Wednesday, January 9, 2013

October 1997

I wrote this in January 2013 based on hand written notes, videos and photos taken in October 1997, as well as my memory.

October 2 just back from Otter Hole Pond - on my way there I saw fresh otter scats at the Middle Pond and then as I crossed one of the little ponds between the Middle Pond and Big Pond, I saw a half eaten fish.

After sitting at Otter Hole pond for a few minutes, I saw one otter working the area around the lodge. There was a heron on the far shore. I thought it was looking at me, about to fly away. Herons never flee when I appear on the scene but they almost always grudgingly fly away usually with a squawk. But this heron flew to the lodge to get fish the otter put there. Then the otter climbed onto the lodge - scooted up to top - the heron gave an acknowledging crick to the neck. Was it a confrontation? Probably not. The otter did some grooming as they often do when they get out of the pond. Then the heron flew off. When the otter went in the other side of the lodge, I heard some snickering so I knew there must be other otters and soon one went out to fish along the dam while the other dove at the base of the lodge and began munching what looked like a root, but must have been a well gnawed large brown bullhead. Then the dam fisher came back and in a few minutes three of them came out like a little flotilla. They fished behind the dam, the far shore and I decided to wait and see if they would come around to where I was sitting, but they didn't. At one point an osprey flew over and I am almost certain that the otter gave its osprey-like call back to the bird. Heading home I crossed the dam at the Middle Pond in the next valley and saw a half eaten bullhead with the head still twitching! Is it evidence of more otter foraging in this pond or did a heron fly before swallowing its meal? They sometimes seem to play with their food. When I was looking at the otters the chickadees and blue jays flocked by. The blue jay sounds are most interesting -- squeaks and fluting

October 3 Ottoleo, Leslie and I went at dusk by boat over to South Bay and then up to the rocks over looking Audubon Pond. Here's a photo of that pond taken in the fall.

Back to the late afternoon of October 3rd. We soon saw three beaver wakes going to lodge and eventually saw six at one time. All this in the distance. One beaver splashing and gnawing near lodge. Then they headed toward us. One tail splash just on the other side of the causeway -- but still they came. One swam through a hole in the causeway. It contemplated us -- it was good dark by then -- and eventually it went to work. Heard but did not see gnawing. Too cloudy to see by moonlight, so we went home.

October 5 Tried a duck friendly look at Otter Hole Pond, that is, not getting so close that they all fly off. The annual duck slaughter has begun. Sat where I could see beavers come out, but as of 6pm they had not come out. Heard much duck noise of course, wood duck whines.

October 7 1:30 pm at Otter Hole Pond, soft summer day, wind just picking up. Leaves dry and crackling so its easy to scare ducks away. Tried two panorama shots of Beaver Point Pond and Otter Hole Pond. I couldn't capture the latter very concisely but there is a point of rock just on the north side of the Beaver Point Pond dam and standing there I can get most of the pond with just three photos pieced together.

A photo looking at the dam doesn't quite fit with that panorama.

Unfortunately I don't have a photo of this section of the valley when it was filled with small trees, nor of how it looked this summer during the dry spell when the beavers seemed to leave. I do have a photo of the lodge during the summer and it's easy to see why the beavers abandoned it and moved back to Otter Hole Pond.

The lodge is tucked back in an extension of the pond to the left of the panoramic photo and there is a dam holding water back there. Now the ponds are quiet save for the crickets and falling nuts and the wind. A few birds and probably another wave of ducks would fly off if I stood up. So I napped off and on for an hour. Ducks didn't come back. Sitting on the large poplar at Beaver Point Pond, I heard a comb frog and some chickadees. The drought is breaking. Half the water is back in the pond but no signs the beavers are back after moving back up to Otter Hole Pond. The stripped part of the poplar has turned black.

October 9 went out at about two, sat by Middle Pond - not much happening and then went to Otter Hole Pond - the tree on the rock ridge on the south side - otters were out near the main lodge in the middle of the pond and I saw them before they saw me. There were four - looking much bigger - I could hear some back bones cracking as they munched fish and frogs. One seemed to try to get down into the dirt of the lodge. It sat at the base of the lodge nipping at a fish. They seem to be catching bigger fish. One otter came up with a large fish in his mouth and still dived down. I don't think it let the fish go. Then the four went off together purposefully - doing the far western shore. Only this time they scooted up on shore now and then. They sported around a heron that looked bemused as usual. It eventually flew off. I repositioned myself further east to answer the riddle - where did the otters go? They seemed to be going up stream to the Second Swamp Pond so I moved up to the big rock, then down it so I could see. I spied the otters on the bank lodge on the shore across across from me.

I sat down and froze. The otters didn't seem to notice even though I was in a completely exposed position. The otters - just three - squirmed around in the dirt of the lodge. I had seen this before - but now - and it was a warm sultry afternoon - they were making a bed. One managed to zonk out pretty quickly, lying twisted on back and side with his head down and tail up. Another kept squirming on its back but just couldn't get comfortable. The third curled up into the one that already seemed asleep. Then the fourth otter joined them, nuzzled all the others, got a position above but not on the pile, stretched out on its back and seemed to go right off to sleep. Finally even the squirming one nestled in on its back. What a lump of fur! Pure relaxation and easy affection! For a period of several minutes the only movement was the twitching accompanying sleep. This was not a quiet swamp, with the usual ducks, foraging chickadees and the sounds of work in the distance. Periodically the otters would look up, then nestle back down. Then one otter slipped out of the pile, dived straight down and didn't come back up. I guessed that it went into the lodge. I had speculated that beavers occupied this lodge. There were freshly gnawed logs here so I wanted to see if a beaver would appear, or if the other three otters would dive down into the lodge. The diving otter came back and dove again. Another otter woke up, but when the diving otter came up on the lodge, they all flopped back to sleep. Then a beaver appeared swimming east of the lodge. He could have come from the bank. I must see if there are bank holes over there. He swam away, over to my shore, forgetting the usual beaver inspection tour. He began gnawing on a little twig. I wanted to see how the otter would react to a beaver tail splash. Soon enough there was a splash in the middle of the pond. The otters looked up briefly and went back to sleep. The beaver dived and seemed to go back to the large lodge in the middle of the pond. I sneaked away not disturbing anything but the anxious beaver, swimming near the lodge gave me another splash. Oh yes, the otters didn't poop as much as I expected. In the span of an hour only two went to the top of the lodge, stretched their tails out and relieved themselves.

October 10 I bought a video camera mainly to help keep track of the otters I've been seeing. About 5 pm Ottoleo and I went to Otter Hole Pond. We went up to the shaded rocks over looking the pond and immediately saw a beaver in the pond, then Ottoleo saw the otters swimming right toward us.

We clearly saw 3 and both of us kept thinking there was a 4th. These otters probably den in the rocks that were below us. They soon saw or got a whiff of us and turned and swam parallel to rocks.

Two of them looped back farther out in the pond and swam back and forth periscoping up snorting in our direction.

They swam together like they were conferring.

Those two dived and disappeared. Then we noticed the 3rd diving and swimming off behind them. But two surfaced quickly back at the lodge, took another look at us and swam behind the lodge.

We kept hoping they'd reappear but they didn't. As we walked along the grassy part of ridge we almost stepped into some fresh otter scat.

I discovered that looking at the pond through the video camera forces you to focus exclusively on one part of it. I see both otters and beavers in this pond and keep expecting them to have a clash. But usually the otters disappear from the pond once the beavers come out in the early evening. Today we saw a beaver before we saw the otters but focusing on the otters, we lost track of the beavers. With the otters gone we soon saw beavers. I assume they came out from their lodge, the same one the otters might have gone into. A beaver swam toward the dam.

It dove into the water then resurfaced at the lodge and walked over the dam.

I think this suggests that the beavers are now uncertain about using their lodges in Otter Hole Pond now that the otters are here, and that they are denning in a burrow up-pond and then going past the otters and down to Beaver Point Pond. 

Using the camcorder I found that focusing on the animals and seeing them seeming much larger was enchanting. I forgot about the big picture which had been my excuse for not getting a camcorder. The big picture of this area is rather amazing. Otter Hole Pond is rather high behind a well tended dam and the pond below, which I call Beaver Point Pond, is so large that its water floods back along the full length of Otter Hole Pond dam. The scope of both ponds together would be hard to capture with the cameras I have. Back to my close focus on the beaver that crossed the dam. I saw the ripples it made in Beaver Point Pond and then lost track of it. Then I noticed another beaver, smaller I think, in Otter Hole Pond. It cruised the now golden pond,

peeved either at my presence or the otters, it slapped its tail. Not that we saw the otters again. I saw the beaver cruise up the shady upper end of the pond. Then it was time for us to go home to dinner. We decided we saw three beavers. We noticed the third at the base of lodge hunched over for a long time. Maybe now that the otters were quieter, a beaver reclaimed its lodge.

October 11 I went off by myself after 4pm, went to the north shore of Otter Hole Pond. Otters were there and I think they heard me, because they snorted. Three of them swimming up pond turned and swam back toward the main lodge and disappeared diving into the water. I enjoyed watching ducks for an hour - skittish from duck hunting. I relocated to a concealed spot on the north shore of Beaver Point Pond where the beavers have been doing more tree cutting. Beavers appeared after five. One in Otter Hole Pond splashed several times, I assume at the otters, which didn't prevent two or three beavers in Beaver Point Pond from grooming and cleaning themselves on the shore across from me. One of the beavers had lighter fur and it was always behind the darker beaver on shore. I don't think they groomed each other, but didn't seem antagonistic. I first thought that the lighter beaver had a bare patch at the base of its tail, but after it dove into the water and came up again, the bare patch was on its back so I think it was a leaf.

I usually see the beavers more active in this pond. Much fresh beaver work down there, but they didn't seem interested in that. The darker beaver stayed hunched over a long time.

The camcorder confines the visual experience but no better way of sharing seeing an animal. Also realized how visually complicated these ponds are. Trees are always getting in the way of the camera while your unaided eyes seem to automatically ignore them.

October 14 went out in our canoe in morning and saw mink going from the island to a boat house. Paddled around the beaver lodge at the end of South Bay. Plenty deep around it and some freshly cut trees.

October 15 Yesterday after lunch I went to Otter Hole pond. The otters were there, but my camcorder battery ran out, so no video. All four fished together and when they got toward the shore, one started screaming because of me. They gave me a look and went off toward the East Trail Pond. Flocks of birds around. Red winged blackbirds in South Bay.

October 17 Leslie and I saw some bluebirds just off the golf course where the boat trailers are. They were after berries in the bushes, a flock of a dozen or so, quite active, fluttering - even a little sex. Indeed a pretty bird - some duller than others - some quite blue fluttering in the bushes

- also myrtle warblers and a few robins. Then I went to Otter Hole Pond - saw a brown body coming up from Beaver Point Pond scattering the ducks I didn't scare away. I thought it was the otters but it was a beaver dragging a branch up. He took it past Otter Hole Pond lodge and then sank it.

A beaver is not going to sink branches for winter unless it is planning to live in the lodge. The beaver seemed to become cautious. I thought he sensed me, but then the otters showed up. Of course, I trained the camcorder at them. One pulled up short of the lodge it was swimming toward, and turned away with an angry screech.

After studying the video a long time, indeed, years after I took it, I figured out that the otter had turned away from a beaver in its way. Meanwhile another otter, or probably two other otters, swam under water, as far as I could tell, and surfaced at the beaver lodge.

I heard an otter screech, really its more of a high pitched growl, and one otter climbed on the lodge. Then there was a splash from the other side of the lodge, that I couldn't see, likely a beaver slapping its tail. I was anticipating a confrontation between the otters and beavers, but I expected the more peaceful vegetarian, the beaver, to keep away from the otters. Instead it looked like the beavers were putting it to the otters. I waited for an otter to chase the beaver or beavers away. Instead the one on the lodge slowly climbed down its slope of logs

and got back into the water, following another otter that evidently had lurked at the edge of the lodge.

All the otters began fishing just off from the lodge in their normal fashion with rolling dives and at times tails wiggling in the air and using stray logs, and not the lodge, as a place to dine on a caught fish. I hadn't notice that once again there was a heron around the pond, and fortunately I had the camcorder running as it flew low over the pond and gave one of the otters a fright.

It seemed like the otters who for a month and a half seemed to rule this pond were being put in their place. Then a beaver swam between me and the otters coming down from the direction of the Second Swamp Pond. It was making a deep wake exhibiting an attitude which I later learned was one of high alert.

But the beaver didn't bother the otters nor did the otters notice it. The beaver went directly over the dam down into Beaver Point Pond.

The otters did move closer to me, and found good fishing around some logs floating off in the pond not far from me.

When the otters had their fill and continued up pond.

Over the years I've gotten the impression that beavers don't gang up when they confront other animals or a wandering beaver invading their territory. One beaver seems delegated to be the policeman, so to speak. I decided not to go off looking to the otters. I don't want to chase otters, as I've sometimes done in my earliest experiences watching them. I don't want to give the otters any reason to leave this pond where I have such a comfortable seat to watch them. Plus I wanted to see if any beavers were still in the pond. In about a half hour I saw the otters swimming through the trees flooded along the north shore and then they swam down toward the main lodge again.

As they got closer I used the camcorder zoom to start getting a closer look at them, but they didn't come out from the trees as quickly as I expected, but I saw ripples in the water and zoomed in on that. Then I heard a loud screech, shifted my focus to where I thought that was coming from and saw a beaver floating in the pond facing the otters who were backing away in the water,

and two climbed on logs, and I heard more screeching obviously coming from the otters. Then all four of them swam back away from the beaver

and the beaver swam placidly back to the lodge. Although I had been seeing the beavers and otters warily coexisting since they both started using this pond, I assumed that if there was any confrontation that the otters woould dominate if not attack the beaver, and in this case there were four otters and just one beaver. So rather than follow the beaver back to the lodge, I used the camcorder to try to discern the otters next response to the beaver's blocking their way, but as far as I could tell, the otters disappeared. Then I looked for that unflappable beaver and couldn't find it either.

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