October 1 I got a chance to make a quick inspection of Audubon Pond. For the past two years otters have visited there by this time of year, so I went over in the boat to check. I saw no signs that otters had been at the docking rock or around the pond. Then the sport became determining if beavers were still there. I didn't see anything new at the lodge, nor at the big old ash they cut at the northeast corner of the pond. Then I saw another ash cut, nearby up toward the patch of iris.
There were large trails coming up to the ash.
Then just off the bank lodge by the bench I saw a stripped chunker log. But I didn't see any fresh work on that lodge nor on the lodge out on the pond.
As I continued around the pond, I didn't see any more beaver work. Then as I was in the shade along the west shore of the pond, I heard a beaver splash. One beaver continued to splash me as I continued to walk around the pond. I took several photos hoping I'd be lucky enough to get a photo of a splash. I never got close to the beaver save when I walked by the drain. The beaver has done its best to patch the drain,
and given the meager rain the past couple of weeks, the pond was remarkably high. I think I can credit the beaver with slowing the flow and so I think it might be living back in the bank lodge. I had almost walked on it which might have prompted its angry splashing at me. Out on the river, I saw a few lone cormorants diligently fishing.
October 3 a beautiful sunny day propelled by a fresh southwest breeze still to be enjoyed without a jacket. I budgeted a large chunk of time to enjoy it and find the otters. Ottoleo took me over to South Bay in the boat and after I saw that there were no otter scats on the docking rock, I walked up to Audubon Pond. I saw a large black bird fly down from a tree and as I walked along the causeway it flew up.
It looked more like an osprey but circled like a hawk. While an otter had not scatted on a causeway, a beaver or muskrat, I suspect the former, brought up some damp grasses from the upper pond and dragged them into the main pond leaving a bit on the trail. I also saw that the beaver segmented the ash branch it was working on. I sat at the bench briefly and couldn't see the remains of a log anywhere, though it appears a cache is growing at the end of the lodge.
So a beaver must be tucked in there. My walk up to Meander Pond was uneventful. The old Short cut Trail pond is no more. Around the dam Meander Pond was clear and, save for one bit of mud on the dam, seemed unvisited by beavers.
However, the upper part of the pond was muddy.
A few wood ducks flew off as I approached, but I soon saw that they didn't raise the mud. There was beaver work at the end of one canal, an elm cut down and an ash on the way.
That was on the western shore of this part of the pond. There were also trails going up off the eastern end of the pond leading to more work on ash trees
and maples. There was a feeding station in the water with many stripped logs.
This seems to dash my hopes that these beavers would move to the East Trail Pond in their search for trees. The Thicket Pond was not as muddy as the upper end of Meander Pond, but enough color in the water to show that beavers had been swimming through it. There has been so much harvesting of small
trees to the east of the pond that it is difficult to see fresh work. As I walked up the East Trail, I first saw the remains of a hive dug out of the ground,
a red squirrel with a pine cone
paused on a log to eat.
As I walked out on the rock overlooking the East Trail Pond, a heron flew off. Four large mallards were loath to leave a log, but they finally flew off. Duck hunting season has started and I soon heard a shotgun blast from the river, probably ineffectual. There are few ducks around. I saw a new, though not very fresh, scat on the trail up the ridge. I went over the ridge but didn't get any sense that otters had been on that trail. As I went up to the rock on the north side of the Second Swamp Pond dam, seven or
eight herons flew off, in three waves, if the last croaker to fly off can be called a wave. There were only five ducks on the pond, which for years has been a favorite for ducks at this time of year. Seeing so many herons convinced me that otters too might be about. I found a shady perch just on the dam side of the lodge.
On the way there I saw a well used trail coming out of the pond heading toward the East Trail Pond and I saw scat on the trail, not fresh. But as I sat near the lodge, I could smell scats. Nothing stirred in the lodge save a turtle or frog dropping into the water. I studied the surface of the pools of water in the pond and could ascribe most of the activity I saw to insects, especially whirligig beetles. As I walked up pond I looked for fresh scats. I saw dollops that must be new, including some on the edge of the lodge which I surely would have photographed, but nothing fresh. I walked gingerly on the mud and
paused at the creek -- nothing swimming there.
I hopped across and headed for the otter latrine on the southeast corner of the pond. I could see tracks in the mud, probably otter heading the same way, and I think there was a new scat on a log where they had scatted before. The Lost Swamp Pond had the usual large compliment of geese, and most of them flew off which was fine with me because I was looking for otters. I didn't see any fresh scat on the north slope, but there was fresh scat at the old rolling area, and I eased up into the dogbane and waited. No otters appeared. The beavers had put a leafy branch on top of their lodge and still haven't started a cache.
I walked down to check on what the beavers at the Upper Second Swamp Pond have done with the tree they cut. Just as they didn't take much of anything off the ash they cut, neither have they taken anything off the elm. They took a couple more small birch and have started cutting the large birch in the middle.
As I headed for home, I walked around the Lost Swamp Pond and saw new scats at the mossy cove latrine. So while I was disappointed not to see otters, they seem to be behaving as I expected they would, making themselves more at home in the Lost Swamp Pond. Before I crossed the Big Pond dam, I walked up and looked closely at the lodge. It has a good bit of mud on it, as well as some freshly cut branches, and perhaps there is the start of a cache.
The only difference in crossing the dam were a few broad trails in the grass probably made by the beavers. Bow hunting for deer has also started, and as I crossed the dam I could see deer fleeing the cover to the south of the pond. On the rest of the way home I flushed almost a dozen deer, most of them
small. Really this southern slope of the broad first swamp is the only good cover for deer on this end of the island.
October 5 only the nearby river kept the temperature from going below freezing last night. It hovered at 32 at 4 a.m. By the time we headed off for the Lost Swamp Pond a little after 10, it was in the mid-forties, and sunny. We took the TI Park trail down to South Bay and the trees and shrubs flanking the little causeway were jumping with myrtle warblers and a few larger warblers. Watching these little dynamos forage for berries exciting itself,
but they insist on settling scores in their frenetic search for food so the low down business of getting into berries is framed by dog fights vibrating between the ground and the crowns of the higher trees. With more leaves down I noticed an ash cut by the beavers near the shore of the bay, but still hung up.
We took the shortcut over the ridge to Otter Hole Pond. One heron flew off so there is evidently some life in those depleted waters. Having Leslie along slowed me down around the ferns and we appreciated the swelling spores of the polypody.
As I came up to the rock on the south end of the Second Swamp Pond dam, no less than 12 herons flew up from the pond. The foraging cannot be getting that much better in these shallows, unless the cold sent the frogs scurrying into the water. There were two small groups of ducks. No signs of otters, and committed to keeping Leslie's feet dry I didn't go out along the fringes of the pools of water to check for scat. I feel that I can best measure the state of the otters by seeing what they've left at the Lost Swamp Pond latrines. Of course, I hoped the otters were there. They weren't but as I sat, back to the trunk of
a dead tree on the point scanning the whole pond, I was entertained by a group of mergansers, one large duck more or less followed by four small ones. It was hard to judge but they seemed to work the channels of the pond, just like an otter would. And the pulse of their diving picked up when one duck had success. Twice I could see the minnow that a duck brought up. Unlike with otters, the other ducks kept their distance. There was no hint of fighting over a fish, or sharing it. Otherwise there was a large
group of mallards, about 20, and a few small flocks of ducks. There was also a flock of about 20 geese, and one goose seemingly guarding the lodge way out in the pond. I checked the latrines and found one new scat at the mossy cove, and one new scat along the north shore slope. The latter was black and tubular like a raccoon scat but on a close look had the characteristic slime of an otter scat,
and it was near the last scat on the slope.
There was only more muskrat scat on a log in the water below the old rolling area.
There seems to be a little more brush added to the lodge. To get home we took a route we always used to take many years ago when we hiked the ridges more than the swamps. It took us by one of our favorite oaks
and what we used to call the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
We crossed the stream draining what we used to call the first swamp. It is but a trickle and it is hard to
believe that 10 years ago there were beaver ponds along it active enough to entrance me with the observation of beavers.
October 6 yesterday afternoon and all today we worked on the addition to the cabin on the land. Yesterday I checked the first pond and saw more cache around the lodge and
the auxiliary lodge.
Also the beavers found the roots and bark under the chicken wire Leslie put around a maple.
We have not had much rain so the dams the beavers made after the downpours in August and September now hold back nothing.
At the southwest corner of Teepee Pond the beavers are cutting an ash and it looks like a kit is cutting low while an adult does the main work.
Today was all work, and as I pried off one board that had been up for a week only, we found a large spider and beetle, probably a wood boring beetle.
Then Leslie summoned me to the spectacle of the dragonfly devouring a bee. When I got to it, the wind had blown the dragonfly on its back
causing Leslie to momentarily think the bee had the advantage. But the dragonfly munched on.
It was slow methodical work that I photographed and videoed but after fifteen minutes we left the brute, who had flipped over right side up with a gust of wind, to what I suppose might be his last meal.
A freeze two nights ago wilted most of the garden and banished mosquitoes.
October 7 I was out of the house a little after 6:30 am with a hunch I would see otters on a warming breezy morning. With the wind coming from the southwest, I decided to approach the Lost Swamp, where I expected to see the otters, via the East Trail Pond. I road the bike over to the park gate to
hurry my approach, and didn't tarry to photograph raccoons in the shadows as they scurried up trees along the South Bay trail. As I came up on the rocks high over the East Trail Pond, wrong to the wind, I flushed a number of ducks and two herons. I waited for all their ripples to play out and then decided there were no otters about. I checked the latrines on the way to the Second Swamp Pond and the grasses by the dam looked recently parted. Two thirds of the way up the trail to the ridge I found what in the
gloaming looked like a large fresh scat on a rock.
So I went back down the ridge, crossed the trickling creek, under the watchful eyes of a raccoon up a tree, and headed for the knoll overlooking the Second Swamp Pond. I gained the vista with camcorder running and chronicled the flights of many heron. Then the ducks took off en masse (but the camcorder inconveniently shut off.) Alas there were no otters. I still sat and enjoyed the frentic activity of a large flock of robins all around; myrtles behind me; then a flock of black birds. The robins especially swooped down rippling the water and some even waded out in the shallows a bit feasting, I assume, on bugs. Of course, I didn't stay too long but I didn't think I had to hurry to the Lost Swamp Pond as I expected the otters to likely appear after the beavers had settled down. I crossed the pond and took the otters' route
to the knoll overlooking the old rolling area. I saw a new scat, not piping fresh, in the grass trail up the ridge.
In the glare of the rising sun I saw two or three beavers swimming around the lodge out in the bottom. I heard the debate among the geese in the near portion of the pond and they soon flew away. No otters. The beavers were not as active as the last time I was here before 8 in the morning. They confined their activities to just around the lodge. An adult and kit seemed to go nose to nose briefly. There was a bit of gnawing. Most of the activity was diving around the lodge, either tending or raiding the cache. I have no idea where the beavers are getting branches from, but point on the east side of the pond is the most likely place. The beavers all went into the lodge by 8 am. Muskrats popped up out of the burrow on the east side of the lodge by the dam, but no otters. Before checking the otter latrines I went down to see how the Upper Second Swamp Pond beavers managed the birch they had been cutting. It fell down perfectly.
I've seldom seen a tree fall so convenient for harvesting, and the beavers had trimmed half the branches. No sign of work on the twin of this birch. I was intrigued by the scope of their effort to segment the trunk.
However, birch has never been a favorite food of this family and I wouldn't be surprised if they abandon work on this tree. Of course, all trees are getting scarcer around these ponds. Then I checked the Lost Swamp Pond latrines. Nothing at the rolling area; nothing clearly new at the north slope; but there were fresh scats at the mossy cove latrine
and the otters seem to be moving a bit down the slope to a rockier area.
So I had the sense that I had just missed seeing the otters, which was frustrating. If I can't see them in the morning when it seems they are around, then seeing them will be a result of dumb luck. On the way home through the woods I saw a half dozen small yellow worms hanging from silk spun down from their webs in the trees. I attempted an impossible photo