Saturday, September 20, 2014

August 13 to 22, 2003

August 13 looking for a promised break in the humidity, I headed for the East Trail Pond on a hot sunny morning to see if the otters might be around. I had to pause twice as I went up the shady trail to admire patches of black trumpets.

I didn't pick them as this was obviously a sight any hiker could enjoy. I sat on the rock above the pond for 45 minutes and enjoyed wood ducks and turtles, but no otters, and few birds. The ducks were paired or in groups of three, wood ducks in the main, but none with striking male plumage yet. A pair below me sat on a log, one looking quite stolid and the other with a quizzical twist in its neck as it rested its head. Just out of camera range two splashed around seemingly to impress another looking on. There was a bit of flying from one end of the pond to the other, but nothing strenuous. When I first came there were a half dozen painted turtles on one log who dropped off one by one (every ripple had to be checked for possible otters.) Then I saw a larger turtle climb on a log, too far away to be sure if it was a Blanding's. Then a painted turtle emerged not far away and I appreciated the different kilter of their domed shells. Down at the latrine by the dam there were no new scats. I walked around the pond and saw nothing new at the latrine I discovered two days ago. I did see the purple variety of coral mushroom that looks so regal

The white variety looks commonplace. I walked on the north shore of Thicket Pond and saw one small maple tree freshly cut but hung up. I photographed the patch of maples still standing.

I thought I could hear gnawing in the pond. I stayed on the north shore around Meander Pond where I saw more trumpets -- roughly the same spot they had been other years. Though I've often see beavers out in this pond during the day, seeing no fresh gnawing, I kept my eyes on the rocks and was rewarded by seeing an exuberant plant choked by berries -- solomon's seal, I assume.
By this time last year the otter family I was watching moved to Audubon Pond, so I went to check there today. First I walked out to the beaver bank lodge which still looked lived in,
but one beaver appeared to move out into the pond from behind the lodge in the pond. It dove without splashing, surfaced in the middle of the pond and disappeared again and showed no interest in me as I walked around the pond. Walking down the causeway of milkweed and thistle, I snapped away at an admiral butterfly feeding on the latter.
I got lucky with my camera angle
Then luckier still
I saw a tiny quirt of scat, but I think it is from a small goose not an otter
Near the drain, where the water leaks every 15 seconds or so, I saw some freshly opened clam shells. Perhaps another sign of otters. Muskrats have been here all along. Why would they get interested in shells once the water got deeper thanks to the beaver patching the drain? On the way home I checked the latrine by the docking rock and saw nothing new, but there was a fresh scat up on the knoll to the New Pond. That persuaded me to walk up and check Otter Hole Pond, but no sign of otters there. I did feel some relief from the humidity but still a very hot day.

August 14 I went off in the kayak at about 5:30 am heading for South Bay. A mink or muskrat dove before me in the cove, probably the latter. I wasn't the only one out. I passed a fisherman in a canoe with a small motor and a speedboat came into South Bay ahead of me. As I rounded the headland into South Bay, I saw a back roll in front of me. I heard an otter blow, and then turned and saw an otter telescoping to see me. I slowed down and as best as I could tell, there was only one otter. When I reached the north shore of South Bay, I saw a mink walking along the shore. I followed and it tolerated me. It seemed most interested in jumping frogs but caught nothing for the few minutes I watched it. I parked myself beneath a willow near the old dock and waited for more otters. The cackling of the terns entertained me, but all was quiet at the end of the cove where I expected otters to be. I paddled into the cove and as I stared at the wall of cattails, a beaver appeared behind me, dove and disappeared, evidently going into the cattail wall under water without making a ripple. Then I saw something swim into the old dock. I went over to investigate that and saw a muskrat dive with some grass. So I made a grand slam -- otter, mink, beaver and muskrat, but did not see the family of otters.
Glenn, Mel and Ginger are here, in part, to see otters, and not knowing the rhythm of the otter family's foraging the best I could think of doing was going to the East Trail Pond after lunch where if we didn't see otters, we'd at least be in the shade and in the way of any breeze. The quiet season has started for the birds and there was nary a sound as we walked up the East Trail. The East Trail Pond was just as quiet. We sat up on the high rock for a half hour and nothing stirred below. I showed them the latrine and rolling area by the dam, where there were no signs of fresh activity. I also showed them the up pond latrine under the pine trunk. Nothing fresh there either. On the slope above the pond we saw the bleached bones of a small deer.
There was more fresh work at Thicket Pond but no beaver out gnawing.

August 15 The Blackout of 2003 inspired me to go to bed at 9pm, which allowed me to get up at 5am well rested. There was a morning breeze and chop in the river and I wanted to check some ponds and take my cameras, so I went to South Bay in the boat. I paused where I saw the otter yesterday but it was quiet today. The moon was much brighter this morning and I expect that might have inspired otters to stir well before dawn. I drifted and rowed down to my willow hideaway with a view of the end of the cove. There were more terns today, but no otters. As I rowed back out, I saw a beaver swimming from the north shore toward the cattails, the third time I've seen this cattail beaver. I tied the boat up under another clump of willows, and hiked up to check Audubon Pond. I saw a beaver swimming from the middle of the pond back into the grass-choked end of the pond where it began eating plants.
I saw a doe and fawn at the northeast corner of the pond and then when I walked back after going half way down the causeway, I saw another doe
and a fawn in the woods to the southeast of the pond. I decided to go to the Lost Swamp Pond, though I doubted the otter family would go there. Of course, I sat briefly above Otter Hole Pond on the way, and while the duck weed looked run through,
I didn't see any otters, or any other critters. I went up to the Second Swamp Pond where a pair of mallards paddled along, then cut up the ridge so I came down to the Lost Swamp Pond to the south of its northwest arm. I saw a ripple by the dam and the spyglass revealed a beaver there. Then I saw a beaver in the pond close to me. There were ripples throughout the pond and all resolved themselves into ducks and geese, more of the former. Then I saw a beaver circling the small lodge in the pond. As I came down to the pond two osprey flew off trees above me, circled and landed on the large dead tree behind the dam.
One was quite vocal, the other the strong silent type. Then a third osprey came along. This one clasped a fish and when it tried to land on top of another dead tree it broke the branch and dropped the fish. After circling twice it flew off. When I moved up on the pile of rocks that afforded the best shaded view of the pond, I saw that the beavers had put a pile of old logs atop the burrow into the bank just below me.
Then as I walked around to check the old otter latrines, I saw that the small beaver was still in the pond. Indeed it couldn't get its fill of staring at me,
coming closer, and never once threatening to splash its tail. It did at times swim faster with its head higher out of the water
but it kept turning back. Just after it finally dove into the lodge nearby, another beaver larger than the first swam in. With its wet fur glinting in the sun and its body half in the water, it started grooming. I don't think I've ever seen a beaver, save during the winter on flooded ice, groom while it was still in water. Soon enough it too dove into the lodge. The first beaver must be a baby. I have been watching babies at the land, and this one probably matches their size. The one I generally see at our land is quite independent, as this one seemed to be, but very prone to splash its tail at me. The beavers in the this pond have often shown a propensity to stay out late in the morning, and so, that tradition continues. Right below where I was standing three groups of whirligig beetles were in action. As the video shows one was so placid as to exhibit beetles in line; the largest group exhibited an even pace of activity, and the last was all a twitter. I walked around the pond and saw no otter scats. Of course, the ospreys flew off. I decided my shoes were wet enough already so that cutting across the upper Second Swamp Pond dam wouldn't make them any wetter -- I was wrong, but did enjoy that damp route, pausing in the middle of my dodging stickers to take a photo of a feather in the water on one side
and a monarch drying in the sun on the other.
The small dam still holds back water but no signs that the beavers had just been there. To avoid a further soaking I headed for the rocky woods and took that drier way to the East Trail Pond, but not without turning around to take a photo of the thistles going to seed
Leaves are also beginning to fall. I flushed a woodcock on my way up to the woods. I had perfect light and wind in my face at the East Trail Pond. A young kingfisher dove in front of me, some repeated slanting dives probably from frustration. Wood ducks swam close enough so that I could see their big eye circles forming. When a group of four flew off, one was still too young to do that. It fluttered a few feet and then swam off to join the others. Then two beavers swam out from behind the lodge, far enough away so that at first I thought they were otters. Beavers generally don't swim so close together. But their slow speed in the water and placid demeanor gave them away as beavers. I hoped to find some fresh scat in the latrine but none there. I think the otters are still here in this pond, or in Otter Hole Pond. On that hunch I headed to the boat via Otter hole Pond, where all was still quiet. I even waded through the grass of Beaver Point Pond to check the very old latrine there -- nothing. And I even checked the newly discovered otter trail over the ridge to the New Pond -- no new scat there. So sad as one can be on a very nice late summer day, I headed home with another osprey screeching above.

August 18 even with Glenn and the girls, otter watchers, here, I couldn't show them the otters. We went out to the East Trail Pond on the 16th at 5 pm. I reasoned that since I saw no scat elsewhere, they had stayed in this pond, since they would mark a new pond, and I had not seen scat anywhere. But so much for reasoning. There wasn't any fresh scat either. The only distraction was an osprey's close fly by. I didn't go out yesterday, and this morning, to celebrate Ottoleo starting soccer practice at dawn, I went to South Bay in the kayak. The moon was not as bright this morning, and after the terns arrived, the herons relocated, and the redwing blackbirds came alive, I saw something swimming along the edge of the marsh heading for the end. I decided to poke my canoe out of the willows, and just as I did, the critter dove and showed an otter's tail. It responded quickly to my feint in the kayak with several huffs, turned around and disappeared in the lingering morning mist. This is the second time I've seen a lone otter here -- I assume male.
After breakfast I set out for a comprehensive hike to try to get some idea where the otter family might be. I went through the thick meadow behind the golf course, pausing, not fifty feet in, to admire the teasels giving up their blossoms.
I was also pleased to see the apple tree in the meadow doing well, though the thought of wild apples makes me thirsty for them. When I go up on the ridge above the meadow, I always look at the juniper which the deer, I think, have almost browsed to death. This wet year I expected some to spring back to life, but while the moss is thick everywhere, the juniper remains thin
I saw two deer up on the ridge. I often hear deer up there, but rarely see them. Perhaps they are emboldened by the thicker vegetation to play peek-a-boo with me. I heard towhees and saw cedar waxwings. When I got down to the Big Pond dam I inspired ducks on the far away lodge to get into the water. The vegetation around the pond is nothing less than ferocious, and I concentrated at first at what was in my face. An aster which usually doesn't pop up here
where the pile wort reigns and I tried a close-up of the vervain blossoms
Down below I spied a treehopper
and then I had to wade through the vegetation atop the dam: vervain and cattails were almost manageable, but the smartweed was wearying. Not only was there no sign of otters through that struggle, but I doubted an otter would want to tangle with it at all. I should have gone up to the lodge which had a vegetation-free swath on it, but I stuck to the trail to the Lost Swamp Pond. When I got into the woods I saw this green darner at rest
Coming down to the Lost Swamp, I saw four ducks on a log in what I call the Burghers of Calais pose, but, of course, when I got close enough for a photo they, mallards, flew off, as did a couple of wood ducks. Despite it being 10 am, I saw a large beaver dive by the lodge nearby in the middle of the pond, and soon I saw it swim out to the point, getting more grass to eat, I assume. I was quiet and in the shade and a wood duck flew back and climbed up on the log the mallards had left, and did some sprucing. Then I saw a tiny duck diving. The angle of the sun defeated any attempt at identification -- must be the smallest diving duck. I did get a video,
made extra exciting by a painted turtle also crawling up a log to get closer to another turtle! Ah, the pleasures of August. I peeled away quietly and didn't disturb the ducks, but as I went around the mossy cove I stepped on a stick, making a loud report, and first one and then another diving wake came out of the new bank beaver lodge. Of course I waited to see the beavers surface. A small one poked its head up about 30 yards away and the larger made a splashing dive a little further away. I saw the larger return first, and it kept away from me. Then the small one dove and to my surprise surfaced in front of me, and like the other morning, calmly gave me a good sniffing
even closing its eyes a bit and doing a good bit of ear shaking, and then calmly diving back into the lodge. Like a fool I turned the camcorder off too soon and didn't record its shaking off the water and exchanging hums with the other beaver. I have been attributing the Thicket Pond beaver's being out to the cover it has in that pond. Now I have beavers in the two most open ponds, Lost Swamp and Audubon, foraging in the broad daylight. I continued around the pond and sent the osprey up into the air, a quiet flight so the others were probably not around. A kingfisher was noisy as ever. There were no otter signs around the pond. I crossed the upper dam of the Second Swamp, and the pool behind it was quite muddy.
as was the channel below so the beavers probably did it, especially since I only saw a few raccoon prints in the mud. I skirted the woods and went down to check on the lodge under the knoll. The pile wort is piled high on it and save for an open patch, no sign of beavers being on or around it.
However, the dam looks like something has been going over it to get down to Otter Hole Pond.
So back again to the East Trail Pond for a late morning sojourn, nothing but turtles manifested themselves. I was good humored enough to admire the beauty of the ugly dead trees left sentinel to the beavers' achievements.
I decided not to go on to Audubon Pond, though now all my theories rest on the otter family being there, and went to Otter Hole Pond and waded through another dam, where there is the smallest of paths going up and over and that looking quite unused.
Last night I heard a report of three baby otters seen near Mullet Creek across the river, though others said they were minks. If Audubon Pond fails me, I'll have to check over there.

August 19 I went to Audubon Pond after dinner, on foot. If the otter family is still active in the ponds I watch, this was my last hope. As I walked around I found some old scat -- a week old perhaps, on the west shore where otters have made their latrine in other years.
At the same time I saw that, I saw a beaver out in the pond looking at me. I walked around to the bench and there was no more scat to be seen. The beavers continue building up their lodge, and a beaver appeared in front of me,
splashed and swam slowly over to the west shore -- perhaps the same beaver, probably a second. I walked up to Thicket Pond along the south shore of the intervening ponds. We have not had rain for several days, so the mushrooms have toned down. At Thicket Pond I saw that the beavers had partially segmented the maple trunk that was on the ground. Two piles of chips told the tale.
They seem to prefer smaller maples. One clump of them is just about taken, another clump nearby, waits.
I thought I heard some gnawing from the pond but nothing more when I cocked my ear. I sat up on the rock overlooking the East Trail Pond and right below me the beavers had cut down a fairly large cherry tree,
and then a small beaver swam off the shore and splashed its tail. It swam away from me along the shore but soon enough sneaked back. It surfaced in the duck weed and then climbed up on a sunken log and stayed in that crouched position for several minutes.
Then it swam closer, and struck another pose, nose toward me,
Finally it moved to the shore and began nibbling some grasses.
This is a young beaver. I don't think a baby could be so stealthy. The last few times I sat up here, a humming bird worked the trees hanging over the rock. It was there again this evening. No apparent blossoms on the trees. I went down to check for otter scat and saw none, and no activity at Otter Hole Pond. I'll have to be patient. The last time I watched a family with three pups, in 2000, I didn't see them from mid-July to late September -- of course, I am a better otter tracker now. There is a brilliant patch of hair grass above Otter Hole Pond and using the flash I took photos of it in the dark -- grasses are so hard to capture in a photo and a flash didn't help.

August 21 I was off in the kayak before dawn to check for otters in South Bay. Rounding the headland I avoided a flotilla of mallards. Their young still can't fly. I also heard humming over my head. We identified longhorn caddisflies around the house the other day but these were smaller and, I think, another crop of midges. There was no otter to be seen or heard this morning. Once again a beaver, crossing from the north shore to the marsh, splashed me. About 6:30 I kayaked to the end of the cove where I saw nothing to lead me to suspect that otters had been around. As I paddled out, I saw the beaver swimming toward me. I told him I was leaving: it dove and I hurried away.

August 22 I headed off about 2:30 pm to check for otters. We had a brief downpour last night which I hoped might perk up the mushrooms, but no sign of that. The trumpets are getting old. I came down to the latrine by the dam first, hoping that the rain would have inspired some otters to make their mark. And there were two small scats, black and brown,
and the latter fresh enough to interest a bumble bee and a grasshopper. The rolling area looked unused. Perhaps the otter with one pup had come back. I sat there for a half hour to see if any otters would materialize. I saw some wood ducks in the distance and once again an osprey flew over. So I picked myself up and began a slow walk around the pond to check for more scat. Just around the point, on a dirt clearing just up from the pond, I saw a beaver on its back, legs sticking up, teeth showing. Matthew Brady could not have posed a beaver to look more dead than that. I sighed "oh no," and the beaver flipped itself over, head toward the pond, and after a very long ten seconds dove into the pond. I managed two photos of it on its feet, but, alas, not on its back.
As it fled I saw that it had a piece cut out of its tail. I had seen this beaver back in March in the middle of the dam while the other beavers were gnawing sticks on the east end of the dam. Not only could I never imagine a beaver sleeping like that, but I wonder if this shows that an outcast beaver, rather than always being driven away, can be tolerated by a colony. It swam under water well out into the pond and then swam into the grasses at the west end of the pond. I sat for a while to collect myself, noticing that some leaves are starting to turn,
and then continued. The grass around the rolling area the otters used last year and in 2001 was matted down, but I couldn't see any scat. Of course, once when I saw an otter scat there, I couldn't find the scat when I went down to look for it. There is a pile of small stripped sticks at the foot of the steep path that leads up to the cherry tree cut the other day.
There were more places around the pond that had the look of hosting a beaver. There was nothing new at the pine where the otters hid; no new scat from there to the edge of the pond, except that along the rim of one of the holes dug into the old beaver burrow lodge, there was a large and thick dollop of black scat, I think.
I poked into it and found nothing fishy. I didn't smell it closely, but if it had not been in the hole, I would have said it was otter scat. I also went around to the rocks above the beaver lodge on the other side of the pond. No fresh signs of otters or beavers there. I climbed straight up and then over to look down on Shangri-la Pond which has some water but no signs that anything is using it.
There was nothing new at Thicket Pond, but it still has enough water to support beavers. I had an uneventful stroll to the bench at Audubon Pond and when I stood to look closely at the lodge, bubbles came out of it
and soon a beaver surfaced and dedicated the next few minutes to splashing its tail at me. Before it swam out of the lodge, I saw a pollywog flee from its path. I sort of heard and saw more bubbles, but no other beaver surfaced. I'm wondering if the beaver I saw in South Bay is the other beaver that was here. But there are other places for a beaver to stay. A hawk flew noisily over me. I continued around the pond and saw no signs of otters, other than open clam shells. I saw some at the lodge the beavers are using, and some looked old so I wonder if the beaver might not bring them up with the mud it puts on the lodge. But others were fresh, and I saw fresh raccoon poop among them, though not with shell bits in it. On the other side of the pond, I saw a huge shell, seven inches long, easy.
Down at the docking rock in South Bay I saw some raccoon scat that did have shells in, though the bits could have been from crayfish. On the way home around South Bay I detoured up to Otter Hole Pond, pausing to photograph the cardinal flowers on the New Pond dam.

Back when this was just a creek, I used to see these flowers deep in the shade. I'm glad some survive in the sunlit world fashioned by the beavers. I pondered Otter Hole Pond for 15 minutes, and only saw a few ducks. The water level is not as low as it could be and I am puzzled why there is no sign that the otters have used it. But back to the sleeping beaver: I once saw one somewhat sleeping on its side, but to see one on its back must be extraordinary. Plus I had noticed the clearing it used back in May, first wondering if it wasn't just a dry hole made by a snapping turtle looking to lay her eggs. Then I saw that dead grass had been moved up to it, and I suspected a beaver might be using it for naps.

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