Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 10 to 18, 2011

May 10 we got to our land early and I took a short hike before getting to work on the garden. I checked the Last Pool for signs of the beavers’ return. Because the water level is getting lower, I am seeing more work on the birches especially,

But of course the beavers did that low gnawing weeks ago before they left. Yet, I thought I better check the dam, just in case I was wrong. Surely a returning beaver would check the dam straight away and push some muck on top of it. I headed up to the ridge and then, thinking about something else, I walked beyond the dam. Since I was half way there, I decided to continue down the ridge and get a look at Wildcat Pond. I came to the ravine down the ridge where I often walked down to get a pond level view of both the upper and lower parts of the pond. I could see that there was no pond at the end of the ravine any more, but in the ravine there were red maple stumps that proved that beaver cutting can lead to bushy coppicing.

Indeed some of the new saplings were quite vigorous.

But two things diminish the significance of this. First coppicing is too rare an occurrence around here for beavers to count on it, and second, red maple is not much favored by beavers. To get a view of what pond remains, I stayed up on the ridge, and one photo was able to capture the extent of a pond that in its prime was difficult to show its extent with photos.

I was intrigued by how dry the area below the lodge appeared. Indeed, I got the impression that the lodge was built into another dam and that kept the area below it dry.

I scrambled down the sandstone cliff brushing by a few columbine blooms which I didn’t photograph. Down at pond level I first thought there might be an old dam that I never noticed when the pond was full,

But then I saw that a channel coming down from the lodge carried water down to the dam,

Where it drained out of a deep hole in the dam.

And down to the valley blow, eventually to become Mullet Creek and drain into the mighty Saint Lawrence River.

A little work on this dam by a beaver could have kept this pond intact. I was not familiar with this valley before I discovered beavers here, but I suspect it was wetter than it is now, even after this very wet spring.

The only permanently wet area is where the beavers dredged around the lodge,

And the channel which they probably made deeper, and hence more efficient in draining the valley. Leslie wanted me to take a photo of the nest the phoebe made above the door to our cabin.

Her use of moss is beautiful, but what is the fuzzy white stuff? (A few days later I saw a phoebe trapped in our tool shed. It had found a hole and was in there collecting white fuzz off an old fraying cloth tarp.

May 11 despite a pretty brisk east wind we took advantage of the warmth to have our inaugural paddle with our kayaks. We headed over to South Bay and went along the shore of the north cove. The strangest sight was an immature eagle rooted to its perch high on a tree above the water. I noticed some fresh beaver work on willow branches out over the water, at about the same area where I saw a beaver here about a month ago. There appeared to be some marking with muddy leaves just below the old dock, probably by a beaver. Painted turtles were up in the sun on logs and grass clumps. The wind blown water was a hard place to spot fish, and that probably kept the usual fish eating birds away, that eagle excepted. The osprey were flying high playing in the wind. There were midges on the water, but the only swallows we saw were sitting on the bench on our dock which is now right in front of their nesting box. We then went to our land, geared up to spend the night. We worked most of the afternoon, but I had a brief hike looking for some excitement. I noticed that the wood frogs eggs in the Turtle Bog were high in the water again,

Probably because the eggs had hatched. I admit to being a little confused. What happen to the tadpoles? Weren’t they supposed to eat the egg sacks? I also sat by the Last Pool hoping to see the muskrats there, just to make sure they are still there. I noticed that the pond is narrowing as it slowly loses water.

No muskrats appeared, nor ducks, for that matter. I’m thinking the muskrats might be gone because I would see muddy areas in the pond if they were here. The water is clear and I could see into the main channel which would have been a little more opaque if it was being used.

But maybe the muskrats here don’t keep those usual muskrat hours say between 4 and 6. Since there are no beavers here, they may operate only at night. After dinner, as it got dark, I sat in a chair by the Deep Pond enjoying the birds, especially cat birds. And then one of the muskrats came out.

I wanted to try out my new camcorder as it got dark, and this muskrat obliged by affording me a good 12 minutes of video as it nibbled grasses mostly right in front of me. What was fascinating about the video was how the muskrat’s tail vibrated in sympathy with its fast eating jaws.

I edited the video down to a little over 3 minutes, and mistakenly merged scenes as I got the hang of Windows Movie Maker.

The sound track of the clip changed from birds to frogs as it got dark. Back in our house we heard a whip-poor-will calling from across the street for about 15 minutes, a lovely, lively serenade.

May 12 on my morning walk down the road, I sat by the Deep Pond briefly to enjoy the birds, and a muskrat came out, and just like last night paused to get a whiff of me,

And then swam up the west shore of the pond to eat some greens. Then I got to work.

May 13 warm mostly cloudy day with no wind. We headed for Picton in the boat. As we headed into the Narrows I saw a pair loons ahead of us. I took video which I found difficult in the rocking boat, and lifted one still shot from the video.

Loons always have dignity, almost hauteur, and this pair seemed exceptional in that regard. They did not seem to notice us even though they both surfaced right beside the boat. They both dipped their beaks in the water, and when they dove must have gone deep because there was no signs of their progress on the surface of the calm water.

Then when we got toward the north end of the Narrows we saw three blue herons on the rocks, two to the east and one to the west. I got a photo of one.

As I fished between Picton and Grindstone we heard toads calling from beyond a marsh on Grindstone. As we rowed along the Picton shore we heard many yellow warblers in the honeysuckles, and finally saw one. Of course I was looking for otter signs. I began at the west end of the line of rocks the otters have marked over the years and I saw no otter scats nor fish parts. The water in the river is now relatively high, due to all the rain we’ve had, but the latrines the otters used along this shore all remain high and dry. However, many of the latrines on the rocks that they used last fall more toward Quarry Point are now flooded. Finally I saw some fresh scats on higher rocks.

Just beyond the vegetation in the photo above there are some extensive pools of water at the foot of the quarry face.

Since these would make excellent pools where mothers can teach pups to swim, I didn’t get out of the boat to take a closer look. If an otter mother is around, this year’s pups have been born. These interior pools extend about 20 yards,

But I didn’t see any more scats. For the past two years I’ve seen otters go back to these pools at a point on the shore where a mostly dead willow trunk sticks out. Now the river laps at the bottom of the willow.

The otters might still use that route but it is difficult for me to tell. We continued around to the south side of Quarry Point where otters have also latrined over the years, and I saw some fresh scats there a month ago. But today all I saw was bright green grass, so I didn’t go up and look hard for scats. After dinner I hiked to Audubon Pond to see if I could see the beavers there. On the way I checked the shore of South Bay just east of the old dock where from the kayak the other day I saw some beaver marking. I took a photo of that could very well be the scent mounds of muskrats.

I’ve seen a muskrat around, and they are around here every year, and a beaver. Beavers are usually in the bay but haven’t marked here in a few years at least. Up the shore at the docking rock, the leaves up on the slight ridge above the rock had been thoroughly scraped.

It looked like an otter’s work and I found two small scats in the midst of the scraping.

The latrine up in the grass above the entrance to South Bay also looked worked over, but I couldn’t find any scat. Fox and coyotes have pooped here, and deer hang around this area, so without seeing otter scat, I won’t attribute scraping to an otter. Then I headed up the ridge toward Audubon Pond and went slowly and quietly through the open woods to where I could get a good view of the new extension of the pond below the Audubon Pond embankment. I saw the new dam,

and what the beavers have been eating, an ash log that fell over the pond,

And another hardwood tree, I am pretty sure, up on the ridge just in front of me.

I didn’t check to identify it because I was distracted by the beavers that I soon saw were in the pond. One was just behind the dam, and must have smelled or heard me because it retreated to the upper part of this little pond. Climbing up the embankment to get back up to Audubon Pond would have rather exposed it to view so it seemed to lurk under the tree trunks that had fallen into the pond up there. Soon enough it climbed over that upper dam, and another beaver, that had also been lurking up there, followed. The beavers briefly met, almost nose to nose, under the ash trunk in the lower pond just below me. Then one positioned itself half under the log and began gnawing off and eating the bark.

The other seemed to paddle up some mud behind the dam and then climbed up on the dam and nibbled some grass.

Then it propped itself up on the standing ash there, more to sniff the air than to gnaw the bark.

It soon got back into the pond. It swam back to the upper pond, though it didn’t conceal itself. The other beaver kept gnawing the ash a few minutes longer, before joining the other beaver.

I tried to get a photo of the gnawed roots of a large red oak across from me, just below the dam, but it was too dark. I retreated and headed up to the Audubon Pond embankment where there was better light and I got a photo showing the muddy path down the embankment.

As I stood on the embankment, the beavers did not hide and one slapped its tail at me.

I didn’t want to bother them. I looked around Audubon Pond and didn’t notice any new beaver tree cutting. However, they are pushing mud up around the big drain that keeps Audubon Pond from getting higher.

The water from this drain feeds the pond below which is the pond where the beavers are getting most of their bark. The beavers don’t seem to understand this arrangement, but perhaps they do and they see some advantage in trying to slow the flow of water to the ponds below. Since both adult beavers were out and about, there are probably no new born kits back in a lodge in Audubon Pond. I saw that the geese in the pond had a few goslings. The ospreys were as active as usual. As I walked around South Bay in the growing dark, I heard toads and peepers calling. Then I saw something swimming across the bay. Judging from how high its tail floated behind the animal, I guessed that it was a mink.

And I was right. I got a brief video of it making its way, by fits and starts, up the shore below me.

Then I heard some coyotes calling, and one loon calling. When I got back near home, just off the golf course, I heard a whip-poor-will.

May 17 we have had the most rain sodden spring. We had heavy rain on the 14th, 15th and 16th. Today we had spits of rain from a stalled nor’easter. On the 14th we soaked ourselves as we worked in the garden. No animals observed our folly. Everyday’s rain was accompanied by strong winds, plus it was cold, so it seemed pointless to venture out for another soaking to look at animals. Walking around town during one lull, we were treated with some artful flying by a flock of swallows who found just the spot off the headland where the strong winds abated enough for the midges to congregate. We went to the land this morning and I walked around to see how nature took the soaking. As I approached the Third Pond, I saw ripples and since no duck flew off, I knew it was the muskrat. I cocked my camcorder and waited for it to appear, to no avail. I decided it might have a burrow in the northwest bank where I was standing. They usually burrow on the east shore. Then as I walked on, the muskrat suddenly appeared below me and even more suddenly disappeared into the water. I checked the Deep Pond for scats and poops and saw none. I did see some small muddy areas along the bank where I’ve often seen muskrats go. Of course there was a good stream of water coming into the pond. I went back to the knoll and saw that the trillium had been beaten down by the rain.

And now as some turn pink and sag, it certainly looks like their party is over.

But as much as the blooms droop the leaves are bigger than ever. The next flower to appear is phlox and most of those flowers looked beaten down too.

However, their leaves were quite big and many were stalked up higher than I’ve ever seen before.

I headed up the ridge toward the Boundary Pond and began to see yellow violets. These flowers too looked a little intimidated by all the rain, and new comers like these have scarcely seen any sun, which hasn’t been out since the 13th.

When I got to the ridge overlooking the Boundary Pond I saw columbine more widespread than usual, not confined to the usual rocky ledges.

These flowers are designed to bow under the weight of rain and sun and rather than looking beaten like the other flowers looked bigger and bolder than usual.

Needless to say, this has been a good growing season and maple seedlings are up as well as shoots from the trunks beavers cut the past year or two.

Of course, the leaves on these small shoots and on saplings are always big, and I have learned not to jump to conclusions and view this as renewal of the woods. I see too many examples and such sprouting soon dying.

Off the top of my head, I’d say that stumps that have been flooded don’t do as well. Birches are difficult to judge because they tend to grow in clumps and seem to be shortlived. In the clump on the photo below, beavers had nothing to do with how the clump developed and half of it died naturally and the other half was cut by beavers.

I think it is problematical that any of the shoots will develop into a sizeable tree. Anyway, this is something to study over the years it will take for it all to unfold. A dryer area off the valley where the beavers cut trees in the fall (and left a log behind) shows little signs of life, in terms of sprouting.

However, a hardwood, oak I think, that beavers girdled,

has a crown that is leafing out.

This should be prime time for grosbeaks and tanagers, but they had no interest in greeting the cold northeast wind with their songs. There was another new flower, that spindly white mitrewort, pictured below next to some yellow violets.

And it too seemed designed to stand tall despite pounding rains.

That said its leaves seem to overshadow the flower, if that is possible.

May 18 as I headed off on my hike this morning, it was raining again, but I could wait no longer. Plus, it was warmer; the wind was not as strong; and the sky was broken; I trusted that it was but a shower and by the time I got to the Lost Swamp the rain had let up. But it was raining enough at the Big Pond dam to keep my head down. I ignored bird songs. I haven’t been out here since the 13th so I had no way of telling if any marks, mounds or gnawing was recent, plus anything wet looks more recent. So I was soon on my knees checking some scraped up grass, but I saw no scats around it, or anywhere else. Despite all the rain, the pond looked low. However, I could see that it had been high. There was quite a wash of dead cattail fronds on the south shore of the pond next to the dam.

I think my previous analysis is correct. This pond keeps draining faster, more than keeping up with all the rain, because the holes in the dam are wearing down the dirt of the dam and becoming more efficient.

Water was certainly rushing out through the dam today. There were no signs of a beaver having been there. I assume the cut greens I saw behind the dam were the work of muskrats. I was surprised to see two geese on one of the big muskrat lodges behind the dam.

I had not noticed geese there before, and these geese didn’t seem to have goslings. I think some geese pair up and go through the motions of nesting after nesting season is over, thinking of next year, I guess. But I’ll try to keep an eye on this pair. Because of the cold and rain, maybe some geese are behind schedule. I didn’t see any geese on the Lost Swamp Pond, though I didn’t sit long on the rock above the mossy cove latrine which affords the best view of all the pond. As I walked around the west end of the pond toward the dam, I saw two areas on the southwest shore where there were a couple stripped sticks.

So a beaver has been around since I was last here, but four or five small nibbled sticks hardly makes enough meals for 5 days. Meanwhile, the dam continues to leak, though this dam backs up more water than the Big Pond dam.

This hole, which has been through the dam since mid-winter when the otters made it, has not grown. This dam has many more logs in it and I think those logs collect vegetation which slows down the flow of water through the dam.

I sat briefly and enjoyed a song sparrow singing up in a tree. Two common terns flew over the pond. Just off the rock by the dam there was a dead water snake.

Looked like it might have had trouble shedding its skin. Then I went down to check the grotto pool behind the knoll forming the lower north shore of the Second Swamp Pond. If the beaver here kept up its early pace of consumption, I should see several more trees cut down, but I didn’t. I took photos of the two principal piles of stripped logs, on the east shore of the little grotto hard on the cliff,

And on the west shore on and below a more gracious slope.

I must say the number of sticks there and their arrangements are the same as what I saw on May 4th. So I think the beaver here has moved on. There was a small jack-in-the-pulpit next the pile of stripped sticks on the east shore.

I checked the nearby Second Swamp Pond and there were no signs of beavers there. There are other places to look but that’s a hike in itself because I’ll have to loop around several ponds. My hunch is that this beaver had come down from the Lost Swamp Pond and moved back there. It will be hard to prove that. Seeing two beavers in the Lost Swamp Pond again will help. Of course water is coursing down the creek below the East Trail Pond dam which is greening the wet margins of that little valley, mounds of green grass with here and there a forest of ferns.

I saw a scarlet tanager up in a tree and thought I was getting a good video, but I forgot to push the record button. Some mallards, I think flew off from the water behind the old dam. I took my usual route along the south shore of the pond. The dam looks tended, but no effort of the beavers to raise the water level.

With so little apparent beaver activity in the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond, I’d like to see these beavers do more. They did almost completely strip the red oak that fell into the pond.

Even gnawing up onto the part of a branch still attached to the trunk.

But I still worry that the water isn’t muddy enough. No signs of the beavers cutting more off the downed ash and no signs of the them going up the gentle slope to the east to resume work on the trees they cut in the fall. But now there is green grass to eat. I didn’t see any great increase of beaver foraging along the northwest shore of the pond. As I started climbing up the cliff to the north, to check up there for fresh beaver foraging, I looked down next to a granite boulder and saw piles of fresh poop.

This looked rather like otter poop, very gooey, almost flowing, almost glowing.

I couldn’t see scales in it, but a otter foraging in this pond was likely to get more frogs and pollywogs than fish.

I didn’t see any trail or scraping associated with the scats, but the wind has been blowing quite a bit of late. Indeed some dead leaves were on top of the scats. And I must say, scatting below a rock is not an otter’s style when there are rocks to stand up on and mark.

Of course, I want this to be otter scats, and I can give some reasons why it might be. While beavers tended this pond between 1999 and 2005 or so, I always suspected this was the prime pond mother otters used to raise their pups. It’s the only pond where I consistently saw otters in July. Of course, this is just mid-May. If there are pups they are not out swimming around. Plus in the past, this was the more secluded upper part of a rather large pond. Now the beavers have raised the water level up here, cut down a good bit of the vegetation and left fewer places for any animal to hide.

Or so I debated with myself as I sat halfway up the ridge gaining a good view of the pond. I felt good looking out at it again with a hope of seeing an otter. But what I soon saw was a muskrat swimming right toward me and soon parking itself in a clump of newly green vegetation, cutting stalks, and eating the leaves.

I took video. I always like to see the rapid jaw bites of a muskrat. It moved to another clump and while it was nibbling there, a turtle half surfaced in front of it. Neither animal reacted to the presence of the other. Then the muskrat swam off

video to come

And I realized I had a lot of turtles to watch. The sun was just coming out after a long absence. Three painted turtles tried to climb up on an old stump and small trunk. The largest led the way, and the two smaller turtles seemed to wrestle for advantage and only one made it up. In my experience painted turtles usually stay up on a log for hours. I was too far away to bother them and could only see them well in the camcorder view finder. Then they both scrambled back in the water. I soon saw a possible reason. A bigger Blanding’s turtle climbed up on the stump they had vacated.

I have seen Blanding’s turtles active in this pond before, back when beavers were here. When the beavers were gone, I saw them in Shangri-la Pond when the beavers moved into that pond. I soon saw another Blanding’s turtle surfacing and I think it was the one that surfaced in front of the muskrat. Once out of the water it bent its elegant neck down and seemed to take a drink of water.

However, it may have been trying to intimidate two smaller painted turtles that also began to surface. I was getting the impression that there was a shortage of logs, stumps and grass clumps for turtles to climb up on, and it made the sense that the larger Blanding’s turtles would rule the roosts.

The painted turtles seemed to cower, that is, withdraw their head into the shell, when the Blanding’s turtle seemed to loom over them. But when one painted turtle still moved toward the Blanding’s, the bigger turtle withdrew its head half way into the shell. After the painted turtles left, the Blanding’s followed. Meanwhile back at the stump where I first saw a Blanding’s climb up, two smaller painted turtles had joined it.

I couldn’t stay all day watching this, though it was quite a pleasure. I didn’t see any new beaver work up on the ridge. I recalled a place where otters liked to latrine here in the old days, up on a rock just above a beaver lodge out in the pond. The beaver lodge is either flooded over or the logs used to make had been used by the beavers for their new lodge. There were no scats on the rock.

Heading home I crossed to the north side of the ridge and took a photo of Shangri-la Pond which thanks to all the rain does have a bit of water in it, but no semblance of a pond.

Then I walked east of Thicket Pond and just before I gained the crest of the ridge that leads down to South Bay, I recalled that last summer I saw some strange scats, and got a glimpse of a small animal, possibly an otter pup, on the west shore of Thicket Pond on the trail down to Meander Pond. I went over there and sure enough I saw some strange scats in about the same place I saw some last year.

And there were possible scent mounds.

Some with a good bit of scratching of the dirt,

But I didn’t see any scats associated with all that. There is plenty of water in this small pond, a perfect out of the way spot to raise otter pups.

So now I have something else to keep my eye on. Nice to once again have the illusion that I have half a clue of what’s going on.