Friday, October 29, 2010

October 14 to 19, 2010

October 14 we had a cloudy calm before a nor’easter moved in so we headed off in the boat for Picton Island. I slowed down to get a group portrait of cormorants on shoal rocks.

They should be migrating soon. Since it was relatively early, around 9am, two hours after dawn, I went directly to the rocky northeast shore of the island where I have been seeing otters, and puttered along hoping to see some. No luck. So I turned off the motor and slowly rowed up the shore looking for otter scats. This is the only area where otters frequently scat on the rocks right next to the river. This group of otters has done it more than others I have seen here. It is likely that they do much of this scatting in the dark, but the placement of scats is a way to notify other otters. I can’t help but think that a scat at a pinnacle of a rock angled up right along the shore just where otters make a turn toward their favorite latrine is more than an accidental placement.

I took a photo giving an otters’ eye view from the rock looking toward Eel Bay.

I couldn’t get close enough to that high scat to see how fresh it was, but otters had just been on a lower neighboring rock and left fresh fish parts.

We also saw what looked like an old bullhead head on another nearby rock, which raises the question I hope to answer soon. Bullheads do not have scales. So are the scales on that rock from a goby, the invasive fish that seems to be everywhere and is reportedly feeding many native fish and birds. First I have to catch a goby out here. Ottoleo says it will be easy. And there is another question. I think of bullheads as bottom feeders around marshes, like in South Bay. What are they doing out in the relatively deep channel between Picton and Grindstone Islands? As I continued rowing up the shore, we saw three more bullhead heads out on the rocks. At first look the slope where I saw otters slide back on September 1 looked unvisited recently

but then I saw a fresh bullhead head on a rock in front of the cliff,

and some fresh scats dripping on the top edge of a rock angling up from the water.

As I rowed a little farther I got a better look at the area and saw more scats on the neighboring lower rock.

If you like otter scats, this was quite a tour. Leslie was getting cold. But the rocky shore where I’ve seen most of the scats here was still ahead, and there the terrain is quite different, just a low shore of rubble with only a few rocks rearing up a foot or so. Once again that’s where I found the most and juiciest scats.

The otters had been there that morning, and I saw rocks with scats perhaps a day older.

Leslie said it: “everywhere you look there are scats.” I could have stayed longer but we motored away from this scat blackened shore, and I took a photo of it that made it look rather sunny and bright.

I idled below the big rock on the southeast side of Quarry Point, where I used to search for otter scats. Here the otters rarely scatted on the rocks right by the shore. I didn’t see any scats up on rock nor in the grass and didn’t go up to look. This is where I frequently saw scats laced with crayfish shells, but not today. (I will come back without Leslie and make a closer inspection.) We went back to the Narrows and once through docked the boat on the rocks of Wellesley Island and walked to Audubon Pond. I took the low road, checking the rocks along the Narrows for scats -- none, and then the wet woods under the rock cliffs for mushrooms. I saw some nice arrays in the late spring but none today. Then Leslie called me up to the high road which she took to sit on the beautiful round billion year old rock and watch the changing leaves. She shamed me into taking a photo.

I was also amazed with a huge old very green juniper, the healthiest juniper I’ve ever seen on these dry rocks where deer are prevalent.

We walked down to Audubon Pond and didn’t go far around it before I was stopped in my tracks by more otter scats spread out along an ash tree trunk where the vernal rivulet flows into the west end of the pond.

All were big, black and scaly, some probably from this morning and others from yesterday.

Several years ago when there were over twice as many beaver ponds on this end of the island, it was common for otter families to move from pond to pond, including Audubon Pond. Last year the family went from Audubon Pond up to at least Thicket Pond and probably on to the Second Swamp Pond and Lost Swamp Pond. So I assume these scats are from the family I saw in the Lost Swamp Pond. I checked the nearby bank beaver lodge for otter or beaver signs and didn’t see any. We walked around to the north shore of the pond and out on the park bench on the point jutting out into the pond, there were more otter scats, none from today, I think.

Otters who come here generally pay their respects to this bench. Meanwhile out on some rocks just jutting up from the water (placed there to protect the bench from beavers and muskrats tunneling under it,) some muskrats stakes their claims with their poops.

We managed to find space to sit on the bench and once again we admired the changing leaves. I also wondered if otters had packed some grasses on top of the nearby lodge to make it more comfortable for their naps.

Judging from a photo I took on October 8, I think I can make the case that they did.

But, of course, the vegetation is dying back on its own, and otters aren’t religious about making the top of a lodge more comfortable. I have only seen them carry grass in their mouth and put it up on a lodge a couple times. Meanwhile a beaver appeared well out in the pond swimming parallel to the embankment across the pond from us.

Like beavers often do here, it swam back and forth in front of us frequently slapping its tail, sometimes coming closer sometimes retreating. We debated whether it came out from the lodge near us or a burrow in the embankment across from us. We finally decided to respond to its commands and we continued our walk around the pond. I saw two otter scats on the causeway forming the east shore of the pond.

As we walked along the embankment, the beaver weaved closer and closer to the lodge and finally dove into it. I could see new work in the little pond below the embankment and I walked down to get better photos. They had shored up the dam

And even fashioned a small dam a few yards down stream to pool water below the bigger dam.

And I saw a few trees they were in the process of cutting in the grassy valley below the pond.

I think these beavers are either going to have to move down here for the winter, where no beavers have ever lived, or once again prepare the lodge up in Audubon Pond for the winter. I did see one stripped chunky log in the water near the lodge, but didn’t see any trees cut up there. I walked down to South Bay to see if any otters visited the latrine overlooking the entrance to the bay and I didn’t see any signs of that. So the otters foraging for crayfish there evidently moved on. Motoring back home we saw two herons out on shoal along with the usual complement of cormorants.

October 16 yesterday we were on the edge of nor’easter but in it enough to get almost two inches of rain. Our land is soaked. I dug out the bones of the adult beaver I buried next to Teepee Pond. I had dug a dry hole two feet deep. As I dug today, there was water two inches under the surface which was convenient because I could clean off the bones by dipping them in the muddy water. I didn’t take photos or measurements of the bones. They were smaller than I expected so my impression now is that the beaver was a young female and that she had looked so big only because the body was bloated. I walked down Grouse Alley toward the beaver ponds, and the water was flowing, but not toward the ponds. All the rest of the water in the upper end of our land flows into them, and the Last Pool was full almost beyond recognition, difficult to even place where the wallow was.

One beaver at least waddled up the water flowing into the area from the little vernal rivulet that sometimes flows down the valley (I shouldn’t downplay this rivulet. It is the source of one of the branches of Mullet Creek that flows in the St. Lawrence River.) The beaver cut down three or four small trees and hauled them down to the pond.

I was still just able to climb out on the downed poplar trunk and get a look at the new lodge. There is no doubt that a beaver is building it up. I saw a stripped stick up on top of it.

But I didn’t hear any beaver inside reacting to my being so close. I took another photo of the nearby cache, which looks like it is growing too.

I saw that some of the sticks in the cache pile had been nibbled. Then I looked down at my feet and the trunk below and imagined how comfortable a beaver would feel gnawing on that bark.

It would be nice if I could say each discreet patch of gnawing was the work of x amount of time. Makes sense. Then do the patches merge together and the beavers leave the impression of the busy orderliness always attributed to them?

I took a photo of the poplar as a whole. I wonder when the beavers will start cutting down the high branches.

I didn’t go up the trail into the ridge. It didn’t look used, though since it was covered with leaves it is possible that it had been used recently and the leaves covered up the evidence of that. I walked down the east shore of Boundary Pond, well, it’s all one pond now. I took a photo showing the width of the pond. The “hut” in the foreground had been totally on shore a month ago.

As I continued down the shore, I saw a beaver, as usual, in its “nest.” It got up and out of it and into the pond before I could get a good photo. I took a video showing its slow progress, evidencing no panic. It swam close to the lodge, paused and dove into it. There was no reaction when it got inside. I’m getting the impression that the two adults and kit stay here and that the two yearlings stay in the new lodge up pond, but I have little evidence on which to base that impression since I haven’t sat here in the evening for a while. The water is high behind the dam,

and the beavers seem more organize as they build it up. I’ve notice two ways they use logs as they built this dam up. They lay logs lengthwise and push muck up around it.

For the last few weeks they had just been pushing up muck. And in the past, they’ve pushed logs over the dam to lay perpendicular to it so as to weight down the fresh muck.

They seem to be doing that with stripped logs, probably from the poplars they‘ve been trimming. I guess wet poplar is heavy enough to help -- gets pretty light when it is dry. I took a photo from the dam looking up pond at the lodge. Though they build the dam higher, I see no evidence that they are building the lodge any higher.

Behind the lodge, I didn’t see the usual collection of small stripped sticks. It looked like one big log was almost stripped.

Maybe the next time I am here, I will see that pushed up on the dam. I walked up pond via the ridge, knowing that the west shore of the full pond would be difficult to navigate. The only trail going off from the pond that looked freshly used was the one up to the small wooded ridge northwest of the Last Pool. I followed and saw that they are working in another area, a few yards north of the first area they foraged through. They cut down one sizeable tree,

a birch, and cut two saplings on the same line of foraging, so to speak.

Then they cut the smaller trunk off a red oak and are beginning to cut the larger.

I assume all this is going to feed their cache pile.

October 17 we took our annual fall hike up on one of highest ridges in the state park to look out over the changing leaves. For that, this is the best year that we can remember.

Leslie thinks it is because we didn’t have a hard freeze yet. We heard some porcupines screeching in a nearby tree but couldn’t see the aggrieved animals. We moved along the ridge and sat at three different spots. There is a cut in the ridge (during one of our first winters here, I skied up it, coming from our house to get up to the State Park ski trail -- I’ll never do that again,) and as we crossed it, we noticed a big flock of chickadees in the trees, but heard a flock of something else. We finally saw that they were golden crowned kinglets. Then when we got back up on the rock cliff and sat down to take in another view, I heard a strange squawk. We saw a sharp-shinned hawk fly out chased by three or four blue jays. Then the hawk looped and seemed to almost get its claws into the back of one of the blue jays. But the jay got away and when the hawk perched the jays perched around it and kept squawking. Soon enough the lot of them, hawk and jays, flew contentiously down the valley below. We’ve also had a lot of rain this fall which may also account for the great fall colors. Mushrooms are still adding to colors. We saw one blushing out from the green moss.

We also saw a patch of small flowers, that we wouldn’t expect to find up on this generally dry rocky ridge. Most of the flowers had gone to seed, but a couple still had their yellow center.

Then we found a valley behind the ridge that took us down to the East Trail. What I call the upper east trail pool, where the beavers made small dams between the old East Trail Pond and old Shangri-la Pond, both more or less meadows now, has had some more attention from the beavers. Some of the maples there have been gnawed some more, though none cut down,

And a beaver did some work on the dams there.

Of course with the recent rains there is plenty of water coming down from the creeks coming through Shangri-la Pond. We went up on the ridge overlooking the upper part of the old East Trail Pond, which is beginning to look like a pond, as the leaves on the shrubs drop, and the water rises behind some little dams the beavers fashioned

and their new lodge grows.

I will try to figure where they got the logs to build the lodge. When the pond freezes, I should be able to take a close look at the lodge. I continued on to Thicket and Meander Ponds which these beavers had left. I had also seen otter scats here last fall, but I didn’t see any today, nor any semblance of a trail. Thanks to the rains, there is plenty of water in these old ponds.

On the way to Audubon Pond, I saw what looked like a deer antler rub on a rather small alder sapling, and next to it, an even smaller sapling looked rub and was broken by that operation.

Down at Audubon Pond I hoped to find fresh otter signs. We had seen fresh otter scats a few days ago. The otters had graced the park bench so I checked that first and saw a few scat smudges that hadn’t been there before.

So I guess an otter had visited after we left, but the new scats were not fresh, and looked as old as the old scats. Of course, I checked the other places the otters had scatted and didn’t see any new scats there. So maybe an otter was napping somewhere around the pond when we were there the other day, and came out just after we left and scatted on the bench, and then all the otters left. Meanwhile, as I sat on the bench, I heard a beaver hum inside the lodge. I rarely hear beavers hum in this lodge. But though beavers are inside, there are no fresh signs of their presence outside the lodge. No stripped sticks, no mud pack on the lodge, no new branches sunk into a cache pile around the lodge.

As far as I can tell while the beavers live in the lodge, they do all their gnawing and foraging on the little pond down below the embankment that forms the south shore of the pond, though I didn’t notice any new work down there today. I don’t see how this can be sustainable during the long winter. I checked the otter latrines along South Bay but saw no signs of otters there. So it seems the otters left Audubon Pond and gave no signs as to which direction they went. Back home, Leslie spotted an interesting looking orange spider on the wall of our house.

I took photos from different angles and couldn’t make out its head in any of them.

October 18 In the morning I headed off to Picton Island with my fishing gear. Over the years I have fished now and then. When otters became scarcer back in 2005, I lost my heart for it. Now that otters are back both in the river and the beaver ponds, I feel a need to fish again. I suppose it is the best way I can pretend to experience what the otters face, and this time around, I at least want to catch some gobies and get familiar with them because I think that is the fish the otters are feasting off Picton Island. My son, who is an avid fisherman but off at school, advised me that I could easily catch gobies by dropping a line with a worm in the deep water between Picton and Grindstone Islands. I did that this morning and didn’t get a nibble. Then as I drifted in toward Picton getting into shallow water, I floated over an extensive patch of algae grass. Over the years I’ve frequently caught perch there over that grass. I soon saw two small perch following my worm. I even caught one and let it go. Then I rowed to the otter latrines on the rocky shore. I docked my boat and got out.

Once again I saw plenty of scats left by otters as they parked their butts over rocks just up from the shore.

Once again, several of the scats were grayish and scaly in an unusual way.

My guess is the scats are like this because the otter was eating gobies, a gray to black fish, but I have never gotten a close look at gobie scales. That said, on a nearby rock I saw a freshly cut bullhead head.

So the otters are eating bullheads too, and they don’t have scales. They scatted on other rocks, and often there seems to be older scat near the new scats.

So a case could be made that there is a semblance of routine as they go about relieving themselves. Some scats are so big perhaps a case could be made that the otters scat on top of other scats with relatively good aim, but I don’t want to dig into that one. I will stick with trying to show that the gray scats come from gobies. But I am seeing two styles in those gray scats. Some are loose and liquid,

and others are tight scale rich and tubular.

Then I head down the rocky shore to the west and kept seeing more scats new and old on the rocks

Most curious were some gray scats with what looked like dried skin in and around the mix of scales.

I never seen that before which suggests it might be from the new fish around, the gobies. I headed home with much to think about.

October 19 a beautiful fall day and we went up and over Antler Trail, where we got a glimpse of two deer fleeing, one perhaps a buck, and then briefly on the South Bay trail and then up the ridge heading for the Lost Swamp Pond. With the vegetation dying back everywhere, I know longer think this wooded ridge is the best way for otters to get from South Bay to the Lost Swamp Pond. One virtue of this ridge route is that it deposits you directly at the root of the matter, the rock overlooking the mossy cove latrine where, with a quick glance at a granite outcrop clear of leaves and other obstructions, I can see if an otter has been there recently. And right in front of where I sit on the spine of the granite outcrop was a fresh otter scat.

It was black and had flowed a bit down the rock.

But there was only one scat up on the rock and none along the face of the rock. Down on the mossy cove latrine all I saw were brown pine needles and yellow maple leaves. But when I lifted up a leaf, I got a good photo of another fresh scat -- though not as wet as the one on the rock.

And there was another large scat and a small one a few feet toward the rock. Stepping back to get some perspective, I couldn’t see any trails in the pine litter and leaves, couldn’t fancy that I could see the otters scooting up to scat.

I sat for a while and with the binocular sorted through a good bit of movement up in the southeast end of the pond, all done by ducks in their usual leisurely manner. There was a flock of geese in the northeast end of the pond. No otters. I walked around the west end of the pond to the dam and saw a few new scats that looked older than the ones I saw at the mossy cove latrine.

While the water level in the pond was quite high, I could hear that there was still a leak through the dam. Walking below the dam I didn’t see any trails going up to the leak, as I fancied that I saw the last time I was here (light and angles can make a difference.) I crossed over the little stream of water to check the rock next to the lodge there, also an otter latrine and, I presume, den. The otters had certainly been there, scatting generously on the low green grass behind the rock,

And a few scats on the rock itself.

This certainly gave the impression that the otter family is still here, and I thought these black scats looked different than what I‘ve been seeing at Picton Island.

But as I moved around the latrine, I heard nothing stir from inside the old beaver lodge nearby.

There were a few beaver nibbled sticks in the pond just where the otters seemed to have come up into their latrine.

But while the beavers do come here to patch the dam, and get a few bites, that old lodge would probably need work before they moved in. Back a few years ago, when there were still some trees beavers could cut around this dam, beavers moved from their lodge up in the southeast end of the pond to this lodge by the dam. Meanwhile, Leslie was sitting on a rock admiring the colorful trees beyond the Upper Second Swamp Pond. I persuaded her to come with me to check out the Big Pond latrines, and I wanted to see if the beavers patched the two holes in the dam there, probably made by otters. When we got to that pond we could see that it was low.

The water behind the north end of the dam was quite muddy.

We checked the mud exposed as the water in the pond lowered, and didn’t any prints at all. As we walked just below the dam we studied the pond above. No otters, but it looked like a beaver had pushed a big stripped log on top of the lodge in the upper end of the pond.

Two years ago, or was it last year, I kept looking for the beavers to build a cache pile next to this lodge, and I didn’t see it until the pond froze in December and I walked up the pond and saw that the beavers built it off the side of the lodge that I couldn’t see from the dam. Meanwhile, we heard water rushing out through the dam, which argued that beavers weren’t around. But when we got to the leaks I saw that the beavers had been around. The leak dug high in the dam was gushing,

But the leak low in the dam had been patched. When I got to the otter latrine at the south end of the dam, I saw that otters had been there, and the water was muddy behind the dam there, too.

One of the scats had white mucous.

There were also two little scrapes of grass and at least one scat on the way we take as we head home from the dam. The tree all around the Big Pond were also quite colorful. Fall is a good time to see how far beavers have cut trees over the years. We could see the fluttering yellow leaves of some poplars, just out of the beavers’ range.

Or will they finally cut them down this year?


  1. I the same kind of spider years ago. Have you identified it?