Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 3 to 9, 2011

May 3 rain threatened once again so we made our move early and even drove over to the entrance of the state park so we could get over to the ridge where the shad bushes are blooming. Leslie went right up to the shad bushes but I took a more circuitous route. I headed up to the embankment that forms the south shore of Audubon Pond. Half way up the ridge an osprey greeted me and flew off its nest, up on a power pole, of course.

I saw a goose swimming placidly in Audubon Pond. I walked down the embankment and saw that the beavers were operating again below the embankment. They extended the smaller pond by making a new dam.

I could see trees cut below their new dam, and will get a closer look another day. I walked over to check the lodge just off the north shore of Audubon Pond. I didn’t see any signs of recent beaver activity there. A goose had her nest on it.

Going back around the pond I took a closer look at the bank lodge along the west shore. Not only did I see a fresh mud trail on the lower part of the lodge and see stripped sticks in the water in front of and on the lodge,

I heard two beavers humming inside the lodge. There has been a pair of beavers here for several years, but no offspring. Maybe this humming suggests that either there was a kit born last spring that I missed seeing, or that kits have just been born or about to be born. I didn’t see any new work in the woods along the west shore of the pond, but I didn’t take a hard look. Then before joining Leslie and enjoying the blooming shad bushes, I checked the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay. Although the photo below doesn’t really show it, an otter scraped up a long swath of leaves and even scratched out an old crushed beer can that I found and hid under some leaves last year.

There was a fresh scat at the upper end of the line of leaves,

And the semblance of a scent mound at the lower end,

With a fresh scat on top.

I didn’t see any scats on the rock below the grassy part of the latrine. But looking at what the otter did from the east end of the slope gave a better perspective of its activity.

Of course, I can’t be sure of the sex and age of the otter that did this, or its intentions. The scats are not like the gray tubular scats I had been seeing around the Lost Swamp Pond and Big Pond, and at the end of the south cove of South Bay. So I think it is a male marking territory not a female making space for the pups I hope she is nursing. This latrine is far from the marshes around the bay that otter mothers used to favor. Soon it will be warm enough to get out in the kayak and try to see otters. Speaking of marshes, the great wind we had the other day blew in a small island of cattails now grounded along the upper north shore of the pond.

Finally I got up on the granite ridge where I found that Leslie had isolated the essence of the beauty of the shadbush blossoms. If you catch them at the right time, you can see how the buds are pink, the unfolding petal less pink and the resulting flower pure white.

On a damp cloudy day like this, the white blossoms of the stocky trees explode at you.

Leslie saw hepatica blooming on the slope down to the Narrows. Plus the ubiquitous grass of the area had delicate yellowish flowers.

We heard an oriole which sounded right above us but we couldn’t see it. By that time the rain was falling which made in difficult to scan the crowns of the trees. Another inch or two of rain kept us inside for the rest of the day.

May 4 a drizzle lingered this morning and rain was predicted for late afternoon. I headed off as it brightened up after lunch and it didn’t start raining until the end of my hike. I bought a digital camcorder and so I was on the lookout for something moving. No deer along Antler Trail today, and the towhee was calling deep in the greening bush. I paused before I got close to the Big Pond hoping to see some ducks on it. But a cold wind blew across the pond (about 50F) and if I wanted to try out the camcorder the subject matter would have to be little waves. The song sparrow flew low and fast from one clump of cattails to another. A red winged blackbird was skittish and with a gray sky I couldn’t even see its red epaulets. Meanwhile there was nothing new at the dam though I think the holes through it are getting more efficient as the dam is worn down. Despite the inch of rain yesterday, the pond water level seemed a little lower than usual. I slowly approached the Lost Swamp Pond, but was looking at the ground and not the trees. A large owl flew off a perch there and flew low through the trees to the south. Then I saw ripples radiating from a spot at the southwest corner if the pond that I couldn’t see. Then I saw one wood duck fly off from that area, and got a glimpse of another, but it flew off before I could train my camcorder on it. I sat on the rock above the mossy cove latrine and finally saw something worthy of video. A group of geese were fighting around the lodge in the southeast end of the pond. The camcorder did a good job of capturing that excitement, as some geese flapped up and others snaked their heads just inches above the water.

The still I lifted from the video wasn’t bad considering the distance. I haven’t tried the camera function of the camcorder yet.

Then I heard a murder of crows cawing no doubt ganging up on the owl that flew over that way. I needed a top notch tape recorder more than a camcorder. After sitting and watching for 15 minutes, both geese and crows quieting down, I began my usual slow walk around the west end of the pond, looking hard at the pine roots a beaver has been eating seeing perhaps some new gnaws but nothing major. Then 10 more yards down the shore I saw a beaver swim out into the pond. It may have made the ripples I first saw and then climbed up on the bank to eat what little green grass is now appearing. I took video first

And then a photo with my camera.

The beaver did not look well nor show its usual zeal. Here is a photo lifted from the video.

It did not slap its tail and while it did swim in a broad weaving pattern it didn’t have its chin high in the air. Its fur was nappy and unkempt, but most likely a dive into the water would have smoothed all that, and darkened the color. I left the beaver and think it went into the lodge in the middle of the pond but I didn’t see it dive. I couldn’t see what it might have been eating on the southwest shore. There was a little green grass there. When I got up near the dam, I saw some very small stripped sticks here and there, which even all together hardly amounted to a meal.

There has been no work on the dam but with all the rain the pond’s water level remains high. I sat for 15 minutes and, as often happens, a muskrat swam across the pond. I tried to get a very close shot with my camcorder and that didn’t work well. I also tried to get video of two herons flying in close formation. They wanted to perch on the big dead tree behind the dam, where I have seen as many as three herons perch at once, but my being there scared them. They flew off, still paired together, flying without contention. Perhaps they are mates. My video of them was rather jerky. They were too close to me. Then as I got up to leave, several male red winged blackbirds had a fight, flying furiously around and through the honeysuckle bushes, much too fast to video. Walking down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond, I saw a few trillium.

For years we never saw any on the island, then only in very protected places that deer couldn’t reach, but now they pop up here and there. I approached the grotto pool from the top of the knoll so I could look down on the beaver if it was out, but it wasn’t. I took a photo showing how the pile of stripped at the west end of the pond has grown.

Then I walked down and took a photo of the shredded bark (inner bark I suppose) that had been formed into a neater nest shape. It was more misshapen today, and a portion of it looked wet or stained. Maybe an animal other than the beaver had urinated on it.

The stripped sticks around the nest were dry and white. The many more sticks bobbing in the water were yellowish and many were unstripped.

This beaver is eating well, especially compared to the forlorn beaver I saw in the Lost Swamp Pond. It struck me that the beaver here might be the larger of that pair, the one I always assumed was the female. Last year I thought she acted pregnant because she seemed to hog the sunshine as the smaller male policed the pond when the otters were around. But there were no kits. Perhaps this year she really is pregnant and is eating all she can. But this is all brave talk until I actually see the beaver here. I saw the stump of a small tree the beaver cut just a few feet from its nest.

There was no trunk around so I assumed all parts of that were floating in the pond. I thought I saw that more of the bushes in the pond had been trimmed but I forgot to look closely. I took a general view of the pool which at least shows that the bushes were getting leaves and soon I might be able to identify them.

Then I continued on to the south shore of the East Trail Pond. As I sat on the ridge waiting for something to appear, it started to rain. I didn’t sit much longer. Comparing the photo below with old photos of the dam, I can now report that the beavers are indeed building up the dam.

And the water level of the pond seems to have risen a few inches. The beavers have just about stripped all the bark off the red oak that fell into the pond that they can easily reach. (N.B. a year ago I thought I saw evidence of beavers in this family climbing up the leaning trunk of a large red oak gnawing a good 10 feet off the ground.)

The view from the other side showed how the portion of the trunk that is underwater has been stripped.

The beavers continue to trim the crown of the big ash tree down at the west end of the pond.

What they have segmented has been dragged away. I have celebrated the stump of this ash as a piece of beaver art. In that vain, I see now that beaver art has its critics.

I think it’s the poop of a fisher. I saw more fresh beaver work across the pond, and while it was difficult to know exactly where they got the logs, I saw several new ones stripped.

So these beavers seem to be doing well. I headed home in the light rain, and saw a heron in South Bay as well as a muskrat nibbling greens peaking up from between the dead cattails.

May 5 we finally had a cloudless day. However, our land was thoroughly soaked. In a normal spring the water table is about 2 or 3 feet below the surface, now with every step there is an ooze of water. That made collecting logs problematical so I cleaned my cabin and then sat by the Turtle Bog to see what I might see. I wanted to get video of the wood frog tadpoles swimming around their egg sacks, but the mass was in the shade, still deep in the water, and there were only a few tadpoles. On my way to the sunny side of the bog, I saw the remnants of a snail shell or what looked liked the outer layer of the shell.

I saw a smaller egg mass in the sunny part of the pond and if there had been tadpoles, I could have had a good video, but there were none there.

I sat on a rock near the water and as I looked for a caddisfly larva,

I was treated to the antics of boatmen and skimmers. I saw some of the latter do a flip in the air, evidently their way of getting out of entanglements. A few weeks ago I was hearing wood frogs in the Boundary Pond, so I headed down there to see if I could find their eggs. I went via the foot of the mossy ridge where the flowers there should be at their peak. Indeed some clumps of hepatica seemed to be exploding. Usually you don’t see the liver colored leaves so high off the ground.

I gravitated to the mossy ledges along the cliff where I saw the best crop of ginger ever.

Several of the plants had a low purple flower.

The neighboring ledge had elegant sessile bellwort but they were not blooming yet.

The pool beside the valley that the beavers made more open by their tree cutting last fall is as full as I’ve ever seen it. No sign of frog eggs there but I should continue to keep an eye on this to see if its having more water and getting more sun increases the aquatic life there.

No signs of beavers returning to the valley. The trouble with finding frog eggs in the Boundary Pond is that the pond is so big, especially this spring. Before I found eggs I found a concentration of tadpoles darting out from under leaves under water as I walked by. So I sat on a nearby rock and tried to zero in on them. It didn’t take long for the tadpoles to settle down and I got a good video of their wiggling about as they browsed for food. The video below also includes the skimmers I saw in the Turtle Bog and a snail I saw turning slowly on a stick below the tadpoles.

One tadpole rooted to a rock below me.

And I saw a snail turning around under water.

I also saw frogs about, but not many yet. There were three painted turtles sunning on logs nearby. One slipped in the water before I could get a photo. Two ignored me for longer than usual.

The sun has been stingy in its appearances this year. One of that pair never budged even though I got rather close.

Then I saw a half dozen on a log but they all bailed out before I could get a photo. In general the trillium is better than in other years, and the blue violets are now out all around.

May 6 we worked in the gardens on our land in the morning, and then when we got back to the island, at a little after 5pm, I went off to see if I could get some video of the beavers at the East Trail Pond. I planned to go directly to that pond but I took the fork of Antler Pond that headed toward the Big Pond dam. The water in that pond is now looking low.

The muskrat lodges behind the dam are once again high and dry.

The water continues to flow through the dam so I am beginning to think that the rush of water the last month has worn down the holes in the dam so that the pond will get a good bit lower than it did a month or so ago when it got lower than most of the holes in the dam.

One spring a few years ago there was a very deep hole in the dam which reduced the pond to a stream. The beavers patched that how rather quickly. None of the holes in the dam are that deep but one should take the pond level down another foot. I sat at my perch eager to use my new camcorder but there was no action out on the pond. Nor was there much happening on the Lost Swamp Pond. No beaver was around. However, I did see fresh nibbling, but off the tiniest twigs on a small berry bush.

I have been two minds about this minimal beaver activity here. I first thought it represented the beavers waiting for the inevitable burst of greens around the pond, and then as they ate those green, there would be less woody remains of their meals for me to see. I thought that might also explain their not fixing the dam because greens might grow quicker in and around the pond, if the pond was shallow. Then I got the notion that the pregnant mate of the smaller beaver I saw here went to the grotto pool north of the Second Swamp Pond where she is getting plenty of trees to eat, and that the male beaver lingers by the Lost Swamp Pond dam waiting for her return enduring a sympathetic hunger diet. That sounds silly, but I think we humans do underestimate the devotion animals have for one another, especially beavers. They don’t live in a larger society of beavers, just their immediate companion, and immediate offspring, but, that said, their regard seems to be only for the living. I’ve never seen a beaver mourn the death of another beaver. Idle thoughts. Needless to say, no work had been done on the dam.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago a goose seemed be starting a nest on the lodge in the middle of the pond, back when I saw two beavers sunning on the lodge. Then I no longer saw the goose, nor the beavers, on the lodge. I saw a pair of geese on the north shore of the pond a week or so ago. Today, I saw a pair of geese swimming near the lodge.

I get the sense that there is no nest now in the life of these geese. I crossed along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam and then headed down to the grotto pond. There were still a couple of comb frogs still creaking in the vernal ponds. I got up on a rocky part of the slope north of the grotto pool and sat a bit hoping to see the beaver, but there was no activity in the pool. I was entertained by the singing of a hermit thrush in a tree a bit behind me. I didn’t walk over to see what new logs the beaver might have stripped. I expect to be out here again in the early evening so I don’t want to alarm the beaver, in case it still is here. As I crossed the creek below the East Trail Pond, I saw some rather large horsetails growing in the still wet ground.

They were close together, about the same size, but looked different. One was skirted with green.

Then I got to my destination. As usual, of late, I climbed the ridge south of the beaver dam forming a pond in the upper half of the old East Trail Pond. I didn’t see anything out on the pond, so I moved to the west and soon saw that a beaver was in the middle of the pond a little west of the lodge.

I situated myself lower on the ridge affording myself of a better view of the red oak the beavers have been stripping than of the dam or that beaver. I expected it to move up pond after it finished nibbling the stick that already looked completely stripped.

But that beaver turned and swam to the dam and followed the line of the dam to the north where I lost sight of it. When another beaver appeared -- I am pretty sure it was a second beaver because it looked darker -- it too moved over to the dam, but I could train my camcorder on it because it was at the south end of the dam.

As is often the case when a beaver is behind a dam facing no great crisis in terms of leaks, it is hard to tell if it is pushing what it fishes out of the water up on the dam or if it is browsing for things to eat on the dam. It was probably doing both. It left the dam and swam about 10 yards behind it, where it seemed to fish up something worthy of gnawing. Then it dove and swam directly to the dam and it looked to me like it pushed something up on the dam. A muskrat also materialized and went over the dam. I kept waiting for a beaver to appear in the upper part of the dam and strip the red oak. Finally, just before I had to go home for dinner, a beaver starting gnawing something in the water just off the north shore of the pond, still a bit far away from me. But with the camcorder I could see it labor and muddy that part of the pond.

Just before I left, a muskrat toured the upper part of the pond, right below me, and walked over the stripped red oak trunk. The short video gives a glimpse of the beaver and muskrat activity I saw in that forty-five minutes.

It’s possible that I only saw one beaver, since I never saw two together. But I think I saw two. I expect that another beaver, at least, is there. A heron flew in and flew right off when it saw that I was there. Birds can see many times better than beavers can.

May 7 we spent the night at our land which was somewhat bittersweet. All winter I looked forward to seeing the beavers in the Last Pool, sitting in my chair, battling the black flies and mosquitoes and watching the beavers go about their business preparing for new kits. But the beavers are gone. Still I went to my chair a little before dinner. I hoped to use my new camcorder to get some close-ups of birds. And the new regime got off to a good start. A newly arrived bird, what I thought might be an ovenbird, was perched right in front of my chair. I took video of it as I continued to walk closer to it and it flew off when I got near my chair.

Thanks to the camcorder I was able to get a pretty good close-up of it, and later I checked a bird book and it perhaps looks more like a veery. Sitting out here on a damp day, I heard a hermit thrush, but I didn’t hear any thrush tonight. I hoped to see the muskrats that were here but they didn’t make an appearance. A wood duck flew in and landed in Boundary Pond and began to swim toward me, then it saw me and flew off before I could get any video. I saw a commotion way down in the Boundary Pond and trained my camcorder down there. On the camcorder screen I could just make out a mated pair of wood ducks. The wood ducks I usually see are invariably upright and strike me as timid ducks with head high looking for any cause to take off in a whining flight to safety. But I was probably about fifty yards from this pair giving them no cause for alarm. In the camcorder I saw the male acting as always with his head high, but the female followed with her neck and head stretched low just above the water. I had never seen that behavior before. The male twice went back to the female, and eventually he also got his head down. She kept low following him as if he were pulling her with a string.

Unfortunately, the pairs’ progress was soon hidden by trees. When I finally saw them again they were both upright. The black flies were worse than I anticipated so I took a little walk about principally to admire the trilliums. Due to the wet spring they seemed to be all over. One was right behind where I was sitting, an area I had never seen them before.

Then there were trillium between the rocks going down to the water.

And up on the crest of the ridge, peeking out between the trees.

Trillium dominated, and perhaps I could say saxifrage was doing well.

Before the beavers flooded this area and trimmed back a good number of trees, I used to see plenty of violets here. There are perhaps not as many now, or it may be that the unprecedented number of trilliums just keeps the other flowers in the shade, so to speak. I cut through the Hemlock Cathedral, seldom flowers there and none this spring, and then I went down the west slope of the ridge. No trillium there. I guess it likes the morning sun. Down on the soggy flat, heading toward the road, I saw several honeysuckles and one buckthorn with white on the lower trunk.

I assume it is fungus. After dinner I took a walk down the road to listen to the frogs. The peepers seemed more spread out than usual perhaps because there were more vernal pools around due to all the rain we had. But once again the trilliums stole the show. At the triangle of slope that forms the western point of our land, there has always been an impressive spread of trilliums. This year trilliums were everywhere on the slope that faces to the east. As I walked around I heard a whip-poor-will down toward White Swamp. Meanwhile Leslie heard one up around our First Pond.

May 8 I made a point of taking a morning walk to get photos of the spread of trilliums along the roads beginning at the west end of our land, above the Deep Pond,

Then the trilliums continued up the slope across the road

And they just kept going

In the light of day I also saw large patches of sessile bellwort in the spread of trilliums.

Even spying both flowers together looking like a shy couple.

However, the bellwort typically bunches together.

As I walked down the road, I saw a muskrat swimming in the Deep Pond and on my way back I sat in a chair by the dam to see what the muskrat was up to. I soon saw two muskrats out and their project seemed to be collecting dead stalks of the large fan grass and carrying that into their burrow in the dam.

Then they both came out at once and there was a short chase. One went back toward the dam, then the other turned and collected more dry grass. When it came back the other, loitering behind the dam, rushed out to confront it and follow it back to the dam like it was trying to jump on its back.

When the one with the stalks dived, the other swam out around the pond, browsing here and there. I think it eventually went into the old beaver lodge under the knoll. We spent most of the rest of the day working in the garden but I had a chance to check the flowers on the east slope of the knoll by the Deep Pond. Viewed from afar this area doesn’t look like a promising place to see flowers.

But once I got through the bushes along the pond, I was greeted by the biggest trilliums around up on a mossy ledge

On another ledge trilliums were sharing the space with another healthy clump of flowers, early meadowrue.

As I walked around the pond I saw two areas with poop up on slope forming the shore of the pond, that could have been left by an otter. One had little beads that looked like fish eggs. I saw something like this last year and I think I determined that they weren’t fish eggs.

And a quarter of the way around the pond and I saw poops that looked more like otter scats though I couldn’t see any scales in them.

During many other springs, I’ve seen evidence of an otter visiting this pond.

May 9 I checked the ponds on the island in the late afternoon knowing it was probably too early to see the beavers, but, of course, I could see if any repairs had been made on the dams. The Big Pond is getting lower and behind the dam the water was shallow and muddy.

Something has been back there, but not an industrious beaver as water keeps flowing through the dam. I saw muskrat prints behind the dam which probably accounts for the muddy water. I saw a pair of wood ducks and a pair of mallards up pond. The redwing blackbirds are almost in their usual spring form but not quite to the point of constantly complaining of my presence. The Lost Swamp did not look any lower. I sat above the mossy cove latrine so I could take my time peering out at every corner of the pond. As usual I saw geese, but none around the lodge in the middle of the pond, until I was getting ready to move on. Then I saw a pair swimming down from the northeast end of the pond and I thought it was the childless couple, until I saw a blur of yellow behind them. Goslings. The parents looked proud and wary, save that instead of one in front and one behind, as usual, both were leading the parade.

Maybe they did that to impress the goslings with the need to keep moving forward with no dawdling. On my way over to the dam I didn’t see any sure beaver work, and there was no work on the dam, though the jam of debris seems to be keeping the water up.

As I approached the dam a muskrat swam away from it. So I sat on a nearby rock and in about 10 minutes a muskrat reappeared, but only to swim to the dam and then back into the lodge. Then a big bird swooped in and at first I thought it might be an eagle, but it proved to be a rather large osprey. I took a video of the water running through the dam, but that flow is not as dramatic as it has been, not from any doings of the beavers. As I walked down to the Upper Second Swamp Pond that duck like bird with the white and raspy flight call flew off from the dam. I should put my mind to identifying it and next time have the camcorder ready. A sandpiper remained, working the mud of the lowering pond.

We humans look askance at mud but I think all animals appreciate its revelations at least in those few days before it bakes hard and it is easy to eat the things lurking in it. I can cross the dam here quite easily now. There were no frogs singing around the vernal pool. I approached the Grotto Pool looking for a beaver, and instead saw a porcupine half way up a small elm. It backed down and disappeared before I could get a good photo of it. As the shrubs around the pool leaf out, what the beaver had cut and stripped looms less large. I took photos of the piles of stripped sticks, and am now at the stage where I will have to compare what I saw today with old photos.

The beaver here certainly is eating more than any other beaver or beavers I am keeping track of.

But I would have liked to see another tree cut down which would give me confidence that a beaver is still here. I walked over the ridge and looked down on the Second Swamp Pond lodge to make sure no beaver had been there. The water is so shallow that I think anything using the lodge, even a muskrat, would have raised some mud, and there were no signs of that or any nibbled sticks.

This valley where beavers had been active for at least 30 years still has its pools and so to that degree the beavers increased the wetness of the land and all the good things arising from that.

But there is undoubtedly much less woody vegetation and no evidence of trees growing back. I think that may in part arise because in their own way beavers improve the drainage of an area. Their canals are as efficient as a farmer’s ditch in draining an area, though, of course, not originally designed for drainage. I headed over to the East Trail pond and sat above the dam the beavers there are maintaining.

Here may be another case of the beavers first enlivening a section of a valley, only to leave it ultimately drier when this small dam fails. Time will tell. Of course, I waited for beavers to appear like they did the other day, coming to the dam after their first meal. But I was a bit early. I kept seeing muskrats in the upper part of the pond, but when I headed home going up that direction, all the muskrats disappeared. I did see that the beavers had stripped more bark off the downed red oak trunk.

The mayapples had been up for a week or so, but now really look like they are marching,

Really a delightful plant as it takes over a small area. Some of the plants are getting ready to bloom.