November 12 Our warm fall continues. Last night a warm front moved through after the rain, and in the morning it was cloudy, damp, still and in the 50s, but no rain. There was one deer along the TIP trail, two ravens flew off but I didn't see anything large that they might have been pecking at. Hairy woodpeckers were working their way through the woods. I took the short cut to Otter Hole Pond where there was nothing new but some scurrying of fry, I assume, in the shallow water. I went up on the rock at the southwest end of the Second Swamp Pond dam and saw that the three pronged ash that the beavers discovered last year will soon be a no prong ash.
Yet not much work elsewhere on the south shore. I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond and went gently toward the point until I saw an otter up on the lodge up pond. I stood with spy glass, saw one otter go into the water; and then saw two otters swimming in tandem heading for the far end of the pond. Given the warm day, I put my hat on the wet leaves and sat down aiming to be patient. I was rewarded. The first curious behavior of the two otters was their swimming over to the rock on the south shore, where I've seen latrines this and other years, climbing up on the rock, and then racing back down and into the water. They soon went up again and in the hazy distance I first thought I saw an otter standing up and looking into the grasses and bush; then I was sure I most be seeing a stump;
then the stump scampered up the rock and the other otter followed. The otters scatted, as best I could see, and then ran back into the water. Evidently something, perhaps a bow hunter, gave them pause. Then as they fished the very far end of the pond, sending a large flock of ducks into the air, I was distracted by a mink dancing along the cache by the lodge by the dam.
Twice it dove into the water and came right back out. Then it walked along the cache and onto the lodge, a minute later I heard and saw some fierce splashing and then nothing. I knew the beavers were in the lodge because I soon heard some humming. Meanwhile the otters swam back to the up pond lodge, did some scatting, and then both swam back into the pond. This time they did not fish; they played. Just as I saw a month ago when they dunked and frisked just off Otter Hole Pond lodge. However, this time they were at it much longer. I was over a hundred yards away but it looked like there was a good bit of flipping on the back and swimming together underwater. Then they disappeared and I next saw them on the lodge, nuzzling each other, separating and settling down for naps.
They were so far away so I couldn't be sure but I assume this was the mother and her one pup; the same pair that I've been seeing so long. A light wind started coming from my back so I decided to move on. No obviously fresh scat at the mossy cove latrine. Then what to my eyes should appear but a masterpiece of beaver work. The downed maple with trunk propped high above the pond by its many branches was now virtually in the pond.
All the branches holding it up had been trimmed, and some stumps of the branches were stuck well into the mud.
Though its been 72 hours since I've been here, the beavers still must have taken on this project with a passion in order to trim branches and do as much trunk stripping as they've done. They made a nice before and after picture.
They've also started gnawing an even uglier old maple on the pond bank.
This was such marvelous work that I decided to check the stripped branches of another maple falling down over the pond, that I assumed had been done by a porcupine. A beaver did climb a bit out to get a limb but the work farther out on the pond looks like it was done by an experienced tree climber, a porcupine, with narrower and longer gnaw.
But I haven't noticed much porcupine work elsewhere, so... I also noticed an otter scat down on the ground, so this is their north slope latrine. Up at the rolling area there were more scats around the two holes in the bank
-- surely the digging was done by the otters. The nearby dam is leaking generously now so I decided I better investigate. To my surprise I couldn't see evidence of any digging; no water being sucked down. So perhaps the leak is just an accumulation of excess water from the saturated mud. The beavers in the lodge nearby have freshly mudded their lodge,
so they are capable of dam patching. I went to the rock by the lodge and took photos of the cache, which looks smaller the closer you are to it.
I noticed fresh otter scats in the grass well behind the lodge, which corresponds to what I saw a week ago -- the otters avoiding the lodge. To my regret one beaver swam out while I was there, I don't like to rouse sleeping beavers, but perhaps the warm temperature also lured it out. Down at the upper Second Swamp Pond dam I could easily see that a beaver had been about. There were nibbled willows and the dam was patched beaver fashion,
though it still leaks, indeed, I saw a frog wiggle down one hole into the stream below. I saw a few frogs and several peepers were still peeping. Bugs were in the air too. Going down the north shore of the pond I noticed beaver forays into the willow bushes and beyond. The beavers are taking as much advantage as they can of the larger pond this year. I walked down to the lodge, which also has more mud on it, but the collecting of wood for the cache seems on hold, so much foraging is taking place afar in this warm fall. Going to the East Trail Pond I couldn't resist a photo of a freshly cut shadbush tree.
Then I sat awhile overlooking the pond, though the few ducks and woodpeckers soon left. When I crossed the dam, I inspired the little beaver to leave the lodge. I heard it humming before it went out so I think it wanted to sniff the warm morning air. I keep thinking an otter has to come back to this pond. The otters I always see seem so content in the Lost Swamp and Big Ponds, but Audubon Pond and the East Trail Pond could make a nice home for a few otters. So I scowled for scat and on the mossy rock I did find one, damp, though not fresh, and forming a thin stringy cake, unlike the forthright scats I see around the Lost Swamp Pond. These beavers also couldn't resist returning to gnaw an old long girdled maple by the pond. Unfortunately it fell into another tree. So I think at least one otter has taken my advice. I'll check Audubon Pond for activity soon. For now, I am quite content with today's hike.
November 14 another big blow roared through yesterday; the river rose three feet and the waves rocked and rolled to gusts of up to 50 miles an hour with a stinging rain now and then. (I only take photos of the river when it is frozen -- which is strange.) The night before when the front approached there was lightning and tropical style downpours. This morning it turned cold, so the ponds were full, even filling, but partially frozen. The wind had not quit, cutting through from the northwest at about 20 miles an hour. This is not a bad wind for otter watching. I checked frozen and quiet Otter Hole Pond first, and then noted that the last prong of the once three pronged ash is now down.
No other signs of beaver activity at that end of the pond. Ducks were hiding from the wind behind the pond in the tall grasses. Half went off into the wind, and half flew with the wind. I went to the point of the Lost Swamp Pond, hoping otters would be along the north shore. Having the sun behind me helps a lot for video. But there were no otters anywhere, and with the wind raking the pond it is not easy to spot them. Tomorrow the muzzleloader deer hunt begins and safety forbids me to visit this pond and the Big Pond. So, assuming no bow hunters would be zinging arrows in the wind, I went along the park boundary line down to the Big Pond. I flushed a small deer. There was ice on the fringes which the strong wind was tinkling. I studied the lodge, being up pond from it I didn't have the best view and didn't see any otters. I did hear some chirps which could have come from otters, especially a few that sounded like they came from the pond, but others were more in the woods. I walked further out along the line to the edge of pond, studying a browning lump on the edge of the lodge which I didn't recollect when I looked at the lodge much of the fall from the other direction. Still no movement. I started to ease my way back, still hearing an occasional chirp, and then the lump on the lodge moved.
I got closer, keeping in the shade and trained the monocular on the lodge -- three otter heads began bobbing up and down. Soon they were straining up as if looking at something across the pond, and then one at least looked over toward me. The wind the sharply cutting between me and the otters and I really didn't think they could smell me. Then I glanced over across the pond and saw a tail flap in the air, and soon saw two otters fishing over there. I am almost certain they were the otters I've been seeing in the Big Pond, the mother that seems almost pup-like and the pup, who must be the happiest otter pup alive. Their fishing was bouncing, sprightly and successful with one fish shaken up in the air. They even scampered over the thin ice which must confuse the fish. The otter nosed down a bit like it wanted to slide.
Meanwhile the three otters on the lodge seemed to settle down though my glances over there were brief. Of course, my imagination was reeling. The curiosity if not anxiety of the otters on the lodge suggested that they were unaware that the other two otters were there. And the carefree foraging of the two otters, who must have smelled the bunch on the lodge, suggested they didn't care. I braved the cold, fortunately the sun was out and the scrubby forest protected me from some of the wind, wanting to see what would happen when the two otters got close to the lodge. It took awhile, but it seemed when they foraged in the middle of the pond even with the lodge, the lodge otters hopped about and seemed to come to the other side of the lodge as if they were hiding. Unfortunately I didn't see where the two otters went. I soon saw that the lodge otters were not afraid. One after another they went up on the lodge to scat.
I occasionally heard some blowing, and then some chirping which might have been coming from the northwest corner of the pond, or might have just been birds. What I eventually saw were two otters swimming up from the lodge, and at least two otters remaining on the lodge. If the two otters swimming were the Big Pond mother and pup then the demeanor of the mother certainly changed, swimming with her body higher so the broad base of her tail could be seen. That reminded me of the largest of the three otters I saw a month ago in this pond who was almost beaver like in its posing. They fished far enough up pond so that they could get a whiff of me, and when they returned to the lodge, I couldn't be sure if the snorts I heard were for my benefit or the other otters. As best as I could tell they joined the otters on the lodge. A month and a half ago I saw five otters fishing in separate groups in Otter Hole Pond, and have often seen groups of otters coalesce. I had watched them for almost an hour and had almost reached the shivering point, despite the usual layers of clothing. So I left them. The angle I had on the lodge would have prevented my seeing any group snuggling. To warm up, I took a quick hike home via the upper second swamp pond dam, and east trail pond. Fortunately for body heat I only had to stop at one must take photo -- the maple hung up at the East Trail Pond was blown down;
good for the beavers but right on the mossy rock latrine of the otters. I could see no fresh scats under the branches.
I also checked the latrine on the New Pond knoll and nothing new there. Seeing five otters on the eve of the two week deer hunt that will limit my range seemed like a special reward for my patience the past two months. Where the three otters have been remains a mystery; perhaps when the flow picked up in the creek draining the Big Pond that was a sign the three otters, who might have done the number on Otter Hole Pond, had returned. Next week I will be checking Audubon Pond, maybe they've been there and, if I'm lucky, they'll return there.
November 16 I took advantage of a cold calm Sunday morning to go over to South Bay in the boat. While the water had cleared in our cove it was still milky from the storm in South Bay. There were small flocks of geese along the headland and back in the bay with pairs of mallards here and there. Up at Audubon Pond, there were no scats on the causeway above the inlet pipes. Walking along the embankment dam, where the water was frozen, I could see where something had swum into or out of the bank at three different areas, large bubbles so I assume a beaver made them, on its way to the drain.
At the extreme southwest corner of the dam there was a hole in the ice and the earth was dug up brown and wet.
A beaver had dug down to a pine tree root and gnawed at it.
Some old rotten wood had been chewed through. I could see some nibbled twigs in the water but couldn't see where the beaver got them. It had tasted one small shag-bark hickory tree.
Learning to eat this tree might be the key to the beavers' survival. I continued walking around the pond and saw where the ice was broken above an old burrow into the bank,
but saw no beaver work nearby, no gnawing on any of the remaining ash. At the bank lodge by the bench I saw bubbles under the ice,
smaller bubbles more likely from a muskrat. I also sat two gray tubular scats that looked like they were laced with scale, but studying the photo, they may be made up of insect parts not fish parts,
and so they might be from a skunk or raccoon. There was a small wet path into the pond. I went up to the Short-cut trail pond and saw no signs of anything coming through that way. That pond is all grass now. This will be the first winter in which there's not been any water in it. Ironically this is a consequence of the wet summer. The beavers have stayed in Thicket Pond and let the Short-cut Trail Pond dam leak. The large ash that remains by the dam, girdled and gnawed by beavers two years ago lost all of its bark in the late wind storms
leaving a Rosetta Stone of the ash borer language.
I continued on the trail and then headed for the East Trail Pond along the relatively open woods to the south of the ridge, in case there were any hunters about. I passed a small maple stripped by a porcupine.
There was no other porcupine work to be seen, so the porcupine work on the maple fallen out over the Lost Swamp Pond is not that strange after all. At the ridge overlooking the East Trail Pond, I saw two deer scoot into the hunting zone. No harm done I didn't hear a hunter the whole time I was out. The East Trail Pond is frozen over and I saw almost no bubbles under it and not much evidence of even a beaver having been out. The maple that fell over the mossy rock was untouched. I couldn't see any otter scats. Up the ridge toward Otter Hole Pond there was fresh work on larger maple,
but I haven't been up here in a while. I saw some chickadees, a robin or two, and a hairy woodpecker.
November 18 a sunny and calm morning, but with wind on the way, so I hurried off in the boat to Audubon Pond. The water there is no longer milky and there were fewer geese and ducks about which means nothing because with the warmer temperatures the ponds are back open. When I stepped up on the docking rock I was excited to see an otter scat high on the rock where otters usually scat
The scats were of the liquid brown variety which at this time of year can be ageless, but since it rained yesterday, I assumed they were very fresh
so I went up to Audubon Pond with anticipation. All I saw were some of the missing geese. Certainly not the regulars because as I walked around the pond, they did not skulk away from me but flew off. I checked the latrine over the inlet pipe and faced the old dilemma and decided the scats I saw were once again old ones, over a month old, revivified by the rain. However there was a small hole dug into the dirt and there were bubbles and broken ice behind the causeway, which, of course, could have been made by the beaver or muskrats. But given the otter hole digging I've been seeing, I was still encouraged and kept looking at the lodge. There were no signs of otters at the drain, assuming the bubbles under the remaining ice were left by the beaver. And looking over to the corner of the pond I could see that the beaver is still around. More dirt had been dug out, and when I got over there I saw that it was gnawing on another root
The beaver hadn't touched the hickory it had been gnawing. At one canal on the west shore I saw some beaver nibbled sticks, but couldn't see where it had gotten them. No otter signs over there. The pond is quite full so something, probably the beaver, is using the burrows on this bank. When I got over to the bench and bank lodge, I saw more beaver work -- gnawing at the root of the tree cut a while ago
I feel for this beaver who not only doesn't seem to know how to forage for food, but has not made any cache pile. When beavers were in this pond, they always made a cache. The pond is mostly deep, there is no stream tumbling in to keep the ice open and the ice can get very thick. From the bubbles under the little ice around it I could see that something had been into the bank lodge. I headed up to Meander Pond to confirm my suspicion that no beavers had been there. The pond is quite full.
Given the wet summer and late fall, by keeping the dams in repair the beavers could have a full Short-cut Trail pond too. I think the beavers themselves had breached that dam and certainly weakened it when they lived in it two winters ago. Pity, but perhaps they know what they are doing. Up at the Thicket Pond, I once again saw beavers at their best. The maple that had been leaning on a tree by the edge of the pond, had been cut down log by log, and what logs remained on the ground were entirely stripped. In the pond the lodge expands with more mud
As I walked around the pond I faulted the beavers for not doing anything with the ash that fell right into the pond, but then I saw that true to the imperative at this time of year to forage as farther away from the soon to be iced in lodge, they had felled more ash at the end of the pond and seemed to have segmented the portable branches and top of the crown and moved them into the pond.
This work could as easily have been done by the East Trail Pond beavers, as that pond is full enough to have its western most channels full again. There is a line between these two ponds that marks the watershed of two creeks, and so far the beavers seem to be respecting that line. Beavers are crackerjack hydrologists and probably well know which way every drop of rain flows. Most of the East Trail Pond remains frozen. I saw a few more bubbles under the ice but only those staid bubbles a beaver might leave, no the gasps of an otter that not only travels under the ice but must work to catch fish there. The beaver had opened the water near the maple that fell and they had taken most of the branches off.
No longer was the mossy rock latrine encumbered, but no otters had come to celebrate the fact. Working on that maple kept the otters from their work up on the ridge. Again I respected the hunting zone. I saw two deer in the meadow off Meander Pond. I heard a nearby gunshot when I got down to South Bay so I didn't check the New Pond knoll. At the old South Bay dock I saw a muskrat. I saw it there the other day too. Meanwhile the wind had come on with a gale and I had an interesting ride back home. I keep thinking of a photographic record of the river, but I'd have to take a photo every three hours at this time of year.
November 21 we went over to South Bay in the boat and once again there were scats on the docking rock, two typical scats high up on the rock. However, there were no signs of otters in nearby Audubon Pond. So I think the otters are fishing in South Bay again. Audubon Pond is as full as it gets. The drain is almost flooded.
The beaver remains in the pond. It ate all of a root buried next to a rock. While we didn't see evidence of it eating anything else. There was a fresh trail of mud and mud on top of the bank lodge.
Curious that it prefers that to the old lodge. I'll have to come over here in the evening and try to see what is happening. Leslie appreciated the ash borer Rosetta Stone. Really the intricate lines are just like farming,
She was also impressed with the beaver work at Thicket Pond, but no major new activity that I could see. On the way to that pond we flushed two small deer. We also saw a witch hazel tree blooming afters its fashion.
And going along Meander Pond, not more than 70 yards from it, the large number of big poplars that the beavers never touched, though these beavers were famous for girdling and felling some red oak just as large that were next to Meander Pond.
No sign of otters at the East Trail Pond. The beavers stripped the last branch from the downed maple,
segmented it more, and are gnawing away into the through the rosy layer
of cambium ( I suppose.)
This work goes against one of my theories which was that as long as they are able beavers concentrate on faraway work and save trees near the lodge for the winter. But I've always thought that maples have a special taste for beavers at this time of year. Gulls flying over South Bay so sprightly that we stopped to make sure they weren't terns.
November 23 a warm sunny day in the 60s with a light breeze from the east. I went over to South Bay, and first drilled a few holes in a water-filled blue barrel that promised to mar the shore line all winter. Once I got the water out I took it up to the ditch the park people carved into a ridge a few years ago. While doing that a hunter came down the trail from the wrong direction. He had tracked down the deer he shot, which happened to be in the ditch -- a little fellow. Going up the East Trail I could see a large knot of hunters on what I call beaver point -- which is not in the hunting zone but I let them be. Then as I sat watching the East Trail Pond I heard noises behind me and then two hunters dragging a deer came up the ridge. I guided them to the East Trail. These hunters seem to make no provision for getting the deer out, and complain mightily. I encourage them to leave the head behind for chickadees and other animals to feed on during the winter. Of course, they never do. As I came up to the pond a few ducks flew off, and then all was quiet, save for a pileated woodpecker in the woods behind me. And I heard a blue jay again. I checked the latrines and saw nothing new and couldn't see any new wrinkles in the beaver work. On my way to Thicket Pond, I checked the log and very old lodge the otters used in the summer but no sign that they had been back for a visit. I went along the north shore of Thicket Pond, and to my surprise there was no major new work over there. The beavers seem to be concentrating on either end of the pond. They have made a pool below the dam -- very slight.
They had done this in Meander Pond last year. They are gnawing on a white oak now, seeming to prefer that to the ash they've cut.
To me ash seems to be so dry a wood, I don't see why beavers like it. I thought of sitting to see if I might hear or see any beaver activity but the lodge is such a mighty fortress, I feared seeming like a fool.
I went to Audubon Pond and saw no signs of otters. But the beaver had put more mud on the lodge. And it evidently dragged out a few clam shells. One that it seems to have bitten revealed innards of mud.
One shell was worked into the mud on the lodge If any beaver is going to eat shells this is the one. It can't seem to manage to eat trees. That the lodge in the pond seemed more built up with logs pushed up on top -- all old logs.
Over where a beaver had been eating roots, I saw that it had dug down to a very large one.
On the west shore it had also gnawed around the old gnaws and exposed roots of an oak.
At the dock rock I studied the old otter scat and it appeared to me that the leaves had been tufted up so as to make a scent marker, but perhaps a raccoon had just been sniffing the old scats. The bay was almost calm and enjoying the day I rowed up toward the Narrows. As I did I saw a large bird flying straight toward me. I first thought eagle, then heron, but it was going too fast for a heron. It flew over with speckled black bottom -- a young eagle. I checked the old latrines on the rocks in the Narrows and saw no otter scats. Back at the home dock, I saw a small pike or large pickerel swim away. And in the birch trees at home we had about twenty redpoles. A gunshot went off on the golf course; the birds scattered and then flew right back to the birches, eager for those catkins. One more week of this hunting, which quite cramps my style.