Friday, April 29, 2011

April 14 to 21, 2011

April 14 the rain quit, grudgingly, and I went for a soggy tour of the ponds. The deer were at the TI Park end of Antler Trail. I hoped the cold rain would have subdued the deer ticks but I got one after I walked through the first patch of low blueberry bushes up on the granite plateau. I frequently stopped to pick off ticks during the rest of my hike. I could see from the rush of water coming down the creek that the holes in the Big Pond dam had not been patched. I took my usual photo of the dam, but no sense showing it because they’ve been about the same for the last two weeks. There was a mink scat in the otter latrine. Mallards flew off from the lower end of the pond and I forgot my binoculars so I couldn’t see what ducks were in the upper part of the pond. Geese don’t seem to be interested in this pond. Other birds did seem subdued by the cold, though I heard sporadic frog calls, peepers and comb frogs. The latter seem to be popping up all over. I expected more activity at the Lost Swamp Pond and with my first look at it, I knew that the patch the beavers made in the dam was holding.

And looking from the rock above the mossy cove latrine to the dam, the pond looked quite full.

I didn’t see any new otter scats in the mossy cove latrine but I did see that a beaver came up and gnawed on the roots of the two pine trees towering over the area.

Beavers seem to like to gnaw roots in the spring. I’m not sure if it is because that’s the best food available or because roots are especially tasty in the spring.

Today there were no beavers to be seen but I think they are still in the pond. There was a push of fresh mud up on the patch they fashioned at the dam.

The water has not backed up that high behind the dam, and I’m surprised that the beavers have not made a more ambitious repair.

I didn’t wait for a muskrat to appear because I was anxious to see if there was new beaver work in the grotto, as I call it, tucked behind the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond. However, just below the Lost Swamp Pond dam, I saw muskrat poop smeared on a rock. I’ve never noticed muskrats marking down there before.

I took the same path as I did two days ago and was surprised to hear no comb frogs around the smaller vernal pool. They were still creaking around the larger pool. It was easy to see that a beaver is still working around the grotto pool. There were three or four more small trees cut,

Two days ago I observed that the wood chips beside a stump looked small suggesting that a young beaver was here. But today the wood chips looked sizeable enough.

The hornbeam that had been cut had a log cut off and removed and the trunk which had been a few feet from the stump was now right next to it.

A beaver gnawed the lower trunk of a large ash tree by the edge of the pool.

A couple of small trees behind the ash had been cut. There appeared to be more stripped sticks out in the water, most by the small cave where I wondered if a beaver might be denning.

I went up on the knoll so I could look down on the pool and saw that there were chunky logs in the mix of stripped sticks.

Today, I thought I could discern a faint trail in the leaves and I don’t think it is where Justin and I walked the other day. So I widened my vision looking for more beaver work. I didn’t see any along that supposed trail. However, when I looked over the Second Swamp Pond from the knoll, I saw some stripped sticks next to the bank lodge below the knoll. There were none there two days ago.

I didn’t get any closer to the lodge. It was in very poor repair the last time I walked on it and I didn’t want to alarm a beaver or beavers who I hope will stay here. I walked along the dam to see if there was any fresh beaver nibbling there or any repairs to the dam that has not been minded by beavers for a few years. But I didn’t see any evidence of beavers having been there. It was still porous.

I didn’t leap over the gap in the dam but instead back tracked and walked down to some high ground that provides a view of upper Otter Hole Pond and the main pond, which now is rather diminished.

I was able to cross the creek connecting the two pools of the old pond and walked down the south shore of the pond to get a photo of the dam,

And of Beaver Point Pond below.

Of the three areas, upper Otter Hole Pond had beavers in it for the longest amount of time, then Otter Hole Pond. Both continue to hold water, enough for ducks to enjoy in the spring and fall. I actually could figure this out exactly but off the top of my head, I’d say that beavers were in Beaver Point Pond for about 8 years and say 15 for lower Otter Hole Pond and 20 for upper. Maybe because beavers were not there as long there is not much of a pool of water in the old Beaver Point Pond. Beavers did less dredging. Walking down the south shore of Otter Hole Pond I saw brilliant green moss where years ago I use to lounge on and watch otters.

Too wet to sit on it today.

We went to our land in the sunny afternoon and did more botanizing than working. The clouds had just broken and it was still cool so the hepatica was shy. I went to the southeast slope of the knoll above the Deep Pond where I often see flowers bloom first. I saw a spring beauty that looked like something had dug around it, but all the rest of the beauties were in their usual neat order.

The Dutchman’s britches are just blooming, more advanced than the trillium next to it.

Up on a ferny cliff the Dutchman’s made a lush line of green with a few blooms.

I checked the Deep Pond and the water was muddy and the pond vegetation looked a bit trimmed outside the muskrat burrows on the southeast bank of the pond.

I walked around the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. The old work the beavers did is all around and easy to see and I am trying to figure out what and where they are eating now. I saw nothing new around their lodge in the Last Pool.

There was nothing new at Boundary Pond dam despite the recent rains.

I am getting the sinking feeling that the beavers have left. Once they finished eating their cache pile, they decided to move on. Perhaps they decided they had to. Walking up the west shore of the pond, I saw some of the dead beavers intestines.

Evidently whatever moved the carcass dragged or carried it down shore about 10 yards. There were some protected niches in the sandstone rocks there

But when I looked into holes, I only saw old porcupine poop and no beaver remains. So I picture a coyote or bobcat carrying the carcass and the intestines dropping out. I should think a mink would pick apart something that big. The dead beaver was at least twice as big as a muskrat. I only saw a few coyote trails on this pond all winter, no bobcat trails. But that means nothing. There was more than the usual number of carcasses here: a rabbit, perhaps another or a small mammal, a turkey and the beaver. I saw some coyote poop now and then. Of course, I’ll never know. Once beavers left the Deep Pond after a possible bobcat attack and they came back in two weeks. When I first saw these beavers in a lower pond, I saw a bobcat parading along the shore. In the gloaming I heard a beaver slap its tail. I named the pond “Wildcat Pond.“ That was four years ago and the beavers stayed around. But with two kits dead…. I shouldn’t drag a bobcat into this without more evidence. And I shouldn’t necessarily associate the loss of the kits with leaving. In 2005 a family of beavers, adults, yearlings and kits, all moved away together. This is not fun to think about. I’ll miss these beavers.

April 15 I walked around the Last Pool and Boundary Pond again to look for fresh beaver work and found none. Usually a plethora of stripped sticks and logs around a lodge in the Spring testifies to a healthy beaver family. This year the beavers devoured most of their cache in the Spring as the snow and ice melted and then the wind bunched the stripped sticks together and then the wind, or so it seems it must be to me, has blown the that raft of sticks clockwise around the lodge so now the remains of the cache are on the opposite side of the lodge from where the cache originally was, all obeying, not the hungry whims of the beaver, but the dictates of the prevailing west winds.

There was no new beaver activity around the ponds that I could see. No work on the dam despite recent rains. This gave rise to melancholy reflections: what would I do on summer evenings without beavers to entertain me? Should I count all the stumps they left behind? Become an acute watcher not of beavers but of the pond in the woods that they orphaned? Time will tell. For now I tried to coax the wild flowers to face this backward Spring.

I also scouted the other ponds and bogs on our land and heard a pine warbler in the pine between the Teepee Pond and Bunny Bog. Leslie later saw it. She also saw and heard a towhee which, I think, confirms my brief sighting of one a few days ago. She also heard a phoebe. No swallows in our boxes yet.

April 17 yesterday we had even more rain, accompanied by strong winds. Judging from the amount I had to bail from my boat we had over two inches. This morning we had a couple hours of sun then periodic showers were blown in by the continuing strong winds. On my afternoon tour of the ponds, I had sun half the time, and just spits of rain now and then. It was not a day for listening for newly arrived birds so I have yet to tarry on my way to the Big Pond dam. I did pause just before I walked up to it to scope some ring neck ducks in the pond before they flew off. At first glance the Big Pond looked to be back to its late fall level with fresh beaver activity behind it. That is, the pond is full and the water muddy.

The water was now skirting the muskrat lodges making them safe for habitation.

However, it was all due to the two inches of rain, and maybe a muskrat had been swimming behind the dam, but no beavers. The water was gushing through four holes in the dam.

There were twin holes, I am pretty sure through that little niche muskrats had fashioned in the dam.

I could see the packed mud of the dam being worn away. If the rain doesn’t stop this part of the dam might be washed away. I wasn’t surprised to see the Last Swamp Pond almost filled with water too, but before investigating that I was distracted by a kingfisher who cackled as it flew over the west end of the pond and then returned to a tree at the far west end.

I checked the mossy cove latrine, not for otter scats, but to see if the beaver had gnawed more on the pine roots there. One had, and you can see some old otter scats in the photo, too.

The lodge in the middle of the pond is almost flooded over again, certainly not fit for beavers.

I hoped the gnawing on the root showed that the beavers are still around and that I’d see work on the dam showing that they are still in charge. As I walked around the west end of the pond, I saw a common tern fly over, a bit early, I think for them. On the north slope across from the almost flooded lodge I flushed a pair of geese off the bank.

They are male and female and I have to think they are the pair that had been sharing the now almost flooded lodge with the napping beavers when it was high and dry. I thought they had left the area, maybe they had and now are back, though I hate to imply that geese and beavers can’t share a lodge because I have seen them do that for years. I also saw a nibbled stalk on the shore, but a muskrat could have done that. As for the dam, there was no evidence that the beavers prepared for this flood, no work on the dam and water was gushing through the hole and I assume would soon wash away the patching the beavers had done.

As is my custom I sat on a nearby rock for 5 minutes to see if the muskrats were stirring, but they didn’t. I suppose they are not crazy about an influx of cold rain water into the pond. As I left the pond, I took a photo from below the dam showing the water running through.

Crossing along the Upper Second Swamp pond dam was more of a challenge but working on theory that the faster I move forward the less likely I’ll sink down, I only got the back of one pant leg wet. The comb frogs around the vernal pools north of the Second Swamp Pond were largely quiet today. At first look, I thought there was not any new beaver work around the Grotto pool. I didn’t see any new trees cut and no sure gnawing anywhere else, until I got on the little mossy knoll next to the little cave under the granite face that forms the back of the pool. I saw a nice collection to stripped twigs and sticks as well as one bigger stick that was unstripped.

This was not here the last time I checked the pool, and it certainly looked like a beaver had a good meal.

Plus there was a pile of shredded bark in a little depression back against the granite. Perhaps a beaver took a long nap there.

As I walked away from the pool I took a photo trying to show the whole of it, which isn’t much.

I walked over the granite ridge to get a view of the Second Swamp Pond lodge where I had seen beaver stripped sticks the other day. I saw that a beaver climbed a little higher up the slope, nipped some branches off a bush and stripped some.

Once again I refrained from walking on the lodge, in case a beaver was there. I don’t want to scare any away. I headed over to the East Trail pond and didn’t even try to walk through the middle of the old pond and get to the north shore as I often do. I was sure the little rivulet of water I have to cross would be quite a stream today. And I was curious to see if the beavers resumed gnawing on the trees along the south shore which they had focused on during the fall. As far as I could tell, they hadn’t. However the dam still seemed to be in order.

As I walked up pond, I thought I noticed girdling and gnawing that I had not seen before. In the photo below the beavers had worked on the red oak, but not the smaller tree standing in the water that had now been girdled.

The girdling was so neat and stripped logs were in the water nearby. It was a photo I would have taken in the fall. The beavers did work on the oak in the fall. It’s an interesting photo showing how beaver girdling years ago killed one trunk and how the beavers managed to gnaw that part of the trunk still alive. I guess the good news is that the tree lasted a long time after the first girdling which probably occurred 6 years ago, but beavers came back probably to finish the tree off, though not cut it down.

The beavers' work now gives an impression of thoroughness and I couldn’t resist taking another photo of a stump they sculpted that now looks like an animal howling.

Then looking across the pond, I saw an even more daring work of beaver art.

I think they must have just started working on this oak again, because this work did not seem so bold in the fall. Let the photos do the talking.

It almost looked like a beaver could crawl under the tree and eat it from the inside!

I think the general rule among beaver watchers is to suppress images like this. I should at least highlight examples of more gentle beaver work, stripped sticks in the water nearby.

That work does look recent.

April 18 the weather has not been cooperating. It has been the coldest and wettest spring in the 17 years we have been here. It is difficult to get a sense of flowers developing, and turtles and frogs have been shy. Plus with the beavers gone, I don’t have the pleasure of chronicling their progress. I check the Last Pool whenever we come to the land and still take photos. I study the poplar log they had been stripping so that I’ll know if stripping resumes. Checking old photos I can tell there has been no recent gnawing, and on site I can tell because there are no bits of wood and bark below the trunk.

But I don’t think the beavers, if they were here, would be continuing old work. They’d look for new things to cut. Just off the pond I saw where beavers cut a small pine, which I had not noticed before. But the cut was so high up the trunk, I assume it must have been cut when a beaver stood on the snow, and what was cut was no longer around, not even a pine bough.

Then I contemplated the lodge and the remains of the cache. All the stripped logs and sticks seem to be disappearing. I assume they are sinking into the pond.

I also checked the dam where given all this rain one would expect some attention paid to it by the beavers. But I saw nothing new. The beavers are gone. Meanwhile, I am scouting dead and dying ironwoods to cut, and hauling out those I have cut into logs. I keep looking for signs of beavers farther away from the pond, but have seen none.

April 19 A rare sunny day, at least until 2pm. Nothing new at the land, but my wood work brought me close enough to the Turtle Bog so I dropped my saw to see if the turtles were. Sunny, yes, but still in the mid-40s. There were no turtles out, but the wood frog eggs look like they are swelling nicely.

I am still at a loss as to what to do when it finally warms up, a wrap-up survey of all the trees the beavers cut or find new life to study. I’ve lost track of the porcupines and deer. There are two muskrats in the Third Pond and another in the Deep Pond. And then there is a survey of the living trees. Looking for dead ironwoods, I am noticing the patterns of the ironwood groves. Cedars would be easy to study, too. We’ll see.

April 20 I planned to get our during a lull in today’s storm but as soon as I noticed a lull, it started raining again by the time I decided to get outside. We managed to head off to get our mail just as it started raining again. At the end of the swimming cove, we saw a heron standing in the little marsh there, straight up as the herons in the typical lawn sculptures around here. But this heron had striking colors, I assume because its feathers were wet. Unfortunately, the camera didn’t work well in the rain. I went back to get the camera, not so much for the heron, but because we saw that the swimming cove and the river just to the west was spotted with masses of midges.

It was difficult getting good photos in the rain. My attempt at a close-up of a mass of them close to shore doesn’t quite capture the ball. Many of the bugs in it were alive, perhaps all of them. The skins that the bugs shed when they emerged also seemed to make up a good part of the mass.

I took a still from a short video clip.

The clip itself lost focus when I tried to get a broader view of the scene,


looking out to where a few geese, some ducks and many gull, including many Bonaparte’s gulls were eating the midges off the water.

The latter were grring, almost cackling. Several springs ago I saw a smaller raft of them in South Bay. Soon the rain picked up and then the wind howled from the west, waves rolled, and the feast was dispersed. There were a few midges flying in the air. We suppose that a combination of wind and cold thwarted hatching and flight, and the cold caused the masses of midges to coalesce. That’s perhaps a good theory but we really have no good idea of what was happening.

April 21 the rain finally stopped and I was able to check on the beaver ponds. Leslie wanted to take a look at the ducks in Eel Bay and see if there were hepaticas blooming on what we call the third ridge. Yes, to both. I couldn’t get out of my old rut, but to get from the Nature Center to the ponds I am watching now I walked down the East Trail past where Shangri-la Pond had been. Now the north end of the pond is just a narrow stream about two feet wide.

However the small pond the beavers fashioned that I called the Upper Shangri-la Pond still holds almost the same amount of water the beavers maintained when they were here.

To complete the story I continued along the trail to where I could get a photo of the big dam that failed.

When dams fail like that the pond that was behind it virtually disappears. But, as evidenced by the Upper Shangri-la Pond dam, a modest dam can survive without beavers. Because of the rain I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to take my usual route on the old East Trail across the pond. So I went around the west end of the pond. Last year the beavers first dammed up the stream coming down from the old Shangri-la Pond and then built the dam across the middle of the East Trail Pond. Now the two ponds have merged and it looks like the beavers breached the Shangri-la Pond stream dam.

The pond behind the dam if quite full and much different than it looked like last summer when all one could see were green bushes with a few channels. Now the dead vegetation seems channeled through the expanse of water. This time of year I expect to see signs of beaver activity, like stripped log, right around the lodge, but there seems to be fewer and fewer logs around the lodge each time I come. Seeing that happening at the Last Pool where the beavers had left got me worried that these beavers had left too.

I studied the trees up on the ridge north of the pond that they had cut and gnawed during the winter, and I couldn’t be sure of any new work. But I saw that the water in the southwest corner of the pond was muddy.

Before I got down and around to check that out, I looked at the beaver work on the northwest shore of the pond, that rather sculptural gnawing the beavers did on a grand red oak and its huge exposed roots.

It is hard to resist taking a photo of this tree, and I did even though there was no fresh gnawing. I couldn‘t be sure of any new work on other trees, but I thought I saw a small pile of leaves which might be a beaver scent mound, and the nibbled sticks in the water looked a bit rearranged.

In the southwest corner of the pond I saw a few small branches cut on the ash they just felled down there, but not enough to explain the muddy water.

Finally, a little farther down the south shore of the pond, I saw that a small tree the beavers had girdled but left standing had fallen into the pond.

That could have been caused simply by the wind and gravity but the top of the tree was now stripped, and a beaver did that. Still, I wish there were bolder signs of the beavers being here, like pushes of mud up on the dam. There are none but why should the beavers bother with that now with so much water working its way through the watershed.

I continued on to the Grotto pond behind the ridge north of the Second Swamp Pond. At first glance I didn’t see new beaver work on any trees, but then I saw the beaver itself in the pond, just a roll of its big furry back. I took a photo of where it had been, and then retreated.

Despite the heavy rains, I thought I could get across on the Second Swamp Pond dam. I was wrong and had to slog downstream to a smaller dam and that was flooded too. I finally found a combination of fallen logs that gave me half a chance of getting across without getting my feet wet, but I had to run on top of 15 feet of thin ash trunk of uncertain age. I more or less made it, which got me to laughing. As I walked up the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond, I took a photo of the small ridge knoll along the north shore. The grotto pool is on the other side of that.

I continued up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam and saw water gushing through it. What little repairs the beavers had done had been washed away.

I no longer see beaver nibbled sticks behind the dam. Of course with all this water the beavers could move back to the big lodge in the southeast reach of the pond where they had spent the winter. I walked around to the mossy cove latrine where a beaver had been gnawing on the exposed roots of two big white pines. And it looked like there was a little more gnawing on the roots.

Looking down on them, I thought that the moss and leaves on the rock above the old otter latrine had been rearranged.

And sure enough, I found some beige otter scats at my feet.

So an otter has been around, though I am not sure how to explain all the scratching in the turf. I’ve often thought that beige scat like this might be associated with female otters nursing pups, but that’s more of a hope rather than something I know anything about. I headed to the Big Pond and crossed the dam with an eye out for new otter scats. I didn’t see any along the north end of the dam. The spillover section of the dam was being worn down by the gushing water as I could see new small leaks in the dam. However, I could see how solid the mud of the dam is.

Then along the south end of the dam, I saw a new scat, though it didn’t look that fresh.

I could be wrong about this. There was a little mud exposed just behind the dam, especially at the far south end which is not in the photo below, that would show otter prints, and I didn’t see any. But an otter could have come up on the grass and then run down it to the south end of the dam.

I didn’t see new scats in the latrine at the far south end, but I did see a large tuft of grass that could have been scraped up by an otter that left scent on it that I have never been able to smell.

This was a good hike for such a cold, blustery day. I saw deer at the south end of Antler Trail where they were keeping out of the wind. The stood and looked at me long enough for me to talk to them. They didn’t want to leave, but, as always, they ran off.