Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 6 to 12, 2011

June 6 we were away from our land for the weekend and, of course, the first thing I checked when we got back was what the beaver has been cutting at the Third Pond. A clump of willow off the south shore that it had half cut down now only had two willows left, out of about 10.

The beaver also began cutting the smaller three of about nine little birches coming out of a clump.

There is a small pile of cut willow trunks. The leaves are stripped but none of the bark has been eaten. It looks like the beaver is waiting for that pleasure. Perhaps the leaves are especially tasty now.

There are plenty of willows left, still a forest of them in front of the burrow. I assume the beaver will be loath to cut those since they provide cover.

Where I have seen the beaver cut willows, in the southwest corner of the pond, also still has plenty more to cut.

But one small clump has been cleared.

There is also a pile of willow trunks on the north end of the pond

But it is harder to see what they have cut.

A grove of red maples, which the beaver probably won’t cut, blocks a good view of the willows.

In the afternoon I went to sit by a chair on the west shore of the pond. As I approached I saw ripples on the west bank right where I was heading. I soon saw that most were made by wood ducklings and then saw a muskrat swimming to the north shore of the pond. It swam off to the willow clumps on the east shore when I took my next step. When I got to the chair, I didn't have long to wait before I saw ducklings moving through the shrubs on the east side of the pond. Soon they swam out where I could see them, one female wood duck and a dozen ducklings. They kept moving usually out of any order as the ducklings peck at the bugs on the grasses of the pond. Briefly they almost formed a line, and, of course, did generally head in one direction. When they headed into the willow clumps of the south shore and then headed right back. I hoped that they bumped into the beaver.

And maybe they did because I soon saw the beaver swimming out from the dense part of the willows and finding another willow to cut. From this angle it was easier to see how many willows the beaver has cut. I guess it always tilts its mouth so it cuts in one direction.

It reared up and cut a willow and yanked it out from the clump and then swam back with it in its mouth carrying it into the thicker part of the willows where I couldn't see the beaver.

I've never seen such a small pond so busy just before 5pm.

June 7 we took a walk down the road in the morning and once again we found snapping turtles. We followed one as it walked down the road (we usually see them always walking up the road.) This snapper looked like it had been roughed up, with streaks on the front of its shell and the back of its shell looked flakey.

Then there was a white fleck on its snout and I don’t think it was a blossom.

Not sure what could have caused streaking on its shell like that. We saw scraping on the road left by a turtle.

Maybe there was a turtle fight. Then when we got down to White Swamp, we saw where a turtle had dug into the side of the road in three places,

and in the middle nest sat the dusty snapping turtle

With eggs seemingly just out of it rear.

Leslie got the notion of rescuing some and hatching them herself.

The turtle didn’t mind her getting close, but the eggs were already pierced. Perhaps a crow had come and pecked some food out of them. There were wide ranging turtle tracks on the road.

Then I sat at the Deep Pond. I have seen muskrats out at this hour, and I was seeing one today but didn’t notice it until it reacted to my presence and made a quick dive. I didn’t notice it because I saw where a turtle had laid eggs next to the chair by the dam,

And the turtle was down in the grass just in front of the chair. I tried to ignore it and looked up to see the muskrat. I think it swam to the bank lodge under the knoll, at least, it faced that direction when it dove. The pond is getting a good bit of surface vegetation, and I could see a trail of open water through it leading to that lodge.

There were trails heading to the dam,

And there was a wide trail through the vegetation going to the burrow in the east end of the dam.

Finally, during this brief sit, I saw a delicate damsel fly sitting on a big leaf.

Then I got to work wrestling with logs I cut finding it nice to be so heroic with no one but the trees and shrubs watching. I am sure the birds and bees are too busy to notice. I did notice that the hawkweed was out.

I went back to the Deep Pond in the afternoon. I didn’t see any muskrats but I did get a video of a yellow throat in the honeysuckle bushes on the dam.

I took a walk down the road after dinner, and when I got down to the turtle digging we saw in the morning, I saw what looked like a raccoon hustle away from the eggs.

June 8 while I didn’t bother the Third Pond beaver yesterday, I did check to see what it has been up to this morning. The beaver pushed a couple more old logs over the dam. I’m not sure where it got them but certainly didn’t cut them down.

However, the water level of the pond is dropping. No water is flowing in and there is still a trickle getting through the dam and there’s evaporation during the long sunny days of June. I got around to the south end of the pond where the beaver has been cutting willow. It looked like it was going to start cutting all the saplings in some clumps, but it didn’t. The two remaining trunks of one willow trunk were spared, and I got a better photo of it.

Nor was the birch clump visited again and I got a better photo of that too,

But the pile of cut willow trunks along the shore has definitely grown,

and I saw another clump of willows in the well shaded southwest corner of the pond.

This suggests that the beaver has been cutting willow in the large grove of them where I saw it working back on the 6th.

The grove looks thinner, but as I noticed before, it is harder to see the cuts from this side of the pond. I saw that the beaver had come up dry land and cut some willows there.

It cut some trees above a fork, always taking the larger. Some of the smaller trunks were dead, and, of course, had fewer leaves. We headed back to the island before my usual time for watching the beaver.

June 10 on the evening of the 8th, when we were back on the island, a violent thunderstorm rolled through blowing trees over nearby and then a few hours later there was a larger but less violent storm. Yesterday after a day of chores, I planned to check the beaver ponds in the late afternoon but another small storm kept me inside. It skirted us. So this morning I toured the ponds. Of course, I always hope to see full ponds with signs of beaver and otter activity and with the usual cast of characters secondary to my obsessions. Since the Big Pond dam has not been tended and the heavy rains have stopped (the thunder storms were more show than flow), the Big Pond is lower still. But having seen this before in all seasons, I am buoyed up by what I perceive as lessons to learn. As I approached the dam, after seeing nothing new in the latrine south of it, I saw a muskrat swim into one of the burrows in the middle of the dam. I sat on my perch to give it time to swim out, but I didn’t see a ripple from the dam and no sign of waving grass indicating it went through the dam. So, as often is the case, the dam is its happy home. Once again there were two common terns working the pond that I figure in many places is becoming too shallow for a bird to dive into.

They did skim the water a few times and I though oriented their flying toward the deeper areas of the pond, like behind the dam where my presence was probably inconveniencing them. Walking along the dam conditions were about the same as the other day: water still trickling out of two holes in the dam, muskrat leftovers in the water outside the lower holes into the dam that the muskrat probably just dug out, and blooming blue flag iris here and there. There is still plenty of water in the pond. I took a photo showing the growing apron behind the dam, say 6 to 8 feet at places, plus the photo suggests the general shallowness of the pond but also shows the expanse of water, clear sailing to the lodge on the north shore.

That lodge is high out of the water but I don’t think the entrances to it are bared yet. The beavers have done a lot of dredging there over the years. As I recall, 20 years or more ago, the first lodge in this pond was behind the middle of the dam, straddling the original creek here. I don’t think I saw that lodge on the north shore being built. I’ll have to check my notes. Lowering ponds do get me thinking of the past since the future beaver-wise seems a bit bleak. When they were living up pond in the past, they still came down and kept this dam in repair by this time of the year. Toward the north end of the dam, I could walk behind the dam by the clumps and, gingerly, on the hardening mud all sprouted with new green grass. A sparrow darted out from one thick little shrub, and then what looked like a sparrow fledge, flew out and successfully hid itself without flying much higher than a foot. The ancient trail going north from the dam was well closed by vegetation.

Continuing through the meadow I kept my camera ready. I almost got a good photo of a bumble bee latched onto the purple flowers of the cow vetch. I kept bowing to yellow hawkweed, I guess it is, thinking that a bee was on it, and each time, it was a bud up over the blooms.

The Lost Swamp Pond was relatively quiet too, certainly no signs of beavers being around. The geese in the pond seem to be doing well. The last time I was here they were way down in the southeast end of the dam. Today I first saw them on the northwest shore slowly swimming around skirting the northeast shore. There were two different families. One with 6 goslings and the other with 3. For most of the way the goslings were in line, then as they cruised along the peninsula both families stopped and bunched up.

The adults looked over to the north, I too saw some ripples and wake. I hoped the bolder ripples were made by an otter, giving the geese pause, but all the commotion was made by muskrats. I had never noticed geese according muskrats any respect before, but today they waited until a muskrat swam across the pond in front of them. After it passed, the lead goose family continued on around the pond.

The other, smaller family, went up onto the mud for some grass to eat,

but only briefly. They soon continued around the pond too. The muskrat making the fuss around the lodge on the north shore didn’t venture far from the lodge and went back into it. I was hoping to see otter signs at the mossy cove latrine, but all I saw were goose poops. The pond is getting shallow. The old dam the divides the pond is slowly emerging again.

As is the rock between the southwest shore and the peninsula.

I checked the big patch of mayapples in the shade off the south shore of the pond and saw some small apples bobbing below the deteriorating leaves.

On the north shore of the pond, I saw some digging in the dirt just up from the pond.

This looked like the work of a turtle or a raccoon, or both. And at the sloping otter latrine closer to the dam, a raccoon certainly cleared out some turtle eggs.

A log near the dam had been clawed up, a raccoon probably did that, too. The dam presented a pretty picture. At first glance it looked like it was doing its job.

But all the sticks where the otters had made a hole in the winter were horizontal. They had simply washed into the dam. Water was still leaking through. It takes some engineering to dam water. I walked down the ridge north of the pond to see if there were turtle nests up there where they usually are. But none were there or none discovered by raccoons yet. As I walked down the south shore of the shallow Second Swamp Pond, I caught a glimpse of something swimming in it. Probably a duck because once it got into the grasses it didn’t reappear. The Second Swamp Pond dam was deceptively easy to cross. I would have managed it but one foot found the way into one old burrow and got rather wet and muddy. This dam has not been tended by a beaver in three years and the water is inexorably widening the hole through the old spillover.

Last year the otters latrined just below the dam. I glanced that way, and saw that there were a couple circles of dead grass, but no otter had been there recently. I saw a water snake curled up getting some sun.

Judging from some muddy water behind the dam, muskrats have been using the pond.

I’m getting the impression that muskrats quite rule in shallow ponds. Going in the woods below the East Trail Pond, always a good place to spot unique plants, I saw a nice outburst of fungi, the squaw root.

I crossed the East Trail Pond on the boardwalk throug the meadow. So far the wet spring has made the meadow lush and diverse. I noticed this when my eyes followed a deer trail. I could see the variety of plants it had been munching and walking over.

Looking the other direction I could see where the deer knocked over some blue flag irises.

As things get drier, the buckwheat vines may soon entangle everything. I’ll try to get Leslie out here before then to try to identify all the plants. I took a photo of one of the shrubs the beavers cut in the winter which is sprouting out all over now. Not a willow after all.

There is sprouting like this all over now, but it might not amount to much when it gets dry.

I didn’t see any fresh beaver work in the meadow, nor for that matter behind the dam. But I was primarily looking for more otter signs. Throughout this hike I was also looking for large trees that had been blown down in the recent storms. I found one on the Shangri-la meadow side of the ridge. A pine lost its perch on a high granite rock.

Since I had a good view of it, I took a photo of where Shangri-la Pond should be, all green now, but there might be some interesting plants growing down there too.

When I gained the height of the ridge north of the pond and looked down at the slope up from the East Trail Pond where I think otter had been I saw some fresh digging in the dirt.

That gnawing on the oaks, by the way, is not recent. The beavers did that in the winter. On my way down to that digging, I passed the digging that I had thought was an otter rolling area. Now it has been roughed up a bit, not by an otter.

And down below, closer to the water, there was turf scraped down to rock, but no otter scats there.

Nor were there any scats around the digging on the slope that first attracted my attention.

Meanwhile the pond was quiet so I didn’t sit long and headed for South Bay. On my way I saw a group of six deer just up from the Bay. If the otter family which I think had been doing swimming lessons in the East Trail Pond has not gone to the other ponds, then, as otters used to do several years ago, they may have come down to the South Bay marshes. But where I hoped to see fresh otter scats, I saw goose poop.

Then in the latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay, I saw some fresh scraping of grass and dirt, very much in an otter’s style,

and there were relatively fresh otter scats right where they should be at the end of the scraping.

There was more scratching of grass closer to the water but I didn’t see any scats there.

So my hike was not in vain, but by my theories this couldn’t have been done by a mother with young pups. Then I walked down the Audubon Pond embankment. There is a lot less water in the pond below the embankment,

Which suggests that beavers are not there. I didn’t see any trees cut down since I was here last, but there may have been more gnawing on a big tree next to the pond.

As I’ve mentioned before, the beavers keep trying to use mud to stop water from going down the new and improved drain protected by a cage of steel.

It looks as if they might have slowed the flow with on the cage bars, which of course would mean less water for the pond below. I should have walked around Audubon Pond looking for beaver work, but it was time to head home. The trail down the embankment was still well worn with some spots of darker dirt suggesting a wet beaver had come up it that morning.

So I think the beavers are still here and perhaps confused from no fault of their own. That drain is a unique feature and perhaps they don’t quite understand how it works. I don’t think this is a Pavlovian compulsion to stop flowing water. I think beavers like to control the flow of water if they can and so far they haven’t been able to control the flow of water going down the drain. Simultaneously they take advantage of what does flow down to pond below the embankment. As I hurried home along the South Bay trail, I thought I had seen everything. Then I saw that in the seasonally deep water at the end of the north cove there were a dozen or more big carp slowly swimming around.

There was some brief thrashing along the shore. Maybe the water is not quite warm enough for spawning. Continuing around on the South Bay trail, I saw another snapping turtle.

This one had a strange bump on the back of its shell.

A snail? I wasn’t about to touch it. We went to our land in the afternoon to spend the night and I got there in plenty of time to spy on the beaver at the Third Pond. A low pressure was approaching and while still sunny the wind was from the northeast so I approached the pond from the south. I went via Boundary Pond which I had not seen in a while. I sat in my chair briefly and since there were no beavers to watch there, I took it with me to the Third Pond. Boundary Pond is shrinking a bit. There is a blue flag iris growing next to the channel going through the lower end of what I called the Last Pool.

Assuming that the beavers don’t return for years, it will be interesting to see how this valley grows back. Here is a photo taken in June 2008 looking south to the just started dam.

And here is the view today of the lodge and dam taken from the ridge.

There is a lot more sunlight in the valley and if the dam gets more porous there should once again be a thick carpet of ferns and once again some interesting pools and channels of water which the beavers dredged deeper. But what if this well built dam persists? And there is annually enough rain to make this a permanent pond? Interesting prospects, but no need to sit and watch developments every day, so I continued on with my trusty old to chair to where a beaver is. Up in the Hemlock Cathedral the only bright colors are from mushrooms on the trunks of dead trees.

Of course I tried not to make noise at the Third Pond which was difficult. Unfolding the chair was bad enough, the legion of mosquitoes attracted to me was worse. But I’ve learned no longer to slap them. I pinch at them. I didn’t see the beaver in the pond but I saw one lump that could be a beaver. Since it hadn’t reacted to all the commotion I decided it wasn’t a beaver and took a photo of the pond in general, just to show the new angle I had on it,

I thought the willow clumps looked thinner. The last time I was at this end of the pond, I noted that the willows fronting the burrow looked untouched, but today it looked like some had been cut and hauled down.

But I don’t want to go over there and investigate as long as the beaver is here. Then to my embarrassment, it turned out that the black lump in the pond that I first saw was the beaver. Now it was contentedly gnawing on leaves of the smaller shrubs not a willow.

It didn’t seem to notice me and I hoped it woould swim over and cut one of the willows closer to me, but it disappeared and then several minutes later I heard beaver humming from the far north end of the pond and then I saw it reaching up getting a low branch to strip the leaves off.

I was about to conclude that it had lost its taste for high willow leaves when it swam over into a grove of them, dragged one down and swam with it into the grasses where I couldn’t see it.

My new perch had a good view of the pond. I could even see some of the area in front of the burrow in the east bank. I saw the beaver dive there evidently heading inside. I walked along the shore away from the burrow, and thought there were more willows in the pile on the south shore. No stripping of the bark yet.

I didn’t see many more trees cut up on land, maybe one or two. The dam looked the same. As I left the pond I looked back and saw the beaver swimming toward the dam.

June 11 To get to my chair on the south side of the Third Pond (we still have a northeast wind), I went via the Deep Pond, around the knoll, cross the little creek and up the ridge. A raccoon raided the turtle nest by the dam of the Deep Pond.

I should feel sorry for the turtle’s loss but I’ve seen so many snapping turtles this Spring, it is obvious that in general they are doing well. On my way to the knoll above the old bank lodge, I checked where some jack-in-the-pulpit have grown the last few years. If some were there, they were swallowed up by the other lush vegetation. I was surprised to see the remains of a raccoon, the skull almost ready to add to our bone collection.

It looked like a relatively young raccoon. Hovering high above, well a yard or two away, was the biggest nightshade plant I’ve ever seen.

Hard to get a good photo of the dangling blooms.

The only flowers I saw in that hot house area below the knoll where I see all the spring blooms were a few fern Roberts. All was green. Crossing the little creek, I admired the clumps of adolescent Joe Pye weeds soon be tall enough to play in the NBA.

and toward the shade up stream there is a carpet of ferns.

In the woods going up the ridge, I saw a luna moth on a pine trunk

Not exactly well camouflaged. Then I sat and waited for the beaver. Black birds after bugs entertained me briefly. I got a glimpse of a muskrat. But after an hour no beaver appeared as usual. I got the vibe that the beaver had left and so I walked closer to the burrow to see what it might have cut there and could only surely see one little freshly stumped willow, but it looked like there must be more.

I also went closer to the work on the north shore. I can get closer because the water level is dropping,

which is a good reason for the beaver to leave. But we think it left once and came back, so maybe it will again. Rain is on the way. I finally saw a hare today, eating the salt on the road, I assume. Then in our evening walk down to White Swamp, we saw that the raccoon dug out the three turtle nests along the side of the road near the swamp.

Coming back up the road we saw two baby raccoons in the middle of the road, not sure what to do as we approached. One went off the road to the south and one to the north. I sat by the Deep Pond, no muskrats. And then up at the Third Pond. No beaver, but plenty of night sounds led by the tree frogs.

June 12 This should have been a day like any other fueled with more energy from last night’s rain. But our companion for the last year and a half, our budgie Little Birdie woke up sick. By 8am we knew he was dying and a bit after 11am after both incredible spasms of attempted to flight as well as a brave effort to reclaim his routines, he made a last wild jump and died. I held his warm body in my hand. Leslie was in her garden. I stumbled around outside to get some flowers and leaves so she would see what she loved so dearly as, especially at the end, a thing of beauty and joy.

But how sad the sight. What has this to do with my observations of nature? This easy death of animals and plants that I see all around me may not be so easy. I have an urge to give up all my parsing of things and simply revel in oneness with futility, but this little bird, while very much a creature of games and sayings we created, taught me to take joy in the particular ecstasy he had with screws in the wall, deer antlers, mechanical things half his size and round stones. Unless we observe closely, we leave a vacuum for dogma and its evils. I’m writing this two days after he died and have not taken a photo since, but, inspired by his joy, for what is Earth but a round stone, I guess I’ll keep pecking away myself, but it gets harder.