it walked up on the old beaver lodge and disappeared, quite likely into a hole in the bank above the lodge, which I had assumed was a groundhog home.

I continued on to Meander Pond. There were no comb frogs in the Thicket Pond, but the peepers were loudly pulsing all around Meander Pond. I sat at the end of the pond, with the wind in my face, and plenty of fresh beaver work around me. But no beaver came out. I waited until 6:30 which is probably not long enough. I checked the New Pond knoll and the South Bay causeway for otter scats and saw nothing new. The old scent mounds on the New Pond knoll seem to have been leveled. I saw several deer, often with a large and small deer together. I assume they are doe and yearling, and one large deer's coat seemed to be getting a hint of its summer shine.

May 3 sunny in the morning then cold clouds moved in. We headed to the land so Leslie could cover some plants, lettuce and peas are stirring, and we might have frost tonight, if the brisk wind dies down. I walked around the ponds which is beginning to seem a little pointless down at the Deep Pond. Today I saw nothing happening in or around the pond, but the area is evidently not dull to a hawk. It flew up from the low trees as I approached. I'm looking forward to a warm day to spend a good chunk of time around this pond. This is the first spring I've seen no signs of large fish. Perhaps the otters got the last of the pike that were stocked here, but that should allow other fish to grow. Crossing the small dam of the Third Pond, I heard a frog plop into the pond. I scanned the leafing willow and it seemed unmolested by beaver or muskrat. Of course, where the beavers are, up in the First Pond now merged with the Teepee Pond, there is always something to see. I walked to the front of sawing area and there at my feet, in front of two pieces of split wood was a pile of otter scat, 

generous dollops

and then a scat in a hole formed by my pounding of logs as I split them. It looked like an otter scatted in the hole and then scraped some wood chips into it. 

These scats were definitely not here 48 hours ago. I walked around the pond, admiring the beavers' continuing work on the pine tree -- at least they seem to be getting full use out of this beauty.

I noticed that there seemed to be another pathway on the shore near the lodge,

I suspected the otters might have made it, and I was right. I didn't see any scat until I got over to the end of the pathway where I saw about as much scat piled up as I did in front of the sawing rock.

I continued around to an area that the otters used as a latrine in the winter, under the big pines on a little nob of land jutting into Teepee Pond. I found the old scat and a few feet behind that a strange greenish otter scat with a squirt of liquid scat, still soft;

a token, not a load like at the other sites. In the winter the otters left many scats on the pathway to the valley pool. That area has been made rather muddy by the beavers, certainly covering any remains of winter scat, and these otters didn't scat there or around there. I scanned the mud for otter prints and thought I saw one headed out of the pond.

I continued around the pond and saw no more scats. We were unsure how many otters visited in the winter; we saw four tracks together, but only saw one sure track leaving into the bush. But given the amount of remains, including fish parts, we thought there were at least two otters then. Certainly this recent activity seems to have been done by more than one otter. It will be interesting to see if some scat appears around the Deep Pond tomorrow. Meanwhile, I continued to collect rocks in the piles of sandstone. Prying through the jumble suggests that god did play dice and this was a casino. Then I discovered that at least one animal is using these little caves. A red squirrel had store of pine cones. 

Despite the brisk and cold wind, the ravens were yodeling and carrying on all the time we were there and a woodpecker, probably a hairy woodpecker, was doing some serious work. On the way out we stopped so Leslie could see the otter scat. As we walked up to the pond a wood duck flew off and a mallard, and two muskrats were sporting on the far shore, together, but it was hard to see exactly what they were doing. They both dove into the main beaver lodge, with one walking quickly along the shore before diving.

May 4 a cold, cloudy day, with the wind still blowing. I headed off to check the ponds at 4:30 pm, and as I walked the clouds parted and the sun appeared affording me a golden glow, but without much warmth. My first stop was at the otter latrine on the small causeway on the South Bay trail, and I had much to ponder. There were nine piles of dead grass, all looking like otter scent mounds.

Three I had seen before, and of the others, all but one were dry. That one had a small scat. I'll have to check if one year old otters leave scent mounds. If they do, perhaps the lone otter I saw in the ponds a month ago, is an over eager marker. The activity along the trail inspired me to continue along the marsh and check the willow latrine out at the edge of the water of South Bay. The river water level continues to rise and the otter scat I saw before on the edge of the marsh had been washed away. However, as I approached on a low but dry trail,

I saw otter scat all over. One almost like raccoon scat, but I think it results from an otter eating crayfish, dry fare.

So the otters are still coming here. I looked for bullhead parts, but found none. And there were no scats on the mossy mound under the willow tree. No sign that the beaver had been back. I had hoped to check this area and more of the shore in the kayak, but the river water temperature is just over 40 degrees, and the waves have been rolling for four days now. I continued walking around the wooded area that juts out into the South Bay marsh. I saw that a beaver had taken a bite out of a poplar about 20 yards from the marsh.

I followed its likely trail and saw a channel of water in the marsh with beaver scent mounds on the edge of the water, and perhaps a otter scent mound.

At least one pile of leaves had a scat on it. Then I looked out in the marsh and saw something brown swimming by, a muskrat.

It seemed to pause to consider me, and then nibbled something under the dead cattails. As I continued around I noticed an easy passage to a little nob of land with a large white oak on it. The ground underneath was moss covered. The beavers had obviously dropped by. I could see fresh gnawing at the edge of the gray swath of old gnawing.

And again, I saw a wee bit of otter scat at the edge of the water. And in front of the oak there appeared to be a possible rolling area. From this vantage there's a good view of the creek pouring into South Bay and the New Pond knoll behind it.

Of course, next I checked the latrine up there. In the middle of the path on top, I found a dry scent mound and then an area where the leaves had been spread about and there were squirts of scat on the leaves.

This otter is quite demonstrative in its leaf scratching.

From the north shore, I took a photo of the knob of land where the gnawed oak stands -- a green oasis in the tan marsh.

I think there is new, but not especially, fresh scat at the latrine above the old South Bay dock. This is where I thought a group of otters visited. Once again as I thought of otters, I looked out into the river and saw a muskrat, swimming into the marsh. At the next latrine, the docking rock, there didn't seem to be anything new. I did pause at the end of the South Bay cove, where the creeks run in, and I didn't see or hear any fish. In some springs the bullheads try to run up these creeks. Up at Audubon Pond, I could see that the beavers had cut down the big ash they had been working on along the west shore. The water level in the pond is still high, the drain well mudded, and it seems to be effective because we haven't had that much rain in the past few days. Over at the bench the geniuses who run the state park have destroyed the bank beaver lodge there and filled it, and a apron along the edge of the pond, with gray gravel. This is an island of pink granite and the gray just underscores their idiocy. The beavers were living in the lodge in the middle of the pond so this travesty should not be too inconvenient. I thought about going up to Meander Pond along the north shore to keep the wind in front of me, but the southwest wind is channeled by the ridge to the north and would be at my back no matter which side of the ponds I walk on. As best I could judge, the beavers continue to work on the southeast shore of Meander Pond. From the dam along there I could look down on stagnant water, which means they are tending the dam, and three white oaks they are cutting.

When the days are long enough to come out after dinner, I will park myself at this pond and try to see the beavers in action. The cold kept the frog chori down. I heard one peeper! The East Trail Pond was quiet. With the chill, the turtles, frogs and minnows are not active. However, I did see a groundhog on the slope east of the dam.

I had suggested that a raccoon was using the hole in the ground over there. Now I stand corrected, it is the home of a groundhog, which is exactly what it looks like. The groundhog was nibbling some just green grasses, then I lost track of it, because at the foot of the north slope I found a handsome scent mound, though with no otter scat in it. I glared up and down the slope and while I saw no new scats, I did see evidence of activity at the rolling area. 

I don't think a groundhog or raccoon is doing this. I crossed the dam and went up the slope, no scats there either. The Second Swamp Pond looks higher and was quite empty of critters. At most other ponds I at least send some wood ducks up into the air when I approach. As I crossed the dam, I saw what looked like fresh work around the small pool below the dam.

This had been a major mall for beaver work two year's ago and a bit last spring, and even though much of the work had been on ash, which takes a long time to look old, this work seemed too fresh to be from last year. Yet, it was not so fresh as to be oozing sap, nor did I see a fresh trail in the grass to it. I'll keep an eye on it, because if it is fresh work, the beavers will probably get back to it. I saw some nibbled sticks in the water at the dam and up on the dam. Plus there seemed to be an ash crown in my way as I continued along the dam that I don't recollect being there before. There was fresh mud work on the dam, but the dam still leaks in many places.

At the spillover where the creek is, I could see a tiny squirt of scat. So, as I headed up to the Lost Swamp, I was seeing small signs of an otter making its rounds. I had really not seen scent mounds and a big array of scat on the north shore slope of the Lost Swamp Pond, which has always been an otter bulletin board and major latrine. Today, not two feet from the water, I saw a clump of grass with two large dollops of scat on either end. Further up the slope I saw a new, quite black, stringy otter scat, 

but no scent mound. I walked up to the dam and there were no scats up there. I paused watching the pond, hoping for a beaver to appear. It was just about time for them to come out, but all I saw was a muskrat on a log, nibbling away. It was dinner time, so I hurried over to the Big Pond, and did see a beaver there, swimming away from the dam, out in the middle of the pond, collecting pollen in its mouth, assuming it wasn't just gulping water. It dove and soon disappeared. The dam still leaks and doesn't show evidence of recent work. I checked the otter latrine at the south end of the dam, and there were two scats,

ten yards off from the shore.

So the otter has been around here, or going through these ponds for a week, and I still haven't seen it. Perhaps as it gets warmer I will steal a few hours to sit still and ponder, or I will get up at dawn, 5 am, and see what I can see.

May 6 the river finally calmed down, sunny and clear with heat on the way. I was off in the boat by 8 am and between Grinnell and Murray islands, briefly had a race with a pair of buffleheads, but all in all, there are fewer ducks out on the river. My first stop was down at the end of the Picton cove

and two areas where the moss was dug out prompted me to get out of the boat to investigate.

There was on otter scat a couple weeks old, at least, next to one of the patches where the moss was dug out. No fresh scat that I could see. I rowed up to the beaver lodge, and while that looks unused, I saw more work on the downed red oak there, but not much more, and on the other side of the beaver lodge I saw some gnawing at the base of another red oak. There is very little vegetation yet in the river so if a beaver is here, it must be getting most of its nutrition from the marsh at the end of the cove. I flushed a couple of herons, but no osprey today. One heron flew back and planted itself in the marsh as I rowed away. As I got up on Picton point, I immediately saw three otter scent mounds in a row, much dug out grass and some piles of scats behind the scent mounds. Walking around the point, I saw two rolling areas, almost connected,

and scat above the top one and beside the lower one, and one squirt in the dirt between them. One can't help but picture a number of otters doing all of this. Most of the scats were laced with crayfish parts,

but unlike last year, there were no large crayfish claws littered about. Over at the Murray Island rock, across Eel Bay, the usual rolling area looked unused, but on the western face of the rock there were two areas of dug up moss, a rolling area, a large scent mound, with pine cones on it,

but only one, and relatively fresh scat here and there. Then I headed for the Narrows and checked the usual latrine there. On the buxom moss forming a top edge along the rock, there were several squirts of new scat.

Further up in the grass, there was a scent mound. Down poking out of some grass on the rocks was some saxifrage in bloom.

Over the past few days I've seen evidence of otters going full bore around the bays of the river. I didn't check the docking rock where, when I last checked there wasn't any new scat. I did go down to the point of land that separates South Bay into two coves, and checked the rock where I had seen the mother otter and her pup in early June of last year. A little back into the marsh, I saw a row of scent mounds with the one furthest from the water decorated with scat. The beavers have been here too, judging from a sprouting root half devoured. I ducked under the branches of the huge willow and checked the other side of the rock. Here I saw beaver stripped sticks, and beaver scent markings,

and I was fancying that this was the beaver side of the rock and the otters ruled the other side, then I saw a smelly fresh otter scat right on a stick the beavers had begun to strip.

There were more smelly scats next to the stick. There was also a completely stripped stick with tooth marks in the stripped wood.

Evidently the beaver could not get enough of this bark. These were the freshest otter scats I've seen in a long time. If I have the energy, I will try to get out by 5 am soon and see if I can see the otter or otters. I have a hunch it is more than one. Coming into South Bay I saw a fisherman at my spot for catching perch, and when I looked down in the water I saw a line of perch swimming to the north a good 50 yards long. I spotted two large bass swimming along with them. I asked the fisherman if he had any luck. He said the fish weren't biting today, though he got quite a few yesterday.
We worked on the garden and then had dinner. I checked the Deep Pond to see if otters had dropped in there. They hadn't, which somewhat cut me. I had been proud of the fish in my pond, but evidently the otters no longer care. Walking down to the pond, I was struck by the shad bush blossoms. I began rhapsodizing about how these delicate blossoms

were the true sign of spring, eclipsing the many colorful groundlings, with stately yet delicate skybursts that, after all, presage a thick canopy of leaves that will throw the spring flowers into the shade. Then along the knoll at the corner of the Deep Pond, I saw the trillium full out, glowing perfection, and I was soon on my knees.

Meanwhile along the shore, I saw some digging in the mud -- snapping turtle, muskrat, deer? I'm not sure. Coming down to the pond I flushed a turkey, a hen, and she was swift a foot and proved to be a strong flyer and went over the high trees. At the same time, the hawk flew off. Leaving the pond, going up the road, I saw a small porcupine high in the buds on a tree.

After dinner I went to check out the beavers. The wind was very light from the east so I tried to find a vantage point at the southwest corner of the Teepee Pond. I hoped a beaver would swim down and then waddle over into the pool of water in the valley. I saw three beavers and none of them got close to me. One went to the dam, relatively nearby. One of the other two went to the saw pile, and the other went to the opposite shore. At one point I heard loud splashing but didn't seen any ripples which means a beaver must have slapped and sloshed in one of the small pools below the dam. I moved to get a better view, and made enough noise to get a tail slap, but the slapper didn't flee. It actually swam down closer to me, and I was standing behind some very recent and neat gnawing.

I lost track of it as it swam where I had been before. When I saw a beaver appear well up pond, I thought perhaps it had sensed me and swam back there underwater. I even moved up on a rock to get a better view, and then a small beaver swam right below me. Nibbling what looked like dead twigs hanging over the water, and diving for things under water. Finally it noticed me, slapped and swam up pond. A larger beaver swam into the middle of the pond, paused, and then swam up pond too, and I lost sight of it. The slapping beaver did not go up to the lodge, or a burrow. It went back over to the far shore of the pond and found something to nibble.

Meanwhile, a kingfisher was also entertaining me and the peepers were going by fits and starts. As it got dark a beaver swam down from the lodge all the way down to where I had first sat. However, it didn't go over to the valley pool. I could hear it gnawing away. Meanwhile in the gloaming I saw a beaver eating some grass up on a far shore. I still have to see these beavers at dawn to be more sure, but I think the two year olds have left; that there are three yearlings, and that they are smaller and less adventurous than last year's yearlings. I think the mother is pregnant again, and perhaps has already given birth. Or so I think, based on slim evidence. The woodcock was beeping in the field again and I think I saw a whip-poor-will fly by, but we didn't hear one. Finally, while lounging in the cabin after dinner, we saw a rose breasted grosbeak eating bugs in the nearby trees.