Saturday, November 21, 2009

October 25 to 30, 2009

October 25 with Ottoleo here this weekend I could take a more leisurely hike. We had a good bit of rain in the last 24 hours, and the colors up on the plateau at the head of our Antler Trail were striking.

And the blueberry bushes were a fiery red, not a bad place for deer ticks to lurk, though walking through them today I only picked up one.

I picked up many more before I got to the Big Pond dam. I almost took a photo because I think I had the whole family on my pant leg, well, at least one big one and three little ones huddled together. But my specialty is scat, not ticks. I saw a fresh wet one, brownish, at the latrine just off the dam.

I scanned the pond but didn’t see otters. And I began to quibble about how fresh the scat was because there was a leaf on it. I took a photo of the scats on the dam I saw the last time I was here. They also had leaves on top.

But the more I think about leaves on scats is a stupid thing to monitor. Otters commonly scratch around their latrines and at this time of year leaves are always falling and being blown about. As I crossed along the dam I kept looking out at the pond and I saw a head of a swimming animal way up at the far end of the pond heading toward the marsh along the south shore. I think it was an otter, but it didn’t make much commotion when it dove. Then I saw it again as it swam into the marsh. I got a report of an otter sighting in a bay below the old Hoffman compound on the river. I have to look on a map and gauge how close the little ponds above the Big Pond are to that bay. I’ve long had a theory that the ponds I watch form the border between the territories of two male otters. Patience, I might be able to figure this out when we have a snow cover. Over the years I have seen more snow tracking evidence for a connection with Lake of the Isles to the northeast which requires the otters to do a few miles of overland trekking. I had to keep my head down as I walked along the dam. The heavy rain we had brought the water level up to the brim, the dam is leaking and the marsh just below the dam is soggy.

I don’t think the beavers nestled at the upper end of the dam have reacted to the leaks, but the muskrats lodged nearby have. Next to a small push of mud around one leak are some muskrat poops.

And I continue to see muskrat poops, often in pair, all along the dam, say about every five feet where the dam was clear of thick grass.

One patch of poops looked a bit smeared, as if something, a muskrat I assume, belly downed on it.

As I came down to the Lost Swamp Pond I didn’t see any otters out in the pond, so I went to the mossy cove latrine to see if they had been there recently. Of course it was covered with fallen leaves,

but just below the rock I saw a smear of scat

This stuff looked fresh to me and had an intriguing green tinge

But whether this colorful scat goo comes from the inner workings of the otter’s bowels, or from the innards of the otter’s meal, I don’t know. On my way to the dam to check for fresh scats there, I looked down at the Second Swamp Pond, no otters there, and then went out to check the latrine in the meadow below the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam. As I skirted the dam, I saw fresh muskrat poop and saw some cut grass stalks floating in the now almost full pond.

Always amazing how quickly ponds can fill after a good rain. With water now trickling down from the pond the marsh latrine the otters used is getting a bit flooded.

I don’t think there are any new scats there. Then I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam where I didn’t see notice any new scats in the mass of old ones next to the dam. I noticed an old scat up in the moss a bit down the shore and took a photo showing its proximity to the mossy cove latrine across the pond.

Must say there is more moss here, so maybe they will make this a major latrine, if moss is what they are after. Since I thought I saw an otter swimming in the upper Big Pond, I thought it made sense to return to the Big Pond along the boundary line so I could get to the pond with the wind in my face and a good view of the dam. I sat briefly at the mossy cove latrine of the Lost Swamp Pond -- with Ottoleo at home I didn’t have to hurry back. I saw a muskrat out in the Lost Swamp Pond, not unusual, but I’ve never seen a muskrat wag its tail like this one day, so much so that I thought it might have a neurological condition, and I moved closer to get better video. That sobered it up, the tail stopped waving, and soon it balled up on a little log and nibbled the grasses it had collected. It was lined up with a muskrat lodge and the beaver lodge in the background.

I walked over to the big rocks south of the upper end of the pond, curious to see if there were otter scats there. Usually otters using the pond do visit those rocks, but not always.

I didn’t see any signs of otters. I saw some entrails that were unmolested, perhaps from a duck gutted by a poacher, and some bleached snake bones.

These rocks are perhaps too exposed for animals to relax there. I was closer to the beaver lodge in the southeast expanse of the pond, and, as usual, closer to the lodge, the cache beside it did not seem so large.

We amplify our perceptions from a distance. I went down the boundary line to the Big Pond and with a blustery wind in my face saw no otters. When I walked down to the lodge near the north shore, not being used by the beavers now, I saw a large muskrat lodge in the marsh along the south shore. (Hard to discern in the photo below.)

That’s probably where the otters went after I saw them swimming behind the dam in early October. The water along the shore around the beaver lodge was quite muddy which could have been caused by any number of animals, including otters. I took a photo of the muddy water behind the north end of the dam

because I saw some otter scats in the grass up on the nearby shore -- though not fresh scats.

When I got back to the south end of the dam I sat for a few minutes. Then when I turned I saw more gooey fresh scats behind my perch.

I probably just missed seeing the otters this morning. As I headed home, more or less the way I came, I caused a commotion. A grouse, hairy woodpecker and chickadee all flew off from some dense honeysuckle. I nosed into the bush and saw that the bark at the base of the thickest trunk had been scraped by a deer.

October 27 I headed up the Antler Trail on a warming morning, clouds giving way to sunshine and must have picked up 20 to 30 deer ticks on my way to the Big Pond dam. I check about every 50 yards and pick off the ticks, with tweezers. If I didn’t always stop, a number of ticks would probably drop off my pants -- I’d say a third of the them don’t look ticket, a few fall off before I can snag them. Others are quite vigorous and big and crawl quickly up my pant legs eager for my blood. There were no new scats at the Big Pond dam so I didn’t linger and went directly to the Lost Swamp Pond. I think the otter family moves from pond to pond so I must keep moving to find them. When I scanned the southeast reach of the pond I saw the pale designs made by ripples.

The ones near the beaver lodge were circular, so probably not from the wind, which was light at the moment. And I didn’t see the silhouettes of ducks. So I got out the camcorder and saw the otters. They were rather far away, beyond the lodge, but not uninteresting to watch. I could clearly see the adult, the mother, leading as best she could, head often up out of the water. The pups seemed to stay close to each other, which sometimes isn’t the case. I’ve seen an otter family where one pup stayed close to the mother while the other went off on its own. I knew there were four when another otter swam over from the lodge to join the other three. Then they swam over to the south shore, even farther from me. A heron flew over to that shore and did something I seldom see a heron do. It dragged its feet in the water as it landed making a splash. Was that done to keep the otters away? If so, it didn’t work. The otters fished along the shore and the heron moved back onto the land. I thought they might have gone on shore to latrine, perhaps they did, I didn’t see them for a few minutes. Then I saw them swimming back into the pond and heading my way. Otters often fish on their way to their next stop. They don’t seem to chase any fish but keep heading in the direction they want to go, veering to the side but not doubling back. The battery on my camcorder began running out so I switched to my camera and got video of the otters as they swam in front of me.

I think the mother noticed me, I heard a snort, and the otters swam directly underwater into the lodge out in the middle of that section of the pond.

But I bet the mother was leading the group to that lodge anyway. Many otter families I’ve watched enjoyed rolling, scatting and napping on beaver lodges, but I don’t think this family likes doing that -- at least I haven’t seen them doing it, and I think that is one reason I haven’t seen them every morning. After fishing they go into a den, and don’t hang out where I can see them. I waited 10 minutes then went over to the mossy cove latrine to see if there was any fresh scat there. I think so

As I continued around to the dam, I turned and took a photo of the mossy cove latrine and the lodge in the pond where I thought the otters were.

I sat another 10 minutes in the rocks above the dam, concealed by some brush, but the otters didn’t come out. The wind, however, wasn’t cooperating with my efforts at concealment. A light south wind had become a gusty southwest wind which can embrace the granite ridges of the island and play on the pond from several directions. Sitting on the north shore, I should have been out of the wind, but every few minutes it gusted up my back. I went down to the dam to see if there was any fresh scat and I saw one gooey brown ribbon of scat, probably fresh, but scats like that don’t age quickly.

I noticed that a beaver had pushed mud up on the dam

Not that it needed it, in my opinion. I decided to go home via the Second Swamp Pond, just in case the otters swam under water to the north shore of the Lost Swamp Pond and snuck down to the lower ponds without me noticing. When I got to the crest of the ridge heading down to the Second Swamp Pond, I saw a fisher up in a tree trying to eat berries. That’s what I said to myself. Then the animal twisted up so oddly, I wondered if it might not be a crow.

Then it stretched out again. I massaged my camcorder battery and kept getting video. The fisher jumped out of the tree onto the ground but didn’t run off, it was soon up in the tree again and I got some photos with my camera

And more video. But I can’t get much magnification with the camera.

The fisher contorted himself so much at times it looked like a monkey, but usually just like a cat. I could see why some call it a fisher cat or pole cat. It hoped down again, and again didn’t run away. The wind was true and in my face so the fisher didn’t notice me until it paused before climbing on a trunk just down below me

I took a photo of the berries the fisher had been eating.

I headed home rather light on my feet. Seeing a fisher is rare and special, seeing one bouncing in a berry bush!

October 30 more rain the past two days and today was supposed to be partly sunny and it was, briefly, at dawn. Then clouds moved in, no rain, but all the wet from yesterday remained on the grass and ground. At the beginning of the Antler Trail up on the plateau of granite and moss, I saw a small porcupine eating the grass, and it had a dead leaf on its back, which seems a likely place for the falling leaf to get snagged. Rather than take a photo, I took a video with the camera to make a short record of a porcupine far from any trees, disturbed, and retreating to a thin line of tree with a quill bunched back. I took a photo of the rude back.

Come to think of it, I can lift a still off the video, so those who can’t get the video

can see the porcupine before its hustle shook the leaf off its back.

I didn’t get any deer ticks as usual in the low blueberry bushes, which I thought lucky because it was over 50 degrees. But leaving the plateau, going through stickers to the trail along the north edge of the ridge,

I got 10 deer ticks on my pant leg. The photo below shows 6 of them.

But that was the only “attack” of that magnitude. They don’t seem to thrive in the wetter areas. I didn’t see any fresh scats in the latrine south of the Big Pond dam, and didn’t see otters in the pond. A mallard pair flew off, the female quacking as she flew off and the male following. They didn’t fly far, which is good since duck hunting is going strong along the river shores. I figured it would be drier crossing up on the crest of the dam, but there were too many leaks over it to make a dry crossing. No signs of the beavers doing any patching, but the muskrat poops were still paired and evenly spaced like sentinels along a line. Except one pile of poop which seemed to be propped up on a little mound of mud.

Of course I kept looking out at the pond as I walked along the dam and when I saw a circle of white ripples around the lodge way up pond, I got out my camcorder and took a look, expecting to see ducks. Instead I saw something swimming head up that wasn’t a duck. It dove and I lost sight of it. I kept moving along the dam, then I saw more ripples out around that lodge. After five minutes of eyestrain, I saw an otter dive several times as it swam over to the marsh along the south shore of the pond. It was a big otter, and I wondered if it was a male otter not swimming with the family. Mothers usually avoid male otters in the fall. Then I saw a dance of ripples around the lodge and saw the two pups swimming together toward the south marsh, and then another adult taking its time, diving for fish, as it slowly followed the others. I waited 10 minutes hoping the otters would swim down the south shore and visit their latrine south of the dam, but they didn’t. I decided going on to the Lost Swamp would just add a half dozen more photos of otter scat to my under appreciated chronicling of same, so I walked up the south shore of the pond. I knew the deer trails and the whereabouts of likely places where the otters might rest. Half way up to the marsh where I thought they disappeared, I heard a sharp and loud otter chirp, but I didn’t see any otters. And didn’t see any latrines and must say that two muskrat lodges along the upper south shore did not look like otters had lounged on them.

Were they inside one of them as I stood there? Would be tight quarters. There was also a muskrat lodge south of the wide channel going up to the dam above the pond.

I also studied the beaver lodge along the north shore. As I walked up the south shore of the pond, I didn’t see any cache. But then when I got right across from the lodge, I saw that the beavers made a cache east of the pond, facing up pond.

I saw muddy water in a canal along the south shore, which could have been raised by otters or ducks, but they didn’t pile cut sticks at the end of the muddy canal just on the shore.

Indeed as I walked along the shore, a beaver swam out from the tall grasses where the canal merged with the pond. But it dove before I could get a photo of it.

I tried to follow it with the camcorder and could see the bubbles as the beaver swam under water surfacing down pond and toward the north shore. It was curious that it didn’t swim over to the lodge directly across from the canal. And was it out because the otters were around? It’s not common for beavers to be out in the pond at 10:15 in the morning. I have seen beavers out in ponds during the day when otters are about. However as it swam away from me I could see that this beaver’s fur was dry. It was bushy red, suggesting that it had not been out in the pond monitoring the progress of the otters. I could see where the beavers had been nipping the small willows, osiers and other stalks

The beavers here have been making these piles at the end of canals for the past several winters.

Obviously they have bigger fare in the cache by their lodge but I haven’t seen where they are cutting trees, yet. I didn’t go up the trails through grass and into the woods, didn’t see any trees to cut.

In the afternoon we went to our land and I had a chance to walk around the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. A little gulley about 50 yards long that we call Grouse Alley is a pathway shaded by hemlock, basswood, maples and ash that we usually take to the interior part of our land. In the winter porcupines often trim the hemlocks but for the 11 years we’ve owned the land, beavers have seemed faraway. But now they’ve come up from the Last Pool and cut a few small trees at the end of Grouse Alley.

Judging from the work left behind the beavers are taking their time as they trim the trees just up from the Last Pool but rather far from their lodge and the safety of deeper water.

Of course they’ve made themselves at home in the Last Pool since the poplar fell into the pool back in July and these past few weeks they’ve stripped a smaller poplar that fell on a trail next to the pond.

Someday I’ll have to put my mind to defining the beavers’ comfort zone. Today, once again, I had time only to walk around the pond and take photos of the new cuttings. And with more water in the Last Pool, thanks to our recent rains,

climbing up on and over the moss mounds around the pool and cutting trees is comfortable again for the beavers.

Perhaps the rising water leads beavers to trees, but it is also clear that the beavers are shopping for particular trees. They seem to be getting all the hornbeams that they didn’t cut last year.

They even cut one well into the woods along the east shore more than half way into the ridge where they haven’t gone to cut trees since the spring.

That said, around Boundary Pond, they are doing most of their tree cutting along the shore.

And sometimes dragging the small branches into the nearby water for nibbling.

A while back I noticed a cut elm hung up on another tree and thought that if the beavers cut the other tree, all would come down. They did, and all didn’t come down.

Beavers must be incapable of getting frustrated. Perhaps that's another result of their propensity to move from project to project every 15 to 30 minutes. Down at the dam I could gauge how high the water had risen in the past few days. The water was now just covering the stump of an elm they just cut.

They also began cutting trees, hornbeams, below the dam. Last year they cut several trees below the dam, but these are the first trees there that they’ve cut there this year.

There was a bit of mud around the wallow below the dam, but not organized enough yet for me to say they are making a little pool below the dam, as beavers often do as they prepare for winter.

They also cut another big elm that is right behind the dam, which fell with the crown landing just behind the dam. This is a comfortable place for a beaver to get a meal. The lodge is a few yards away.

They cut an ironwood on the west shore near by, but it got hung up. So no convenient meal from it.

It looks like they’ve packed more muck on the east side of their lodge,

And around to the southwest side.

Judging from the humming I heard this fall, I think the main chamber of the lodge is on the south end and so the beavers had packed more muck there for insulation and protection, which makes sense. Their cache is getting quite large. Too bad I can’t see them pile logs on like I did last year.

I walked up the west shore where there is less work. Indeed what was most striking was a view of some girdling and gnawing the beavers are doing on the east shore, which I didn’t notice when I walked down that shore.

A beaver did taste the root of a huge ash tree

Then dug into an ironwood.

A few weeks ago they girdled three maples up on the lower rung of the ridge above, but haven’t retuned to that work.

Up towards the Last Pool and around the Last Pool, they are more active, which I think is the sensible thing to do. Get to those trees now which will be harder to reach in the winter, like the birch below, just up from the Last Pool, cut, segmented, and hauled away.