Tuesday, December 15, 2009

November 19 to 29, 2009

November 19 another quiet day on the river and relatively warm, cloudy with a warm front promising rain. The river seems too quiet at this time of year with few birds about, and I wonder if it is because of duck season, which groans on for weeks. I motored as far as I could down the bay south of Quarry Point, almost to the beaver lodge, and as I was studying that for any signs of beavers -- none -- shotguns blasted away on the other side of the island. To that point I had flushed five common mergansers and five mallards. As I rowed along the shore of the bay, about a dozen mallards flew up. Of course I was looking for otter scat. One year I noticed scat around the bays south of the point, but none this year. I didn’t go up on the land to scout the latrines just west of the point. I stood in the boat and really thought the grasses were combed about the same way as when I was here last time.

But it was easy to step and nose around the low grass ledge that the otters have been favoring of late. The scats looked old but one of the beige liquid scats seemed to have plasticized, which I don’t recollect seeing before.

The dry air and sun, and don’t forget below freezing mornings, did a number on this goo. I didn’t walk elsewhere on the point and didn’t see any sure otter signs as I rowed around it. I rowed down to the willow jutting out on the shore where I had last seen the otter family here. I scowled into the thickets where the otters had disappeared. Then I looked along the rocky shore slightly to the west and saw rocks smeared with fresh otters scats.

There was no need to get out of the boat. It was easy to see that the scats were many,

and some looked very fresh

Another interesting feature on the rocks was what, to me, looked like a trail of dead leaves

molded into a nest where it was easy to imagine an otter resting.

But that be a bit fanciful. I have seen vegetation shaped like this when otters have been around. There were more scats on rocks just a little more to the west that looked a little bit older. I rowed down the shore a bit more and then drifted away from the shore and took a photo showing how the rocky shore relates to the willow where I last saw the otters,

And how the latrine relates to the point and quarry.

Of course, I hoped I might hear, if not see an otter, but I didn‘t. I went home through the Narrows so I could check the otter latrine at the entrance to South Bay. I stopped short when I saw fresh beaver work along the east shore of the Narrows where it widens into South Bay.

It seems that the beavers always cut trees here late in the year. They quite subdued one tree. Looking from the boat, I couldn’t tell what it was, and they cut two or three neighboring trees that were smaller.

And they resumed work on a large willow bending out over the water.

They seem well on the way to killing that willow. I got out of the boat when I got to the otter latrine, climbed up on the grass and saw that an otter had visited.

I saw one scat, suggesting that it was from the otter who has been visiting here for a few months

But there was also a large bullhead with its tail cut off.

I tried to get a close-up of the bite but that alone doesn’t prove an otter did it.

However, I’ve seen otters chomp off fish tails and leave the fish either to struggle in the water or grass. It struck me that this was a way for the mother to both familiarize her pups with fish and, of course, to train them how to eat fish. If that was the case here, then perhaps the mother brought the fish up in the grass, relatively high up off the shore, to entice the pups to climb up there. That said, the scat she left behind was rather laced with scales, which bullheads don’t have.

I motored home almost stunned with what I had seen. Had the family I had seen in the Lost Swamp and Big Pond come down to the river, fished in South Bay and gone to the shores of Picton? So, I have been seeing one family, not two. I thought of hurrying to the beaver ponds, but hunting continues there, and even if I did see fresh scat, or even saw the otters, it wouldn’t prove that there were two families. At this time of year otter pups can probably swim well enough to get from the interior beaver ponds to Picton much faster than I can.

November 22 we had some more heavy rain so as I walked around South Bay I anticipated seeing some otter signs, especially if the otter family had moved into the bay. But there were no scats where the two creeks come into the coves. I saw troughs in the mud leading from the bay to the slope of the old dock latrine at the end of the north cove

But there were no scats up in the latrine. And there were no signs of otters at the docking rock latrine. I veered up to walk along the embankment of Audubon Pond, in case the otters had gone up there, but I saw no signs of it. The beavers are girdling oaks in the southeast corner of the pond

And I think the beavers cut more trees below the embankment

But the pace of tree cutting has slowed a good deal down there. And perhaps they have made a little dam creating a little pond below the embankment.

However, there is no flow coming down from the pond high above. Despite the heavy rain two days ago, the pond water level is still over a foot lower than the new drain. Then I went back down to South Bay to see if any scats had been added to the latrine where I saw one big scat and a dead bullhead three days ago. The bullhead is still there, unmolested -- few scavengers flying around now, and there was only one new scat

which suggests that only one otter is visiting here. I walked down on the rocks along the shore -- out along Picton the otters scat right on the rocks, but I didn’t see any signs of otters having been down there. Then I went back to Audubon Pond to see the trees the beavers have been cutting along the west and north shores. They came at the southwest corner of the pond and found some ash to cut, another hickory to taste.

They are doing more work up in the northwest corner of the pond, tasting a cherry, cutting down a few ash

The trees here are all falling down, easy to strip, but the ash hasn’t been girdled yet

and a maple. They are girdling the maple first

One long log was cut off and girdled and I suppose someone on trail patrol pushed it over to the side of the trail next to a rotting trunk.

As usual I went out to the bench where I can sit and wonder what's happening inside the lodge. There on a board in front of the bench, I saw fat otter scat.

And on the the few feet of grass between the bench and the pond there were several scats, suggesting that an otter family was here.

How fresh were the scats? I think otters had been in the pond in the last 48 hours. I sat on the bench a while, wondering if otters used the lodge, as I often saw them do years ago.

Meanwhile, back to the beavers. I saw that they have two fresh trails going up from the northeast corner of the pond. Heading that way, walking along the disjointed boardwalk, I saw a stunned leopard frog that didn’t react to my close proximity.

Turning back on my way up the beavers’ trail, I took a photo showing its relationship to the lodge.

The trail led to several ash trees the beavers had cut.

The photo shows a nice gradation in the diameter of the trees cut, smaller farther up the slope. I walked down the causeway that forms the east shore of the pond, expecting to see some otter scats there, but I didn’t. Then I headed for Meander Pond. I saw buck antler scrapes on some cherry saplings

Good place for a buck to be, out of the hunting zone (though I must say that I’ve seen fewer deer outside the zone than I usually do.) That clump of cherry saplings was a dozen yards from the clump of cherry saplings where the beavers are getting their meals. I’d say they doubled their take

I followed their trail back to the middle of Meander Pond expecting to see a trail of cherry sticks, but I didn’t. These beavers seem more efficient than the ones I’m watching at Boundary Pond. There is another way to look at that. When I watched these beavers when they were in Shangri-la Pond I noticed the adults leaving sticks behind for the kits to collect. Maybe there is only one kit (the one I saw) in the pond here this year, hence fewer lessons need be left behind on the trails. I headed over to the dam and there were fresh otter scats by the side of the pond, roughly over the burrow that beavers and muskrats have used over the years.

There were three scats

All were black, and loose, and one on a dead leaf looked like a cup of chili con carne.

So otters came here. Were they still here? Back in early August I was sitting on the rocks south of the pond and heard some chirping not unlike I have often heard from otters. But I walked around this pond often in the summer and never saw any scats, and muskrats seemed to be using that burrow then. I walked along the dam and didn’t see any more scats. About 10 years ago we tracked otters to a den under the ice and snow below this dam. I did see that the beavers had been busy on the dam, having mudded down

their trail down to the wallowing pools below the dam.

Not sure why they needed to lard mud on the slight slope up to the dam. I dutifully took photos of the beavers’ gnawing on trees but don’t think there was much more work since I was last here. The lodge looked better mudded, now.

And then to my delight I saw otter scats just off the south canal of the pond

These were just like the others, black, loose, scaleless and lumpy

And on the canal bank nearby I got an indication of what the otters are eating.

The otters are probably digging groggy frogs from the pond bottom, cutting short their hibernation. One of the taller trees the beavers had been cutting, a red oak, was on a tilt, so they probably did more gnawing on that.

But now I was more interested in checking for otter scats, and I did find one on the trail coming up from Meander Pond and going to Thicket Pond.

The scat was just up from the water of Thicket Pond.

I continued around Thicket Pond, heading for the East Trail Pond which for several years had been a nursery for otters. However, it has been a meadow for three or four years. I saw a trail through the woods going down to where I thought there might be a remnant canal of the pond, but the trail ended in raccoon poop, and I couldn’t find any canal. From the ridge south of the meadow, I saw streaks of red bushes, and no water for otters.

Of course I still walked down to where a bit of pond remains just behind the dam. I saw no otter scats in their old latrines around the dam or on the dam.

So? Good chance that the otters came up to Audubon Pond from South Bay and had extended their foraging after frogs up to Thicket Pond. I also saw that porcupines were active, as usual, in the trees around the East Trail Pond.

There have always been porcupines here, but I’ve always been more interested in the beavers and otters here.

November 23 we’re heading south for Thanksgiving and went to the land to pick some brussels sprouts and kale to take with us. I had a chance to check the beaver work around the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. On my way down Grouse Alley, a bird flew up from the ground but without the flutter accompanying a grouse’s flight. Plus it didn’t fly far and perched up in a tree a few yards away. I soon saw that it was a barred owl. I kept snapping the camera expecting it to fly off, but it didn’t.

I’ve heard a barred owl here all summer, probably this one, and it appeared it wanted to get a closer look at me. Then it stopped turning its head, and turned its whole body and leaned down toward me -- I feared for my hat! -- then it turned to its left

And flew off.

Again, it didn’t fly far, just perched on a tree 20 yards away, but when I began to approach, it flew up and away into the woods up on the ridge to the west. That was exciting, then I sorted through the beaver activity -- with little expectation that a beaver would come out. They have worn a path up to the slight knoll between the Last Pool valley and the Grouse Alley.

There was a good bit of new work up there and I must say the beavers seem to be getting more methodical, which is to say, they take all or most of a clump rather one tree here and one tree there.

It’s almost as if they pick up their tempo of harvesting as the winter approaches. Yet, once I mark that down in the theories of beaver behavior, I see patient girdling on two nearby maples.

They continue cutting the larger birches at the end of the pond, more method there, perhaps.

Back in the spring when they first reestablished their presence in the Last Pool, they went up on the east slope and began girdling a large beech tree. Now they cut several beech saplings, probably growing up out of the roots of the large beech.

We had wrapped the big beech earlier, may have to wrap it again. Boundary Pond is quite full again and the wider canal down from the Last Pool has inspired some cutting, on the “mossy islands” now in the canal

And there was one large birch cut so that its crown landed right next to the overflow around the channel.

As far as I could see the beavers aren’t doing as much tree cutting around Boundary Pond proper. I saw one large birch cut but hung up on another tree.

Nor have they done any more cutting below the dam.

If the kits tend to stay closer to the lodge, they have plenty to eat in the cache.

They have been busy packing the dam with muck.

Walking up the west shore of the pond, I passed two large ironwoods they half cut

and then up off the canal, I saw a few trails up the gentle slopes where they pursue their current enthusiasm for small hornbeams and birches.

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