Saturday, April 3, 2010

March 20 to 27, 2010

March 20 The Last Pool is now half open, and once again, the sport of trying to discern fresh beaver nibbling from what they did last year begins.

There is still enough ice to obstruct the old channel through the upper end of the Last Pool, but once past that, a beaver can swim to and from the lodge in Boundary Pond without any ice blocking the channel.

I saw a trail going off the channel to the west. Once the ice and snow melt, trails the beavers used in the fall can still look fresh,

But at the end of this trail I found saplings and a hornbeam that had just been cut.

It looked like the trail continued up the gully coming down from the ridge, one of my usual routes up to where I can overlook the lodge in Boundary Pond. Sure enough I saw more saplings just cut by the beavers up there.

Looking up the gully from a cut sapling it looked like the trail ended, but I saw that a rather large tree had been cut.

Beavers are supposed to gear the diameter of the tree cut to the distance from the pond, with smaller trees favored farther away. But this tree was a pretty good chunk no matter if the beaver came over the ridge from the pond to get it, or up the gulley.

The tree wasn’t the usual hornbeam or elm, and not an ash, which these beavers don’t favor. I think it was a young red oak, but I’ll have to take a closer look at it to be sure. I sat briefly in my chair half way up the ridge above the lodge, and nothing stirred. It was no longer possible to easily spot what the beavers had last stripped.

Stripped birch always looks brightest, but I haven’t noticed their cutting birch in the last few days. There is now open water behind the dam, but still a bit of rotting ice. No sure signs that the beavers are active there.

I walked up the west shore of the pond and saw some fresh digging in a hole that I thought a beaver had dug last year in an attempt, I speculated, to get to a root.

But this digging certainly didn’t get down to a root, and along the shore I didn’t see any signs of beavers having nibbled or gnawed on anything, just a muddy trail. Mysterious.

I wonder if a turtle made the hole. I was curious to see that section of the pond where the beaver made a hole in the ice, back when the ice was thick. I didn’t see any feature to suggest that it was a likely place for the ice to be weaker.

Perhaps there is a slight channel there from the main channel over to the shore where I could see stripped sticks from the fall in the water and fresh gnawing on a log. If the beavers try to move up stream again, a likely place to make a bigger dam is at the Last Pool Pond dam. No sign yet that the beavers have any interest in doing that.

I also want to see what the beavers might be doing up the valley. Liberated from the ice and snow, some beavers wander rather far. I walked up the slight ridge west of the valley and did see some work I hadn’t noticed before, though I don’t think it is fresh.

A beaver even poked around the big juniper bushes looked for saplings.

As the photo show, the upper valley is not like the shady valley the beavers have been foraging in for the last two years. It is an old field not a jungle of saplings.

March 21 as I headed off across the golf course on a cold, cloudy morning, I saw a few stray snowflakes. So unfamiliar had snow been during our late winter that I did a double take. I went up and over the big rock again. When I approach the Big Pond dam, I first came up on the otter latrine at the south end of the dam. I hoped to see fresh scats and didn’t, plus I heard mallards quacking nearby and saw more mallards out in the pond. I’ve seen ducks and otters share the same pond, but not often, and not having ducks around makes it easier to see otters. I sat on my perch, sparing some time for something develop after the ducks flew off. One adament female mallard flew back in, quacking, I suppose she didn’t want to risk losing a good nesting site in the cattail marsh behind the dam. Right below me, just up from the water, were some muskrat poops, likely from the same muskrat I saw swimming here when ice covered all the pond save for a patch of open water behind the hole in the dam.

That hole was completely patched, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell where it had been save that now there is a hole down into the dam where the hole had been.

I tried to get my camera into the hole and get a photo, but it was blurry. However, I could see that the hole was about two feet deep, if not more, and that a small stream of water was running through. In the blurry photo I saw a cut stalk, like muskrats leave behind. That got me to thinking. When the otters are in this pond they seem to favor muskrat lodges. Add that to the pressure minks always put on muskrats in their lodges, and it stands to reason that some muskrats moved into the dam and used their burrowing skills to thwart minks that might follow and weakened the dam enough for a deep hole to open up through it. However, the hole in the dam appeared after the otters returned to the pond in February. The beavers should put logs over the dam to brace their repair, but there are not many trees convenient to this dam. For the past few years the beavers have been cutting honeysuckle branches and putting them on the dam. Anyway, the water level in the pond has risen

And as I walked along the dam, I expected to see more beaver repairs. There were a couple small breaches that I credited to a mink. But the beaver’s repairs were half hearted. I think they still want water to drain out of the pond.

Then on some dead grasses below the north end of the dam, where I saw otters go in the fall and where they also made a latrine then, I saw some fresh scats.

It looked like they did a good bit of scratching and perhaps rolling, too. The water nearby looked a bit muddy. So I scanned the pond again, looking for otters. I walked around to the vacant beaver lodge on the near north shore of the pond. I could hide under the pines there if otters appeared in the pond, like I did a few weeks ago. But still no otters in the pond. I saw one relatively old scat in the grass about ten feet behind the lodge. I didn’t see any scats on the lodge. However, I did hear some cheeping coming from a marsh tucked up on the north shore of the pond behind the lodge, and the water in that marsh was a bit muddy.

And I wondered if the cheeping just might be otter chirping because I didn’t see any birds, but as I walked around the marsh I didn’t hear any otters stirring, nor did I see any scats. A wading deer or raccoon could have muddied the water. I went up to the surveyor’s trail and took that to the Lost Swamp Pond. That made it easy for me to angle up on the big rock that kind of forms an elbow on the south shore of the pond. Of course, I walked up on the rock looking for otters, none, and then I looked for scats and saw a nice latrine below, low on the rock.

There were several scats, some on dead grass and others on green moss, and they surrounded one large old otter scat and some old fox poop.

They looked relatively fresh. I saw a few more scats below the rock a few yards away. So I headed around the pond back toward the dam expecting to see that other latrines I know about had been visited. From the rock I could easily see the dam.

There were no scats along the way to the mossy cove.

I did see some fresh muskrat poop out on a log in the pond near the bank lodge, a frequent muskrat bulletin board.

And amidst the dollops of graying old otter scat on the mossy cove latrine, I saw the line of at least one otter’s recent visit to the latrine: fresh scats, scratched up ground and a little pile of leaves.

Over at the dam I found scats up on the mossy rocks about ten yards west of the dam, a latrine otters were favoring at the end of the fall.

Because some of the scats were without fish scales, they looked to be the freshest I’ve seen, just out of the oven so to speak.

Perhaps it is pointless to dwell on otter scats as much as I do, unless I resolve to collect and analyze, but I would like to know why in the same bunch of scats there can be such a contrast.

Otters must have quick digestion so that fish scales don’t clog the system and with the intestine cleaned out so quickly each scat might better reflect the character of what the otter just ate. Meanwhile the dam looked to be completely patched. Since the beavers did not lard much mud on their repair, it is now hard to see exactly where the hole was.

While I walked around the pond, one goose floating near the lodge in the middle of the pond kept honking at me. I assumed his mate was already nesting on the lodge, but I couldn’t see her. Heading down to the Second Swamp Pond dam, I debated how far I should try to track the otters. If there were fresh scats on the dam, did that suggest that otters had come up from South Bay? I did find scats on the dam,

not as fresh as those up at the Lost Swamp Pond.

But I decided not to head down to South Bay. I can go tomorrow and see well enough if otters had left scats. Today, I had a hunch that the otters had moved on to the Big Pond, where I had seen only a few scats, not the generous spreads I saw in the other ponds. When I got back to the Big Pond, I did see something swimming out in the pond -- a muskrat. And I saw something dive way up pond, a duck. Plus it was snowing rather nicely. The focus function didn’t work on the camcorder. So I didn’t wait for the otters, and headed home. I’ll probably never be sure if these scats are from the otters who spent the winter here, or if other otters moved through the ponds. If the wintering otters had left more scats during their stay, I would assume it was them. But they seemed so stingy or secretive with their scatting. This is the time to mark territory and maybe that got them into gear, so to speak.

March 22 drizzle in the morning and we hurried to our land to pick up some seasoned manure before it got too wet. After spreading that, I went down to check on the Deep Pond and Boundary Pond. Leslie saw a muskrat in the Deep Pond a month ago, and we saw green pond grass pushed up on the bank and dam after that, but for the past week or so there has been no sign of any activity. I walked from the Deep Pond up and over the ridges to Boundary Pond. I saw two deer up on the highest ridge. I sat very briefly in the chair looking down on the lodge -- not likely that beavers would be stirring in the late morning. I walked up the west shore of the pond and saw a bit of digging in the dirt not far from the hole I noticed the other days. Then I looked up and saw evidence of a beaver’s passion for roots at this time of year. There was fresh gnawing on the exposed root of the biggest ash tree on our land.

That’s not likely to harm that huge tree. As usual I had trouble being sure if the gnawing I was seeing was really recent, but I get the sense that the beavers are nosing around and that fresh work is liable to be anywhere.

I saw some stripped sticks around a mound sticking out of the water just off the channel and they looked so bright that I bet some beavers are finding that a comfortable place to strip sticks.

But to sort this all out, I really have to see the beavers. We will soon be coming over in the evening to listen to frogs and I might have a better chance to see beavers out in the pond then. I went up the trail a beaver is taking from the Last Pool up what I call the second gully where it had gone rather far along and cut a rather large red oak considering the distance from the pond. I found the oak rolled a bit down the hill where the beaver gnawed the trunk and nipped off a few branches.

It had also cut a sapling a bit farther up the gully.

March 23 we had a good bit of rain last night and early this morning and a brisk northeast wind speeding up drizzle as the day got colder. In the early afternoon, I headed off for a hike around South Bay to check the otter latrines. This was a hike on which I’d have been happy not to take any photos. Not seeing piles of fresh otter scats around the bay might make my life easier, as it might be evidence that the family that stayed in the interior beaver ponds all winter had spread the fresh scats around those ponds two days ago. I saw a couple deer just off Antler Trail. I didn’t see any scats in the old otter latrine along the little causeway at the end of the south cove of South Bay. However, several yards along, I saw some fresh fish parts that were quite photogenic.

It looked like the parts of a small pike.

I don’t think otters had anything to do with it. The parts were scattered on the trail under a big oak tree. After I crossed the creek streaming down to the north cove of the bay, I went up on the knoll overlooking the string of old ponds, most now meadows, that are below the Second Swamp Pond where the otters had left scats the other day. The top of this knoll use to be a frequent otter latrine when otters used Beaver Point and Otter Hole Ponds, both more or less meadows now. I didn’t see any scats in the old latrine, but on the way up to it, under another large tree, I saw another fresh fish part, a meaty morsel connected to some beady black roe.

I didn’t see any otter action at the old dock latrine, nor at the docking rock latrine (been a while since I have docked at that rock.) Then I headed up and around Audubon Pond and didn’t see any new otter scats there either. The beavers there seem to be putting the ash logs they gnaw up on their lodge, not sure why.

On a rock on the shore by the covered bench I saw a pile of muskrat poop. This pond always hosts a couple families of muskrats but I don’t recall their making a point of marking.

Because ash trees are the major bark diet of these beavers and because ash tree wood doesn’t discolor much even after months of exposure, it is very difficult to tell new gnawing from old. The lower trunk below is old work, but can I be sure the gnawing on the upper trunk is that recent?

My last stop was the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay. Three days ago I thought I saw three scent mounds, but there were no scats. Today, at the end of the line made by the scent mounds,

there was a fresh scat on a clump of grass.

This was nice to see. It confirmed that those are scent mounds, and with just one scat, and not an array like I saw at the beaver ponds the other day, it suggests that one male otter is marking the bay, while the otter family continues to thrive in the beaver ponds. As I walked home, I saw beaver work on the shore of the bay.

Another job is to try to figure out if this is all fresh work, and what the South Bay beavers are up to this year. I heard them last year, but rarely saw them.

March 24 cold sunny morning with a wind that seemed to gust up from every direction, except the east. We’ve had enough east winds lately. Leslie came with me and we went up the golf course -- moving a half dozen deer along, and then we went up and over the rock. We had a good bit of rain yesterday and naturally water was dripping from the moss hanging on the rocks. At the bottom of one drip there was a growing mass of foam. Don’t recall seeing anything like that before. As we eased up to the south end of the Big Pond dam, a pair of wood ducks flew off. There were several mallards in the upper end of the pond. There was fresh otter scat in the latrine beside the dam.

Giving me the impression that an otter might have just been there. The water next to the latrine was still frozen but it was also muddy and the water was open a few feet farther down the dam. The scats weren’t icy at all.

So we sat on my usual perch, but no otter appeared. The last time I was here a red winged blackbird kepts screeching, same today but at least it came around to get a good look at us, and vice versa

Then we started walking along the dam, which wasn’t easy. Thanks to the rain the water was brimming over the dam even as water was still flowing underneath. Remember the beavers didn’t quite repair the dam. They also didn’t shore up the north end of the dam where, thanks to the higher water level, there was leaking all over. I saw some fresh scats in the latrine the otters used a few days ago on that end of the dam but the flooding made it hard to get a good photo of it.

We headed up to the lodge and the otters latrined just behind the lodge.

There were three or four scats separated by a few feet, which suggests to me that more than one otter did all this. These scats were rather juicy with that, to me, always fascinating combination of fish scales, beige globs and almost green goo.

What did the otter eat to concoct such a mixture? We went to the Lost Swamp via the surveyor’s trail, and angled over to the latrine at the base of the “elbow” rock on the south shore of the pond. I don’t think otters had added to what they left three days ago. There was one pair of geese in the pond, and a few hooded mergansers, and some mallards. As I approached the mossy cove latrine, it looked like an otter had been up to do some scratching in the dirt and scraping up grasses.

It looked like fresh scats were larded on top of the scats they left three days ago. On our way around to the dam, Leslie spotted our first garter snake of the year. It looked a bit pale and emaciated.

As I approached the dam I saw a muskrat swimming over toward it.

It dove but didn’t seem that worried about my being there. It surfaced and swam down to the west end of the pond. The otters visited their latrine here too, leaving a few gooey scats.

I couldn’t say these scats looked newer or older than the scats at the Big Pond. Of course, I usually imagine that I am just a step behind the otters and that I will see them when I go over the ridge and look down on the next pond. Not today. Indeed when I got to their latrine on the Second Swamp Pond dam, my first impression was that otters had not returned to there. Then I looked down farther away from the dam and saw a breathtaking gob of scats in a little hole in the dirt.

And I couldn’t help but notice that there looked to be trails through the cattails below the dam leading to the marshes and pools below, eventually leading to South Bay.

But I think it is relatively clear that there is a group of otters here, probably the family I have been tracking, that is quite at home and that doesn’t go down to South Bay. If that’s the case, I’m not sure why the mother hasn’t separated from her pups yet. I might as well wait a bit longer to see what I might see before jumping to conclusions. We went to our land after lunch and first went up to see if the Blanding’s turtle was out in the turtle bog -- the temperature had risen into the upper 40s and the sun was bright and warming. But the turtle wasn’t out. We heard a few wood frogs snoring and more when we got down to the Bunny Bog. As we walked down to the Teepee Pond, Leslie bumped into a wood frog heading up to join the other wood frogs.

After doing some work I headed down to check on the beavers. Some saplings had been hauled into the Last Pool, and a beaver had nipped and stripped sticks.

However, it didn’t look like a beaver had done anymore work up in the gully. I headed up it and then along the ridge and then down to the chair overlooking the lodge. I could hear humming in the lodge. There is still a little bit of ice along the east shore of the pond.

Now that the water is open it is more difficult spotting the beavers’ last meals. Ice and snow certainly make it easier to focus. I heard a peeper in the trees behind me, or was it in one of the pools of water up on ridge? A little before four a beaver came out, looked like a big one, and it swam slowly up the pond.

I waited ten minutes before I followed. It didn’t stop at any of the places where I had noticed recent beaver work. I caught up to it in the Last Pool where it was jawing down on something atop a little mound of moss almost at the end of the pond.

When it noticed me, it moved slowly back into the water and then swam over toward the east, loath to go back to the lodge. It swam under the poplar trunk and disappeared. As I reached the crest of the little ridge west of the Last Pool, a little chipmunk burst out a hole right below me. We’ve heard chipmunks here but this is the first one I’ve seen.

March 26 we had a very cold night, with temperature plunging from 50 degrees to 15 degrees. I hoped this would be an opportunity to check for otter trails in newly formed ice on the beaver ponds, but a sharp north wind blew all night. The last time we checked the ponds the Big Pond dam was rather soggy and difficult to walk along so we went the opposite way, going along South Bay and then up to the Second Swamp Pond. Once away from South Bay we got the wind out of our face, and soon at our back. The water behind the Second Swamp Pond dam had iced over and two angry geese plied the open water about 20 yards behind the dam. The ice had not been broken by foraging otters, nor did I see any new scats behind the dam. So I don’t think otters had been here in the last two days. I continued across the dam and then walked up the north shore of the pond and didn’t see any recent scats on or around the porous beaver lodge below the knoll, nor on the old otter latrines along the east end of the knoll. I walked up the little creek coming down from the Upper Second Swamp Pond and checked the area of the marsh below the dam where they had a latrine in the summer. No sign of their being there. There was no ice on the Lost Swamp Pond and no new otter scats either. This pond was getting the brunt of the wind, but we found a rock out of the wind and in the sun and sat and watched the ripples. We approached the Big Pond along the surveyor’s trail and as we came out so we could get a view of the pond, two great blue herons flew out of the marsh tucked out of the wind along the north shore of the pond. We saw two herons as we drove to Kingston yesterday. These two were the first we’ve seen this year in our neck of the woods. One heron flew to the north, the other to the west -- we felt bad about disturbing them. I didn’t get a photo of them but did get one of where they had been.

Then as we walked down toward the dam, we flushed another heron. Meanwhile, we didn’t see any otters in the pond, nor ducks. There was a bit of ice on the pond behind the lodge and there were no signs that an otter had foraged there. No bubbles under the ice either.

And there were no new scats in the latrine on the shore behind the lodge. The area below the north end of the dam was no longer flooded and I saw that the otters had left a good bit of scat the other day, and I couldn’t be sure if any was fresh. The beavers had nothing to do with the end of the flooding. There were no repairs. The water level has dropped because of the gaps in the dam. The ice behind the south end of the dam had an interesting design,

But I was looking for ice broken by otters. I did see two scats that were not in the latrine two days ago,

But they weren’t fresh.

March 27 it was cold again last night and there was no wind so I expected all the ponds to be iced over, and if otters had been out in the morning, the ice would show it. We went to the Big Pond first, and went via the second valley down from the ridge above the golf course. This is our winter route and this was probably the last time we’d take it. We saw about twenty turkeys on the fairway below the ridge. We looked for porcupines in the places we see them in the winter, and now there is no sign of them. Snow does make it easy to find porcupine dens. We came out to the Big Pond well up along the south shore opposite the lodge the beavers have been using. There was no broken ice, though the ice over part of the main channel was open, the same area that opened up first during the thaw. Closer to the dam there was more open water, and from a distance it looked like otters might have contributed to keeping the water open,

But there was no sign of that when we got closer. Meanwhile we were entertained by red winged blackbirds and song sparrows, but no herons today. There were no new scats behind the dam and none in the latrine behind the beaver lodge closer to the dam. There were bubbles under the ice there, but small like what a muskrat would leave. The Lost Swamp Pond was about two thirds ice covered, and ducks and one pair of geese were taking advantage of the open water. I didn’t see any ice broken the way foraging otters would do it. However, looking down at the ice in front of the mossy cove latrine, I saw a trail of large bubbles going along the shore, and some broken ice, but no major cracks and breaches.

There were also a few bubbles around the bank lodge nearby and a wide swath of open water out toward the middle of the pond.

However, there was no sign of any animal coming out from under the ice and onto the shore. I walked around to the opposite shore and saw some bubbles under the ice leading into a muskrat bank burrow.

I don’t usually credit muskrats with making bubbles as big as I saw under the ice around the mossy cove, and I saw one otter scat, which I hadn’t seen before, on the grasses above the muskrat burrow.

So? Perhaps one otter was out in the morning. The water behind the dam was well open and there may have been a new scat on the latrine the otters have been using near the dam.

But there are so many scats there, it is hard to tell, but the one above looked fresher than all the others. There were no signs of a beaver being at the dam, and no signs of a beaver breaking the ice, but beavers often settle down early enough in the morning for the ice to freeze behind them. I didn’t see any trails or breaks in the ice down at the Second Swamp Pond. On the way back home we may have seen a vulture.

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