Tuesday, May 29, 2012

April 3 to 5, 2012

April 3 when we left two weeks ago the whole east coast enjoyed a heat wave, but last week it was cold. Judging from what we saw when we got back yesterday, it was relatively dry when we were gone. We took a walk along the headland to stretch our legs and midges were in our face most of the way. Today we went to our land where we can best judge how much of the Spring we have missed. Leaves are just coming out and flowers were not easily seen. We didn’t hear any frogs but it had been a cold morning and the temperature climbed slowly. So we think we didn’t miss much though probably some frog choruses. We went down to the Deep Pond first to see how the beaver fared. Three mallards were in the middle of the pond, and, of course, flew off when we barged in. There didn’t appear to be that much new work on the dam.

However, the water in the pond was high and off to the west side of the dam, the beaver pushed up some grass on shore in part, I think, to keep the water from leaking around the dam and in part to dredge more of a channel along this flooded shore. There was also a small nibbled stick floating in the water.

To get to the west side of the pond, I had to go back to the road, up the hill and then down. Before we left, the beaver had been active over there, but I can’t say that I saw much evidence of the beaver being over there in the last two weeks. There was a small pile of leaves just up from the water, but there had been one when we left. I looked where the beaver had nipped saplings and it looked about the same too. I went up and over the knoll so I could get a good view of the lodge. As befits a structure buried in the snow all winter, it looked quite flattened. It also looked dry which I didn’t expect. I expected to see some signs of the beaver waddling over what looked like a great place to take a nap in the sunshine.

There was something different around the lodge. At the beginning of the winter it looked like the beaver built up the high side of it by pushing up mud. That left a lower mass of sticks. Today that mass of sticks was more spread out than I remembered.

None of the sticks looked recently stripped so I don’t think the beaver was nosing through the pile and nibbling and thus leveling the mass. The water in the pond is higher, and perhaps had been even a little higher, so may be the water raised up the sticks and spread them out. The rap on this beaver is that it doesn’t cut trees of any size. I followed a path from the pond up the slope below the knoll to the east and a few yards up I saw an ironwood that had been cut down.

The beavers I’ve watch commonly cut ironwood, though it is not their favorite meal, and they usually cut some logs off the trunk. But I’ve often see those logs left unstripped and not even taken into the pond. The beavers often content themselves with cutting and hauling the branches of the ironwood. This ironwood did not fall to the ground so the beaver couldn’t get to the branches, but it cut a log, perhaps two, off the trunk and stripped the bark off the log, leaving a pile of large wood chips behind.

I get the impression that a hungry beaver did this. This work did not look especially recent but I think that is just because it has been so dry the last two weeks. The tree was cut rather low to the ground suggesting the beaver did this after the snow melted. I saw a couple saplings cut nearby and those cuts looked fresh. But I didn’t see anything that told me that the beaver had been here last night. I walked well up the inlet creek before I found a dry path to it and an easy place to walk over it.

I didn’t see any small fish in the creek. I guess it will have to be warmer before they swim up it. They can’t go very far. I looked up the creek. I’ve long expected a beaver to try a dam up there. But this beaver isn’t making a new dam. I walked down the east side of the creek where the beaver did most of its foraging as the ice melted. I couldn’t spot any obvious fresh work, but I saw a well gnawed stick that probably wasn’t there the last time I walked here.

I followed a possible trail up to where some bigger trees grow, but it went cold and the beaver hadn’t gnawed anything there. I went over to the high slope forming the east shore of the pond and saw bit of juniper branch, no more than 6 inches, stripped and left on the bank. Then to my left I saw that the beaver had been up on that shore in a big way, a huge smear of mud, leaves and a few stripped sticks.

Then a few yards closer to the inlet and just up from the water and in the shallows, I saw a pile of nibbled sticks on top of some pushed up mud. Some of the sticks were still green.

It was easy to think that the beaver was here munching last night. I took a photo of the wide “bay” that now receives the inlet creek. There were a few stripped sticks and dead grass stalks floating there.

The pond water below the high east bank of the pond looks muddy. The water level is high enough to cover the entrances to all the bank burrows there. Given the lack of activity on the west side of the pond, I think the beaver is denning in one of the burrows in the high bank.

Often beavers leave logs outside their burrow, and I did see some logs pushed into a gap in the bank.

But I think that is a burrow that collapsed years ago. Hopefully, I’ll soon see the beaver and it will show me its den. As I continued along the high bank I saw a trail of dead wet leaves blackening the slope.

I’m not quite sure why the beaver would do that here. Why carry leaves up the slope? A bit farther on there was a pile of leaves closer to the water.

The high water is flooding the flat behind the dam and, roughly at the spot there where the beaver liked to munch and groom, there were some crisscrossed stripped sticks.

The pond is rather shallow behind the dam and it is easy to see where the pond bottom has no vegetation.

This reflects, I think, the beaver’s foraging as well as the usual dying back during the winter. While the west side of the dam did not look well repaired, the east side, where there had been a large hole in the dam, had a good wall of mud.

So the beaver seems alive and well. I went up to the Third Pond and at the dam I saw signs that a beaver had been there, several stripped logs and sticks were up on the small dam.

The beaver spent May and June here last year. Did it come back up here, or was this done by another beaver? There were more sticks and leaves pushed up on the shore.

None of this looked especially fresh. The pond itself looked a bit muddy and the hole to the burrow on the other side of the pond looked bigger.

But I think that is because I usually can’t see it because of all the shrubs in the pond. After lunch we both went up to the Turtle Bog to see if the Blanding’s turtles were out. No. We saw two balls of wood frog eggs.

No wood frogs clucking so we missed them this year. I headed down to the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. The Last Pool lodge did not have enough water around it to make it useful for beavers or muskrats.

The Last Pool had much less water in it than I thought it would.

To restore the pool that was here before the beavers moved up the valley, I’ll have to dam up the channel the beavers dug down the middle of the valley which is too efficient at draining the water.

The flat around the pond, the old pond bottom, looks bleak with only dead stumps that show no signs of life.

It’ll be interesting to see what greens up here. As I got closer to Boundary Pond, I heard some wood ducks fly off. There is enough water behind the dam to make a pond, but the photo below makes it look much bigger than it really is. Looking at the pond, I can see how shallow it is. Only the channel down the middle, around the lodge and behind the dam is deep.

There is some green grass on the flats here, but the gray lodge and dam both look lifeless.

But nothing will grow there for a while. Walking down the east side of the valley I saw some shy hepatica. There were more flowers on the west slope and a few striking clumps.

I heard one or two tentative peepers. Leslie heard some leopard frogs when she went down to the Deep Pond. Can’t really tell how much Spring we’ve missed until we stay in the evening.

April 4 I headed off in the morning to check the beaver ponds. I went via Antler Trail and the trail was dry for this time of year and I got to the Big Pond dam in good time. I sat on my perch and contemplated how little water there was behind the dam. There was 10 yards of dry dead grass between the shore of the full pond and the pond as it is now and as it has been for almost a year.

I sat for about 10 minutes. This is a good time of year to see muskrats, but I didn’t see any in the pond today. Water keeps leaking through the holes in the dam, and the dirt remaining in the dam almost looks like it has been churned.

I think it is a case of muskrat burrows in the dam having been undermined by the leaking water. Coyotes probably dug into those burrows too. There was a large and relatively fresh coyote poop in the middle of the dam. When beavers are active in a pond they usually dredge a good bit behind the dam, but beavers have not been active behind this dam for 2 or 3 years. So a good bit of silt has built up behind the dam.

This flat of silt should get thick grass on it this summer. Along the north end of the dam, there is a slight ridge of grass where the dam had been and a growing plot of grass on the dry flat behind the dam.

Of course, I turned and took a photo of the pond and in the photo the pond looks grand, but standing there I can sense how shallow the pond is.

I tried to stay close to the water as I walked along the dam looking for muskrat signs. I saw a pile of poop out a few inches in the water and at first look I thought muskrats had visited the same spot again and again as they often do.

But it’s probably more likely a large deer poop breaking apart. I didn’t see any other signs of muskrats. Before leaving the pond, I took a photo of the north shore and I think that photos gives a better idea how shallow the pond is.

The Lost Swamp Pond looks rather big too in a photo but in person one can see how shallow the pond is.

I sat on the rock above the mossy cove latrine and waited for something to happen. Soon enough a red squirrel dashed onto and then into the logs of the old beaver bank lodge along that shore. I soon saw that it was collecting dry grass and when it got a large mouthful

it ran back to and up the big pine where, no doubt, it is making its nest.

I know one otter at least visited the pond during the winter, and the pond is much more convenient now that the ice is gone. I did see a pile of old otter scat in the mossy cove latrine.

Stepping back, it was easy to see how the otter fashioned a scent mound with the scats.

It did not look like an otter had been there for a few weeks. Perhaps one visited a month ago when the snow melted. I walked around the west end of the pond, staying close to the water and not seeing any muskrat poops. But then I saw a small pile of sticks, half of the them stripped, half in the water. I saw piles like this last year and debated whether a beaver or a muskrat did the nibbling, and soon saw a lone beaver.

So a beaver may be here again. I didn’t any nips or branches cut up on the shore. The best sign that a beaver is back is work on the dam. The water is not flowing through the dam as before and the sticks there give a sense of being put there. But a beaver could fill the remaining gap in the dam with mud and logs in a matter of minutes.

All along the rest of the dam, there were no beavers signs.

However, only once last summer did the beaver here push mud up on the dam, yet the beaver was here most of the summer. Fearing that the Second Swamp Pond dam had washed away too much, I crossed the valley along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam. I can still jump across the gap in this dam. I took a photo of the valley above the pool of water behind the dam.

And a photo looking below the dam. Once there was water below almost as far as they eye could see.

That the ponds now host only maybe one beaver and even muskrats are scarce has not kept the coyotes from pooping in the middle of dams and on high spots near the ponds. I do take photos of the poop, but since I put almost every photo of otter scats that I take in this journal, I refrain from sharing the coyote poops. The juxtaposition of an old and new poop on the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam begged to be shared.

I didn’t get close enough to make sure the black poop was from a coyote. It looks like it might be raccoon poop. Once on the other side of the valley I walked down through the middle of the woods north of the Second Swamp Pond to get closer to the comb frogs, as we call the western chorus frogs, that are always in the vernal pools there. The larger of the pools has a larger chorus.

I also wanted to check the little grotto pool on the north side of the knoll over looking the Second Swamp Pond where a beaver holed up for a month on so last summer. On my way there I saw a small porcupine climbing up a tree.

When I got up on the knoll and looked down at the vernal pool, I didn’t see any signs of a beaver there but the thin tree the porcupine had half stripped was right in front of me.

Before I got to the new East Trail Pond, I paused as I walked along the boardwalk through the middle of the old pond and looked back and took a photo of the old dam.

For many years there was a lot of water in this valley. As I continued on the boardwalk, I saw three pats of coyote poop. I hope they don’t have their eyes on the beavers here. Since the beavers have built the new dam up another half foot or so, I could get a good view of what is more or less the center of the dam and the full pond behind it.

If I had shifted a little to the right or left I could have gotten a profile of the lodge in the photo. That was my intention but I didn’t notice the dead tree trunk in the way. I took a photo looking along the dam but didn’t walk out to admire the latest heaves of mud. There appeared to be more logs pushed up on the dam.

As I headed up the ridge north of the pond, I saw that the big red oak that the beavers had been gnawing for over a year finally fell down.

The huge trunk nestled quite conveniently half in the pond and the beavers had stripped bark off a few feet of trunk and cut some the branches off and hauled them away.

This old oak was not too healthy and there were a few rotten limbs on the ground, but there is plenty for the beavers to eat and it fell at a time when they are especially hungry. It’s possible that they renewed gnawing the old cut to time the tree’s fall for the Spring. The two toned stumped tells a suggestive tale.

Over the years this family has become quite adept at cutting down and stripping large red oaks. However, it is clear that the beavers did not time the cut, so to speak. They cut it to a point and trusted gravity to do the rest and split the trunk off the stump.

Red oak splits easily. I sat for a half hour or so up on the ridge. I didn’t expect a beaver to be out just before noon but thought a muskrat might make an appearance. None did, but a surround sound chorus from the leopard frogs entertained me. And I saw a Blanding’s turtle swim in a wide circle just below me. The water in the pond is deep and there seemed to be even fewer logs for turtles to climb up on than last year.

I heard a pine warbler, too. Over on the south shore I saw that two trees had finally fallen. Wind blowing the trees it was leaning on helped gravity bring down a large red oak that the beavers cut last fall. The beavers have trimmed what had been an extensive crown of branches.

A much smaller maple that the beavers almost gnawed to a point in the fall was blown down late in the winter. It’s crown had been cut and hauled away.

Some stripped logs were floating in the water nearby.

There was another tree just that just fell farther down the south shore but I’ll save studying that for another day.

After lunch we went to our land and I was eager to check the beaver work I saw yesterday to see if there were signs that the beaver returned last night. But first things first, I spread some manure in one of gardens. While doing that we had a brief shower with some small pellets of hail. The upshot was that the logs I saw yesterday at the Third Pond which looked a bit old, looked spanking fresh today.

However, I clicked back to the photos I took yesterday and saw that the only thing new was the vivifying moisture. When I got down to the Deep Pond I headed to the dam and on the way passed the pile of nibbled sticks I saw yesterday. The pile had doubled in size.

Thanks to the rain, the dirt of the dam looked like mud freshly heaved up.

As I walked back along the west shore all the dry dirt I saw pushed up by the beaver here and there on the shore looked fresh, so the only way I could gauge new beaver activity was by seeing nibbled sticks I didn’t see yesterday. High on the slope crisscrossed in the grass were some small stripped sticks.

I don’t think I saw them yesterday. Then the pile of nibbled sticks at the edge of the inlet certainly looked rearranged, and a bit bigger.

And there was a larger stick in the water, partially stripped, that wasn’t there yesterday.

So the beaver is active in the Deep Pond, but not in the Third Pond.

April 5 We had a cold cloudy morning so I bided my time until late afternoon when the sun was out in an almost cloudless sky, still chilly though. I headed for the East Trail Pond at 4:30 and hoped that the beavers would be out early. With a gusty wind from the southeast, I thought my best bet was to sit on the ridge north of the pond. As I walked along the ridge, I saw ripples broadcast from the west end of the pond and stopped long enough to see a furry body making them. I got the camcorder out and saw a muskrat swim along the south shore of the pond.

Shortly after I found a rock to sit on, I saw another muskrat swimming near the beaver lodge in the middle of the pond. The first muskrat I saw swam toward it, but they didn’t meet. The last time I saw a muskrat swimming here, I thought there was another in the pond at the same time but didn’t see it. The muskrat swimming toward the lodge had dry grass in its mouth, I assume, for bedding in the lodge. Then I briefly lost track of both muskrats until a muskrat surfaced near the beaver lodge and seemed to mark the lower edge of the lodge and then dive into the water. I was getting the impression that there was one happy couple here and then a muskrat swam from the lodge over to the north shore,

and soon after I saw a muskrat swimming along the dam. They seemed to be going toward each other and over in the tall dead stalks in the southeast corner of the pond I heard splashing and saw ripples. I began to think there was more than one couple here. To prove that, a muskrat appeared from the west end of the pond and swam right below me.

A few minutes after that I saw a muskrat swim to the dam and climb up and over it.

I still couldn’t completely grasp what the muskrats were up to as they kept moving quickly in the water and quickly when they marked. One swam from the west end of the pond -- always surprised me when one sped in from that direction, stopped on a bit of island right below me, seemed to spruce itself with rapid motions,

and then scrape up some leaves

and waddled over the pile.

Meanwhile, a beaver appeared in the middle of the pond swimming slowly from the lodge

toward the large red oak that had fallen into the pond along the north shore, just below the otter latrine and, I hoped, just far enough away below me to get good video while a beaver gnawed on the trunk. However, the beaver curled back toward the lodge and smartly slapped its tail. Then it swam directly toward me,

soon it was floating like a log below me, half hidden by the leafless shrubs.

While watching that beaver, I kept looking for others which was difficult because the muskrats remained active rippling every corner of the pond. A heron flew down and landed on the dam.

The beaver swam over to the northeast corner of the pond, that I could not see, so I lost track of it. And when I saw a beaver again as it swam toward me, I got the impression it might be another beaver mainly because it did not seem to notice me, unlike the first beaver I saw which seemed never to lose sight of me. This beaver nosed into the leafless shrubs,

It swam right below me and still didn’t look up and then nibbled on a small clump of vegetation. Again I kept an eye out for another beaver and instead saw two muskrats continuing their frantic swimming. Then the beaver began diving and brought up a log.

It carried the log all the way to the dam and pushed it up.

Then it swam behind the dam to the north heading toward the heron. When it neared the heron, the heron flinched and the beaver made a shallow dive.

I thought this was progress. There might be two beavers over in that corner of the pond but I waited patiently for the beavers to come back. Instead, I saw a beaver swimming from the lodge directly toward me. This beaver acted much like the first beaver I saw. It kept an eye on me, but I thought it was going to go gnaw on the red oak. Instead it paused a bit to my side of it, and sniffed the air.

It turned and dove and I saw a trail of bubbles in the water below me.

The beaver surfaced to my right, toward the west end of the pond, looked at me again and then swam over to the south and swam down that way until it got to one of the trees that succumbed to the wind after being well gnawed by the beavers.

It bit off a twig, took it a few yards away and began to nibble it.

Tying the evening’s stories together, a muskrat swam close by the beaver and neither seemed to notice the other.

As the sun headed down, the rock I was on got quite cold. The temperature was heading to a few degrees below freezing. So I got up and finally got a view of the northeast corner of the pond. I didn’t see any beavers. The dam looked magnificent.

It took more than one beaver to build up and maintain that.