Wednesday, June 6, 2012

April 14 to 19, 2012

April 14 we went to the land planning to spend the night which meant that in the early evening I would try to see the beaver. Well before that Leslie alerted me that the bloodroot was in full bloom, so I went off to get a photo. I went via the Second Pond and to get my mind focused on flowers, I took a photo of some pretty spring beauties along the way.

They are commonplace flowers at this time of year, but their violet pink color is quite beautiful. An early Spring flower it seems to herald all the colorful flowers to come whether they are blue, red, or yellow. There is a hint of yellow at the base of the Spring beauty’s petals. Up at the Second Pond, I saw the brown of muskrat poop smeared on an obviously heavily butt rubbed rock along the edge of the pond.

It is easier to see evidence of the muskrats’ foraging in the First Pond.

The log there jutting out at the end of the small canal flowing down to the Second Pond had muskrat poops on it that almost looked like they were arranged suggesting that muskrats take the same route every time they run on the log and let fly adding to the line of old poop.

I’ve seen muskrats do this and they never seem that calculating. To get to the south facing ridge where some bloodroots flourish, I went via the Turtle Bog. No signs of Blanding’s turtles. We think they have left and we think they go down to the First and Second Ponds. I worked my way through what we call the Juniper Jungle and an old grove of birches where most trees all akimbo and dead. I saw a small porcupine up a tree nose on pubescent elm buds.

I heard the sporadic call of peepers, not sure where they were, and the chorus of comb frogs (Western chorus frogs) coming from some wet areas of our neighbor’s spread. Then I turned up to the steep ridge and found that some bloodroots had colonized ground between tumbled sandstone boulders.

Up on top of the ridge, I walked slowly down to a small vernal pool hoping to see some frogs jump. None did. The water in the pool looked a little low.

Higher up on the ridge, as usual, I saw bloodroots flourishing where ever there is dirt.

I had worried that every year I was seeing less, but there are plenty this year. I could quibble and say that the blooms look a bit smaller this year.

I eased down the ridge, getting reminders that rocks roll and rotten tree trunks break, but I didn’t tumble. I walked down the shady, mossy east side of the valley. The hepatica is out, but nothing else. Some trillium were budding. I went far enough down the valley so I could take a photo looking back at the Last Pool. All was sere except the clumps of moss around the bottoms of standing trees, and on old dead logs.

I took a photo looking up the channel. There is a nice bit of water in the channel but I worry that its efficiency spells the doom of the moss, and the ferns that usually grow here.

Obviously when beavers cut trees, saplings can shoot out of stumps and roots, though I think that here it will be 5 or more years before there is once again a semblance of a little forest of saplings. But there is no coppicing, if you will, of mosses and ferns after the beavers channel the moisture that allowed them to flourish. I hope I am wrong. Some tall red maples remain and perhaps if we get enough rain there were be enough water to puddle in the low areas flanking the channel. There is a bit of water surrounding the Last Pool lodge but not enough, I think, to invite any muskrat or beaver to den there.

I got down to the Deep Pond at 5:30. Earlier this Spring when I had a chance to sit by the pond in the afternoon, I had to leave at 5:30. And since that one day in February when we saw the beaver munching in a hole in the ice behind the dam, I haven’t seen the beaver. Waiting for a beaver to appear, as the sun goes down and it gets darker and colder, can force one to entertain oneself. Many times I have counted backwards from 100 very slowly, interviewing each descending number, all in hopes that before I got down to “1” a beaver would appear. No need to do that tonight. Soon after I sat down, two woods ducks made a crazy looking angular flight over the pond and almost seemed to crash onto a perch high in a tree on the ridge behind the east shore of the pond. A few days ago I enjoyed the snoring of the leopard frogs here, and their chorus continued. Plus I began hearing some peepers call in their loudest crystal clear repetitive call. Since we were away for two weeks, we missed hearing any day time peeper chorusing here and we worried that we were low on peepers. Then the two wood ducks flew from the trees and crashed down onto the pond and the female began whining as the male seemed to swim too and fro around her without ever getting too close or too far away.

But they had their eyes on each other and each made significant gestures. The male dipped its beak into the water and the female put her neck down close to the water several times when the male swam by her,

but he also seemed as interested in preening and catching the stray bug.

I confess that most of the time, I had my camcorder focused on the colorful male.

But both ducks looked in the finest feather. As they were swimming closer to each other, I zoomed in with my camcorder and must admit that despite her lack of color, the female positively glowed. What enchanting eyes! But the male never mounted her. He made one jerking jump up but while he was a few feet from her. I think he also made a soft wheezing sound. At least, in the video below, every time you hear that sound his beak opens.

Then the male pulled up close behind her, making more wheezing sounds, but turned away. Maybe the female then took the duck equivalent of a cold shower, but kept her eyes on the male and seemed with her neck pumping to strut her stuff. While focusing on her, I didn’t see the male fly up into a low tree in full view of the pond.

While I was focusing on the male in the tree, the female climbed up on the bank and walked a bit, in full view of the male,

then she flew up into a lower tree and then she flew up into a tree about the same level as his. Up in his perch he turned to face her. Eventually, they both flew up into a taller, larger tree, aiming for the center of the trunk where I bet there was a hole for nesting.

I started taking video of the ducks at 5:52 and their show ended a bit after 6:15. The photo I took of the pair shows a beaver stripped log placed on the slope behind the ducks. I also took a photo of the logs near the beaver bank lodge under the knoll.

Until that collection of logs began to grow a week ago, I supposed that the beaver was living in one of the bank burrows in the high east bank of the pond. At 6:39 pm I got certain evidence that at least for this day, the beaver had been denning in the bank lodge under the knoll along the southwest shore of the pond. Its head burst up in the middle of the pond seemingly on a beeline toward the northeast shore

then it slowed, turned completely around and swam almost as fast toward the bank lodge. When it got to the shallows in the west end of the pond between where I sat next to the dam and lodge, it began to dive and came up clutching what looked like small black rhizomes.

These morsels were so bite sized that I never got a good look at one, and I wonder if they might have been uneaten portions of some of the many lily rhizomes the beaver dined on last year.

Before I could get a good look, it swam away and dove closer to the lodge.

After diving several times for roots, it surprised me by surfacing near the lodge and carrying up some wet leaves onto the lodge

and waddling its butt over the rather big scent mount there.

It resumed diving for roots in about the same spot, but soon enough stopped and swam all around the pond, below the high shore and once it got near the shallows behind the east end of the dam it dove for a rhizome. This one it handled with one paw, like it did frequently last summer. I was sitting on the west end. A chilly wind was blowing in my face and the beaver had given no indication that it sensed that I was there. Then just behind the dam it dove and I could tell by the bubbles on the water that it was swimming underwater toward me. I lost track of it until it surfaced about 10 yards in front of me and then swam quickly back toward the middle of the pond.

My dinner was ready so when it started diving again, I sneaked away. After dinner I came out when it was dark and when lusty peepers choruses were exploding from every corner. I went to the Second Pond first and the chorus there came from the direction of the smaller pond at the top of the valley, we call it the Peeper Pond. It seemed as if the population there was spilling into the Second Pond. As I approached I heard a muskrat dive in the pond. There were no peepers around the First Pond or from the vernal pool above it. One Spring there was a concentration of peepers there. Then I went down to the Third Pond and sat to enjoy the sounds. There were enough peepers to make a loud chorus but not so many that it was impossible to distinguish individual calls. I heard a good many peeper trills and what sounded like frogs trying to shapes the trills into a peep. My own opinion is that the trills are warm ups for the peeps. The peep is one of the purest and strongest sounds in nature. There is no doubt about it, though it is easy to hear that some are relatively weak. Then I went down to the Deep Pond to see if the sporadic peeps I heard when I watched the wood ducks and beavers would turn into a full blown chorus. They did, and perhaps thanks to high ridge behind the pond acting as a sounding board I heard some magnificent calls. Plus the leopard frogs were in full snore seeming to me to pick up their beat to keep up with the peepers who always seem to pick up the tempo the longer I listen. Then I heard a third sound and after I cupped my ears I could identify it: a beaver gnawing. Adding to my excitement, this was the first time we had ever heard a creditable peeper chorus at this pond. Finally, I saw some glow worms at my feet. Beautiful as they are, peeper choruses, especially at night, can be overwhelming. After 15 minutes, I had to get away. The black night and the almost deafening den -- several loud peepers had to be within 10 yards of me -- did not mask my retreat. The beaver slapped its tail several times, loud enough not to be drowned out by the frogs. I wonder if the beaver had to amp it up just to keep up with the crescendo of Spring.

April 15 While I saw the beaver last night, I didn’t see it go on shore. Leslie, who sat down in the chair after dinner, did see a beaver come off the bank into the water, and then she thought she saw a wake possibly from another beaver. I like the idea of two beavers. The last time where was a lot of scent mound building around the pond was when there were two beavers living in it who didn’t seem very compatible. I got the impression that they vied with each other to build the biggest scent mound. The scent mound just off the west shore seems to be growing

But there isn’t a competing scent mound near it. I tried to get a photo of the scent mound pushed up on the bank lodge under the knoll last night, but there was no contrast in the blurry photo. I wasn’t up to climbing over the knoll to get a better look at the lodge and instead walked below the dam. A large popular log that has long been on top of the middle of the dam looks like it is going to be slowing included into the dam as the beaver keeps pushing mud up on it.

The beaver or beavers continue to build up the dam. Where there had been a hole in the dam now looks completely repaired, no hint of there having been a hole in the dam just two months ago.

The pile of nibbled sticks on the flat shore just behind the dam is growing again.

Then I saw the possible start of competing scent mounds up on the shore as it slowly gets higher and behind a long stripped stick.

But the scent mounds, if they indeed are scented (I can never smell it, though many other humans can) are not big at all. Along the highest part of the bank, I saw little nibbled sticks here and there and more pond vegetation dragged up the slope, not consolidated into much of a pile.

Then as I continued along the shore and the slope lessened I saw a trail coming up from the pond to where a hole was dug into grass and the top of a root, I suppose, was cut.

However looking closely at the digging it looks a bit strange, as if after the root was cut, the animal pushed mud back around where it dug.

Then as I continued around to the south shore, where the slope diminishes, I saw more vegetation pushed up, though not much of a “pile”, and a few nibbled sticks almost in the water.

Where the beaver or beavers have been doing most of their nibbling, the number of stripped sticks continues to grow.

I saw that from the spot I have usually been standing to take a photo of the stripped sticks, I could not longer get a picture of them all. I had to capture some new ones in the water right below me.

I took a photo of the growing pile on the side of the inlet near the lodge, but it didn’t show enough to capture what my eyes saw. (My eyes perhaps magnify the size of beaver nibbled sticks!) I also tried to get a photo of the little saplings the beaver are cutting back in the bush but I only saw one cut sapling and was not that convinced it was fresh work. I will have to see the beaver or beavers going about their business here.

April 18 We headed off to have lunch with the Blanding’s turtles at the East Trail Pond. While it was sunny, there was a gusty wind and out of the sun it was a bit chilly. Two days ago it got well into the 80s, too hot to hike at this leafless time of the year, but now it was back down around 50F. We went via Antler Trail and then the South Bay trail where we heard a phoebe. Going up through the woods on the East Trail we heard pine warblers. As we eased down the ridge to the rock where I usually sit to watch turtles, I saw two Blanding’s turtle out on a little mud island 10 yards out in the pond. But we weren’t easy enough and before we got to the rock both turtles hurried into the pond and disappeared. We sat down in the shade and scanning the pond, I saw a large Blanding’s turtle sharing a clump of grass with a smaller turtle, likely a painted turtle.

A few minutes later I saw a Blanding’s turtle on a clump of grass near the lodge

It was soon joined by a Blanding’s turtle of equal size. But these turtles on far flung clumps were too far away to enjoy. Soon enough we saw a Blanding’s turtle swimming right toward us

and it tried to climb up on a small floating log without much success.

Then it swam up the north shore of the pond where we couldn’t see it. However, Leslie saw enough of its long yellow neck as it tried to climb up on the log, and she moved up the ridge to try to see one of the pine warblers and other birds. Then I saw a Blandings swimming away from me, as if it was one of the turtles scared off the little mud island when we came down the ridge and now it thought it safe to surface as it continued to swim away from danger. One trouble with watching turtles is that because they move so slowly, you have plenty of time to over think what they are doing. However, in this case my next prediction came true. Soon enough the turtle began swimming to the west and then turned north and then pulled itself up next to some shrub stumps and looked hard in my direction.

It stayed put there for several minutes affording me time to over think some more. I had assumed the we scared the turtles off their little mud flat. Then I saw that a huge snapping turtle was right up against that mud flat. I noticed it when it suddenly moved back and swam away from the mud and me. Maybe the advances of that snapping turtle, coincident with our arrival, scared the Blandings off the flat. As I videoed the snapper's swim, a small painted turtle swam over and swam over the huge snapper as if it wanted to hitch a ride

until the snapper slowed and began to turn its head back. The small turtle quickly swam away.

The snapper swam on until it found a clump of grass to move into, good camouflage for what ever it was up to, catching unwary frogs, I suppose.

The leopard frogs were croaking a bit so we all knew they were out there. While that was happening the Blanding’s turtle looking at me swam to the east and climbed up on a little island of moss a few feet closer to me than the mud flat. It still tended to look in my direction, even though, as I didn’t notice until I took a hard look at the photo I took with my camcorder, a small painted turtle was cowering back in its shell just to the right of the Blandings.

While a Blanding’s turtle basking in the sun doesn’t do much save move its beautiful yellow bottomed neck that in itself is enough to entrance me. As I said, I didn’t notice the small turtle at first, but couldn’t ignore it when I saw it crawling out of a hole, in which it fell, in the middle of the moss island, an island shaped like a volcano by the way, and the small painted turtle wiggled out its head and half its shell.

Then I got a lesson, I guess, in turtle pecking order. The much larger Blanding’s turtle finally seemed to notice the small painted turtle and its yellow neck loomed high over it. I thought the small turtle squirmed. Then the rapid approach of a full size painted turtle changed that dynamic. That turtle climbed up on the moss island and lurched toward the small painted turtle and it began to turn away from the intruder. Then the larger painted turtle turned toward the Blanding’s turtle who overlooked the contretemps of the small turtles.

I guess something in the Blanding’s demeanor spelled trouble for the intruder and it quickly dropped back in the pond and swam away,

letting the odd couple to reign over the island in sunny peace. Then I saw another Blanding’s turtle swimming from the vegetation in the middle of the pond to this more open area of little islands. It climbed up on a smaller mossy island. Like the usual Blanding’s it stretched its neck out to get a look around, and the angle of my view gave me a look at its bottom shell which looked concave which, if true, means it’s a male.

This turtle was not as big as the one on the moss island and I suspect that the male turtles who climb on top during mating are generally smaller. The turtles were about two yards apart and I had no trouble convincing myself that they were looking at each other. Even the little painted turtle had turned to look at the new comer.

Then another Blanding’s turtle swam toward me. It looked smaller than the others and it tried to climb up on the log floating in the water below, but like the other turtle an hour ago couldn’t climb up on it. It floated in the water below me.

Then it swam toward where the other turtles were and climbed up on a small clump of grass not fully out of the water. The large Blanding’s turtle a few feet away turned to look at it.

It stretched its neck in the direction of the other turtles.

The video below compresses many minutes of observations into an action packed turtle saga.

Then the action really began. I was sitting so that I could see the upper otter latrine to my left and also where the big red oak fell. The noon day sun was warming most of the pond but the rock below the latrine faced the east and the area was probably getting shady. I heard a big plop and saw a large turtle swim away and I assumed it was a snapper. But when it got out in the pond before me, I saw that it was another Blanding’s. It swam directly toward the smaller Blanding’s that had just climbed up on the soggy grass island. As Blanding’s turtles swim they frequently get their nose out of the water giving the impression that they know what they are doing. Both snappers and painted turtles seem to me to swim under water longer with out getting bearings from surfacing. Anyway, while it poked its head out of the water a few yards from the smaller turtle, it didn’t even break the surface as it scared the smaller Blanding’s off its toe hold under the sun. It did not climb up on the abandoned spot which was a sorry excuse for a basking ground. It swam around the moss island where the large Blanding’s reigned. However, it did pause on the west side of the island seemingly getting the measure of that situation. Then it circled around the island pausing frequently to exchange glances with the larger turtle

and swam directly to the Blanding’s sitting on a smaller moss island and climbed up high enough to directly confront it causing the turtle to turn away.


Then it backed away and climbed up on a smaller bit of moss behind the other turtle.

Blanding’s turtles commonly share tight little islands for basking in the sun but this invader had something else in mind. It stretched its head toward the back side of the other turtle, even dipping it nose into the water, causing the other turtle to turn and even withdraw its head a bit back into its shell. Even though I had earlier opined that the turtle sunning itself was a male, as the aggressive turtle tried to sniff its tail I got the new impression that a male was on the make.

The female turtle, which I could see now was much larger than the male, turned its tail back toward the male that looked rather low down interested in her tail.

The chase was on, and I should add that painted turtles kept swimming in and out of the picture. Indeed, the little painted turtle that looked so warm and protected on the big moss island swam over as if to get a closer look.

The female slowly climbed up a clump of grass and the male kept his nose close to her tail.

When the female got over the clump of grass and then the male climbed up, I thought they were perfectly positioned for mating. But I have seen Blanding’s mating before and they were both in the water. Of course, in the water it would be easier for the male turtle to keep on top of the other. The chase seemed to end when the female got onto the relatively large mud flat, where I saw the turtles when we first approached the pond. The male positioned himself behind her but a little to the side, his nose no longer menacing her tail.

I had been watching the turtles for about two hours, and although I took the precaution of peeing before I started watching, I also ate a juicy lunch at the beginning of my vigil and I had to pee again. I held off for as long as I could. I tried to retreat as quietly as I could, as much like a turtle as I could. But even before I got up from all fours I heard one turtle dive -- the large one that had been basking longest. As I peed behind a small pine tree, I heard all the other turtles flee. I hope I didn’t interrupt anything. I won’t add that the turtles have a long summer ahead of them, plenty of time for basking in the sun and courting. I’m not so sure. I won’t calculate what any interruption means in their slow motion lives. I have watched turtles here in the other Springs but never saw this many Blanding’s. I think it reflects the drying of the interior of the island because there are fewer beavers. But I should spend a couple hours at the Lost Swamp Pond which is now relatively low where I regularly saw turtles including Blanding’s.

After my unsuccessful retreat, I went down to see how much bark the beavers had gnawed off the trunk of the big red oak, and was impressed.

The beavers have also stripped a bit of the trunk bark closer to the pond, but the seem to prefer climbing up on the rock to get to the bark.

The beavers also returned to where their hole in the ice had been all winter and resumed cutting and stripping some saplings there.

I didn’t get much exercise watching turtles, so I took a quick walk along the South Bay trail to check the otter latrines. I didn’t see any new scats, even hard to see old ones as the grasses grow. I did see a few crayfish parts on the rock below the latrine above the entrance to South Bay.

Every year when I walk with Leslie in the Spring, she complains about the lack of flowers on the island as compared with the blooms we have on our land. I had some help in my annual prove-her-wrong search. On a hot day with strong south winds red admiral butterflies appeared everywhere. Today, one led me to a clump of spring beauties that those on our land couldn’t rival.

But it was harder finding other flowers so common at our land, which is all sandstone, not granite like the island. I finally found a few Dutchman’s britches in bloom.

Another red admiral showed me more Spring beauties.

Another was on a dandelion, which we don’t have much at the land.

I was hoping one would visit the violets, but no such luck.

There are trillium on the island, but not everywhere like at our land, only in special places, but I didn’t have time to go there today.

April 19 we packed up to spend the night at the land and after doing my chore which was mowing the grass in and around the gardens, not an easy chore, I went in search of Blanding’s turtles. I headed to the inner valley so I could approach the ponds where the turtles might be basking with the sun at my back. On the way to the valley I saw a blooming trout lily worthy of a photo.

Then I scanned the pool, sometimes just a vernal pool, at about the head of the valley. Especially at this time of year we call it the Peeper Pool. No peeps yet and as I scanned it for turtles I saw that something had been eating the pond vegetation, but mostly like muskrats not turtles.

Over the years I’ve often see Blanding’s turtles on the shore of the Teepee Pond but today I only saw three painted turtles.

I didn’t see any turtles in the First Pond. On my way to the vernal pool above the First Pond, I saw a well bleached deer skull and lower jaw, plus some smaller bones a bit off to the side.

I don’t think the small bones were from a deer. I saw a dead porcupine near here several months ago. Finding bones that bleached under the shade of low pine trees suggests to me that they were brought here, that the deer didn’t get killed here. I didn’t smell the skull or look inside it but it looked a bit worn.

However, the deer’s lower jaw, also quite white, seemed in pristine condition (if bones of a dead animal can be “pristine”). The two halves of the lower jaw were still together and the bottom teeth at the end of the jaw still intact.

If a coyote brought the bones here, it certainly handled them with uncharacteristic delicacy. I continued on to the vernal pool which was quite full but there were no signs of any Blanding’s turtles.

One summer I saw one here swimming around under water eating what it could. I’ll have to look at that video clip again. I walked around the west side of the Teepee Pond to get back to our house, a good route for seeing some delicate flowers. I noticed trillium coming up in a patch of meadowrue which always seems the weak sister among the Spring flowers.

Since this part of my April blog is rather full, I’ll chronicle the evening of April 19th in April 2012 part four. I saw two beavers in the Deep Pond and heard plenty of frogs, and coyotes too.