Thursday, February 12, 2015

October 17 to 23, 2004

October 17 a cold front came through, mild at first, and then with a torrent of lake effect rain and then howling wind. I went out this afternoon in the wind just as it was turning cold. The golf course is closed so I hurried toward the ponds that way, with the wind at my back. Damp and dark is the best time for moss, so lush after the wet summer. The north slope of the big rock down to the swamps had moss six inches thick. I didn't expect to see much on the Big Pond because that is the pond most exposed to the west wind. I thought I was seeing something dive but studying it awhile I decided it was just a matter of waves splashing over a small tree stump. The water was up to the dam top and there were leaks all along it, nothing major.

There were quite a few raccoon scats but no signs of otters. The lodge looked more fortified with logs

and I noticed a muskrat lodge growing at the usual spot in the grass.

At the north end of the dam I did see that the beavers had been using the same path I do, then they branched off heading for the stand of poplar about 50 yards away. The path led me to two down ash trees, one a rather grand cut and split,

and one being girdled,

as well as an elm and a small poplar, but they haven't touched the big poplars yet. The Lost Swamp Pond, big as it is, has some protected areas, and once I arrived three waves of ducks flew off. However, I suppose because of the strong wind, they went straight up and flew around in circles -- quite high up. Eventually about 10 flew back down to the quiet end of the pond. 

A flock of small birds came close - nuthatches, chickadees, and a phoebe lit on a branch right in front of me. I think myrtle warblers too. I moved back to the bank behind the mossy cove latrine, where I didn't see any new otter scats. I waited for about a half hour for a beaver to stir; none did and who can blame them. I continued my tour around the pond, saw no otter signs, but enjoyed the varied texture of the dying vegetation and noticed the grass toward the old rolling area was greener -- not that I can say otter rolling area because they have not been there much this year. No new otters signs there or at the dam. Down at the Upper Second Swamp dam I noticed that the beavers had trimmed more of the first ash they had cut down. Not much more work on the birches. I admire at how well the dam was holding back the flood.

At the creek itself there was just a trickle. I walked down along that creek sometimes seeing something very small swim in it. But other than some raccoon poop, no signs of anything living off it. I did vex a heron but not the crowd of them that had been there a few weeks ago. As I walked down, there was water streaming in through the old canals and channels. I went up the knoll and got a view of what a little more water could do -- not much. Then in the growing dark I headed to the East Trail Pond. To my surprise, since the wind was brisk through the pond, a large flock of mallards flew up, at least 50 at once. About 10 of them pulled up and landed immediately, then about 30 seconds later flew off. They must have panicked and broken the duck rule about flying off in waves. Of course I looked for scat, but after three inches of rain, and leaves and pine needles fresh on the wet ground, what chance had I to see any. A red tail hawk flew over and called. I bent my head down to the wind and headed home on the trail, and then bumped into a young guy and his girl friend. He asked what I was up to, and I mentioned otters and he said that when he was canoeing around the point in the South Bay yesterday afternoon at 3, he paddled by two otters. That made my day so I walked back with them telling them what I could about the local otters.

October 18 cold sunny day with the wind diminishing as clouds began creeping over. At the land the beavers are cutting trees off our trail from the valley to the cabin. I first noticed a red oak sapling about one inch in diameter and six feet long.

Then I saw another cut sapling and I was about to conclude that at this distance from the pond they only cut the smallest trees. Then I saw the cut stump of a tree about four inches in diameter,

and then saw one three inches in diameter and while the saplings remained, there were no signs of these larger trees. Nor did I find any remnant of them on the trail to the valley pool, which was quite muddy. I walk around the pond to the chair facing the lodge where I admired the growing cache.

Then I saw something in the water at the end of the First Pond and first thought a snake was eating a frog. I moved closer and saw that it was frog in a dance of death. It was floating on its back and every few minutes or so would have spasms of activity, mainly twisting around in the water with its arms and legs outstretched. I took a few seconds of video then returned to my chair. When I headed back ten minutes later, I saw no sign of the frog. Not only was it cold last night but there had been three inches of cold rain chilling the pond. The rain filled up the little pools the beavers had dammed up. I haven't been up pond for a while and noted a large elm that had been cut and a birch just behind it.

They continue to cut the willow trees, and they might be beginning to cut through another small grove of prickly ash.

And now they have cut three large poplars. All of them were hung up,

crisscrossing on top of a small ironwood and some buck thorn. I was able to bring the last poplar cut down to the ground. Perhaps they'll get a whiff of it and come back to strip it. Then it was down the road to enjoy the symphony of colors.

When I got home, I braved the chill and kayaked to South Bay. Few birds to be seen on the way there. There was a large flock of geese in South Bay; I saw one heron. I checked the willow lodge which seems to be growing. Now the water is very shallow there so the beaver seems to be storing branches by piling them on the lodge and weighing them down with the branches of trees long dead. The beaver has also cut down at least two large ash along the shore. Of course, I came hoping to see signs left by the otters who were reportedly here two days ago. I didn't see anything, and in the north cove I grew to appreciate the vanity of trying: the recent storm had raised water levels two feet, not to mention the rolling waves, now the level has receded leaving wet grasses all along the shore. The up and down of the water and the season of dying has left the lily pads limp, if not dumped over. Even some of the cattail reeds, so tall this year, have been cut at the knees, so to speak. The old rock latrine of the otters is blockaded by the cut cattails. I paddled on close enough to see the old dock in the binoculars, no otter signs. Going up the shore I noticed that a beaver had half cut one of the huge willow limbs hanging just above the water -- though in general there is less beaver work in this north cove. As I continued up to the docking rock, I flushed a kingfisher, but no otter signs there. Despite padding, I got chilled and so paddled home as fast as I could. I saw one chilled frog, a big one, sitting high on a rock along the shore, not happy.
October 19 brief stop at the land, and sure enough, the beavers came up to the poplar I pushed down, severed the trunk in almost the middle and managed to drag or push a 7 feet fifty pound plus poplar log 10 yards toward the pond.

They cut a few branches which I didn't see. It would easy for them to bring down the other two poplars that are hung up. Three small poplars seem to the main culprits -- why not cut them?

They also cut a small birch nearby and began to cut that in half,

and down at the pond, I noticed some pine in the cache and on the bank a small pine they had just cut. I also went up on the ridge to the north of the pond and saw that they had cut another birch, fairly large, and had almost cut a good sized maple. 

I have a theory that beavers go toward the wind to forage, and last night's light northeast wind was irresistible for them. However, back on the trail to the southwest, almost to our cabin, there was one small tree cut. This cut was also interesting because if it had been cut a few inches lower the beaver could have taken a small branch with it,

and such small things seem to be most delectable with them. I also saw a large doe on the ridge behind the cabin.

October 20 I headed out for a hike a little after nine on a cool, mostly cloudy day. Save for a few crows, it was mighty quiet going out. Down at South Bay the tide was out -- the northeast wind blew the water another foot lower. No scats there, nor up at the New Pond knoll. As I gazed down on the New Pond, missing the green frogs that for the past two months had been squeaking and hopping every time I looked down, I did hear some blue jays. All quiet up to the hill overlooking the East Trail Pond where my approach scared off two groups of mallards. When their ripples calmed, I saw there were no otters about, all was quiet. There were no new scats at the usual latrines and I headed toward the Second Swamp Pond dam wondering if I would complete the hike without taking a photograph. The squawking heron flew up from the dam; no ducks in the pond. There was a bit more water, I suppose still slowing draining out from the weekend's heavy rain, but I could still walk on the old pond bottom wondering how there could be so much old otter scat with my only seeing the otters once in this pond. Then I saw what I was looking for: two sets of very fresh otter scats,

up on an old log just below the lodge.

Judging from the size and the amount of scales in the scats,

the otters are prospering no matter how bleak these depleted ponds look to me. I followed otter tracks

down to the dam

but lost them there. I walked along the dam and saw no fresh scats, and only raccoon tracks and scats. The pond doesn't seem to be draining as quickly but I saw no evidence that the hole in it had been patched. I tried to get a photo of the drained area behind the dam to show how the beavers fashioned their channels.

I sat briefly at the end of the Lost Swamp Pond and didn't seen any otters. However, at the north shore slope latrine there were two fresh scats, not as big as the ones in the Second Swamp Pond, but they presented the classic fall scene: scat on a fallen leaf.

I walked over the ridge and didn't find any more fresh scats. I walked up the small rocky cliff of the upper end of the Second Swamp Pond where I've often suspected otters of denning and took a photograph of a likely stump and likely dens in the rocks.

I also found some old bullhead parts there. Meanwhile the beavers had not done much new to the birches they had been working on, but they took more branches off the ash they had cut down. Then I went up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam, which has a slight leak, but no sign that otters had been around there and had done that. I walked around the pond looking for scats and saw none. Then I headed to the Big Pond and first walked back on the beaver trail to their fresh wood work. They took down a small poplar, began to segment that,

and also worked on trimming the crown of a downed ash.

Interesting how they are ignoring the smaller branches. The cache at the lodge seems to have grown

and the leaks in the dam are all patched. Raccoon scat is plentiful but no sign that otters have been there. While standing at the south end of the dam, a duck flew in, landed, and promptly started diving. It had the head markings of a buffle head but was brownish in color. I stood and appreciated the power of a diving duck: flying in with a great rush of air, waking the water, and then diving effortlessly and swimming underwater.

At the land I had a chance to check the large poplar the beavers segmented. There was no fresh cuts or movements. But they had segmented and removed the birch they had just cut, and cut another one right next to it. Of course the cache has grown. I also admired the huge dollops of mud they again pushed up on one of their small and seemingly meaningless dams.

They simply must get a great comfort out of even a small, never to be larger, pool of water. No sign that they had done any fresh work on the other side of their domain. They didn't touch the poplars again but did move the birch they cut and are about to cut another.

On a gloomy day, I admired a splash of maple leaves on a branch being moved down to the cache by the beavers.

They are said to like pine in the spring, but these beavers fancy it now.

October 23 a frosty, sunny morning, punctuated with gunfire from hunters. I headed out for a tour of the ponds and despite loud fire from a muzzleloader from that direction, I headed across the golf course taking the shortest route to the Big Pond. An ESE wind made that a favorable direction. I soon gained the high rock overlooking the Big Pond and all the swamps, and seeing no Nimrod, moved on, though soon pausing at the lush moss on the north slope of the rock now blooming with dark gray mushrooms.

I was surprised not to surprise ducks on the small ponds. There was a large and noisy flock on the Big Pond, at the far end, chattering so much at times that they sounded like frogs. There were no scats at the old latrine near the dam. I sat briefly and then moved across the dam admiring all the recent repairs, especially as with the bright sun I could clearly see where the beavers dug out the mud they used.

As is my fashion, with every two or three steps, I looked out into the pond and in the glare of the morning sun I saw something black roll near the marsh. If I had seen scat along the dam, I would have ducked immediately. As it was, I stayed standing as I scrambled for my spyglass. Then when I trained that on the area where I saw the roll, I saw ripples half way between that spot and where I stood. At the same time I heard otter chirping. I dropped to my knees, and while scrambling to get the camcorder, saw an otter. It was periscoping and looking at me. Fortunately I got the camcorder working I captured it swimming away. Also the other otter, the mother I think, was behind it, so rather than simply fleeing, the pup checked in with her. The wind was in my favor so the otters did not get into a panic. They simply started foraging out into the pond eventually going to the shallows behind the lodge. There I saw one climb up onto the shore and stretch out, looking quite comfortable.

Evidently they prefer that area as a latrine rather than the wet, muddy and overgrown dam. The one on shore swam back out into the shallows. I never saw the two together again. An otter popped up on shore again and then disappeared. So I moved on to the Lost Swamp Pond hoping that they might be heading there too. But I didn't hurry. Further along the Big Pond dam I saw how the beavers used small logs to patch the dam; these beavers usually use mud and grasses.

I first checked the beaver work northeast of the Big Pond and there seemed to be nothing new there. Chalk up another point for my theory that beavers forage toward the wind, because we've been having easterly winds for the past couple of days. I sat for awhile at the Lost Swamp Pond and the otters didn't show up. The ducks were all far away, so I checked for otter scat and to my surprise found none. However on sunny mornings when the frost is melting it is almost impossible to discern scat in the moist varicolored leaves. You have to see otters this time of year to be sure where they are. I also noticed that there are no caches at any of the beaver lodges, which lends credence to my current theory that the Lost Swamp Pond beavers, not the Second Swamp Pond beavers, have built a lodge for the winter in the Upper Second Swamp Pond. Down there I noticed that they have taken more ash branches and worked a little bit more on the birch trunk.

They put an old birch chunker log in their dam. The dam in wonderfully precarious like it is on tiptoe to see the world below,

quite the liveliest dam I've seen in a long time. And perhaps it is in danger, not far from some generous berry-laced raccoon scats I saw a smear glinting in the sun. I pulled all the dead vegetation up so I could get a closer look and thought I saw scales.

So an otter has been right below the dam eyeballing one of its tenderest places. Breaching this dam would be easy and dramatic. The heavy rain of a few days ago is still working its way down this watershed. There were ducks in the large pool of water just below the upper dam, enough to fill two waves of escapees. My usual route across the drying Second Swamp Pond was now flooded. I could still get down to the lodge with out going on the old shore. There I didn't see any fresh otter scats. I did see an instructive juxtaposition: a fresh berry-laced raccoon scat next to old scale-laced otter scat.

Plus this shows how the raccoons who visit here looking for shiners are still gorging on berries. I continued on to the East Trail Pond and saw no scats in the west leaves. No ducks here today either.

After we finished the cabin, save for shingling, I checked on what the beavers have been doing. Other than the cache in front of the lodge

there was not much new until I got to the little dams above the first pond, where they not only larded on more mud but also little stripped sticks in the mud.

They cut more willow and birch, but I was interested in what they had done to the poplar. They had returned and took a few bites out of the trunk I had knocked down 

and a few bites out of a trunk still hanging. Then back almost to the road they cut a small poplar and a larger one that would have landed on the road if it had not gotten hung up. I worried that a few of the remaining poplars would fall on the road if cut, and from my experience, beavers have an insatiable desire to cut poplars at this time of year, regardless of how many they already have down. So I went back to get my saw and some tar paper. I girdled the lower trunk of two near the road, with the tar paper, cut up the one hanging up over the road, pulled down the small one they cut so they could get to it, and even cut the three small poplars holding up the two big poplars so that they could better get at the big poplars.

I generally don't like doing this, but if they block the road, the road department may have some power to come in and trap them -- I certainly don't want to ask if they do. I came back to the pond at 5 aiming to see the beavers come out, but I got there too late and disturbed one angling in for food almost where I sit. I was treated to several tail splashes before the beaver dove into the lodge. Then I noticed a beaver log-like in the far corner of the pond eying me.

Then it swam toward me, nose raised, and soon splashed its tail and dove. I decided to wait at least another ten minutes since the cache looked so delicious in the golden sunset that I couldn't imagine all the beavers resisting a early evening snack. Sure enough, I soon heard an emphatic hmmm, a glug, and then a beaver popped up, looked briefly at me, then swam into the cache, picked out a branch and did some gnawing. Then it swam up to the auxiliary lodge, seemed to get something, then dove. I waited another ten minutes and soon enough a beaver popped out at the far end of the pond, still for a minute or two, then it swam toward me, veered toward the cache, then stopped and turned to look at me. Still for a minute, then it slipped down into the water and evidently dove as deep as it could because I only saw a hint of a wake as it swam underwater into the Teepee Pond. I saw ripples down there and then walked down to see the beaver, stare at me and then dive quietly again. I would have stayed longer but coming in too clumsily I had made too much of a disturbance and by the time the beavers settled down and went about their business oblivious to me, it would be dark.