Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 6 to 13, 2011

April 6 we went to our land and I went to check on the beavers. Since I noticed that they cut a few trees a few weeks ago on the west side of the valley above the Last Pool, just off the ridge, I kept on going down to the pond on the trail the beavers used. I thought I might see evidence of a fresh foray in that direction but that became very difficult as the snow melted and revealed the sticks they had cut along that path back in the fall. Today I thought I saw a fresh cut in the center of the valley, and when I stepped that way, I walked over a mess of turkey feathers.

What appeared to me to be a very large turkey had been killed here. I suppose I should have kicked the feathers a bit and looked for a bone of the bird which might better indicate how big it was, but it seemed like a sacrilege to do that. The feathers seemed to be arranged just as they should be.

When I got over to what I thought was fresh work, I wasn’t so sure, another tree had fallen almost on top of the supposed fresh work and we’ve had no tree toppling winds in the last week and there were no signs that beavers just cut the tree that fell on top of the trunk the beavers had stripped.

There is no more ice around the lodge and now there is a flotilla of stripped beaver sticks on the east side of the lodge where the ice had been.

There is a bit of ice hard on the west shore, and some beaver chips out on it. I think they are chips from gnawing the beavers did in the middle of the winter, not fresh work.

I walked down the east shore to the dam and didn’t see any signs that beavers had been along the shore. As for the dam, I am not so sure. There is a nice height of water behind the dam

But I think the water level is getting lower

So I think the dark leaves and muck behind the dam arise from the water level dropping and not from the beavers pushing more leaves up on it.

The few stripped sticks I saw behind the dam were probably left there since the fall. It’s curious, not alarming, that the beavers have not done any work on their dam. They don’t seem compelled to do it, as I sometimes think they are, and are content to leave well enough alone. It wasn’t easy going up the west shore as the water reached the rocks of the ridge at some points. Then I got to a little flat area and was stopped cold.

The other kit of the family, almost a yearling, lay dead at my feet with its lower belly ripped open and its intestines in clear view, and with its throat slit open and its head disfigured.

The small size of the tail convinced me that it was the kit. I was struck by the white forehand and the half white rear feet. That suggests that the body had been floating in the water after the beaver died. I found the sibling of this kit floating outside the lodge behind the dam, which is the lodge the beavers were living in then, and I waded into the pond and brought the carcass ashore. Its hands were white as well as part of its tail.

I knew that beaver had been in the water no longer than 24 hours. Of course that was during the summer. I last walked along this shore on March 30 and then there was still ice on all but a few yards along the west shore. The pond was probably not free of ice until a couple days ago. The innards of the dead beaver looked fresh, the blood looked like it had not congealed. Technically I have no idea what I was seeing and I thought of cutting into the intestines to see what was there. But animals are hungry in the spring and I had to respect this carcass as a meal for them. As I looked over it a raven flew overhead. I didn’t see any prints or other signs giving away what animal might have ripped open the body.

The carcass was well down pond, say 50 yards from the lodge, and perhaps 30 yards from the dam. It was directly across from the temporary lodge on the east shore that one beaver used last summer.

So I suspect that the beaver was swimming toward the dam and something killed it, but that it took a while for the dead beaver to be fished out of the water and ripped apart. Or it died of natural causes while in the water and was brought out by a scavenger. Anyway, the poor thing is dead. I’ll miss not seeing a kit enjoying its first spring.

April 7 We went to our land later than usual so we could hear more frog choruses in the warmer late afternoon, and I hoped to see a live beaver in the Last Pool. As soon as we got there, I went to check on the beaver carcass and I found that it was gone. All that remained were a few ribs.

There was a bird poop on a rock next to where the carcass had been.

Again I looked for other prints or scats left behind and saw none, but I noticed some fur and perhaps a bit of meat in the water of the nearby pond.

I could still sniff a smell of corpse. I couldn’t wade into the water to look for more remains, but I could go up on the ridge where a coyote or bobcat might have taken the carcass or a bird might have dropped parts of it. I didn’t seeing anything and lost the scent. I took a walk down the road to check on White Swamp and on the way saw a muskrat swimming in the Deep Pond. Then beyond the Third Pond, I worked on sawing logs for firewood. I noticed fresh muskrat poop on the rock at the spillway with some cut grasses floating in the water around the rock.

I haven’t seen any other signs of muskrats being there, like nipped willows or muddy water along the banks. Every spring we hear spring peepers around the Third Pond, and I heard a few today, but there was a lusty chorus of wood frogs, too. I also went down to the Deep Pond, and I saw a muskrat swimming across it and settling in the grass off the southwest shore for some bites. Then a little after 5 pm I headed down to the Last Pool to wait for beavers to come out of the lodge there. There was a strong chorus of wood frogs coming from down pond. And a few woods ducks flew off when I approached the pond. Some geese flew low over head and I thought they might have been looking to land in the pond. One gave a low honk which forced the wood frogs to miss a beat, but they were soon croaking again. Then a murder of crows started a row. I assume they were ganging up on an owl. Other crows flew toward the noise, themselves cawing all the way. That bird noise didn’t seem to faze the frogs. Although I didn’t see it, the owl must have escaped because the crows calmed down. Then at 5:30 an adult beaver sporting a spring coat of light reddish brown fur came out of the lodge swimming to where the cache had been next to the lodge. It fished out a stick and took it to a little island of dirt, gnawing away where I couldn’t see it. Then when I shifted my weight in my uncomfortable chair, I made too much noise and the beaver swam around to get a look at me, or rather a sniff of me. It didn’t get alarmed but after a few minutes considering the situation it dove back into the lodge. Then I heard humming from the lodge. So there at least two beavers in there.

April 8 I headed for the beaver ponds once again to see if the dams had been repaired. The grass at the south end of the Big Pond dam looked worked over but not by otters. There was more digging down around the elecampane root that had been eaten a few days ago. I assume deer are doing that. Some of the water behind the dam was muddy. Perhaps a deer stepped there, but I think it is more likely that a muskrat had been behind the dam.

The holes in the dam had not been patched. I saw a generous collection of muskrat poops on a stick on the exposed apron of mud behind the dam.

As I walked down to the southwest bank of the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw a beaver grooming over on top of the dam.

Then I saw something in the pond below filling a space vacated when a dozen mallards flew off. It was a muskrat and it climbed up on a log. A log behind it had a long line of painted turtles on it.

Back on the fifth, I saw what looked like fresh gnawing on the trunks of some half girdled maples and oaks. Then I thought I might be see old girdling made to look fresh again because the tree sap was flowing again.

I took the photo above on the 5th. This is the same tree today.

A beaver made fresh gnaws on the half girdled trees. So there goes my theory of fresh sap enlivening dead wood. Then I sat up on the rock behind the mossy cove latrine. From that vantage, I could see the other beaver on the lodge, though I couldn’t get a good photo of it. I didn’t see the nesting goose but there is a quadrant of the lodge I can’t see from shore. I walked around the west end of the pond hoping to get a photo of the beaver on the dam. Oh, yes, I checked the state of the dam through the binoculars and from afar it looked like there had been some work on it, though the water level of the pond didn’t look any higher. I didn’t see any new scats on the grass clumps the otter has been favoring on the west shore. However, one of the scats I took a photo of on the 5th that had been fringed with white matter has now lost that white matter.

Evidently it was washed away by the rain, which suggests that the scat I saw on the 5th was relatively fresh. The otter here seems to be establishing new latrines and avoiding the mossy cove latrine, perhaps because there is so much old scat there. There was a little more gnawing on the big tree trunk on the north shore. I tried to conceal myself on the way to the dam, but when I got a view of it, I saw the beaver swimming in the pond along the north shore, head up with an angry glare in my direction. It slapped its tail and then resurfaced closer to the lodge, but came swimming toward me again, turned and gave a half slap of the tail.

Then I took a photo of the beaver. The narrow wake gives a gauge of its high speed, for a beaver.

I continued up to the dam and saw that the beavers had not touched it, and I saw why I thought some work had been done on it. One side of the arch above the hole collapsed. The darker dirt behind the dam arises from the water dropping, not from the beaver pushing up mud.

I checked below the dam and saw no signs of a beaver doing anything there to patch the dam. I got a photo of the beaver swimming behind the dam it won’t repair.

It slapped its tail at me again.

I left it in peace and went down to see water running through the gap in the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, which was caused by wear and tear and neglect and not by the otters, though they had been there briefly this winter and my have contributed a mite to widening the hole.

A muskrat is still getting use out of the pond and marked a log just below the dam.

I walked down the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond passing two vernal pools on my right and large choruses of comb frogs were congregating in and around both.

The smaller pool is not connected to the Second Swamp Pond but there is water running from the larger pool down to the pond.

There were no frogs singing right around the pond. I headed for the East Trail, crossing the on the old boardwalk to get to the ridge north of the pond. From the boardwalk I could see how much water was flowing through the dam the beavers made.

But I soon saw reasons for the beavers wanting more water down pond. They are cutting all the bushes there that they can. I hope these are willow and not honeysuckle. They don’t care much for the latter.

They also resumed gnawing some trunks of trees -- perhaps red maples or basswoods. I’ll need to see some leaves before I can identify trees with more confidence. The dam the beavers maintain seems to be doing well.

I suppose the beavers are eager for greens to start growing on the shore and in the pond. There is a ring of stripped logs around the lodge but not an overwhelming amount. There are at least three beavers here. I saw them before the thaw. So maybe that is the right amount of leftover for three.

I sat up on the ridge to see if anything might happen in the pond other than wood ducks flying off. I noticed some porcupine work on a pine tree below me, always nice to see that a porcupine has been in a pine.

Then I thought I heard muskrat whistling in the pond, but I never saw a muskrat. I did see wood ducks, floating under the dense bushes as usual. I think they were frisking about and their usual whine sounded more like a whirr. Then I walked around the ridge to see if the beavers had been up cutting more trees. I took photos giving two angles of the big twinned red oak trunks they’ve been gnawing for months.

I don’t think they have been gnawing on it in the last few weeks. And I don’t think they’ve been up on the ridge at all. Now that the pond is free of ice it must be much more rewarding to explore all those places where they were denied access for four months. I headed to Audubon Pond by going along the north shores of Thicket and Meander Pond. No frogs singing at either yet. Going down the Middle Trail to Audubon Pond, I saw that a porcupine had stripped the bark off the trunks of several trees.

They’ve done this other years and yet the woods here always seem the same. I didn’t see any stripped sticks around the Audubon Pond lodge and just an odd branch partially stripped on the shore. But I thought I saw some fresh work on the northwest and west shores of the pond. I haven’t walked around Audubon Pond much this winter and early spring so when I saw what looked liked fresh cutting and gnawing on ash trees, I had to rely on my conviction that I would remember such novel gnawing as proof that it was fresh work.

I searched 180 photos of taken of trees at the pond and didn’t find any matches.

On the west shore I saw where they gnawed some shag-bark hickory trunks and roots. I am sure that is new.

Then I was surprised not to see any new work in or around the little pond below the embankment. I was sure the beavers would resume work down there again once the ice on the main pond was gone. Turning back and facing the west shore of Audubon Pond, I saw a tree cut down that I knew was recent work because I have walked along the embankment several times in the last month.

I checked the otter latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay that an otter or two had been visiting, but I saw no fresh scats today. Walking down along the north shore of South Bay, I saw some fresh beaver gnawing on a willow leaning out over the water.

I saw a small raft of ringed neck ducks out in the north cove of the bay but couldn’t get a good photo or video. Then rounding the coves along the trail I saw the feathers of a red winged blackbird probably killed by the hawk that often hovers here and perches in the tall trees.

Then as I crossed the little causeway I saw some otter scat, which may smash some of my conceits about otter territory. The scat was all gray and looked exactly like the scats I’ve been seeing at the west end of the Lost Swamp Pond.

Several years ago the otters often scatted here

and I thought there was a similarity between scats here and those I saw around the Big Pond and Lost Swamp. Plus one spring, 2001, I think, I was able to track an otter going up going up from here to the Big Pond dam and in 1995, as I recollect, I saw 5 otters going up the creek and I ran after them and saw them in the Big Pond, but not before falling flat on my face. Lately I’ve thought the otters in those ponds oriented to the east, not west to South Bay, though in the heat of last summer I thought I had evidence showing otherwise! Oh, well, great to see otter scats here again.

April 9 this was a day to sit and listen to frogs, which I did, and enjoyed the warm sun. I got a photo of the birches the beavers are gnawing on that are just off their canal pointing up into the valley above the Last Pool.

This is the only new work I am sure of here so far this spring. In commenting on a recent photo of the poplar crown facing the lodge, I said that the beavers saved branches to strip until the winter and had now stripped them all. Today I saw that the branch closest to the lodge is unstripped.

Perhaps it is dead wood. The beavers also didn’t touch the thin hemlock trunk that has been there for months. Then I went up to see if the Blanding’s turtles were out. When I got there the larger one was just climbing up on the bank and slipped back into the water as I approached. However the slightly smaller one was behind some vegetation and stayed put allowing me to see its yellow under chin.

Leslie had been up earlier and saw both turtles too and she said the wood frogs were rioting in the water. They were quiet when I was there. When I turned around from the turtles, I saw a handsome garter snake on the pine straw.

April 10 I helped prepare one garden and Leslie planted some seeds in the other. But I had a chance to walk around. I saw a pair of mallards in the Deep Pond, and a leopard frog below the Boundary Pond dam.

I didn’t see any signs of beavers visiting the dam. I tried to sneak up on the wood frogs but failed. From the west shore they sounded like they were congregated along the shady east shore. Then from the east shore they sounded like they were congregated along the sunny west shore. As I sat listening to them, I noticed that the hemlocks that the beavers girdled last spring and early summer looked as healthy as always.

I will have to ponder that. I’ve noticed with other trees like maples and oaks that girdling can take a couple years to kill a tree, but I’ve noticed thinning of the leaves at least after one year. These hemlocks look fine.

I got a better photo of the birch they are girdling that leans over one of the Last Pond canals,

And I saw that they started girdling a birch along the nearby west shore of the Last Pool.

These beavers often take days to weeks to girdle a birch before finally cutting it down. Don’t know why. Just off the east shore of the pond, I saw a mostly stripped green stick with some bark floating nearby.

I should think that is fresh work.

April 11 we had thunderstorms last night with some down pours and then a brief shower just before noon. I headed off to check on the ponds at 2:30 pm when the warmth that almost reached 70 was being blown away by a sharp west wind depending on whether the sun was peeking out or not. We, Justin came with me, went on Antler Trail to the Big Pond dam. We saw two deer along Antler Trail. There was nothing new at the Big Pond dam, no new otter scats and water still rushing out the holes in the dam. The rain is keeping the pond water level up enough so beavers, if any are around, wouldn’t be too alarmed. As we came down to the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw a beaver up on top of the lodge in the middle of the pond -- no sign of the goose. Last fall, that lodge was completely flooded over, the pond water level was so high. I looked for and didn’t see otter scats at the mossy cove latrine and on the clumps of grasses just beyond the west end of the pond. I found a good angle to take a photo of the beaver on the lodge.

It stayed on the lodge the whole time we were there but looking through the binoculars I could see that it was shifting around a bit, probably grooming its tail and toes. As I approached the dam I saw that the rocks at the foot of the rock I had been sitting on the last few weeks to get a low view of the pond was now flooded over. Yes, the beavers finally deigned to push some bigger sticks and mud into the hole the otters had made in the dam.

That is a relief for me and I hope a token that the beavers will stay another year. Often beaver work on dams seems a result of compulsion more than calculation with mud pushed up everywhere. These beavers have only patched the hole and didn’t even push up mud on the back of the dam right next to the hole.

Looking from the rear I could see that there was no water flowing from the dam, and I think a beaver may have pushed a little mud back up in the hole from that direction, but I couldn’t get a good view of that.

There were no new otter scats in the latrine by the dam. We sat on a rock for five minutes and saw a muskrat swim out from the lodge by the dam to the middle of the pond and then bring back something heavy back to the lodge. It was riding very low in the water. I also saw a leopard frog jumping around the otter latrine.

We headed to the East Trail via the vernal pools where the comb frogs are singing. I took a photo of the smaller east pool which, of course, doesn’t give any hint of the highly charged frog clicking all around it.

The frog chorus diminished slightly as we stood there. But when we stood close to the large pool, all the frogs there stopped singing. There is a deeper, usually permanent pool of water at the base of a small granite cliff that forms the north side of the small rocky knoll where I often sit when I am watching the Second Swamp Pond, which I haven’t had occasion to do in two years since the beavers left the pond. And in the summer denser vegetation makes it harder to get to this little grotto. I could get to it easily today and was amazed to see fresh beaver work all around.

There was a hornbeam cut very low. That and the small size of the woodchips suggested to me that a young beaver was here.

Other small trees were cut but none of them fell over like the hornbeam did.

However, there were many thin sticks floating in the pool that had been stripped by a beaver.

Of course since I haven’t been here in so long I couldn’t easily estimate when all this cutting was done. But because some cuts were rather low, this could not have been done when there was snow on the ground. It is possible the cutting was done before the snow fell in November but all the work looked fresh to me and there were no fallen leaves on the wood chips left where the beaver cut. On the other hand, there were no trails around or coming to the pond, and no obvious place for a beaver to den. There is a bit of a cave in this “grotto.” But I’ve never seen a beaver crawl back into rocks like that -- I have seen otters den in a jumble of rocks.

So I will keep an eye on this. I went up on the knoll and scanned the Second Swamp Pond, its dam and shoreline, and didn’t see any beaver work. We continued on to the East Trail Pond. I walked past a garter snake coiled on some leaves, but Justin spotted it.

Wood ducks flew off the lower East Trail Pond. I didn’t see anything new at the pond. On a warm evening I’ll come out and try to see these beavers. They don’t seem to be out in the day like they were in March. Up on the ridge next to the trail, we saw where lightning from a storm last night had sliced the trunk of pine tree.

We took the East Trail home. I heard peepers singing from Meander Pond. And then when we got to the end of the trail there was a huge flock of noisy red winged blackbirds high in the trees. I suppose the strong west wind drove them out of the South Bay marsh and into the trees. I remember this happening one blustery April day in 1999. I huddled down near the Beaver Point Pond dam, heard some screeching and saw two otters contending with each other, one on shore and one in the pond, probably a female rejecting a roving male. I couldn’t see that today because the ponds are almost all meadow. Crossing the creek going into South Bay, I saw some nibbled sticks in a still pool of water.

I took a closer look at the sticks and they didn’t look gnawed. So maybe a muskrat did the stripping.

Muskrats are always around here. But I saw a beaver out in the north cove in March, and maybe this nibbling is connected with what I saw up at the Second Swamp grotto.

April 12 we took advantage of a sunny day first getting out in our boat and then to work at our land. Being on the water at this time of year always invites a chill, and this morning the north wind started to pick up. As we had seen from shore, most of the ducks, scaup, golden eyes, and buffleheads flocking up before heading north are in between Grinnel and Murray Islands. They flew off before we could get a good look at them. The buffleheads are paired up all over the river. We only heard song sparrows and red winged blackbirds in the Picton bays. It was too choppy to get out and inspect the otter latrines at Quarry Point. I saw a mound grass in the lowest latrine, probably molded by an otter. I got a good look at the latrines on the rocks in front of the old quarry and I didn’t see any fresh scats, nor were there any on the slanting boulders in the water off the west end of the quarry that last year the otters made a point of marking. We went all the way around Picton and still couldn’t lose the wind. We went to our land after lunch. Walking down passed the Third Pond, I saw a muskrat swim away from the spillover. It dove before I could get a photo. I sat in the lawn chair we have there to see it come up from air. This is a small pond and I soon concluded that the muskrat swam under water over to its burrow in the far bank. Then I got a nose-up-whip-the-body-around-and-dive-back-down move in water right below me. I waited another five minutes and no muskrat appeared so I headed off to work on ironwood logs for next winter’s fires. Shuffling along, I saw the leaves of trout lilies and then some spring beauties poking out from under the dead leaves, the first blooms of spring.

Not far from them, I saw a small trillium about to bloom.

This is an area I rarely frequent in the spring so it was nice to see flowers here. As I was sawing low on a tree, a snake wiggled by followed by three little snakes. Each of the latter had to get a good look at me, and one crawled over my bow saw as it lay in the ground.

Later, on my way to check the beaver pond, I veered up to the Turtle Bog. No turtles were out. I took a photo of the wood frog eggs in rolls of clear jelly.

I headed to the Last Pool by going along the east side of the ridge so I could go up it where a patch of bloodroot blooms. There were a few blooms today, small flowers but I trust they will get bigger.

I approached the beaver lodge from the east hoping to get a view of the lodge at least as good as the one I have from the west. The hemlocks along the east shore block any view of the lodge from the ridge and where I could get a view through the trees, I was so low that bushes and the poplar trunk blocked a good view of the lodge. So I just sat and enjoyed the frogs. There were sporadic wood frog croaks throughout the pond and I saw two wood frogs in the water in front of me. There were spring peepers peeping now and then from the trees along the west side of the pond. Two wood ducks swam up into the pool but not close enough for a photo and then they turned back. No beavers appeared and I didn’t hear any noises from inside the lodge. As I walked away, I didn’t see any new beaver work. There were spring beauties and hepatica blooming here.

April 13 a day of cold rain, which we don’t really need. But outside our window, a red squirrel had a meal of grouse.

We assume it didn’t kill the bird, though acting like it did.

Then the Cooper’s hawk that likely did kill the grouse came back and resumed its meal.

The squirrel did not try to butt in.