Friday, June 12, 2009

May 26 to June 3, 2009

May 26 I have been making slow progress in my census of beavers. I know there are at least two in the Big Pond. One beaver wouldn't do all that dam work. I think there are at least
two in the Lost Swamp Pond for the same reason. However, I've only seen one beaver in those ponds. I don't think there are any beavers in the Second Swamp Pond or Upper Second Swamp Pond. It's possible some of the three beavers there in the winter moved over to the Lost Swamp Pond. There were at least two beavers in Shangri-la Pond. I saw them. Then the dam busted again and all the beavers left that pond. I think they are in Thicket or Meander Pond, and perhaps joined another beaver already there. I've seen two beavers in Audubon Pond, and there is at least one beaver in South Bay. This is much fewer beavers than usual, and I've seen nothing suggesting that there are any kits nursing in the lodges, which is to say, I haven't seen any beaver taking branches and grasses to eat into the lodges. Today I set out to see the beavers in Meander or Thicket Pond. This was like traveling back in time because from 2001 to 2007 I saw the beavers dredging out a life in these two strange ponds, both more an elaboration of channels than a true pond. The buttonbushes that form the thickets of Thicket Pond were finally getting a few leaves.

On the gentle slope down to the pond, there were star flowers all around.

I had noticed some gnawing on two trees on the south slope of the pond a month ago when I first noticed that a beaver had been around the pond. But today, the gnawing looked rather fresh, like a beaver was once again
interested in cutting down the trees.

Of course, cutting down the birch already a bit gnawed would not take long.

I soon saw that there was definitely fresh work below the dam. The hornbeam cut down a few days ago was being cut up.

The beavers at Shangri-la Pond had developed a taste for hornbeam. Another hornbeam had also been cut down.

But the clearest indication that a beaver was using the pond was a muddy channel leading to this fresh work.

And out in the pond I could see a stripped log up on some grass along the muddy channel.

The pathway down to Meander Pond looked used but there was too much vegetation on the water of Meander Pond to see if it was muddy.

I thought that because of that vegetation, much more prevalent in and around Meander Pond, the beavers would prefer to be down there. But that muddy channel in Thicket Pond persuaded me to sit on a tree trunk just below the
dam on the north side of Thicket Pond with the wind more or less blowing in my face. I didn't have to wait long for a beaver to appear. It surfaced at the end of that muddy channel, along the west shore (not really a dam since this pond had been largely dredged out.) The beaver grabbed a branch with its mouth and ferried it back into the thickets where I knew the lodge was. A beaver came right back though down another channel farther away from me. The beaver climbed up on the shore and then went down to the hornbeam just cut down. I expected it to drag a cut log back
to the pond but it didn't. Instead it worked on some hornbeam twigs and then waded into the grasses and seemed to eat soft greens and a small sapling. One curious thing about this beaver was that when it walked about on the land it kept its tail off the ground, looking much like a porcupine at times. Then it went down the slope toward Meander Pond, stopping to eat more grasses, I think. I didn't have a good view. And then then it went down to Meander Pond and swam up the main channel in the northeast corner of that pond.

I stayed put, hoping to see another beaver in Thicket Pond. Soon enough I saw some ripples in that muddy channel, then a beaver's head and then a tail slap. The beaver didn't go back to the lodge, but seemed to circle a
bit along that west shore and then I lost sight of it. Meanwhile, I twice thought I heard a whine coming from the lodge. However, a cloudy spring afternoon does not lack noises. Along with the many birds, the bullfrogs and green frogs struck up a chorus a few minutes before five o'clock. I kept an eye on Meander Pond, half
expecting the beaver that went down there to come back leading more beavers. After all the lodge in Thicket Pond had been made in the winter of 2006-7 and was in much better shape than old lodges in Meander Pond. I only saw a muskrat swimming up the
channel away from me. Then I walked down the ridge above Meander Pond to see what I could see. From the angle I had, one of the old lodges along the central channel looked like it might have been refurbished.

I waited for a beaver to appear, but only saw another muskrat swim along the channel. When I moved down the ridge to get a view of the dam, two mallards swimming in the pond had me looking hard at the ripples after they flew off, and in the wider pond the wind made a play of ripples on the water. Scanning the dam through my monocular, I thought I could see fresh work.

And from the ridge, I saw what looked like fresh gnawing on the trees the beaver who spent the winter there had worked on. But still I didn't see a beaver. So I went down to the pond, and the work that looked fresh from above, looked rather stale up close.

However, I am sure that a beaver pushed up more mud on the dam. The log in the photo below didn't have that much mud on it a few days ago.

I continued around the south side of the pond and didn't see any fresh work, no more alders had been nipped, and when I got a closer look at the lodge that I thought might have been refurbished, it looked rather unused. Looking down toward the back dam of the pond (water would drain out of this pond to the west and the southeast without dams,) it looked like a beaver pushed up fresh mud there, too.

However when I walked along the back dam, I saw that there was only about ten feet of mud pushed up along an old tree trunk.

There was a good bit of leaking from the pond through the tall grasses elsewhere. I went up to the slight rock ridge south of Thicket Pond to see if I could see a beaver there. No. So I headed home from dinner. So beavers are out here during the day, as they often were in past years. I think beavers feel safe cruising these grassy channels during the day, not sure why. I am not sure what I was watching. Initially I thought, I was seeing a family of beavers shifting their interest from Meander to Thicket Pond. But perhaps that beaver keeping its tail up, looking a bit furtive and uncomfortable, was imposing on the beaver in Thicket Pond, perhaps that's why it slapped its tail and cruised along the west shore of the pond. I wish I could have heard more whining from the lodge. Meanwhile, my family was
hitting on all cylinders today. Ottoleo took a friend to Shangri-la Pond and reported that there were no signs of beavers coming back and that he saw four snapping turtles. Leslie checked the Deep Pond and the beaver there, gnawed a good bit of the aspen branches I left, and she left some more branches for it.

May 28 heavy rain yesterday and this morning. The rain stopped at 2 pm and I headed out to Thicket Pond to get a better sense of the beavers. The heavy rain beat over some of the mayapples

making it easier to photograph the wet blossom, usually tucked shyly down on the stem well under the big leaf.

The rain made for some good pickings for a pileated woodpecker feasting on bugs in a log.

When I stood up on the rock overlooking the southeast corner of Thicket Pond, scanning for muddy channels or nipped sapling, I saw a beaver swim down the central channel heading under the buttonbushes. Once under the
first bush, it turned and looked at me and then slapped its tail. So I moved away quickly and went back to my trail going well back of the pond and then up the ridge to get a look at Shangri-la Pond. I didn't see any snapping turtles down below, nor did any muskrats make an appearance. But what was once the muddy bottom of the pond was turning green where the silt had not been washed away.

Of course, I scanned the pond looking for fresh beaver work, but saw none. I should have walked around for a closer look, but I was anxious to see if I could see another beaver in Thicket Pond. I was careful to slink around the northeast end of the pond -- there was a light east wind, and then eased up the hill so I could get a good look at the northwest corner of the pond, which was the only part of the pond that was not shaded by bushes, and where I could get a view of some of the channels in the thicket where I saw the beavers the other day.

I sat for a half hour and though under a leafy tree, several ducks and a heron that flew over the pond spotted me and veered away. Then I saw some ripples in the pond and a beaver swam into view coming out from the upper end of the buttonbushes. The beaver seemed quite placid and swam toward me without sensing I was there. It did exactly what I expected it would, reached up into the green grasses and munched. I hoped it would climb up on land so I could see it if cocked its tail up, but when it did, it didn't go far and its tail stayed low in the
grasses, as far as I could see it. Then I couldn't see where it munched.

While it was out of sight, I heard a tail slap coming from the southeast corner of the pond. So there were two beavers in the pond. The tail slap didn't prompt the beaver below me to reappear and when it did, it continued to munch grasses, but not for long. It swam back to the channel under the buttonbushes, going under water the first half of the way. So I don't think there is any animosity between the two beavers in the pond. The tail slap wasn't directed at the other beaver. Both beavers stayed in the pond. Swept in that good feeling, I wondered if the one beaver prone to slap its tail was protecting a mother and kits in the lodge, who had to flee Shangri-la Pond after the failure of the dam. In the spring one has to imagine such romantic things. But I still had to check Meander Pond. Perhaps there is still a beaver there. I walked low along the north shore and saw only one possible sign of a beaver being around. There was a cut cattail in one of the channels. This pond has cattails,
which Thicket Pond doesn't have. The channels through the grasses of the pond had been used, but they weren't muddy

Then as I was going over the jumble of rocks along the lower west shore of the pond, I looked up and saw that at least north of the pond, the granite cliff was almost as formidable as the cliff along Shangri-la Pond.

There wasn't as interesting an array of flowers, but I did see some nice corydalis blooms.

Then when I turned to continue down to the dam, I saw a tree cut well up the cliff, at the foot of the top thrust of granite.

It is possible that I missed seeing this the last time I was here, since I walked along the top of the ridge and came down looking mainly at the old work below the dam. When I walked up to celebrate that beaver work, I didn't even notice a smaller tree just cut a bit down the ridge, and half segmented. When I did see it, I took a photo showing both cuts.

Both cut trees were ironwoods and some of the lower branches were gnawed off the tree higher up on the ridge

If a beaver comes back to trim the crown it will be easy to see.

However, the crown might be difficult to get to. I found the path the beaver or beavers took to get to the trees, just below the lower tree which led to a way between the thrust of granite and the jumble of boulders below.

The only indication I got that these trees were not cut since I was last is that I didn't see any new pile of stripped logs anywhere in the pond. So I kicked myself for not being more observant. At least it will be easy to tell if the beavers return to trim these trees. Both Thicket and Meander ponds are not affected by downpours, which must have been a comfort to the beavers who came here from Shangri-la Pond after the dam there failed. But the recent rain might have tested the Big Pond dam especially. I'll check another day.

May 30 yesterday we took Ottoleo to find an apartment in Montreal. He will share a place in Verdun a few hundred yards from where the St. Lawrence River forms a huge lake after
coursing over the Lachine Rapids. He will live just off the Rue Wellington, not far conceptually from Wellesley Island. Today, I recovered from the day trip by sitting in the sun at the Deep Pond, a bit before noon. I brought down another aspen offering
for the beaver, who continues to gnaw what we bring, though I can't account for where it's taken all the logs. There were a couple sunken behind the dam but because of the reflection of a looming white cloud the photo below doesn't give a clue of that.

As I sat, I saw a duck with four ducklings, mallards, I think. She swam close to the high bank and once climbed up to look in a burrow, and then swam back below the bank again, and I thought she paused near the burrows, as if she were checking to make sure the mink wasn't at home. And then she led the ducklings up the bank and into the high grasses.

video clip to come

Then I headed to the knoll to get a closer look at the beaver lodge. On the road side of the knoll, just off a path beavers often take into the little woods between the pond and the road, I saw a huge beaver scent mound, quite unique to me.

It combined mud and long cut grass in a rather commanding swirl. I stuck my camera down to ground level and got a lucky photo of the topography of the scent mound.

Of course beaver scent mounds can get bigger, much bigger, but the usual pile of mud isn't as striking as this combination of mud and grass. I fought the fragrant honeysuckle blossoms blocking my trail over the knoll
and when I came down on the other side, the beaver was out in the pond. I told it that I brought another aspen branch, and it didn't slap its tail.

video clip to come

I took a quick photo of the lodge, which shows no repairs at all, and a couple stripped logs. This beaver has made a mud claim on the pond but no mud on the lodge which has a couple of gaping holes.

Of course this is not the season for mudding up lodges, but I should think the beaver would push something into the holes. I went up the wooded ridge all the way to the Boundary Pool dam. Many of the wetter spots in the woods had a cloud of mosquitoes about two feet off the ground. I didn't see any new lumbering around Boundary Pool, just that symbol of beaver contentment during the late spring -- a muddy pond.

And I heard a hum from the lodge, which I also fancied was one of contentment much different than the whines of hunger I heard in the late winter. Thanks to all the rain we've had the pond is higher, and the Last Pool seems even higher -- perhaps thanks to the pile of logs and litter in the middle of the dam whose usefulness I questioned. The beavers are ignoring the three big poplars in various stages of cutting and instead are going up on the low ridge to the west of the pool and cutting small elms

and dragging them down to the comfort of the pool of water.

They are getting closer to our house. If we have a rainy summer and they continue to expand their foraging, we might just have them in for a bite of Leslie's lettuce. Standing a little above the now flooded log dam, I took a photo looking back down to Boundary Pool dam

and another looking up toward the Last Pool.

Despite all the beaver lumbering I've chronicled, the valley is still green and well shaded.

May 31 I got off a little late for my usual date with the beavers in Thicket Pond and when I got there a little before 5pm, they were not out in the pond, not that it would be easy to see them if they were, say, swimming around their lodge in the middle of the leafing buttonbushes. The upper east end of the pond wasn't muddy and I saw no evidence of their building up the mud dam there which keeps water from trickling down toward the East Trail meadow. In other years the beavers did mind that back dam.
The water in the west end of the pond wasn't muddy today. But I thought there had been more stripping of the bark off the cut white oak

and their trimming of the two hornbeams they cut seems to have progressed.

But the lack of mud and muss disappointed my fantasy that the beavers in Shangri-la Pond escaped to here after the dam failed, bringing their just born kits with them. Kits inspire a good deal of fussing around a pond. I headed down along the north shore of Meander Pond. I noticed some blue flag irises blooming in Thicket Pond, and planned to veer over to a famous patch of blue flags in the crook of one of Meander Pond's channels. But there were no blooms there. So I angled up the rocks to see if beavers returned to trim the ironwoods they cut. The lower ironwood looked a little more segmented, but the true test was the higher ironwood which had been virtually untrimmed after falling down. Beavers had been
there, cutting low limbs near the stump

and even getting branches out of the crown which required, even for me, a bit of rock climbing to get to.

So? I sat down on a rock with a good view of the pond, which wasn't muddy either and betrayed no other signs of work. I decided to dutifully sit for 20 minutes and then head off to check the Lost Swamp Pond and Big Pond which I haven't seen since all the rain. I heard a suspicious whoosh in the water below me and strained to see ripples from it but floating duck weed is a poor transmitter of ripples. Then a muskrat steamed down the main channel heading right toward me, not stopping to nibble any of the grasses, and I soon heard its whistling. Heretofore, to me, a whistling muskrat was soon to be a battling muskrat. But as this muskrat continued up and down channels through the grass, no other muskrat popped into view. It ducked briefly into the burrow where a beaver spent the winter and then continued its whistling way. It came right below me, dove and then as if by some magical metamorphosis, a dark brown beaver head swam into view! The muskrat surfaced and whistled away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that it didn't run into another muskrat.

Meanwhile I concentrated on the beaver. I was
quite exposed, sitting out on a flat boulder, but it was a gray boulder and I had on light tan pants and an off white jacket. The wind was blowing more or less toward me, a cold wind, and apparently despite the jumble of rocks behind me, the wind didn't swirl contrarywise as it often does and spit my odor down to the beaver below. I thought it sniffed the air as it climbed out of the water, but didn't pause, and went about eating leaves of all sorts of plants, slowly climbing up into the rocks, maybe ten feet below me.

It nipped saplings and ate them whole, leaves and stems. It mostly ate leaves, stripping some plants

and it had a taste for vine leaves too. At one point I saw it tugging back as if it was getting snagged by stickers, and later when I went to photograph what it had been eating, I saw that it did eat the leaves and stalks of some well stickered plants.

This was quite a lesson for me and I kept the camcorder running.

I was impressed by the range of what it ate, except that, with a few exceptions, it only wanted leaves, soft, tender, green leaves. So I wasn't surprised that it didn't continue up toward the ironwood. It exited browsing, then eased into the water, and used its paws to pull some duckweed into its mouth as it swam away. I expected to head to the dam or burrow and do some busy work there, but instead it disappeared into the grasses in the middle of the pond.

Was this the same beaver I saw in the grasses at Shangri-la Pond? I'll have to study the video. I went down to photograph what it had been eating, the little bush it almost stripped of leaves,

and some vines it worked over.

While watching the beaver, I kept hearing the muskrat whistling in the middle of the pond. But when I walked back up to Thicket Pond, all was quiet. Save for the chipmunks. This is a crowded year for chipmunks. They are
everywere. Back on the rock, studying the beaver, a chipmunk walked inches away from me. I think it was using me as a shield to sneak around the chipmunk who had been chasing it earlier. I hoped to hear a beaver slap its tail in Thicket Pond, but none
did. Well, this mystery of what happened to the Shangri-la Pond beavers is a pleasant one to unravel.

June 2 we got to the land at 5pm and I played a hunch that at least one of the beavers in Boundary Pond was already out. When I got to the Last Pool, I didn't see anything stir in the water, but the path up to the small trees they've been cutting up on the slight ridge looked more worn.

I saw that more saplings and small trees had been cut, but not enough to throw much light on the matter conducive to good photos. Then when I came abreast the lower section of the Last Pool, I saw a beaver swimming down it. I continued down the pond, I thought to catch up to the fleeing beaver, but I soon saw that it didn't get far. It had turned around at the upper end of Boundary Pond, evidently to see if I was following. I went up the ridge hoping, but not expecting, the beaver to think I had left the area so it would go about its
business. But when I stopped on the ridge and looked down, I saw it looking up at me. So I went down to sit in the chair under a tree closer to the pond. By the time I sat the beaver moved down to the dam, judging by the ripples I saw there. I also flushed a wood duck, female, I think, no signs of its ducklings. So I sat trying to quietly fend off the many mosquitoes and the beaver swam up below me twice, each time getting a good look and then going back down pond. So I went high on the ridge and then came down to get a look at the lower pond. The beaver knew I was there, looked up and then sank, perhaps going up pond again, perhaps into the lodge.

I sat and watched for about 15 minutes and decided that the dam definitely had been worked on by the beavers: more mud in sections and just stripped logs here and there. So I walked down to get a good photo

and I noticed that the lodge looked like it had been worked on too, the top of it seemed muddy.

Of course, it could have been a function of taking photos in the dimming light, but I hoped it meant that there were new born kits inside. Of course, the true sign of that is to see a beaver ferrying greens into the lodge to feed mother and kits, and while I didn't see that, I did see that the trail up the ridge from the pond has recently been well used

and that the beavers cut ironwoods up on the ridge, and, not seeing the logs floating in the pond, perhaps they were taken inside the lodge to feed the mother.

I even thought I heard a very high whine from the lodge, but I didn't hear it again. On the island, I am watching a beaver district that beavers have worked up and down for 20 years. I am always surprised when I see kits there. But Boundary Pond is well stocked with trees to eat and this year has plenty of water. So why not more kits? Come late June and early July, I'll get out the mosquito netting and see what comes out of the beaver lodge, or at least how much whining there is inside it. I walked back to the house half way along the ridge.
When I went down to the Last Pool, I didn't see a beaver, but I got a good photo of the muddy pond with a mosquito looking at me.

Before I got settled in the house, Leslie returned from checking on the Deep Pond beaver and reported that she saw two beavers eating the aspen left by the dam. On my way down to the Deep Pond, I thought I saw that some
honeysuckle blossoms that exploded.

but cooler heads (Leslie) suggest that they are willow blossoms. On the other side of the exploding willow was a rather rightly laced shrub

of the just-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue variety... nannyberry.

Then as I got close to the dam, I heard and then saw the two beavers. When I stepped into their view, the larger beaver pushed the smaller, probably in its attempt to get away. Then the larger beaver surfaced in front of me and looked back,

and then the smaller beaver swam up to it and they both turned and swam toward the middle of the pond, with the smaller, sporting still dry reddish fur on its head, leading the way.

I soon got the impression that the larger beaver was trying to intimidate the smaller, and I even heard several whines from the smaller beaver. This was much like the behavior of two beavers I saw in this pond several years ago, and I couldn't decide if they were in love or in constant battle. They swam to the far end of the pond and at one point the larger beaver dove, swam under the smaller beaver and surfaced in front of it. Even I find that a little intimidating, imagine those big teeth swimming under you. I also noticed a large deer up on the slope behind the beavers, sporting it reddish summer coat. There
was a straight line between the deer, the beavers and me, so I couldn't tell who the deer was looking at. When it let out a loud snort, as deer often do when humans are around, both beavers dove in panic, splashing the water. I first thought it was one beaver attacking the other and that the snort was a gigantic beaver hiss. Then the deer snorted again and ran away. The beavers surfaced, and stayed farther apart from each other.

video clip to come

Much to think about back in bed, but I decided not to over interpret what I saw in the Deep Pond. The whip-poor-will was quite active in the night, no coyotes despite a widening moon.

June 3 The day was given up to splitting wood, but I did sit by the Deep Pond after lunch and watched the white tailed dragonflies. One seemed to make a base of my leg, flying up from there to ward off other white tails or to catch a bug.

A few deer flies are out and one landed on my shoe. Then it flew off and a white tail landed immediately chewing something large. I tried to get a photo but it flew off with its meal -- the deer fly? Green darners were also zooming about. No conflict that I could see with the white tails. The beavers didn't make an appearance, but I noticed some mud left on the grass beside the dam.

Once when we had two beavers here there seemed to be a battle of mud marks, each beaver trying to prove it owned the pond, I suppose.