Friday, December 4, 2009

November 8 to 13, 2009

November 8 I once had the notion to organize my journals solely on variations from the seasonal average temperature for any given day. Today our average high temperature is around 50, and since it got up into the mid-60’s, today, in my oddly framed journal, today would be categorized as a fall-spring-day. Sure enough I swallowed a gnat while I was starting the engine on my boat. But though there were flying bug all in the air hovering around trees and the water, there weren’t birds eating them. On my way to Picton I only saw geese, most sleeping on rocks, and gulls. The cormorants and ospreys were not to be seen. At Picton Island, I motored down to the tree above the rocky shore where I saw otters back in July, then I rowed back along the shore. I didn’t expect to see otters at ten in the morning but I thought I might see some scats or fish parts on the rocks along the shore. This shore is an easy place for otters to secret themselves but by this time of year when there are far fewer people around I should think the otters would scat and eat next to the water where they get their food. I didn’t see anything, but thanks to the angle of the morning sun, the stunted willow tree where I saw the otters go ashore back in October looked like a famous landmark.

But what had been a trail back into the briars and bushes certainly didn’t look freshened.

However when I got around to the latrine on the sloping rock just on the southwest side of Quarry Point, I saw that the pine litter on the rock had been scraped up.

I didn’t see any otter scats around the scrape but I did see a crayfish claw up on a nearby rock, and otters like to eat crayfish out here.

And there were two more scrapes higher up on the rock, and again no otter scats.

Then down on a ledge of grass just below the big rock, there was another scrape and scats in the grass.

This ledge is quite exposed to the sun and most of the large scats were dry, though still dark.

but some of the scats were moist, and there was a hint of goo around one

There was also what looked like a scent mound formed in the tall bent grasses on the slope above the ledge, but a profile of the slope certainly didn’t make the scent mound apparent

You had to be there to see that it had been shaped by an animal, and see the scat left on top of it.

There were a few dry scats just up from the rock that forms the very point. I don’t think the otter family I had seen here left these scats, but I shouldn’t even speculate. I have to see whose doing the scatting.

November 10 I headed out at 2:30 to check the South Bay otter latrines and hopefully, rendez-vous with the Meander Pond beavers when they came out for their night’s work. I talked with Jason Stowell last night who once again saw an otter in the Narrows so I expected to see some scats around South Bay. But my first stop on the South Bay trail was to admire a porcupine up in a red oak along the trail.

This is a tree that a porcupine gnawed on last year, but left plenty of bark on the trunk for this year’s meal.

I am always fascinated by the seeming discretion of animals, except killing trees slowly by girdling hardly seems wise when porcupines can feast in the crown of a healthy tree for years. The porcupine climbed higher as I neared but seemed poised to gnaw on the branch it climbed up on

So I don’t think I really inconvenienced it. It often seems to me that everywhere a porcupine goes there is something for it to eat. I didn’t see any otter signs at the docking rock latrine. Looking out at South Bay, I saw two swans floating elegantly in the at the upper end of the bay.

Then sure enough the dead grass at the latrine above the entrance to South Bay looked rather rumpled

And once again I fancied that a photograph could show how exciting scratched up grass could look

But how an otter shaped the grass, which seems so apparent to me in person, never comes across in a photo. Only the attendant scats prove that an otter was there.

I stepped down on the rock below the grass and took an otter’s eye view of the comfortable looking grass.

I assume a single male otter is visiting this latrine. However, Jason also reports seeing two otters over in a small bay along the main channel of the river. Nice complexity to otter watching now. Since I wanted to get to Meander Pond in timely fashion -- it always seems that one beaver at least is out in the that pond in the late afternoon, I did not take my usual tour of the beaver work at Audubon Pond, I just went up to the pond and walked down the big embankment. I saw at least one tree below just cut down, noticed that the water was perhaps a half foot higher with two feet to go before it hit the top of the new drain, and in the golden sun I saw a tree just cut and trimmed that fell across the causeway trail, plus some tasting of big trees behind -- both elms, which heretofore has never been popular with the beavers here.

There was a light southwest wind so I went back to the South Bay trail, up the east Trail and approached Meander Pond from the southeast, walking around the east end to the rocks along the north shore that afford a view of the lodge. I walked by most of the fresh gnawing on the way but couldn’t resist taking a photo of a splintering red oak.

Red oak is prone to splits like that but I couldn’t figure out why the beavers lateral gnawing should create such horizontal stress. When I got up to my rock perch I saw that something was swimming around the lodge. It dove quickly and judging by the size of the head, I thought it was a muskrat but hoped it was a beaver kit. Then I waited for 45 minutes and nothing stirred in the water so I contented myself with taking a photo of the lodge and cache

And of the cut trees I could see from where I sat.

I noticed that the beavers were stripping the trunk of a red oak that had blown down last year. They are usually not that keen to gnaw on trees that they didn’t cut down. As I noticed before, their tree cutting was not confined to one place, but I was. Only from the rocks could I see a beaver swim in or out of the lodge. None did. As the sunset, the glow began to highlight the swath of asters, now all brown, that marched out of the woods and down to the pond.

Finally another muskrat came out of the lodge, swam east in the main channel and soon I couldn’t see it. Nothing else stirred, and it began getting cold. As I hurried back around the pond, I took a photo of the blow down red oak that the beavers were stripping.

Then I had to stop and study how neatly they just cut down another, smaller, red oak

Whenever I’ve seen beavers cutting a sizeable tree, I see them working back and forth around the tree. But the photo below makes it look like the tree had to have been cut with a persistent circling around the trunk, like the gnawing beaver was backing around in a counterclockwise direction. That is possible. I have see beavers move back around the tree as the gnaw. Last time I was here checking on the tree work, November 3, I noticed a tree that seemed to jump down when it was cut, and didn’t fall. A beaver started cutting the standing trunk again and today, a week later, had only gotten half way through. Are they giving up on this project?

Finally quite in contrast to what seemed like the circular cutting, there was some girdling and cutting of a tree that seemed quite up and down.

The wood chips around this tree, a maple I think, were smaller than the ones around the encircled red oak. Perhaps smaller beavers were working on this and hadn’t mastered the circular technique. Hurrying home which meant taking a more direct route, not my usual tour, led me by two hornbeams cut well down the slope toward South Bay, about 50 yards from the pond, and it appears they dragged the small trunks up to the pond. I think these beavers got a taste for hornbeam when they were at Shangri-la Pond. It’s as if moving from pond to pond expands the beavers’ palette. They tasted a large elm nearby too.

November 12 I checked the Big Pond dam for otter scats and saw some new ones that looked relatively fresh, in the usual latrine at the south end of the dam.

A bright sunny morning with temperatures rising after a hard frost is not a good time to evaluate scat. The freezing and thawing makes the scat look fresh, but harder, more brittle when poked with a stick. And the bright sun defeats even the probing of a camera close-up.

Scats can look frosty. As I walked along I saw a juicy scat and took a close up of that. Due to the bright sun I couldn’t really distinguish what was in the scat and the photo below suggests it might have contained seeds, might be a raccoon scat. Or what looks like berries might just be bulging fish innards.

If I get back there soon enough maybe I will be able to tell. The water in the pond nearby was still iced over --though most of the pond was ice free with a light east wind rippling it.

Although we haven’t had rain for the last few days, the water is still brimming the dam. I walked out far enough to see that beavers were pushing mud up on the dam.

I wanted to make sure the otters were still in the beaver ponds because I was told that otters were in a bay along the river about a mile overland from the Big Pond. If the otters I see in the beaver ponds were not dipping down to South Bay to forage (as I often saw them do years ago), perhaps they were going down to this much smaller bay right off the main channel of the river. So I motored down and saw the possible remains of only one otter scat, very old, well baked out on a rock,

with crayfish parts spread about. But there were many more bones from a small mammal or bird, I think.

Not beyond an otter getting some ducks here, but really nothing indicating an otter uses this bay, that, with the water low, and the bottom sandy doesn’t look like a good otter hangout.

I did see a good bit of recent mink poop along the rocky shore of the river

And a beaver has been trimming and gnawing

And has a cache coming out from a dock.

A beaver family had a similar set up 10 years or so ago when I was last around this bay in the late fall. So obviously there is no otter route from here to the beaver ponds I’ve been watching. (The person who spotted otters here was easily convinced he was seeing beavers and/or minks.)

November 13 I did chores at the land and had time to spend 45 minutes around the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. The beauty of the ponds, the constant changes along the shore and in the ponds, makes this walk a pure delight. Even the fall crop of deer ticks is not bad here. With colder nights they aren’t as plentiful as on Wellesley Island. The beavers have come up from the Last Pool and crossed our Grouse Alley.

They have cut several hornbeams. There are more to cut. This area is closer to our house than it is to the beavers’ lodge. Nice thought. We should have them over for a gnaw. Down closer to the shore they are mostly cutting birch which looks so tastey

But I’ve noticed that beavers often don’t cut birch that quickly. They scrape off a bit of bark for a few days before they pick up steam and start cutting.

Of course that’s how they approach most trees. That their birch work is so colorful and easy to see shouldn’t suggest that they gnaw into it with any more gusto than they do with other trees. Although I was there in the early afternoon, there was still some ice on the edges of the Last Pool.

The channel where the beavers cruise was quite clear of ice. The beavers were gnawing a large birch along the west shore of the channel.

They cut down an ironwood and despite my suggesting before that they often let ironwoods lie without trimming the branches and segmenting the trunk, the beavers have neatly cut off all the branches.

From some angles the cache of food for the winter looks twice as big as the lodge. Here’s where we should all get together for a gnaw.

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