November 1 a warm day with a good, but not overpowering, west wind, we went over to South Bay in our boat. We docked on a rock and took a leisurely stroll around Audubon Pond, a man made pond that is a little severe in its shorelines but it is surrounded by striking trees especially at this time of year when yellow and red converge to brown. A pileated woodpecker was enjoying a gash left by a fallen branch, tossing out thick rot.
I was also surprised to find some old scat at the latrine above the inlet pipes. We were last at the pond on October 28 so these scats probably were made just after we left.
We continued to the bench where I didn't see any scats. A family had just toured the pond so we didn't expect to see otters. And there appeared to be no fresh beaver work at all on the two nearby lodges in the pond. But I sagely told Leslie that many the time I had sat by a pond and told myself that no animal was there only to see that animal pop up out of the water a few minutes later. And there was one beaver sign -- the water was higher and as I looked out at the faraway mud covered drain, a beaver did pop up out of the water, swim back and forth briefly, climbed up on the mud, evidently groomed itself, and then dived back into the water and disappeared.
We continued around the pond and I saw some old otter scat by the bank burrow along the western shore of the pond. I also saw some beaver gnawing at the base of a shag-bark hickory.
If this beaver, like the ones in the Second Swamp Pond, learn to enjoy hickory they might survive in this pond. At the drain we could see the patch job the beaver did, though the drain was leaking as the water found a higher hole.
We couldn't tell where the beaver might have gone. None of the holes along the embankment seemed used. So perhaps the beaver continues to forage in South Bay which is what I suspected it did when it seemed to leave the pond a month ago. We heard a goldfinch, and three small ducks, probably teals, flew in.
November 3 rain most of yesterday and very light drizzle this morning, so, late morning, out of respect for the bow hunters, I took the boat over to Audubon Pond across a still, gray river, such a good receptacle for the brown reflections of the trees. The pond was quiet and I only went down to check the latrine over the in-let pipe, and was surprised to see that the scats that looked so old two days ago had revivified with the moisture, black and fresher.
I walked along the South Bay trail checking the knoll above the New Pond, no scats there, before heading up to the East Trail Pond. I was surprised not to see any ducks. I checked the latrines and found something more like a fisher scat at the latrine where I twice had luck sitting and watching otters. But I remember how earlier what I first took for fisher scat was soon joined by definite otter scat. Plus below the scat it looked like something went into the water, which a fisher would not likely do. There were no scats anywhere else. The beavers answered my complaint about the absence of freshly gathered sticks on their cache,
and they seem to be continuing to gnaw the downed poplar. I went over to check the Second Swamp Pond lodge and as I did a huge wave of ducks flew off the far end of the pond. I've always noticed that these large flocks usually go off in at least three waves. This time as one wave went off, at least 50 ducks, another made a short flight into the space the first wave vacated and many of those ducks kept their wings flapping. Then a dozen or so flew off and with my next step another huge wave flew off. The cache pile seems to have grown a bit. Walking along the north shore of the pond I saw two places where the beavers have gone into the brush to harvest small bushes and trees. As always, I wonder about the method of their shopping because they don't just take one after another but insist on browsing, not like lumberjacks more like mall shoppers.
The pond is filling up nicely and some of the my summer trails through the tall grasses are getting flooded. At the upper dam I saw a curious hole going down, which the water had not found.
No sign that any animal fashioned it. The Lost Swamp Pond was quiet
after the usual ducks and geese flew off (evidently no duck hunters today so I didn't feel guilty.) In this damp weather, after so much scatting in the latrine, it's hard to find fresh scat but I did, another liquid brown smear
as well as the usual black scat. I also noticed that some old scat that has been around for a month or two had also blackened with the moisture. I had never noticed that being so pronounced. Going around the pond I admired the beavers' work on the maple logs,
and then noticed some gnawing in the crown of a downed tree as if a beaver had climbed into it -- probably done by a porcupine -- too wet to go out and check. Meanwhile, the maple girdled last year, which still had a crown this year, seems to be on its way to being cut down.
On my way to the mossy cove latrine I saw that a large muskrat was out on a log nibbling away. At the latrine there were several fresh scats. One black and one neatly placed between the leaves,
and another loose black scat with white mucous too smeared atop the leaves
I looked up and expected to see otters on the lodge -- the whole dome dark brown in the damp, but no otters were there. As I waited I did see something swim toward it, that didn't swim beyond it. I don't think it was a duck but I can't say for sure it was an otter. As I waited to see if something climbed up the lodge, a smaller muskrat did some diving by the lodge. The larger one swam over there too. Then a bow hunter came by and we talked about deer and otters. He sees them in a swamp near Plessis, not far from our land. The bad news is that, according to him, the price for otter pelts has gone up to $150 which would be over three times more than last year's price. If true or widely believed that would be bad news for otters. Walked back to the boat via Otter Hole Pond and saw no signs of otters there, or anything else. I didn't see a deer, but the hunter who had been out since dawn said he had seen about 20, none killed though.
November 5 cold and rain yesterday, and then very early this morning a warm front moved up as another cold front bears down on us. So it was a damp, cloudy 65 degrees today, with a brisk southwest wind. That meant I headed for the East Trail Pond first. On the way I noted the flow of pine sap from a pileated woodpecker's drilling.
I went via a walk around Thicket Pond. In the winter especially I liken the foot loose beaver to shopping a mall of trees, but at the Thicket Pond the beavers seem to have fashioned the small bushy pond into a cathedral surrounded by well sculpted altars of harvested trees.
The lodge is well packed with mud, swelling for the winter.
All the work is close to the pond, so far, though I didn't wander up the hills or go down to Meander Pond. I walked around the north end of the East Trail Pond. The water in the west end of the pond is as high as it ever gets.
From the ridge I didn't see any fresh beaver work. The blueberry bushes high on the ridge are a dazzling red.
Past the bridge above the pond, I ran into fresh beaver work.
I often notice beavers not taking all the trees on a slope. Here they're taking down the last of the clump that was spared last year. While the bank lodge on this end of the pond has no cache in front of it, the nearby canal has been used and following up into the little pond above the lodge I saw a great deal of work. They're mostly taking ash.
I went over the knoll just east of the pond and saw that they never did much with the birches they cut, but down below they were stripping and segmenting a birch and working on other trees. In this type of weather the fresh cuts are quite beautiful, almost floral.
No signs of otters, but I've never discovered a latrine on this side of the pond. I didn't cross over to check the usual latrines. I headed over to the Second Swamp Pond coming down to it from the huge granite rock shaped like a whale. I passed where they had cut a poplar a long time ago. No fresh beaver work here. I'm glad now that I took the photo of the hole in the upper beaver dam, because the hole has been filled, with a fresh push of grass on top.
There is a stripped beaver stick in the pond so I assume a beaver did it all. With such warmth I wanted to sit, but it was also still wet everywhere. Up on the north shore of the Lost Swamp Pond,I put my waterproof hat on a small log in the dogbane above the old otter rolling area, and looked out on the pond receiving the intense gusts of west wind. Yes, I scared ducks, but primarily on the Second Swamp Pond. One wave of almost a hundred flew up and off to the west into the wind. I noticed the time and gave myself ten more minutes to sit. Then a few minutes after that I saw an otter coming up the pond across from me. It got up on a log and looked right at me, but went right back to diving after fish. I watched her go further up the pond and then another small otter caught up to her. It has been quite a while since I've seen otters in that part of the pond, and they seemed to be successful in their fishing. They were rather independent, with the big one's getting up on a log frequently to eat helping me keep track of them.
They were so discreet that I lost track of them at times. I kept alert in case they went up the ridge, but they fished along the opposite shore and then headed for me fishing all the way. I must say they went more slowly than usual; every time into the water seemed interesting to them. At times the otters came together and then fished a part. Sometimes they both came up with a bite; sometimes they swirled together, at least I suspected so because they tails waved above the water so close together.
I was hoping they would come and scat before me, but after the climbed on most of the floating logs that they could -- always a nice plate to eat fish on,
they went to the little lodge out in the pond. One looked at me now and then, but I got nary a snort. One went up on the lodge and groomed itself; the other kept fishing -- the pup, I'm pretty sure staying in the water longer.
I kept thinking they went into the lodge, and they may have. If so, no muskrats came out in a huff. The little one, I think, as it was fishing by the lodge took the time to pull a stick out of the lodge, the better either to get to a fish or to get in. Then they both swam up toward the east end of the pond; the mother going first and the little one hurrying up behind.
This was the first time I really saw one strictly following the other. As they went farther away from me, they resumed fishing in their usual fashion. Temperature wise it was a good day to stay tuned, but the wind was gusting so that it was a matter of moments before they got my scent. So I retreated, coming home again via Otter Hole Pond, which, again, was quiet. And again I saw no deer, and also no bow hunters. A pileated woodpecker laughed at me as I went up the TI Park ridge.
November 8 strong winds yesterday put the river into a rage, and while the winds diminished they never stopped so despite it getting down into the low 20s last night very little froze over. I still went out and went to the Lost Swamp Pond via Otter Hole Pond. Among the ducks on the Lost Swamp Pond are more mergansers, both common and hooded. From a great distance there is no mistaking them for otters. I waited a bit but the cold wind moved me along. There was a new scat at the mossy cove, but well frozen; also a new but frozen scat at the north slope. No trees freshly downed over there. The golden crowns are all brown or gone so the beavers' harvesting seems much less dramatic. They seem to be worrying a large maple log more.
Up at the old rolling area there were two fresh, soft scats, one a black scaly bolus and the other dripping clear brown;
so the otters have been through this morning. The scats were near where there had been some digging into the soft black brown earth.
One hole was almost two feet into the bank. Other than the depth of the hole, everything around, scats and rolling, seems the work of the otters. There is a bit of leaking at the dam but the water is so high, I don't think it is from any otter digging there. By the way, I noticed some more water draining out of the first swamps as I walked along the South Bay trail. I thought of checking the Big Pond but since I didn't see a bow hunter so far in my hike there's a good chance there were some over there, it being Saturday morning and the cold being generally judged as something that gets the deer moving about. It looked like some mud had been packed on the beaver lodge. The upper second swamp pond dam had some ice,
but to my surprise the hole down into the dam was open again. The bit of grass pushed over it had been pushed away.
I couldn't see any other sign of an animal being there. Most likely suspect a raccoon whose prints wouldn't show in the frozen mud. I checked the Second Swamp Pond lodge, which looked about the same and then went on to the East Trail Pond. I took a photo of some fresh wood chips left by a beaver on the rich green moss on a rock with the dead leaves and bare trees forming the background.
Deep into fall you get morsels of the greens of summer. Only the snow can subdue the moss. No activity in the pond. I crossed the dam and checked the nearby latrines, and kept looking around. It's almost as if the otters are waiting for ice before they come back to this pond. I then went down to the Thicket Pond, only because I knew it would be frozen over, as indeed it was.
This is the most thought provoking pond. I realized this time that the whole pond forms a cache, it is so small and so enchanneled. Intense work on the trees is but a few feet from the lodge or comfortable well dredged channels.
Crows are the predominate bird about the woods, but quiet today, and at the Lost Swamp a flock of chickadees came by with one landing a few feet from me, no doubt in hopes that I was a fresh carcass.
November 9 a colder, quieter night, enlivened by an eclipse of the moon, but a bit of a breeze in the morning. I headed for the ponds and straightway enjoyed some snow buntings, ranging along the road, no snow, of course. I went to the Thicket Pond first. Knowing that it was frozen yesterday I thought I might easily see the latest beaver activity. And at the work near the dam I could see broken ice and what appeared to be a new log cut off the hanging trunk.
Going along the south shore of the pond I could see other holes in the ice, now frozen over, and the nearby fresh work of the beavers.
There was no broken ice, which surprised me. Then as headed toward the East Trail Pond, I found fresh work on three or four ashes and then back tracked to the the canal they did open to get to this work.
On the way to the East Trail Pond I sent a doe and a yearling back into the hunting zone. Not to worry, they were both too small to attract a bow hunter's attention. The pond was completely frozen and the only bubbles I could see were near one of the beavers' feeding stations,
and then at the mossy rock, along the dam, and at the lodge. The bigger holes, now frozen over, were at the lodge.
As I went up the hill I saw some serious gnawing on a large oak that had only been girdled before. On the hill the beavers had extended the range of their foraging. They took some shad bushes and from those cuts I could see the Second Swamp Pond though the beavers were still closer to the East Trail Pond. The larger ponds were half open and the iced parts were breaking up. Still at the Second Swamp Pond lodge I could see bubbles under ice that remained, nestled around some fresh work. Though the night's plan was not laid out before me, I could see some beaver thinking. Then at the upper dam, I thought a mystery might be solved. There were tiny bubbles under the ice leading to the strange hole in the dam.
So I absolve raccoons and blame a muskrat. On this pond I was intrigued by milkweed seeds frozen and frosted in the pond.
I don't recall seeing this before and all around me, and especially along the north slope of the Lost Swamp Pond, I could see how the milkweed pods were bursting open, and the winds of the last few days did the rest.
As soon as I got eye level to the Lost Swamp Pond, coming up from below the dam, I saw that hooded mergansers were on the pond,
perhaps a half dozen. They flew off and I inspected the rolling area latrine and there was a fresh scat just outside the holes dug into the bank.
It began to feel warm so I nestled back into my spot on the bank and waited. Most of the pond was open before me, with ice at the west end of the pond and ice from the narrowing of the pond to as far as I could see. I reasoned that the otter might still be around this end of the pond. As I waited one duck flew back, a female hooded merganser. I heard some harmonizing beaver hums from the lodge. And then I saw a back surface just outside the lodge. That sat me up, and five minutes later a muskrat surfaced. Meanwhile a cold wind picked up, bringing clouds too. I walked around the pond and saw that the beavers had been active, breaking ice and girdling more maples and cutting down the large maple that had been mostly girdled last year. It didn't fall all into the water,
but its branches are keeping it up and maybe the beavers will try to cut them. As soon as the lodge at the far end of the pond came into view I could see that an otter was on it.
So I stood for another fifteen minutes trying to determine if it was one or two otters. I could only be sure of one. There was a few feet of open water around the lodge but ice from there to where I was standing. Of course, what I had hoped to see was the otter swimming along and popping through the ice -- got up too late. I headed home via Otter Hole Pond where I could see what a frozen pond looks like with no underwater activity. Many ducks, mostly mallards, on South Bay which had been frozen out a hundred yards or so but was breaking up quickly as the west wind picked up.