Saturday, December 15, 2012

October 2 to 8, 2003

October 2 another cold day, call it raw, because it was damp. It was sunny when I headed off to check on the otters a little before 3pm, but soon clouded up. We had rain last night but I still expected Otter Hole Pond, raked over by otters for three days, to be otterless again from the lack of food. As I eased down to the pond, I scanned the pond and as
expected saw no ripples. Then I saw two otters on the grassy
island beside the lodge. I dropped to the ground and, thanks to
the northwest wind, the otters didn't notice me. They lingered on
the grass long enough for me to get some video and then they
started fishing, and catching fish. They went to the north shore
of the pond, so I eased myself up on the knoll over the rock dens
to get a different perspective on them. I could clearly see that
I was watching a mother and her pup. As a rule, they foraged
independently, and the mother seemed much more successful. Once
the pup came up to her; she gave it the fish and then nuzzled and
kissed its back. She generally brought her catch up on a log.

I strained to use the monocular to see exactly what they were eating, and it appeared to be bullheads. The mother could spend a good few minutes munching one,


but the pup dropped a good sized bullhead after a few ripping bites of its tail. The smaller prey was down the hatch before I could see it. Often their heads come out of the water with mouth jawing something plump white and seemingly soft. My guess is that these might be pollywogs. Once the mother swam directly to a stump, got
something and swam to her log.

She might have a little cache of food at the stump. The pup seemed indefatigable in its fishing but at times stopped and brought its little head out of the water for what I took to be a somewhat frustrated look around. The pup was independent, once swimming over and into the lodge, while the mother munched away on her log. The mother soon followed over to
the grass island; the pup joined her, and they scatted away,

and nuzzled a bit. Then they ran into the water

and appeared to play, whirling in the water as I've often seen pups do, only this time a mother was joining in the fun, and doing a kind of galloping swim so that their tails whipped into the pond.

Then they swam over to the lodge and the mother rolled the pup on its back and nuzzled it. I was anticipating their taking a nap, but they were back into the pond, foraging. Meanwhile, the clouds thickened, a slight drizzle began and a stiff wind chilled me down. I had to move, and so as
they fished in the pond, I headed for the Lost Swamp. I went directly to the crook of the pond and sent a half dozen geese flying. I studied the faraway lodge and in a few minutes so an otter hopped on top of it coming from the back side. I kept looking for two more otters. I saw the one otter caper a bit, as otters do when relating to another otter, and then I saw another otter, but where was the third? It started raining hard and I
waited patiently under a maple tree, hoping the otters would get
into the water where it might be easier to count them. Soon they
did, and I only saw two otters. They didn't appear to be heading
in my direction so I braved the rain and began checking latrines
around the pond. At the mossy bank there were many generous fresh
scats that I couldn't photograph in the rain. It seemed like the
work of more than two otters. The beavers remain active,
continuing to strip the maples blown down by Isabel. I didn't see
any new scats at the north slope, but for the first time in
months I saw scats at the old rolling area across from the small
lodge in the pond.

These were very fresh and since I saw blue skies approaching, I waited until the rain stopped to get a photo. I moved up to the dam where I didn't see any otter activity, but did see the beginning of a cache outside the lodge next to the dam.

When the rain stopped, so did the wind, and the still pond kept me glued to the bank hoping the otters might swim around the bend. Then the wind picked up and I moved on because the otters would probably smell me before I could see them. The upper Second Swamp Pond is quite full again, with just a small leak in the dam, but no sure sign that beavers had been back up. I walked my usual way down the meadow to the knoll overlooking the beaver lodge. As I came up the knoll, two otters coming from the direction of the East Trail Pond hopped in front of me,
oblivious to my presence. As I got my camcorder out a third otter, a second pup, followed them. They went down the old beaver path and I walked over to look down on them as they fished through the Second Swamp Pond.


They principally worked the grasses as a team.
I didn't see them eat anything, but this pond, perhaps the oldest
in the area, has few logs in it for otters to dine on. I hoped to
see their route up to the Lost Swamp Pond for they were clearly
headed in that direction, but when they reached the point where
they could smell me, the mother turned and led the pups to the
far shore. They fished a little more and then disappeared. There
used to be an ancient beaver lodge over there and perhaps that is
where they went. Seeing the one pup bringing up the rear reminded
me of the family of four I saw in August, where one pup seemed
always a bit behind. It also reminded me of how the one pup was
very much the last to get in the water when the family left the
lodge in Audubon Pond. The mother in August and today seemed
negligent -- she didn't even notice me standing there and in
August I managed to save the pups from having a hiker throw a
stick at them while the mother was off alone in the pond, so I
wouldn't be surprised if she had already lost one of her pups.
Still, I was thrilled to see her and her charges, and taking a
path that I fancy I had blazed myself! I took a photo of the
beginning cache pile in front of the lodge -- the cold nights
have captured the beavers' attention.

Then I continued on to the East Trail Pond
though it seemed rather anti-climatic. The sun now made brilliant
the dripping wet world and I admired the growing cache of the
bank lodge by the dam, though this one seemed a bit disorganized
and may just be a back log of meals. I checked the latrine by the
dam, where I saw nothing new, but forebore from my usual tour.
The otters had shown me so much already, why pry? I did go over
the ridge back to Otter Hole Pond, and saw that a beaver had just
been up there starting to girdle a maple, and there are more in
the wings.

Somewhat to my relief, all was quiet at Otter
Hole pond. I was beginning to think that otters never rest. Of
course I was a bit proud of myself, braving the cold rain and
seeing seven otters, but how confined I felt following my boots,
wrapped in my coat, snug in my hat, how narrow a world we humans
live when otters seem to be everywhere.

October 4 showers in the morning, and still
cold and windy. I headed off for the ponds around 2pm just as the
clouds were breaking up. The wind died making it feel warm, but
then the wind kicked in from the west north west and it was
chilly again. I headed for Otter Hole Pond sure that the otters
must have forsaken it -- the rain had not amounted to much. I was
right, no otter appeared. The kingfisher did fly by and lit on a
dead tree overlooking the old creek channel where, I suppose, it
could dive with safety. I waited a bit to see if it would dive,
but grew impatient. As I moved on, it flew back toward South Bay.
Before leaving I pondered the very shallow end of the pond.

Beaver Point Pond where I have gotten so close
to otters has been mostly dry since the end of the winter. Now
Otter Hole Pond, where I fell in love with watching otters is
almost gone. But the otters have taught me not to rue the loss of
pond water. So far they've not only survived the loss of ponds,
but seem to have taken advantage of it. Now knowing the otters
could pop up anywhere, I eased along with eyes everywhere. And
sure enough as I came down to the Lost Swamp Pond I saw two
otters on the little lodge out in the west end of the pond. They
were nuzzling a bit, but looked frisky, like they'd probably
start fishing again. Unfortunately I snapped a branch and off
they jumped into the pond. One disappeared. The other surfaced
and swam back and forth behind the lodge chirping out an alarm,
then she dove and I didn't see them again. I felt stupid snapping
the stick, but they were obviously on the alert anyway. Indeed
the video shows one looking around


And the style of the otters chirping reminds me
of two things: the otter I saw and heard at the end of South Bay
in July and the otter with pup that I saw and heard in the East
Trail Pond in August. I checked the latrines around the pond and
noticed that the scat and rolling area in the mossy cove was
lower, near the water

There also appeared to be some new scat on the
north shore, but none in the old rolling area closer to the dam.
The beavers continue stripping the gifts from Isabel

How nice it would be to see them enjoying this
maple. I continued on my usual route. The cache outside the
Second Pond lodge continues to grow and there were some cut
cattails in it

though they don't show up in the photo well. No
otters scooted by me today, but I did have high hopes of seeing
some in the East Trail Pond. I did see impressive beaver work
outside the lodge

with even more mud pushed up on it, which still
might be more because of the otters than the cold. And there were
new scats over on the rock across from the lodge

The scat to the right is new. To save a slide
down a rock I usually study the old latrine along the pond shore
from afar. Today I could smell scats from that area so I slid
down and found them.

I dote on the delicacy of an otters trail out
of the pond to a latrine. I thought of going back to Otter Hole
Pond but that might start the lunacy of simply going around in
circles until I bumped into more otters. So I took the trail to
Audubon Pond, because certainly the family of three might go back
there. But they didn't. I also checked the New Pond knoll and
there were no new scats there. So I found two otters, and fresh
scat at another pond. Now I'll have to find some on shore
latrines at Otter Hole Pond that I can check, but during an hour
or two watching otters there, I didn't see them scat on shore.

October 6 pretty good freeze last night, then a
bright sun to steam it off. I went to the Big Pond first to see
if any otters have vibrated that way. I had an uneventful hike
along the first swamp ridge. At first glance there didn't seem to
be any fresh scat at the latrine by the dam, but I didn't look
hard because I had already seen glinting of the sunlight around
the lodge on the north shore. I soon saw an otter in the water by
the lodge. I dropped down, having paid no attention to the wind,
then realized that it was blowing gently in my face. So I
situated myself comfortably on my usual perch and soon discerned
that there was also an otter on the lodge. Once I again I was
straining my eyes to pierce the shadows on the lodge. The
monocular didn't help enough because of the way the otter was
draped down on the lodge. I kept expecting two head to pop up out
of the mass of curling dark brown, but only one did. Then the
otter fishing, who never went to far away,

swam back and looked like it was sharing a
morsel with the otter on the lodge. Then it got up on the lodge
and I saw my two heads. They both went over onto the other side
of the lodge, and I checked my watch so I wouldn't spend too much
time waiting for them to stir again. I didn't have to wait long.
One went off swimming and the other came over the lodge. I kept
waiting for it to swim off, but it didn't. I got the notion that
the otter on the lodge was sick, and for a good while it was
draped listlessly over the lodge. These two otters weren't acting
like the usual mother and pup. The otter in the pond had gone far
up this huge pond, so perhaps something was wrong. Then the otter
on the lodge got up, scatted,


and swam off, but not very fast and not
directly to the other otter. Meanwhile I noticed that there was a
good bit of scat near me, just on the other side of the old canal
at that end of the dam.

Some of the scats were frosted,

and some quite fresh.

So the otters have been here at least two days,
though there was so much scat I wonder if some was left by otters
other than the ones I was watching. Plus the frosted one was a
pancake and the others stringy. Then the two otters met and swam
together, back into the upper end of the pond. I had other otters
to find so I crossed the dam, careful to stay low behind the
grasses. I didn't noticed too much fresh beaver work, but the dam
was not leaking at all. When I got to the other end of the dam, I
noticed that the otters were swimming back toward the lodge, and
that there were three otters. Two fished together and appeared to
be smaller. The larger otter fished rather slowly for an otter.
Indeed when they all approached the lodge the two little ones
came smartly toward the lodge,

while the other did such a listless floating
routine that I checked with the monocular to make sure it wasn't
a beaver.

It wasn't, and meanwhile the other two otters
started snorting and sniffing as if they had smelled me (I was
half hidden by the one pine at the end of the dam.) Then the
large otter sank under the water and I never saw it again. The
other two otters swam onto the dam, then off snorting some more,
than back on or in, I couldn't be sure. I decided to move on,
since they knew I was there and these otters had perplexed me
enough. They certainly didn't act like the mothers and pups I had
been seeing, so I think this might be a group of males. Birds
were quite active around the dam in the bushes, and not the usual
song sparrows and wrens. After seeing otters in one pond, its
hard to concentrate on the next. I didn't see any otters in the
Lost Swamp Pond but I didn't give this large pond as much time as
it deserves. The other problem is that with so many otters
around, it becomes more difficult keeping track of the scat.
There might have been some fresh squirts in the mossy cove, but
none elsewhere. There didn't seem to be much new beaver work on
the maples, either, but fears that the beavers had left were
ended when I heard them humming in the lodge. I also heard some
screeching back along the Second Swamp Pond, which reminded me
that I had heard a porcupine screeching on the ridge above Otter
Hole Pond the past two days. There's still no evidence of a
beaver returning to the upper Second Swamp Pond pool, which
continues to grow. As I went up the knoll I saw something
swimming from out of the grasses heading for the grasses in the
middle pond. Something else swam along the grassless channel
along the south shore of the pond, and it made some wild tail
splashes that reminded me of what otters were doing the other
day. The critter I saw first was swimming fast. I expected it to
be an otter but it turned out to be a muskrat which was fine with
me because I haven't seen one in a while. Perhaps they are moving
back in for the winter. It continued on up the pond and I tried
to spy the other critter on the south shore, in vain. Then it
crossed my mind that the screeching I heard might have been an
otter reacting to an invading muskrat. The two critters swam out
from the area where I saw the three otters (mother and two pups)
swim into the other day.

But I know that muskrats can make some wild
attempts to splash with their tail, and they too can screech. But
it's hard to defeat my first impression that it was an otter. As
I was using the camcorder I heard the coyotes yodelling off in
the meadows way above the pond with no siren as far as I could
hear that might have set them off. I moved on to the East Trail
Pond where I didn't see anything but one duck. The path the
beavers use up the hill, however, looked inviting so I sat there
and waited a bit, admiring the growing cache in front of the

As I went across the dam something swam out of
the lodge and by the time I was almost across the dam (a slow
dance, I should say) the small beaver surfaced and continued on
its usual circle route through the pond

A small hawk circled above too, like it had
been trained by the osprey. I confined my nosing about to the old
latrine by the dam and saw no new scats with the old ones fading
fast, so this will again be a good place to tell if otters have
just been in the pond. The other day I noted the beavers tasting
a maple. Since then they have taken one small maple out, brought
a larger one down,

tasted a few others

as well as a red oak. 'Tis autumn. I continued
on to Otter Hole Pond. A heron flew out of it, but no sign of
otters. I tried to skirt the shore but couldn't find a latrine,
nor did I find any fish remains. The raccoon tracks that were
everywhere suggests why. There were no new scats above the hole
in the dam either. Throughout the whole hike, I moved several
deer along, most small and fury brown.

October 8 sunny, breezy, rapidly warming day,
and I went out with Leslie to see if my luck in seeing otters
would hold. I tried to be suitably pessimistic, and to my chagrin
the Big Pond was quiet. I think there was more scat than when I
was there before, but no big spread to indicate that the three
otters were still surely there. I must say this is the hardest
pond to scan for otters since much of the upper pond has grass
and coves and corners, plus there is a small pond just up from
this. Crossing the dam, I saw some wee beaver gnawed sticks

-- perhaps a family of beavers has come down
for a visit, at least, if not for the winter. The dam also has a
fresh pack of mud.

Finally, bobbing in the water at the dam, I
found a spent bryozoa, pectinatella magnifica, just the jelly no
little "animals."

I managed to find the closed gentian for Leslie
and despite three cold nights, tucked deep in the grass they
survived. There was also a myriad of flitting birds most too
quick to identify. The Lost Swamp Pond was the same story, save
that there were a number of ducks about. Most at the far end of
the pond so we only flushed a quartet as we came to the pond.
However, there was definitely new and fresh scat at the mossy

Otters are still about, though no scat in the
other latrines I check. The beavers continue stripping the trees
blown down, almost segmenting the ironwood, which must be more
attractive than the maple only because it is smaller and easier
to segment. They also cut down another maple, the twin of one
that blew down.

Always sad to see a crown down that will blush
no more. Up at the dam, I could see that the beavers have started
a cache pile, unfortunately oriented so it is not easy to see.

Crossing the upper Second Swamp Pond I was
surprised to see it almost out of water. If there was a new hole
in the dam, it is rather subtle, but I don't think all that water
could have evaporated. Going along the north shore, I saw the
beavers had been gnawing a small ash behind the big tree they had
cut down. The cache at the lodge seems about the same. I scanned
the pond for muskrats but saw none. As we approached the East
Trail Pond we not only saw a maple freshly cut, but also a trail
of maple twigs all the way down to the bank lodge.



Reaching the crest of the hill, ducks flew off
from every corner of the pond, which I took as a sign that otters
had not been recently working the pond. We waited 20 minutes, in
vain. When I went down to get a better photo of the bank lodge,

which keeps getting plugged with sticks of all
sizes, two beavers swam out. A large one surfaced just a little
ways off from us and splashed.

Perhaps this was in honor of Leslie because of
late they had been ignoring me. The little beaver also surfaced
to get a look at me. No scats on the other side of the dam, and
soon I will tour the whole shore to check for new latrines. There
was a heron and kingfisher at Otter Hole Pond but no otters. I
checked the dam for scat and perhaps there is something new. I
nudged a log as I tried to cross the dam and to my surprise a
large school of tiny shiners swam below me in the pond. So there
might still be things of interest in this pond, shallow as it

As usual, we moved the deer along on this hike.
Then up on the south slope of Otter Hole Pond, I found a gypsy
moth that had just settled its eggs for the winter

-- until Leslie squished them.