Friday, July 8, 2011

June 21 to 27, 2011

June 21 we got to our land in time for me watch to the beaver in the Third Pond. The last time I came in the afternoon the beaver didn’t come out until 6pm. I got there around 5:30 and sat as patiently in my chair as I could as wren parents darted around the elm tree in front of me trying to serve their chicks in a bird box. I kept hearing splashing in the pond below me where I couldn’t see because of the thick honeysuckle bushes. When ponds get shallow, the leaps of frogs always seem to get louder. But some of the splashes sounded very much like a muskrat diving. I soon got a glimpse of the muskrat as it swam across the pond. The beaver came out at around 5:45. Although this is the longest day of the year, it was cloudy. Anyway the beaver swam heads up all the way across the pond, not turning toward me and not making a particular sniff in my direction.

It busied itself behind the dam briefly and then swam back through some grasses into the clump of willows in the southwest corner of the pond. It seemed to find a branch to nibble, and I couldn’t get a good look at what it was eating.

I’ve noted that the beaver is only eating the leaves, not the willow bark, but I assume that as it eats the leaves it eats the stems and twigs the leaves are attached to and that can keep a beaver's head down with out much shifting around in the water. Then it reared up and cut one of the large willow saplings, secured the end of the trunk in its mouth,

and pulled it out into the pond. Once out in the pond, it turned toward the burrow, bringing its left front paw up to secure the thick end of the thin trunk in its mouth as it turned. I can think of perhaps easier ways to do this, like cut the trunk and half swim along with the half that has the leafy crown. But it certainly looked stately seeing the beaver and then the bunch of green leaves following in the water about 20 feet behind.

The beavers head was cocked so its right eye was just above the water.

When the beaver got back among the thick willows in front of its burrow, there was a pause in the procession and I wondered if the beaver was now no longer primarily interested in the crown. Then the crown slowly followed up the channel and then disappearing behind the willows.

When there was a pause in the beaver’s activity, a black and white warbler hopped on and around the elm trunk right in front of me, and then flew off.

No singing from it, just scratching bark.

June 22 my main job now is watering the garden, and while doing that this morning, I ducked down to check on the Third Pond. I saw that the beaver cut down the willow tree it had been working on in the last few days.

Of course, there are plenty more thin willows in clumps in the water. Perhaps the beaver will strip and eat this more substantial willow bark. Then during another break from pumping water, I checked on the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. The best way to gauge the dropping water level is at the pool of water behind the lodge. The loggy leftovers of winter meals are drying out.

I did not observe the beavers using this lodge long enough to really be sure that the two deeper pools right next to the lodge are entrances into the lodge. This east end of the lodge is built around a fairly large live tree. Looking at the now dry channel at the end of the pond that they dug from their wallow to the main pond, the beavers seem to have carved into the well rooted mounds of dirt.

The channel continues past the hut and winter cache pile

to what I guess is the deepest part of the Last Pool.

From the angle of the photo above, the pond looks viable for a beaver, but looking at that area from the other direction, the pool looks more like a mud flat in the making.

However, the channel through the Last Pool and down to Boundary Pond is deep at its narrowest points. The photo below shows where it is about 2 feet wide. It’s about two feet deep there.

When the beavers moved up here all the they had was a narrow channel and a rather small pool of water around the lodge they just built. Beavers could move back into this area, but I have never noticed such vacancies being quickly filled, so I still think what I am going to learn this summer is if beaver channeling dries out an area that was rather wet before the beavers arrived. I think there were some forks in the original rivulet going through this valley rivulet, but I think the photo below shows a fork that the beavers made

And this better draining may lead to a drier flat. The channel widens as it goes down to Boundary Pond. I think of this as the major engineering achievement of the beavers,

And here again, the more efficient channel may result in a drier valley with just a wet ditch through it during the summer. I am being particular about this because the new Ecological Beaver being described by wildlife biologists and beaver enthusiasts is a never failing master at ponding water reeking with diversity. I’ve watched beavers too long; like them, I don’t get enthusiastic. On the other hand, I think beavers can permanently pond water through their dredging, but I worry that the beavers were not here long enough to do much dredging other than what they did with their channels. The beavers were in Boundary Pond for three years, so I hope their dredging will tell and will defeat the drying influence of the sun. There is no doubt that trees are gone, stumps dead, and the few remaining trees are dead or dying. I remember sitting in thicket of well shaded bushes watching beavers swim up the narrow channel going up the valley.

Looking across the upper part of Boundary Pond, I think I recall spots where beavers preferred to dine and where they may have dredged to increase their comfort level.

As far as water goes, in the summer when the rain can’t be counted on to flood the pond, every little bit counts. Looking down from the ridge at the middle of the pond, I remember that one beaver at least seemed to be adept at dredging muck that far up pond and bringing it to build up the dam. So here, the principal pools of water might be deep enough never to dry out and there may be many wallowing spots along the channels that the beavers used for three years. As beaver ponds go this one is relatively small so there maybe a concentration of good work.

The new flowers are out, and I was surprised to see a blooming rose bush on the slope west of the pond.

Perhaps the beavers cutting has let in more sun, leading to more blooms,

Making the pollinators happy.

June 23 A little after 5pm, I headed off to check otter latrines around the end of South Bay and check on the East Trail Pond beavers. So I wouldn’t be late for my dinner, I rode the bike to the entrance to the State Park. It looked like an otter came up from the end of the south cove of the bay again

And I saw the same kind of gooey brown scat, as well as some scaly black scat, that I saw the other day, this time around a better formed scent mound.

As I walked along, I turned back and took a photo of the portion of the park trail that the otters are using.

Then I walked along the north shore of the peninsula hoping to find more latrines and a rolling area. The water is so high in the river that the South Bay marsh is completely flooded and I could see water at the fringe of the woods where I had never seen if before.

But I didn’t see any trails coming out of the marsh. Along my very small trail to the willow latrine where otters have latrined almost every year I’ve been checking, I saw a scratched up clearing, which looked promising, but I didn‘t see otter scats. I didn’t take a photo assuming I’d see a fresh otter latrine farther on. But I didn’t. I did see some stripped sticks that a beaver left.

The area tucked a bit back in the marsh where otters frequently scatted next to the blue flag iris is all flooded.

The vegetation on firm ground is thicker than usual preventing me from easy access to familiar areas. I just managed to climb up and over the thick central trunk of the gangling willow here, and in the deep water nearby I saw about six huge carp scarcely moving.

One seemed to pride itself on defeating what subtle currents must be in the bay, and there were some gentle waves now and then, by not moving at all.

Of course when I hopped down on the old beaver lodge below, they all scattered. There were no signs of anything using the old beaver lodge, either inside or on top.

However there was a trail going from the water back to the middle of the peninsula. I suppose deer and other animals coming down for a drink of water made it. Not seeing an otter latrine around the willow, I took a photo of the one clearing in the area that I saw going out to the willow, that was just off the trail from the bank lodge.

Perhaps otters had been there, but what an out of the way place to put a scent mound. There are some slight hills in the middle of the peninsula and I looked at a small one where years ago otters had a rolling area. No signs of anything latrining or rolling there this year.

There was a patch of torn up moss along the north shore of the peninsula. But no otter scats and no worn path down to the flooded marsh a few feet away.

I saw one trail into the moss, most likely made by deer. Before heading up to the East Trail Pond I checked the old dock latrine. There was a progression of small scent mounds coming up the slope from the river,

probably made by a beaver or muskrat. There were no otter scats around. As I came down the rocks on the north shore of the East Trail Pond, my vantage point of late for watching the beavers, I saw that some of the digging I saw there was done by turtles, because a raccoon had been by and scraped the eggs out of the nest.

I didn’t see any muddy water in the pond below, which I saw last time I was here, usually a sign that beavers have been active. Of course, thanks to the longest sunny days of the year, evaporation and, I assume, slow leaks in the dam, the water level in the pond is lower, but it is far higher than when the beavers moved into it last summer.

I didn’t have long to wait to see beavers. I saw one cruising up a channel through the bushes heading right toward me, it dove and when it surfaced another beaver surfaced right after it did.

One beaver veered left and the other stopped, kept looking at where the other beaver went, and then dove heading to the right.

Meanwhile the beaver that went to the left swam through the bushes in the middle of the pond where I could follow its progress. I worried that the beaver who dove to the right might swim below and slap its tail, but I lost track of it. The beaver I could see gave me quite a lesson in browsing as it primarily seemed to relish the leaves of saplings and bushes,

but it looked like it sampled some fronds of the ferns too.

Meanwhile I got glimpses of other beavers in the pond. One appeared in the middle of the pond and swam toward the lodge. I saw some commotion behind the dam, but that could have been a muskrat diving. Then as I stood to go, a beaver swimming down from the west end of the pond dove right below me. So I saw at least three beavers, perhaps four. As I’ve mentioned before I’ll have to compare this year to last. The west end of the pond this year looks relatively clearer of vegetation.

Roughly the same area a year ago, July 7, 2010, was thick with vegetation and had much less water.

Beavers are vegetarians and sometimes the growth in a pond can’t keep up with their appetites.

June 24 I walked around to look at the willow tree the beaver cut down. It fell conveniently at the edge of the pond.

But the edge of the pond is shrinking away from the willow.

The beaver nipped off two branches. So far it has not stripped any bark.

There is still water in the pond, but I think the beaver knows that it may soon dry up, which may be why it is not bothering to dredge channels.

I’ll soon be able to walk around and count all the little stumps of the thin willows the beaver cut, and be able to count how many leaves are on one. But the beaver still seems to shy away from cutting the willows that shield its bank burrow.

Then I went down to enjoy the Deep Pond lilies. There is now a line of blooms along the dam,

But the biggest and quite beautiful lily was close to the west shore where I could get a good photo of it.

Farther along that shore I saw a bashful lily hiding under its pad.

The lilies have been good here other years, but not so numerous. I don’t think we’ll see many more since algae seems to be claiming much of the surface of the pond. There was also a large lily right next to the entrance to the bank lodge under the knoll, plus there was a large painted turtle on the shore nearby. (It was large enough to be a Blanding’s turtle but I couldn’t see any yellow under its chin.)

Both muskrats and beavers can eat lilies, so I suppose the success of the flowers suggests that the muskrats have gone. The other early summer flowers are around the pond, colorful in combination but not remarkable.

After the wettest spring in years, I expect to see some exotic blooms. I also checked the Last Pool. We had a few heavy showers which put water back in the wallow above the Last Pool, not quite enough to flow down the channel the beavers made and into the pond.

The water level of the pond still seems to be getting lower. When the beavers were making the lodge, there was one way I could get out on top of it, though I don’t recall ever doing that. I could have walked out on the trunk of the poplar that fell near the lodge.

Now I can jump from one mound to another then get up on the lodge. Perhaps that is the result of the beavers dredging channels around the lodge. I made the leap and got a long stick from the lodge and thrust it into the pool of water in front of the lodge.

It only went down about two feet. Of course when the pond was two feet higher that was plenty of water for the beavers. But now it is the same depth as the main channel which means if we have a dry summer it could dry out. That would be an example of my fear that beaver channels can make an area more dry during a drought or after the beavers leave and the dam doesn’t get repaired. As the water goes down I can get a better view of the pile of stripped sticks behind the lodge. I’ve never seen such a collection of smaller stripped sticks. (I have seen piles of small sticks collected by beavers and never stripped or eaten.)

I suppose this results from the small size of the pond, especially during the winter under the ice. Most of the nibbling was done here. The next time I am here I will see how deep this pile is. Chances are there is a mound of dirt there. Before the beavers came this area was a collection of small pools and moss covered stumps and trunks from logging probably done at least 10 years before we bought the land in 1998. I recall the mossy mounds as being well rounded. Now it looks like the beavers dug into the those mounds as they fashioned their channels.

This was soft soil to work with. Perhaps they also ate roots in the mounds. If the pools dry out maybe I will be able to tell that. Going down pond there are fewer mossy mounds and water draining out of the beaver channels leaves mud flats, for the moment.

What starts growing here may indicate what will be the predominate plant. However, I may be overestimating the effects of the beavers’ channels. Most of the lower end of the Last Pool is still uneven terrain and relatively well shaded, not the usual clearing done by beavers which can create a meadow.

Boundary Pond is another matter. Beavers were there longer and the sun now shines on what had been a relatively well shaded area before the beavers came.

This was originally flatter than the Last Pool area. If the water shrinks away some more, this area should become lush with green. Looking from just below the dam, which is getting another good crop of jewel weed despite the beavers eating most of it last year, the pond looks relatively full.

The leaking from the dam was not as noticeable today, just a slight trickle, so if we continue to get rain, the pond might survive the summer. As I waded through the thick greens below the pond, I saw a tangle of false crane flies and managed to get a fairly good photo.

Then I tried to get a video of them flying around and that didn’t work at all.

June 25 Ottoleo and Marlee joined us at our land, and we took them for a short hike, first to see the water lilies in the Deep Pond. We approached from the ridge to the east and I noticed that there were signs of activity outside one of the muskrat burrows, cut vegetation and a brown pond bottom.

There was a wide trail in the grass, muck and algae in front of the burrow in the dam.

The vegetation was too thick on the dam, so I led them through the new grown greens below the dam, fortunately relatively dry down there. Then we got a better look at the water lilies and I got a better photo of the lily by the entrance to the bank lodge.

I also noticed the thick stand of willow bushes on the west slope down to the pond, about 10 yards from the water.

Not as large or convenient as the willows in the Third Pond, but perhaps these willows will help persuade the beaver to move down here for the winter, and not go to White Swamp. We walked down the road to White Swamp and showed them the where the spring flowers were. There were some new flowers to see, thimble flowers in the shade,

And Turk’s head lilies in a more open area.

They are quite exotic and we’re not sure how they wound up between Val’s pasture and the huge swamp. We could see acres of lilies out in the swamp, none close by but most years I walk over the ridge and get close to other areas of the swamp and see the lilies. I’ve been lazy this year, and the bugs are worse than usual. Then Marlee and I went to the Third Pond to try to see the beaver. I had her sit in the chair on the west shore and I went around to the chair on the south shore. We were there a bit early, 5:15, but I soon saw that the beaver was already out, ducking down and getting things to eat over in the north end of the pond. It swam right below Marlee,

And even turned back as it nibbled so she got a good look at it.

Then the beaver went into the willow clump in the southwest corner of the pond. Marlee couldn’t see it at all, and I could only see some vegetation shaking now and then. It stayed there for about 15 minutes before swimming slowly back into the middle of the pond where it seemed to be eating some of the grasses. Then I lost track of it. A flock of cedar waxwings came zeezeeing into the willows, usually darting here and there before I could get a video. Only the presence of some fledges slowed them down and I saw one fledge get fed.

It had the markings of an adult but lacked a long tail

and flew off in a fast but feeble flutter.

June 27 I had planned to tour the beaver ponds yesterday but it kept raining off and on and today promised to be dry. However, there was thick fog in the morning. I didn’t head for the ponds until 1pm, when it was sunny and hot. Up on the rocky plateau, I saw some pink flowers on a low vine.

No deer stirred as I walked through meadows, and birds were quiet too. But when I reached the Big Pond dam I was constantly reminded that I forgot to take precautions to ward off the deer flies. I took photos of the shrinking pond, but didn’t have much time to make a study of it.

The muskrats are still denning in the dam, with three trails coming out.

Because of that, I think, the dam is leaking again. Muskrats dug one hole through the dam deeper.

The muskrats are wearing out the last burrow the most, not the one that is leaking.

I should call that color of the pond bottom “muskrat brown” because that is the color that seems to denote a perfect set up for muskrats. I also saw a turtle trail in the mud, behind the dam.

I could walk on the grasses behind the dam which made the going faster. I stopped once to take a photo of the lodge on the near north shore of the pond, which still has a woody toe in the pond,

And one of the lodge on the far north shore, which may soon be swallowed by a meadow.

This pond has looked better during summer droughts. If we have a drought this summer this pond will be history. Behind the dam, where there was still a little vegetation in the water, a dozen or so blue damsel flies were resting.

The woods provided some relief from the deer flies and then as I cooled off sitting in the shade on the rock above the mossy cove latrine, I got them under control. There was an off and on breeze from the north. I saw a muskrat swim over to the north shore and it seemed to go into a burrow, but I can’t say that I saw it dive into one. This pond that I thought I knew so well is getting rather confusing. I thought that with the lower water level, there would be lusher vegetation especially since there seems to be far fewer muskrats and beavers in the pond. But everywhere I look, I see brown bottom.

There are a lot of turtles here and parts of this pond begin to remind me of the Teepee Pond on our land which seems so well grazed that I don’t see much vegetation on the bottom any more. I had assumed that the pond vegetation that the beavers always gorged on at this time of year would always flourish in the late spring. Then I turned my attention to the southeast end of the pond. There was a heron perched on top of the beaver lodge, but, of course, it flew off as I walked that way.

While there is still the semblance of a very large pond, the old dam continues to emerge as the water goes down, and now the mud is firm enough for me to walk on.

Vegetation seems slow to grow up here. For the most part the only plant was what I expect to see floating on top of the water at this time of year, not sure what it is.

Before the beavers built this pond, I recall this area as being often wet, with water sometimes over a foot deep. There was a tangle of bushes, willows, I assume, and what we used to call “buck brush.” Whenever we tried to hike through the area in the late spring the going was very tough and wet. Today, I could see the small dead stumps from those bushes.

I expect grass will eventually spread everywhere. Killdeer were quite exercised as I walked around their domain. I walked around the west end of the dam and then up the north shore to the dam. No beaver lurking on the shore or in the pond today. As I tried to get a photo of where I thought the muskrat might have found a burrow, I saw a water snake swimming right below me.

The photo also shows a nice swamp milkweed and what might be attracting the muskrat to this shore, some wet greens to eat. I got out my camcorder and tried to get video of the snake, but it disappeared. Then I saw a muskrat swimming from the lodge on the other side of the dam toward me. It wasn’t easy taking video with all the deer flies biting, but I managed some shaky footage.

The muskrat had darker fur than usual, charcoal gray and not reddish.

The last time I was here I saw three cuts of stickers by the dam which I assumed the beaver collected to eat. Today there were twice as many, all dead brown.

I didn’t see any fresh beaver leftovers and there was no fresh work on the dam, which is still leaking. There was no way to escape the deer flies as I crossed along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam. I paused briefly to take a photo of the muskrat trails coming out from the dam, which still looked well used.

I went directly up to the woods and managed to stay in the shade all the way to the south shore of the East Trail Pond. I sat up on the ridge, cooling down to make myself less attractive to deer flies. I was entertained by a chipmunk eating a generous piece of mushroom. At first I thought it chipped when it wasn’t eating,

but I think the video clip below shows that it could chip and eat at the same time.

Then I went down the ridge and checked out the dam. All looked in order.

The tall grasses were growing in the middle of the pond and I think I could see channels through them that the beavers were using, and some evidence of foraging but not big piles of cut stalks as I have seen this family leave in other ponds.

Several years ago I was pretty sure that a mother otter used an abandoned beaver bank lodge on this shore as a den to raise her pups.

No signs of otters there this year. I think they were in nearby Meander Pond which they would have had all to themselves. When otters used this lodge, the East Trail Pond was four times its current size and the beavers had three lodges down pond where they always denned. Once again it looked like beavers were going up the trail west of the pond and once again I couldn’t see any trees touched by them, evidently they are still just eating the grasses there. However, on the north shore of the pond they started to cut a medium size basswood.

This is not a favorite tree but this family started cutting them when they moved into Shangri-la Pond and I’ve seen other beavers cut the trees to get to the leaves. I went up on the ridge north of the pond and sat a few minutes, not expecting to see anything out in the noonday sun, and I didn’t. I got a good view of the fern clumps in the pond, and took a photo which might aid in my identification of it.

On a day when the deer flies are more subdued, I’ll try to do some serious botanizing.