Monday, December 8, 2014

October 9 to 15, 2004

October 9 warmth returned then as a cold front moved through a rush of wind from the southwest entranced the trees and raked the ponds. It was not a good day to see anything but robins and smaller birds working the fallen leaves. I did expand the story of the otters somewhat. There was new scat on the New Pond knoll, not fresh, but one large scat dripping over a rock was quite eloquent 

and it probably represents a return to the familiar pattern. As the harvest from the Second Swamp Pond diminished, South Bay and doubtless the swamps in neighboring islands once again came into play. Yet I still wonder if there are two sets of otters with one coming in periodically, say every three weeks to trump the scats of otters who stay in the ponds. Of course, that is wishful thinking, a conceit of past Octobers when I could hardly avoid stumbling on otters as I toured the ponds. I checked the Thicket Pond and saw that upper Meander Pond is quite muddy while Thicket Pond is mostly clear and the lodge looks unmuddied. The beavers are tending more toward Meander Pond and if the drought continues they will make the move. It will be curious to see if they cut down the maples remaining there.

No sign of any animals going from Thicket Pond to the East Trail Pond.

At the East Trail Pond, I also found new scat and a challenge to another notion that I've been promoting -- the otters' single minded focus on fish and things fish might eat. I found a bit of scat, half way up the ridge, in the same clump of grass as the remains, mostly feathers, of a bird.

Earlier this summer I found feathers in a two scats. Could the otter have eaten a bird, perhaps one of the song sparrows that I so often see flitting through the deep grasses around the swamps? However, I can't imagine an otter not devouring the whole bird, feathers and all. I'll have to look hard for bird bones in some scat. On the way to the Second Swamp Pond I noticed that the large poplar the beavers cut last fall and that stayed hung up in some trees had finally fallen almost to the ground.

Over at the Second Swamp Pond, three or four herons left as I walked in, as well as a good raft of ducks. It certainly looks like there is more scat along the new shores of the shrinking pond. Blacker scats were near the familiar gray scats,

but the black scats were hard, evidently quickly dried by the sun and wind. I sat awhile looking into the water but saw nothing stirring it, Only a few dragonflies laying eggs in it. However, as I walked small frogs jumped into the pond. Food for otters and herons, though, I must say, all the scats I see are laced with fish scales. I noticed how the stains on the stumps show how high the pond had been, a good two feet.

I walked up to the dam, admiring it

and then admiring how much the beavers had taken off the birch.

They are not abandoning it, though they haven't even taken a bite out of the birch still standing. The wind was strongest across the Lost Swamp Pond and a delight to see, and its strength seemed to make the ducks less inclined to fly off just because I came into view. However, I didn't see any new scats here -- bad for my current theory that the otters will principally forage here. I continued on to the Big Pond and noticed a genuine, regulation cache forming next to the lodge. 

Raccoons have been active along this dam as well as the one below

but no sign of otters.

October 10 chilly cloudy day with a breeze, a good day to see the changing leaves, rather thinned by yesterday's stronger wind. I went down grouse alley, up the porcupine valley and down the other valley. All the bogs up there are dry. Down in the valley there was a small pool of water in a large downstream bog, and more water in the deeper upstream bog. I passed the old beaver work and saw nothing fresh until I got near the valley bog where the beavers cut several birches

I had chided them for going so far for poplar and ignoring the birches. However, further along toward the big ponds, I saw an ironwood that had been well trimmed

Then I saw where all the birch logs and branches were going, to make a very respectable cache.

There was no cache at the auxiliary lodge but I could see stripped logs pushed up on the bank

Going around the pond, I took a photo of the cache in the shade of the colors of the season

The little upper ponds looked more used by deer than beavers, and I didn't walk up toward the road to see what they had harvested. I sat briefly in the chair and heard some humming from the lodge. Going around the pond below the dam, I was surprised to see that the beavers had taken several basswoods, not their favorite tree

They also half girdled a red oak.

Then I saw a mysterious pile of bird feathers, rather neat, as if the predator cleaned up after its meal.

October 11 I took a brief hike to Audubon Pond first checking the New Pond knoll latrine where there was nothing new. I've never been certain if by marking the knoll the otters were claiming the ponds or South Bay as their exclusive territory. If the recent scats marked a return to the bay then, I thought, there should be scats at the docking rock up along the South Bay shore. There were no scats there. On the trail up to the pond I saw some bloodied bird feathers.

Now, I have never noticed a correlation between scats on the docking rock and scats around Audubon Pond just up the hill. And there were no otter scats around the pond. The beaver, I think, has brought more wet pond grass up over the causeway from the pond above Audubon. The pathway looks too big to have been made by a muskrat.

While I didn't see any newly harvested trees, there is a small cache forming outside the lodge.

Few green leaves on it that, only branches with sere or no leaves. In the southwest corner of the pond, I think there is a freshly cut ash -- interesting for how narrow the cut is.

I should think that if they really wanted to they could cut this a couple more times and wrestle it down. Their patch on the drain appears to be quite effective. The pond level is high and I only heard a trickle of water inside the drain. On the way back I checked the willow lodge along the other cove of South Bay. We have not had any serious rain in almost a month and the water level of the river has dropped two feet or more. The holes in the marsh near the lodge are now virtually dry.

Because the water level has gone down so much it is hard to judge if the lodge has grown, but it appears that it has.

However, I think the gnawing of the willow bark has slowed though much was taken -- I think this is the first time I've noticed this type of eating.

I didn't see any sign that otters had been there. I took a photo of South Bay from the end of the cove looking toward the willow lodge.

October 12 working on the addition to the cabin at the land on the purest kind of fall day so we had to walk around a bit. Shaggy manes are coming up along the road.

Down at the Deep Pond the red darner flies were all over the place and soon all over us.

Along the shore many were doubled up and dipping into the water.

I continued around the pond, admiring some wee herb roberts still out,

and I snapped photos of the colorful view from atop the knoll.

and down from the other side of the knoll.

I didn't see any fresh muskrat activity as I continued down to the pond, which is lower. I think this little burrow became too dry for them.

I also found a pile of what looked like dog poop just off the pond -- no dog prints in the nearby mud, though.

Later I saw another poop like it and more like fox poop. With no beavers in the pond and probably fewer muskrats, the pond vegetation is making a come back.

I sat briefly by the pond and noticed two momento mori -- enough bird feathers floating in the pond to assume that a bird paid the price,

and a dead dragonfly seemingly entwined in a web.

As I sat the red darners were all on me again. Down toward the dam where the muskrats have often denned the pond was light brown so something had been grazing out there. I then walked up to the First Pond where I could chronicle the growth of the cache -- leafy green today and a bit of the same outside the auxiliary lodge.

No progress on the basswoods but on the valley end of the Teepee Pond the beavers have taken down some birch,

and one cut very close to the ground.

If they did that to get under some protective chicken wire, the chicken wire is not to be seen. A beaver also cut a maple right beside our path to the cabin. It's always flattering to know an animal as choosy as a beaver is using one of our paths.

October 13 I got a chance to get out in the boat and check the far otter latrines. With the sun setting I could get an excellent view of the Murray Island latrine and it didn't look like the otters had been there. The Picton latrine looked more promising but as I walked around it I only saw more dried out scat than I had before.

Nothing fresh. There are quite a few cormorants in Eel Bay, most of them sunning themselves on the emerging rocks. Then I went to the docking rock on Wellesley Island, and had to row in, the river is getting so shallow. I noticed that most of the willow tree have browned over, and as I docked I found twice nicely nibbled twigs. But that beaver work could have floated in. There were no otter scats at the docking rock, nothing new at the New Pond knoll nor at the East Trail Pond latrines. To get back to the boat I went via Thicket Pond and was pleased to see that a beaver segmented the tree they had cut closest to the East Trail Pond, but no sign they had gone down to the pond. And the Thicket Pond was not muddy. On the east side of Meander Pond I found much fresh work, more trees down,

and a pile of leafy branches in the pond.

I'll have to figure out if they have moved down to this pond. Geese and some ducks were rafting up in South Bay as the sun went down.

October 15 showers moved in but I thought I could slip into the pond between 4 and 6 and not get wet. I road the bike over to the park gate and then took the short-cut over to Otter Hole Pond. From a distance, I saw nothing stirring there. But in the middle pond of Otter Hole Pond, three waves of ducks flew off -- rather impressive and at least one heron. For the first time since it lost water, when I walked up to the Second Swamp Pond, no herons flew off, nor did I see any ducks but they could have flown when the other ducks did. The recent lack of rain has meant the pools of water have even shrunk some more, but the fall rains will soon come so I don't think this pond will go dry. When I got the Lost Swamp Pond I first checked for otter scats on the north slope. I must say the area looked used but I saw no fresh scats. This is a devil of a time to look for scats, too many wet dead leaves. Then I scanned for beavers and saw one cruising up the pond. I went up to the rolling area, where there were no new scats, and sat just as the rain started to pick up. Bad enough lying on my back waiting for beavers, but in the rain? I did notice that the lodge out in the pond seemed to have freshly stripped sticks on it

but that could have been a trick of the gloaming and damp. I continued up to the dam where I think I saw a new scat, looking fresh in the damp,

just up from the water near the dam -- just up from the small rocks where there are so many muskrat scats.

Then I headed down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond. I admired the fresh beaver work on the downed birch, and then took photos of the stripped twigs in the pond

and bigger sticks worked into the mud pushed up on the dam.

I noticed a ripple in the pond, and soon saw that the beaver was there. I retreated -- the wind was favorable, but it didn't swim over to me. I then studied how the beaver was cutting the birch trunk in half

and had started on the next birch.

They also took some branches from the elm they had cut and heretofore had neglected. It began to rain hard, and kept up, so I walked around the pond and don't think there were any new scats at the mossy cove - dead and very wet leaves, don't make it easy finding scat. Then the rain came down hard and I hurried home the same way I came. I had a cross thought: perhaps the beavers in the Lost Swamp Pond are tending the dam in the Upper Second Swamp Pond. I saw a beaver in the Lost Swamp Pond cruising up toward the upper northeast corner of that pond where if it went over the dam work they have up there, it could gain the flood behind the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam. This would explain the evident disinclination to patch the Second Swamp Pond dam, and also the lack of a cache up at the Lost Swamp Pond lodge. That said, it would be rather easy, and indeed they have done it in the winter, for the beavers to bring branches from the birch right up to the Lost Swamp Pond, a matter of 20 yards. Unfortunately the darkness comes quickly now, the beavers have more night, I might have to wait until the snow to see what is happening.