Friday, May 8, 2009

April 30 to May 6, 2009

April 30 we went to our land to beat the coming storm and finish manuring our garden. Shadbush blossoms looked on

though I must say the attacks of black flies kept me bent to my task. They like manure. By 11 am we were done. We both checked on the red trillium at the foot of the rock ridge nearby. Not quite full out.

Then I first went up to the Turtle Bog -- I can tolerate black flies when both my hands are free. Of course, I was checking the Blanding's turtles. Leslie didn't see them a couple days ago and we suspect they have moved down to the First and Teepee Ponds, as they usually do. At the bog I was greeted by fresh stripping of a branch of a small hemlock tree.

Too bad the porcupine wasn't there. We'd have seen each other eye to eye. I was impressed that the stripping began right where the branch met the trunk, obviously more delicate fare than the thicker bark of the trunk. I sat next to
the bog, as I usually do, and waited for something to happen. There were several towhees about, and one dashed about for bugs in the leaves on the other side of the bog. Then a frog, a wood frog I assume, poked its head out of the water.

A red squirrel scooted about on the other side, not happy with my presence because it kept chattering periodically until I left. Red squirrels seem the least tolerant of mammals in that regard. I walked down the at the bottom of the
mossy cliff where I enjoyed hepatica blooms and trillium, many blooms framed by the moss.

The last few years the trilliums have been muted here, but this seems to be a good year for them. They are doing beautifully most every where else. My tour of the Last Pool and Boundary Pond has become quite predictable, but still rather enjoyable. The beavers have been back at the big poplars.

One looks almost cut down but there's a rib of inner bark remaining on one side.

The other poplar has survived a complete stripping girdle without a bite into the wood, which I find strange, though when I was a kid I often ate things in strange ways like that -- crust first, then the rest.

The pile of twigs and sticks in the nearby water seems to have grown. I'd like to be here to see if the same beaver eating into the tree is taking a break to nibble these twigs, or vice versa.

I don't think they have built up what seems like a dam in the middle of the pool. I haven't walked around Boundary Pool in a week or so. I saw a big mushroom that looked rather spent, but it likely was new to the world.

I saw some girdling here and there along the east shore but nothing to suggest that a beaver was concentrating its gnawing there. But my usual measure of activity on the east shore had grown. All the birches in the pile across from the lodge had been stripped and a larger log, really a trunk, had been added to the pile -- that might not be a birch.

A few more yards toward the dam, I saw very freshly stripped sticks, but in the photo that freshness didn't come across, that almost indescribable wetness of some woods when stripped of bark. I think the dam has grown, at least I saw two rather chunky logs, perhaps of a type of ash tree, pushed over the dam

one angled oppositely from the other, not that I think the beavers did that intentionally.

It seems the chunky logs go over the dam, while the long thin trunks, one after another, are piled on the lodge. I've never seen this type of accounting in beavers

though to be sure all those logs would make it hard for a predator to dig into the lodge. There seemed to be several more stripped logs where I saw a beaver gnawing the other night.

This area is a bit different than the other places where the beavers like to nibble, quite open and shallower. There are trilliums up the west ridge too, but not framed by moss on this sunnier area, framed by rocks

and with more sun the blooms here are a bit bolder. Down on the flats, where there are a good many blue violets (didn't get a good photo,) I saw my first yellow violet.

On the west shore of the Last Pool I saw more collections of twigs to nibble

and more birches cut.

What a happy tree for beavers to cut. They grow akimbo making for an easier fall and easier haul. I am pleased to report that I got no deer ticks on my pants. It probably dipped below freezing last night, but the day warmed rapidly. On the way home, we saw the rain clouds moving in with a rather dramatic curling wave.

We had to stop the car and take a photo.

May 1rain and rattling wind all night and then slow calming and sun in the afternoon, though a sharp wind blew me up and over the hills on my walk to Shangri-la Pond. I checked the three otter latrines at the end of South Bay and saw no signs that an otter had visited recently. I hope I'm wrong, but I think early in the spring there is some serious marking around the area where otter pups have been raised over the years, and then the female fails to give birth to pups, and there is no longer any reason to mark.
As for the beavers in Shangri-la Pond, my guess is that the beaver that had wintered in Meander Pond moved over to join its old family in Shangri-la Pond. I was out too early to expect to count the beavers in Shangri-la Pond, but I could at least see if
the roaming beaver was still in Thicket Pond or moved back to Meander Pond. There was no signs of any more gnawing where the beaver had been gnawing below Thicket Pond, and the trail from the pond to those trees was grown over, and there was no mud on the the shore of the pond. The pond was quite full. I noticed a purple hue in the branches of the buttonbushes, always slow to leaf out.

Then I walked down the north shore of Meander Pond and there too none of the gridling, segmenting and cutting had been renewed.

This pond was also filled with water,

but no beaver was using it, or so it seemed to me. I climbed the ridge north of the pond and was treated to a line of blooming shadbushes.

Then I headed to Shangri-la Pond. I've never seen the pond with so much water, the west end was bulging with water. That should prompt the beavers to range farther off for trees to cut, but I saw no evidence of that around the pond and
the piles of nibbled sticks in the pond and on the shores of the pond had not grown down in the west end of the pond.

Walking around the north end of the pond, I saw where the beavers had began cutting trees, but didn't finish the job, not even bringing the trees to a point where the wind might blow them down.

I walked around the little pond northeast of the northern reach of the main pond, and there was no cutting of trees there, nor in the flats area above the pond where the beavers had cut small trees in the fall.

I did see one maple by the upper pond that was almost cut down. The dark color of the wood chips suggested it was a recent job.

The hickory cut almost a point had still not fallen, evidently the beavers had no inclination to cut anymore.

Meanwhile, the number of large trees in the process of being girdled seemed about the same, and that gnawed root was the only gnawed root I saw.

If the dam, busted a few weeks ago, had not been repaired to the point of perfection, I would worry that the beavers had gone. Not only was the dam proper repaired and even raised, but the little dam below was repaired, puddling back
water, forming a pool convenient for munching cattail rhizomes.

However, I saw no evidence of that munching. Of course, the beaver I saw the last early evening I was here showed me what was going on. The higher water level had flooded the grassy middle of the west end of the pond. For years that area had two channels along the north and south shores and a higher grassy middle suitable for goose nests. No geese this year and a beaver can easily wade into the flooded grasses and eat the greenery on top or root down for more substantial fare.

The beavers raised the pond level not to make it easier to swim to the trees around the pond, but to get to the roots of the greens in the now flooded middle of the pond. That said, I bet if there was a pregnant beaver back in the lodge, other beavers would be ferrying branches into the lodge -- I've seen that before. My theory is that the beaver killed by the falling tree in December 2007 was the matriarch of the family. The patriarch stayed along with one of his daughters through 2008 and mated this spring. So maybe she was not ready or he is now too old (I've been watching this family grow and move and prosper for years.) All conjecture but I am almost certain that there are fewer beavers here and much less activity then in other springs.

May 2 we got to our land in the mid-afternoon and a walk down the road was uneventful until Leslie caught up to me and showed me the nice clumps of sessile bellwort.

I bowed and pushed my camera under their bowed heads.

Carpets of white trillium blooms stretch into the woods.

My half hour sitting by the still beaver-less Deep Pond was uneventful. Dragonflies have been around for the last couple days, green darners or are they blue darners? and smaller ones moving too fast to identify. Then I walked up to Teepee Pond. I went below the dam affording a view of more flowers, mostly spring beauties, trilliums, and early meadow rue. I also picked up several deer ticks on my pant legs, ending our hope that they had slowed their wanderings. Too many black flies at the Teepee Pond. I checked for signs of Blanding's turtles,
though I don't know what to look for. They must make a trail down to the pond as they come down from the Turtle Bog. After dinner I went out to see the beavers. We had a strong wind all day and while it had diminished it was still steady enough from the west to prompt me to go down the east side of the Last Pool and Boundary Pool. I saw that the stripped girdled poplar had been gnawed into, tempting to try myself but I didn't.

Not sure if the poplar with the deep cut had been worked on lately. The pile of twigs in the pond nearby looked rather smaller than I remembered.

As I approached the upper end of Boundary Pond, I saw something swim away, rapidly, with no tail slapping so I hoped it was a muskrat. I sat on a downed tree trunk with a good view of the channel through the old log dam, now flooded over, about where I sat a week ago when I saw three beavers swim under water through the channel through the dam. The first excitement, other than the peepers warming up their chorus, was a female wood duck splashing down right in front of me. It swam up the channel giving her pitiful cry and seemed to be looking for her mate.
After about five minutes she flew off.

Then I heard a large bird land high in the trees above me. Too dark to see anything up there. Meanwhile I could hear a beaver gnawing down pond, but couldn't see the ripples it was making. When the gnawing stopped I was
disappointed that the beaver didn't swim up by me. Finally a beaver came, swimming quickly and diving so it swam through the log dam channel underwater, just like before. That it swam so fast and that it went directly to the area on the west shore of the pond where I had seen the supposed muskrat swimming suggested it was the animal I saw swim away earlier. However, if a beaver had fled from me, when it came back, it would have been more wary, swimming slowly with nose sniffing air. This beaver had its mind on one things -- getting a bite to eat. It stretched up out
of the water and tried to bite off a branch from the big birch they cut down late last fall. It couldn't quite get that branch so it shifted over and bit off another small branch and took it over to the shore.

It was getting dark now and I strained to see where it had gone. A few minutes later I saw a sapling bobbing which the beaver was evidently cutting but I couldn't see where it took that meal. Then where I thought the beaver should be, I saw the head of a male wood duck and it swam around, not making a noise, and starting picking bugs off some leafy plants in the water Then he headed over to the shore when I couldn't see it. I didn't see his mate about, wished I could have told him that she had been by.

Then I realized that a brown lump I saw near the stump of the big birch was the beaver gnawing away. This is exactly where I picture beavers eating -- since there are so many stripped sticks there and it was where I saw the beaver eating the last time I was out here in the evening. Then a second beaver swam up -- almost too dark to see it. It swam underwater up through the dam, and then over to where the other beaver was. I didn't see what it did next but I heard a good deal of humming, rather more discursive than the usual beaver whining exclamation. I doubt if the camcorder picked it up because the peepers were so loud. I was well concealed -- happened to have on a coat as grey as the tree trunk I was sitting on and I was shaded by the hemlocks. I was so close to one peeper that I heard a click after
each call, so distinct from the trills and peeps that I thought my camcorder was on the fritz. Then the second beaver moved over to where I could see it, up on the flats of the west shore nibbling the plants.

Even in this pond when there is plenty of bark to eat, beavers at this time of year, have a taste for green plants. The wind continued to be in my face, more gently now, so I was able to sneak away. I went down pond to see if I could see other beavers. I just made out one swimming toward the dam. I waited for it to swim my way but it didn't then I waited for gnawing or humming from the lodge, and didn't hear a thing until a tail slap in the dark corner of the pond just behind me made me junp. I assume the beaver swam down from the upper end of the pond. That beaver swam slowly around me in the dark, and gave me one more sharp tail slap. The game was up and I needed some light to get back to the house. As I walked up pond, I saw the other beaver silently swimming down the pond. The moon lit my way. Leslie says she heard a whip-poor-will briefly but I didn't.

May 3 I blazed a new and drier trail to my pile of cut logs by the upper Boundary Pool and I began carrying them out. Of course, I checked on the pond too and I could see that a beaver did more gnawing on the poplar

and there seemed to be more twigs to nibble in the nearby pond

Living close to the beavers, it is easier to chart this daily progress but I don't know what that proves, except that beavers wander at night and gnaw on this and that. The poplar cut over halfway through the trunk seemed untouched. I continued down the east shore of Boundary Pond and saw that they've almost cut down a birch in the middle of the pond.

We'll see how long they let this job hang fire. Then I saw what that beaver hanging around the dam might have been doing last night. The dam seemed to have a line of freshly pushed up leaves and muck

It's possible that the water level has dropped as it always does behind this leaky dam and that the back top of the dam looks damp because of that, but my impression is that the dam is getting higher.

I haven't checked Wildcat Pond this spring. At this time last spring, the beavers still lodged behind Wildcat Pond dam. The middle portion of the pond, which almost dried up in the summer of 2007 when I discovered this pond, had plenty of water,

as did the lower portion of the pond

and the lodge looked much like the Boundary Pond lodge looks now, except with old grasses on top rather than recently cut and stripped logs.

Of course there were no signs of beavers having been in the pond recently. Last spring I saw some nice flowers on the mossy rocks on the west shore of this pond, including several jacks in the pulpit. They seem to be coming up

as for other blooms other than spring beauties, violets, and strawberry flowers, I saw columbines just below trilliums on the cliff.

Continuing up the west shore, I saw a perfect mushroom

Then I was back contemplating where the beavers are, in their lodge of sticks.

I noticed that the beavers had pushed a rock up on the dam.

I think this means the beavers are going to stay here. Last year they stopped working on the Wildcat Pond dam in the spring. Up where I had seen the beavers nibbling, I saw what looked like more stripped sticks around the stump and in the water behind the birch.

When I came back out after dinner I moved my chair as close to this area as I dared. The beavers work is in the background of the photo below, my work is in the foreground.

The peepers started getting going around 8pm and I had my camcorder ready, but no beavers came up into my range, not even any ducks. My cutting and collecting logs now makes it easier to walk down the edge of the ridge west of the pond, so in the almost dark I walked down and stood above the pond. I saw the ghostly wake of at least one beaver swim below me. During the night we heard the whip-poor-will call several times.

May 4 we left our land in the morning but not before I walked around Boundary Pond. It didn't look like a beaver visited the poplar nor added or subtracted any twigs from the shore of the nearby water. I did notice how some leaves had been pushed up between a gap in the mossy pillows, let me call them, that are behind the Last Pool, as if a beaver felt a compulsion to fill a gap even though there was no water to back up.

That said, the mysterious "dam" in the middle of the pond continues to grow, and with the addition of unstripped birch logs, I'm getting the impression that this pile doesn't represent a random compulsion but a convenient cache of food, as if these beavers realize that this area will get drier in the summer and they might well move things closer to the lodge now.

Well, time will tell. After doing yard work at our home on the island, I got the kayak in the water, cleaned out the smell and a bit of fish a mink left in it (I've seen a mink still going under our house, as it had been most of the winter.) I took my usual tour of South Bay, looking for signs of otters and beavers, with an eye out for ospreys, herons and ducks. Two Caspian terns gave me some surly crawks as I went around the headland. Down at the willow latrine, I saw what looked like fresh black otter scats on the moss next to the water, and some dead leaves farther up on land looked a bit organized. So I think an otter has been there since my last visit. I didn't see any beaver work until I got around to the north shore of the peninsula. Of course, I eyed the otter latrine at the end of the point and fancied that had been visited, but I also saw that a beaver had been up and gnawed on the base of a maple trunk. So the fresh looking path through the pine needles could have been made by a beaver. I saw a nice pile of muskrat poop on the
smaller rock nestled in the marsh. Over the years I've seen otter scats there, but never such a pile of muskrat poop. I looked hard at the big rock jutting out into the water and while I didn't see any fresh otter scats, I did see a bullhead head gnawed as otters do. Here too I saw beaver girdling on the oaks up on the little
island surrounded by the now very wet marsh. This has been a banner year for midges, and all during my paddle I saw adults in all states, half alive and half dead. In the warmer water at the end of the cove I saw the larva casings, I guess you call them, that the midges escaped from. I also saw a scum in the water that I thought had more to do with the algae getting ready to bloom, than with the midges. I ducked into the grand cattail marsh here and there which had the strange result of setting male redwinged blackbirds off into a general melee, not against me but amongst
themselves. As they scratched around the cattails high, the painted turtles plopped off the cattails low. Going up the north shore of South Bay, I didn't see any more otter signs, but every ten or twenty yards I saw where a beaver had cut one of the
healthy branches on the many half eaten willows leaning out over the water. I looked for a place where beavers might have collected these branches for gnawing at their leisure, but saw none. I do think the beavers in the bay go about things
differently than those in the ponds. As I came up to the low granite rock where the creek comes down from Audubon Pond, I saw a pair of common mergansers up out of the water at the point of the pink rock. I blush to write "common" because I
never saw anything of such uncommon beauty. I didn't have my camera, but I did have binoculars so I saw them in striking detail. I have often admired the simple black and white pattern of the male. Now I saw the red color of the bill. The female's
brown and gray feathers and striking crest were familiar too. But I had never seen the black and white patterns of the male with the soft brown of the female right beside it, behind it from the angle I had. I never saw how the dark red of his beak enriched her brown, and how the patterns of her brown widened the spectrum of his
seemingly simple colors and patterns. She puffed her breast out and in that lighter brown was a swirl of white proving the birds that looked so different were true mates. There are many striking ducks, but I have never seen two ducks with such regal bearing. Her crest out, his beak glowing, his head higher, her breast
extending. No pair of living loving things could be as beautiful and then they floated off the granite, and then they flew leaving me fumbling in my plastic contrivance. As I paddled home through the many midges in the water, now and then I saw golden spiders. When I got near them they raised themselves up on their legs and
scrambled toward me. I wondered if they had been blown into the river and were looking to be rescued. So I looped around one and offered it my paddle. It hustled right over it and avoided me. They must come out on the water because the midges are such easy pickings.

May 5 a mostly cloudy, humid day, and warm for this time of year. After lunch I hiked over the Antler Trail, then checked some of the otter latrines I scanned yesterday from the kayak. As I went out
on the peninsula toward the willow latrine, I set off a chain reaction. A deer leapt toward the north shore and that sent a heron in the north cove flying off. Yesterday from the kayak, I thought I saw fresh otter scat in the moss just up from water at
the willow latrine. Today I saw that it was goose poop. I did see scent mounds from the kayak; they are intact, but the scats on them look rather old. From the kayak, I didn't see any beaver work. I saw some on shore, stripped sticks in the water.

cut and gnawed cattail rhizomes

and gnawing on the thick trunk of the willow.

However there are no signs that a beaver might be using the lodge under the willow. As I walked behind the willow, I saw the half eaten remains of the dead baby porcupine.

I searched the north shore of the peninsula for scats or scent mounds, saw none, nor did I see any beaver work. I sat under the big dead oak at the end of the north cove, and after the painted turtles plopped in, some large fish did some thrashing. When I stood up to go, there were four big ripples.

Then two osprey whooshed over low in the air, one chasing the other that clutched a fish in its claw. There were no signs of otters visiting the latrine under the oak. I checked all the latrines up the north shore of the bay, and saw no signs of recent otter visits. The old scats in the latrine over the entrance to South Bay had lost their smelly black veneer, and only showed the chopped up remains of crayfish.

Bullheads in the shallow bays may excite the humans at this time of year, but what the otters really seem to want are the crayfish. I assume the otters fish for them at night cruising under water. Meanwhile I was able to get photos of a beaver's selective cutting of limbs off the big old willows leaning over the water.

Usually only one branch was cut off each willow

and only beside one willow did I see evidence that a beaver siddled up onshore to strip what it cut off the tree.

and a beaver tasted some of the other trees along the shore. No mistaking this gnawing for porcupine work because porcupine don't gnaw on ash trees.

Then I went up to check on the east shore of Audubon Pond. The long causeway has been flooded for a week or two now.

Usually I come up here to check on the muskrats in the pond above Audubon Pond. Every spring they dig into the bank and teach their kits how to eat the grasses in the shallow pond. This year the water is so high I think the muskrats have been flooded. I saw four pairs of geese, but no muskrats. The beavers are taking advantage of the flood, cutting ash way at the end of the upper pond, which they haven't done in years,

and also girdling one of the oaks on the south shore of the pond.

While there is still water going through the drain that controls the water level of the pond, the beavers have done their best to mud up and put sticks on the drain.

And the beavers continue to enjoy the convenience of having water in the spillway. They cut trees on both sides of it

and can't resist gnawing the trunk of a half dead oak

I saw an oriole in the trees around the pond, but it didn't sing. To get back to South Bay, I walked up the long rib of granite west of the pond,

enjoying the shadbush blossoms along the way.

And down on the South Bay shore, the once vigorous willow that had been trimmed and almost cut in half by the beavers, and twisted by waves and ice, has some green leaves sprouting out of what remains of the trunk.

The pileated woodpecker was about. I heard but did not see some yellow warblers, and a bullfrog in Audubon Pond.

May 6 we went to our land to prepare our gardens for the planting of tomatoes -- if it ever stops raining. We had a light sprinkle this morning. I checked on the Deep Pond, no sure signs of a return of the beaver but on this dark day some stripped sticks along the shore look righter than I remember. The beaver that had been here the last two years is a minimalist and wouldn't leave many signs if it was around. I sat a few minutes to scout for birds and heard the e-o-lay of the wood thrush, and perhaps the robin like stuttering call of the scarlet tanager, or was that a rose breasted grosbeak warming up? The wood thrush wasn't in full voice, just offering snatches of its song, now trills, now the e-o-lay. Must be momentous for a bird: the first song of spring. Some of the trillium on the north side of the road is turning a pink, which prompted many photos:

While chatting with Leslie as she worked in our lower garden, I noticed the haze of green the birches on the ridge are presenting.

I also had a chance to check on the Last Pool and Boundary Pond and saw that a beaver cut another birch in the field above the Last Pool

and a beaver cut deeper into the girdled poplar

meanwhile they still haven't gnawed the neighboring poplar to the point where the wind might blow it over, at least in my inexpert opinion,

by the way the crown of the tree high above has plenty of green leaves. The nearby pile of nibblings in the water looks larger. But there are other trees to girdle and the beavers are doing a beautiful job on curly barked birch, as we call them, on the edge of the Last Pool

This truly looks delicious

I always check the pile of stripped birch log along the east shore of Boundary Pond, just up from the dam. The pile has not grown but nearby a beaver left a small birch log half stripped.

Down at the dam, I saw that a beaver pushed a big rotten log up on the leaf and stick work at the east end of the dam. A May 3 photo is first and then a photo from today,

More leaves three days later, too. Despite this attention, the dam still leaks, but we keep getting rain. Off the west shore of the pond, just back from the lodge, I noticed that a pile of nibblings seems to be growing in the shallow water

The moon is getting brighter a night and I wonder if that makes the more open west side of the pond more attractive to hungry beavers. Up at the pile of stripped logs surrounding the birch stump up pond, there seems to be more remains of meals. In both piles I noticed some long thin sapling trunks completely stripped.

I found a yellow and blue violet almost joined at the hip.

I suppose the carpets of the same flowers with variations on one color are more impressive but it is hard for me to get a good photo of that and I can't resist this little colorful, and rare, juxtaposition.