Saturday, June 4, 2011

May 19 to 30, 2011

May 19 we had sunshine today but what I had to dig in the garden was still completely soggy so I had time to look for Blanding’s turtles. I saw two yesterday on Wellesley Island right after the sun came out. Of course, I started at the Turtle Bog which while it now looks swallowed up by greenery, actually has more water than I have ever seen in it.

There is almost a stream of water all the way to the Bunny Bog. One year I saw a Blanding’s along that the stream, probably on its way to the Bunny Bog,

But today I didn’t see a turtle in the Turtle Bog nor on the way to the Bunny Bog (so named because of the many bunny trails we saw there one winter.) A few frogs jumped into the water, though I only saw or heard the splashes. The Bunny Bog also has a good bit of water. During the years of lower water, vegetation took over more of the area which certainly makes it more difficult to spot turtles.

A few times we saw Blanding’s turtles along the shore, but usually we saw them on logs toward the middle of the pool of water, not so today. I went down the ridge to the Teepee Pond where I have seen Blanding’s turtles on the bank. It is more the realm of painted turtles, but I didn’t see any turtles there today. The water in the pond has swelled the old canal the beavers built between it and the First Pond.

It was never that wide when the beavers were here. In most springs I have seen a good bit of life in the Teepee Pond, but in most springs I’ve spent a lot of time around it. Thanks to all the rain, I have not sawed firewood there. At the First Pond, I usually measure activity by the amount of underwater vegetation apparently trimmed and how muddy the water is, and sometimes I’ve seen a Blanding’s turtle doing the trimming and raising the mud. The pond looks muddy now and vegetation looks trimmed. Blanding’s turtles might be here.

I went up to the smaller pool of water, a true vernal pool, above the First Pond, and it is quite full. No signs of Blanding’s turtles being there. No trimmed vegetation and no muddy water. One year I got good video of a turtle foraging in that pool.

As I headed back down to work in the garden, Leslie was coming up from a walk checking the other ponds, and she thought that a beaver was in the Third Pond. I hurried down and saw that there was a semblance of a dam.

Beavers have been here before, feasting on the many willows. Ironically, there was a Blanding’s turtle on the grassy shore by the thickest grove of willows. I made so much noise trying to get over there -- all our old trails are grown over, that I didn’t get a closer look at the turtle. I did get a photo of the willows

And hopefully I’ll soon see a beaver enjoying them.

May 20 When we got to the land, to try to resume working on the soggy gardens, I first checked the Third Pond, and today it was clear that a beaver had visited the pond. The dam was built up as only a beaver could do it.

I think any beaver that comes here must come up from White Swamp, and with so much water coursing down from our land to the 1 x 2 mile swamp, heading this way must be attractive. Not many creeks run into the swamp directly like ours. Coming up the creek a beaver can choose to go up a steeper slope to the Third Pond or go straight up a gentler slope to the Deep Pond. I think this beaver came directly to the Third Pond. I went down to check the Deep Pond again for any beaver signs and saw none. The lodge below the knoll has been neglected by beavers for almost two years.

Then I shifted my focus and looked about to see if a beaver could move into the pond, after it had its fill of the Third Pond. Thanks to the wettest spring in memory, the grove of maples southeast of the pond is recovering. There is some regrowth out of the stumps of trees the beavers cut two years ago,

Almost as many stumps show no signs of life.

There are many saplings growing from seeds.

But while a beaver might now harvest some of this now, and I have my doubts that these shoots are tasty to beavers, I don’t think beavers could raise a family on it or survive a winter. I hope one proves me wrong. I have never seen a situation where beavers have remained in an area without shifting their tastes, cutting and gnawing trees they never touched before. I headed up and over the ridge to check on the Boundary Pond, hoping a beaver might have returned there. On my way I thought I stumbled over a rare violet orchid,

And then I realized I was seeing the bloom of a shad-bark hickory on a sapling. Then I saw that the sapling was sprouting out of a root,

that had three other saplings springing out of it, and that ran back to a line of hickories of increasing size.

The wet spring, I trust, has helped the tail end of this venerable root to come to life, so to speak. And so, while early in the spring, the Boundary Pond seemed the focus of the only life in the valley, now there is green life all around, and the pond looks a bit lifeless.

No beavers have returned.

Before dinner back on the island, I headed off to check leaking beaver dams. As I headed up the road west of the golf course, I saw a fox in the tall grass. It took a good look at me before hopping away.

I have twice seen another fox walking along the river in the middle of the day. That fox only uses three legs. Its right foreleg is missing. The Big Pond dam is still leaking. The water behind the dam was quite muddy,

But not from a beaver repairing the dam. I saw deer prints in the mud, and some blue flag fronds nipped as a deer would do it.

The pond is rather shallow especially behind the dam where much silt has been backed up. Deer can wade anywhere they want. Next to one of the leaks, just behind the dam, a painted turtle was enjoying the sun.

It didn’t budge as I walked by. The sun’s appearance has been so sporadic this spring that the turtle was loath to leave. It did have its head almost completely withdrawn into its shell. At the Lost Swamp I sat on the rock overlooking the mossy cove latrine. All seemed quiet. The turtles up on the logs didn’t bail out into the pond water. Then I heard a splash and soon saw a goose family swimming up the north shore of the pond. I took some video but was soon distracted by a heron that perched on the tall dead tree just behind the dam.

It flew off and then I watched the geese again. Going up the north shore the family was in perfect order: the gander, the goslings, and the mother. By the time they got off the peninsula in the middle of the pond, the goslings were bunched up behind their parents.

Then the mother moved ahead of them and the two adults led the little ones. I lost track of the family as it moved up into the southeast end of the pond. I was distracted by an expanding circle of ripples near the lodge in that end of the pond from which three tangents, so narrow were the wakes, grew out of the circle. This was happening over a hundred yards away, but in the camcorder, I was able to make out one muskrat heading south and I followed a wake going to the north and, even after looking at the video, I'm unable to see what was making that wake. However, behind the wake, farther to the east, I saw the heron wading in the pond and spearing a fish.

Then I saw the goose family again. The gander had led the others up in the new green grass growing on the expanding mud apron around the pond. Papa stood guard, not taking one bite of grass, while the others, mother too, waddled around in no particular order eating the grass.

When I got to the Lost Swamp Pond it was 6pm, and I waited almost a half hour for a beaver to appear. A little over halfway through my vigil, I walked over to the dam. I usually see muskrats in the west end of the pond, and have for most of this spring, but none today. Perhaps the pond there is getting too shallow. The entrances to the muskrats’ burrows are exposed.

The dam still leaks, and I didn’t see any evidence of a beaver being at the pond, no nibbling, no mud. I headed off to the East Trail Pond where I had my best chance to see a beaver. Crossing the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, I saw a painted turtle, posted by the leak through the dam, taking advantage of the lowering sun.

Like the turtle I saw on the Big Pond dam, it had its head almost withdrawn back into its shell. I checked the grotto pool north of the Second Swamp Pond dam and it certainly looks like a beaver is no longer there, no new work anywhere.

I walked over the knoll and looked over the Second Swamp Pond. No signs of beavers there either. I did see a deer down in the sunshine just off the south shore of the pond. A deer up in the woods got wind of me and when it ran so did the other deer, until it got to the woods. It seems like deer communicate alarm simply by moving. I don’t think one deer was following the other because if it was, it would have kept running through the woods. As I settled on the ridge south of the East Trail Pond, a saw a beaver swimming behind the dam just below me, but it didn’t stay long. Then I saw it farther down the dam, too far away to clearly see what it was doing. I thought I saw a wake up near the lodge too, suggesting that there were two beavers out, but I didn’t clearly see two beavers. When beavers were here years ago, they often ate the emerging vegetation in this end of the pond, mostly ferns, I thought. So I decided to walk on the East Trail, around the west end of the pond and get a good vantage point on the ridge north of the pond from where I might see some beavers foraging in the greens. Then as I reached the west end of the pond, I saw a tree that beavers had been gnawing about 10 yards up the slope south of the pond.

Then I was about to walk down and investigate a smaller tree that looked like it had been cut down, and a beaver swam out from the trail at the west end of the pond. It briefly allowed me to have the illusion that it didn’t know I was there,

And then it slapped its tail, and swam away. I continued around the pond and sat where I could see the emerging vegetation. A muskrat swam toward me and then turned and swam back to the south shore. I didn’t see any foraging beavers, but I finally saw a beaver working on the dam

and got some pretty good video of it.

I think it is fair to say I that I saw two different beavers. They can be cool but I don’t think a beaver upset enough to slap tail will shift gears and placidly work on the dam within the next 10 minutes. I hope at least three are here.

May 26 we’ve been away since the 21st and yesterday were greeted by sun, but as we hurried to the land this morning, the sky was dark and more rain was on the way. We checked the new tomato plot I’ve been digging and thought I could make some progress before the rain started. I also took a quick look at the Third Pond and saw no new beaver activity. Showers with thunder rolled in soon and soon soaked the ground again. When the rain stopped I hiked about. Leaves are thick in the trees now and the blooming season is done. As I approached the Last Pool walking down the valley, I saw ripples in the water, then saw the pair of wood ducks making them. They swam down pond rather than fly off with their usual whining. The Last Pool still looks like beavers are there, save that there is no muddy water. Along the shore there are sticks that look like they were just nibbled and some with bark for tonight’s meal.

Plus every cut, gnawed or girdled birch looks like it is bleeding fresh sap.

Two years ago I was so careful describing the boundaries between the Last Pool and Boundary Pond, thinking there might be a large new dam built between the two. Now they are one large pond. The water is almost brimming the dam that formed the pond. No signs of beavers visiting that dam.

I headed up and over the ridge angling here and there to cross the full bogs. Why I haven’t mentioned that mosquitoes were all over me, I don’t know. Pests reach a point where the only way to deal with them is to forget about them. I headed toward the woods behind the Third Pond. On my way down the ridge, I saw that a false Solomon seal had bloomed.

Its slight stroke of white flowers are commas punctuating the woods. Among my many theories about beavers, or I should say, observations which due to my relative isolation I blow up into theories (because a mind cannot churn on observation alone,) is that sometimes a beaver likes to go far from the focal point of its activity, a new little dam in this case, and cut a large tree. I suppose to give its belly some perspective. And there are aspens in the woods south of the Third Pond that beavers did not cut when they ranged her several years ago. There are also birches and maples. I found some old stumps, but no fresh work. Down by the edge of the pond I did not see muddy water nor cut vegetation nor nibbled sticks. There was a trail through some ferns but more the width a turtle might make. There is a generous clump of willows in the water, and I did see one nipped relatively high, only a beaver could have done that not a muskrat.

But that was it. After lunch the sun came out and I sat by the Third Pond. I heard a few green frogs jump and saw a frog swimming two yards at a time and then floating in the water. Since I could see if from so far it must be a bullfrog. I took a photo of the pond from where I sat.

Certainly looks like a nice home for a beaver. Then I sat by the Deep Pond dam and enjoyed the swimming and munching of two muskrats. The muskrat with lighter fur stayed out in the middle of the pond, its body slowly rotating as it munched grass.

The other darker muskrat munched close to me, just behind the dam.

Then it swam out to the middle of the pond, but veered off and dove before getting too close to the other muskrat.

If this is a mated pair, they certainly have their separate lives. I have seen them come out of the same burrow by the dam. Hopefully I’ll figure this out before these muskrats move on, as muskrats always do. I also tried to follow the flights of dragonflies and almost got a good photo of a white wing, I think they are called. When I got to the road, I took a photo of where the creek from the Third Pond runs into the creek from the Deep Pond.

Then that confluence runs down to White Swamp. The beaver most likely came up this creek when it went to the Third Pond, though there are other ways it could have managed it. Anyway the Third Pond creek forms a thick little marsh, and there is a spring in there too, where a beaver raised in White Swamp might make itself at home.

There is no way I can wade in there now looking for beaver activity. Indeed, I’d hardly know what to look for. I checked the north shore of the Third Pond and saw no nipping at either the clumps of maples there,

Nor the clumps willows,

The photo above suggests that the shore of the pond is to the right, but actually it is to the left. For much of the year much of the pond is dry, and the whole pond is usually dry in August and September. All these delicious looking trees are flooded, thanks to the beaver’s little dam, and so are quite convenient, for a beaver.

May 27 more rain today. It let up around noon and in the late afternoon I hiked around South Bay to check the otter latrines and the beaver activity at Audubon Pond. The constant rain has been good for the mayapples. Usually I have to strain to see the white flowers nodding under the big green leaves, but not this year.

The flowers looked a little used when viewed up close, perhaps drunk with water.

The apple seemed eager to bulge out. With all the rain the water level in the river is rather high, and today there was an east wind which probably kept the level down a few inches. I looked and listened for fish swimming up the two creeks coming down into the bay, but I didn’t notice any. It has been several years since the bullheads attempted a run up to the ponds. The piles of leaves a muskrat left along the north shore at the end of the south cove had been washed away, but there were new piles higher up the slope.

As I stood contemplating that a muskrat swam over from the marsh and dove under the old dock. My photo caught it just as it curled to go under.

Then I took a photo of the bay. The end of the old dock is just above the water -- it is too rotten to float. In the top of the photo you can see that the line of marsh between the middle and outer island of the point is almost flooded over.

The flooded marshes might make the area more attractive to otters but I suppose that depends on how the fish respond to the higher water. The lower ledge of the docking rock is also flooded over.

There is a pile of dead leaves in the middle of the trail up to where the otters often latrine but I didn’t see any scats associated with the leaves. I stayed on the South Bay trail, instead of going up to walk along the Audubon Pond embankment. The higher water didn’t seem to invite a beaver higher up on shore. I didn’t see any gnawing on the trees there. At first look the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay looked recently visited. There is a new line a scraped up leaves.

But I didn’t see any fresh scats and only one small smear of old scat.

Since other animals scratch around up here, it’s possible that one scraped up old scats and that an otter has not been here at all. But there was a trail in the grass heading down to the water. Then I walked up to the dam of the extended pond below the embankment of Audubon Pond. On the way down the slope to inspect the dam, I passed some trees cut since the last time I was here several days ago.

One ironwood fell right into a neighboring tree and as of now, the beavers have not tried to cut it again, which they sometimes do.

The dam is almost flooded over with no signs of recent work on it, but that is often how beavers respond in a rainy spring.

I have no reason to suspect these beavers will leave the area. I think there are only two of them, but it always reassuring when I see a pile of freshly nibbled sticks somewhere. The old dam, now in the middle of this pond has been half breached and is almost flooded over in places.

There is a pile of dirt at the west end of that dam, enough, I should think, to burrow into, but no sign that the beavers did that. The west trail down embankment did not look like it had been used recently, but the other trail to the east was not grown over at all. I noticed that a maple the beavers cut last year is leafing out despite that.

Then I faced Audubon Pond and saw no signs of beaver activity there. As water pours down the man made drain, it resonates in a ghostly way. I walked around the pond entertained by three terns,

And then three sets of geese. One pair had one gosling, which seemed to free the gander from guard duties and the family ducked their heads in the water and nibbled together.

Then as I walked along the causeway a pair with three gosling got into the pond.

Then I saw a single goose swimming near the lodge and with my second hard look, saw a goose nesting on the lodge.

When I walked up to the bench on the north shore of the pond, I saw a muskrat go into the burrows into the bank along the way.

As I walked to the bench, over the burrows, I expected the muskrat to dart out, but it didn’t. Then I expected to see it swimming off to the right, since the burrows lead to the other side of the peninsula, but I didn’t. As I walked back, I saw the muskrat out in the water where I first saw it, but it dove before I could get a photo. As I walked along the causeway, it surfaced long enough to give me an angry snap with its tail and dive again.

Then I saw the two geese with one gosling and the dangers of just having one charge to look after. Both adults were looking over at me and the the gosling swam ahead like it wore the pants in the family.

I didn’t see any new beaver work around the pond, nor trails, unless the extensive grazing on the underwater vegetation in the southeast corner of the pond was done by the beavers.

Deer, muskrats and geese could also have done that.

May 28 we spent two nights at our land which remains soggy from all the rain we’ve had. Plus the mosquitoes are now out in full force. There always seems to be a haze of them below our knees. However, the black flies have retired. Since we did yard work around our house in the island, we took the afternoon off at the land, reading and relaxing. And I sat by the ponds. I didn’t see any new beaver work at the Third Pond and the dam was leaking badly.

I sat on a chair by the pond, kept mosquitoes at bay, saw nothing in the pond and got only glimpses of birds in the trees and bushes. In other springs yellow warblers and even a rose breasted grosbeak have hung around this pond, but not this year. Walking down the road, I saw false Solomon seal blooming everywhere and in some spots there were some phlox flowers in the back ground.

Down at the Deep Pond I was entertained by muskrats. I have noticed that one of the muskrats in the pond seems paler than the other. That muskrat was out in the middle of the pond munching vegetation that it got by diving into the deepest part of the pond. (I have no clue why it does that.) Since I had gotten plenty of video of that two days ago I didn’t take my camcorder out. Then I saw that the darker, and I think, smaller muskrat was out, just outside the burrow in the dam. Then after a few bites it swam out toward the middle of the pond. I always like to get video of animals interacting so I got out the camcorder, and started getting images just as the cruising muskrat passed the one nibbling grass. And it continued swimming up to the far bank of the pond, and the other muskrat swam over to the opposite bank, closer to me, so I followed it. It began eating some vegetation on the surface of the pond and cocked its tail up neatly.

I always like that image and can never figure out why muskrats so often have to tense their tail up to eat. Then I saw that the other muskrat was not aimlessly seeking a meal on the other shore. It had gathered some grass and carried it all the way across the pond and into its burrow. Muskrats evidently like to make a point of collecting their food at the farthest reach of their territory. The munching muskrat seemed struck by that enterprise and swam back to the middle of the pond and faced the far shore, and the industrious muskrat again headed to the far shore.

This time I followed it and saw it climb up on the shore to eat some of the vegetation,

And then collect it for carrying back.

The muskrat in the middle of the pond now moved quickly to the far shore, climbed up it and gather some vegetation to eat.

The other muskrat was back out in the pond again but had to cool its heels, so to speak, in the middle of the pond. The suddenly industrious muskrat carried a leafy branch across the pond,

veering a bit in my direction seemingly trying to keep away from the other muskrat.

Then Leslie came up behind me and asked my if I noticed the fresh beaver work in the Third Pond. She also noticed that I was sitting next to several orange and black caterpillars eating the leaves of a little bush.

The caterpillars of the Baltimore butterfly, I think. Of course, I went back to the Third Pond to see what I had missed. And I saw that some of the willows on the north shore of the pond had been cut, and then I saw the beaver nosing up into another willow.

I was so close but it didn’t seem to see me, as it eased back into the water and began to nibble leaves.

But not for long, it swam toward the middle of the pond and slapped its tail at me.

Not wanting to drive the beaver away, I hurried off to report what I saw. A beaver is back on our land, and one that comes out in the afternoon when mosquitoes are not half as bad as they are at night. I also went up to the Teepee Pond just before dinner, and saw two, perhaps three, muskrats there. One was ferrying grass back to the burrow on the north shore just up from the dam. Finally I took a walk after dinner in the dark. I bumped into two porcupines along the road and heard a loud chorus of Gray’s tree frogs around the Third Pond, as I expected, and I also heard a few peepers. There were crickets singing up on the drier ridges across from our land.

May 29 I checked the Third Pond in the morning, and was surprised to see that no more willows were nipped on the north shore, and only two or three had been.

There were some maple leaves floating in the water which could have been the beavers leftovers.

However, I didn’t think the beaver fled the pond because it had repaired and built up the dam.

Since I was getting used to the mosquitoes I went down to the Last Pool and tried to sit in the chair there and get a sense of what was happening in the pond. The mosquitoes were impossible. Needless to say, I didn’t notice anything new down there. I thought the beaver at the Third Pond might be out in the late afternoon like yesterday. I took a different route to the pond, coming up the ridge through some honeysuckle bushes and then sitting in the chair in the shade up on the west shore of the pond. The beaver wasn’t in sight when I got there but I kept seeing ripples coming from the east shore where its burrow most likely is. Then I heard the sound of a sapling being pulled, but I couldn’t see it. Soon enough the beaver surfaced in the middle of the pond and swam right below me toward the dam.

I couldn’t see the dam but the beaver did not stay there long. I soon saw it eating the leaves of some shrubs tangled just on the south shore of the pond just above the water. The beaver didn’t cut any twigs and branches, and soon swam across the pond, right below me once again.

I lost sight of it because some thick and blooming honeysuckle bushes blocked my view of the willows and maples in the north end of the pond. However, I heard gnawing and soon enough saw the beaver pull a sapling back to its burrow on the east side of the pond, that too was well concealed by vegetation.

When I knew where the beaver was, I kept my eye out for more ripples. I kept seeing them and finally got a glimpse of the animal making them -- a muskrat. This is a small pond and the beaver seemed to be managing it by going from one end to the other. So I thought the beaver might head back to the far south shore, and I was right. I soon saw it nibbling the leaves of a willow that it cut. Meanwhile, the wind had picked up a bit and a gust spread my scent to the south. The beaver soon had its nose in the air and then it left its willow and began to swim toward me. While still relatively far away, it slapped its tail. I had a perfect angle as I took video and lifted a still from the clip showing the beaver’s hind legs high in the air, the usual mechanism of a tail slap.

The beaver kept swimming directly toward me, veered slightly, but only to slap its tail again.

Well, I had learned enough for one sitting, and headed back to the house, but not before taking a photo of where the beaver may have been cutting more willows on the north shore.

Then we had a brief thunderstorm. More rain is not what we needed. Afterwards I walked down the road to enjoy the fog in low areas and saw two porcupines along the road.

May 30 on our morning walk down the road at our land we passed a snapping turtle walking up the steepest part of the road.

Farther down the road, on another hill, we saw a baby snapping turtle.

When we walked back up the road, say 10 minutes later, the turtle had gained the hill. Later we saw a snapping turtle in the dirt just behind our house, a different turtle because it was much bigger.

As the sun burned off the damp from yesterday’s rain, we had our best day in about a month for working. I used the old scythe to try to subdue some of the grass and then sawed some logs. I decided not to bother the beaver in the Third Pond today. I was careful to check the pond at about 10 am when a beaver is least likely to be out. It looked like it had added more sticks to the dam.

The pond bottom in front of the burrow was stripped of vegetation so it looked brown.

The beaver may have done that. But up at the Teepee Pond I see the brown bottom and have to credit muskrats and turtles since there is no beaver there. I sat at the Deep Pond dam and the two muskrats were out, one out in the middle of the pond and one behind the dam, as usual. I’ve been trying to use my camcorder to get good still images of dragonflies and am getting better at it.

I also went up to the Teepee Pond. Leslie had been up there just before I went and reported that a turtle flopped into the water when she walked to the pond. When I got there, a snapping turtle was floating just off the shore of the pond, seemingly staring at me.

Then it took a big breath of air and sank to the bottom of the pond.

Then I sat by the nearby First Pond hoping to maybe see a Blanding’s turtle there. As I sat there I saw a muskrat in the Teepee Pond, then a few minutes later a muskrat, likely the same one, surfaced in the First Pond. I got a nice video of its tail as it swam back to the old bank beaver lodge carrying grass in its mouth.

Then we headed to our home on the island after a relaxing two nights at our land.