Saturday, April 18, 2009

April 9 to 14, 2008

April 9 Today I made a more careful check of the west side of our land, going down to the Deep Pond first, via the Third Pond, which is over flowing. No peepers there yet. The Deep Pond is losing ice rapidly.

I could see nibbled sticks in front of the lodge, but I also saw them on the north shore and in the ribbon of open water along that shore.

I couldn't see from where the beaver collected the sticks. Ice was still hard up against the east shore of the pond, that's the high bank riddled with burrows. I checked the shrubby areas on both sides of the inlet creek and saw a few
possible fresh nips. The trouble is the sap starts oozing out of some of the other cuts, making them look fresh. Plus, a month ago when there was just a trickle of water in this little creek and a hole in the ice opened up to a smooth road of hard snow with saplings easy to fine, the beaver had an easier time of it than now when there is a rush of water and a tangled mat of cattails on one side and tangling litter of leaves and roots on the other.

The beaver certainly has been getting sticks to nibble. There was quite a collection near the lodge, everything thin and about two feet long. The beaver could be getting this from the cache it sank in the pond in the fall. I don't think beavers eat through their cache during the winter and then go foraging for more food. I think they always take the opportunity of going out of the pond to find food. So, in the spring, they can still dip into their cache, avoiding long trips when the simply want to eat in the sunshine.

The beaver had pushed mud up on the lower part of his bank lodge.

Not sure why the beaver is doing this, probably more the result of dredging around the entrance to the lodge, than repairing that flank of the lodge. How the beaver must enjoy sitting out here in the sun nibbling on those sticks. The dam still leaks liberally. There are a few sticks in the breach. Perhaps the beaver is lining them up, certainly no signs of a real repair.

But why repair and back up the high water even higher? I headed down to White Swamp taking my old route down to the little cove and then along the ridge to the otter latrine. With such a high ridge behind it, this south shore stays in the shade most of the day and there was still ice several feet out into the pond in most places and even some snow on the shore. I began to think I should have delayed this hike for a couple of day. However, the snow around the holes the otters used at the latrine was mostly gone and I could contemplate a very generous spread of old otter scats. It was too shady to get a good photo and nothing is less photogenic than old otter scats.

However, there were a few scats on some snow, and I tried to think through when they got there.

Could they have been in the process of melting down to the ground? That is, were they plopped on the snow when it was deep and weeks later resting on a residue of ice? There were no prints on the ice. But it made more sense to think an
otter had been there in a very recent cold dawn. There was a good bit of the white matter that otters sometime poop out, especially at this time of year. One was shaped like a glove, which is not a bad description of this stuff -- like a rotting cotton glove.

I think this has something to do with birthing the pups, which does occur this time of year. The scats around the other holes were just as difficult to capture in a photo, and none of the scats appeared to be piping hot. I took several close ups of this pile of scats. I could waste the space to patch
together quite a poopy collage, but just imagine an eruption of grey piles in an area measuring about four by two feet.

I shouldn't sound so coy and squeamish. I was beaming as I stood there. In my element, the complete winter's diary of lovely otters. I stepped back and took a photo of the latrine showing the snow and ice nearby.

Then I headed back the way I came along the ridge, and when I got around the cove I was delighted to see the mud mark of a beaver right at the end of the cove.

There was also trees nearby that might have been cut recently. I'll have to study old photos. During the winter I had noticed a large maple had fallen and looking from a distance it looked like it had been rotten, but up close I could see that beaver gnawing had helped the old tree fall

and then up on one of the branches of the maple I could see very fresh beaver gnawing.

Walking along the ridge toward where the creek from the Deep Pond enters the swamp, I saw a pile of just stripped beaver sticks on some mud out in the swamp

One beaver, at least, was back on this shore, perhaps not a full recovery from the brutal trapping that took place here two winters ago, but a start. Where the inlet creeks flows into the swamp the water was wider than usual and I didn't see the usual beaver signs there like dredging or a pile of stripped sticks. But there might have been a mud scent mound on the nob of ground that flanks the flow.

It looked like the dam of the inlet creek had been repaired. Water was backed up

and mud and logs had been pushed up on the dam, though it still had a generous leak.

Then I got to work sawing logs up at the Teepee Pond. As I approached the pond several wood ducks flew off. While I was sawing another pair flew into the pond. The male landed right next to me, the female in the first time. Then she puddle jumped and got close to the male but swam back into one of the short beaver canals. The male followed. I couldn't see them, then they both paddled back, male leading the way. He nipped the water with his beak, then she did, and I couldn't tell if this was courtship or they were picking bugs off the pond surface, not that there appeared to be too many of those. Down at the far end of the pond I saw the female go up on the land. Now they looked like they were shopping around for a nice tree for her to nest in. Then they flew off. Next a mink danced quietly up the
remaining ice on the south shore of the pond. I was able to sneak over to my camera bag and get a few seconds of video before the mink, after some long looks in my direction, decided I was a suspicious character. The mink ran up to the First Pond and disappeared. Tracking in the snow channels the imagination into confining animals to long, almost always, straight lines. Now I see how fluid an animal is, how easily diverted, how prone to duck into the water twice, when if I just saw tracks in the snow I'd have no idea how full this mink's moment by the pond, lasting
only a few minutes, really was. While sawing I heard frog trills in the distance that sounded like comb frogs, as we call them, or western chorus frogs as they better known as. But peepers make almost the same sound when they are warming up. I also was perplexed by small birds that sound like song sparrows with an attitude, with three long notes before its trills. After lunch, I didn't go down to check Wildcat Pond because I was planning to hurry out to Shangri-la Pond before dinner. But I wanted to go back to see if the peeper chorus swelled or petered out. So I
went up to the valley pool, now quite full, at the north end of the inner valley. No peepers. I snooped around looking for Blanding's turtles, and was startled to see that a beaver had stripped some birch sticks. Then I saw that a birch branch had
been cut.

No chance that these were leftovers from the winter. So I headed down to Wildcat Pond hoping to see if there were tracks in the snow. I went by what looked like a freshly cut willow at the beginning of the woods, but I do think the beavers had done this in the fall. Cut willows can keep fleshy color especially in this damp shade.

I didn't see beaver tracks in the snow, but there was a pathway clear of snow that a beaver could follow. So soon I was knee deep in rotting snow trying to find the spot where a beaver would have had to get its feet into the white stuff. I think I found enough show ridged up on the moss covered humps (probably old logs) that almost dam the rivulet that would have to show a beaver moving up the valley, but if a beaver kept a very narrow path....

I continued down to the Boundary Pool and there I saw stripped sticks. Of course these could have easily been from the fall.

I checked the Boundary Pool dam and saw that there had been no work on that, but I can't fathom why beavers would work on it in these conditions since they never have done much with it. But looking across the pond I could see some discoloration on the ice and snow. So...

I'll try to do a census of the Wildcat Pond beavers tomorrow.

I have a long history with the beavers in Shangri-la Pond and when they were in Meander and Thicket Ponds the last four winters, I always seemed to be able to see them in the middle of the day through the winter and then
in March. In the fall I saw them out in Shangri-la Pond at noon several times, and we saw them out in the day in December, and after the beaver died when the tree fell on its head, I saw the remaining beavers here. Then everything iced over and snow piled on and I haven't seen beavers here while I have seen beavers, even in the middle of the winter, in the other ponds I watch. However, from the fresh work around the pond I know they are there and from the two sizes of prints I've seen in the snow, I think there are at least two. There was only one thaw long enough to allow beavers to leave the pond without me having a good chance of seeing tracks. Anyway, after my clumsy attempt to determine the sex of the beaver that died, I couldn't rule out that the matriarch of the colony had died in late December. So
I've been worrying that the possible death of such an important member of the colony might prompt the yearlings in the colony to disperse earlier than later, or for the remaining adult to head off quite early to look for another mate. Having just seen
evidence of a roaming beaver on our land also prepared me to expect changes at Shangri-la Pond. Since I had not seen these beavers in the day I didn't start my vigil until 5 pm. We had a bit of afternoon rain and it was still cloudy, which I always think will get the beavers out of their lodge earlier though in 13 years of watching beavers I have no evidence that it does. Plus the clouds were breaking and the sun, rather bright since it was two hours to sunset, came out. I took photos of the pond while it was still gloomy, showing the lodge

how full the pond was

and how water was flowing over the dam

After a half hour of waiting I began leaning back on the pine needles and if a beaver below hadn't hummed, I wouldn't have known it was out. The beaver seemed relatively big and competent. I headed straight for the dam, and twice brought up mud to pack on the dam

I geared myself to capture an epic of dam repair on my camcorder, and wondered if this was a sure sign that the colony was stable, then the beaver swam up stream, diving frequently but not bringing up any mud. It made its
desultory way to the big red oak trunk and then the smaller one and seemed to gnaw on something while still in the water. Two wood ducks flew below me, male and female, and I concentrated on getting a photo of the striking plumage of the male.

Then I looked back toward the beaver and was amazed to see it up on the large red oak trunk, its big tail hanging down behind the trunk, then it got all the way up on it, big back feet gripping.

I have seen this before, in the early spring too, but its rare behavior to see a beaver climbing a tree after a fashion. It went about five feet along the trunk and then plopped back down and into the water. It went a bit farther up pond, diving and gnawing here and there but did not go up on shore. Then it headed back down pond and once again climbed up on a trunk. This one was half in the water and the beaver walked along it much like a marking muskrat would.

Curious. Then it headed toward me. I was at my usual spot under the pine high above the pond and in general I faced a crossing west wind but it swirled at times as it curled around the east-west ridge I was on. The beaver had its nose up and it soon slapped it tail. Rather than disappear back into the lodge it made a wide circle and slapped its tail again, and before it did it again, another beaver popped out of the lodge. This one was smaller and a bit friskier, shaking its head several times like it was getting water out of its ears. It
stayed away from the other beaver nosing around the edge of the rotting ice on the west side of the pond. I put the camcorder down and tried to get a photo of the beavers. First the smaller one

and then a photo of the larger beaver looking right up at me.

I lost track of the smaller after it seemed to dive under the ice. The other beaver just couldn't seem to get comfortable with me about and eventually swam over to and dove into the lodge. The beavers' fur has a beautiful reddish tint at this time of year so I doubt if I could match these beavers with videos of beavers I saw in the fall. In the fall I decided that this colony consisted of two adults, one definite pup, one definite yearling and another that I assume was a large pup but may have been another yearling. So now I think I was seeing that pup, now almost a year old, and one of the yearlings, now almost two years old. The smaller beaver reappeared and it lingered near the lodge. It saw me too, and perhaps was uneasy. Then a beaver emerged from the lodge, definitely an adult. It swam more directly and went right to a log floating in the pond and started pushing that toward the dam. Now, I thought, I'd see some real dam repair. Then it stopped pushing, turned and swam up pond. Then another beaver appeared, perhaps the pup, moving aimlessly over toward the dam, and to complicate things further, a muskrat started swimming along the east shore of the pond. I saw the adult beaver dive a couple times and if ever I saw a beaver broad in the beam this was it. Pregnant? I lost track of her but soon saw a beaver under the red oak trunk, walking nimbly below it and pausing to eat now and then. On the ground it didn't
seem large, but that could have been that other beaver along the east shore. Things were getting delightfully complex and as best as I could tell the death of the other beaver had had no impact on this colony. All the beavers looked spry and healthy, which is not always the case in the spring. Indeed these beavers didn't seem especially hungry. There was none of that eager, incessant gnawing that I often hear around ponds in March and April. As I left I kept an eye out for a beaver swimming up the north shore of the west end of the pond, and sure enough I saw one. After two
months of trudging over and through snow and ice, I positively flew home on light feet bouncing off the wet leaves. Oh yes, while watching the beavers briefly a barred owl parked itself in a tall pine tree behind me and started to warm up, but thought better of it when it noticed me. A couple of vultures kept circling over head hoping I was dead. Sorry, boys.

April 10 sunny and warm enough in the afternoon to inspire the frogs on our land. I first went up to check the valley pool to see if there was more beaver work. There were stripped sticks out in the pond near where the beaver cut the birch on shore.

I walked around the pond counterclockwise and saw a pile of stripped sticks on the low west shore

where there are a lot of birch saplings.

So a beaver has definitely been here. Does it den here? I think muskrats had burrowed here but I'm not sure where, so they must be small burrows. Later I walked around the Teepee Pond and while I didn't see any fresh beaver work, the pond is higher and the dam doesn't seem to leak as much. The canal leading to the valley pool is a bit muddy

but it didn't look like a beaver dragged its tail from the pond to the pool and back again. This does seem like the best place for the beaver to get a quick meal, yet when beavers did live in the First and Teepee ponds I don't recall them making special visits down to the pool in the spring. I found a morrell mushroom poking out of the leaves near the valley pool.

Then I forgot to look for more because I became distracted by the wood frogs. Leslie had seen one on the edge of the turtle bog and even moved it into the sun. As I walked up there I could hear three or four wood frogs croaking. I sat an enjoyed that. There was no sign of turtles so I headed down to the Bunny Bog to see if the Blanding's had moved down there as they often do. I heard a lusty chorus of wood frogs coming from this half icy and half sunny pool

and sat down and enjoyed them for a good twenty minutes. I was close enough to hear undertones and the rolling roar under the croaking eruptions. I saw some frogs moving but none mating. When I stood to look for turtles, the frogs all went mum. No turtles. I headed down the ridge southeast
of the valley hoping to sneak up on the Wildcat Pond beavers from a direction they weren't use to hearing me take. I walked over the fur of two dead rabbits, but saw no flesh or bone. There is still ample snow in the wooded part of the valley so I stayed on the ridge

and then eased down the slope beside the pond which was snow free like most of the pond. There was still a little ice along the shady part of the dam. I sat there hoping the beavers would come out before 5pm, when we had to go, and they did. The first came out around 4:20 and swam toward the dam but didn't seem to do anything -- plenty of water in the pond no need to patch the dam. Then it went up to where the piles of winter work were but I couldn't see it. Finally it swam toward me and headed up the canal. Then it stopped right below me and went still.

It turned and floated still again. Probably had more than an inkling that I was there and was trying to access how big a threat I might be. It continued slowly up the canal,

and judging from the ripples I thought it was browsing around where the pond widens up there. While I was watching it float, I saw some bubbles at the side of the lodge. A beaver appeared and I soon lost sight of it as it went toward the winter work. A muskrat also swam about. Then there was a big surge of water beside the lodge and three beavers materialized, one or two of them humming loudly. They rather directly headed toward me. One beaver seemed not much more than half the size of the largest beaver. The other smaller beaver was bigger than that but still acted like a baby swimming so close to the back of the big beaver that it looked like it was trying to catch a ride. I often notice this infantile behavior of yearlings in the spring, a ploy, I assume, to keep getting attention from the pregnant mother, or, if the mother has given birth, from the
busy father trying to tend to her needs. Anyway, these beaver swam right below me,

not pausing at all.

I heard some hums up pond and thought I could keep track of them by listening, but they soon went silent. Then I saw another beaver near the lodge and soon it swam by me, no pausing below me.

So in short order, I saw at least five beavers, perhaps a sixth but I think the second beaver I saw was the same as the fifth beaver. Since I didn't hear any noise from up pond, and it's hard for five beavers to be that quiet, I headed that way along the ridge. No sign of them. When I got to
the woods I had to get off the ridge, otherwise I couldn't have seen them. Soon I was once again dancing in two feet of snow. Fortunately there were enough bare spots to make this bearable. I never heard a sound from these beavers. Then I saw a large beaver swiftly swimming down stream, and saw it climb over the Boundary Pool dam.

No more in sight. So I moved up stream, then I saw three beavers, two smaller and one large, moving quietly down the dark canal water flanked with white snow. I didn't feel like I was scaring these beavers and after all I was hurrying them away from this remnant of winter, dark and cold, and out into the warm yellows and browns of the sun drenched pond. In that instant it seemed like we were all being reborn, but this most romantic moment for me, was most inconvenient for them. And where was the fifth beaver? Yes, I walked all the way
back to the valley pool, snowless and drenched by the sunshine and now sizzling with a chorus of peepers. No sign of any beaver there. Back near the cabin Leslie discovered a beautiful bird nest.

And I forgot to report that she saw a bat flying over the road which is good news since there is an alarming epidemic killing bats on the other side of the Adirondack Mountains.

April 12 rain all day yesterday, heavy at times and sprinkles this morning. We went to the land and in order to keep relatively dry didn't venture too far off the road. We checked the valley pool first to see if there was more beaver work and I saw that another birch sapling was taken and there were a few more stripped sticks floating in the pond.

I stepped back to take a photo of the area the beaver has been nosing into so I'll have a better measure of how much it clears the area.

There was a muddy streak down the middle of the pond

and I thought the puddles between this and the Teepee Pond looked muddy, but the Teepee pond itself didn't look that muddy. I looked around the dam and couldn't find any mud packed on it, and thanks to the heavy rain, it was leaking copiously again. I had a hunch that if the beaver was living in these ponds and had a yen for shallows with cattails nearby, then it would be finding things to eat at the other end of these ponds, around the vernal pool above the First Pond. I went back there and sure enough a birch sapling had been cut

and the beaver cut and nibbled on the boughs of one of the small pines there.

In the woods above that area, I didn't find anything cut, yet. There are still three or four large poplars. The beavers left here in September 2005; it would be nice to have one back. Sometime this week I'll spend an
evening vigil here and see if I can see the beaver -- like old times. Then I checked out the Deep Pond. The portion of the dam the beaver repaired last year has a few leaks. There is a major leak a few feet away from that area which, though boasting a
copious flow, probably won't damage the dam that much.

I think the beaver has pushed more sticks in the major gap at the end of the dam. This too looks like it will be easy to repair.

All the ice is gone so all sides of the pond are available but as far as I can tell, the beaver is doing all its tree cutting in the southeast corner of the pond where there is easy access to the inlet creek

There is almost a path from the inlet creek.

I couldn't cross the creek and had to walk back around the pond to check out the lodge where it seems the beaver parks itself as it nibbles most of the sticks it collects. More rain in the afternoon.

April 13 Leslie dropped me off at the Nature Center and I walked to Audubon Pond from there. The pond it quite full and though there are stripped logs around it and not far from it, it was hard to think the beavers were still living in the bit of the dome still above water.

Yet there were mounds of mud on the nearby shore

and a beaver had been gnawing one of the trunks on the shore of the pond just up from Audubon.

I didn't see any new work along the north shore of the pond, and not much new work in the northwest corner, just one tree cut and not segmented even though it would be easy for beavers to reach up and gnaw it.

A beaver is also gnawing ash tree trunks just above the ground.

The bank lodge on the west shore does show signs of being used. The hole in back of it has been stuffed with leaves and mud; there are stripped sticks floating near it; some mud packed on the lodge; and some mud and leaf
mounds on the nearby shore.

No reason why the beavers can't be splitting their time between the lodges, especially if there is a pregnant beaver. I haven't walked along the embankment to see if the burrows there are being used. Then I headed down to the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay and I was disappointed to find no signs of a recent visit by an otter. There were also no masses of ducks out in the pond. We had seen them in the east end of Eel Bay, but not here. Walking down the South Bay trail, I saw a kingfisher, and flushed a heron from the shore. An otter had visited the docking rock latrine along South Bay and I thought I could see a damp trail up to where it scatted.

I've never seen such a token of a very recent visit. The scats it left behind looked fresh. One was a typical black one

and there were two reddish brown ones. Often this color scat is all goo, but these had a generous spread of scales mixed in

Plus the ground around the scats had been well prepared with deep scrapes.

All this got me psyched to see an otter, and as I continued down the path I walked slowly, but the few ripples I saw where made by ducks, one bufflehead and three common mergansers. Then as soon as I saw the latrine above the old dock I could tell otters had been there.

The scraping here was impressive

and I found some more fresh scats

two of them were mottled with fish parts. I have cut into enough fish to at least hazard a guess at what was so indigestible, but I can't.

I had planned to go up to Shangri-la Pond and the loop home through the other ponds to check the otter latrines there, but I thought I better complete the South Bay story so I walked around along the South Bay trail,
and then out onto the point to check the willow latrine.

I only found beaver stripped sticks and some muskrat poop on one of the arms of the willow hanging low in the water.

The lodge seems to be in good shape but since there is no fresh mud on it, I can't say that a beaver is there. I sat on the willow trunk for ten minutes, and a lone male merganser swam by with its dark red head. There were no otter scats at the little causeway over the creek feeding the south cove, so I can't say that an otter is wiring its claim on South Bay even though it has made its mark along the north shore. I saw a good bit of scat like this last year in April but that didn't prove to be a harbinger of a good summer and fall of otter
watching. I saw one otter once in Audubon Pond in May, and no pups were raised in the beaver ponds I watch, for the first time in the 13 years I've been watching the ponds.

April 14 we went to the land, me to work on cutting fire wood for next winter. But first we checked the valley pool, where there was an incredibly melodic chorus of peepers. It was still chilly and perhaps only a half
dozen were singing, and two of them were trilling, one a step lower than the other. At first glance there didn't appear to be fresh beaver work, but when I nosed through the bush and checked the birch saplings, I saw one cut and some new stripped twigs in the pond.

Then as I continued nosing around I saw a bouquet of birch sapling, that is, four saplings sprouting from the same root, with three saplings neatly cut.

The pond was still muddy and I could sense a trail to the Teepee Pond, but there I saw no beaver work, and the pond looked a bit lower so there has been no dam repair. A heron did fly off. I didn't see any fresh work around
the First Pond nor around the pool above. We checked the turtle bog, but still no turtles. The wood frogs were silent, probably because of the cold. We didn't see any frog eggs. After lunch I checked for logs down near the Deep Pond, then checked the dam. The beaver pushed mud up on the central portion, which still leaks.

Then I saw that the beaver had been cutting tall thin trees below the pond

I'll have to wait until the leaves are out to identify these specimens that survive but don't thrive
in the wet ground.

I could cross the creek and then I saw that the beaver had done a good bit of work to patch the run-over at the west side of the dam.

The pond water level was a few inches higher, too. I think the beaver had gone all around the edge of the pond because I saw stripped sticks in several places, and a few pine boughs nipped, I think, by the beaver.

We will spend the night here soon and I will try to see these lonely beavers, and try not to bother the crowd down in Wildcat Pond.

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