Sunday, June 3, 2012

April 6 to 13, 2012

April 6 we went to the land, I hauled maple logs out of the woods while Leslie and Ottoleo worked on the gardens. After lunch I digested my food up at the turtle bog, hoping to see a Blanding’s turtle warming in the sun. None were out. The bog seems shallower by about four inches and perhaps that prompted the turtles to move on to deeper ponds earlier than usual. The photo below shows the extent of the shore exposed below the moss.

There has been far less rain this spring than usual, plus the snow melted much earlier. I sat over on the west shore, and saw some more wood frog eggs in the water.

I looked for caddisfly larva lumbering encrusted with hemlock needles and twigs but saw none. I saw water bugs, striders, boatmen and the smaller variety of swimming beetles. I heard a splash that I didn’t see. I assume a frog made it. I headed down to the First and Second ponds and saw some painted turtles up on logs in the latter pond. I saw fresh muskrat poop on a log at the canal draining the First Pond.

The muskrats here are also clearing the pond vegetation, leaving a couple wide trenches of cleared water.

Looking at the Second Pond, Teepee Pond I usually call it, I saw a nice school of shiners along the north shore.

The pond vegetation looks trimmed back. I think the many turtles in this pond also do that.

Then I went down to the Deep Pond and checked what the beaver has been doing. Over along the inlet creek, the biggest stick there had been shifted and nibbled a bit more.

The pile of nibbled sticks down toward the dam has been shuffled too and is growing.

A few feet closer to the dam, there’s now a smaller pile of smaller stripped sticks.

To be sure, it is pointless to chronicle these nibblings, but the photos always delight me. And who knows, three years ago I became convinced that the beavers at what I called Wildcat Pond, which was below Boundary Pond, were leaving messages by the way they oriented the sticks in the pile. Those were bigger sticks left right where a beaver coming out of the lodge might first sniff around. The sticks on the shore of this pond are obviously just dropped willy-nilly after the beaver finished stripping the bark, or so it seems to me. Perhaps my charting the growth of the pile of nibbled sticks only measures my anxiety. I’m anxious to see this beaver dining, and perhaps a second beaver. Today I sat in my chair by the dam from 3:30 to a little before 5pm. Last year the beaver often came out that early to do a little foraging, but not today. Sitting in the chair, I got a nice view of a fresh dollop of mud on the dam pushed up by the beaver last night.

There were fewer leopard frogs snoring too. We seemed to have missed the peak of the frogs when we were away for two weeks.

April 7 I headed off to check the South Bay otter latrines in the early afternoon. I haven’t seen any otter scats at what I call the old dock latrine back in the north cove of the bay for some time. I thought I saw some today in the usual spot about two yards up the slope from the dock.

The scat was probably a week or so old, rather a smear, but too large and scaly to be left by a mink, fisher, raccoon, etc. I looked for something fresher and while I did see a pile of leaves along the shore probably pushed up by a muskrat, I saw no trail or fish parts suggesting otters. Then when I went back up to the trail there, I saw the same style of scat there.

Over the years otters scatting here have never come that far up the slope, but the distance is about the same as they climb up at their latrine above the entrance to South Bay.

I am not surprised to see that an otter has been down in the cove. The water level has been much higher than usual in the late winter and early spring. Plus we’ve had warm temperatures which might make fish a bit more plentiful here. It certainly seems to be giving the algae a head start. It is getting thick along some parts of the shore.

Now I expected to see scats at the docking rock latrine about half way up the north shore of the bay, and I did. One up on the slight slope there looked about as old as the ones at the old dock latrine.

And it was crammed with enough half digested matter that did not look like it came from fish to give me pause. Perhaps the otter is also getting fish eggs and insect larvae. Down on the rock there was a thin smear of scat and large fish scales were easy to see.

I saw a few rather old bullhead parts on the rock, a head and torso, and also two crayfish claws.

Rather than going directly to the next otter latrine, I veered up to check Audubon Pond. Along the embankment a few yards west of the drain, I saw a long stripped stick, suggesting that a beaver had sat up on the little ledge there for a long time enjoying some bark.

There was also a hole in the silt of the pond bottom just behind the embankment. It certainly looked large enough for a beaver to swim into it, but why would it? Beavers go into burrows that eventually lead to a breath of air.

There was one large stripped log visible on the cache pile in front of the bank lodge, but many of the other logs there remained unstripped.

Looking around the large pond, I saw some stripped logs on north shore in front of the bench, but not enough activity to inspire me to walk around the pond. The large ash tree they girdled and had been cutting during the late Fall was still standing. I went back down to the South Bay trail and then out to the otter latrine above the entrance to South Bay. On the sunny slope just before the latrine, I saw a few clumps of spring beauties.

Then I saw scats, much like the ones I had seen at the other latrines, but more of them.

There were two new scats on the small granite rock where otters often latrine.

I am more comfortable analyzing the large gooey otter scats, since I am not unfamiliar with the soft insides of the fish here. But what looks like tiny sticks in the scats puzzles me. Usually I spend some time trying to interpret scratched up grass here, but that wasn’t so easy today, perhaps because the grass is starting to grow.

It was turning out to be a warm afternoon compared to the chilly days we’ve been having. Plus the sun kept getting stronger, and the wind dying off. So I decided to go to the East Trail Pond and watch Blanding’s turtles before the sun went down enough to shade the portion of the pond below the high rock ridge on the north side of the pond. After I sat down I didn’t have to wait long to see some action. I saw what I took as two painted turtles swimming together in the water and then seeming to briefly lock heads and turn together. They quickly separated and one swam off into the deeper part of the pond and the other swam over to an island of dead grass. It crossed my mind that the turtle that swam away might have been a Blanding’s turtle. Then I saw a large Blanding’s turtle, yellow chin facing me, on some mud on the nearer side of that island of dead grass.

Then I saw another Blanding’s turtle surface a little behind the one I first saw.

Then another painted turtle climbed up next to the first one I saw. The second Blanding’s turtle crossed the little island, and swam up to the back of the painted turtles, but didn’t make much of an impression. It backed into the water and swam to the front of the turtles and raised its bright yellow chin at them.

The painted turtles turned away slightly. Then the Blanding’s turtle backed off again and swam away.

Not long after that, I saw another Blanding’s turtle, I assume, crawling up on a clump of grass several turtle lengths from the large Blanding’s turtle that had been largely immobile for the last half hour or so.

It turned its head enough so that I could see its yellow chin.

Then a painted turtle began to surface a bit in front of the Blanding’s that had just climbed up on the grass clump. The Blanding’s pointed its head toward it and the painted turtle backed away. The smaller turtle pulled itself up on grass a little farther away. The Blanding’s kept leveling a stare at it,

And the painted turtle backed away and swam off. Then the Blanding’s turtle slowly crawled forward and then into the water and swam over to the larger turtle and crawled up next to it.

The larger, and dry turtle, didn’t seem to bat an eye. The interloper then moved a little closer coming up behind the dry turtle, that still didn’t seem to bat an eye. At the same time that painted turtle climbed up on a clump of grass a bit farther off. Enjoy the slow moving video of the turtles’ busy afternoon.

Meanwhile, briefly interrupting the turtle drama, a muskrat swam up to the two painted turtles that had been sunning at the far end of the small grass island, and gave them a sniff that got all three animals twitching.

The muskrat swam on between the two Blanding’s turtles, still at their farthest point of separation and neither of them seemed to react at all.

I tried to sneak away so as not to disturb the turtles. I walked over to the large oak the beavers had been gnawing and saw a slope of wood and bark shavings on the rock down to the pond.

On my way home I briefly checked the south side of the pond and saw that the beavers had stripped another few feet of bark off the red oak that fell across the trail.

It was too early to expect to see beavers. There were muskrats out. I saw one renewed one of its marks on the apron of the beaver lodge. But since I only saw two muskrats perhaps I can assume that the last time I was here, I saw one pair of muskrats successfully control the territory and persuade another pair to move elsewhere. I am still thinking about how the turtles managed their space. Blanding’s turtles and painted turtles obviously co-exist but not without some contretemps. Yet the high turtle seems to rule, regardless of its size.

April 8 we spent the late morning at the land and before moving manure I walked around the Deep Pond. I went via the Third Pond, no signs of more beaver activity or muskrat activity there. In the flat on the way to the east end of the dam, there is now a long stripped stick and several more small green sticks, all completely stripped.

Nearby it looks like the beaver is chewing a path through the pond vegetation along the shore.

And there were a couple of fresh dollops of mud pushed up on the dam.

I walked back around the east shore of the pond and saw several more stripped sticks in the pile next to the inlet creek.

The just stripped sticks were all a foot or so out in the water. Almost all the stripped sticks look thinner than the nearest stumps left by the beaver. However the shrubs and other vegetation usually grow in clumps. I think the three large cuts below are of a honeysuckle bush but there is a small nip there and some small shoots that might be something else.

I am not sure how recent those nips are. I went up the inlet creek and looking into the brush to the east did see some stumps that I think were just cut.

My guess is that these are hornbeam saplings for which this beaver seems to have a taste. (Since the beavers in Boundary Pond cut a good many hornbeams before they left, this taste for hornbeams encourages me to think the beaver is the yearling from that family. That might also explain why it never seemed that wary of me. It had sniffed me in its salad days.) The beaver also seems to be clearing the inlet creek of vegetation.

But there are no signs yet of it showing any interest in the bigger trees just a few yards away on both side of the creek. I headed over toward the lodge and got a better photo showing the platform of loose sticks at the side of the lodge proper.

I am not sure how those sticks ended up looking matted like that. I never saw the beaver there. The vegetation arranged in the water around the lodge is also confusing. It looks like much of the vegetation, especially the stalks, have been pushed up or collected there by the beaver.

Were those stalks brought here when the beaver was foraging under the ice, or are they rooted there and just bend over from the ice and snow? Next time I am there I will have to try to reach some of the stalks and pull. That said, I don’t see any stripped sticks here or mud pushed up any where, not on the lodge nor the shore. And when I walked near the lodge to get up on the knoll, the beaver didn’t swim out from the lodge, as it often did last summer when it denned there. The flowers on and around the knoll are not blooming yet. I didn’t see any stripped sticks on the west shore of the pond but the pile of pushed up mud and dead vegetation looked bigger and freshened.

If the beaver here is indeed the yearling I saw back in the Fall of 2010, then it has matured sexually which might account for all the marking I am seeing on shore. I didn’t notice it doing that last year. I assume the beaver is advertising for a member of the opposite sex and encouraging same sex beavers to stay away.

April 11 We got some needed rain but it was mostly wind driven drizzle and didn’t really re-soak the land which has been drying out. We made a brief visit to our land on the 9th and I saw enough of the Deep Pond to see that the beaver is still nibbling sticks. Now there is a pile of stripped sticks a few yards from the bank lodge below the knoll.

It was dry this morning so I went around South Bay to check the otter latrines. The first is at the end of the south cove of the bay. When otters frequented South Bay and the Big Pond, they frequently scatted along the trail at the little causeway there. One spring there was a battle of scent mounds. But otters haven’t visited the latrine much in the last two years. So when I saw a large black poop next to a rock on the trail that otters used to plaster, I took a close look. Otters do leave smooth looking black poops but this looked too smooth.

I saw two more as I continued down the trail and then some green and white, more typical turkey droppings. And I saw areas of scratched up grass. I was trailing some turkeys. I saw some scat at the old dock latrine last time I was here. I didn’t see any new otter scats, but I did see the scales and bits of bones and shell that were part of an old scat.

There were no new scats at the docking rock latrine either and at the latrine over the entrance to South Bay, at first I wasn’t sure if I was seeing the scat I saw last time now freshened by a few days of rain or if otters had visited since I was here on the 7th.

Studying the photos, I think today’s scat was new. There was also some white matter in the mix of scats, which I usually attribute to the vagaries of the otter’s digestive system.

Then there was a grayish scat, laced with shell bits, that reminded me that the otters are getting crayfish to eat, and that might also explain that less well formed scat in the photo above.

I was also quite taken with the juxtaposition of the scat in the midst of greening grass, dead leaves, and granite rock pocked with hornblende. During my inspection of scats here a pair of geese were honking loudly me as they floated in the water below the latrine. Perhaps they half a nest on shore. I headed up to Audubon Pond where it appears the beavers stripped a little more off the logs in the cache there.

But most remain unstripped. However this is a big cache, especially if, as I suspect, only two beavers are eating out of it. There is a fan of logs, half of them stripped on the other side of the lodge.

I walked along the west shore of the pond and as best as I can tell the beavers have not renewed their gnawing on the last two big ash trees they girdled and began to cut in the late fall.

I was less sure about the last ash tree to fall. I don’t recall such a striking piece of bark stripping.

But back in November the beavers were rather feasting on ash trees. I also checked the west shore and the old bank lodge there for otter scats and saw none. I don’t think the beavers are using the bank lodge there but perhaps muskrats are. I could see pond bottom in front of one side of the lodge, a sign of muskrat foraging. However, the water was not muddy, suggesting it may have happened a while ago.

But the beavers have been foraging on the nearby shore. I saw that the exposed root of a maple near the shore had been gnawed.

And there was a trail of low gnawing back into the woods. First I saw gnawing around the base of the trunk of a clump of red oaks where girdling from other years had not removed all the bark.

About 20 yards from the pond there was another exposed root well gnawed.

Every tree in the photo below has been gnawed, but no major cuts.

I didn’t see any beaver work in the woods north of the pond, but there was one stripped log half way up the shore on the peninsula where the park bench is.

Logs can get blown all around this pond, but since part of this log was up on the shore, I suppose a beaver was gnawing it there. Muskrats are definitely around. There were several poops on a rock in the water in front of the bench.

Most of the poops had been smeared down, I assume by muskrats dragging their butt over the rock. In the Fall, the beavers cut several ash trees and a choke cherry tree on the northeast slope of the pond. I didn’t see any evidence that they had returned to work there. However, there were a few logs along the east shore which is formed by a long causeway of loose dirt. Behind one thin, half stripped log on the slope there were a couple holes dug into the soft dirt.

At this time of year beavers like to dig into the dirt, looking for juicy roots, I think.

April 12 I haven’t had a chance to walk down the road at our land to where it flanks White Swamp. Last fall beavers nipped the willows there. Today I saw a stripped willow stick lying on a pat of vegetation, a typical sign left by beavers especially in the spring.

We didn’t see the usual trapper this winter. The last time I looked at the new lodge on the south shore of the swamp, there was a month left to trapping season. White Swamp is much more convenient in the winter when I can walk on the ice. Today I had to negotiate the brush of the steep shore. When I looked down on the lodge, it was in the shadows of this bright day. What is impressive is how barren the water in front of the lodge looks. It takes several weeks for the vegetation in the swamp to look alive, at least to my eyes. Beavers might see it differently as they swim under water.

This is a big bank lodge and I assume many of the sticks forming the apron of the lodge where also put there to be eaten. I’ve seen beaver families eat more of their cache in the spring than they do in the winter, but this family hasn’t left too many stripped sticks around.

Walking along the shore away from the lodge, I saw some stripped sticks, but they were floating in the water and they could have been blown into the shore, though probably not.

At the point I saw that log I had to climb up a high ridge which prevented me from getting a good look at what the beavers may have done along the shore. From up on the ridge I was able to see two swans way out in the huge swamp. Leslie said she saw them when she was here. Probably the key to accessing how active these beavers are is checking the fresh work behind the dam on the inlet creek which is well within swimming distance of these beavers. Leslie had been down here a few days ago and told me that the pond behind the dam seemed full. I checked the dam, which had been leaking low through the jumble of logs and sticks, and I saw some fresh mud pushed up low on the dam, and there didn’t seem to be much water leaking out.

Up on the top of the dam, I think I saw fresh mud and vegetation pushed up on the dam but varying water levels can give that impression.

The pond behind the dam did look quite full and a bit muddy suggesting beavers have been there recently.

I saw two stripped logs each about 3 feet long sunk in the water behind the dam, probably recent work. I walked up the east side of the pond and saw recently cut trees but only one almost cut tree suggesting that a beaver had been there the night before.

I certainly got a sense of a beaver swimming up from the pond into the inlet. The water looked a bit muddy and I saw some small stripped sticks in the water along the edge of the inlet creek.

When the creek narrowed I hopped over and got to the other side. I saw that the beaver had a cut a relatively large tree, stump 6 inches in diameter, and hauled away trunk and crown.

No telling when it was cut. There were a couple smaller stumps farther back in the woods that look fresher, but smaller cuts often do. The pond has flooded back to the ridge along its west shore.

I took the photo looking to the south and most of the stumps low on the ridge were probably from the Fall. Continuing to the wide part of the pond I saw that the water was muddy there. The ridge curls off from the pond, and on the exposed flat -- the water level has probably dropped because we are not getting much rain, I saw a fresh beaver print.

Looking back to the dam I could sense how the beavers were taking advantage of the deeper water in the pond to veer off from the channel of the creek, always the deepest part of a beaver pond, and get over to the flats

where small trees and saplings are easy to get at. My impression is that most of the cutting there has been recent. I was here in the middle of the winter and surely would have taken a photo of so many stumps close together.

The shortest way back to the beavers’ lodge from that point is not to swim back to the dam, go over it down to White Swamp and swim along the shore 50 yards or so to the lodge. The glimpse of sky in the upper right hand corner of the photo above, about 30 yards away, marks about where the beaver lodge is. I walked that way, but didn’t see any signs that a beaver had too. I went back up to the road and then sat at the Deep Pond where I was serenaded by leopard frogs, and two of them came up on the dam right next to me.

The rock in the foreground, not as big as it looks in the foreground of that photo, had been pushed up on the dam by the beavers a few days ago. Not sure when it got pushed up. I walked around most of the pond and saw more vegetation pushed up on the east end of the dam.

There were a few more nibbled sticks on the flat near the dam, and more vegetation pushed up where the shore began to slope up.

I always assume this is scent marking by the beaver. After bringing the wet vegetation up from the pond it will lower its butt over it. I’ve never seen a beaver bring up a mass of vegetation from the pond and eat it on shore. Beavers only seem to do that with sticks. The collection of stripped sticks over where the inlet comes into the pond had grown quite a bit and there was one 6 foot long stripped stick floating in the water.

I didn’t go over to photograph the smaller pile of stripped sticks over near the lodge and the photo I took from a distance wasn’t any good.

April 13 a chilly foggy dawn gave way to a warming sunny morning. Spring peepers still had a chorus going around the Big Pond. Now I don’t expect to see much when I check on the two big beaver ponds on the Island which for years have been centers of beaver, otter and muskrat activity. So the peepers persuaded me to sit down on my usual dead limb perch and enjoy the depleted pond. Two song sparrows had a fight behind me in the low shrubs. When I cross the pond along the dam now I can walk behind the dam and I learned today that that can be a mistake. My foot went through the mound of silt.

My boot went down into water.

I had discovered one of the many muskrat burrows in this dam, all of them potentially another major leak in the dam. Meanwhile water keeps flowing out of the holes already through the dam. But an equal amount of water must be flowing into the pond because plenty of water still stretches out behind the dam.

But no beavers are here and I haven’t seen many signs of muskrats either. We’ve had some cold nights and have been seeing fewer deer ticks in the day. But in the woods between the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond, I picked up four on my pant legs. I sat on the rock overlooking the mossy cove latrine and scanned the pond looking for excitement. One the pair of honking geese flew off there and that was all the excitement. The mossy cove latrine looked the same as a week ago. But, of course, I walked down the rock and looked for fresh scat. Just below the pile of otter scats I saw here before, there was a black poop that didn’t have scales and didn’t seem to have the consistency of otter scat. It seemed too dry.

I suppose it looks more like skunk scat than raccoon, but since it was so close to old otter scats, it might just a version of otter scat I’ve never seen before. This pond too still looks big but it will shrink down to a small stream if we don’t get some more rain.

As I walked around the west end of the pond toward the dam, I saw a log out in the shallow pond with muskrat poops on it.

And the log perpendicular to the dam also had deposits from muskrats.

Last time I was here, I saw a few small stripped sticks in the water along the north shore. There weren’t any more today. Even though the dam is leaking less, there were no signs of beavers visiting it. I sat enjoying the sun waiting for a muskrat to appear. I moved down to the rock right on the shore where I saw the nibbled sticks the other day. I would have had a great view of a muskrat but I had to content myself with examining the sticks closely. Muskrats can nibbled sticks too, and cut them, but I have never seen one collect sticks out in the open and nibbled one after another. Muskrats lack the patience of a beaver. Meanwhile, no muskrats entertained me. Then I recalled that I had decided to take advantage of not having beavers in the pond to try to analyze old slides I took of the ponds to better figure out how the habitat changed over the years. I can’t afford to get my slides changed into photos, but I hit on the expedient of taking photos of projected slides and that produces a ghostly but just legible image. The slide below was taken probably in the winter of 1994-95 and shows the Lost Swamp Pond dam.

My first shock when seeing it was not recalling the big tree right beside the dam. But then I remembered, and a small bit of the stump is still there.

Many of the smaller trees from 1995 are gone but what is most striking is how far the dam has been built back into the pond.

Over the years the beavers pushed mud up on the dam so that it extends back several feet. Maybe I’ll find a better slide to get a better measure. The snow in the 1995 picture covers the back of the dam. I’ve always assumed that by building up dams by pushing up mud, the beavers were making the dams stronger. But the impressive simplicity of the early dam has a look of strength and I wonder if the bigger silt dam of today is actually more vulnerable. Otters breach this dam frequently of late and once it gets saturated the silt might make the dam less efficient in holding water and less stable. Much to think about. I went home the same way I came and was startled by grouse flying off and then three deer getting up like I just woke them up. I got a photo of two of them still in the brush.

I flatter myself by thinking I was so quiet the first time through that the animals didn’t notice me, and I think I had the wind at my back on my way home.