Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 6 to 14, 2009

April 6 rains returned and when it lessened to a drizzle I headed off mid-afternoon to check the beavers' repairs on the Shangri-la Pond dam. Walking down the high ridge south of the pond, I saw freshly nibbled sticks along the shore below, a few atop an ancient beaver lodge.

I also saw a pair of geese in nesting mode but claiming turf that will surely flood if the beavers repair the dam.

When I got down above the lodge I could see that there was more water in the pond, perhaps allowing use of the front entrance to the lodge.

Then down where I could get a good view of the little dam they had made and the north section of the pond, I saw that the little dam was almost flooded over and that pond was refilling.

The dam repair was, say, six inches higher, with many more logs. I'll put a before photo, taken yesterday, below the photo I took today. The photos show the dam from opposite sides

The dam now is getting some tilt to it. The problem the beavers haven't solved is stopping the water from streaming around that battering ram which will now angles through the middle of their dam.

I often see beavers use big logs to patch dams, but the logs are more perpendicular to the dam. Wet though it was, I thought I better check the other dams to show how they weathered all the rain. The Second Swamp Pond was quite full, no major breach there,

Fortunately at least three unrepaired high holes in the dam kept water flowing through and not over the dam so I had a relatively easy time crossing it. I saw half eaten cattail stalks along the dam

and a little push of wet grass and muck up on the dam

Muskrats probably did that. I assume the beavers up at the upper pond have their hands full managing that dam, or reacquainting themselves with the upper reaches of that pond that have been dry since the summer. Continuing along the
Second Swamp Pond dam, I saw a fairly large sunny, saw six inches long, that did have trouble managing the flood.

The Upper Second Swamp Pond is up to the dam brim. I didn't dare walk on it, or on the soggy terrain below it. Can't say that I saw any signs of beavers having been out in that pond. I last saw them in early January.

The Lost Swamp Pond dam has a nice leaking flow over it, and here too, no sign of beaver repairs. But this dam definitely survived despite the heavy rain.

No new otter scats. Walking around the west end of the pond, I saw the ribs of the trunk of a huge old maple freshly gnawed. I usually credit beavers for doing that

but the exposed "flesh" of the tree was quite smooth, so I'll have to think about that assumption. The Big Pond greeted me with its northwest canal fuller than I have ever seen it, though no signs that beavers have been up it.

A deer had been by. I saw the elecampane root that it ate.

There are no holes in this long dam and the water just about negated the north end of the dam, my feet got mighty wet.

Then what to my wandering eyes should appear (wandering to find any oasis of dry sod) but two tubular scats, that I first took as otter scats. Feet soaking, I stabbed them with my tweezers and saw enough green to leave open the question -- perhaps a goose got a mouthful of gritty mud. But, the close-up photo, shows otter scat.

I sploshed on quickly, the only defense against the sogginess, pausing long enough to get a long shot of the dam

and a back shot showing how the beavers were logging it up.

When I got to the dry south end of the dam, I took a breathier on my usual perch, and saw a long white otter effusion right next to the pond on the otters' usual latrine.

You can see a blob of black scat in the midst of it. I saw the same kind of white blob down along South Bay where this creek drains. The white scat may be associated with the business of birthing. I hope so, because it might mean we'll have otter pups. However, the black scats here, with no scales to speak of, don't look the same as the dry scale-filled scats I am seeing around South Bay. It's spring. As slow as the old body is, my mind is racing.

April 8we had snow and rain yesterday but just some sticky wet snow on high spots. I didn't do my duty and check the dam repair -- no day for photos. This morning there was an inch or two of wet
snow. Going along Antler Trail, I followed deer prints in the snow almost all the way. Need snow to remind me that it really is the deer's trail. I crossed a porcupine trail and twitched to photograph its orange pee, but didn't. It's spring. Find the actual animal gathering a bouquet to munch, no more prints and pee. I flushed a heron from the up side of the little causeway on the South Bay trail, likewise no photo of its print in the snow, but I would have memorialized an otter slide if it was there. I also checked the latrine above the old dock for otter slides, none. Then I hurried to Shangri-la Pond and walking along the ridge saw water in the west end of the pond, plenty of water, flooding the neat nibbled piles I saw yesterday.

The geese even moved up to this end of the pond, following the rising water, The lodge looked as it always has, water lapping it nicely.

The little dam was flooded over, as was the north end of the canal

and at first glance there seemed nothing amiss with the dam, maybe a little lopsided. The beavers had no trouble building up the dam around the trunk that had rammed it.

and I took close-ups of the repairs, like I was a consulting engineer, but the beavers needed no advice. I thanked my stars for a camera. How can one describe the logs akimbo and the soft touch of muck.

The leaks are understandable, the mud will be larded on when the rain stops.

I get the sense that the beavers simply push logs over the dam and let the unseen random distribution of the logs brace their more methodical pushes of mud and muck up on the dam. On the way back home I checked on the Thicket Pond beaver
and saw that it had just been out, having plowed a trail in the snow from the small pond,

to the oak it cut down.

The beaver continued on and took some big branches off the red maple it cut.

We couldn't resist checking our land even though the soggy weather, with spits of snow off and on, precluded doing any work. I headed down to Boundary Pool, approaching it from our central valley, not the ridge, and at the
end of the Last Pool I was greeted with a clump of birch trees decidedly thinned by the beavers,

and they left many stripped sticks at the water's edge.

This is a natural pool, not created by a dam, and despite all the rain it didn't seem that much higher than usual. The beavers are pushing up litter on what could be a dam.

What I call Log Dam Pool was almost lapping up to the logs I've been collecting for firewood. I bet my hunch was right, that they were rebuilding the log dam, but I was wrong. There is an uninterrupted expanse of water all the way to Boundary Pond dam.

I assume the sticks around the birch stump are freshly stripped, though this had always been one of the favored places for nibbling. On the shore I saw wet dead leaves pushed up on the shore. Two years ago these beavers placed scent mounds on the shore, but not last year.

The lodge looked like it had freshly stripped sticks pushed up on it, but most had been there since the fall, save for the two or three almost horizontal logs on the back of the lodge. The beavers did trim all the crown of the ironwood that almost fell on the lodge and sticks from that could logically wind up on the lodge, but that doesn't account for the straight logs which are probably hornbeams fished up from the cache and propped up on the lodge to keep from clogging the channel.

The big story at Boundary Pond is the dam. The pond level is at least a foot higher, submerging the end of the ironwood which had been up out of the water. The beavers built up the dam in the fall but comparing a photo from mid-November

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with what the dam looked like today, it's easy to see that more logs have been pushed over the dam

and more litter has been pushed up on the dam, all of which doesn't keep it from continuing to leak. This dam needs mud and the beavers don't have it at hand. Not enough silt has accumulated behind the dam.

Indeed it seems to be that there are more logs than needed bracing the dam, and in place of the bulk mud would provide, the beavers rely on rotten logs along with the leaves.

Water seems to seep through the dam everywhere which must be frustrating for the beavers. Still, as the pond grows they have to extend and try to raise the dam.

And there is no doubt that the pond is growing though I think the snow on the ground makes the water encroachment on the east shore seem more dramatic.

There seem to be far fewer trees, other than hemlocks, on the east shore, but the beavers are finding birch. Birch seems to be their favorite tree now.

I walked up the east shore, and saw very little tree cutting. A beaver has resumed gnawing on one of the huge poplars. If they cut it, this will be the largest tree I've seen these beavers take. This is the time to do it since the water runs right up to it.

They are also addressing a nice size beech tree a little bit above the pond, so far only stripping off some bark. Beavers generally ignore beech trees, sometimes gnawing on an exposed root.

On this cold, wet afternoon, I couldn't in the least luxuriate in the beauty of this expanded pond, maybe tomorrow. The gloomy weather, though, makes the beavers' work glow. I also checked the Deep Pond. Saw a kingfisher there, and a
muskrat, and that the dam is leaking, over the top with a bit washed away.

No signs of beaver repairs.

April 9 a grudgingly sunny day, and warmer, but the wind didn't quit. I was due to go out in the boat but the wind had the water spinning into some Langmuir rotations. So I hiked over to South Bay to explore the shores of the peninsula where I expected to
see some otter signs. On the way I saw the best scat yet at the little causeway on the South Bay trail. There were two, closer to the bay than the other scats.

One was typically black

and the other had a combination of large dry fish scales with brown gobs of pure liquid scat.

I find all these variations in scats very significant but don't have the foggiest idea what they mean. Out at the willow latrine on the south shore of the peninsula where I hope otters might be denning, I saw some very
old otter scat on the willow trunk, but then tucked back toward the marsh,

I saw three sloppy scent mounds

and two of them had otter scats, but not that fresh.

At this latrine I often get the whiff of otter scats, but not today, but this is the one latrine where an otter or otters are trying to make multiple scent mounds, don't know what that might mean either. As I walked by
the big willow on the way out, I saw a dead baby porcupine on the ground.

Poor thing. Two years ago, when I was disappointed not to see baby otters around the willow latrine, I had the pleasure of seeing a baby porcupine try to learn the ropes. Last year I saw a scent mounds on the north
shore of the peninsula, but the bay was higher last year making it easier to swim through the marsh that bounds that shore. I saw no signs of otters there, until I got down to the big oak that sits atop a little moss covered knoll almost at the end of the north cove of the bay.

On the water side of the knoll there was a good big of digging in the dirt, and several piles of scats.

Otters setting up here will have a perfect view of the bullhead mating that will begin any night now. On the way back around the South Bay trail, I saw a circle of deer fur and some skin that I hadn't noticed before.

Hard to say if this was dumped by a hunter or a natural kill. Some animal thought enough of the remains to poop on them.

Strange poop a bit like raccoon, skunk and fisher scat. Along Antler Ridge I forced at least 20 deer in two groups to scatter.

We went to our land in the afternoon. I sat down at the Deep Pond first and saw no sign of beavers patching the leak in the dam which is not unprecedented, but usually beavers at least make some gesture toward repairing
the dam within two days of a breech at this time of year. I didn't expect to see a beaver in mid-day but I sat longer when I saw a mink out of the corner of my eye dancing around the bank lodge below the knoll. I waited in case the muskrats came out to drive the mink away. They didn't but the mink entertained me by hopping into the pond and coming out with little fish which it would carry over into thicket up on the knoll.

video clip to come

I've noticed mink holes in the snow around that area. Perhaps there is a mink hole into the ground where this mink is caching some food. I sat down at the end of Boundary Pond for a half hour, too early to see beavers but just in time to hear wood frogs begin their croaking chorus. Of course, I also walked around the pond to see if I could see what the beavers did last night. The light is different in the two photos, but the photo below shows that a beaver was
definitely gnawing on the trunk last night, not that it gnawed that much

and there are more stripped sticks collected at the end of the Last Pool

so these beavers are getting as far away from the lodge as they comfortably can to get a meal. I walked down the shady east shore, wind in my face, in case a beaver was out, and that's the nicest place to sit to get a cool level reflection on the pond. The stripped birch logs down there looked rearranged.

On my way I out, I walked below the dam, and comparing photos from yesterday, it was evident that the beavers worked on the dam last night.

There didn't appear to be any new logs pushed up on the lodge. Then I couldn't resist a self portrait silhouette of me above some fresh stripped logs on the west shore of the pond.

But my bold profile was no match for what was curling up out of the ground

the flowering hepatica.

and lots of it.

April 13 we were away for three days and I was anxious to see how the repair on the Shangri-la Pond dam was faring. On my way to the pond, I checked the otter latrine on the little causeway of the South Bay trail. I didn't see any new otter signs. As I headed down the ridge south of Shangri-la Pond, I saw a beaver swimming up the pond. I ducked behind a tree and I don't think it saw me. These beavers are very sensitive when they sense me up on the ridge. The beaver veered toward the grass clumps in the
middle of the pond

and after it dove, I didn't see if for a few minutes. Then I saw it swimming up the channel along the north shore of the pond. It swam over to trunk down in the pond and started gnawing on it.

Obviously there was no crisis at the dam. Standing above the lodge, I saw that the now high water around the lodge, seemed quite muddy.

I thought that might mean that the beavers have been busy packing the dam repair with mud, but if so, the dam didn't betray it.

The repaired part of the dam is now just slightly lower than the section that wasn't washed away. My worry that the beavers might have difficultly patching the dam where the trunk that destroyed the dam angled through was quite unfounded. That seemed to be the tightest part of the repair.

The leaking seemed to come from the far north end of the dam, and looking from below the dam, that section seemed to have fewer logs bracing it.

Looking from behind the dam, there didn't appear to be those heaves of mud that I am so accustomed to see beavers push up on their dams.

But here I am sounding critical. The beavers did a masterful job. Walking back up along the ridge and looking up at the north end of the pond, it looked much as it did before the north end of the dam was completely washed away.

Of course, I looked for other beavers in the pond, and saw none. I did see a muskrat, and a pileated woodpecker, as usual, made a noisy entrance. I didn't look for the geese. With a slight detour I could check Thicket
Pond. This pond is usually famous for its comb frogs, as we call the western chorus frog, but I only heard a few peepers. Indeed there were more frogs making themselves heard around Shangri-la Pond, including a few wood frogs and leopard frogs. It was as if the momentarily shallow pond lured a number of frogs to move in. There was no sign of the beaver in the pond, but there had been some progress it is gnawing around the pond. The limbs of the white oak it cut down had been trimmed.

It is very difficult to see the lodge of this pond since it is obscured by the buttonbushes. Perhaps the beaver took the branches to the lodge so it could gnaw in complete privacy.

April 14 we went to our land to start getting the gardens ready for planting. Between hauls of manure, I went down to check on the Deep Pond dam. Last week's heavy rain had washed over and washed out a bit of the dam. I was worried that one of the beavers didn't start repairing it. Today, I saw that during the three days we were away no beaver paid any attention to the leaking dam.

We'll have to sit a spell here in the evening. There was no lack of activity around the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. The beavers have made a muddy trail up to the clump of birch trees they've been cutting.

and at the pond they've collected a pile of twigs. I get the impression that they cut off the twigs to make it easier to haul the logs down pond.

Be curious to see if they eat the twigs -- most look too small to merely strip. The piles of gnawed sticks continues to grow, and they've cut more of the big poplar.

and, to my chagrin, they gnawed more bark off the beech tree. With a bit of chicken wire and a barricade of rotten logs, I tried to cool the beavers' ardor for this tree. The beavers also seem to be building up a dam of sticks in the middle of the pond. Could this be the spot where they want to build their big dam, or is it just the first convenient place to pile up what they've cut, for taking down pond later when the decide to build a new dam?

Their channel down pond is muddy with use.

They are still busy down at dam creating the pond, pushing more logs over the dam.

and the piles of stripped logs on the east and west shore continue to grow.

But, at this time of year, I shouldn't dignify such a pile by saying it growing. The hepaticas are doing the growing around the pond, all along the sunny, hemlock free, west shore. There are pink,

and blue,

and exuberant hairy stalks.

On the way back to the house, I walked above the Last Pool. I noticed some cut pine boughs in the water and now saw where they had come from.

And here and there were stumps of trees just cut.

How far up will the beavers go? Eventually back to the First Pond?

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