Wednesday, December 19, 2012

October 9 to 16, 2003

October 9 summer returns, sunny, still, in the 70s. I headed off for the Big Pond a little before three. As Icame up to the pond I saw ripples behind the dam. A heron flew off from the grasses along the south shore of the dam, and then I saw an otter. I was close to my log perch beside the dam, and I eased slowly to the shaded area behind that. Two otters swam right for me,

then veered and fished along the dam. A light wind was blowing in my face so I moved up to my perch. All was quiet on the pond. I didn't think the otters would have left without a sound. Soon enough they swam away from the dam, two of them,

and they fished throughout the pond. I got the impression that they were both adults, since they seemed large and seldom related to each other. While I always prefer watching the pups, the back of a large otter does roll more as it dives in and out of the water. However, at one point they did act like mother and pup. One otter was getting closer to me; then there was chirping from out in the pond, and that closer otter soon was way out in the middle of the pond. They never went to the lodge to rest and groom. They went all over the pond, working the clumps of grass along the edge, and disappeared from the far end.

I checked the nearby latrine and there were no especially fresh scats, but there were new scats. While I was sitting there, a small dark brown hawk flew right in front of me. I looked for fresh scats as I crossed the dam, but found none, perhaps saw one old scat. This dam is still crowded with vegetation though it is getting beaten down by deer and age. I also saw school of tiny fish and wondered what chance they would have of surviving the winter. Just above the canal on the other end of the dam, I found a tiny beaver stripped stick, but no evidence of the usual wide beaver pathway. The Lost Swamp Pond was still, after the dozen wood ducks near me flew off. The ducks at the far end of the pond were unperturbed. While a hairy woodpecker was all about above me and I saw that small hawk licking its talons high in the tree near the dam that the ospreys used to fancy, I didn't see any mammals swimming in the water. There were fresh scats in the mossy cove, higher up near the rock.

No scats anywhere else. The beavers' cache hasgrown. I was tempted to wait for something to happen, but this is the month to search for otters. Crossing the upper dam of the second swamp pond, I saw what appeared to be small otter prints in the apron of mud behind the dam -- heading down pond.

That got my hopes up, but there were no otters in the pond below, nor in the East Trail Pond. So I began turning my attention to beavers because I began noticing a huge amount of fresh work along the east slope above the creek draining the East Trail Pond. They continue to take down medium sized maples, a few birches, and one huge poplar further down the valley

which they have done a good job stripping

and they have almost cut through another huge poplar. The latter is within view of the work the Second Swamp Pond beavers are doing below their dam.

Working in this valley seems problematic for beavers, at least to me, because to get logs back to the pond they have to drag them a considerable ways up slope. Of course, I saw them do that in the winter. To me, a happy solution would be to flood Otter Hole Pond which would allow all this lumber to be taken down hill. I went down to the point of land that looks down on Otter Hole Pond. The sun was setting and glinting and glaring off the pond, which means every nipple in the water looks like a major ripple. That kept me entertained, and I was impressed by the turtles climbing up on logs. But no otters that I could see. Then I turned my attention to the work of the Second Swamp Pond beavers neatly proceeding in the canal and little pool below the dam.

It was 5:45 when I got there so I nestled myself against a tree to get a good view of the canal, because I know these beavers usually come out early. Sure enough in a few minutes a beaver came down the canal but, just my luck, with a dozen work sites in plain view, it chose to cut a small log off a thin ash trunk that I couldn't see.

If I had studied the situation more closely I should have guessed that that was one of the prime spots. Beavers generally don't go off cutting trees so early in the evening, they like to get quick rewards by stripping or taking something back to the lodge. While I was trying to watch the beaver, mosquitoes began attacking me. The warmth has brought them out, as well as set all the frogs to singing, even a comb frog. The beaver swam back to the pond with a small log, that required a bit of tugging and trimming to free. I checked the time 5:57 and prepared to note its return. At 6:01 I saw ripples coming down the canal but before I could perhaps tell if it was the same beaver, the ripples stopped and few moments later I heard splashing in the pool and then in the pond. So I moved up the ridge to get a better view of the East Trail Pond beavers' work. I waited a bit, but recalled all the long minutes I had waited in vain for these beavers to appear at dusk. I had a hope, because of that fresh scat I saw, that otters were in the Lost Swamp Pond, so I walked back there, but it was perfectly quiet, not even a beaver out. Then as I walked along the north shore I saw a muskrat swim away, which was good to see. Otter Hole Pond was also quiet and in the dark, I couldn't see any new scats. The full moon was coming up, and fog rising up everywhere. I also heard a barred owl. And along the Second Swamp Pond noticed bunches of berries under a cedar.

I thought a bird might have harvested them.Perhaps, but berries were spread under most of the other cedars I passed.

October 10 we went over in the boat through South Bay to the dock rock and then up to check Audubon Pond. No otters there, no scats. There was a slide of mud on the beaver lodge and we debated whether it represented the return of the beavers or the activity of the otters. No other sign of beavers. Perhaps the muddy look arose because the sun was shining bright on the area creating shadows. We'll see. A hawk flew around the pond again -- last time I saw this guy too. Flying too fast for a photo, but I did capture a dew wet bumble bee at rest.

I also checked the drain and perhaps a beavers had done some repairs but I have not kept a close enough observation of the drain to say.

Then we went to the East Trail Pond, me with high hopes, that were soon dashed. No otters, no new scats. The cache outside the bank beaver lodge grows with striking colors.

I went over the ridge to peak at Otter Hole Pond and saw no otters there either. Then we went to Thicket Pond, and the beavers muscle on, concentrating on ash now, to the hornets delight.

Maybe this time of year, ash are juicy. They cut two at the mid-point of the pond.

Their lodge looms larger

and I wish them a good winter in this shallow pond. It should be interesting trying to chronicle their mid-winter forays. I also checked the New Pond knoll and there were no fresh scats there. However, out in the revealed mud in the South Bay cove we could see trails,

but scanning them with the monocular did not make them look any fresher or especially the work of otters.

I kayaked around Granite Slate shoal enjoying many geese flying in for the evening, and noting how not a few ducks mixed in with the geese to stymy the duck hunters. I also noticed a fresh uprising of midges especially around the little island west of Castle Francis. I also saw a sand piper out there and a lone goose. Interesting little island when the water goes down. I'll have to row out and go on it.

October 12 another warm sunny day, but the wind picked up from the south. I wasn't sure if I should go to the Big Pond or Otter Hole Pond first. The wind was bad for either one. My hunch said go to Otter Hole, but my head said go to where I last saw otters. I flipped a coin, it came up heads, so I headed to the Big Pond. Once again as I got close to the pond, I saw otters. I dropped to the grass and then collected myself after I saw them dive and felt a light wind in my face. I moved into the shade and eased to my perch. Once again there were two otters, but fishing close to each other this time. Then one got suspicious and started periscoping and snorting. It disappeared, but then I noticed otters on the lodge moving out of the grass and they resolved themselves into two otters. They seemed to be nuzzling, but not for long.

One dropped back down into the water and came up with a fish so quickly that the fish must have been leftovers. The other otter swam briefly nearby. I focused on the otter eating and then when it swam up pond, I had no idea where the other otter had gone. I soon lost view of the otter and I imagine it might have headed down the channels, now in the grass, that lead to the old lodge that the otters often fancy in the winter. I checked the latrine in front of me and saw some new scats, but only a modest addition to the array. Going across the dam I didn't get any impression that the otters had been up and over at all. This is the third time I've seen two otters here, and I keep trying to decide if they are both adults or a family of mother and pup. Their reaction to my presence certainly wasn't like the chirping I got when I saw two otters in the Lost Swamp Pond. However these otters seemed closer than the ones I saw the other days, but still no doting mother-pup behavior. Perhaps they are two adults content with staying in this pond. Off I went to find more otters, and I felt confident that I would. If these two stayed in this pond, then the scat I had been seeing in the Lost Swamp Pond must be from other otters. As I moved along, I noticed a porcupine high up in the white oak at the edge of the woods.

This time of year I often see a porcupine up there. The Lost Swamp Pond defeated my expectations. I saw no otters, and as usual all the geese and ducks were at the far end, mixed together. Duck season has started but the season on the bigger bird has ended. While I didn't see otters I did see evidence of rolling next to the mossy cove and latrine.

And there was also dead grass piled on top of the small old lodge in the middle of the west end of the pond.

A muskrat is definitely back in this pond and it might have put the grass on the lodge. On the other hand, in other years I've seen otters bring grass to this lodge to make it more comfortable to lie on. I decided I'd come back to this pond after checking Otter Hole and the East Trail ponds, so I only checked the north slope for scat -- none there. I noticed that something has come in and out of the far end of the pond, then I saw that one of the old half girdled red oaks has been nibbled again.

The beavers did a rather good job stripping the ironwood nearby and its branches have given their growing cache its bushy quality.

I followed the old otter trail over to the upper Second Swamp Pond, saw no scats. Then I walked along the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond, and was surprised not to see any otter scat on the rock jutting out of the grass near where I saw the three otters disappear the other day. I went out to check the dam for scats,

and didn't have to go far. There was a good array of fresh large scats

and several little squirts in the matted down grass along the dam.

This reminded me of the array of scats I saw at the East Trail Pond dam just before I went down and saw five otters in Otter Hole Pond. So I went down to that pond with high hopes, but no otters were there, nor were there any new scats. And so I carried my high hopes to the East Trail Pond, where I found one gooey brown otter scat

a quarter of the way up the trail from the dam. I sat under my tree expecting otters, but they didn't show. I checked for more scat and found none. Yes, I felt somewhat stymied. As much as I knew that more otters were around, I really wanted to see them. True to my resolve I headed back to the Lost Swamp Pond. I checked on the cut poplar which is still standing, and took a closer look at the cut. It seems the beavers are daunted by a small maple growing bark to bark next to the prized poplar.

I also saw a smaller poplar being cut even closer to the Second Swamp Pond dam, so perhaps those beavers are doing the cutting.

Then I sat above the lodge in that pond, with scat so fresh at the dam, the otters might still be there. If so, they remained concealed. I got closer to admire the mud being pushed up on the lodge.

I didn't see any sign of otters at the small upper dam, and then was disappointed to find nothing happening at the Lost Swamp Pond. As I left the pond a bunch of turkeys came up over the ridge.

I was downwind from them and they strutted through the woods, and even when they saw me they were slow to scatter. Turkeys are getting tamer. Then when I got down to the Big Pond, I saw the two otters again. This is usually cause for joy, but I had just been telling myself that if I didn't see otters in a pond that I knew had otters, it will show how difficult seeing otters is -- well, I merely proved that the other otters I haven't seen must keep odd hours. I enjoyed watching them fish, and noticed a merganser rather close, looking at them fish too. They foraged over near the grasses not far behind the dam.

One brought a fish out and sat on top the old muskrat lodge, or push up, there.

The other otter joined it -- here was possible mother-pup behavior. I think the mother might have given the pup a bite of fish.
Then they both disappeared in the grasses or far shore so I couldn't clearly see more of their intimacy, but the mother might have fed the pup again.
I went down to check the dam below this pond, and saw no scats there. So back out again tomorrow as the days for resolving all this are running out. Only very light rain in the afternoon. We could use more.

October 14 cold and sunny in the early morning but it warmed up rapidly. I went to the Big Pond hoping to see many otters, and was a little taken aback to see none. Birds were tearing about with robins and yellow rump warblers going slowly enough to be identified, but no otters. There was a fresh scat right at my right as I sat on my usual perch by the dam, small and only one of them. Crossing the dam I thought I could make out some otter tail marks in the mud, but they were so indistinct that I didn't even photograph them. There were no signs that beavers have been around either. So I had high hopes for the Lost Swamp Pond, but here too there were no otters. As I lay in the grass under a tree waiting for something to develop, I saw a Viking boat move across the far end of the pond in front of the geese and ducks flourishing at the very end of the pond. The boat proved to be a large deer, belly bottom to the pond water, making its stately way across. I checked the latrines for fresh scats, and found none, However some of the old scats were glistening, probably just with dew and not with a fresh scat on top. I could see no sure sign of fresh beaver work but the cache by the lodge continues to grow.

I should have checked the Second Swamp Pond dam for scat, but I was still thinking I would see otters, and if that were to be the case just seeing the pond would do. But no otters in the Second Swamp Pond and then no otters in the East Trail Pond. I checked the latrines there for scat and found nothing fresh, and even the old scat is getting covered with pine needles and leaves blown out of the trees. So I sat by the edge of the pond, after scaring away over a dozen wood ducks, at the same spot from where I saw two otters fishing a week or so ago. I was in a foul mood, worrying about two things: with Otter Hole Pond and Beaver Point Pond being so diminished and virtually dry, otters simply do not have enough ponds to forage in, and/or with so many otters around this season, some "sportsmen" are bound to take notice and try to "harvest" them. And then to see no otters today, seemed to blast all the theories I had nursed and coddled for the last few years. Then right in front of me an otter surfaced swimming from the lodge in the middle of the pond to the bank lodge; it fished briefly and then went up on shore near the bank lodge to masticate a fish.
I kicked myself for being so exposed. The wind was favorable but liable to gusts which make crosscurrents, treating any sensitive mammal to a swirl of stink. The fish eaten, the otter perked its head up and, I thought, bobbed it a few times in my direction. Then it dove into the pond, seemed to swim out toward me under water, and disappeared. If only there were enough fresh scat around the pond I could imagine this otter as the helper or mother of a family off doing a little fishing on her own. But I did find a solitary fresh scat here two days ago. I went over the ridge to check Otter Hole Pond and no otters were there. I did see one cut maple sapling at the crest of the ridge over looking the East Trail Pond. I often wonder why something so easily carried down to the pond is left behind. Something other than me might be scaring the beavers.

And there were no otters, nor signs of them, nor fresh signs of beavers in Audubon Pond. By now the day was almost hot, with a gusty dry wind. I felt like all creation, including the otters and me, was weary of this last tired leg of summer. Going home I could see a front of clouds coming from the west.

October 16 a good bit of rain, probably just over an inch, yesterday and strong gusting winds. I rode out the storm at home. Today dawned sunny and blustery with fast clouds some bearing rain, and temperature steady in the high 40s. Perhaps too much wind for good otter watching but I wanted to see what was going on. I went to the Big Pond via the ridge overlooking the first swamps, and coming up to a pond being raked by the wind, you don't expect to see otters, and I didn't. There was a small new scat near me so I sat long enough for something to wiggle to life on the lodge, none did. The pond was spread with geese and while I sat they congregated in the upper end of the pond. Then as I crossed the dam they took a vote and then flew off into the wind and thus over me,

then circled, some going back to where they had come. The porcupine was not in the white oak, too much wind I suppose. The Lost Swamp presented the same picture as the Big Pond, wind blown, but along with the geese were several groups of ducks. To my surprise they did not flee when I got in view so I hung back under the trees to save them a flight. I stood as I studied the lodge in the upper pond, saw nothing, then moved down to check for scat at the mossy cove. Of course, I kept looking at the lodge

which is far enough that merely by moistening my eyes with a blink the shadows on the lodge can take shape and seem to move. But even with wet eyes, the shadow began to loom rather large. Out with the monocular and I saw an otter on the front slope of the lodge. I moved forward and more to the south to get out of the west wind. The ducks flew off. The otters began fishing on the north side of the lodge, two of them working close together. Unfortunately they headed up pond and disappeared, perhaps because they smelled me. I seem to be only safe looking at otters on that lodge when there is an east wind. I got down to the mossy cove and found fresh scats. One had some undigested innards so I got out my tweezers and figured it was a bit of intestine surrounded by blackened scales.

There were no scats on the north shore. I admired the beavers work on the downed ironwood at the end of the pond. They took almost every branch, which on an ironwood are generally robust and angular, and now those branches form the cache in front of the lodge. I veered away from my usual route so I could check the Second Swamp Pond dam for otter scats. Going through the woods I noticed many leaves with white mold

especially in the area that was rife with those white bits on the grasses that we thought were seeds. I also found a nice yellow blob with a bit of green.

Down at the dam, I saw much raccoon scat, but also fresh otter scats where the otters have been making their latrine. I continued on down to Otter Hole Pond launching two herons working along the north shore. While raccoon prints were all over the place, there was a bit of otter scat and some otter prints in the mud.

Could one family of otters, perhaps the family of three, be specializing in foraging in the extensive grassy ponds that are very shallow? I walked up the north shore of the pond and then crossed over to the woods above the pond. The going was easy and no sign that otters had crossed that trail on the way up to the East Swamp Pond. I went to the woods so I could approach the East Trail Pond facing the wind and to check the fate of the large poplar. It had fallen onto a nearby hickory, though in a way that might allow the wind to blow it down.

The beavers might be hard pressed to make another cut. They had not gnawed the maple side by side with the poplar, and I couldn't tell if it took more cutting to get it down, or the wind took over. The beavers continue to strip the poplar that did fall,

doing rather methodical work compared to how haphazard the Lost Swamp Pond beavers were two falls ago. (I become experienced in my "trade" and can make knowing and meaningless comparisons.) I sat down to wait for otters, and after a half hour none of the wind blown ripples almost waves turned into an otter. The cache doesn't seem to have grown much, perhaps some bigger logs are in the pond. The paths down to the pond seem to be wider.

And to my surprise there was no fresh mud packed on the dam, not that its leaking, but one expects some tender loving care. I realized that checking for otter scat at this pond was problematic because so many brown needles have fallen out of the tall pines on the ridge. There may have been one small new scat up on the little bump along the pond from where I saw the otter two days ago. The winds did blow down several of the dead ash trees in the pond. One fell near where I saw the new scat,

and another fell over the old latrine and rolling area that otters used last year and two years ago. Also peaking up under a log were small sunflowers.

The birds all seem brown and in a hurry. I saw a large and a small nuthatch, which drives me to the books because it doesn't make sense. No photo of them however. On the TIP ridge I interrupted the chattering and browsing of a large flock of black birds.