I peeked into the cove, in case they were still there, and then checked the trail up and over the knoll to the New Pond but found no scats up there. So maybe these otters have confined their activity to South Bay. On my way to the East Trail Pond, where I saw the scats two days ago, I went along the north shore of Otter Hole Pond. About a dozen ducks flew off the pond, but no otters. And up at the latrine by the East Trail Pond dam there were no new scats. I sat for several minutes, and a wood duck flew in before me. Then I checked the spot where I saw the sleeping beaver -- not there. Quite a few painted turtles were up on logs, responding to the cold of last night -- low 50s, if not below that. I went over to the Second Swamp Pond and checked the lodge, still mostly concealed by the pilewort. Once again I'll be lured out to see if these beavers are really still here, and every time I worry about this, I find that they are here. The upper Second Swamp Pond is very low again, still muddy, but again, that could be from raccoons.
As I came up on the Lost Swamp Pond a dozen or two ducks flew off -- and not just mallards and wood ducks. My duck identification skills are nil. Here too there were painted turtles on logs, and also in the Second Swamp Pond. A kingfisher flew over and two herons flew off. I checked the old otter latrines and found no scats. I walked down along the south shores of the Second Swamp Pond and Otter Hole Pond, and checked an old latrine by the dam of the latter, but no scats were there. So the otters continue to perplex me.
August 26 I was off a little before 8 and hiked directly to the East Trail Pond on a cloudy morning, with the 62F air temperature feeling cool due to the humidity. After peaking down and noting that the beavers had trimmed at least one branch off the tree they just cut, I sat on the big rock over looking the pond which was active in small ways. A snapping turtle poked its head up briefly as it made a few waves; the water nippled frequently from bugs or fish kissing it; a kingfisher dove into water frequently. Then I saw a beaver cruising behind the lodge and then down to the grasses of the west end of the pond. I was about to stir and check for scat and I saw the beaver cruising back toward the rock, so I waited on the chance that it would take a nap again. However, the water kept rippling. I took the long way to get to the dam to check for otter scats. As I stood there ruing the lack of scats, I saw a beaver swim behind the dam, dive, and I assume it went into the bank lodge on the east side of the dam. I sat awhile to see if the beaver would come back out. Then as I stood to continue checking for scat, another beaver swam toward the bank lodge, dove, but resurfaced in a minute or so and then disappeared into the grasses in front of the granite boulders over there. Then a beaver swam out of the lodge, and crossed in front of me.
Then the beaver in the grass reappeared, swam out into the pond and then dove into the lodge. Of course when I first saw a beaver, I thought it might be the one with the notched tail -- a possible outcast. Then I wondered if the other beaver wasn't keeping tabs on the outcast. But, I must say, their swimming about made no sense to me -- and neither splashed me even though I was quite close to them. I almost didn't check the old latrine on the once mossy rock near the dam. And when I first saw a gray pile I thought it was merely litter. Then I saw a large bug wondering through the muck
and poked the muck and found that it was soft and bristling with fish scales and bones.
So an otter had been around. As I continued along the shore of the pond, I found some possible fisher scat.
The beaver "bed" looked like it had been used since I'd last seen it. I also noted the stripped sticks and the wet vegetation just pushed up on the shore there.
Looks like frogbit. I found no more otter scats as I went around the pond. The smear on the rim of the hole into the old bank lodge had firmed up. Poking around so slowly, I notice other things, like this handsome little vine.
Then as I came down to Thicket Pond, I saw this nut meal.
The beavers did a good job stripping the tree at the end of the pond -- no better indication of how well their pond is fairing despite the lack of rain recently.
I crossed the dam of the pond and noticed some good sized stripped logs back behind the lodge.
While the channels all looked used and leftovers lie all around the pond, I didn't see any very current work on this end of the pond. The water is getting lower and so they are probably putting a premium on finishing their harvesting at the far end of the pond. The channel into Meander Pond looks used too,
but I'm always mindful that raccoons enjoy wading into the ponds as they get shallower. And I saw no evidence of beaver work along the north shore of Meander Pond or at the dam. I continued on to Audubon Pond and found four small scats on the bench. Given that there was no other evidence of large bodies capering in the grass nearby, I think these scats were left by minks.
When I stood behind the lodge, a beaver swam out and started thwacking its tail. For awhile now only one beaver has come out, so perhaps only one remains. I'll have to come out in the evening and check that out. I walked through the thistle and milkweed on the causeway, moving three goldfinches along, and admiring two monarch butterflies. The beaver also swam over in that direction but then I lost track of it. I could see three points where animals had crossed over the causeway and above the portion where the conduit pipe is, I saw some scats. These perplexed me because the largest had been walked on. Again, since I didn't find any scat on the crossover about the drain, I assumed these were raccoon and goose poops. However, the mud at the drain has been pushed aside a bit, causing water to drain out
-- could an otter have done that? Something may have come out on the ledge behind the rock in South Bay, but it left no scats. I checked the otter trail up and over the knoll to the New Pond and there was a very fresh scat vibrant and brown
quite a contrast to the gray scat at the East Trail Pond. The duckweed in the New Pond looked a bit parted. An otter interested in eating frogs can go anywhere there is water because this seems to be a good year for frogs here. I continued up to Otter Hole Pond where I got close to an osprey perched in the crown of a dead tree but it flew off with clutched fish dangling before I could get a good photo. Up at the Lost Swamp Pond there was another osprey in the dead tree by the dam and then two other ospreys flew in to cavort over the pond in close formation. I recalled that in the Summer of 2000 when I went for several weeks without seeing the three otter pups, I wondered if the mother kept them hidden because there were so many osprey that year. There are plenty this year too, but since enunciating that theory, I've seen an osprey fly over otter pups without either otters or osprey showing much concern. By the way, there were no signs of otters. In deference to the warming day and the lunch hour, I almost didn't cross the Big Pond dam, but duty called and the crossing was eventful. A flock of ducks seemed to be forming in the pond,about 20 ducks in close formation, that I eventually sent off flying. Then as I waded into the tall grass I saw a hummingbird moth working the vervain. The still photos did not come out, but I got video. I had better luck capturing an image of a butterfly, but no luck yet in identifying it.
There were a few spots where something left the water and waded onto the densely vegetated dam. Then at the end of the dam I saw a pretty wide swath,
and found some otter scat in the latrine there. Only one squirt
but given the amount of clearing I think there must have been more than one otter here. So now the otters have me quite stretched out, yet the scats in each spot I saw them seemed quite different.
August 28 I went off in the kayak before dawn to see if any otters were about in South Bay. I surprised a muskrat, I think, in our cove, and another as I paddled around the headland. The end of South Bay was ghostlike with low fog and I at first took the beaver with its tail cocked as an otter, then it splashed me. No otter showed up. The redwing blackbirds seemed a bit more subdued, as were the terns. Two days ago I noticed that the bryozoa were "blooming" at the end of the north cove of South Bay,
so this afternoon, late, I went over in the rowboat to get some photos. Rowing in, the first thing I noticed were the lily pad landings of a damsel fly new to the scene with a striking lemon green head.
My impression is that this year the bryozoa formed later and seem to be decaying more quickly. Several show bare jelly already.
However, they are much more profuse this year,
attached more to branches.
Most are along the north shore. In other years they fanned throughout the shallow end, but not this year, probably due to the lack of vegetation in much of the cove. I fished one out for closeups, in a fish net.
The bryozoa are smelly ungainly things
and learned a bit in the process. When it broke I could see a bit of red in the jelly.
I also saw a good bit of water celery, but not as much as in other years. Then I rowed up to my usual docking spot and walked around Audubon Pond where I'm following a number of stories. The beaver didn't patch the hole in the drain; there were no fresh clam shells on the shore; no sure evidence of muskrats along the large embankment; and no otter scat there. Over on the west shore above an old bank beaver lodge, there were four small black scats
that if I were comfortable with assuming otters were in the pond, I would say was otter scat. However behind it were definite raccoon scats. Plus the black scats were very hard, and there were no signs of otters anywhere else along the shore. One trouble with figuring out the otters this year is that there is so much vegetation around the ponds that gets a lot of sunshine which means in all but the East Trail Pond, so I may be missing a great deal of scat. Best I can do is keep checking this pond, which, I think, thanks to the beavers raising the water level is perfect for otters now. When I stood above the bank lodge in front of the bench, the beaver did not come out. However, the entrance was still muddy so I assume it is still there. A kingfisher was about, and only one goldfinch. I took the South Bay trail to the East Trail Pond where I made a brief tour finding no new scats in the dam latrine. I did notice that the flickers were back. I then went over and sat above the lodge of the Second Swamp Pond. At this time last year, with the drought concentrating the water, the beavers were quite active around this lodge dredging channels and eating. This year, all was quiet and the lodge mostly covered in pileworts and vervains. After sitting ten minutes a small muskrat swam into the lodge, then ten minutes after that I saw one and then another beaver swim along the dam. There are two areas where it looks like the beavers have been up on the dam, but not tonight.
To get back to the boat I went via the ridge overlooking Otter Hole Pond -- all quiet below. The creatures ruling the river and ponds are the osprey, and today they seemed to leave off with their playing and pay more attention to getting fish. However, the geese are forming in the wings. In the cove across from us there were about 50 moseying around Goose Island, though when geese gather there always seems to be something orderly about their moseying. I should add that it was passing cool this morning. I also received a belated report about several otters being seen at dawn around the TI Park Pavilion dock three weeks ago. By my theories this must be the gang of four males I saw in late June. Naive observers always think otters are playful and cute and by implication babies but until I can prove that the otter family has been following accepted practice and staying in the remoter ponds, I have to assume that the pups might very well be out in the big river.
August 29 three violent thunderstorms today and after the second, the sun peaked out and I thought it was safe to go for a hike. Up on the TIP nature trail I was startled by two tall red oaks that had columns of wood and bark ripped out from the crown to the base of the crown.
I looked for burn marks but saw none. Nothing but lightning could have done this, and a stitched together photo hardly captures it.
Here is the lower portion of that photo
I took home a five foot splinter as a souvenir. I wasn't sure where I wanted to go so went up on the New Pond knoll hoping that might decide my route. I thought I saw fresh otter scat
(but once I compared photos, I think it was the same scat I saw a few days ago) so I decided to go to the East Trail Pond via Otter Hole Pond. Of course, I first looked down on the New Pond as a heron and a dozen ducks flew off. I went part way up the East Trail and noticed a myriad of golden flies swirling up from the grass when I got close. They were not easy to get close to, but I finally got a photo of a crane fly, I think.
I heard loud chirping from Otter Hole Pond, chirping and whistling, and soon saw two osprey, with one maintaining a perch on a dead tree that ospreys use every year, until I got too close. I was checking for otter scats at a likely spot and found none, and to my chagrin there was none at the East Trail Pond latrine. Over the years every where I walk I've seen otters, and not seeing them now is beginning to get to me. Evidently the otter marking the New Pond knoll is claiming, not the ponds, but the South Bay cove. I've seen this before. Despite two showers the grasses weren't that wet -- heavy rains, I suppose, roll off more than mists and dews, so I went to the Lost Swamp Pond via the upper Second Swamp Pond dam. At the spot in the thickets where I usually flush a woodcock, I flushed several birds but they were grouse, I think. All was quiet on the Lost Swamp Pond, but not in the heavens above. A third storm rolled over with three lightning strikes uncomfortably close. An osprey cavorting in the wind and rain gave me courage and then a duck flew in nearby, and the brilliantly green ferns at my feet hardly shrugged in the downpour. On the way home I studied Otter Hole Pond, and Beaver Point Pond, and the New Pond again, all indifferent to my vain search for otters.
August 30 cold morning with gray clouds, a genuine feel of mid-September, and then the sun came out, and I managed to get my family to walk the short way to see the lightning-rivened tree. They were duly impressed, and then, as usual, went home, and I headed off to see if the rain revived the black trumpets in the old patch under the white oak above the Middle Pond. No, it hasn't, but I found a few of these hard pigskin poison puffballs
Continuing down the deer trail toward the Big Pond, I found these jack o'lanterns coming out of a buried root on the slope down to the little creek trickling down from the first ridge
As I continued along I had to dodge a few spider webs and I'm finding that the spiders in them are rather difficult to photograph -- I think the web screws up the automatic focus, so I left off that and tried to capture this weird little bug on my hand, perhaps a woolly apple aphid,
a creature that looks definitely out of sorts. No otter scats near the Big Pond dam. I sat on my perch for a half hour or so, moving out into the sunshine for a few minutes to warm up.
All the action was in my first minute at the pond -- a number of wood ducks still can't fly and they churned the water into the reeds on the far side of the pond, as other ducks flew off. No osprey (this pond lacks good perches) and no terns. The kingfisher did cackle by. I was startled briefly by a snort of sorts, and since nothing manifested itself, I assume it was a bee buzzing in a gruff manner, or a bullfrog waking up. The beaver didn't swim into view, and the vegetation is so thick along the bottom of the pond that I doubt if any muskrats are around. I did see some small fish jump, so there is no excuse for the otters not showing. I went home via the apple trees, and up on the ridge flushed two deer, and heard a towhee. The apples are ripening and I took a few bites.