Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 14 to 20, 2011

June 14 I realized that I had become a bit too much like a beaver, eager at cutting down trees but too slow in bringing them home. So I am starting a cut and carry program but first there is a back log of logs to bring out of the woods to my sawing rocks. Today I split some bitternut hickory logs that I cut in the fall and brought them out. The area where I cut down the hickory as well as some ironwood, all in order to bring down a big maple trunk that had half fallen of its own accord, is now a clearing. Of course, I hoped that the flood of sun on the just exposed forest bottom would cause interesting plants to grow but instead all I see is a succulent weed of some sort,

surrounding a few fresh shoots of honeysuckle, which is a switch since usually the vigorous honeysuckle swallows everything.

My path from the logs to the road allowed me to take my breaks sitting next to and walking around the Third Pond. I didn’t see anything to persuade me that the beaver had not left. Looking into the clump of willows in the southwest end of the pond, it always looks like more have been cut.

But as the water in the pond gets lower everything looks different, not to mention different light on the matter from the sun. Looking back to the southwest shore, where I could not easily get, it was hard to believe that a beaver had not spent the night sorting through its willow sticks.

But I am pretty sure it hadn’t. On the south shore I did see one stripped stick.

But that was probably revealed by the lower water not left by the beaver last night. I ventured over to the east shore of the pond, closer to its burrow. The lower water made that easier to do. I saw one sapling cut and ready to trim,

But the leaves were still on it. The water looked very shallow here. I didn’t fight my way through honeysuckles over to the burrow. Obviously it has been dredged a bit but this pond is bottomed with clay and I don’t recall the channel being that deep. (It is exposed much of the year.)

I revised my estimate that the beaver had finally cut willows here. I saw that the clump I thought had been pruned had only one fresh cut. The rest were all done a few years ago when a beaver was last here.

After lunch I sat briefly down at the Deep Pond, nothing stirring in the pond and no signs of the beaver. There was plenty of greenery around and in the pond. A yellow warbler darted back and forth over the pond from nannyberry bush to nannyberry bush. Then I spent 15 minutes up at the Third Pond, and finally got a glimpse of the muskrat dining,

which was good to see.

June 16 hot and humid morning and I got a late start, 10am. As I crossed the granite plateau and entered the woods along Antler Trail, a turkey family hidden about 20 yards off the trail successfully dispersed with the fledges going every which way and the hen more or less going parallel with me clucking as she went. Then down in the meadow, I flushed two deer. These animals know how to face a hot day, and I ruined it for them. One deer briefly hid behind a bush looking back at me, then moved out in the open. The other deer stayed in the deep grasses, also staring,

But when I took my next step they both ran off into the woods. The heat seemed to accentuate how depleted the Big Pond looked. At least it is fringed by brilliant green.

Once again a tern was working the pond. It fluttered for several seconds, adjusted its sights, fluttered again and then dove into the water, where I recall the old creek channel is. I didn’t study the tern for long because the deer flies were all over me. At first I hoped they were attracted by the camcorder, and I’ve noticed insects do fly to it, but when I turned it off and put it away the deer flies were still after me, the worse attacking ever. (Later I discovered I forgot to push the record button while the tern was flying.) I hurriedly took a photo of the muddy water behind the dam, suggesting that the water is level has not dropped too low to prevent the muskrats from denning in it.

And I took a photo of the holes in the dam showing that the flow out of the pond has stopped, save for a slight trickle.

The sun will still shrink the pond through evaporation. There are a few springs around it but last I checked they did not have the vigor they had years ago. I hurried on to the woods, walking on the hardening mud behind the dam. I shook some of the flies in the shade, but not all of them. As I studied the moss and turf above the mossy cove latrine I was still swatting flies. I suspected that something had done some more scraping there but I saw no attendant otter scat. I found shade to sit in and saw a goose family with three gosling make its slow way along the peninsula. Goslings have two speeds: slow and eventually fly. The pond is lower and I took a photo showing again the emerging remnant of a dam in the middle of the pond.

I didn’t walk along the shore for fear of deer flies and stayed up in the woods, but duty required me to angle down to the old otter latrines, and as I passed the old muskrat burrows on the north shore, sagely observing that they were now too exposed to accommodate muskrats,

an animal swam off from the shore out into the shallow pond. I assumed it was a muskrat and almost didn’t deign to take video of it because of the flies. But I did and soon realized that it was a beaver.

Beavers did not abandon the pond but this beaver, I am sure the same one I have been seeing here all spring and last year, did not look too vigorous. No tail slaps for me and it swam slowly to the middle of the pond diving quietly and going I am not sure where.

Up on the rock by the dam, I saw what the beaver has been eating, some kind of green sticker.

It has not patched the dam but there may be a wee dollop of fresh mud on it.

I assume this beaver has spent the last few weeks in the lodge up pond, where the pair of beavers wintered. Now it is probably too shallow up there so it moved back down here. Given the few signs of beaver nibbling, I assume the larger beaver is gone. Thinking along that tack, I wondered if beavers don’t repair ponds in an effort to attract companionship. Beavers likely follow running water when looking to settle. Lovely notion, and preferable to deciding that this poor beaver has simply given up. I crossed the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam where muskrats seem to still be active and instead of turning left went straight up the gentle slope until I got to what I used to call the last of the Third Ponds where beavers flourished years ago. No signs of their return. I went east over to another watershed where beavers had been a few years ago. No signs of them there either.

I walked back to the west along the north shore of the Third Meadow, I suppose I should call it now, and took a photo of the upper pond of water, which remains the largest of the old series of ponds.

Then I reached the East Trail Pond which remains the only honest beaver development on this end of the island, counting Audubon Pond as mostly a manmade affair. The dam is still doing well, and the water level is high enough.

I don’t think much water is coming into the pond but up pond a good bit of shrubbery remains to limit evaporation.

I’ll soon be able to tell how much shade the beavers cut during the winter since it will soon be a year since they moved to the pond. I don’t think they cut much. I checked the slope for otter scats and saw none but did see more scrapping, much as if a snapping turtle worked its way up.

I checked that low latrine under a rock along the north shore and there was nothing new there. Obviously the otter mother and her pups aren’t here. However, I could tell that the beavers are here. The canal going west from the pond is quite muddy,

And there is a fresh beaver trail in the mud heading west,

with the elegant prints of an adult beaver.

However, I couldn’t see any trees cut or segmented along the trail, not that I studied the crowns of trees cut last fall closely. Plus there is grass along here and I have never become adept at discerning where beavers have cut the grass they like to eat so much at this time of year. The flies and heat persuaded me to head home. There were a few carp thrashes in the north cove of South Bay. As I got to the little causeway at the end of the south cove, I noticed some dead grass rearranged and pressed down, but no scats. And then closer to the creek, I saw otter scats.

One of them was dark brown and gooey.

Then looking back, I took a photo of scraping I just saw.

All the while a frog was sitting on a rock in the creek looking at a scene far more attractive than otter scats.

But frogs are obsessed with one thing, me with another.

June 17 I hoped to get out at dawn and look for otters in South Bay but it started raining at 4:30 and I could hear the wind blowing. By 10am the rain stopped and the river was calm. We were headed for South Bay in our kayaks a little before 11. Skirting Granite Slate Shoal, a wide part of the river, I was struck by two things. The water smelled fishy, the way it can smell on still days in late August, and there were almost none of the birds that customarily work the river. I saw one cormorant. Going around the headland I saw two gulls and a duck. Haying is late this year and just getting started. Many gulls leave the river for new mown fields. The usual shoals where many birds usually rest are still covered by high water. And I wonder if the smell arises from the high water slowly washing out the fishy remains long festering in the marshes. But Granite Slate shoal is far from marshes and on this trip to and from the bay, I only saw one dead fish floating in the water. I paddled along the south shore of the peninsula in the Bay first. As I studied a heron along the shore, an osprey flew off from the tree above. The last time I paddled here about 10 days ago, and I have a suspicion I didn’t record my observations, I noticed that a beaver cut off the end of a branch from the willow above the old beaver bank lodge. Today I saw that a few smaller twigs had been nipped off too. Unlike last time I didn’t see any beaver stripped logs on the mossy shore under the willow. I was hoping to find otter scats or scent mounds there today, as the area has long been an otter latrine, but I saw no signs of otters. Most of the old latrine is flooded. I’ll have to walk around the peninsula to see otter signs. When I walked along the south cove of the bay yesterday, I heard a good bit of carp spawning, but not today. Just two brief thrashes. I saw a carp or two and obviously they have been at it because the water is cloudy from the raised mud. The water is much colder this year. I haven’t tried swimming yet, and Leslie, who has been in three times, says it is numbing cold. I paddled to the end of the cove. That’s where I saw otter scats yesterday and I wanted to see what an otter might be seeing. Despite the high water, the cattails are still tall and thick. It’s always struck me that otters have to do some work and show some care in surviving in a marsh. Hard as I looked I couldn’t see any trail into the cattails that I could fancy an otter making. Along the high south shore of the bay, where there are several easy places to climb out, I didn’t notice any scratching, or rolling areas or latrines. The recent storm blew down a huge ash along that shore, no signs of a beaver enjoying that. I did see one cattail rhizome along the marsh. Then I checked the head of the peninsula and did see some digging at the end of the point but that looked like a turtle’s doing. I saw one possible trail up from the water. As for the other two traditional areas for otters to latrine on the north shore of the cove, the water covers most of the area they usually use. I’ll have to come in the boat and get out and explore rocks at the end of channels through the marsh. One year otters were quite active in there. As I was leaving I finally spied a long line of geese cruising along the north shore of the bay and I saw one common tern working the south cove. A few yellow flag iris are blooming along the shore.

We went to our land in the afternoon, and I tried to check up on the beaver. I couldn’t see any beaver work around the Deep Pond, and no attention paid by a beaver to the dam, which is not in glaring need of repair but could be built up and patched here and there. The vegetation outside the bank lodge below the knoll is parted and it was easy to see that a beaver could be diving there.

I saw three water lilies blooming, two along the close east shore and one behind the dam,

and one about to bloom.

I sat for a while, and after a spate of always seeing muskrats, now I am seeing none. I assume they are coming out at night. Then I went up to the Third Pond and sat in the chair on the west slope. I saw in an instant that there had been more cutting along the south shore,

and then I heard a beaver gnawing back behind the vegetation obscuring the view of the east bank where the burrow is. I sat long enough to see a bush shaking as the beaver cut it down, but the beaver never came out where I could see it. I could have sat longer but the chair is right next to a box where wrens are nesting. The wrens carrying bugs would not go back into the box with me there. They took their frustration out on a chipmunk up in the tree, and I could see that they probably wanted to attack me too. So I left them and the pond in peace. Of course I went back after dinner and as I approached, the beaver was along the west shore. I moved closer until it swam out into the pond where I could see it. It struck me as being smaller than the beaver I was used to seeing here. But in the gloaming, perhaps things swimming in a pond seem smaller (though I think it might be the opposite.) I did get some video.

As I walked up the road the whip-poor-will was singing. I stood under the tree where it sang thinking to see if fly off. The singing stopped and a minute later I heard it singing from the ridge behind me.

June 18 while I was anxious to check the Third Pond to see what work the beaver did, I went down to the Last Pool first. It is always interesting when beaver ponds drain away, and since the beavers just spent the winter at the upper end of their pond, there secrets would be revealed sooner than later. The pool where the beavers lived is now half the size of a month ago.

For much of last year I kept track of what I called the “wallow” that the beavers dug out to collect water just up from the pond. For most of the spring the wallow had been flooded over. Now there is precious little water in it.

The beavers must have dug the channel forking to the right during the winter. It wasn’t there last year. And that channel led to a channel

convenient to the cache pile which, of course, the beavers mostly consumed.

Closer to me was the mossy mound covered with logs that I thought might be a hut for one beaver but I never saw a beaver in it.

I took a photo of the lodge looking from the two aspen trunks that they mostly stripped, the right one two years ago and the last one this passed year.

Just as they did behind the Boundary Pond dam, the beavers built their lodge in a shady area. Now the trees that shaded the Boundary Pond lodge are dead, but not so the trees that this lodge was built around, though a small hemlock looks like it is dying. I don’t think the beavers were here long enough to kill the trees. The pond is almost low enough to reveal the back entrances to the lodge.

On another day, I’ll climb on the lodge and get a better sense of it. Should I or could I identify all the stripped logs sunk in the water around it?

I walked to the middle of the Last Pond. I can stand next to the main channel of the pond. I took a photo looking down to Boundary Pond.

The photo shows the glare of sunlight down at Boundary Pond. The Last Pool is still fairly shady. Several of the larger trees the beavers girdled or half cut still put out leaves this spring. The crown of the girdled white oak in the foreground is quite lush.

Looking up pond there is much more sunlight in that area before because three large aspen were cut and one still standing is dead because the beavers girdled it.

Of course, big aspens don’t make that much shade. As I’ve noted before the sunlight has made it easier for blue flag iris to go and/or easier to see them.

For a few weeks at least the blooms draw attention away from the stumps. The stumps in the photo above have been flooded all spring, but I don’t think the hornbeam will sprout out again soon or with much vigor. Up on drier land the birch stumps have a vigorous bouquet of green shoots, but look closely and there are shoots that have already died.

Hopefully, I’ll see a beaver browse through here again soon and see if beavers eat shoots such as these. As the beaver’s browsing in the Third Pond is reminding me, beaver like leaves at this time of year. I recall reading that plants grow back in a way that deters their predators. Less tender leaves might give a beaver pause. I headed down to the Third Pond and saw that the pond water looked brown once again. More vegetation is being eaten by the beaver and muskrat.

I got over to the south end of the pond and saw the gnawing on a bigger willow, one with a knobby trunk several inches in diameter.

The beaver also left a willow out in the pond without eating all its leaves

My initial reaction when I got a good look at the beaver last night was that it looked smaller. And now I’m seeing a different approach to foraging here. But I haven’t had the leisure to study old videos and so can’t conclude that this is a different beaver. Seems very unlikely to me.

June 19 I checked the Third Pond to see if I could tell what the beaver cut last night. What’s most telling is the water is getting shallower. The clumps of willows are thinned out but only one clump, and a small one of 6 or 7 trunks, has been completely cleared.

I was struck again with how many thin willow trunks, all stripped of leaves and none stripped of bark, are piled neatly on the southwest shore.

Then I went down to the Deep Pond approaching from the east so that I first walked around the high slope. I didn’t see any signs of beaver nor muskrats, and the burrows along that slope have always been favored by muskrats, and earlier I saw them collecting vegetation on the south end of the slope. It is now easy to jump over the inlet creek and I went over to the lodge. The water was clear of vegetation in front of it, but very shallow.

I saw small fish darting there but it was hard to picture a beaver or muskrat comfortable there. I went up and over the knoll. Then picked up the raccoon skull I saw the other day. Looking out at the pond from that angle, I saw that something had parted the algae scum and vegetation on the surface of the pond taking a curving tour.

More likely a duck than a muskrat who, I recollect, make straighter trails. When I walked through the grasses closer to the dam I saw three trails and guessed that a raccoon or raccoons made them.

One trail came into the area from the road. I sat in the chair for a while patiently waiting for my old friends the muskrats, but they didn’t show. I got a photo of a delicate dragonfly on nearby leaf.

I also checked the Teepee Pond and saw an old friend, a green frog, in its usual place tucked under the foot high ledge that forms the north shore of the pond.

Then a little after 4pm, I assumed my seat on the west shore of the Third Pond. A little muskrat swam by me and, after almost an hour, I was about to give up on the beaver, when it came out swimming underwater, which in such a shallow pond made a huge wake. It surfaced near the dam where I couldn’t see it and then swam below me, took a sniff, and swam square to me and looked up.

Then it swam over to the south end of the pond,

It hunched up next to a willow stump and ate some leaves. Then it swam, paddled and walked through the shallows, reared up at a willow, rejected that one and then cut one that was larger.

It pulled the willow to an opening, cut it in half and pulled the leafy part to its mouth and started eating the leaves.

Then it sniffed the breeze a couple times, turned to me with a leafy willow sprig in its mouth and slapped its tail

without dropping the sprig from its mouth.

Then it ate the leaves, well in my view, and then swam closer to me, still munching.

When it finished with that, it swam into a willow clump in the northeast corner of the pond, where I couldn’t see it, cut a big one and swam with it into the clump of willows along the east shore, now the thickest clump remaining, where it ate the leaves of the willow.

I figured it was finally turning its back on me and I went to the house to eat my dinner. After dinner, I didn’t bother the beaver. I tried to catch a bullhead in Teepee Pond and could only get some shiners which I didn't keep. Then I sat by the Deep Pond as it got dark and where the thrushes were in full voice, accompanied by the catbirds. I saw a raccoon prowling along the east shore of the pond

and then going up into the woods.

With nesting done, the birds are singing more sweetly now.

June 20 I took a morning tour of the Third Pond and got another angle on the pile of willow trunks on the southwest bank of the pond.

I still don’t see any that have been stripped. In general, my impressions have been that beavers aren’t particular about arranging sticks and logs. In most dams and lodges they seem to be pushed every which way. I did see sticks in a row up at Boundary Pond now and then, but only a few. Nothing as extensive as the pile here. Maybe the beaver is responding to the shallow small pond and lining sticks up so that they take as little space as possible. Th beaver gnawed off more bark from the one large willow tree that it has worked on. (There are some much bigger willows around the pond.)

The beaver could cut this down with a few more bites but the fallen tree might clog up the pond. Maybe it is doing this gnawing to get its incisors trimmed. I took a photo of the whole pond from the south shore, which makes it look rather low on water.

Then I went up and over the ridge, through the Hemlock Cathedral (an area that won’t regain its charm until the first snow fall though it can be the only cool place during the hottest days of the summer.) I was stunned to see how low the water was behind the Boundary Pond dam.

I sat on a rock up on the ridge and saw that the shallow pond looked rather active with much nippling of the water as if tadpoles were anxious to get out of their shrinking home of the moment. When I sat down, a painted turtle on a log below fell into the water. A few minutes later another turtle climbed up on the same log,

then paused and then fell back into the water and went directly after that other turtle that was lurking nearby. The other turtle turned and swam away even though the aggressor looked smaller to me.

While up on the ridge, I thought I was hearing a low chatter of frogs, but when I got down to the dam, I realized that I was hearing water trickling through the dam. The little stream below the dam had a little current.

This dam is about three years old and during its first two years always leaked. Then I thought that last year the beavers perfected it, having finally piled enough forest litter and logs to hold back the water. I was hoping that with vegetation taking root, as it is doing,

the dam would become permanent. Obviously I was wrong. I saw a small trail going over the dam. The only digging I saw behind the dam was probably done by a raccoon,

And even those holes were not as deep as a raccoon usually makes. The upshot of the leaking dam is that the east side of the pond especially is now a mud flat.

Although it is not quite mud that is exposed but a muck of needles, leaves, and sticks. Things will be dying in this pond. I saw the remains of a snail up on the dam.

The east half of the pond is still shady primarily because the large maples along the shore are still healthy, as are some of the hemlocks. Many of the hemlocks that were girdled by the beavers last spring are finally beginning to die. For the moment the only dead trees are out toward the middle of the pond having succumbed to the combination of flooding and gnawing by the beavers.

Now I’ll have to find photos of what this area looked like four years ago. I think the area was logged about 20 years ago leaving some holes as well as rotting tree trunks that supported lush mosses. There was a creek, that more or less dried out every summer, but the pools of water often didn’t quite dry out. It was a place where I hoped to see a rare orchid, but never a refuge for frogs and turtles much less muskrats. The beavers certainly deepened the creek and the dug some canals off it. The question is: will that improve the drainage and dry the area out? Or make the surviving pools larger than they were? I’m getting my first look at the future and haven’t quite figured it out.

The photo above suggest that the boggy nature of the area will remain. The photo below suggests that everything will dry out.

Up at the end of the pond I could see how the beavers improved the drainage. They built a canal around a wallow formed behind old roots.

Meanwhile, I got a good measure of how the pond is getting shallower from the stripped logs behind the lodge now above the water.

I may soon be trying to crawl into that lodge, or at least get Ottoleo to crawl into it. We headed back to the island and since the river was calm we went in the motorboat out to Picton Island. A loon was fishing just outside the cove where we dock. It was a hot afternoon so I cruised along the Picton shore facing the sun and then rowed back so at least Leslie wouldn’t have to face the sun. The water level in the river is still very high so many of the old latrines were still flooded. Cruising along the shore I didn’t notice any otter signs, but once I started rowing, Leslie soon spotted some dug up turf on the higher shore behind a line of rocks. It proved to be the shore behind one of those perfect pools for otter pups that I discovered a couple of years ago.

From the boat I was pretty sure I could see otter scats, but to be sure, I got out and walked on the rock and then around the pool.

Looking to the east from the west end of the pool, I got a photo showing how perfect the set-up is with an easy entrance to the river and yet with a long shallow unencumbered stretch for pups to learn to swim in.

The vegetation in the large latrine was mostly scratched away or dead from otter urine.

There were piles of old scats, mostly gray fish scales, at least a month old, I’d say.

As well as large smears and plops of black scats.

The fresh scats were back in the fringe of the woods.

There were plenty of places for otters to den up on the wooded slope, and, of course, quarry rubble was not far away either.

I took a photo looking back at Leslie. I have often seen otters in among these rocks and this would be a good place to teach pups how to hide in the rocks without the wakes of boats speeding in the channel washing over them.

I continued rowing down the shore toward the point, and checked two more pools. Two years ago, I thought they were the perfect hideaways because the water in them was higher than the water level in the river, but with a cursory glance I didn’t see any otter scats and I could see why they looked unused this year. The pool the otters are using is so much more convenient. But it is likely they will move up to these pools which have more tree cover and as the water level in the river goes down. Before going around the point, I took a photo of the shore with the otters’ pool just left of the center of the photo.

At the Point, I saw a possible otter latrine right at the end of the island, but the swing rope had been freed and it is possible that humans trampled the grass. I didn’t get out to check for grass. The old latrine sites a little southwest of the point were all bright green grasses with no trails through them.