Thursday, December 2, 2010

November 19 to 30, 2010

November 19 we finally went out to check the otter latrines around the beaver ponds on the island. The sun was out and the late morning warming up, but it had been below freezing during the night. We went up and over Antler Trail and Leslie thought we best forge a new trail through the wet areas as the deer and I had beaten it down enough to make it wet. We were greeted by a fresh otter scat on the trail up to the otter latrine at the south end of the Big Pond dam,

I stuck my camera down low to get an otter’s eye view of looking up toward the pond.

The scat was on a tuft of scratched up vegetation so I could call this a scent mound. It was at a juncture of my path up to the pond with a path coming up from the flowing creek below the dam which is probably a path more meaningful to animals. I haven’t seen scat at the other end of the creek where it flows into South Bay for about two years, so rather than marking a critical pathway into the pond, I think this was a case of otters marking farther from the pond simply because there was too much scat near the pond. They often seem to want a clean slate. And as we walked up to the pond, we saw more fresh scat and then at the main latrine next to the pond where the grass was roly-poly with otter use, we saw plenty of older scats.

Almost all the scat I was seeing had been left there since we’ve last been here about three weeks ago. There was also a relatively old scat on the downed tree trunk. Beyond that there was more fresh scats, including a neat one on a tuft of grass right next to the pond.

Of course, we kept looking out in the pond to see if otters might be there, though judging from the state of the thin ice behind the dam, otters had not just been there breaking the ice.

But one could say the ice was uneven enough suggesting that an otter had been there in the early morning leaving time enough for freezing up again before the warming sun rose higher. Meanwhile, water was pouring out of the higher hole in the dam

And that probably keeps the pond a foot or so lower than it might otherwise be. The beavers have a cache of winter food by their lodge far up pond.

I didn’t see any evidence of beaver work on the dam or foraging around the dam. As long as the lower hole in the dam doesn’t reopen, and I am still not sure if the otter originally made that hole, the beavers don’t have much to worry about along this venerable mostly mud dam. As we continued along the dam we saw several otter scats. During the summer and early fall the vegetation on and below the dam was too dense and tall to accommodate otters, now they are revisiting latrines otters used last fall.

I scanned the Lost Swamp Pond for otters, but all was quiet save for ducks and geese in the east ends of the pond. I saw a fresh scat atop the rock above the mossy cove latrine

And, although by my theory, the otters here are not the same as those as Picton Island, this scat looked very much like what I’ve been seeing there.

And it didn’t look like the scats I just saw at the Big Pond. However, I didn’t see any fresh scats down in the mossy cove latrine though there was a good complement of recent scats. And an otter managed to scat on a patch of ferns on moss clinging to the granite face that is angled up at 45 degrees.

Did it poop while climbing up, or scampering down? I moved up closer to the lodge in the southeast east end of the pond where I last saw otters a month ago and waited for 20 minutes, but none appeared. I think the cache is growing beside the beaver lodge, but it is hard to judge from this distance.

However this pond is high. Indeed, judging from the state of the lodge in the middle of the pond behind the dam, it is the highest it has ever been because the lodge is almost flooded over.

It is possible that beavers took logs from that old lodge to bolster the dam. I walked around the west end of the pond and up to the dam. On the way I saw that some otters had latrined on a grassy slope down from the dam which years ago had been a principal latrine here. There was more and fresher scat in the latrine on a slope of moss, grass and rocks closer to the dam which otters used a good bit last fall and this spring. They left a nice scat on a tufted grass.

If I took a photo of each new scat I would have quite an album. I took a photo of a scat on the grass which was fresh and looked much like the scats I just saw at the Big Pond.

There were scats on the flat rock next to the dam, but sated with otter scats, I was more interested in the dam. It looked well tended, though I could hear that it was still leaking.

A beaver had pushed up fresh mud after the recent rain. I saw one big log behind the dam, not sure where the beavers got it. I didn’t see any logs recently added on top of the dam so I don’t think beavers were raiding the old lodge behind the dam that is now so lowly. Then it was back to otter scats. There were some on the larger flat rock down toward the Upper Second Swamp Pond

and on the flat of grass and dirt behind that. I found some more fresh scats there. Then I crossed below the dam, over the flow of water coming down through the top of the dam at more than one place, and checked the latrine on the grass and rock next to the lodge east of the dam where the otters probably den now and then. There was much scat there, none as fresh as what I saw elsewhere.

One of the old scats was quite a production with goo and gray scales and perhaps even some crayfish parts.

I recrossed the stream a bit lower down and took a photo of the stream.

I didn’t follow to see if the otters followed too. As we walked back around the pond Leslie was struck by the bark on a huge maple that beavers have gnawed on over the years. She thought it looked like bark was growing back on ribs that looked like roots going down into the ground. Very striking.

We went back more or less the way we came, and saw a pleated woodpecker.

November 20 We went to the land and I made a point of doing more work collecting firewood (for next winter) than I checked on the beavers, But I can’t just stroll through the beaver development. Every few steps I have to take a photo. Going down the Ripple Rock trail, I saw that a beaver came up the trail another 20 yards and once again cut a sapling and left it leaning not far from where it was cut.

It almost seems like they want to leave a token of their work. That trail ends just where the beavers have cut birches on the west end and middle of the valley. I could see one long birch log on the ground and several piles of birch chips where the beavers had cut off a log.

All but that one log had been hauled away. Looking closely I could see a few stripped twigs surrounded by a pile of unstripped twigs, as if a beaver trimmed off twigs before hauling off logs cut from the crown of the birch.

Then heading toward the middle of the valley I saw another birch that had been cut down and at least two logs segmented and hauled away.

Nearby I saw where a birch was cut and the crown left in another tree as the beavers evidently segmented and hauled away the lower trunk.

Amidst all this mighty work on relatively big birches, I saw a line of nipped osiers.

I didn’t see much new work in and around the vernal pool but it was easy to see thorough foraging a bit farther up that side of the valley.

Then I got a sense that I was tracking a beaver or beavers. I saw a trail going from the east side of the valley over toward the middle of the valley marked by a few saplings cut along the way.

Then I saw a trail going back to the east side of the valley, again marked by nipped saplings here and there.

This at least got me out of the rut of fancying that my dividing the beavers' work in this valley to the east, middle and west had any relevance to how the beavers were actually negotiating it. It seems, as I have seen beavers do many times, that they prefer circles and zigzags to going directly up to their work and directly back. Beavers forage much the same way as humans shop, not as humans usually mismanage nature by methodically clear cutting. I walked back down to the Last Pool along the west side of the valley to see if the zig-zagging beavers ventured back over there. I did see three saplings cut at the foot of the ridge.

But I didn’t get a real sense of a beaver’s zag until I saw a trail cutting from the west, through tall dead grasses back into the middle of the valley.

That trail led to a large birch in the middle of the valley, cut and a rather long log completely stripped.

This work is interesting in two respects. It is near the stumps of smaller birches that the beavers cut last year when their lodge was much farther away just behind the Boundary Pond dam, and the trunk they completely stripped looks just a tad larger than the trunks farther up the valley that the beavers segmented and hauled away. It would be nice to see the beavers operating out here. Are the kit and yearlings doing this stripping? The gnaw marks look relatively small, but I don’t think I should get carried away judging a beaver by its tooth mark. I went down to look at the cache and I think I saw where one birch log wound up and was stripped.

In my experience, kits and yearlings do quite of bit of dining in the cache at this time of year. They seem to have a green light for fattening up for the long winter.

November 22 Because the ground is so wet we park along the road at our land and then walk up to the house. On the trail today a porcupine was bent down eating grass, with quills in a ball, and paid no attention to us.

On closer examination Leslie saw that its eyes were crusted over.

Not good, but we have seen porcupines recover from that. As we went about our business it kept eating grass -- until I slipped it a couple of apple cores. Before I got to work sawing logs, I checked the beaver work. Not only does the beavers’ cache continue to grow, but there are now stripped logs on top of the lodge.

I usually say beavers put logs up like that to keep otters off there lodge, but I can’t say that in this case because I haven’t seen any otters or signs of otters on our land in some time. I headed down to check on the dam, the Boundary Pond dam that now holds back the water in the Last Pool. On the way, I saw that the beavers once again have a taste for beech trees, and defeated my attempts to keep them from girdling one big beech,

Which suggests that it wasn't our barrier that kept them away from the beech. Perhaps the bark of every tree has its season for beavers. It looks like they are still tending the dam, but the beavers that go down there don’t seem to be eating there, or cutting trees nearby.

It was starting to rain so I went back up along the east shore of the pond again where there are more trees, and I headed up along the east side of the valley. Past all the stumps of the smaller trees beavers cut and collected, I saw a larger stump. Again a beaver couldn’t resist cutting a larger tree even though it was a long haul back to the lodge.

Judging from the few wood chips around the stump, a big beaver cut this tree with only a couple dozen bites.

I wish I had been around to see how the beaver managed it.

November 23 It rained yesterday and last night and I headed off to check Audubon Pond for otter scats hoping that the rain would inspire the otter who seems to be marking territory there to freshen up its marks. Plus we’ll be away for the next few days, eating, and need exercise. As usual of late there were no scats, old or new, in the latrines along the lower north shore of South Bay. Up at Audubon Pond I first walked down the high embankment forming the north shore of Audubon Pond and saw more work in and around the small pond below the embankment, and noticed that with the leaves down a photo from the embankment shows that focus of beaver activity below plus the huge river just over the ridge.

Apart from more stripping of a trunk and a log in the pond, there was a large cut ash, I think, freshly blown down by yesterday’s winds. I didn’t see any trimming of it yet. The beavers have started to trim a small tree, maple?, that had fallen earlier.

They cut down another smaller tree a bit off the pond and did a little work on that

But the larger downed tree that it landed on, which I think was down the last time I was here, had still not been trimmed. I think the pace of cutting and trimming is relatively slow because there are only two beavers here. Then I turned my attention to the otters. I went back down to South Bay and saw a scat up in the grass

of what I call the latrine at the entrance to South Bay. But the scat wasn't that fresh and probably the work of one otter.

Back up at Audubon Pond, at the latrine they have been using where a rivulet feeds the pond coming from the woods west of the pond, I didn’t see any more scats on the ash trunk and stump, but I saw what looked like grayish otter scats in the mud just up from the water of the pond.

They didn’t look that fresh, but when scats are gray it is hard to tell that. Scats that come out black will get grayer as they age but that takes a few weeks.

Strange too that an otter would scat in such mud when there are nice tree trunks to scat on, but what do I know. I continued around the bench on the north shore where otters have been scatting. I was surprised not to see any fresh scat, or new scat, but there was more scratching in front of the bench.

Perhaps a scat accompanying that had been scratched away or was under the loose grass. Meanwhile the beavers’ lodge looks about the same, but the light was better for a photo. The pile of winter food seems to be getting bigger,

but not growing like the one at Boundary Pond on our land where there are more mouths that need to be fed. The sun was going down so I headed to the East Trail Pond, specifically the ridge to north of it, where I thought I might see some beavers in the pond below. The wind seemed to be out of the west which might keep my scent away from the beavers, though I wished we still had the south wind of the past few days. On the way I checked those spots around Meander Pond where I’ve seen otter scats, but I saw nothing new there. As I went up the ridge north of the East Trail Pond, I saw that the beavers had been cutting trees on the flat west of the pond, and that one tree right below that had been cut and fallen over, probably that day because nothing had been trimmed off it.

I studied the lodge in the middle of the pond and waited for a beaver to come out and swim to the fresh offering on the north shore.

But first, as usual, when a beaver came out it first nosed around the half stripped logs next to the lodge. However, I thought I was hearing gnawing coming from somewhere else in the pond. Then either the same beaver around the lodge, or another just coming out of the lodge, swam toward me, but it stopped half way in the shade of some vegetation. Unfortunately for my hopes of seeing a beaver gnaw the tree below me, the wind began coming more from the north. Then suddenly a beaver thrashed out from under shrubs in the pond below me, half slapping its tail. That’s the way a kit expresses frustration. A dead oak leaf flew over my shoulder and landed in front of the angry beaver. I guess it could smell me. That beaver then swam back to the beaver in the shade in the middle of the pond, a much bigger beaver, and they seemed to confer. Meanwhile I was seeing ripples around the shrubs below me. So it seems that despite all the dislocation this family went through last year and this, it is still producing kits. The small beaver then swam back to the shrub below me and as it swam under it, I saw another small beaver swim out from under it heading over to the south shore of the pond. I kept my eyes on the beaver below me as it slowly swam into the open water close to the shore.

I could see that it was sniffing the air as hard as it could. It swam a little closer and nosed into some vegetation, then turned and swam back under the shrub. Well, I felt like I was ruining the evening of this beaver family, so I headed home, but not before taking photos of their recent work along the north shore of the pond. One large tree’s crown had been cut off and hauled away but the remaining trunk was not stripped.

A bit farther to the west there were downed trunks of smaller trees that have been mostly stripped.

Looking across the pond, I saw that the beavers were in the process of cutting down a large tree and a smaller tree next to it was down, and neither trimmed nor stripped

I didn’t go over to take a closer look because it was getting dark and I had to get home.

November 29 we went away for Thanksgiving and today I looked forward to sawing some logs at the land to work some fat off my belly. It was cold the last few days, though warming up today, and the ponds were iced over. There were concentric rings of ice on the Deep Pond pretty well making a bull’s eye over the deepest part of the pond.

There were no signs of animals swimming under the ice, no line of bubbles, no broken ice. Then I headed down the Ripple Rock trail to check the beaver work in the valley. There was nothing new on the trail so I cut across the valley to the vernal pool on the east side. I got the impression that the beavers not only cut more birch trees, they also began collecting birch twigs in the middle of the trail going up the west side of the valley.

I saw that one birch trunk was being stripped where it fell.

The beavers are not furtive when they come up the valley. As I continued across the valley toward the vernal pool, I saw that beavers also cut more of the woody shrubs, dogwoods of some sort, I think, probably added to the collection of birch twigs.

The vernal pool was still iced over suggesting that beavers aren’t using it during the cold nights.

I continued up the east side of the valley, leaving their work on the birch trees, and started trying to figure out which hornbeam stumps were old and which were recently cut. Then I saw a pretty good sized birch cut down, trimmed, but not segmented.

That tree was bigger than what the beavers really seem to be after up here: thin hornbeams.

There were lessons to be learned: this far from the lodge, the beavers cut the smaller trees first.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t cut some of the bigger ones during the winter. Judging from the size of the wood chips beside the stump, an adult beaver is doing the work up here, and an adult beaver can cut and haul big trees.

Once the ponds begin to ice over, the pace of cutting and collecting trees seems to slow down. The ice on the Last Pool was only about an inch thick so the beavers could easily break it. I can’t be sure if beavers or the current of water flowing down the valley kept the old wallow ice free.

Of course, the water was open around the lodge, and there were freshly stripped logs on the edge of the ice.

Heading down the east shore of the pond, I saw that a beaver had broken ice to get out and continue girdling a beech tree.

Beavers had started fresh gnawing on almost every beech around. They worked on a couple hornbeams, too, but mostly they wanted beech, even getting down into the roots. The pond was mostly iced over which meant that it would be easy to tell if beavers had worked on the dam. But I didn’t see any broken ice there.

The dam needs a little tending, judging from the amount of water leaking.

However, I’ve never noticed beavers working on a dam after a pond freezes. It seems that ice above and low water below suits beavers just fine. The ice on the upper west side of the Boundary Pond lodge was clear and it is possible that a swimming beaver or two kept it open, but it may have been because of the way the wind was blowing.

There were bubbles under the ice most everywhere in the pond. I saw broken ice a little bit behind the dam along the west shore, but no evidence of what the beaver that might have climbed out of the pond there did. But beavers don’t necessarily break the ice with great plans. Back up at the Last Pool, I saw broken ice and a trail on the shore that didn’t seem to go anywhere.

The west shore affords the best angle to look at the long pile of winter food around the lodge. (I might shy away from calling it a cache because that implies the food is hidden. In deep pond beavers do sink most of their cache, but that’s impossible in this shallow pool.)

There was another trail coming from a hole in the ice in the northwest corner of the pond and it looked like it led to some girdling on a tree low on the slight ridge.

I’ll check it out later. I was late for lunch. As we were leaving our land the porcupine with the crusted eye who had been eating some low growing clover all the time we were there, ambled up toward our house as best it could. One leg wasn’t working, and it was hard for it to see, but it made it to relative warmth and safety under our house.

November 30 with a big storm bearing down on us, we hiked over to Audubon Pond to check on the beavers there and see if otters used their latrines there recently. I saw no signs of the otters visiting their latrines on the lower north shore of South Bay -- which has been the case for months. Up at Audubon Pond, we saw that the beavers are still cutting trees in the little pond below the embankment. Along the granite boulders that form the east shore of the pond, there was a log hanging up on the rocks and gnawing on trees here and there.

They are doing more work on the west side of the pond as they trim trees they just cut down,

And by the dam they are doing more cutting, stripping and girdling.

But I didn’t go down for a closer look. I always seem to be a hurry when I am here. On our way here, I momentarily thought we had made a mistake coming at all because the day was too nice. We should have kayaked over or taken the boat out to Picton, and not be intimidated by predictions of rain and wind. Then as we walked along the embankment there was a gust from the south and more gusts and soon spits of rain. I headed back to South Bay to check for otter scats in the latrine overlooking the entrance to the bay but saw no signs of otters having been there. Then I went back to Audubon Pond and walked along the west shore of the pond. No new scats there either, though the latrine by the downed ash trunks looked worked over by something.

Plus I thought I could make out a trail going up the rivulet that feeds the pond there. I began examining piles of leaves along the rivulet and then my eyes followed a trail up into the woods -- otters do have a tendency to expand the range of their scatting, but this trail led to beaver work. They cut an ash tree enough to get it leaning on neighboring trees.

Over at the covered bench on north shore of the pond, we didn’t see any new scats. It looked like a beaver or two might be fancying the shallows there as a good place to strip sticks. There was a collection of them in the water.

They are also stripping logs in their cache, which looks smaller than when I last saw, but there was no sun out today so maybe I wasn't seeing it as well.

As we sat on the bench, talking somewhat loudly to see if a beaver might come out to try to silence us, an eagle soared over the north shore of South Bay. We could see it above the tall trees. As we walked on the boardwalk along the north shore, that has been in disrepair for years, we saw mud and grasses coming out from between two segments of the boardwalk and wondered if a muskrat had fashioned a lodge underneath it.

Our walking there didn’t cause anything to scurry below. I saw that a beaver had started cutting another ash tree on the northwest slope to the pond.

It will be interesting to see how the beavers manage the ice. Will they abandon the little pond below the embankment? We were planning to go see the beaver at the East Pond, but it started raining a bit more and we headed home. We’re due for two days of solid rain.