Thursday, January 15, 2009

September 1 to 12, 2001

September 1 For the past week we've had visitors, that kept me away from my usual rounds. However, yesterday I took them to the Nature Center and we walked down to the East Trail Pond. We saw two fawns on the way in and two fawns and several deer on the way out. No otters, and no new major beaver work that I noticed. Then just before dinner we went by boat over to Audubon Pond. Walking along the causeway we flushed two muskrats, and one dove rather deeply into the water. We sat at the bench. A hawk flew over. I began to worry that a beaver would not appear. I could see that they had put fresh logs on the big lodge and it's possible they've abandoned their bank lodge, which we were sitting next to. Finally a beaver head popped out in front of us; it swam back in its usual serpentine fashion, not neglecting to smack its tail several times.

Today I got my senses focused back on the ponds by hurrying out to the Big Pond after dinner. We had a west northwest wind, and a bright clear evening with the promise of much moonlight. I wanted to see the beavers working on their new lodge, or, I should more properly say, their new location for their old lodge. I flushed about three deer going with one treating me to leaps over the grasses and across the narrow end of Double Lodge Pond.

I flushed ducks as I came down to my perch next to the Big Pond dam. They flew to the far end of the pond where there were many ducks. Save for one who evidently was dozing in the large clump of grass before me. When it moved into the water, I saw ripples and expected to see a muskrat swim away. The duck swam toward me and then bolted -- a young wood duck judging by the size and the whine. Meanwhile I saw two beavers swim from the northwest corner of the pond. One went to the center, ignoring the new lodge, and the other swam toward me until it got a good enough whiff. The pond was very active with ripples from the bugs and fry. So as the beaver approached their were ripples circling in front of it as if to clarion its arrival. Then it swam to the center of the pond and started pounding its tail. Finally a beaver swam down from the upper end of the pond and swam behind the new lodge. Then another swam from the northwest corner and veered toward the lodge. I saw one of the beavers push a stick up on the lodge

and the other carried some mud up on it. I think. As it approached it made a splash and then in front of the lodge it seemed to lunge into the water. After that a small head appear and swim away, so it is possible that the baby beavers are occupying this new abode, and this beaver was helping to move them out. Then again, it seemed to take mud up on the lodge. Going out after dinner, it was hard to control my farts. I thought I emitted a soft one, but a beaver at the lodge promptly swam toward me, nose up the whole way, and swam to the large clump of grass in front of me. It studied for sometime from its floating log position,

and then swam away, not deigning to splash me, or did itrecognize me as an old friend. All the while several towhees and one cat bird were singing around me. I wondered if the whip-poor-will was still around. As I crossed the golf course, I heard one sing from behind the ridge. Though it promises to be a chilly night, going out I got a little steamed wearing a long sleeve shirt.

September 2 a cool, bright day and we went off in the kayaks; unfortunately, just as everyone else was climbing into their much faster and noisier boats. We found a bryasoan in the south cove of South Bay and then a few large ones in the north cove. I picked up an interesting and empty snail shell, small but with a larger than usual point. The white lilies are still remarkable, and on the north shore of the south cove, near the rocks, we saw a very healthy and colorful smart weed. I need to get out and photograph that and I still want to try to identify all the underwater vegetation. In the south cove I saw what might have been a grass pickeral. There were small fish all over and then some sunnies up to 3 inches long. Not that many ducks or mallards and some poor geese, as yet, I think, assaulted by goose hunters.

September 3 another sunny day, getting a little warmer, and very
windy. I flushed two fawns as I went into the meadow behind the golf course, but didn't get a good look at them. Then it was quiet all the way to the Middle Pond. As I eased down the hill, I saw a heron hunched into ball. As I whispered to my camcorder it flew away. The Middle Pond looks too low even for muskrats now. I didn't snoop around to investigate. I did take a photo with the 35mm camera. My project for the day was to document what I hope will be the nadir for the pond levels. Though there is no major rain on the horizon, the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. I walked up through the dry ponds and streams. No water until the Double Lodge Pond. Many frogs still hopping in but that pond is also getting shallow. The island of grass is no longer an island. No sign of otter prints in the mud and no otter scats on the Big Pond dam. There were ducks on the pond and flowers on the dam. I went around the south shore to get a better photo of the dam and to see if any star grass flowers are appearing in the mud -- none. What covers all in shallows and in the mud is a plant with waxy green leaves.

Though I did see one grass like plant, bold stalks, with a low and small white slower. There is a muddy channel up that way. The beavers have used it, but there was no fresh beaver work at the end of it. So perhaps it is a muskrat route now. I also began seeing the yellow flower I always call the marsh marigold but which are bur marigolds.

I crossed the dam, saw some fresh beaver gnawings. There were the usual frogs, plus a large one with beautiful tourquoise color.

I went up to the new lodge. A bird flew up that I first thought might be a rarity, but it turned out to be a flicker, eveidently down for a drink. At the cove just above the lodge there is a well used, and freshly excavated beaver canal. I didn't follow the trail up into the bush, though I should. Instead I continued up, admiring two basking turtles, to the old lodge. I noticed how big the older lodge across the pond is and recalled that I had meant to check that out. Still should. With the pond level lower I also saw why this lodge on the north shore just wont do. It is in such shallow water that the old cache begins several yards out into the pond.

I have photos of that cache from two years ago. No sign of otters using the area; given the nibbled sticks about beavers might still be in it, but my guess is that they are on the south shore lodge or in the new lodge. In that area I found a beautiful reddish brown feather. It is in an area that a duck might spruce itself but it has the look and feel of a hawk feather. No hawks over the pond, only some vultures. I went over to the Lost Swamp along the surveyor's line. Many geese sat on the old dam, a refuge from the hunters. There were also large and small ducks. I keep wanting to call the large ducks black ducks, and seem to always decide that the smaller ducks are wood ducks. I must get serious about duck identification. I sat under a large tree there to give the geese time to adjust to my presence, and then did slowly swim up the pond to another dry area. Meanwhile I saw two dark birds that I first thought were killdeer, but that I soon saw were small hawks, kestrels. I took photos from that shore and then walked around the pond my usual way, taking a photo of the star grass flowers, still very abundant. Predictably I began worrying that otters would never use the pond, then down atop a rock at the foot of the path
up the south shore toward the end of the pond, I found what looked like an otter
scat and not too old. It did have something strange in it which I decided were leaves. [Now, 9/16, I think they were insect parts and perhaps it was skunk scat] That made me think that it might be a raccoon scat. However, might not an otter eating fry in the mud also swallow a leaf? So the game became finding another otter scat. I didn't, but I found many raccoon scats that invariably had some berries in it, were shaped properly, and didn't approach the fishiness of the suspected otter scat.

I should add that as I examined the scat two pileated woodpeckers flitted by, half chasing each other, half looking for a meal. I went around the pond, checking on the fresh beaver work

-- now three trails into the wood, no more climbing on the poplar, one bite taken out of the small white oak that would bring the poplar down, more gnawing on the underside of the poplar -- and went up to the dam, crossed it, no otter scat near the lodge, then walked up to the far end of that end of the pond. There is still a channel to the pool up that way,

though the pool strikes me as very shallow. No sign that the beavers have used it much. I got some photos looking back toward the pond. I went over to the dam up there. While there was no water, there were no plants at all below the dam, just baked earth, all the lushness was around it. The beaver must have dug deep enough to eliminate seeds from that strip.

The water in the second pond has almost gone, very patchy now, but enough to attract some ducks and a heron. As I sat down on my perch there a large whitish bird flew just above my head. When I got to the East Trail Pond, I saw a whitish hawk hovering above, I assume a rough-legged. I sat under the large oak, after the ducks dutifully flew off. Enough stayed for me to study. They seem to have a pleasant society at this time of year in groups not too large, and I wonder if they are all kin. No otters appeared so I went down to the dam. No scat at the places they've been using, but I thought I got a whiff of scat. As I went up the path to Otter Hole Pond, I saw three tiny squirts of scat: a half inch, a quarter inch and an inch. Definitely otter scat, also digging in the dirt. I expected to see a large scat further up, but didn't. I did find otter tracks at the end of Otter Hole Pond and on the dry channel from Otter Hole dam down to pool at Beaver Point and into the lodge there.

On the edge of Otter Hole Pond there is a ten yard band of tall light green grass, not difficult to get through and yielding flapping sparrows every several yards. Bur marigold is beginning to blossom around the drier Beaver Point Pond. A shotgun blast from the bay also sent three herons and two hawks into the air. Damn the noisy bastards. The pool at Beaver Point barely survives;

even a baby otter could not dive in it, but the easy pickings remains irresistable. I smelled scat on the dam but didn't see any fresh scat amidst the piles of old scat. Then I took on the difficult task of photographing the New Pond. There were some curious wood carvings,

and perhaps more interesting, I could see how they dug the pond
deeper around the rocks that were in the area.

There is still water in the pond. I didn't see any otter scat, but I didn't look everywhere. So, though I lost touch with what was going out here for about a week, it seems there have only been subtle changes, and that the otters have not ventured very far.

September 4 I took Ottoleo out on a hike, roughly the same route I took yesterday except we went directly down to Otter Hole Pond from the Lost Swamp. So I was in the main pointing out familiar things. However, at the Lost Swamp, the geese were not there. Instead there were some killdeers and a large and a small sandpiper.

The large sandpiper waded in the water. As we began our way around the pond, something large jumped off the lodge, probably a turtle. Then we saw ripples in the lower end of the pond and it proved to be a beaver.

It was about 10:15 am, so it could have been simply working late. But the thought that it was on an otter-watch crossed my mind. It swam away from us, then surfaced and grab some pond grass, and then, I think, went into the lodge. I kept looking for more otter signs. None on the south shore but up the hill of the north shore I found three squirts of scat, about as old as the scat on the south shore. As we went around the pond we saw a great burst of ant on and around a rock just up from the pond. Black ants had wings and red ants were crawling all around. They didn't seem to be fighting. Ottoleo thought the red ants were helpers, getting the black ants up and away, and some were flying away. These were all small, as ants go, and no good photo of them either. Also, as I went down to look at scat on the north shore, an osprey flew in, clutching its fish-cigar. It flew off when it saw me. Then on the ridge above Otter Hole Pond were heard a murder of crows squawking, as well as a few blue jays, and another animal screeching. We separated and went up the hill. Ottoleo saw the big bird with brown wings fly off. Listening to the tapes of owls and hawks, we decided it sounded just like a red-shouldered hawk. We sat at the perch above Otter Hole Pond, and no muskrats or any other critters appeared.
Having Ottoleo's better eyes with me, we also saw this yellow caterpillar.

We got a little rain in the afternoon.

September 5 with a light wind and bright sun, I set off at about 4:30 to try drifting down South Bay in the raft Bill left here. With a wooden floor it is quite stable. My goal is to identify the predominate underwater vegetation [and finally, 9/16, I identified the two plants below: wild celery and coon tail]

and get some photos of the lilies and bryasomes. The raft worked fairly well and would work better if I had an anchor. The lilies were out splindidly,

and perhaps their days are numbered. I didn't see many bryosomes but got a better photo of one.

There was a bit of algae but not enough to impede my progress.

There were many small fish and a sandpiper working the vegetation at the end of the cove. The grasses were of three basic types and the
spruce-like ones might break down into a few varieties. Time for study. I was impressed with how much baggage these plants have when you pull them out: small things clinging to them as well as pods. Then I went up to the Audubon Pond to see if the beavers were shy the other night because of the crowd. Up the path to the pond, a deer nonchalantly munched and then I saw a small one on the dam. At the corner of the pond I was puzzled by a trap in the water.

Something was poking its head up, so I waded into investigate -- just as I did a small muskrat leaped into the water. There were five painted turtles in the trap. Not liking the trap at all and assuming it might be
poachers, I took it out and freed the turtles. Then at the other corner across the pond, I saw three more traps. The closest was set in front of the den otters had been using. I waded out, in much deeper water, and saw that only turtles were trapped. I don't think an otter would go after them but to lessen the chance, I pulled the entrance to the trap out of the water. The trap is designed to allow the trapped animal to get air, but still an otter could get tangled up. I left the other two traps alone. Meanwhile no beavers appeared. At 6:30 I left keeping an eye out for muskrats. Perhaps one dove before I could see it. There were two more traps on the pond above Audubon Pond. After a few phone calls Leslie determined that the DEC set the traps. I'm glad I freed at least five turtles, but I'll go back in the morning and put the trap I removed back down near the water. They should have tagged their traps. Let's hope their research doesn't require destruction of the turtles. I also saw a green heron working the pond, as well as a pileated working the nearby trees. And a raven flew over, rather stately and sonorous.

September 6 I set off at 8 in the boat over to Audubon Pond where I retrieved the turtle trap I removed and put it back on the shore. I walked around looking for otter scat, saw none, but did see two traps that I
hadn't seen before. I sat at the bench and in the glare of the sun on the weeds
around the lodge saw a small green heron fishing in its typical stealthy and
elegant fashion.

It seemed to have some luck and even when I stirred, it did not fly far away. As usual I toyed with the idea that the beavers had not been doing much but then I saw fresh branches in a canal marking the way from a shore of ashes to the lodge.

It puzzles me why they went so far last year to get ash in the next pond up and ignored the many so close to their lodge. Were they preparing for a drought? I hiked over to the Short-cut trail pond. It is now dry below the dam; still a pool behind that I don't think will shrink away. Then I went to Meander Pond and to my amazement saw that the beavers are still there. There is
fresh work, a wet trail to it and most impressive a series of major excavations all along the route of the channel, like an Army Corps of Engineer job.

The beavers seem to even take care to spread the mud out above the channel so it won't ooze back down in the water. I tried to walk along the channel hoping the blooming of the tickseed sunflower meant the ground was firm. One foot was soon deep in the mud. I went around a drier way and did get to one
old lodge, but the channel petered out there and no sign the beavers had been there.

I know there is another old lodge in there. Then I went to the East Trail Pond to check on otters, saw none and saw no scat. I did see a
pileated, a small hawk, and many ducks, and a kingfisher. On the way back to the boat I went up to the pond and the DEC guy was just going along the dam after resetting the trap I removed. I explained what I had done and he didn't seem too
upset. He caught one Blanding's turtle. In the main he seems only interested in
seeing what's around and sharing it with the state park staff. This is the purpose of the program, DEC helping out the parks. Of course the parks people should already be on top of this but.... He, Jesse Jaycox, thinks an otter should be able to get out of the trap, and he'd seen no signs of otter. I told him of my turtle sightings and he wanted more info. Oh yes, on my way back, one small cormorant was in our cove and bumped his belly, empty I trust, as he flew away.

September 9 headed off late morning to try to get a sense of what the otters were up to. Once again the leaves of the underbrush are wilting and all around that the crackle of dry leaves sounds the dirge, though I suspect the only drama remaining, since the plants just move into fall, is the survival of the ponds. Up on the plateau the towhee are still singing. The Middle Pond still has a little water in it, and because it is in the shade might make it for
a few more weeks. I waited for something to appear there, but nothing did. I sat on the rock over looking the pond and as I got up saw this scat behind me. I generally see the fox along the road, but perhaps some of them are working these swamps and where I was would make a good perch for a dog to look over things too

The Double Lodge Pond survives, and frogs jump merrily into it as I come up. I saw a tail mark in the mud leading up from the pool,

and thought I could see otter tracks going down and back. However there were no scats up at the usual spots on the Big Pond dam, though
the grass is so tall, it would be hard to see a squirt here and there. There were two large raccoon scats by the end of the dam. The beavers are back foraging in there. I could tell from the fresh willow in the water. Just off the dam I saw a spider eating and encasing a kicking grasshopper in its silk. It seemed to spin the bug, I guess on an axis away from the web

I couldn't tell what ended the grasshopper's twitching: work on its jugular or the web all around, probably the later. The spider got wind of me and moved off its prey now safely secured,

as if it was setting the trap anew for me. There were ducks on the far end, always looming large, and what I assume were two wood ducks near me. The lodge seems to grow. On the other end of the dam, the trail is in use and I followed it to the woods (it is my usual trail after all) where I found
three mid-size ash down, and much evidence of segmenting and dragging. Indeed,
two stumps stood alone in the bush almost lending an air of mystery. Where had
the trees gone?

Meanwhile, the ironwood or elm, remains unsegmented save for the first cut. As I came down to the Lost Sawmp, I saw ripples but after a long tiptoeing down the hill, decided it was merely from the wind. There is fresh
work up there. Several small oaks and one large one being girdled. One tree seems to be getting it from both an adult and baby beaver.

It was a little before 11 and no beavers were out. The geese were down in what is now the very shallow end of the pond. Without rain much of that end of the pond will go dry,

but this pond has a huge watershed and if the water flows it will fill. I sat at my rock, getting relief from a very hot day, and a chipmonk, some blue jays, and a moaning wood duck off in a tree (I guess) made some nice chamber music. Another task I set myself was to see if there are any variations
in the bur marigold, and I couldn't discern any. The star grass continues to do well. And out at the cut in the old dam a dozen dragon flies were bobbing not only over the pond water but over the bright green grass. Quite striking, their red on the green but the camera can't capture it. I saw some deep clawed prints in the mud but couldn't convince myself that an otter made them. No fresh scats around the pond, but there were a few dry ones on the north shore probably added a few days ago. Up at the poplar, no more climbing of course, no bite on the tree that holds it up, but a nearby maple, already half dead and topped, was about to fall. I pushed it over because it was wobbly and a hit on the head from that would do me no good. My other sport around this pond was crossing the downed logs at the west end of the pond.

Seeing scenes like this must give the beaver its reputation for an unerring aim. This is old work, some trunks I first thought might have been blown down, but on closer examination I saw that the beaver gnawing had just evened out from the wear of the seasons, bugs, birds, etc. The Second Swamp is
drying out rapidly, so exposed to the sun. Still, a heron was working the middle part, but no ducks. A few years ago when it began the summer more or less dry, the tickseed sunflower was every where. Now the broom grass, very very tall, is browning that area. I waded through that and along the newly explosed and just dry bottoms of the pond, the bur marigold is coming out. I did see one common st. johnswort coming into the pond.

This bur marigold is both glorious when it is thick, and also when just one plant rears it pretty head.

The lower pond is now a series of pools, all will probably go dry.

Many tracks went to them, certainly raccoon, deer, and heron, but nothing active enough to seem like otters. If I could say otters had been there I could begin to see a route, but I can't. The East Trail Pond had over a
score of ducks, also deer foraging in the lush green below the dam. This pond still holds a good bit of water, and is wet below the dam. A green heron took a perch on a high tree, and a red tailed hawk hovered above briefly. Some small flycatchers worked the pond, no kingfishers today, and no otters. I crossed the dam and then examined the shore and saw no scats. The beavers are doing a good bit of work up the old trail, and there are freshly gnawed logs by the dam. Otters might not be so comfortable here, but I still think they must be here. It is by far the most pleasant pond. The other curiousity about the otters, is that all the scat I've seen has been small and well laced with fish parts. They don't seem to be eating the frogs, which are everywhere. Perhaps raiding these small pools is so easy and so filling that they aren't getting the larger fish and not even thinking about frogs. I examined the trail up the ridge to Otter Hole Pond, no scats. Otter Hole Pond is very low save for the two major channels and the new one the beavers have deepened that comes to the shore. Another birch is down over there. Then I went down to Beaver Point Pool, and a rapidly diminishing pool it is.

None but a heavy rain will save it. Yet the green grass all around is quite lush, and, playful, delightful, refreshing.... so goes the

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