Sunday, December 11, 2016

June 2 to 8, 2005

June 2 I've been remiss in checking the otter scats on Picton and Murray islands. This morning the river was calm, the sun bright and the warmest morning of the year, so I did my duty. Of course, the buffleheads are gone, and I only saw a few mallards flying. Geese have not started to congregate in the river yet, though they should be any day now. I first went back into Picton Bay and even though the mossy banks at the end of the cove did not look any more roughed up than before, I got out to make sure an otter hadn't been there. I did see some fresh digging,

but judging from what looks like a small coyote poop next to broken eggs shells,

other potential diggers and predators have been around. I rowed out past the beaver lodge and this time I saw no signs of fresh beaver activity. I also didn't see the usual osprey here, or herons. At least one otter has recently been on Picton Point. There was a trail of scrapping and scratching in the grass heading up the slope

with a large otter scent mound with scat on it almost half way up.

This trail is more toward the bay side.

The other latrines and trails on the point looked unused. Over at the Murray Island latrine, I didn't see any evidence that the otters had visited recently. This hot rock, however, was buzzing with midges. They have been hovering over the trees recently at dusk. On this first hot day of the year they were low on the ground and the trees, clogging the spiders' webs.

I didn't check the Narrow latrine, nor the docking rock, saving those checks for a long hike. I did go the the rock in the middle of the peninsula in South Bay and there on the granite boulder, that I had such trouble climbing up on when I was in the kayak the other day, were smears of otter scats and heron poops.

One scat appeared to have the lower jaw of a mouse or other small mammal.

I explored the rest of the little island and rock and didn't find any more signs of otters, nor that fawn that I saw here several days ago. Last year, in mid-June, I first saw the otter mother and pup here and I was expecting to perhaps see signs of an otter den, say, in a tree trunk in this shady area which is essentially a little island in the marsh and bay, but I saw no likely candidates for a den.

It was too hot to work much at the land. A little gray's tree frog tried to keep cool by our pump.

Up at the beaver ponds, the land dividing them is re-emerging, the small pools around and behind it are drying out.

The birds are quite melodious with the wood thrush and veery singing in the day. When I came up to the beaver pond, a duck flew off which made me wonder why I haven't seen a heron around the pond. Then I saw a large white trail on the surface of the pond

which, I suppose, could have been from the escaping duck, but a swath that size is usually left by a heron. So perhaps I just missed seeing one.

June 3-4 we slept in the cabin at the land last night which gave me a chance to look at the beavers before I went to bed and after I woke up. It was a very warm day; midges swarm up whenever tall grass and shrubs are disturbed and within those swarms are many large mosquitoes. Suffice it to say the mosquitoes made me impatient to get to the chair by the pond since I find it easier fending off mosquitoes when I'm sitting in a chair. A beaver was out when I came up to the pond, and with almost no wind, I assumed it knew I had arrived. It soon slapped its tail but stayed in the larger half of the pond. Discovered so soon on such a still evening, I resigned myself to not seeing any candid beaver behavior, but, if they tolerated me, looked forward to at least confirming my idea that there were no more than five beavers, not counting newborns, left in the colony. I sat above the burrows opposite the main lodge, and soon a larger beaver investigated me and gave me a thumping splash. As usual this did not cause panic among the beavers on the pond. Indeed the large beaver swam into the larger section of the pond and peered at me from that angle. A smaller beaver swam up behind it; they both swam toward me, then swam away silently, separating, though I wasn't sure where they went. So they decided to put up with me. At one point I could see four beavers: one on the bank at the inlet to the pond,

one gnawing away around the birches on the opposite side of the pond; and two cruising in the pond. Assuming the mother would stay with the kits who have yet to leave the lodge, if another beaver had popped up my theory about the number of beavers in the colony would be in jeopardy. But four was the maximum number I saw. And four an hour I could contemplate the pattern of their swimming. When the beaver on the bank at the inlet came down with a log and swam back toward the dam, another beaver swam all the way from the large end of the pond to also climb the bank where that beaver had been. I always make a big deal about the poor eyesight of beavers, so I have to assume that the beaver forty yards away didn't simply see a prime sight for nibbling had been vacated. It simply went there randomly. Each of the beavers checked me out,

two, I think, did so several times. Sometimes two beavers would check me out at the same time, but I didn't get any impression that they compared notes. When one beaver splashed, the other didn't react. There were different styles to their splashing. One slapped its tail, and disappeared, judging from the humming coming there, going directly into the main lodge. Another slapped its tail and kept its head above water ready for another slap. When it got darker, dark enough to make the camcorder useless, one beaver swam up to the bank right below me. All pondering was accompanied by the loud calls of the gray tree frogs. Two were right behind me. The thrush and veery sang, and I heard the long, high trill of a toad. Then a large bird almost landed on the dead branch of a shrub right in front of me. It fled up to the crown of a nearby tree, giving its distress call. A whip-poor-will had been singing and heading in my direction, but this bird was too large and the wrong shape. It reminded me of a cuckoo in shape, and though looking black in the dark it did have some white stripes. There was one other strange occurrence with the beavers -- a splash from the far end of the pond, far from me. I thought maybe Leslie had walked up, but no.

I got to the chair at about 6:30 am, 1 a.d., and the sun was in my eyes. As far as I could tell there were only two beavers out for the 45 minutes I watched the pond, and I didn't hear much humming or any gnawing from the lodges. This, I think, is very good evidence that the two year olds are long gone. The beavers seemed relaxed about my presence, though, of course, they did slap their tails now and them.

One climbed up on the bank next to the lodge and nibbled leaves.

A good video of this was ruined by my slapping mosquitoes who were as bad in the morning as they were at night. Twice I saw a great heave of a wake as something swam out of the main lodge. I poised to capture the mother perhaps bringing some kits out for the debut. But nothing materialized. Then it happened again and the usual yearling surfaced. Both morning and night, I saw precious little collecting of branches. Just after I got to the pond this morning a beaver came out of the thicket behind the lodge with a branch. This colony has cut and collected a considerable amount of lumber, but precious little when I was around. Of course, it would be possible for me to catalogue almost every tree and branch taken by this colony, and perhaps if I actually saw them at it, I would get more excited about doing that. It's just that these beavers don't give the impression of bending themselves to a methodical culling of the trees, and I worry that any methodical study of what they take might just impose a degree of gumption and method on these beavers that they simply don't have. That said, it would be nice to get a better idea of exactly why a beaver cuts down a tree at this time of year when there is so much easily accessible greenery to eat, and so many left over logs. Heading back to the cabin after passing all those judgment, the false Solomon's seal on the pathway

looked so true but reminded me that putting a name to things always risks being wrong. After pumping water for the garden, to defeat the continuing drought, I walked down to the Deep Pond which has settled down to its level. I will soon see if it is still enjoyable to swim in it. Otherwise, along the fertile banks more flowers make their appearance, the rugosa rose,

and fleabane.

Then I walked up the ridge, past the Lonesome Pine to check on the columbine that always bloom on a secluded rocks and the phlox in the nearby shade. In damper springs there is time to make this pilgrimage often. The columbine were doing well, only one phlox.

At 5pm I headed off to check the island ponds, primarily to see if the muskrats are continuing to battle. I went my usual route and while the woods still seem cool, the causeway on the South Bay trail was sere. The days of distinguishing scent mounds of dead grass from emerging green grass are gone. There seemed to be a new wrinkle of scat just off the trail, but it wasn't fresh. The same was true for the New Pond knoll. And while there seemed to be new scratching in the leaves in the latrine above the old South Bay dock, I didn't see any new scat. But this was a day for muskrats, not otters, so I hurried on to the Meander Pond. Not seeing any critters in the pond, I passed the rather crucified oak tree I sat below before, 

and sat closer to the water, though concealed more by the grass, and waited. A wood duck flew off; red-winged blackbirds crisscrossed above me and before me. Then I moved even closer and stood behind a dead tree. And there right below me, a beaver swam by. To make an hour's story short, I saw one muskrat. It swam from the west end of the pond, paused just before the meander to cut some long grass stalks off a clump, and then swam below me and eventually onto the far southeast shore of the pond. From that, and the muskrat's calm demeanor, I take it that the muskrats have sorted out their differences, perhaps with one group moving on. Meanwhile, three beavers swam by me, heading for the lodge, and one remained in the southeast end of the pond. This is the most beavers I have seen at once here. One looked rather small,

and it alone seemed to know I was there. The beavers have been deepening channels including a large one nearby.

The little beaver surfaced there, its dark brown triangular head surrounded by green duckweed, and it looked at me, dove and retreated to the main channel. It seemed to be biting the water, which is to say the ubiquitous vegetation, then it pulled up an old branch -- old because it seemed stained black by the tannic acid in the pond, dove again, and dragged the branch underwater through the meander, then surfaced, dove again, and dragged the branch up toward the lodge. Evidently for a small beaver dragging a branch is easier underwater, or it was scared of me. I think the same beaver came back, but dove before the meander and I never saw it again. There was nothing new to report as I made my way to the Second Swamp Pond, except for a nice bug casing on the East Trail Pond dam.

I sat in the shade behind the knoll behind the lodge and listened for that Theolonius bird, as I call it, but I didn't hear it. There was nothing new at the dam, save that the water level has dropped, but there is no leak so I think the beavers continue to tend it. And there were two stunning blue flags just out.

With the East Trail, Otter Hole and Beaver Point ponds all virtually dry this seems a wise precaution. The ponds are half what they were, probably less than half, than just three years ago. I walked up the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond and then checked the otter trail for scat, and saw nothing new. Annually, a fawn seems to be dropped in this area, so I scanned the woods on my way to the old rolling area, but saw no fawn. As soon as I sat down in my usual spot, I saw what I took to be a large muskrat swimming to the lodge in front of me from the east, then it stuck its head up as it swam as if gnawing something. Beavers can do that but this was too small to be a beaver. Then it dove and I saw its tail. It was a small otter. While it paused a few times to nibble something, and once periscoped high enough for me to see the paler fur on its chest, it kept swimming to the west in a methodical fashion with neat dolphin like dives. I stood to follow it with my camcorder and while I wasn't able to see it come up through the grass up the trail I've been checking so assiduously for otter poop, I could see it when it stopped, made a scent mound, and scatted. At least I was seeing what I had only been able to imagine for the last few months. Doubtlessly the rarity of this vision added to its poetry, but the otter seemed to bounce straight up in the air several times, its whole body completely elastic.Then it arched its back and while I couldn't see the scat, its waving tail signified what fell below. 

Then it hopped up the hill, and once again scratched as it bounced and waved its exclamation point. The placement of scent mounds from which I was trying to extract some meaning, seemed completely haphazard. As far as I could see, the otter didn't even make a show of smelling what had been left before. Then it hurried over the hill, and I followed. I thought I saw a wake on the sunny ripples of the Second Swamp Pond, but when I got to where I could get a good view, I didn't see the otter. No doubt it was hurrying on its way to South Bay. I am pretty certain that this in the otter born last year, that I tracked with its mother during the summer, fall and winter. I hazard this guess because the otter is so small, that I can't imagine that it dispersed from some distant area to come here. And judging from its scatting and scent marking it seems to know the area. Now I had a chance to find some really fresh scat. I couldn't find the second scent mound I saw it made, but I did find the first, not as neat as the usual scent mound. 

The scats were black and tubular.

No, I didn't forget about the muskrats. But I only saw two swimming in the distance, not at the same time. Here too, the muskrats seem to have sorted things out. Meanwhile the flicker fed her chicks again. As soon as it landed on the dead tree trunk, the chicks started chattering for food. Probably because I was there, the mother was slow to move in. Indeed it hopped all around the trunk, the noise of which seemed to drive the chicks wild; finally after looking around for what seemed an inordinately long time given all the pleading, she started feeding the chicks.

To me there didn't seem much to go around, and the chicks seemed to continue their complaining for good cause, then after looking around some more, the mother popped into the hole, slowly subduing the chattering. I should add that earlier I saw a blackbird chasing a flicker, so maybe it was wary of other birds, as well as of me. A seagull was working the Big Pond, and as usual, there was no other activity on this large pond. I always cross it while hurrying home and my brief visit gives me the impression that the pond has been abandoned by muskrats and beavers, ducks and geese, then I budget the time to spend an hour or two beside it, and it comes back to life again. I am due to give it an hour or two. I saw fresh otter prints in the mud below the patched gap in the dam,

and the water there was quite muddy at the south end of the dam where I noticed the gaping entrance to a muskrat burrow, too,

but I didn't see any fresh scat among the line of old scent mounds. The blue flag has bloomed here too.

I can't remember if these sunny dry springs makes more or less of them, from the looks of things now, I fear it will be the latter.
June 6 the drought keeps me at the land pumping water for the garden and I scout around to see if the beavers have expanded the range of their foraging. I didn't see any evidence of that. Then I check on the special spots where certain flowers are famous, like the bunchberry

up under the pines next to what we call the bunny bog, though it has almost dried out. The white flower has touches of green at the end of the petals. Nearby ferns were amassing to dominate all.

The yellow loose strife is up here too but it hasn't bloomed yet. I walked around the beaver pond and noticed how concealed their recent work is even though it is a few feet from the pond.

I also noticed that the beavers are nibbling the pine branches on the shore

and not taking them to the lodge. I used to think pine was something special rushed to a lactating mother in the lodge, or something like that. And finally, I noticed a lush sport coming out of the old willow log on the shore

that the beavers have been toying with for a half year. Then the pools below the dam have dried out, primarily of interest to a raccoon, judging from the tracks, and in what dampness remains there are many tiny snails

spread about like pebbles.
June 8 we had about a half inch of rain spread out over two hours. When I started my tour of the ponds at 5, the sun was out but the grass was quite wet. Ottoleo took me over to the Narrows. Just as we moved toward the rock, a muskrat dove. The rain moistened old scats so it was difficult to say if otters had been to this latrine lately. On the way to the latrine above the entrance to South Bay, I noticed a crow hopping in the grass. There was a sparrow too, but they didn't seem to fighting. I walked down into the grass where the crow had been and saw two chunks of carp. This was quite a way up from the bay so I don't think an otter brought the carp parts up. There was a trail in the grass but a raccoon could have brought it up from the river. I looked around for more carp parts but didn't see any. Then still on my way to the latrine, I was interrupted again by a snapping turtle who had climbed up from the bay

and appeared to be digging for a place to lay eggs. She seemed to have tiny stars for eyes,

but I didn't bother her with close-ups. An otter had been up to the latrine recently. There was a scat new to me half way down a new trail to the bay,

though it wasn't that fresh. Although the grass all around was long, there seemed to be the impressions left by an otter.

And I saw a carrion beetle crawling over dead grass.

If I had had the patience, perhaps it would have led me to the fresh scat. Then I left the world of otters and headed up to Audubon Pond, scaring an owl off a tree, a least I think it was an owl by how quietly it flew away through the woods. The pond was sun drenched and raked by the east wind, and expecting to see nothing new, I was surprised to see a new beaver bank lodge below the embankment,

with fresh scent mounds flanking it.

I take this as the beavers' effort to recover from the park people destroying their bank lodge near the bench. I walked around the pond and didn't notice any new beaver activity, and sat on the bench, but no beaver came out, as they often have before. I headed up to Meander Pond and sat close to the southeast section of the pond, which of late has always had a beaver in it, as well as a muskrat cruising about. I flushed a pair of mallards, then a pair of wood ducks, both pairs just a few feet from each other. Then I sat but for a half hour nothing appeared. I wondered if the pond was too low and got up to check the depth of the canals. Then I looked up one canal and saw a beaver in it eating some green leaves on the mud. It didn't notice me, even when it swam closer. It got out of the water right in front of me and started eating grass.

However, I could see that the beavers had not given up bark. A freshly cut maple had been cut down falling conveniently at the end of one of the canals.

After the beaver swam back toward the lodge, I checked that out. Now I set out to find otter signs again. I fancied that as I headed to the Lost Swamp Pond, I might bump into the otter marking its territory. Well, I didn't. I did find some new scat on a rock on the trail up from the creek between the East Trail Pond and Otter Hole Pond, but it wasn't fresh scat.

I enjoyed a bower of blue flag at the north end of the Second Swamp Pond dam, right under the large rock there.

Then at the Lost Swamp Pond I waited just up from the north slope latrine, and waited. Not even a muskrat swam in the pond. Then far up pond, I saw what looked like a pile leaves swimming against the wind to the point between the two broad sections of the pond. I started videoing taping it and watched a raccoon climb out of the water onto the shore. The raccoon crossed over to the point roughly at where an old dam was so it was not negotiating deep water, but it probably had to do a bit of swimming. More blue flag is out along the Big Pond dam. I didn't see any new otter scat. Indeed, the latrine at the south end of the dam seems a deep green now with fresh grass concealing the old scats.

A seagull was once again flying over the pond and swooping down and picking something off the surface of the water. Once again I didn't hear the Theolonius bird, but I did hear one of the same species, an oriole, I think, singing the tamer version of the call that so captivated me.