Thursday, November 27, 2008

January 1 to 7, 2007

January 1 the rain last night washed away all the snow and we had clouds rolling over and a few showers in the morning. Before we went out for a hike, a huge flock of geese flew from the golf course to our little cove along the river.
Then as we headed out for a hike, a bigger flock circled over the golf course, sporting in the south wind and honking, every goose honking, like it was a great day for airborn democracy; every geese getting its say before the flock settled on its decision. As we went over the TI Park ridge we looked for the snowfleas that yesterday had been spread out on the snow. I peeled back bark of dead trees and saw some there

but on other trees they seemed evenly distributed between the wet under bark and the exposed, drier wood.

They seemed dispersed still. Once in the summer I uncovered a huge concentration of them under some bark, but on this New Year's Day snowfleas seemed to keep their distance from one another.

I checked the latrine above the old dock at the end of the north cove of South Bay, knowing that with so much recent scat it would be difficult to see a fresh scat. I found a likely suspect at the end of a line of tubular scats.

These scats looked a little darker and with perhaps a bit of liquid.

There were plenty of bubbles under the remaining ice around the dock, but none of the ice had been roughed ragged and broken as otters usually do.

There was nothing new at the docking rock, but then at the latrine overlooking South Bay, there was a large and very fresh scat plopped down right next to some old scat.

This gave me much to think about. Once again I could puzzle over a two toned scat. Was the liquid from the fish or a bit of purgings from the otter's belly? Or did two otters contribute to this display, one who had eaten a scaly fish and another anxious about not getting its fill, hence the diarrhea?

Good thoughts to begin the New Year. As we walked, we debated the print I saw at Quarry Point at Picton Island. I thought again that it might be an otter's, but it was so large, and only four toes. I think I was just being hurried to
that conclusion by the close of the year, my vain effort to perpetrate the fiction that I know what the otters are up to. Tracking is seldom a hot pursuit. It's a game of patience. We walked along the embankment of Audubon Pond and saw two bold trails of bubbles under the ice

large enough for me to associate with beavers but where there was open water there was no evidence of a beaver breaking up through the ice. More like a muskrat worrying it.

January 2 between projects at the land I took a brief tour of the ponds and was treated to a striking pattern on the ice behind the Third Pond dam, like a reflection of a tree etched into the ice

Down at the Deep Pond I tried to interpret some large bubbles rimming the ice which I could take as the exhaust of a muskrat puffing below as it made its rounds. But when these features get too regular I think it is more likely some quirk in the ice as it refroze.

January 3 another warm day, with only the strong southwest reminding us of winter, and no snow in sight. We went to the Big Pond and then Leslie headed back taking the route I usually take at this time of year to take advantage of frozen ponds. I crossed the Big Pond dam where there were no signs of
activity and then realized that I too had to vary my route even though the ice wasn't inviting me out onto the pond. I went over to and then on the lodge along the north shore of the pond

to see if the otters had been on it recently. I did see old grey scats

and even some skin and feathers from a dead duck.

The otter scats were back in what had once been leafy brush. Perhaps the otters were too concealed when they were on this lodge which explains why I never saw them on it. As I stood on the lodge, a muskrat swam out from the below, heading toward the grass pushups across the pond. I didn't see it surface. Also at this time of year I go to the ponds above this one. Ottoleo and some friends took a wild hike up into Nunn's land and he reported seeing much fresh beaver activity. So that colony is alive and well. While I have no scruples about going on
private property to check on otters and beavers, I don't want to get myself into a situation where I have to go frequently. I don't want to fall in love with that colony up there. They know where to find me. I took the surveyor's trail to the Lost Swamp Pond and getting another angle on the beaver lodge in the middle of the pond, I could see a huge muskrat lodge on the shore behind it.

I checked for otter scats at the old latrines but saw instead a fresh beaver path back to some fresh work. The thin ironwood in the foreground had toppled over from rot and the beavers trimmed it a bit.

My guess is that the other trees they are taking are red maple, not a favorite with beavers. I am beginning to get the idea that ironwood and red maple are the beavers' last harvest in an area, but I have been burned repeatedly by making such categorical statements. Further down the south shore I saw that ironwood that they had gnawed last year and tasted in the fall, was now being harvested

and judging from one bit of double gnawing on an ironwood trunk this work is not distasteful to them.

I continued around the pond and saw no signs of beaver, muskrat or otter activity. It was the season to visit beaver lodge, and I went up to see how the Upper Second Swamp Pond beavers are progressing. They did not make much of a dent on the tree that fell out in the pond, but I can't get a good look at it. Here too they resumed old work and cut a tree they half gnawed before.

And here too they are looking for ironwood. It will be curious to see if they continue to cut one ugly, old, squat and thick ironwood.

There are fresh leftovers out in their winter cache.

Their lodge seems to be growing horizontally and presenting me with architecture unique in my experience, extending out into the pond rather than up on the shore.

I guess this means that they find it impossible to burrow back up the gentle slope behind the lodge. Perhaps there are extending the lodge out in the pond to compensate for how shallow the pond is up here. In a normal winter with the
usual otter activity, this dam would be breached by the end of Janaury and most of the water of the pond drained out. I was not sure where to go next. I decided to check the Second Swamp Pond dam, then go to Thicket Pond and then check all the otter
latrines around South Bay. No sign that otters had been at the dam, nor beavers, save for a trail of bubbles under the ice, but they were small enough to be from muskrats -- or even a mink. I know there is a mink around here.

That said there was the remains of a vegetarian meal frozen in the pond not far behind the dam, certainly not mink fare.

I approached Thicket Pond with the wind in my face. The trees that were half cut along the east shore of the pond were now down and almost stripped. This area is most convenient to their new lodge.

But the ice along the shore was intact so they hadn't been there this warm afternoon. I sat on the north shore of the pond, up on the slope, and waited for a beaver to appear. The big red oak had blown over along the west shore of the pond quite convenient for stripping and pruning. How nice to get a video of a beaver gnawing on that. And then right at my feet there was a fresh cut tree already cut into logs with one log remaining,

It would be nice to see a beaver taking that into the pond. Soon enough a beaver appeared and it swam down an open channel in the ice heading for the fallen crown of the red oak. Then it stopped short, dove, waved its tail in the air quite a bit, and surfaced with a branch in its mouth which it took back into the thickets, to the lodge I couldn't see. I moved a little closer and in a couple minutes the beaver was back, once again diving, tail waving, retreiving a branch from the bottom and swimming back into the thickets. I moved closer. It came again
and did the same thing and I moved closer. I waited almost fifteen minutes for its return, then gave up and climbed the fallen red oak. My guess is that it blew over without any more gnawing, falling the way I thought it would given how the crown
was oriented.

The beavers had trimmed a number of branches off it, especially in the crown.

Then as I photographed that I saw the beaver swimming toward me. The cold wind was at my back and it seemed to warm and warn the beaver with my odor. It paused and then dove and disappeared. But it didn't slap its tail, and on the hunch that my stink is not unfamiliar to these beavers, I moved a little to the north, still behind the fallen red oak and waited. Perhaps the branches they were getting had been cut off the oak in the past few days. Sure enough the beaver came back to where it had paused, paused again and then swam down the clearing in the ice, sniffing nose high above the water. It dove and without any tail waving came up with a branch and headed back into the thickets, where from this angle I think I could just make out the lodge. I waited another ten minutes for it to return. I saw a
beaver swim away from the lodge to the northeast, but none toward me. I was now cold almost to the point of shivering, so I packed my cameras and headed for South Bay via Audubon Pond. Now it was getting dark, not bad conditions for photographing fresh beaver work. They cut another ash tree down across the hiking trail that
had been cleared.

Then they cut an ash tree that fell over some old work a little up the slope. They've ignored the thicker branches of the first cut tree and now are taking the thinner branches of the thinner tree.

However, there is still no blossoming cache pile around the lodge, just the same old anemic one. At the bank lodge on the north shore it looks like the burrow just to the side is receiving more action than the lodge. Probably muskrats.

In the southwest corner of the pond they not only cut down the bitternut hickory they have been working on,

they even trimmed it smartly.

Be curious to see how much gnawing they do. So quite filled with beavers, I turned toward the otter latrines, but saw nothing new at all. Heading home I tried a new route over the ridge to home. Someone has marked the TI Park Nature Trail with bright yellow paint almost marking every tree, and then spraying large yellow arrows on many of the rocks. This paint is difficult to remove; the trail is now nauseating to walk on. So I found a new trail a little to the east, that is actually drier and less hilly. Plus there is an long expanse of rocks to walk on -- top of the world we used to call it, and tonight it was on fire thanks to a lingering sunset.

January 7 warm rainy day, about 50 degrees. I went out with Ottoleo in the afternoon to check the South Bay otter latrines and to see the Thicket Pond beavers. We saw a buck on the ridge plateau shown in the photo above -- of course, no sunlight today. It moved off quickly and didn't stop to look back so we couldn't count the points of its antlers. Everything was quite damp and puddles everywhere. All otter scats can look fresh in these conditions but I'm pretty sure there were no fresh scats in the latrine above the old dock. Nor were there any scats at the docking rock. But at the latrine over the entrance to South

I saw another large runny otter scat almost on top of the one I saw here a few days ago.

I also saw a smaller scat laced with silver fish scales much like the scats I saw above the old dock at the end of the bay and also like the scats I've been seeing in the beaver ponds

This may indicate that the family is doing the scatting out here and not a touring male otter. I couldn't resist a close-up of the bigger scat showing the liquid around the silver fish scales in the scat.

I also stepped back to give another perspective on the latrine which is rather high on the slope, well above two large rocks, one shaded and one exposed.

Ottoleo asked why they scat here. I still think it is because it dominates the entrance to the bay warning away other otters who, I think, are generally attracted to the high ground when they first come to an area. What otters fear most are other otters. How convenient that the resident otters just leave
a scat as a token of their presence and don't lurk waiting to attack an intruder. I wish I could say such behavior is quite civilized, but of course civilization is based on other principles with nothing so prized as bloody battle to defend the
homeland. We hurried back to Thicket Pond, since there would be no lingering sunset on this cloudy night. The west wind was petering out but we still approached from the east, first standing on the rock ridge overlooking the pond. We didn't see any beavers but we heard a beaver gnawing in the thickets. There was also what sounded like a rather confused spring peeper. It stopped calling when we got close. We eased our way around the pond to the north slope. There were no beavers over there but we
now heard two beavers gnawing. Soon enough another beaver swam toward us but didn't make any show of sniffing the air. Where it swam was also where there's a spring which keeps the ice there thin during the winter. The beaver swam slowly to the the dam, swimming by the downed red oak. I hoped to see a beaver gnawing the trunk. The beaver nibbled something behind the dam, and then later I saw it up on the dam. Meanwhile, we noticed some winged insects in the air, and then saw that the stump of a maple just cut by the beavers was teeming with the flies.

I tried to get a close up of the flies, the flash turning some wings silver.

Soon enough another beaver swam toward us and more or less repeated what the other beaver had done, though it didn't come as close. I'll look closely at the video, perhaps it was the same beaver. It too didn't really sniff us, and swam back toward the dam, and eventually got up on the dam. It began getting dark and we started walking toward the dam, and then saw another beaver, the smallest, swimming right toward us. It too didn't make any demonstration of sniffing us, but did stop a few feet in front of us and looked up at us.

The camcorder is still on daylight savings time. I tried to get a photo but it was too dark. Then we moved on and it didn't react. Indeed it first swam away from us but then when we got to the dam, it came back near us. When we
stepped up on the dam it made a splashing dive into the water. The dam had several heaves of wet mud up on it.

Usually at this time of year beavers can't pack dams with mud because the ponds are frozen and snow covers the dams. The dam is already massive so probably what the beavers are really interested in is digging the pond deeper. As we walked away the beaver was back behind the dam. When the beaver splashed we heard a noise down in Meander Pond -- a startled deer, I think. I heard another spring peeper, I think, but no persistent calling, just a few peeps. The beavers put on a good show, and didn't seem that put out that we watched them. And the otters are
still around, though I am not exactly sure where.

January 6 after rain yesterday and last night we had brief showers this morning and then very slow clearing in the afternoon. I went out with Ottoleo for a tour of the ponds. He kept lobbying for a photo of the moss and lichens that look so vigorous they seem to be consuming the ancient granite outcrops. Then I saw an old deer bone, a bit gnawed, and took a not uncharacteristic photo of life up on what I call the top of the world.

The Big Pond was muddy around the muskrat burrow at the south end of the dam. We sat briefly but no muskrat stirred. A flock of ducks made a nifty landing into the pond, defeating the strong west wind by a dead fall of a hundred feet and then an easy glide to a soft landing. The dam was leaking liberally leading to lengthy debate between father and son. I went first; his feet stayed dry. Of course the pond had no ice. Nor did the Lost Swamp Pond. I took a photo to memorialize that.

No ducks or geese on this pond and no signs of otters, or of beaver coming down to the dam. There was nothing happening in the Second Swamp Pond either, except the dam was leaking over the top. The other two dams, at the Lost Swamp Pond and Upper Second Swamp, pond leak through the dam. The water doesn't run over it. For the latter dam I think that is important for its intergrity. The Second Swamp Pond dam is probably about 40 years old, so is the Big Pond dam, and they can endure water streaming over the top. Raccoons had pooped on the Second Swamp Pond dam, but no sign of otters. Thus was scotched, once again, my theory that when the wind whips up the river otters come to the ponds for peace and quiet. The East Trail Pond was quite full and I took a photo of the water behind the dam which is
traditionally the first to freeze solid and the last to thaw.

It was largely open water and what looked like slush. I had Ottoleo throw a stick at it to prove it wasn't just scum. The stick cracked the slush ice and then sank as quickly and completely as a doomed ocean liner. The pond seemed hungry. As we walked along the East Trail ridge we heard two pileated
woodpeckers from across the meadow below. Then the sun came out as if beckoning to their command. We walked around Thicket Pond dam curious to see if the beavers were about as early as 3 pm. We didn't see any. Ottoleo thought he heard some gnawing. We checked the stump where the flying insects had feasted on the sap last night. None were on it today, though Ottoleo saw one fly by. The beavers still haven't gotten to work on the red oak trunk, but they still continue to push mud up on the already massive dam.

Of course dredging in this pond is always in order but they seem to push mud up on this dam with a mission in mind -- all our foot prints from last night were covered. And one push of mud went to the back side of the dam.

Sitting on top of the watershed, this dam is not about to face a flood. Well, this is a genius colony and I shouldn't criticize. This is the fifth winter they will spend in very unlikely places for a pond, which they've accomplished by never stenting on dredging up mud. We went down to South Bay
where I checked the otter latrine above the old dock and I saw nothing new there. Then we went out onto the point that divides the east end of South Bay. There seemed to be no recent beaver activity at the lodge under the willow. But it is so massive and the water around it, especially with a strong west wind blowing up water, had plenty of depth. At the otter latrine behind the willow, it looked like something had scratched about. I saw one long, twisted poop, that I would have said a fisher left if it had been black.

Fox come out here and probably left that token of their visit. Then in the grass I saw a new otter scat,

but not that fresh. So an otter has been here.

I had my doubts that we could get out to the island of the point but where the deer trail through the cattail marsh was flooded there was also an old board and we managed to get out to the island, right where the beavers have been gnawing on an old ash. I haven't been here in quite a while so I can't say how fresh this work is. It is impressive.

We walked around to where the otters have made their latrines. There was nothing new or old on the interior rock, and of course, the marsh there was dry. Nor were there any scats on the east side of the rock along the bay. I pushed through the brush, easy now in the winter, and got out to the north side of the rock that fronts the water. I could see scratching on the ground here too

and sure enough there was a large pile of silver scaled scats much like what I have been seeing from the otter family.

There was also a fresh yellow blob that I have no reason to think didn't come out of an otter.

Of course, I was pleased to see evidence of the otter family in their old haunts in South Bay not far from where I first saw the pups in June and July. I let Ottoleo lead the way back through the marsh, and he moved out into it too soon. Thanks to that we stumbled upon the remains of a large carp.

That otters might drag a carp in here jibes with my theories, but of course raccoons could have done that too. The sunset showed some promise then greyed out on us.

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