Friday, July 13, 2012

April 19 to 30, 2012

April 19 after an early dinner at our house on the our land, I went down the road to the Deep Pond and as I pushed back the honeysuckle above the path to the chair beside the dam, I saw a beaver up on the bank directly across from me with its head down and looking like it was eating something.

I took a brief video where I stood and then I moved as noiselessly as I could to the nearby chair, though the chair made one creak when I sat down in it. When I looked up I saw a beaver on the bank and also one in the pond swimming away from the bank. So I think, and I think the photo above taken from the video suggests, that there were two beavers on the bank when I first looked. I took a camera photo of the beaver still on the bank.

That photo shows less beaver than the first image and the beaver is definitely nibbling something. I shifted my focus to the beaver swimming in the pond. It briefly moved along the high east shore and then swam across the pond and when it got to the shallows in front of me I saw that it had its nose down just above the water and its mouth seemed to be moving. Since it was swimming slowly, I assume it was grabbing loose vegetation on the bottom and munching some.

Without diving into the water, it came up with a small root and nibbled that.

Then I noticed the other beaver swimming over to the same area conveniently in front of me. I knew that one beaver was accustomed to me and the one nibbling in front of me looked so familiar that I assumed that was the beaver I’ve been seeing for the past year. But the new beaver seemed oblivious to my presence. Before I could get a photo of them swimming toward each other, the approaching beaver dove. The first beaver dove too and judging from the bubbles they must have come close to each other under water. Then the second beaver surfaced, seemed to study the bubbles from the beaver still under water and dove before it surfaced. The first beaver surfaced and didn’t seem to eye the bubbles from the other beaver, probably because it had a root which it started eating. The second beaver surfaced and swam toward the low west shore, dove again, then surfaced and climbed up on shore at the area where there has been frequent adding to a pile of leaves. The beaver may have done that, and then it moved farther up on shore and though I didn’t have a good view through low willow bushes in the way, I think it was eating grass.

The first time I saw two beavers here, I saw them together a good bit but there was usually contention between them, chasing and shoving. None of that with these beavers. Another pair of beavers used to swim around the pond together but often rather fast as if they were always alarmed, maybe at each other. Tonight these beavers went about their foraging independently without conflict. One of the beavers climbed up the lodge carrying a small stripped stick and placed that on the mud pile and wiggled its butt over it.

This marking did not seem to excite the other beaver who was patrolling the east shore of the pond. I kept an eye on it because that’s where many of the burrows into the bank are. Last fall the beaver here, I am pretty sure, did use one of the burrows. I can’t be sure if it slept there. But this beaver did not dive into a burrow. It climbed up on the bank,

and took the precaution of rearing up and sniffing the air (the wind was blowing toward me)

Then it disappeared briefly and came back dragging a sapling, not sure what kind.

It dragged it to the nearby low bank closer to the inlet where I had seen both beavers when I came to the pond. Meanwhile I just focused on the other beaver in time to see it climbing into the bushes and trees on the knoll above the beaver lodge. I couldn’t see what it was doing. Not only because it was obscured by the vegetation. It was also getting dark. I never quite saw it come out of the bushes, but I soon saw it stripping bark off a stick at the base of the knoll.

So the two beavers were doing the same thing but far apart. Then the beaver below the knoll swam slowly over to the east shore and climbed up on the bank where the other beaver had gone up to get that sapling. But this beaver only seemed interested in eating some grass. Then it came back down into the pond swam over to where the other beaver was up on the shore grooming itself. The approaching beaver seemed to nose the stripped sticks in the water but then got up on the shore next to the other beaver and they started grooming each other.

I could make out beaver hums through the growing chorus of peepers. Tonight, at least, these beavers like each other. While I watched the beavers for an hour or so I noticed a porcupine high up in a tall tree behind the knoll. And I saw two muskrats. One swam around between the beavers, and when the beavers stopped foraging in the shallows in front of me, a muskrat moved in, though it mainly stayed on the surface of water, its fast little jaws working its way through the pond vegetation above the water level.

At the same time another muskrat surfaced in the vegetation right in front of me and then quickly dove and disappeared when it saw that I was there. Later a muskrat surfaced near the beaver stripped sticks near the lodge. Perhaps it was eating some crumbs, so to speak, left by the beaver. I could still see the beavers, but not get any more good videos. I didn’t want to scare them now, so I slipped away to the road where I was greeted by a bank filled with blooming trilliums, not one had gone to sleep.

It was still bright enough to check out other ponds where peepers usually sing. I went down to the Last Pool and got close enough to Boundary Pool to hear a lusty chorus of peepers coming from there. Then I got close enough to Peeper Pool to hear a deafening chorus coming from there. I went back down the road and sat by the Third Pond. The peeper chorus seemed louder and more insistent than the night before. Plus I briefly heard two screeching porcupines, and then an uncanny chorus of yodeling coyotes.

Finally walking along the grassy path to the Third Pond, I found myself following a large vole for about 4 or 5 feet as it walked down the same path. Never had that happen to me before.

April 20 we expected a sunny morning but instead we woke up to a shower. I hurried to finish my mowing and then took a slow walk around the Deep Pond to see if I could see what the beavers had been eating when I saw them and where they cut or collected saplings and logs. With most beaver families it’s not hard keep track of their tree cutting and log hauling. However, this morning I was puzzled. Back where I thought the beaver cut a sapling last night, I saw one possible freshly cut stump.

But that stump didn’t was small and the sapling was probably about 5 feet long. I’m not sure what kind of tree it was. None of those saplings still there reminded me of it.

Closer to the pond I saw that a beaver cut another branch off a low juniper. The beaver had a taste for the same juniper last fall.

I find it a bit frustrating only finding this niggling amount of foraging. So often the area around a beaver pond begins to look like an extension of the beavers’ bellies, but down along the shore where I saw the beavers nibbling, there was a creditable array of nibbled sticks.

Walking up the inlet I saw two more possibly fresh nips with plenty more saplings there.

It also looks like the beavers and probably the muskrats too are shaping the creek to their uses. The water there was muddy in places with little nibbled sticks along the shore.

The stump of a tree cut by beavers a few years ago was trimmed of recent shoots growing out of the stump.

I saw a few recently cut stumps about 5 yards from the inlet creek.

Larger trees are well within the range of the beavers.

Of course, this very modest foraging keeps the beavers out of danger, not only from coyotes and bobcats but from our neighbors driving down the road at night. In other years beavers did cut trees across the road, though none was ever run over. I don’t think those dangers prompt the beavers to limit their foraging. The beaver here last summer ate plenty of lily rhizomes. The man-made pond is too deep to build a lodge in, there are plenty of sunken stripped logs that can be used to bolster the dam. So far, no beavers that we’ve seen here have had kits to raise. I don’t try to draw many conclusions about beavers in general from the atypical relationship the beavers here have with their surrounding. I just try to enjoy them. When I crossed the inlet creek and walked over to the knoll, I tried to enjoy the Spring flowers. For the first time I noticed some red trillium on the west side of the inlet. I had seen some farther up stream in well east of the inlet last year.

Of course the white trilliums dominate the slope to the rocky knoll.

Then I had a my annual Spring hunt for the best juxtaposition of flowers. A perfect trillium next to a vibrant saxifrage was hard to beat.

Looking down at that trillium, it looked like a little yellow flower was surrounded by huge white leaves buoyed up by bigger green leaves below. Over on ledges on the rocky knoll, I usually find good juxtapositions, usually trilliums and Dutchman’s britches. This year I enjoyed the arrangements of the trillium clumps on various rock ledges so often frame by mosses.

Then the way the blooms arrange themselves in each clump makes it seem like an overhearing a conversation or a medley of shouts.

Then I saw a yellowish flower on the a small shrub seemingly growing out of the rock itself. I’ll have to get a plant identification book for this one.

Then I turned by attention back to what the beavers have been up to. I saw that the shore near the lodge where the beavers nibble sticks is now flooded. There is a relatively large half stripped log in the water a bit to the left in the photo below. Not sure where they cut something that large.

I got close enough to the lodge to get a nice photo of the scent mound on the lodge showing how it has no relations to the structure of the bank lodge. It’s like a carbuncle on the side of it.

Going over the knoll I couldn’t see what the beaver that climbed up into the shrubs above the lodge might have cut. Then down on the west shore of the pond, I got the impression that the beavers cut every hornbeam sapling coming out of the big roots half exposed on the ground.

I suspected the one of the beavers added to the scent mound on the west shore last night, and then came farther up on the shore and ate some grass. I couldn’t see any evidence of either activity.

Finally, as a light rain fell, I took a photo of the dam.

We are supposed to get a good bit of rain in the next few days, which we need during this so far dry Spring.

April 22 during a break in the rain I checked the Deep Pond. The beavers seem to be responding by building up the dam, though dams always looked repaired in the rain because the old mud pushed up on the dam that had dried now looks dark and fresh again.

I walked along the east shore of the pond and saw another possible instance of a beaver digging down in the turf for roots.

The higher water level of the pond made it more difficult to see the nibbled sticks around the area where I saw the beavers do most of their nibbling.

There was more vegetation and muck pushed along the shore of the inlet creek. Perhaps the beavers are adapting it for easier access now that the water is higher.

Rather than go around the pond as usual, I decided to go up and over the ridge and check out Boundary Pond. I headed toward where I knew some red trillium should be on a wet flat at the foot of the ridge, and on the way saw what looked like a small stump left by a foraging beaver.

About 20 yards from the upper end of the portion of the inlet navigable by beavers, this was the farthest foraging I’ve noticed these beavers doing.

The red trillium I was looking forward was there, though it looked a little beaten down by the rain.

Then as I headed up the ridge I saw another trailing root, of hornbeam I think, that looked like it was nipped by a beaver. Of course, other herbivores can cut something that small so I will have to look for more of this far flung cutting. I can’t believe that this particular tree of this particular small size is so attractive to beavers.

Soon they’ll be flowers in the woods, but I didn’t see any today. The recent rains did not fill up Boundary Pond. The water level is well below the dam. There is more water here than before the beavers built the dam, but not much more.

Back then the area was a small swamp with many small trees and shrubs making it difficult to see the extent of the pools of water here. The beavers have made it easy to see the water, and by dredging a channel all down the valley above more water collects in the old swamp basin which the beavers deepened with their dredging and, I assume, widened by connecting pools with the underwater channels they dredged.

The last thing I want is a summer drought but, if we had one, I could better see what the beavers did here. But from what I can see with the water this low is that the beavers only dredged the main channel. In other small ponds I have seen a network of channels once the beavers leave and the pond loses water, but in the those ponds the beavers dug channels to bank lodges. No bank lodges here. Plus in those other ponds there was mud to dredge. Not enough mud here. Too much forest litter accumulated over many years.

It looks like I’ll see again what the sun now flooding the valley will do to the old pond bottom. So far only the grass is up and green.

Tickseed sunflowers and bur marigolds made it colorful here last year, but in other depleted ponds I check on, they usually stop growing after 2 or 3 years as the land dries out. But this valley might stay wetter than most if there is enough rain to counter the increased evaporation because of the many trees the beavers cut down.

April 25 we’ve had a spell of interesting wet weather, including an inch of snow on the 23rd. That and the rain that followed kept us in the house. But it also brought a flock of myrtle warblers that caught the midges clinging to the trees.

This evening after taking advantage of a dry afternoon to work on our land, showers moved in. I still went down to look at the beavers but I couldn't sit on the chair. From the road, I saw one beaver pulling a branch with dead leaves across the pond toward the dam.

The other beaver was swimming a bit behind it, and then peeled off and swam toward me.

I tried to see where the beaver took the branch but vegetation blocked the way. It got dark early.

April 26 we’re having cold nights and rainy days but this morning was sunny so I went off to the East Trail Pond via the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond to see if beavers or otters were about. Then maybe the turtles would be out at the East Trail Pond. I went via Antler Trail and was pleased to see that the recent rains had greened the moss on the granite plateau just above TI Park.

There was a good flow of water through the holes in the Big Pond dam. The photo below gives the impression that the water behind the dam is higher than usual. It’s not. The dam is just being washed away.

Even the hole I made down into the dam when my boot went through down into a muskrat burrow looks drier. The mound of silt forming the dam will soon be covered with plants.

There were no signs that beavers, muskrats or otters had been along the dam. When I got to the Lost Swamp Pond I sat on the rock above the mossy cove latrine and soon saw a muskrat swimming toward the north shore of the pond. It swam along it and then disappeared. But in a few minutes it surfaced in the middle of the west end of the pond and climbed up on a small log and nibbled some vegetation it gleaned from the bottom.

When it disappeared again, I hoped it would surface near me but it didn’t. Then I saw another herbivore finding something worth eating in the pond, a deer at the far northeast end of the pond.

I thought a goose had claimed the lodge in the middle of the pond a few weeks ago as a nesting sight but there were no geese about today, and not the last few times I was here. I wonder if the shallowness of the pond makes it less attractive for nesting, especially with the active pack of coyotes that seem to be here. I saw fresh coyote poop on the Big Pond dam. There were no signs of recent otter visits to the mossy cove latrine. I walked around the west end of the pond heading for the dam, and pulled up short when I saw some small cut twigs on the ground. It didn’t look like a beaver’s doing.

I looked back at the huge old maple nearby and saw that a porcupine had gnawed a line of bark along the scars from old beaver girdling.

A porcupine had cut the twigs out of the crown of the tree. Often after the twigs fall the porcupine seems to lose interest in the bark which a beaver would eagerly strip. I assume the porcupine eats the buds which are so attractive at this time of year. I didn’t see any signs of a beaver being in or around the pond. The dam still leaks.

An odd thing about the photos of the dams that I took today is that water looks relatively high in the dam and that can give the impression that the water level in the pond must be almost as high as it can get. However, each year the beavers have to build up the dam with mud and that’s what gets the pond water level up. The dam without fresh mud every year means the pond has half the water it could. Here is the Lost Swamp Pond dam the second to last summer, July 2009, that the beavers properly built it up.

Here’s how the dam looked at its peak in June 2010.

I crossed the valley on the Upper Second Swamp pond dam which is in a sad state, but enough dam analysis. Walking in the woods north of the Second Swamp Pond I didn’t have to veer down to hear the comb frogs. They’ve done singing. I walked up below the rock ridge and was surprised to find same mayapples coming up there.

Then I noticed that I was walking on a path. I might walk here once every three years. I usually go either along the vernal pools and the pond, or I walk up on the rocks of the ridge. This area is about as far as you can get in the state park from one of the park trails. I must have discovered a grand deer highway.

I saw more patches of mayapples along this path. Maybe the deer spread the seeds. Then I headed for the ridge, perhaps the deer go that way too, when the trail ended. Up on the ridge overlooking the old East Trail Pond, I saw a cherry tree that must have been cut by the beavers back in 2005 or so. It was down on the ground but enough trunk was still attached to the stump. It had blossoms.

From the ridge I could get a good photo of the old East Trail Pond showing the little pool remaining behind the old dam and thanks to the vegetation not growing yet, the new pond way in the background below the pine ridge. The smudge of brown over on the extreme right of the photo below is the old principal lodge in the pond.

What a magnificent pond it was. But what remains is not too shabby. The beavers here have pushed mud up all along the dam.

Before I settled myself up on the ridge to look for turtles, a great blue heron flew over the pond and perched on a high stump on the south side of the pond.

It noticed me and flew off before it noticed anything edible in the pond. Before I found a place to sit, I took a photo of the big red oak that fell into the pond that the beavers are stripping of its bark, doing a rather complete job.

The pond’s water level continues to rise which means all the muck flats and moss islands where I saw Blanding’s and painted turtles are flooded. However judging from the stripped logs there, the beavers are enjoying those shallow areas as they stripped bark off logs.

In a few minutes I saw a small painted turtle swim to one of those stripped logs and try to climb up.

Then I saw a much bigger turtle swimming under water which showed no interest in sticking its nose up, much less surfacing, so I think it was a snapping turtle. A smaller painted turtle tried to climb up another log and just when it almost got aboard the log spun sinking the turtle. It tried again and again with the same result.

But the spinning log was moving in the water and if it got braced by a shrub, the little turtle might make it. I saw a large turtle on a small clump of higher ground and it looked like a Blanding’s but I really couldn’t see the yellow chin. Finally a good size turtle swam under water away from me. It looked more like a Blanding’s than a snapper or painted, but I couldn’t see its chin either. So some turtle hi-jinks today but no drama. I examined the old work of the beavers on the ridge, mostly cut and stripped red oak trunks. I don’t think they’ve been up here recently. I got down on the north shore and it didn’t look like they were nibbling sticks there like they were earlier in the Spring. Then looking off to the west I saw that one of the ash trees that had been cutting fell onto the ridge.

If it was an oak, I think the beavers would climb up on the ridge to get to the bark, but ash trees have never been that attractive to these beavers. Then as I walked in the woods about 20 yards from the pond, heading toward the beavers’ work on the south shore, I finally saw a Blanding’s turtle and it was not any bigger than the average oak leaf.

I have never seen a Blanding’s turtle this small and it was quite a beauty.

I didn’t see it move and it didn’t seem that wary of me. I have no idea where it should be going. There is another pond 40 yards off in the direction it was pointed. So I left it alone and wished it well. While we didn’t have much snow in the winter, we did have some powerful winds. The beavers found a windfall pine branch and cut some twigs off that.

The beavers are girdling more of the red oak that fell across the trail. I am puzzled by the widely held view that beavers don’t like oak bark. The beavers I watch can’t get enough of it.

Just under one of the old girdled trunks, I saw some beautiful blue hepatica.

I’ve seen beavers nibbling over here and saw their leftovers and it looks like they are resuming their gnawing on some old girdling in a big red oak.

The south end of the dam looked tended but there weren’t the gobs of fresh mud like on the north end. The inlet stream to the this pond comes in just behind the north end of the dam and the majority of leaks in the dam have always been on that end.

Walking down the East Trail, I was struck by the greening clumps of grass on the flat down to old Beaver Point Pond.

Sometimes nature gives the impression that she’s as regular as your average farmer.

April 28 we headed off on a warming day to check on the turtles in the East Trail Pond. As we approached the pond we felt a chilly east wind which I thought boded ill for seeing turtles. Then we saw a large Blanding’s sunning on a log along the northwest shore.

High up on the trail, we managed to get around it without scaring it back into the water. In case turtles were out in their usual spot, we eased down the high ridge a bit east of where we planned to sit. We sat above the red oak the beavers are gnawing and saw that they had stripped several more feet of bark above the water level.

As we headed over to the rock we usually sit on we saw one small painted turtle up on a log and it dove off the log just before we sat down to watch it. We found the wind rather chilly and only saw a few small painted turtles swimming underwater. A nice collection of sticks stripped of bark by the beavers was nestled under the shrubs that so far have shown no sign of leafing out.

After about a half hour the chill got to us and we moved on. The turtle was still on the log. Not sure what the mark on the top of its shell is.

I wanted to check the otter latrines along South Bay and we decided to go via the high granite ridge paralleling our usual trails. During the winter I sometimes walk around the high part of the ridge looking for porcupine dens in the crevasses. I guess the snow covered the amazing formation on the high rocks which looks like crystal tread marks on a granite road.

Next time I bump into a geologist, I’ll have to show him or her this. The rest of the ridge is almost as interesting and it’s hard for me to grasp how it was formed.

Strange though the rocks seemed to me, a porcupine had no trouble making itself at home, though there was none in the den now which probably only works as a shelter when the rocks are encrusted with snow.

Once again there were no signs of otters visiting the docking rock latrine. I think otters have lost interest in South Bay. As usual we veered up to look at Audubon Pond and saw five geese with three groups of goslings. One male seemed to be helping two mothers with their brood.

The other goose family was “normal.” Standing above the bank lodge, we saw some leafy branches sunk in the water in front of the lodge. Not sure what kind of tree or bush.

I noticed two bubble trails coming from the lodge and eventually two beavers surfaced in the pond and both kept an eye on us, though without swimming too close.

We didn’t walk around the pond but looking around I didn’t see any evidence of any fresh tree cutting. The otter latrine over the entrance to South Bay had an otter scat that I don’t think I have seen before. It looked like it had crushed crayfish shell in it.

There were some leaves scratched up a few yards away, but no scats around the pile.