Wednesday, July 7, 2010

June 8 to 14, 2010

June 8 we’ve been having rain which has relieved me from having to help water the garden so now I can get back to sawing up logs for next winter’s firewood. I worked on the pile of ironwood and ash that I have at the Teepee Pond. The only diversions were three towhees flitting about the trees and singing, one kingfisher (usually we have two or three about), some tight flying by two ravens, just a foot or two apart with several twists and turns, and the occasional painted turtle poking its head up out of the muddy pond. All in all a pleasant place to work, a womb and brown water and green grasses and trees. As I left work for lunch heading to the road (I had come up through the fields), I smelled something almost acrid and it didn’t take me long to find the source, the mushrooms that bubble up like brains.

Later Leslie saw the same mushrooms, thought they smelled sweet, and pulled up some and took it back for closer examination.

When I walked down the road I saw a corn snake curled at the edge of the grass.

Then a bit farther down the road I saw a turtle’s trail with staggering gait and trailing tail through a patch of mud.

A small dog also may have been interested. After lunch I walked down to Boundary Pond via Grouse Alley and toward the end of Grouse Alley, I saw an elm sapling that a beaver just cut.

I looked around and couldn’t spot where the sapling had been cut. This is the closest beaver work to our house. In the fall and late winter the beavers cut hornbeam, not elm. I kept looking for other elms and didn’t see any. I also can’t explain why the beaver left such a portable sapling on the trail. I checked the wallow above the Last Pool and saw that once again a beaver pushed some mud up on its bank.

It left some nice prints in the mud, and I still haven’ figured out why a beaver is doing this. For the pure pleasure of pushing mud?

There were also prints coming down into the wallow from the valley above.

I didn’t walk up to check on what a beaver might have done up there. I took a quick tour around Boundary Pond, sitting in my chair for only 15 minutes, during which time I heard nothing from the lodge. It seems like the duckweed is spreading. Beavers eat that. How nice to have your home slowly fill with food spreading into every corner.

The beavers have just about completed girdling the big maple,

but have done no more on the two maples I barricaded. As walked through a meadow on the way back to the house, I saw a hawkweed. or is it rattlesnake weed, with a cluster of red orange blossoms that I couldn’t ignore.

With the recent rains, the meadows are vibrant with grasses, soon there’ll be more flowers.

June 9 I headed off on a cool morning under breaking clouds, up to the Big Pond dam to check the otter latrines. The grasses are getting high and rainwet green, but I saw in an instant that an otter had plowed through the grass at the south end of the dam.

A relatively large scat was centered on some dead grass that had been scraped together.

There was a smaller scat halfway back to the pond and more grass scraped together into the meadow, but no scats on or around it that I could see.

The scats were not fresh. I took one of my best videos of a touring otter while I stood on this dam on June 5, 2001. So I got comfortable with the idea that the otter family I had been watching here had broken up in some fashion and that one otter, either the boss male or an adult female, was maintaining a claim on the territory. However, I admit that my brain is getting soft about this idea of territory. Surely, otters have their core area, but I think it might be a sometimes thing, and in general I wonder if animals define territory only in relation to breeding. If territorial marking was a necessity for non-breeding otters then breeding otters could be crowded out of territory and there might an incentive not to breed, not to increase the number of competing otters. This is hopeful thinking today, since it implies that this marking suggests that breeding is in progress nearby. Pups should be about two months old. I spend most of my time hiking about and describing what I see and I no longer hit the books, not that I ever did in any systematic way. I always keep thinking that the otters will soon show me how they manage their habitat and lives. To celebrate this notion I stuck my camera low to show how it might have looked to an otter as it swam away from the latrine with its head just out of the water.

The chatter and screeches of a red winged blackbird family accompanied all this deep thought. I think mother, father and fledge were perching on the heads of the dead cattails wishing I would go away.

Meanwhile across the pond, I noticed a heron perched quietly on the lodge. Then a red winged blackbird attacked and it flew off. So I did, too. As I crossed on the dam, I soon saw that the beavers had been busy. There were big fresh heaves of mud up on it.

And some of the heaves were quite bodacious.

This is obviously a response to the recent rains, but I am a romantic at heart and have to wonder if some proud papa beaver is doing his might for new kits. I don’t think there were kits in this pond last year. At the center of the principal section of the dam there is a new cut honeysuckle bough on top of the fresh mud.

There was a good bit of loose pond vegetation pushed up on the dam too.

Of course muskrats could have done that too, and I saw muskrats prints in one heave of mud. I saw where a beaver fashioned a nook in the tall grasses growing on the dam where it had collected some stalks for nibbling.

Last year they defined some trail back into the marsh below the dam but I found it difficult to see what they were cutting. Meanwhile I kept my eyes on the pond, but not so much to look for otters. I scanned the far reaches of the pond through my binoculars and saw ducks, probably wood ducks, scurrying through the emerging pond grasses nabbing bugs just off the surface of the pond. I was also fascinated by a stand of dark green grass stalks that stood out in the sea of light green.

The closer I got to that stand the less fearsome it seemed, just one of the rushes common along this pond that looked striking this early in the growing season. I walked around the pond up to the lower beaver lodge, which I don’t think the beavers are using. The otters have made a latrine on shore next to it, but I didn’t see any evidence of an otter being up there recently, no scats and no trails in the grass.

While I walked through the grasses, I saw another white moth sleeping on a green stalk which at first look doesn’t seem like good camouflage but I inadvertently nudged the stalk and the moth fell of off the stalk like a falling flower petal and then magically landed on the bottom of a leaf, still seemingly asleep and still looking like the petals of a white flower. I walked down the boundary line to get to the Lost Swamp Pond and that allowed me to check the old otter latrine in the rock there. A raccoon had dug up much of the moss and dirt between the rocks. I couldn’t even find old otter scats much less new.

But there was plenty of goose poop. Over at the mossy cove latrine, I thought I might see a scat or two along the shore. Instead I found that the pine litter, leaves and sparse vegetation up on the rock above the latrine where I usually sit had been thoroughly scratched up.

The new scats I saw there looked only a little bit older than the scats I saw at the Big Pond latrine.

And I saw some dead leaves, pine needles and grasses scraped up in a mound but no scats were near that. There were no scats down on the mossy cove latrine. Seeing all that scratching up on the rock and spread out scats threw a curve at my one-breeding-otter-about theory. Yes one otter could have done it, one otter can do most anything, but this looks much like what I have been seeing four otters do. As I headed around to the latrines by the dam, I saw a nice clump of blue flag iris just off the west shore of the pond. This was the first group of flowers I’ve seen this spring that looks photogenic.

Of course, for the last few springs I’ve had more time to roam around and appreciate the blue flags. Otters have kept me busy this year. I saw a path coming up through the grasses on the north shore of the pond,

That led up to the dog bane.

I saw some cut, some in the pond at the foot of the trail, and finally some cut plants were placed on the dam, along with pond grasses and mud.

I didn’t see any otter scats in the old latrines, and ferns had just about completely greened the latrine where the otters had done most of their scatting and rolling.

I walked down to take a look at the Second Swamp Pond which seemed shallow and quiet. I walked home via the Big Pond dam, with much to think about.

June 11 rain off and on yesterday and I confined my walks to the road. Sunny today and we went to our land but I forgot my camera. So I decided to keep sawing logs and just enjoy the ambiance of the Teepee Pond -- rather quiet even after a painted turtle stuck its nose out of the muddy pond. When we move here for July and August, I might try to get to bottom of this muddy pond. I think the turtles are eating the vegetation and stirring up the mud. There are certainly fewer green frogs. I’ll have to put the minnow net in and see how many crayfish and bullheads I catch. Certainly the beavers and muskrats subdued the pond vegetation but beavers left here in the fall of 2005, and I haven’t see a muskrat kit here in some time.

Back on the island, I decided to take an old fashioned after dinner hike, which required eating a little earlier. I was out of the house a little before 7pm, still sunny but the dramatic clouds of the morning and mid-day were gone. I headed up Antler Trail and in woods on the plateau I saw a large deer lurking in the shadows, standing broad side to me and looking at me. It didn’t move, dare I say, she didn’t move because it was a doe with her fawn nearby. At 7:30 the Big Pond was still flooded by bright sunlight which made it easy to ascertain that no otters have visited since I was here on the 9th. I sat on my perch and probably the same red winged blackbirds that screamed at me the last time I was here, kept up a crescendo of noise. I noticed that the fledges had an indescribably high “beep” that no human machine could match. In the thick marsh next to me, I heard a green frog and then there was a rolling bullfrog chorus. Of course with the grasses growing high, the view from the perch is rather limited. So I stood and scanned the pond with my binoculars. I saw one beaver with its head up munching the grasses in the pond. It was about half way up the pond and did not look like it was going to head on down to the dam.

But I sat a bit longer, hoping a muskrat might come out but none did. Crossing along the dam I saw that a beaver pushed up a bit more mud to supplement the major heaves pushed up a few days ago. There was another cut honeysuckle bough on the dam.

As I came down to the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw ripples behind the dam and, with the binoculars, saw a beaver swimming behind the dam. I scanned the rest of the pond and saw a beaver rolling its back as it dove around the lodge way up in the southeast end of the pond. This was interesting on two accounts. This beaver bobbed for vegetation in just the way as the animal I saw out there on May 25 when I thought I might be seeing an otter, because I had already seen two otters swimming into the lodge by the dam. So, this suggests that the animal I saw swimming up to that lodge on the 25th was a beaver, not an otter, perhaps trying to avoid the two otters which goes against my beavers-usually-driving-off-otters theory. But I have so many theories about beavers, I can just about accommodate any behavior they exhibit. I have a theory that only one beaver in a family acts as policeman and feels obliged to address the nuisances that animals like otters and me present. Of course, it was also interesting that the two beavers were so far a part. Back on the day I saw four otters in this pond, the beavers groomed each other as they sat on the lodge in the middle of the pond. Meanwhile an osprey perched on a high dead tree facing the setting sun.

I nosed over the rock above the mossy cove latrine and didn’t see any fresh activity. I sat on the rock and watched the beaver behind the dam and as it swam down the north shore I slid down the rock so I wouldn’t present a profile to the beaver, if it glanced my way. It swam down to the trail through the grasses up the slope that I first saw the other day and then it headed up the trail. I soon lost sight of it, but I could see the ferns above it moving and then the dogbane rustling.

It soon came down with a bough of the latter, I think,

and hunched up and started eating the leaves.

That was not quick work but I kept the camcorder poised to get video of it going back up the slope. Instead it swam over toward me, close enough to get several good sniffs.

I didn’t notice it at the time but the photo above shows that the back fur of the beaver was still dry. That soon got wet as it turned its back to me, slapped its tail and was not quick to come back to the surface. It surfaced over toward the dam and went into the lodge by the dam. I kept seeing some splashing behind a dead tree in the water and then a muskrat swam out from behind it, and marked a log off to my right. Then it noticed me, and like the beaver swam closer to me

and then back to the north slope of the pond. I’ve often seen beavers shake water off their ears as they swam, but never a muskrat, until this evening. I tried to see the other beaver up in the southeast end of the pond, but it wasn’t there. I assume it went into lodge there. I saw a muskrat swim from the lodge over to the north shore of that end of the pond. Not an exciting evening but not uninteresting: do those two beavers spend all their time apart? The two muskrats were far enough apart to each have a separate territory, but not the beavers. I went back the way I came and while crossing back along the Big Pond dam I saw muskrat swim over to the lodge on the near north shore. The beaver was no longer out grazing. In other years I’ve startled beavers munching the thick vegetation on this dam, but not tonight.

June 12 we went to our land after lunch on a rainy then cloudy day. A walk down the road was uneventful until we got down to White Swamp where we marveled at the lily blossoms. Not many near the road, but farther out in the swamp they seemed to be everywhere.

I think this is a testimony to the over trapping of beavers and muskrats. The water level looks low which may be because the dam or dams that created the swamp are out of repair. I’ve never seen them because they are about 2 or 3 miles away on private land. I’ll wait until we spend more time here before I start checking on activity in the swamp. I headed off to check on the Boundary Pond beavers at 5:30, hoping to hear, if not see, this year’s kits. The recent rains have flooded Grouse Alley so I had to dance over the puddles. The elm sapling a beaver cut is still on the trail.

I tried to ease by the Last Pool unobserved and to contribute to the illusion that I wasn’t there, I didn’t look at the pond. Once I was up on the wooded ridge I looked down into Boundary Pond. Thanks to the clouds and dampness the girdling on the dying maple made it look like the tree is bleeding wood.

As I walked down to the chair half way down the ridge above the lodge, two wood ducks flew off with their characteristic squeals and fluttering, which set the water to rippling, but as that calmed down I noticed more ripples up the channel and saw that an adult beaver was making them. What I was expecting to see with kits in the lodge were beavers ferrying food, especially green leaves, into the lodge for the mother at least. But the beaver swimming up pond nosed around as usual and didn’t appear to be on a mission. Soon enough one of the juvenile beavers came out swam around the lodge with characteristic speed and hurried up pond.

It too seemed intent on feeding itself. I saw one of the beavers reach up and try to eat some leaves on a sapling in the pond, then it worked its mouth through a patch of duckweed, then I lost sight of it again. Then I saw the adult swimming back down the channel and at first glance I thought it was tugging a sapling but it if was it parked the sapling somewhere and browsed off along the side of the pond. Meanwhile the female wood duck flew back in the pond and screeched so plaintively I wondered if she was summoning ducklings, but none appeared and her mate didn’t return either. She then stayed quiet and still and then picked a few bugs off the pond surface. She swam through the duckweed, and didn’t eat any. I blush to say that I had a bit of cheer before I came out on this gloomy day, and during my vigil my eyes shut now and then. While there was sporadic activity to watch, the beavers were mostly out of sight, and uncommonly quiet. There was no humming coming from the lodge. Fortunately, my eyes popped open just as a juvenile beaver came out of the lodge and swam directly over to the east shore, not far from the hole beavers dug, but it didn’t go to that hole. It climbed up on the bank and then about ten feet up the ridge, but then turned and came down quickly and swam up the east shore of the pond, in the shade by all the stripped hemlocks. For the juveniles at least that seems to be the preferred route up pond. When the juvenile came back and dove into the lodge, it was not carrying any food. It may have come right out or another juvenile came out. It went to the dam, nosed about, dove, but didn’t come up with much muck. Then it hunched up down at the west corner of the dam and I assume it was eating something, perhaps duckweed because I could not hear much gnawing.

Then it came over to look at me, and retreated a bit. I retreated too, heading back to the house for dinner. I decided to go back on the Ripple Rock trail which is higher and drier than Grouse Alley and that meant I had to walk along the Last Pool. As I did I saw the adult beaver on the grass at the end of the pool. It turned and moved into the pool and then swam slowly down the pool in front of me and seemed to make a slight rocking motion as it did. I have no idea what that was for. After dinner I went back down to my chair above Boundary Pond. Soon I saw that the same three beavers I had seen an hour or so ago were still out, and one of the juveniles slapped its tail, which usually doesn’t account for much and didn’t in this case. It even swam over to look up at me and then so did the other juvenile. Soon enough all three beavers swam up pond, leaving me swatting mosquitoes. Then at 9pm almost everything I expected to happen started to happen. A beaver or two inside the lodge started humming and the adult beaver in the pond dove into the lodge carrying a small leafy branch. I got the impression that the mother woke up or woke up her kits giving the signal for the other beavers to get to work for her and the kits’ benefit. Unfortunately it was too dark for me to stay much longer to see if the kits might be brought out of the lodge. I tried to distinguish the hums and must say that most sounded too vigorous to come from a kit, perhaps one was high pitched enough, not that I have any experience in associating hum strength and pitch to the size or age of the beaver making them. In addition, I had a difficult time hearing the hums because there were several tree frogs singing and one very loud one right in front of me. I also heard the whip-poor-will down the valley. I didn’t bump into any beavers when I walked by the Last Pool.

June 13 Quiet night in bed, a few frogs, no whip-poor-will near the house. After bringing mulch up for the potatoes and clipping some bushes around the house, I want down to walk around Boundary Pond. I checked the Last Pool wallow first and found that just about full, despite my prediction that it would dry out and that the beavers’ latest mud dredging was an exercise in futility.

While the wallow was muddy, the trail above it wasn’t, so no beavers ventured up it last night.

Walking down the east shore of the pond, I saw that another hemlock is on its way to being girdled.

I still can’t fathom why the hemlocks on the east shore are not cut down, not even a half-hearted attempt to cut one down. No beavers were out in or around the Boundary Pond. Thanks to the recent rain the area below the dam was wet so I crossed on top of the dam, which thanks to the pile of logs almost six feet wide, is dry as a bone. Since the water in the pool is rising, thanks to the recent rains, I think much of the damp muck pushed up behind the dam is very recent work.

I took a photo of the pond and lodge behind the dam not because the beavers left some evidence there of what they did last night, but because the lower part of the pond is now so open.

That might explain why last year I often saw the beavers operating right around the lodge, and I am not seeing that so often this year, but then again, it is still a few more weeks until we live here when I‘ll check on the beavers every night. I walked up the west shore of the pond and checked the clump of Christmas ferns I saw the other day.

The hard brown clasps on the back of the leaves of the upper stem of the plants have resolved themselves into sporing bodies.

As I walked along, I heard loud splashes from the leaping green frogs, but I never saw one. Then as I walked up the channel that forms the central section of the Last Pool, I heard a splash and saw bubbles leading from a mound of moss in the upper section of the pool. Judging by the size of the splash and the bubbles, I would have assumed a muskrat was swimming under water, but I hadn’t seen any muskrats here for months. I figured the animal would be visible under water, if it didn’t surface as it negotiated the root that blocks the narrowest part of the channel. It didn’t surface and I didn’t see it underwater. Then I wasn’t sure if the swelling water in the channel below was caused by a gust of wind or the animal. I kept looking down the channel but nothing surfaced. Then as I turned back to continue on my way, I ripples in the Last Pool, and bubbles heading down the swelling water of the channel. I didn’t see anything swim under the root, but there was no wind gust to cause the swelling in the channel I saw. I walked down the channel, and just when I was about to turn away again, a beaver surfaced and swam on the surface rather slowly, and even shook the water out of its ears. I didn’t go down for a closer look, figuring I had caused the beaver enough stress. I took a photo of the root blocking the channel to show how easy it should have been to see what swam under it as I stood right above it.

Obviously a beaver can hug the bottom of a two foot deep channel. Then I had to ask if two beavers had swum by me or if one had come down to the root and then turned back and tried again. If these were the juveniles that I saw, then I had memories to credit two beavers for avoiding me. I remember how they swam up and down the Boundary Pond channel under water to escape my gaze. Yet, less than a half hour before I had walked just behind and 10 or 20 yards along the east shore of the Last Pool, and didn’t get a reaction from any beavers. If two had been there then, I would think one at least would have reacted. However, the Last Pool has plenty of nooks and crannies thanks to the ribs of moss growing on rotting tree trunks.

When I got in the car to leave, I was entertained by a female rose breasted grosbeak hanging down from the branches to snag seeds.

June 14 I had an early dinner and rode the bike over to the entrance to the state park at 7pm, just as a warm sunny day was getting chilly. As walked around the end of the bay along the trail, I saw two feathers both streaked with white.

I had never seen such before and wasn’t sure what bird it came from, probably a duck. Of course, I checked the otter latrines, but saw no signs of otters new or old. I had other living things to sort out. As I went down on the docking rock I saw ducklings scurry, about 10 of them, and only about half of them formed up behind their mother.

Mallard ducklings of a very young age often surge ahead after bugs and that’s what the rest of the brood did.

Mother didn’t panic and soon caught up to the avant garde. I veered up to check on beaver activity in the little pond below the Audubon Pond embankment. As came up on the embankment, I saw a fawn followed by a doe walking in the grasses north of the pond. I didn’t see any beavers or any new activity down in the little pond, but I did see the wake of something swimming behind the embankment. I was unable to catch up to it because I was detained taking a close-up of a painted turtle atop the embankment. It was not a large turtle, if you are not a bug.

As I headed to the latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay, I saw that group of 10 geese that I had seen several days ago up on the bank here, hurry down into the water. As they swam off in the bay, they didn’t form a line or other orderly grouping.

So they must not be a family. The two large geese didn’t seem to be in commanding positions. I walked around Audubon Pond and saw that the hickory next to the bank lodge, which the beavers didn’t cut last year but which they did undermine with a burrow, is bending well over the lodge and pond, never seen that before.

I headed for the bench and then along the trail north of the pond where I had seen the fawn and doe, I stumbled up a porcupine suckling her little one.

Of course, they separated. The little one crawling away toward a tree, and the mother giving me a plaintive look.

I couldn’t get a focused photo of the fuzzy baby as it hid in the grass behind a tree. I didn’t want to bother it. As I walked out to the bench, I passed the first blooming swamp milkweed that I’ve seen this year.

Then I had to sort through raccoon poops on the bench. Some were plain and some laced with crayfish shells. I don’t think I give raccoons enough credit for the cray fishing abilities.

Then I sat to wait for a beaver to appear. I didn‘t have long to wait. I heard and then saw several tail slaps in the west end of the pond. Last year, when the water level in the pond was higher, and the beavers denned in the bank lodge on the west bank, one would commonly swim out to eye me and slap a tail my way after I walked around the lodge. But I didn’t see any signs of beavers living in that lodge now, so my hunch was that the animal I saw swimming behind the embankment had been a beaver touring the pond and it had been browsing pond grasses in the west end. The beaver stopped tail slapping and took a great circle route going almost to the embankment then almost to the east shore formed by the causeway

And then, swimming under water, it went back into the lodge. Meanwhile, after all the tail slapping, I began to hear gnawing in the lodge near the bench. When the beaver swam back into it, I heard a good bit of humming, half drowned out by a bullfrog chorus rolling all around the pond. Then I heard more gnawing. Beavers staying here have not had kits since around 2001, not sure why, and my guess is that the beavers here now do not have kits. I headed for the west end of the East Trail Pond going via the south shores of Meander and Thicket ponds. I startled two more porcupines on the way. One climbed the nearest tree

And the other, a smaller porcupine, went farther in the grass to climb a tree that proved a perfect place to hide.

I thought the smaller porcupine looked too big to be a baby, and had white quills, but I have no idea how soon young porcupines get them. When I got to the west end of the East Trail pond, I sat up on the same rocks I did when a beaver slapped its tail at me from under the many bushes in the secluded pond. That happened twice, both times in the afternoon. But this evening I heard no slaps. I walked over to a trail I saw last time I was here that went up to some gnawing on the edge of the girdling on a big tree. No new gnawing and the trail didn’t look used.

That crisscrossing of old logs in the middle of the photo above was the beaver lodge in this section of the pond. In the pool where I had seen nibbled sticks last time I was here, I saw none. However, they cut down the tree next to the first one they cut, the one that leaned against the ridge when I first discovered that the beavers were there. And all parts of that tree had been carried away. But I haven’t been coming here enough and I may not have noticed that work when I was here a week ago. I went down to the flats west of the pond, and saw a not well used trail coming out from the pond.

I followed that and it led me to a hornbeam that had been cut down and cut in half.

But that was all that I saw. Of course, I think they are here to eat the green vegetation, not trees, but I haven’t really noticed any swath of cut vegetation. I best come out here again in the afternoon to see if I am greeted once again with a tail slap.

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