Sunday, December 30, 2012

November 1 to 9, 2003

November 1 a warm day with a good, but not overpowering, west wind, we went over to South Bay in our boat. We docked on a rock and took a leisurely stroll around Audubon Pond, a man made pond that is a little severe in its shorelines but it is surrounded by striking trees especially at this time of year when yellow and red converge to brown. A pileated woodpecker was enjoying a gash left by a fallen branch, tossing out thick rot.

I was also surprised to find some old scat at the latrine above the inlet pipes. We were last at the pond on October 28 so these scats probably were made just after we left.

We continued to the bench where I didn't see any scats. A family had just toured the pond so we didn't expect to see otters. And there appeared to be no fresh beaver work at all on the two nearby lodges in the pond. But I sagely told Leslie that many the time I had sat by a pond and told myself that no animal was there only to see that animal pop up out of the water a few minutes later. And there was one beaver sign -- the water was higher and as I looked out at the faraway mud covered drain, a beaver did pop up out of the water, swim back and forth briefly, climbed up on the mud, evidently groomed itself, and then dived back into the water and disappeared.

We continued around the pond and I saw some old otter scat by the bank burrow along the western shore of the pond. I also saw some beaver gnawing at the base of a shag-bark hickory.

If this beaver, like the ones in the Second Swamp Pond, learn to enjoy hickory they might survive in this pond. At the drain we could see the patch job the beaver did, though the drain was leaking as the water found a higher hole.

We couldn't tell where the beaver might have gone. None of the holes along the embankment seemed used. So perhaps the beaver continues to forage in South Bay which is what I suspected it did when it seemed to leave the pond a month ago. We heard a goldfinch, and three small ducks, probably teals, flew in.

November 3 rain most of yesterday and very light drizzle this morning, so, late morning, out of respect for the bow hunters, I took the boat over to Audubon Pond across a still, gray river, such a good receptacle for the brown reflections of the trees. The pond was quiet and I only went down to check the latrine over the in-let pipe, and was surprised to see that the scats that looked so old two days ago had revivified with the moisture, black and fresher.

I walked along the South Bay trail checking the knoll above the New Pond, no scats there, before heading up to the East Trail Pond. I was surprised not to see any ducks. I checked the latrines and found something more like a fisher scat at the latrine where I twice had luck sitting and watching otters. But I remember how earlier what I first took for fisher scat was soon joined by definite otter scat. Plus below the scat it looked like something went into the water, which a fisher would not likely do. There were no scats anywhere else. The beavers answered my complaint about the absence of freshly gathered sticks on their cache,

and they seem to be continuing to gnaw the downed poplar. I went over to check the Second Swamp Pond lodge and as I did a huge wave of ducks flew off the far end of the pond. I've always noticed that these large flocks usually go off in at least three waves. This time as one wave went off, at least 50 ducks, another made a short flight into the space the first wave vacated and many of those ducks kept their wings flapping. Then a dozen or so flew off and with my next step another huge wave flew off. The cache pile seems to have grown a bit. Walking along the north shore of the pond I saw two places where the beavers have gone into the brush to harvest small bushes and trees. As always, I wonder about the method of their shopping because they don't just take one after another but insist on browsing, not like lumberjacks more like mall shoppers.

The pond is filling up nicely and some of the my summer trails through the tall grasses are getting flooded. At the upper dam I saw a curious hole going down, which the water had not found.

No sign that any animal fashioned it. The Lost Swamp Pond was quiet

after the usual ducks and geese flew off (evidently no duck hunters today so I didn't feel guilty.) In this damp weather, after so much scatting in the latrine, it's hard to find fresh scat but I did, another liquid brown smear

as well as the usual black scat. I also noticed that some old scat that has been around for a month or two had also blackened with the moisture. I had never noticed that being so pronounced. Going around the pond I admired the beavers' work on the maple logs,

and then noticed some gnawing in the crown of a downed tree as if a beaver had climbed into it -- probably done by a porcupine -- too wet to go out and check. Meanwhile, the maple girdled last year, which still had a crown this year, seems to be on its way to being cut down.

On my way to the mossy cove latrine I saw that a large muskrat was out on a log nibbling away. At the latrine there were several fresh scats. One black and one neatly placed between the leaves,

and another loose black scat with white mucous too smeared atop the leaves

I looked up and expected to see otters on the lodge -- the whole dome dark brown in the damp, but no otters were there. As I waited I did see something swim toward it, that didn't swim beyond it. I don't think it was a duck but I can't say for sure it was an otter. As I waited to see if something climbed up the lodge, a smaller muskrat did some diving by the lodge. The larger one swam over there too. Then a bow hunter came by and we talked about deer and otters. He sees them in a swamp near Plessis, not far from our land. The bad news is that, according to him, the price for otter pelts has gone up to $150 which would be over three times more than last year's price. If true or widely believed that would be bad news for otters. Walked back to the boat via Otter Hole Pond and saw no signs of otters there, or anything else. I didn't see a deer, but the hunter who had been out since dawn said he had seen about 20, none killed though.

November 5 cold and rain yesterday, and then very early this morning a warm front moved up as another cold front bears down on us. So it was a damp, cloudy 65 degrees today, with a brisk southwest wind. That meant I headed for the East Trail Pond first. On the way I noted the flow of pine sap from a pileated woodpecker's drilling.

I went via a walk around Thicket Pond. In the winter especially I liken the foot loose beaver to shopping a mall of trees, but at the Thicket Pond the beavers seem to have fashioned the small bushy pond into a cathedral surrounded by well sculpted altars of harvested trees.

The lodge is well packed with mud, swelling for the winter.

All the work is close to the pond, so far, though I didn't wander up the hills or go down to Meander Pond. I walked around the north end of the East Trail Pond. The water in the west end of the pond is as high as it ever gets.

From the ridge I didn't see any fresh beaver work. The blueberry bushes high on the ridge are a dazzling red.

Past the bridge above the pond, I ran into fresh beaver work.

I often notice beavers not taking all the trees on a slope. Here they're taking down the last of the clump that was spared last year. While the bank lodge on this end of the pond has no cache in front of it, the nearby canal has been used and following up into the little pond above the lodge I saw a great deal of work. They're mostly taking ash.

I went over the knoll just east of the pond and saw that they never did much with the birches they cut, but down below they were stripping and segmenting a birch and working on other trees. In this type of weather the fresh cuts are quite beautiful, almost floral.

No signs of otters, but I've never discovered a latrine on this side of the pond. I didn't cross over to check the usual latrines. I headed over to the Second Swamp Pond coming down to it from the huge granite rock shaped like a whale. I passed where they had cut a poplar a long time ago. No fresh beaver work here. I'm glad now that I took the photo of the hole in the upper beaver dam, because the hole has been filled, with a fresh push of grass on top.

There is a stripped beaver stick in the pond so I assume a beaver did it all. With such warmth I wanted to sit, but it was also still wet everywhere. Up on the north shore of the Lost Swamp Pond,I put my waterproof hat on a small log in the dogbane above the old otter rolling area, and looked out on the pond receiving the intense gusts of west wind. Yes, I scared ducks, but primarily on the Second Swamp Pond. One wave of almost a hundred flew up and off to the west into the wind. I noticed the time and gave myself ten more minutes to sit. Then a few minutes after that I saw an otter coming up the pond across from me. It got up on a log and looked right at me, but went right back to diving after fish. I watched her go further up the pond and then another small otter caught up to her. It has been quite a while since I've seen otters in that part of the pond, and they seemed to be successful in their fishing. They were rather independent, with the big one's getting up on a log frequently to eat helping me keep track of them.

They were so discreet that I lost track of them at times. I kept alert in case they went up the ridge, but they fished along the opposite shore and then headed for me fishing all the way. I must say they went more slowly than usual; every time into the water seemed interesting to them. At times the otters came together and then fished a part. Sometimes they both came up with a bite; sometimes they swirled together, at least I suspected so because they tails waved above the water so close together.

I was hoping they would come and scat before me, but after the climbed on most of the floating logs that they could -- always a nice plate to eat fish on,

they went to the little lodge out in the pond. One looked at me now and then, but I got nary a snort. One went up on the lodge and groomed itself; the other kept fishing -- the pup, I'm pretty sure staying in the water longer.

I kept thinking they went into the lodge, and they may have. If so, no muskrats came out in a huff. The little one, I think, as it was fishing by the lodge took the time to pull a stick out of the lodge, the better either to get to a fish or to get in. Then they both swam up toward the east end of the pond; the mother going first and the little one hurrying up behind.

This was the first time I really saw one strictly following the other. As they went farther away from me, they resumed fishing in their usual fashion. Temperature wise it was a good day to stay tuned, but the wind was gusting so that it was a matter of moments before they got my scent. So I retreated, coming home again via Otter Hole Pond, which, again, was quiet. And again I saw no deer, and also no bow hunters. A pileated woodpecker laughed at me as I went up the TI Park ridge.

November 8 strong winds yesterday put the river into a rage, and while the winds diminished they never stopped so despite it getting down into the low 20s last night very little froze over. I still went out and went to the Lost Swamp Pond via Otter Hole Pond. Among the ducks on the Lost Swamp Pond are more mergansers, both common and hooded. From a great distance there is no mistaking them for otters. I waited a bit but the cold wind moved me along. There was a new scat at the mossy cove, but well frozen; also a new but frozen scat at the north slope. No trees freshly downed over there. The golden crowns are all brown or gone so the beavers' harvesting seems much less dramatic. They seem to be worrying a large maple log more.

Up at the old rolling area there were two fresh, soft scats, one a black scaly bolus and the other dripping clear brown;

so the otters have been through this morning. The scats were near where there had been some digging into the soft black brown earth.

One hole was almost two feet into the bank. Other than the depth of the hole, everything around, scats and rolling, seems the work of the otters. There is a bit of leaking at the dam but the water is so high, I don't think it is from any otter digging there. By the way, I noticed some more water draining out of the first swamps as I walked along the South Bay trail. I thought of checking the Big Pond but since I didn't see a bow hunter so far in my hike there's a good chance there were some over there, it being Saturday morning and the cold being generally judged as something that gets the deer moving about. It looked like some mud had been packed on the beaver lodge. The upper second swamp pond dam had some ice,

but to my surprise the hole down into the dam was open again. The bit of grass pushed over it had been pushed away.

I couldn't see any other sign of an animal being there. Most likely suspect a raccoon whose prints wouldn't show in the frozen mud. I checked the Second Swamp Pond lodge, which looked about the same and then went on to the East Trail Pond. I took a photo of some fresh wood chips left by a beaver on the rich green moss on a rock with the dead leaves and bare trees forming the background.

Deep into fall you get morsels of the greens of summer. Only the snow can subdue the moss. No activity in the pond. I crossed the dam and checked the nearby latrines, and kept looking around. It's almost as if the otters are waiting for ice before they come back to this pond. I then went down to the Thicket Pond, only because I knew it would be frozen over, as indeed it was.

This is the most thought provoking pond. I realized this time that the whole pond forms a cache, it is so small and so enchanneled. Intense work on the trees is but a few feet from the lodge or comfortable well dredged channels.

Crows are the predominate bird about the woods, but quiet today, and at the Lost Swamp a flock of chickadees came by with one landing a few feet from me, no doubt in hopes that I was a fresh carcass.

November 9 a colder, quieter night, enlivened by an eclipse of the moon, but a bit of a breeze in the morning. I headed for the ponds and straightway enjoyed some snow buntings, ranging along the road, no snow, of course. I went to the Thicket Pond first. Knowing that it was frozen yesterday I thought I might easily see the latest beaver activity. And at the work near the dam I could see broken ice and what appeared to be a new log cut off the hanging trunk.

Going along the south shore of the pond I could see other holes in the ice, now frozen over, and the nearby fresh work of the beavers.


There was no broken ice, which surprised me. Then as headed toward the East Trail Pond, I found fresh work on three or four ashes and then back tracked to the the canal they did open to get to this work.

On the way to the East Trail Pond I sent a doe and a yearling back into the hunting zone. Not to worry, they were both too small to attract a bow hunter's attention. The pond was completely frozen and the only bubbles I could see were near one of the beavers' feeding stations,

and then at the mossy rock, along the dam, and at the lodge. The bigger holes, now frozen over, were at the lodge.

As I went up the hill I saw some serious gnawing on a large oak that had only been girdled before. On the hill the beavers had extended the range of their foraging. They took some shad bushes and from those cuts I could see the Second Swamp Pond though the beavers were still closer to the East Trail Pond. The larger ponds were half open and the iced parts were breaking up. Still at the Second Swamp Pond lodge I could see bubbles under ice that remained, nestled around some fresh work. Though the night's plan was not laid out before me, I could see some beaver thinking. Then at the upper dam, I thought a mystery might be solved. There were tiny bubbles under the ice leading to the strange hole in the dam.

So I absolve raccoons and blame a muskrat. On this pond I was intrigued by milkweed seeds frozen and frosted in the pond.

I don't recall seeing this before and all around me, and especially along the north slope of the Lost Swamp Pond, I could see how the milkweed pods were bursting open, and the winds of the last few days did the rest.

As soon as I got eye level to the Lost Swamp Pond, coming up from below the dam, I saw that hooded mergansers were on the pond,

perhaps a half dozen. They flew off and I inspected the rolling area latrine and there was a fresh scat just outside the holes dug into the bank.

It began to feel warm so I nestled back into my spot on the bank and waited. Most of the pond was open before me, with ice at the west end of the pond and ice from the narrowing of the pond to as far as I could see. I reasoned that the otter might still be around this end of the pond. As I waited one duck flew back, a female hooded merganser. I heard some harmonizing beaver hums from the lodge. And then I saw a back surface just outside the lodge. That sat me up, and five minutes later a muskrat surfaced. Meanwhile a cold wind picked up, bringing clouds too. I walked around the pond and saw that the beavers had been active, breaking ice and girdling more maples and cutting down the large maple that had been mostly girdled last year. It didn't fall all into the water,

but its branches are keeping it up and maybe the beavers will try to cut them. As soon as the lodge at the far end of the pond came into view I could see that an otter was on it.

So I stood for another fifteen minutes trying to determine if it was one or two otters. I could only be sure of one. There was a few feet of open water around the lodge but ice from there to where I was standing. Of course, what I had hoped to see was the otter swimming along and popping through the ice -- got up too late. I headed home via Otter Hole Pond where I could see what a frozen pond looks like with no underwater activity. Many ducks, mostly mallards, on South Bay which had been frozen out a hundred yards or so but was breaking up quickly as the west wind picked up.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

october 17 to 31, 2003

October 17 a chilly, partly cloudy day, and after 3pm I went across South Bay in the motor boat, marveling at how, with no other boats around, I seem to go at unconscionable speed, and that any more than 6 horsepower would invite retribution. I checked Audubon Pond first and nothing stirred there. Then I walked along the South Bay trail to the East Trail and up to the pond. My object was to discern an otter world in the grasses below the Second Swamp Pond, but I wanted to make sure the otters weren't in the East Trail Pond. Geese were there, four not the usual six. I checked the dam latrines for scat and saw none. The wind was generally from the west, but sometimes would trick around from the north, so when I sat on the slope above the Second Swamp Pond beaver lodge, I feared the wind sometimes wafting at my back would ruin the evening. But I had a good view of the dam, the grasses where I saw the otters disappear one day, and of the upper end of the pond below the ridge over to the Lost Swamp Pond. My idea was to see otters coming in to settle for the night, and, if I didn't, I would still see the beavers. A heron and some ducks flew off as soon as I sat down. But some ducks stayed. And a magical evening began. At first glance I thought they were geese, but then I saw they were not, and after studying them with the monocular, realized they were ring necked ducks. Soon they began diving and also frisking about.

Though they don't range as widely, they are not unlike otters in their diving as a group, compared to the more methodical mergansers, these ring necks, like otters, seemed to have an attitude, a penchant for making waves probably unnecessary to the task at hand. Plus there were two or three larger ducks and several smaller, probably cocks and hens, but from the look of it they could have been, like otters, mothers and pups. Then I heard a glunk in the lodge below me. Fortunately, the beaver swam out a good ways under water, say 20 yards, surfaced and went right to work down at the dam. About 15 or 20 minutes later it swam back with a small branch.

It dove with its catch

and, I think, went into the lodge. Not only did it come out again, with the same long swim under water,

but I began hearing gnawing over to the right where I couldn't see. Then that beaver swam underwater and surfaced swimming toward the dam. Of course, during the lulls in the beaver activity, I could watch the ducks. Two wood ducks flew in just in the perimeter of where the ring necks were sometimes preening on logs and sometimes fishing. The wood ducks soon flew off in a huff, bothered I am sure by some of the diving ducks. But there was a larger group of wood ducks squealing up in the far end of the pond that I could not see. Then I heard another glunk -- the third beaver. It swam over to the right and then around the dam and then right below me looking up.

This was a baby and I knew that even if it did raise an alarm, the other beavers would probably not pay attention. It seemed to know that too and proceeded to swim out to the grasses sticking in clumps about ten yards out from the lodge, perhaps where it had hid some morsels to munch. It didn't seem to find what it wanted, dove a few times into the cache, and then swam off to the dam to join the adults. Cold as it was what I took for wood frogs, summing up the season for the last time, sang on the ridges around the pond. Then I heard a strange screech below the dam, that must have been a rail, perhaps startled by the beavers. Then I heard some ferocious splashing right over in the area where I was hoping to see otters. There was no flapping after the splashing, so it might not be a duck. But with otters, the splashing moves, and, alas, over the next ten minutes this splashing didn't. Then I heard another glunk from the lodge but saw ripples coming out of the underwater entrance nearer me. I expected a muskrat and a large one emerged, ducked around the lodge a bit, and then swam roughly over to where I heard the splashing.

Now, muskrat splashing which I did see last year has a tendency to stay in the same place. And after seeing otters go in there, a day or two later I heard screeching and saw a muskrat swim away. I thought otters might have scared it off and I did see something furiously wave a tail -- as otters can do. Now seeing that muskrat swim toward the splashing, I wonder if it is not muskrat territory, and the otters were just briefly borrowing the accommodations they have in there. Meanwhile, the sun was down and accompanying the warm golden glow in the crowns of the pines and oaks was a chilling of the bones. I went back to the boat via the East Trail Pond where I saw shadows on the lodge but no otters. Then I went up the ridge to Otter Hole Pond, saw fresh beaver work, better photographed in daylight, and gazed down on a placid Otter Hole Pond.

October 19 even colder today, just above 40, with low fast moving clouds giving away as the sun went down. To me this is prime otter watching weather because the cold does away with many distractions, even the birds move more quickly so they are harder to identify. Also the wind came out of the north. I headed to the Big Pond via the first swamp ridge, and soon saw that there was not much doing, even the ducks and geese had gone. I checked for new otter scats and saw nothing, and no sign of beaver work either. So I crossed the dam and headed up to the Lost Swamp Pond, still confident. Last year at about this time I saw two if not three groups of otters converge in the Lost Swamp providing some excellent otter watching. I soon saw there was no riot today, and settled under a tree to study the three lodges. The smallest and nearest showed signs of being lounged on. The grasses that had been put up on the lodge looked smoothed down and wet. The lodge by the dam, where the cache is, looked unchanged from my last visit. But the lodge far out in the upper end of the pond had two brown spots which seemed to be a deeper brown color than a mere shadow. Of course, I kept thinking I saw movement with the naked eye and then checked with the monocular to see all as before. Then after fifteen minutes I was almost certain a bit of dark brown arched up. I kept studying it and for the next half hour it didn't move. Finally just before the cold forced me to move on, one brown blur turned into a large otter that went on top of the lodge and scatted, and then went over and nuzzled the other otter awake. As far as I could tell, both otters lay back down on the lodge.

I waited another 15 minutes hoping they would do some fishing -- the wind was almost perfect, but the otters didn't budge. I assume there are only two and that they are the same two I've been seeing in this and the Big Pond for the last couple of weeks. As I walked slowly around the pond, I saw new, but not fresh scat in the mossy cove. I also noticed some black lathered on rocks just out of the water.

That gave me pause and poking it a bit I could see it was not otter scat. Perhaps muskrats have pushed it up, perhaps the cold has blackened the usual slime and algae. The beavers took down another maple tree and I could see cuts on three more.

Rather beautiful and melancholy to see their lovely crowns brought down forever. One consolation is that the beavers seem to relish maple especially at this time of year.

As I went up the scatless north slope to check on the upper Second Swamp Pond, I saw that it was filled with ducks, so I tried to gingerly move away, to no avail, about 40 ducks flew off, the first large concentrated flock of the season. With the north wind I thought it more productive to stay on the south side of the ponds. Down in the main section of the Second Swamp Pond, I saw the ring neck ducks again, just a half dozen. I eased my way out on the dam and thought I saw new scat on the latrine there but nothing fresh, except one scat in a puddle which may have been a raccoon's. Then when I looked up I saw the wake of something that dove into the pond. It could well have been an otter since it was an hour before these beavers usually stir. I waited for it to reappear but it didn't, leaving me to believe it was a muskrat who would have been most comfortable secreting itself in the nearby grasses. While I waited a lopsided chevron of geese flew over, heading south.

I back tracked and went down to Otter Hole Pond, still very shallow and I couldn't find any new otter scat. Finally going to the East Trail Pond I photographed the downed maple I saw two days ago. There were no scats on top of the fresh blanket of pine needles. I sat at my lucky spot and no otters appeared, but it was quite beautiful as the clouds were gone and the golden sun infusing half the pond.

Heading up to the East Trail I saw that a beaver had gone well up the ridge and taken one small serviceberry tree.

October 22 the night before last we had a series of storms, complete with lightning and thunder, roll through, and briefly, in the dark of night, the temperature got up to 55. Then yesterday morning it was all cold rain and around 40, and this morning it was cloudy and just above freezing. The wind was out of the north which made it prime otter watching weather for me. As is my habit now, I went to the Big Pond via the first swamp ridge. The wind swept pond had a few ducks on it; no otters, though there appeared to be a fresh scat in the latrine across from where I usually sit. Judging the freshness of scat in this damp cold weather is a challenge (and no bugs about to add their opinion) but this was glistening. No beaver work along the dam but at the other end a little grass had been brought up either by a beaver or muskrat.

The Lost Swamp Pond was pulsing with ducks and I lay back a bit so as not to send them flying. I noticed a lot more grass on the nearby lodge, but no otters.

Then when I scanned the water around the far lodge, I saw a back arch into the water, clearly an otter. I waited, and waited, and saw nothing else. This perplexed me not a little. And it was a cold wind blowing through me. When I decided to move on, I saw some diving in the water nearby and poised for an otter, but it was a mink. I held my ground and, as always, it didn't care and scooted along the shore right by me.

I slowly moved on after it, as I went to check the otter latrines. (If I saw a fresh scat I would say I did see an otter.) At the mossy cove I scanned the north shore for the mink, and there, at the old rolling area, were two otters. The cold wind in my face suddenly didn't seem so cold. They were rolling in the grass, nuzzling, and arching their heads up quite a bit.

I began to get the impression that these were two pups, but tried to look for leadership qualities in one of them.

One did go into water first and the other hopped after it, in definite puppy fashion. They foraged over to the dam; one got a fish and brought it to a rock by the dam and started eating it

but stopped that and fished some more. They both came a little ways toward me, now and then parking themselves on logs to eat

Then one took off on a cruise first going to the west, then toward me, quietly chirping. I first had the impression it was looking for the other otter, and then as it headed for me that it had scented me, though it didn't look alarmed.

The other otter was back at the rolling area, where it found another fish to eat,

then back in the water and the other came and they were up on shore again. They both definitely pranced like pups, I thought. And I thought they were fleeing, but they did fish behind the dam some more. Then one scatted on the big rock behind the beavers' lodge. It soon got back in the water and the other swam around the beavers' cache and I didn't see them anymore. I assumed they joined the beavers in the lodge, or went around to the burrows along the shore on the other side of the rock. So I went to check their scat: not necessarily anything fresh at the mossy cove, and one new scat at the north slope. The big news there is the complete segmenting job the beavers did on the last maple to fall,

with only one five foot long log left behind.

Other maples will soon fall and beavers continue stripping bark off the big trunks. I went up to the rolling area and found a six inch bullhead with just its tail bitten off, more or less still alive. On the video I can see one of the otters gnawing its tail and then running off into the water to join the other otter.

There were scats all around too.

Then I saw one otter nearby at the dam and then the other swam over toward it and they swam toward me ducking here and there along the shore.

One came within about ten feet of me, while the other was climbing up on the bank I was sitting on. Finally the lead otter saw me and splashed into the pond, the other followed. They both surfaced about twenty yards out in the pond and gave me the business, blowing and periscoping.

I finally blew back and they stayed on my case, until I stood up (thinking that if I retreated they were so naive or brave that they would come up and get the half eaten bullhead.) But they surfaced just behind the little lodge in the pond, blew some more, disappeared again and I heard some more blowing but didn't see them. My gut feeling is that these are two pups and the mother has that back I saw in the far end of the pond. If so, this is a rather advanced family to let the pups be so independent and I should hold judgment until I do see the three together again. Up at the dam I saw the remains of the bullhead I saw one of the otters eating.

I should also mention that the cache by the lodge has mushroomed, with big lumber, too.

I hurried through the rest of the hike; noticed another hole in the upper second swamp pond dam

and beaver work in a canal in the upper end of the second swamp pond -- trying to forage far from the lodge while they can.

There were more large flocks of ducks here. I would say I sent upwards of 300 ducks into the air today. The East Trail Pond was quiet with the six geese and no new scats on the pine needles. You can bet I flew home.

October 23 another cloudy cold morning with a north wind, perfect for otter watching and I wanted to see if there was a family of three at the Lost Swamp Pond. I went to the Big Pond by the first swamp ridge, then when I got up toward the pond, I saw something black slithering high on the shore. I ducked thinking it was the otters, but it turned out to be geese browsing through the shallows.

There were three large flocks, a good 100 geese, probably migratory. They certainly didn't want to fly off. I scanned for otters, and, seeing no fresh scat decided to move on to the Lost Swamp Pond. Today was a little bit colder than yesterday and I was disappointed not to see the otters out. I still hunkered down for a vigil but after a half hour decided I had to move. There was no fresh scat at the mossy cove and nothing new at the north slope. The beavers have almost cut enough of another maple to bring it down.

In this cloudy somewhat damp weather I can always see better and I paused to appreciate the gnawing on the maple trunk and log. As I'd expect there were large and small tooth marks.

The top of the trunk of one of the first maples to come down looks like it is being gnawed over again.

Then as I went along the pond, I noticed some tentative nibbles on a huge old maple on the ridge.

Up at the rolling area, I was gratified to see the bullhead gone and fresh scat left behind. The scat seemed exceptionally juicy,

as fast and loose as the otter scats I saw yesterday, with much, it seems to me, that may well be picked through by a not too fastidious bird.

So I'm confident that the otters came back despite the bother I gave them. The smaller bullhead head was gone too, and, by the way, the head of the other bullhead was no where to be seen. I was about to continue on my way, when I looked up and saw a puffed up otter cruising from the point of land across from where I had been sitting, heading for the lodge out in the pond. When I say puffed up, I mean its tail was cocked up, and not only were the head and neck out of the water, so was the body. I went for the monocular instead of the camcorder, wanting to be certain it was an otter. I focused on the wrong thing and when I looked out I saw it cruising back to the grassy point in the same stately fashion. Of course, the strong wind was at my back, and I think the otter purposely showed itself in this puffed up fashion to intimidate me. This seemed to be a large otter, and I was reminded of the otters I saw in the Big Pond, when two swam together in normal otter fashion, and another larger one floated in the middle of the pond. But all this supposing is for naught, I think, until I see the three otters together with a mother in charge. I walked back around the pond, to make sure the otters weren't up at the other end. They weren't, and I took a photo of where the otter had emerged.

This area had been used as a latrine a few years ago, and it is a favorite spot for muskrats, though I never thought they had a burrow over there. Yesterday, the otters had not gone on the lodge the beavers are using, and maybe they have been kept out of the other lodge too. I took the shortcut down to the Second Swamp Pond, scaring away ducks and geese. I checked the latrine on the dam where I had theorized the three otters had scatted, there was nothing new there. Nothing new at Otter Hole Pond. I did scare off a duck and a heron. The East Trail Pond was out of the wind, quite placid, and would have been a nice place to sit even with a few balls of icy snow coming down, but there was no fresh scat, and I was cold. I checked the knoll above the New Pond, no scat there, and I saw two deer prancing up and over beaver point.

October 25 Chilly morning but warming with rain on the way. I saw no reason to vary my route of recent days. Once again I moved the geese back at the Big Pond.

No new scat there nor any sign of beavers, so I moved on to the Lost Swamp Pond, and sat, as usual, so I could see the three lodges. Less duck activity today and blue jays back in the woods telling me what a fool I am. The wind was out of the southeast which means sitting behind the rolling area where I saw the otters the other day would be perfect. So I decided to walk around the pond and if I saw fresh scat to start a vigil. As I got up I looked at the nearest lodge and an otter was on top of it. This was good news for one of my hunches -- that the otters put the grass on top of that lodge. Now I hoped to see three otters, to prove my hunch about the family. But there were only two and they swam off the lodge and started fishing to the east. That afforded me the opportunity of walking around the western end of the pond, and sneaking up on the hill and hiding in the brown grass stalks behind the rolling area. I managed all that in fine fashion and the otters were fishing around the point just across from me. Then one went up on a rock over there, scatted, and, to my chagrin, the other came up on the rock too. They moved to the grass behind the rock and started rolling there, and nuzzling. Then they hopped back into the water, swam around the point and I lost sight of them as they swam up the other, and much larger, section of the pond.

I know it might be a while before they swam back my way. So I checked the rolling area just below me, and saw fresh scat. I also saw that the fish parts in their old scat that I thought some bird might be brave enough to take were still there, drying out in the scat. Meanwhile the beavers have brought some more big lumber to the lodge by the dam.

I didn't learn too much from watching the otters, but how they behaved was consistent with there being a mother and a pup. One definitely has puppy like motions, and as the other left, the puppy was nosing along the shore and then leaped out to follow the other. I continued on down to the Second Swamp Pond lodge where the cache grows but in a scrubby way.

I like the mostly lumberless look of it and I bet if I checked the photos of last year's pile there was probably a lot more wood. I hate to mention how many ducks I flushed giving me a rousing flying ovation I do not deserve. I went down to check the big cut-but-not-down poplar and nothing has changed there except some gnawing on a small tree even closer to where the Second Swamp Pond beavers are doing their lumbering. I checked the leaves and could not discern any paths. Closer to the East Trail Pond dam a beaver left a log in the middle of the slope from the ridge

and their leftovers litter that corner of the dam. The East Trail Pond was quiet until the geese started debating. The usual bunch reconciled themselves to my presence but as I moved around the pond, another bunch got into a panic and flew off, sending them all off, leaving me with a very quiet pond. Despite not seeing any new scats, I sat down and enjoyed the stillness still golden on this dreary day. A few sprinkles of rain and then a rush of wind behind me inspired me to move on. I went down and around to check the Thicket Pond where the beavers' masterful work continues.

They continue to add ash to their collections of maples, and now some red oak. The leaves are down on the button bushes so it is easier to see into the pond.

The time changes tonight and these and the Second Swamp Pond beavers will be the best to watch for at dusk. Flushed a heron out of the smaller South Bay cove. The ravens were quiet today. Showers just after I got inside the house.

October 28 rain on the 26th and 27th kept me out of the ponds, at least two inches, and passing cold during it all. With sun this morning we were off in the boat to South Bay. Up at Audubon Pond we saw a large bryozoa,

nothing but jelly apparently. With limited wave action in the pond the jelly has not broken up as it seems to do in South Bay. There were no signs of otters and I didn't get close enough to see if the still damp beaver lodge had been amended by any beavers. Didn't look like it from afar. There was an old small beaver log next to the bryozoa but it didn't look like fresh work. Then we headed for the Lost Swamp to see if the otters were still there. Going up to the ponds from South Bay we flushed one grouse, then another, then another, all told eight of them most flying off the trees, and they all seemed to fly off into the woods going in different directions. All the rain water was washing through the series of once glorious ponds. Not many ducks today, but the ravens were vocal again. There was a southwest wind cheating to the south which made it difficult to approach the ponds correctly. Standing at the northwest corner of the Lost Swamp Pond I saw something swimming into the lodge in the middle of that section of the pond. I suspected a muskrat but it could have been an otter finding shelter as it noticed we were there. We walked up toward the lodge and finding generous fresh scats on the old rolling area, including two almost clear.

Then closer to the dam there were two big scaly black/gray scats on rocks.

We sat down to see if otters might appear. Now the wind was blowing gently into our face. Then I saw a little muskrat swim into the lodge, a very good indication that the other animal going there was a muskrat too. After waiting about 20 minutes, we, that is me, Leslie and our friend Steve, walked around the pond to get a look down the long section of it. At the west end of the pond the beavers cut down, decrowned and half segmented the maple they had been working on and more maples had been gnawed.

They also keep gnawing on the tree that had been half girdled two years ago.

Up at the point I trained the monocular on the faraway lodge and saw brown lumps on top and little behind the top of the lodge that soon squirmed. Though I never saw two heads or two tails at once, I think there were two otters up there. We waited for about half hour for them to swim off and they never did. The wait was made more exciting by a muskrat who swam over to the lodge near us and sat on its edge just out of the water and nibbled on something. After crediting the otters with putting grass on top of the lodge, I now must credit the muskrats who are clearly planning to make this their winter home. The muskrat stayed despite our squirming and talking. A red bellied woodpecker also flew by, latched onto a few trees but hurried off. Plus the view with a huge red maple in the background was enchanting.

Leslie suggested that the otters kept looking up and lying back down because they saw us. So we went behind a small hill for five minutes, but that didn't inspire them to get off the lodge. We headed back roughly the way we came and I noted a few mushrooms. One was pinkish violet

and the other orange butter with slime too.

October 30 sunny day, warming, and with a brisk southwest wind. I figured it was best approaching the Lost Swamp Pond from the north and headed for the East Trail Pond. I checked the knoll at the New Pond first and saw no scats on the fallen leaves. The water is gushing out of the ponds which means no beaver has patched the leaking dams above. As I came over the rock overlooking the East Trail Pond, I saw ripples, but from a good number of ducks. I hung back and crossed over to the ridge overlooking Otter Hole Pond. A heron flew below me and into the pond, but no sign of otters. I went back to the East Trail Pond going down the usual ridge trail. The beavers continue to work up there

and they managed to get through and completely segment and move away one of the maples that was hung up. There were no scats on the trail down to the pond. Otters are due to get back into this pond soon. I crossed the creek below the dam, which was running nicely too, just because the pond level was so high. I checked on the beavers' poplar work and they are progressing well on the one that is down.

The hanging one seems to have stymied them and I see little fresh work in that direction. I checked the Second Swamp Pond lodge which looked about the same. One redpoll was in a cedar. I scanned the pond raked by the wind and saw nothing swimming. Going up the north shore I did see fresh beaver work -- one small tree, and paths back into the woods that I didn't follow. However I did get into a bit of swamp and a vole darted out of one puddle, and I noticed that it didn't, as usual, go directly to a hiding place. So I did the impossible - a photo of a vole out in the swamps.

It's easier to see the tail than the furry brown thing. The upper pond was completely full, with no leaks, yet I could see no beaver activity other than the obvious -- the dam was patched.

I had camcorder running when I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond, but other than three huge waves of ducks and geese taking off, nothing was happening. I soon saw that otters had been there, more fresh scats. Some on the rock they used the other day and some on the grass just out of the pond. Plus just beyond where a bare patch had been scraped in the grass, I saw there were two holes being dug perhaps by the otters.

So I moved back into the dead dogbane and waited. A muskrat soon appeared, sparkling wake in the low sun. It came to the lodge and then walked over it from one end to the other, much the same way as muskrats walk along a log. Then it swam back to where it had first climbed up on the lodge, and two other muskrats were there and all three went onto the edge of the lodge and I wasn't sure what they were doing. Soon one muskrat swam off to the east and another swam off to the west.

Last year in late September I saw two muskrats using their tails to make jet trails. I'm wondering if rats at this time of year advertise for roommates for the winter. They won't be making babies until the late winter, but why share a lodge with just any rat? After waiting a half hour I gave up on the otters, plus the wind was shifting a bit to my back. I walked around the pond, noting no major new trees downed by the beaver, and then up to get a monocular on the upper lodge. To my surprise there was no otter on it. I waited a bit and then a muskrat returning to their lodge, and a muskrat foraging in the pond right next to me provided some distraction.

I also noticed that the beavers put a very long freshly stripped log in their cache pile.

I decided some falls ago that this very large bit of leftovers does service by weighing down and stabilizing the cache pile. As I turned to leave I noticed a dead frog stuck in the grass

I knew it was stuck because I tried to pull it off. I checked the mossy cove latrine and found a clear brownish scat and a fresh black scat on a freshly fallen leaf.

I went to the Big Pond to see if the otters were there, and just when the lodge came into view I saw that the otters were on it.

Here the wind was still from the southwest and I could see that by walking a little farther my scent would betray me. However I didn't have a good view so I got the great notion of sneaking up behind the otters, keeping the wind in my face. But merely moving a leg to effect this resolve caused an otter's head to pop up, and one otter disappeared and then the other. I did walk around to get behind the lodge, then saw they were fishing on the other side of the pond. I got some video of that and then found a place to hide in case they swam right back to the lodge, but I soon saw that they had disappeared, probably back into the grasses.

The otters I've be seeing this year are very adept at hiding in the grasses and cattails, perhaps because they were out in South Bay a good bit where the cattail marsh is the best hideout. I crossed the dam, which was overflowing. I checked the latrine on the other side of the dam, and there were no new scats. The otters have probably just returned to this pond. No sign of beaver work but with this flood they might come down for some patching. Deer were scarce and I saw one garter snake.

October 31 sunny and still but when I got to the Big Pond the wind rushed up from behind me. No otters to be seen though and no fresh scat in their old latrine by the dam. As I crossed the dam I did find two fresh scats in openings in the grass. No sign that beavers had pushed up mud along the leaking dam. As I stood at the north end of the dam, now out of the wind, scanning the pond for otters, a young deer ran between me and the woods. Then I noticed two larger does about to follow it but they thought better of that. Instead of fleeing though, they moved up in the woods and moved quietly to the west. I wonder if this migration has anything to do with hunters. Tomorrow this area is opened to archers, and the thought of that made my hike a bit more melancholy. I will still come out, but not as often. The wind was not good for approaching the Lost Swamp Pond. I nosed up so I could scan the lodge and pond with the monocular, and many geese flew off, saw no otters. I checked the mossy latrine and there may have been a new scat, but probably not. The beavers did not seem to be too active either. The excitement at the base of one cut maple were two garter snakes sunning themselves.

No new scat up at the rolling area, but I still plopped myself down hoping for some muskrat action at least. They didn't make an appearance. Activity in a pond is never consistent. There will be almost a week when everything seems in motion and then a day of nothing. By now it was rather warm and insects were responding, principally flies and this wee red mite.

I did hear a beaver or two humming briefly in the lodge by the dam. I went down to the Second Pond lodge and then over to the East Trail Pond, large ducks took off when I entered and then chickadees entertained me. The cache outside the lodge had an old look about it, as if no fresh sticks had been brought up for a while.

As I stood over it wondering if the beavers might have relocated, a small something swam out of the lodge. I assume the smaller beaver, but I didn't see it surface anywhere. To return I decided to cross the Second Swamp Pond dam. The area from where they are taking trees has not expanded, and they have left much behind for gnawing in place. Indeed up on the rock at the end of the dam they are girdling a small white oak. Last year they girdled one on the other side of the rock. Meanwhile a small birch near by has been tasted, and a birch as large around as the oak is untouched.

Crossing below the dam was not easy but interesting. They may have opened a little section, the pathway down to the pool where they are doing work,

thus keeping that pool flooded. Otherwise they not only have patched every possible leak with mud, but have built up the height of the dam by a good 4 inches.

I saw some old otter scat at the main channel down to Otter Hole Pond -- no leak at that part of the dam. And possibly a fresh scat at the runway the otters had been using to cut up from the channel and cross the dam away from where the beavers are concentrating their repair activity. Last year the beavers had kept crossing over the dam to harvest small trees into winter, not so this year. Crossing the dam I could see and somewhat feel with my feet what the beavers are thinking. I continued on to the Big Pond so I could approach it with the wind in my face, just in case otters were there. No sign of them. I did see some hooded mergansers diving in the far end of the pond. I walked down the old trail to South Bay, which nine years ago was my wonderland of beavers. Except for the Middle Pond, which has barely enough water to call it a pond, all the other storied ponds are empty. Crossing what I once called "the last pond dam" I saw some fresh mink scat on a rock next to the stream. The pond where I first tried to photograph beavers, always a small pond, is almost all grass.

The end of a good month, and still hearing "spring" peepers.