Thursday, May 12, 2011

April 24 to May 1, 2011

April 26 We were away for the long Easter weekend, though we checked on the land just before we left. I took a quick look at the Last Pool and saw no signs that the beavers returned. Today was another rainy day but in the 60s so it was painless walking around and checking on things. The clouds have subdued the flowers so I concentrated on the beaver ponds. The wetness makes all the old beaver work glow and I regretted knowing that the beavers had gone. Otherwise what I saw looked like the perfect beaver set up.

The rains have swelled the pond, more than ever, and water is still flowing into it.

Yes, I checked old photos of the half stripped poplar so I am sure the gnawing in the photo above is all old. I walked down the east shore to the dam. Something splashed well down in the middle of the pond. Not a beaver, but I didn’t see what splashed, probably a fleeing duck. The full pond makes the hut a beaver made last summer look even more viable.

The dam continues to largely hold back the flood even though a beaver has not tended any part of it since November.

These beavers solved the problem of building a good dam without mud, nor did they have many rocks. But they had an almost unlimited supply of small trees of just the right size and they patiently built up the dam with forest litter weighted down by the logs. The lodge behind the dam looked to be in good shape too.

If my theory is that the beavers left to escape the bobcat that killed their kit, and that they might come back once the bobcat loses interest in them, then it might make sense for them to move back into this lodge since it is surrounded by water about 5 feet deep with no logs allowing a bobcat or coyote to get close to it without swimming. But I didn’t see any signs of a beaver using the lodge recently. Yes, there were plenty of stripped logs but all that had been stripped had long been eaten or sank to the pond bottom. Then as I walked up the west shore of the pond, I saw an exception to that. There was birch bark floating in the shallow water, not far from a stripped stick.

That combination, while promising, didn’t quite prove a beaver had just been there. I’m simply not familiar enough with all the work along the shore, and fresh beaver work usually makes a bigger heap than that. Still, I paid closer attention as I continued up the shore and in the Last Pool I saw a rather freshly cut stump, though no sign of the trunk, and next to it, I saw where some bark had been stripped off the bottom of a trunk just above the water line.

That stripped bark was more intriguing since it was so easy to picture a beaver there doing it, and weeks ago, the water level here would have been much lower and less inviting for a beaver. A little farther up pond, the water along the shore was muddy.

But here again, I didn’t enough muddy water, not enough activity. A muskrat could have raised this mud, or a deer wading in the water, though I didn’t see deer prints, nor any evidence of a muskrat eating the greens they favor. I’ll keep an eye on all this. Meanwhile, I heard a hermit thrush sing up in the woods on the ridge where I usually hear one. I also heard sporadic peeper calls.

April 27 after heavy rain last night we had sunshine today but not because a cold front moved through. The temperature hit 80F and the humidity was daunting. As I walked down the road beside our land, I heard a turkey barking. I sat beside the Deep Pond and soon enough one turkey strutted along the knoll, quietly, I think it knew I was there. When it got back up on the ridge it started barking again. Then I inspected the slopes around the knoll next to the Deep Pond trying to find charming groups of flowers. I found a Dutchman’s britches, trout lily and trillium, though the later was not quite in bloom.

I expected the trillium on the sunny side of the knoll to be fully out, but evidently the cool, cloudy spring we’ve been having didn’t give that sunny side its usual boost.

The leaves did look bigger though. The floral stars of the show today were the trout lilies.

Some years the blooms come grudgingly and all you see are the leaves. I found a clump of trout lily blooms up on the knoll where I could easily take a close-up.

Happy flowers. Soon they will be eclipsed by the trillium. There were many clumps of spring beauties but the sun washed out every photo I took of them. There were a few clumps of hepatica even showing their liver leaves.

I crossed the little inlet creek above the Deep Pond. Water rushed down it but I didn’t see any small fish trying to swim up it. Last night’s rain was warm but most of our rains this spring were cold and one year I noticed that cold spring rains rather decimated the population of small fish in the ponds here. I climbed the roll of ridges and gained a view of Boundary Pond. I saw ripples below and paused, remember I had my hopes a little up that a beaver might have returned, but these ripples came from wood ducks. Then I saw several turtles up on the logs, all painted turtles as far as I could see.

Every promising sign of a beaver’s return that I saw yesterday, looked exactly the same today. Up at the Last Pool, a muskrat swam by me. I sat in the chair overlooking the pool, and heard and half saw what I think must be a flicker. No peepers or hermit thrush singing. A red bug paid a visit.

Back on the island I headed out to check the ponds. The south wind picked up which made the heat and humidity more bearable. It was too hot to continue wearing my big insulated boots so I put on running shoes and rediscovered the joys of being light footed. Boots are married to mud; running shoes dance over it. I heard a towhee in the bushes on the plateau and saw a flock of blue jays in the bushes above the Big Pond. At first look all seemed the same at the dam. I could hear the water rushing out but in the exposed mud behind the south end of the dam I saw what looked like a small stripped stick.

There weren’t any beaver prints beside it. But I soon saw that a beaver had visited the dam. It pushed mud up on top of it.

From another angle I could see that it had pushed up some mud behind the dam, and that it left its prints in the mud on top of the dam.

There was no evidence of any effort to patch the holes in dam, where the water was rushing through, but the beaver pushed some mud on top of the dam there.

In my experience beavers often patch large holes in a dam by pushing in a long log through the hole perpendicular to the dam. There are not many logs available around this 35 year old pond. But the beaver situated one log behind the dam. It looks too small for dam patching purposes. The beaver had gnawed it a bit, though I can’t believe that it got much food value from it.

The ospreys around here mainly nest on power poles along highways as well as power poles on islands in the river. I often see osprey perch on dead trees around the beaver ponds, but I was thinking that I had never seen them actually dive for a fish in a beaver pond. They seem to bring the fish they catch in the river to the ponds for quiet dining. As I crossed the dam today, I saw an osprey dive down toward the pond and almost reach down for a fish. The water level in the Lost Swamp Pond still seemed relatively low, though higher than it was. I sat above the mossy cove latrine, where there were no new otter scats. I soon saw two muskrats swimming in the pond. Both were far away but you can see the head and tail of one in the photo below.

They seemed heedless of each other. I suppose there are fewer muskrats so that the ones here are more relaxed. Turtles were also taking it easy today up on logs enjoying a rare glimpse of sun.

I didn’t see any new beaver gnawing on the exposed pine roots in the mossy cove latrine. I did see a few nibbled sticks as I walked up the north shore of the pond. As for dam, it is still leaking liberally. There is a jam of small sticks and brush behind the hole in the dam.

I think the wind and flow formed that impediment, not the beavers. Looking from below the dam, it was easy to see that the flow through the dam is as fast as before the beaver did some patching of the hole.

A beaver has been where it could get an overview of all this. There is a small pile of stripped sticks

up on the rock next to the dam.

My light shoes got their first test when I tried to cross along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam. The lead left foot didn’t sink and the trailing right foot made a slight splash. Just as I landed, I saw a snapping turtle heave on the north shore of the diminished pond, not far from me.

At first I thought another turtle might be under it. That lurching up seemed odd and I thought a turtle that big might sink lower in the water. So I walked over closer to it and it swam off, alone. As I walked down to the Second Pond Grotto, I heard a good number of comb frogs, though, of course, not as loud as what we hear at night from fringes of the golf course across the road from our house. The beaver at the grotto has extended the range of its tree cutting,

but only by a few feet. It seems to have a taste for hornbeams. The beavers I watched on our land cut a couple hundred hornbeams and gnawed a good many of them. But on the island the only beaver family that seemed to have a taste for them is at the East Trail Pond, which is just across a creek from this grotto. Perhaps this beaver has simply dispersed from that family, though I think as a rule dispersing beavers go much farther than that. The beaver continues to nibble sticks in the shallow water along the north side of the little pool,

But the growing pile of stripped sticks and logs is on the higher bank up against the granite wall to the south.

I noticed a bed of wood shavings the last time I was here, and today it looked well used, surrounded by stripped sticks.

This overlooks the deep part of the pool where I saw the beaver the last time I was here. Today, as I stood near the pool, I saw some ripples along the opening under the rock ledge. I could see more stripped logs on the east shore of the pool hard against the granite wall.

The shallow part of the pool has a clump of spindly bushes that look like good fare for a beaver but I only saw one nipped by the beaver.

I didn’t linger around the pool, not wanting to alarm the beaver if it was there. I headed to the East Trail Pond approaching from the ridge to the south. Looking down I could see that the pond behind the dam had been well worked, a bit muddy with vegetation evidently dredged up a bit.

Ducks can do this as well as muskrats, but this showed the thoroughness of beaver dredging. However when I got down for a closer look at the dam, I did not see a big show of beaver heaves up on the dam.

Like all the dams I am watching, there is no pressing need to build up this dam. With all the rain we’ve had, there seems to be water every where and flowing every where. As usual I looked for new beaver work. A red oak they had been cutting was down into the pond.

We’ve had strong winds too and that deserves some credit for the fall but the beavers have done more gnawing since I was last here.

However, there was no stripping of the bark and trimming of the crown yet. The beavers had been trimming the crown of the ash that fell up at the west end of the pond.

I have to get out and see these beavers. I went home via the East Trail and around South Bay, I saw some scrapping and a black poop at the little causeway over the south cover of the bay.

Not sure that an otter left it but it was a few feet away from where an otter left a pile a gray scat a week or so ago. Across the street from our house, I saw two flickers dancing around a tree.

They fought a bit too before flying off, so I am not sure it was courting.

April 28 we had rain in the morning and then wild winds from the west with a sustained gust surely over 50 miles an hour. There was mist blowing over the river 30 feet high. It began to calm down and at 5pm I got the great notion of going to the East Trail Pond to try to see the beavers. I went up and over the Antler Trail and saw a good bit of wind blown limbs and one dead tree blown down onto living trees. Still I pressed on. The wind seemed much strong at the end of South Bay and then I saw that a limb had knocked down a power line which was snapping on the ground. I started to walk around it and then smelled the burning and saw flames. I also saw two turkeys running away. Anyway, the turf was so wet I thought the burning would not spread, but obviously people on Murray and Grindstone islands were without power, and the sooner I reported what I saw…. Plus, with a 40 mile an hour wind continuing through the night how could I be sure the fire would not spread. So I walked back to TI Park, got to a pay phone and called 911. Here’s the photo I took the next day of the what had burned.

There was another patch of burning about the same size, so two lines were probably down. After making the call, I went down to take a photo of the roaring river and decided to included the osprey nest on the power pole next to the main dock.

When the osprey population began increasing, I read that a biologist credited beavers and their ponds. I liked that, and I often see osprey perched on dead trees in or near the beaver ponds. But the osprey now generally nest on power poles.

So, if in the past I credited beaver ponds for increasing biodiversity, using osprey as an example, should I now start crediting power poles for biodiversity?

April 29 the wind finally calmed down. We stopped by our land in the morning, and at first I didn’t think there was much wind damage there. Then when I went to the check the Last Pool, there seemed to be something different. Beavers had not returned, but finally I saw the crown of a poplar that had just been blown down.

The bark looked delicious and there were buds on the tree. This was the poplar the beavers girdled and half cut almost two years ago. Yesterday’s wind finally blew it down.

It’s the third poplar down here, and no beavers to enjoy it. Even though the sun was not fully out, I checked the Turtle Bog and Bunny Bog for turtles and saw none. I also checked the small pond, usually a vernal pond, above the First Pond. I have seen Blanding’s turtles there. None today, though it looked like something had been grazing on the vegetation on the bottom of the pond.

I also saw a dead porcupine up under some trees next to the pond, not quite an adult,

And not easy to get too, so I didn’t turn it over so I could speculate on how it died. In the afternoon I took a hike on the island and went to the Big Pond first, not to yesterday’s brush fire. A deer had been back at the Big Pond dam, and dug into the turf, after roots, I suppose. Not sure that it got any. I don’t think an elecampane was here.

At first look, I thought all the mud on the dam pushed up by the beaver looked old, but checking photos from two days ago, it looks like there is another dollop of mud on the dam today.

But other wise I didn’t see any signs of beaver activity. I saw an osprey here again, as well as a heron. I couldn’t identify the few ducks that flew off when I came. When I got to the Lost Swamp Pond, I sat up on the rock overlooking the mossy cove latrine. Nothing new in the latrine, and, other than turtles on logs, not much to look at in the pond. Then I saw a porcupine leaving the shore of the pond, pausing at the base of a tree to look at me.

I walked around the west end of the dam and up to the dam. A beaver evidently sat on the rocks with a good view of the dam.

There a small pile of stripped sticks, very small.

There was no obvious work on the dam, no dollops of mud, no new logs jammed into holes, but there was more debris behind the hole in the dam.

But I think it is just the muck accumulating, no evidence of beaver manipulation, and just as much water seems to be flowing through the dam. It was easier crossing the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, and the frogs weren’t singing around the pools along the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond. I tried to be quiet as I approached the Grotto Pool and used my binoculars to see if I could see the beaver. I didn’t, but as I walked closer to the pool, I heard it dive into the water. I stayed on the east side of the pool because I wanted to get a photo of the pile of nibbled sticks on that shore.

There was shredded bark here too, but not rounded into a comfortable seat like the beaver did on the west shore. Then I climbed up the ridge so I could look down on the bigger pile of nibbled sticks on the west shore.

I also saw a smaller pile of nibbled sticks farther out along the west shore.

I didn’t take a good look at the trees around the pond. Now I am more interested in seeing the beaver, or beavers -- there seems to be enough eating for two. I need to find a good vantage point from which to look at this pool. I checked the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond and didn’t see any new nibbling there, though I didn’t look closely. I headed for the East Trail Pond and once again stayed on the south shore. I sat on a lower ledge of the ridge and watched the pond. I heard whistling again. The last time I heard that, I thought it must be from muskrats, but I only saw wood ducks. Today I finally saw the muskrats. One came out of the north end of the pond, where there are more shrubs, and swam to the south shore and then up pond right below me. Then another muskrat swam the same route toward me but went over the dam and started nibbling the new green grass. It took a muskrat to show me the most startling change around the pond -- bright green food!

When I slid down the ridge, the muskrat ran back over the dam and dove under water. Usually, muskrats are not so jumpy. I lost track of the first muskrat I saw. I couldn’t see any new beaver work near the dam, but the end of the red oak that just fell into the pond has been nipped and the upper trunk stripped.

But there is more bark on the tree to eat.

Instead of going out via the west end of the pond, I took a beautiful canyon up the ridge. I walked up there during the winter and saw where the beavers had cut some trees. I took a photo of some stumps, and in the back ground of the photo it is easy to see that beavers, and probably muskrats too have been eating vegetation on the bottom of the pond.

I suspect the beavers will cut more trees up this slope. I saw one stump where the cut was rather high. Obviously something the beavers cut in the middle of the winter when the snow was high.

I didn’t notice this work during the winter, though. When I got over the ridge and walked down the slope toward South Bay, I saw how powerful yesterday’s wind storm was. A huge pine tree was blown down and took a large red oak with it.

I tried to get a more artful angle, looking up the trunk of the pine tree.

There was a dead ash or elm tree blown over too, and several large limbs scattered about. Several of these skull cracking events occurred on the trail I usually take to get to the East Trail Pond. That downed power line that turned me back yesterday may have kept me out of harm’s way.

April 30 we finally had a day without rain and so we worked on the garden at our land which is well behind schedule. I took a break to check the Turtle Bog. The Blanding’s turtles were not out, so perhaps they have moved on. Some Springs they linger there and in other years they move along either down to the Bunny Bog or down the ridge to the First Pond or Teepee Pond. I sat for 15 minutes or so in case a turtle was swimming about. In other Springs I have seen a Blanding’s head pop up, but not today. I wonder what a turtle’s sense of time is and I assume there are no seconds, minutes, hours, days. Perhaps just a series of heaves: out of the mud, out of the pond they wintered in. Then when the world warms up, they get into a feeding routine. I have seen Blanding’s quite voracious when it gets warmer. But all was not still in the Bog. The wood frog eggs sank more toward the bottom, I assume from the weight of growing tadpoles. It looked like the tadpoles were breaking out. I could only see a few actually swimming about. It looked like most them were rooted to their egg sack which I suppose is their first meal.

There was nothing new in the Last Pool and I didn’t sit around to see the muskrats make an appearance. I walked up the ridge, as usual I scared some wood ducks off the pond. Rather than take photos of the few flowers out in the woods, mostly spring beauties, I waited until I got to the knoll, and saw that the trilliums were blooming there, full out,

Then I headed back to work, going up the road that forms the northwest line of our property. Then I was stopped cold by a dead porcupine with its head wedged between the trunks of two elm trees.

As best I could tell, it lost its grip on one of the trees. I’ve often seen porcupines eat the buds of the elm leaves at this time of year. It may have survived a fall to the ground, but its head fell between the trunks.

It crossed my mind that a human might have hoisted the porcupine up into the trunk. But I trust folks around here know enough not to handle a porcupine, and the way it was squeezed suggests bad luck and gravity, not a prank. The soft underbelly of the animal was exposed. I’ve never gotten such a good view of it.

The mouth was open, the eyes intact. No scavenging birds had taken an interest in it.

I took a close up of the mouth, though the angle doesn’t make much sense of it

I’m impressed by the size of the nostrils. I tried to push the head up with the end of the tree limb, but it was in pretty well. I left it as I saw it. Leslie did push it out and left it beside the road. The neighbors children were driving in their ATVs to look at it. Porcupines deserve their dignity. On the drive home to the island, I took a photo of the osprey nest along Route 12.

This road is about a half mile off the river, and far from any ponds. We saw the head of an osprey in the nestbut not when I took a close up. There is another nest along Route 12 at the interchange with Interstate 81 about a half mile away from this nest.

May 1 we worked at the land but, of course, I had a chance to walk around. I checked the wood frog eggs first and while I saw more tadpoles, the photo I managed to get was not any better than my earlier photo.

I didn’t notice anything else stirring in or around the pond, but I didn't tarry. I hiked down to the old apple tree along the southeast line of our land, and then checked a sun drenched face of a sandstone cliff where I often see flowers at this time of year. There weren’t many flowers (we haven’t had that much sun) but I saw my first violet.

And my first white violets.

Then I climbed up the ridge where the bloodroots flourish. Their time is about gone, but I did see a few blooms.

At the base of the rock below the bloodroots, I saw some fierce shoots coming up, probably sessile bellwort.

When I got up on the ridge, I headed down it to the vernal bogs. I noticed some old beaver work, a stump, at the crest of the ridge. Last fall the beavers had come up here well away from the Last Pool. Looking down I could see that smaller pool where the beavers cut some trees, but that pool was still well down the valley toward the south, which reminded me of how far the beavers in the Last Pool ventured in the fall.

Perhaps my notion that the beavers left in response to their second kit being killed is all wet. Perhaps the beavers realized they had to leave last year and prepared a cache not only to survive the winter but to fatten up before moving on in the spring. I continued along the ridge to check a vernal pool that the beavers climbed up to last fall that is on the east side of the ridge. There was plenty of water there but no signs that beavers had been there this spring.

Seeing the beaver in the grotto pool beside the Second Swamp Pond has reminded me that beavers can survive outside of a big pond and without a lodge. Several winters ago I tracked an otter that went from the bunny bog down the valley east of the ridge that forms the boundary of our land. Though the valley was snow covered, I saw that there was ice. From the ridge I saw a pretty good expanse of water.

I climbed down and got a better view of the expanse of water, but saw no signs that beavers had ever been there.

There isn’t a real flow of water down this valley like there is on our land. I recalled hiking down here when we first bought the land thinking that we owned this valley too, or what impressed me more, that we owned the dramatic sandstone cliff.

But we don’t. Not that there were any signs of our neighbor roaming around here, just a porcupine,

I climbed back up to our land, over the ridge and then down into our valley which the beavers had perfected. I saw some ripples behind the dam, then the wood ducks flew away.

I walked up to the Last Pool and made a point of getting a photo showing the budding leaves in the crown of the poplar that the beavers girdled and half cut almost two years ago which had been blown down in the recent storm.

I saw a curious print in the mud nearby, like a small hand with rounded fingers.

Probably left by a raccoon. No signs of beavers. Back around our house, the shadbushes are blossoming.

The phoebe has been around. Back home on the island we walked out on the golf course to listen to the frogs and toads, and watch the bats fly out of the woods. There were plenty of bats tonight, sometimes four at once, and we heard a whip-poor-will.