Thursday, April 7, 2011

March 29 to April 5, 2011

March 29 we went to our land expecting a big boil of sap. One bucket had more than a gallon, but several of the others were dry. So we headed back home. Before we left, I checked the Last Pool. The beavers did not break the ice this morning, but there was a new arrangement of stripped logs. The bitternut hickory that had been over the old hole in the ice had been moved back a little.

There was a bigger log half stripped, and I have been suggesting that the beavers go away from the cache to get the bigger logs, but the cache is fast disappearing so I think about everything they are eating, now that the cache is not snow bound, comes from the cache of branches they collected in the fall.

The pond has lost a good bit of water and as the ice retreats I can see one of the channels the beavers fashioned to make it easier to get to the cache back in the fall, and perhaps during the winter under the ice.

There is still plenty of ice and snow on the pond, say 95% ice covered, and there is still snow in about 20% of the valley north of the pond, but there is no water running into the pond from the usual rivulet.

Since we went home early, I was able to get out and check the holes in the beaver dams on the island. Once again there were several deer along the Antler Trail, in areas finally losing snow cover. As I came up to the Big Pond dam, I saw a muskrat about 10 yards up pond. It dove as I took a photo. The pond is still leaking and no signs of beavers coming to the dam. With the water level lower I think I saw that I was wrong about how the water is getting through the dam. It may not be going in one hole and then flowing down through an old muskrat burrow going laterally through the dam. I saw a hole back along the apron of mud behind the dam. Water going in there could flow just about directly through the dam.

That hole looks easy to patch, but what do I know? I didn’t see anything new as I walked along the dam and then up into the woods toward the Lost Swamp Pond. I angled my route so I went directly to the dam. When I reached the pond, it was easy to see that the water level was no higher. But when I got to the dam, I saw sure signs that a beaver had just been there. There were more osier sticks, stripped and unstripped in the deep water behind the dam.

These little nips of osier seemed bunched up behind the dam.

Meanwhile I saw no mud pushed into the hole. However when I looked on the other side of the dam, I saw that the flow had stopped at the hole, though there was still water trickling elsewhere. The reason for the low flow seemed be a jam of little sticks in the hole.

Of course I took at harder look at the jam, and from below the dam it looked like the sticks simply flowed through the dam, began to collect around some logs behind the dam, and when the jam grew big enough the flow of water stopped.

But I was able to look down at the where the water had been flowing through the hole, and from that I got the impression that some sticks had been jammed in, and didn’t simply float in.

This is a bit confusing. I was expecting the usual patch with bigger logs and mud packed in. Instead the beaver or beavers have been dining right behind the hole with thin osiers that I have never noticed being used in dam building. Today there is a bunch of unnibbled osier looking like it is ready to be pushed into the breach.

But why take so long and why not use some mud? If they do patch the dam, I have a nice story. If not, beavers become an even more curious animal to me. I also saw otter scats around the dam.

The two black scats at the bottom of the photo were accompanied by a brown blob.

I don’t think they were deposited in the last 24 hours, probably early yesterday morning. I am getting the impression that only one otter is marking this pond and the Big Pond, which is as it should be. Last year the family challenged all my ideas about otter family break-up and dispersion by hanging around here together until May. When I started on the hike it was still a cold day but not only did I warm up from walking. The sun seemed to get stronger, the wind stopped and it was genuinely warm. I unzipped my coat and sat on one of the rocks next to the pond exposed by the low water. I had seen a muskrat here too when I first came up to the dam. Soon I saw two more swimming by me, one at a time, heading to the southwest end of the pond where there is still snow and ice.

While there is far less water in the pond now, four separate pools of water remain which come to think of it coincide with what over the years I thought marked the muskrats' territories. With three muskrats in the corner of one territory I expected to hear some commotion from them, but all was quiet. I did notice what might be a marking competition on the end of a big log in the water where muskrats have often pooped over the years.

I also enjoyed the chattering of a large flock of blackbirds foraging on the thawing pond bottom. Then a cloud covered the sun, the wind picked up, I zipped up my jacket and walked around the west end of the pond. I didn’t walk up the exposed bottom of the pond because with just a couple steps I realized that it was no longer frozen.

But I was going that way primarily to take the boundary line trail to the Big Pond lodge. I haven’t seen evidence of beaver activity in the Big Pond for almost a month and in most years I usually see the beavers by now, even when they lodged in the small pond above this one. Having that big dam in repair and the venerable pond restored always seemed a priority. With all the ice and snow gone, and the water so low, I saw how the beavers set up their cache pile close to the lodge, aprons of food, which I think reflects the small size of the twigs and branches.

On the way to the pond, I got off my usual path to the lodge and saw an ash log left along the way about half way between the lodge and where the ash was cut.

I’m not certain when the beaver cut the ash. Judging from the photo of the lodge, the beaver cut two similar logs, one on the lodge and the other down in the water where it could be more easily stripped.

Those logs weren’t on the lodge last March (March is about the only time I can get this good view of the lodge.) So I studied the remaining cache near the lodge and didn’t get an impression that there had been fresh nibbling especially considering that beavers are starved at this time of year.

But I’ll come back in two days and hope for the best. I took a photo looking down pond from the lodge.

To me it seems like a no-brainer. Any self respecting beaver would patch that dam. As I stood by the lodge I saw two muskrats on the opposite shore, hunched in the shallows and on shore nibbling away.

Then I heard some stirring in the lodge. Of course, I hoped for a beaver to appear but it was another muskrat. I saw its tail above the roiling water. It seemed loath to go far and soon swam back underwater and back into the lodge.

March 30 I spent most of my time scouting and cutting ironwoods at our land. This is the best time of year to learn where trees are, if you can tell them by their trunk alone. Ironwoods are easy to identify. They seem to like rocky promontories under big oaks. They aren’t deterred by a bigger tree over them. However do ironwoods stunt the growth of smaller oaks? Looked that way to me. I went down to check on the beavers and noticed that they did move and presumably strip the bitternut branch that they had collected next to their hole several days ago.

I have to do before and after photos to show how much they’ve devoured their cache in the last few weeks. I walked down the east shore of Boundary Pond where the ice retreats and leaves dry turf. It is like the ice is not melting and fingers of ice reach out to the dry ground before vaporizing.

The sun gives the old snow covering the pond an almost frothy look, though again, it seems like a dry boil.

Even the dam looks dry, and I’ll soon see the true level of the water in the pond.

The west side of the pond has open water. I saw one pollywog and the wiggling of a lot of tadpoles.

I miss not being able to sit up on the ridge and look at beavers nibbling sticks, like I was able to do last March. The beavers moved up pond where there is no good view of them from a ridge, and because one kit died last year, I know there are fewer beavers in the lodge.

March 31 light snow in the morning and then off and on rain, more on than off. During a mid afternoon lull in the rain, I put on an insulated yellow slicker and headed for the beaver ponds. The damps brings out the colors on the plateau where continents of moss with mountains of grass glow below the swells of the granite ocean.

I didn’t see any deer along Antler Trail today. Thanks to the enhancement of all colors by the rain, I noticed porcupine stripping high on a tree where woodpeckers had their sway on the trunk below.

The damp also brings old otter scats bank to life, so as I walked up to the south end of the Big Pond dam, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing fresh or old scats. I decided they were old and moved on to see that no beaver had visited the dam, no muskrat either for that matter. Usually I see a token of grass pushed up somewhere on the dam. I pressed on to the Lost Swamp Pond angling so I walked up the north shore. Walking along I scowled at the shore looking for any evidence that the water had risen, and saw none. Then I stopped short to the dam when I saw black otter scats glowing at my feet, some on a clump of grass evidently stained by otter urine.

However, I knew that I took a photo of the same scats two days ago, thinking they might be fresh then, but deciding, when I looked at the photo, that they were too dry to be fresh. Here is that photo from two days ago.

The orientation of the photos is different but did the collection of scats in the upper left of the photo above get black because more scat was just pooped on top of it, or are all the scats just dehydrated?

Here is a spring conundrum that only otter watchers face. I think an otter just replenished the pile. But I came to see the dam, and was disappointed to see that a beaver had still not pushed mud or even a bigger log into the hole.

But before I could analyze that, I heard whirring coming from the lodge just beyond the east end of the dam. Two muskrats were grooming each other at the edge of the lodge. Here the lambent colors worked to my disadvantage and I couldn’t see them well until one swam off into the water.

It swam right back. I also noticed two muskrats up pond to the east. In the past I have associated the whirring and whistling of muskrats with both fighting for territory and sex. I thought I was seeing a mixture of both. The whirring at the lodge was love play, but I might soon hear the more shrill whistling of an attack up pond. But I didn’t, even when one muskrat up pond swam down to the lodge. It did break up the grooming but without any strife. Then one muskrat swam right toward me. It was quite small and came close before veering off to the west end of the pond. So I am probably seeing a family group and the territorial arrangement in the pond has either already been addressed or problems have not yet arisen, though I can’t imagine a muskrat being carefree in that regard. I went below the dam and saw that water found a way thrust the crush of osier sticks in and below the hole in the dam.

One dollop of mud could have forced the water to go elsewhere or begin to back up. Two days I saw a clump of unnibbled osier a yard behind the dam. Today I saw that clump in the hole, still unnibbled.

I don’t think it could have floated in there. The rain had never been that heavy nor the wind that strong. Plus those sticks were up on other sticks and I don’t think the water has dropped that fast, if at all, in two day. Probably as much water is coming into the pond as is flowing out. I wondered if the muskrats could be doing the nibbling and maybe even jamming the hole with twigs to be nibbled later. Muskrats are collectors but usually bring it back to their den. Then I saw a sunken pile of bigger sticks in the deeper water behind the dam along the shore.

That is more stripping than muskrats usually do. But if a beaver has been here and has been stuffing sticks in the hole, why didn’t it stuff these big sticks in? Meanwhile I heard the blackbird flock but didn’t see it. The song sparrows were louder today and I heard a cardinal. I took the same route to the Big Pond that I took two days ago. As I came down through the brush north of the beaver lodge and moved through the tall grasses, I saw some thrashing in the shallow water along the south shore of the pond.

Once I determined that only one animal was doing it, I knew it was an otter. I moved to the end of the tall grass, kneeled on my hat and enjoyed its evidently successful foraging in an area of the pond that must be no more that a foot deep. It often cocked its head up, half the time to sniff the breeze (fortunately I was downwind from it) and half the time for ease of eating fish or pollywog. A pair of mallards were swimming near by. Unfortunately I wasn’t taking a video clip when they flew off after the otter got too close, but in the inadequate clip below while you can barely see the otter, you can hear the miffed mallards.

I was hoping the otter would head my way. A muskrat did, and went into the nearby lodge

But the otter high tailed it the other way, over the southeast shore, into the grasses, too quickly for me to get a video clip.

Then I studied the lodge and tried to decide if a beaver had been out and stripped any sticks. My initial impression was that they had.

But after comparing the photo from today with the photos from two days ago, I think the rain just made the old stripping glow like it was fresh. However, a stripped stick on the other side of the lodge had either been moved around or it was fresh work.

I still think that if a beaver was here, I’d be seeing a lot more evidence of it. I headed home in a light rain, forgetting my beaver problems for the moment and wondering if that was a soon to be mother otter that I saw. She is situated perfectly near shallow out of the way ponds for having and raising pups.

April 1 we went out to check the beaver dams, enjoying some first hints of spring. Tree twigs are beginning to swell and it is harder seeing through the woods. No new bird songs yet. There was no activity at the Big Pond dam. One of the holes through the dam is collapsing making it harder to walk on top of the dam. We went through the woods directly toward the north shore of the Lost Swamp. I saw that there was a goose on top of the lodge in the middle of the pond. Fortunately, I brought along binoculars and when I took a look at the goose, I saw that there were two beavers sitting on the lodge below it, as well as the guarding male goose next to the lodge.

The beavers are just a brown blob in the photo, and through the binoculars it first looked to me like the goose had a brown cape draped below it. Then I saw one beaver head, and then the other. One beaver was higher up on the lodge and it looked bigger than the other. These beavers reminded me of the two I saw last May. Then too the bigger was lying on the lodge next to the nesting goose. The other beaver had been in the bank lodge on southwest shore, swam and slapped its tail at the otter family near the dam, and then joined the other beaver on the lodge. Today, as we walked along the shore, the bigger beaver moved off the lodge first, swam a few feet out in the water, and then dove, presumably going into the lodge.

As we walked farther up the shore, the other beaver moved slowly into the water and soon dove.

You can see that it looks a bit smaller than the other beaver. When I saw these differences in the proportions of the two beavers last year, I was sure the bigger was pregnant, but I never noticed any kits. The geese stayed put, and kept quiet. The hole in the dam had not been patched, no mud nor big logs pushed near it. If I hadn’t just seen the two beavers, I would have worried that the beavers had moved on.

I saw a new scat right up from the dam,

And down in the mud below, I saw one otter print where the otter jumped down onto the mud.

We sat down on the low rocks revealed by the low water level and enjoyed the early spring. Then Leslie caught a glimpse of a mink hopping along the north shore. We turned and saw it scoot behind a granite rock, and soon it started playing peek-a-boo with us.

It couldn’t stay put for long and I got a nice video of it as it ran over to and below the dam.

We headed for the East Trail Pond via the Second Swamp Pond dam and half way down the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond, we heard a small chorus of comb frogs. Leslie hung back to listen and I took a look at the East Trail Pond. I wanted to see if the beavers had resumed gnawing trees on the south shore of the pond. I could see that the pond was muddy everywhere so beavers had probably been over there.

But I couldn’t see any signs of a resumption of foraging along the south shore.

Another day, I’ll take a close look around the whole pond. I went back to get Leslie and we crossed the Second Swamp Pond dam again. I veered off back to the alders which provided some meals the last time the beavers were here. Deer still get some use out of them as antler rubs.

It seems to be the most popular rubbing tree around here probably because it is softer and more flexible than most trees. We saw two herons fly off when we re-crossed the Big Pond dam.

April 2 between collecting sap and a sawing ironwood trunks into logs, I had a chance to check the ponds at our land. The ice is retreating off the Deep Pond and I wonder if the trails left in the limp and lifeless vegetation on the pond surface were made by ducks.

I haven’t seen any signs of muskrats in this pond yet. Ice was losing its grip on the Last Pool too. The cache was ice free and I was surprised not to see more stripped logs littered about.

As I walked around the north end of the pool, I finally regained my bearings. Last year as the beavers developed this end of the pond by building a lodge and dredging, I kept taking photos of what I called their wallow. They dredged the channel of the little rivulet that drained the valley and ran under the trunk of one of the poplars they cut down. I must say the wallow looks rather used by the winter, no longer a rich blend of muddy water and muddy banks. Pond water seems to be purified by the winter.

The valley above the pond is almost free of snow.

Then I went back to the pond on the east side of the downed poplars, and it looked to me that the beavers had finally gnawed off every bit of the poplar’s bark.

The photo above is a tribute to how these beavers arranged their survival. The tree fell first and the beavers managed to position their new lodge to take full advantage of it. Walking closer to the lodge, I saw where all the litter from their nibbling had collected.

I don’t think the wind blew it all over there. I have to get a look at these beavers and see them fattening up. I didn’t walk down to the dam, but I got a photo of the lower end of the Last Pool looking down toward the dam to show how the channel was once again free of ice.

I didn’t see any signs that a beaver had been down the channel.

April 3 our first really warm sunny day since the snow and ice left. The sun was out yesterday, for about a half hour. On a day like this we usually get our first look at the Blanding’s turtles on our land. But I worked on the ironwoods first. On my way passed the Third Pond, I saw fresh muskrat poop at the spillover.

That’s a good sign. I’ve had some great fun over the years watching muskrats in this little pond. There’s plenty of willows here for them to eat. Leslie saw the Blanding’s turtle first, up in the Turtle Bog. I went up to take photos, but first I had to pause to listen to the wood frogs in the bog. I got my annual snatch of audio of their croaking.

Then a frog below me leapt up on a shelf of ice in the pool.

It made some progress then stalled. The air temperature was warm, so I don’t think it had frozen to a stop.

Then I studied the Blanding’s turtle. One was just up on the bank at the south end of the pool, seemingly dead to the world, though probably pulsing with life under that shell after being buried in the mud all winter.

Then I saw another turtle on a flat about 20 feet to the north.

I could see that it had its head up to catch some heat from the sun. I decided to ease over and try to get a look at its yellow chin. It made one twitch of the neck as I walked around it, and didn’t flinch when I looked at it head on.

Last year we first saw the Blanding’s on March 18. I checked the Last Pool as always and save for more snow melting away, everything looked about the same.

April 5 we had rain yesterday and last night, at least an inch. When I headed off to the ponds there was a brief spit of sleet, but soon the sun was out, but not for long. A small herd of deer was in woods below the ridge. No flowers have poked up yet, so I could hurry along to the Big Pond dam. A heron flew off from the shallow pond below the dam. I found the Big Pond had a lot more water, and the water behind the dam was muddy.

Those are signs of beavers repairing a dam, but in this case, water was still gushing out through the dam. Indeed with the water higher all the holes in the dam were letting water gush through.

A deer has been eating elecampane root at the south end of the dam, and perhaps after that meal, it waded into the pond for a drink, making the water muddy.

I didn’t see any mud pushed up along the dam. Seeing how the Big Pond responded to the rain, I expected the Lost Swamp Pond to be a good bit higher too, but it didn‘t respond as much as the Big Pond did.

I sat on the rock above the mossy cove latrine, where there were not any new scats, and thought about that. I decided I better check the Big Pond dam again, maybe a hole was patched. But first I had to walk around and check the Lost Swamp Pond. Oh yes, about a dozen ducks flew off the west end of the pond when I approached, too quickly for me to identify. The west end of the pond has lost all its ice and snow, and now a large otter scat has been revealed,

At a spot where I didn’t think otters had been frequenting during the winter, the far southwest corner of the pond.

There is a nexus of tree trunks there which may have attracted the otters when they were under the ice. I looked for more scats and didn’t see any. I simply can’t imagine otters crawling under the ice into a corner without making a hole in the ice. So I assume I just missed seeing the hole. During the winter I walk on the pond to cross it, not around it as I am doing now. I am pretty sure this is old scat, but when I checked the clump of grass behind their first winter latrine where they had also scatted, I noticed that the scat looked different. What had been a black scat now had some white matter around on side of it.

So I think the otter did come back here recently. Meanwhile up at the dam, water was rushing out and there were far fewer nibbled sticks behind the dam, and no mud pushed up by a beaver.

Looking from below the dam, the little rim of nibbled sticks that I briefly fancied might have purposely pushed in there by the beavers had been washed away.

I didn’t see any new otter scats in the latrine, which suggests the otter I saw is a female about to give birth. That’s a nice thought, anyway, and will explain not seeing otter signs for two months until I see the new pups in June, if I am lucky. I sat on the exposed rocks by the pond, again, and I saw two muskrats. One half surfaced, by mistake, I think, right in front of me. I just saw its rump and heard the swish its tail made in the water. Then it must have surfaced far from me. I saw it placidly swimming toward the lodge by the dam, and another muskrat had been over there. I didn't go to the East Trail Pond. It was a raw day even more so when the sun peaked out from the clouds because the west wind picked up. So I decided to get another look at the Big Pond dam. When I walked back around the west end of the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw the scars on the trunk of the big oak tree,or is it a maple, glowing yellow.

I think beavers did this gnawing a couple years ago. Perhaps the running sap has made the old scar look fresh.

I didn't see any fresh beaver work around this end of the pond. I went via the Boundary trail so I could get a look at the lodge the beavers had stayed in during the winter, or at least the first part of the winter. I got a great photo of the lodge, but with absolutely no signs of any beavers living there.

I walked down to the north shore to check the lodge closer to the dam. There was muddy water along the low shore next to the lodge, but the muskrats that I’ve seen swimming into that lodge probably raised that mud.

Then I walked along the dam again, and convinced myself that no beavers had patched any holes. The holes in this dam are simply smaller than the huge one at the Lost Swamp Pond, which is atestimony to how efficient an otter hole can be in lowering the water level of a pond and keeping it low.

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