Thursday, November 12, 2009

October 14 to 18, 2009

October 14 Although Leslie is back from the hospital, I’m her fulltime nurse. The threat of several nights below freezing gave me a break since I had to cover crops in the garden and pick others that had the least chance of surviving. The Last Pool is not far away from the garden so I could take a peak and saw that the aspen the beavers were cutting had fallen,

right along the path.

The trunk is rather convenient for gnawing.

The top of the tree is rotten, and snapped off with the fall. The beavers cut a branch just below the rot.

I have noticed that beavers have a tolerance for rot in aspen/poplars. Otherwise they cleared out a number of trees just west of the pool.

I can’t wait to get down to the lodge to see how the cache has grown.

October 15 I had a chance to hike out to the where I had been seeing the otters. I went on Antler Trail over to South Bay. A strong northeast wind has pushed the water level of the river down so much that the south cove of the bay was mostly mud leaving the jungle of flanking cattails high and dry.

I headed up the ridge taking my old shortcut to Otter Hole Pond, now a meadow. The northeast wind provided perfect conditions for seeing otters in the Second Swamp Pond, but none there today. Geese were feeding and preening in the wider upper part of the pond.

It was cold enough to freeze still water last night and the water behind the dam looked smooth enough to be frozen.

The brown bottom suggested that it had been thoroughly picked clean of vegetation by the geese. I didn’t stand around waiting for otters, not only because I didn’t think the geese would be so placid with otters around, but the wind was cold -- air temperature in the high 30s. I walked up to the ridge between the Second Swamp Pond and Lost Swamp Pond, just in case otters were out in the later. No, but by approaching the Lost Swamp Pond dam from the ridge, I saw that otters scatted on the high slope west of the dam, which years ago used to be a favorite otter latrine and rolling area.

The two large scats looked fresh

But on damp mornings when the temperature just climbs above freezing old scats can look fresh again. So forgive me for sharing a close-up to share the problem. Is the evident moisture from the thawing or the fresh juices from the otters that had just been there?

The otters had also liberally scatted on their usual latrine by the dam,

Though I didn’t see any scats that looked as fresh as the ones on the nearby slope.

This latrine has been used so much in the past few weeks that it no longer makes sense to photograph every scat -- well, it would make sense if I meticulously diagrammed and analyzed the scats. I headed down to the wet meadow below the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, and I got the impression that this is area is becoming less important to the otters, which makes sense as the two pups get bigger. They probably can’t quite fit in into the hole in the grass that they or their mother fashioned.

Down along the trickle of a creek, there are a few more scats. Some of these looked rather fresh

I enjoy taking photos of the scats here to show how a rather meager stream of water can still attract otters.

I would like to see how long they luxuriate in these grasses, if at all, but even if I happened by while they were there, the high grasses would conceal them, and perhaps that is why they go there. I headed back up to the Lost Swamp Pond and then walked around to the mossy cove latrine. Once again I flushed a heron off the shore of the pond. Looking down at the latrine from the rock above it, I didn’t see the usually scraping on the slope below. When I got down on the slope, I saw several fresh scats just up from the water.

I had another measure of freshness here where fallen leaves litter the latrine: the fresh scats were not covered by a leaf.

Of course, I looked for otters, but with such a cold wind in my face, and duties on the home front, it’s probably best that there were no otters to be seen. I did notice changes in the southeast end of the pond. The beavers had built up their cache near the lodge, and muskrats had built a lodge at that dead shrub trunk where I last saw the otters.

The Big Pond was a bit anticlimactic after all that fresh scat. Even walking along the dam was no longer a challenge. The cutting grass had bowed down a month ago and now the cattail stalks seemed to be losing their starch in seasonable humbling.

The active lodge in this pond is too far away for me to see if a cache is forming.

I did see some beaver stripped sticks along the dam. There were two new scats at the latrine on the south end of the dam, but they weren’t fresh. There were trails in the grass heading to the meadow below, bisected by another meager trail of water, but I had no time to follow to see if otters had another secluded latrine in a meadow.

Although I don’t have much time for hikes. I think with patience that I’ll be able to figure out some of the world of this otter family, patience and snow.

October 17 We continue to have nights just below freezing and days “warming” into the mid-40s, that because of the wind and dampness don’t feel too warm. No rain or snow though. I rode a bike over to the entrance to the state park, to save some time. I walked along South Bay first, to look for otter signs, and then went into the ponds to see what the beavers were up to. Looking down at the grassy slope above the old dock I could see that some animal had been there. There was a scrape down to dirt and a pile of loose leaves and grass.

This is an old otter latrine, but I didn’t see any otter scats, nor any other kind of scat. Given that the animal scraped as it faced the water, probably wasn’t an otter. The water is very shallow around the old dock, especially the last few days since we’ve had an east wind that always lowers the water level in the river. I didn’t see any scats or scraping at the docking rock latrine. Otters have used that latrine over the summer while they haven’t scatted at the old dock latrine since the spring. Then at the latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay, I did see a fresh black otter scat.

Since it was on a fallen leaf, it passed that test of freshness and a close up photo shows that it is rather juicy.

The grass around the scat looked well traveled but I didn’t see any other scats.

I checked the rocks below the grass and saw no signs of otters, no scats or fish parts or crayfish shells. I took a photo looking up at the scat from the rocks, an otter’s eye view of its latrine.

Then I took a photo of the shore, showing how exposed the rocks are now that the water level is so low.

I’ve never seen an otter up on these rocks so I am not quite sure how they use this latrine, nor when they use it. What might seem like a perilous place for a five month old otter pup, might actually be the best place in the river to teach pups how to climb rocks, especially when it is dark. But my guess is that I saw the scat of a single otter marking territory, not of a family of otters that would have probably left more scats. So much for otter tracking. I headed up to Audubon Pond to see how the beavers were managing the low water caused by the park staff trying to repair the drain which, thanks to beavers, no longer regulated the water level in the pond. As I came up on the embankment I saw in an instant that the beavers were still at work. They had cut two ash trees and both conveniently fell down on the embankment

Not that the beavers were shy about going over the embankment. They continue to work on the ash tree they cut a few weeks ago that fell down the slope toward the outlet creek

And they are also cutting trees along the side of the outlet creek.

And also venturing below the embankment where there are cattails and I saw some striking gnaws at the base of a large tree beyond the cattails.

I don’t recall seeing such a scatter of gnaws. Needless to say there are a few muddy beaver trails up and over the embankment.

I studied where the trails began in the pond wondering if that was where the beavers had burrowed into the bank to den.

Of course the beavers could have burrowed into the mass of dirt dug away from the old drain and I saw some logs around the orange column where, I assume, the park workers will try to fashion a new concrete drain. As I walked up the causeway, two men came to work on the drain. Since it was Sunday I assume they are volunteers which explains why the job is taking so long. They said the beavers pushed sticks down the new drain hole. Once they finish there work, the pond’s water level should rise. The beavers have also been going up on the causeway

Probably to eat grasses. Their interest in the causeway surprised me because I thought the shallowness of the pond was forcing them to lodge and feed near the embankment. Then I saw that they are caching branches outside the lodge near the bench, even though the lodge looks almost high and dry.

Indeed I could walk out on the old pond bottom half way to the lodge and take a photo of the cache.

Evidently these beavers have been doing some dredging which is probably easy in this man-made pond that has been collecting silt for almost 40 years. I headed up to Meander Pond and on my way to the dam saw that the beavers there are still active, though perhaps a bit desperate as they have started gnawing on four of the shag-bark hickories in a grove of nine.

None cut down, yet. I didn’t see any other signs of beaver activity in the lower pond save for some tentative gnawing and tasting,

but as I looked up in the meadow south of the pond, I saw that a large tree had been cut near the upper end of the pond.

I must admit I get excited, aesthetically, as I see these farflunged operations, but do the beavers have a sense of the bigger picture, so to speak, or is their cutting all happenstance? I headed for the end of the canal in the middle of the south shore of the pond, where, during the drought, the beavers had confined their activity. I didn’t see signs of new activity, but I could look over the grasses in the pond and see a cache of food growing beside the lodge in the main channel of the pond.

So once again the beavers had expanded the range of their foraging, not that the other sections of the pond are brimming with water. The upper end is quite muddy. The beavers are scraping the bottom.

I saw the trail coming up from it to the big maple they cut,

as well as a smaller maple, and tasting of other trees. That upper pond of water leads to the woods to the south where early in the summer the beavers had cut several trees. They are back again, cutting down a maple right next to their canal and segmenting it into logs.

They don’t seem to have any interest in the several maples they cut down two months ago and never got around to trimming and stripping. The crowns of dead leaves remain as the beavers trim off branches of a just cut maple with green leaves.

But I have to admit that just cut tree does look more appetizing.

October 18 I headed off to the beavers ponds to look for otter at a little after 9:30, time enough I hoped to catch the otters in their morning foraging. When I came up to the otter latrine at the south end of the Big Pond dam, I thought I was in time. There were fresh liquid otter scats all over the grasses that were just thawing from the morning frost.

At a glance I could see three different “spreads” of scats, but first I scanned the pond for otters. A duck flew up from just behind the dam, and I could see several ducks swimming placidly in the upper reaches of the pond. I have seen otters and ducks in a pond at the same time, but ducks always give the impression of a pond at peace and otters are rarely peaceful in a pond during their morning feed. So I photographed the scats which were different than what I usually see. There were generous puddles of yellowish mucous along with the usual scale laced black goo.

And two feet away small black and white scats were paired together.

I can’t say that I know what scats like these mean. When I used to see large white goo in scats in the spring, I assumed it had something to do with birthing or sexual activity. I can’t say that now, and I can only think that the otter family, with sex and birthing the last things on their minds, dined on something adding that consistency and color to their scats. But what? If they ate a duck, there would be feathers in the scats. One splat of scat was almost all goo.

So I moved on to the Lost Swamp Pond. If otters were not there, I might at least see if there was any of this type of scat. Walking along the Big Pond dam, I saw some piles of muskrat poop just up from the water.

After that auspicious beginning to my tracking, I saw no fresh otter signs, nor otters, in the Lost Swamp Pond, nor in the Second Swamp Pond. Since I’ve been tracking this otter family I’ve been imagining them touring the ponds each day, always foraging in the Lost Swamp Pond, usually going down to the Second Swamp Pond next and sometimes doing the Big Pond, all on the same morning, or at least the same day. These imaginings met a stumbling block. The upper pool of the Second Swamp Pond just down from the latrine in the meadow below the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam was quite iced over.

Otters going from the Second Swamp Pond to the Lost Swamp Pond this morning would have broken the ice. I had duties back at home so I couldn’t wait long for otters to appear. Obviously the pond they were most likely around was the Big Pond, so I hiked back and assumed my perch on the downed trunk on the south side of the Big Pond dam, where all the fresh scat was. I sat for 15 minutes, with a good view of the lodge the beavers are not using, a likely place for otters to be.

I did see two herons fly into the trees behind the lodge, but I didn’t see any otters.