Tuesday, July 17, 2012

May 12 to 16, 2012

May 12 At the end of my morning hike down the road, I heard the cluck of gallinules in the small pool of water across the road from White Swamp. They seemed quite rattled that I got so close, not that I got a good view of them. Then I mowed the paths around the gardens and compost piles and the path to the Third Pond. That tired me out. Then Leslie roused me from my rest by saying she saw a rose breasted grosbeak in the trees just behind the house. I went out to find it. Not easy. A grosbeak has a song as big as the biggest tree it perches in and then when you try to train a camcorder on it, you realize that its song can be as big as a forest. The video below doesn’t reveal the singer but it makes my point, though it might make it seem like the song comes from the sun god.

Then I clipped back the honeysuckle and buckthorn on the way to the Bunny Bog. The constant singing of a rose breasted grosbeak got me psyched for figuring out the territories of all the birds which is impossible in any case but today that grosbeak seemed the only bird singing. Up around the bunny bog I only heard the pine warbler, much lower than usual, probably upset by my presence. At the north end of the turtle bog I noticed some low gnawing in a pine tree.

I have seen porcupine signs up here now and then, usually in the winter. There are good rocks to den in along the low sandstone ridge that forms these bogs, and there are plenty of pines. Still porcupines on our land seem to prefer the areas with more elms, maples and hemlocks. Then I sat beside the turtle bog. Even when the turtles are gone there is much to enjoy as long as there is water in the bog. I was surprised to see a mass of frog egg sacks which I assumed were from the wood frogs that had hatched long ago. But I saw a small tadpole wiggling away. I used all the optics in my possession to get a closer look and saw no signs of life. Then as I was slowly walking down the trail, I saw a large tadpole clinging to another mass of hatched eggs,

long enough for me to get a brief video.

I sat waiting to see what else might feed off it, and nothing came.

Usually I hear the rustling if not the calls of towhees up here, but none today. The other bird news is that Leslie heard and saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and I heard a whip-poor-will singing at 3:30 in the afternoon, the one over off Val’s pasture. This evening I headed off to watch beavers earlier than last night because I decided not to bother the pair in the Deep Pond and instead sit high above the big lodge on the south shore of White Swamp to see the beavers there. However as I walked past the Deep Pond I could see one beaver on the bank. It plopped down in the pond and then the other beaver appeared and they were briefly nose to nose and then separated, but only a few feet and both found things to gnaw.

So in a minute I saw what I would have gladly waited an hour or two to see.

There was plenty activity around the White Swamp lodge but only by muskrats. Just after I sat down on a rock on the slope above the beaver lodge, giving me a rather full view of the huge swamp,

I saw a muskrat swimming from the lodge out to the first line of vegetation out in the swamp.

Eventually that muskrat swam back closer to the lodge, and then I saw another muskrat out there, which seemed to come from a muskrat lodge out in the swamp.

Another muskrat too a brief swim out from the lodge below me, coming out of the east end of the lodge, not the west end like the other muskrat. It dove and them came up with a dead lily pad which it carried back into the lodge. So perhaps there are two muskrat families using the huge lodge. I got my best view of the muskrat using the west end as it pulled up stalks of green vegetation to nibble with its motor mouth.

Otherwise, I saw two herons fishing out in the far shallows of the swamp. Between the moderately deep area along the south shore and the deepest part in the middle of the swamp and more toward the north, there is an extensive shallow area, though it it lined with deeper channels. In the old days, when the beaver lodges were mostly out there -- not sure what happened to them over the years, I used to see beavers swimming down the channels to south shore. Today I saw ducks frisking about in the shallows but took a hard look hoping they were actually otters. No such luck. I heard a few cranking calls from the bitterns, but, of course, didn't see any. Before leaving I took some close ups of the lodge. It has undoubtedly grown since April 12. Here is how it looked then,

Today there are many more logs between the tree and the rest of the lodge.

What is most astounding about this huge lodge is the amount of dirt bulking it up. If I wasn't familiar with this area, I'd assume that there was a mound of dirt that the beavers burrowed into and then embellished with logs. But I know the beavers dredged all this dirt up from under the water and brought it up on the land.

The dirt smelled a bit like peat, and as far as I could tell, the lodge was a rounded mound of dirt.

All sides of the lodge facing the water had logs covering the mound, and I am not familiar enough with this shore to judge how far the logs cover water.

Heading up the road for dinner, Leslie's pizza pie!, I saw a rabbit licking the gravel.

Thank god for evolution.

May 13 We expected a sunny get to work morning, and instead it was dark and drizzling. So we read books. When the drizzle ended, I took a walk down the road for exercise, though always with an eye out for flowers. I liked the juxtaposition of the pert phlox seemingly sucking energy out of the fading trillium.

Then I walked along the east shore of the Deep Pond. Now that the big honeysuckles on the east end of the dam have leafed out and blossomed it is hard to see the dam below.

But it looks well tended, packed with mud. Plus considering that the water level in the pond has been rising it is clear that the dam here is getting bigger too. The water could rise another foot. It is leaking over the dam along the west end. The best gauge of the rising pond is its east shore which over the years I have called a high bank. It’s no longer high.

At the low end of that shore just off the inlet “bay,” as I now call the creek, I saw cut branches where I had seen the beavers nibbling close to the shore. The bigger branch is a juniper, I think, and the leafy branch looked like honeysuckle.

I keep expecting to see a maple branch, but not so far this year. I took a photo showing how the dam backed water over what had been the east bank of the inlet creek, flooding the little willow shrubs there.

I saw a beaver swim back here the other night but didn’t see any cut vegetation today. Hard for me to see what might be going on in there. In expanding ponds where beavers cut large trees, it is much easier to see the logic, if you will, in their improving a dam and impounding more water. They lessen the distance between the cut tree and the pond. So far this Spring, the biggest thing these beavers have cut are the branches off a lowly juniper which is up on the southeast bank of the pond. By flooding the dam the beaver is two feet closer to the juniper because the water rose along the steep bank.

Meanwhile because the pond is deeper the beavers have to dive deeper to get to the lily rhizomes which they seem to eat more than anything else. I headed up the ridge and through the woods toward Boundary Pond. Usually I find some nice gardens of Spring flowers nestled in some of the rock of the ridge. But today I only saw some trilliums surrounded by mossy rocks.

Boundary Pond looked about the same as it did the last time I was here two weeks ago, no signs that beavers returned and not much water in the pond.

As I went down the ridge to get a closer look at the dam, I saw several clumps of red columbines, with some blue violets in the mix and a Soloman's seal arching down with its little green buds about to blossom.

I have taken several photos of the trilliums this Spring but I couldn’t resist a photo of a clump of white trilliums fading to pink with red columbines surrounding it.

While the dam was green with vegetation and a few white violets, everything was low, most of it, I assume to become gangling jewel weeds that usually dominate this dam. The bare part of this dam is not mud or dirt that often reveals animal tracks. It's forest litter packed tightly but, it seems, not tightly enough to make a tight dam. It reveals no tracks, save for a deer’s tread. However I could get a better look at the burrow which I think coyotes dug into at the end of the winter.

The dam never seemed to leak at this point, so I can’t blame it for the dam’s failure. I had such high hopes for this dam. I really thought the beavers had solved the problem of how to build a good dam without mud by laboriously bulking up this humus. Of course when they tended the dam, it worked well. What I had hoped for was a dam that would serve even after they left. I suppose it is fair enough to describe the beavers’ work as engineering but what they do is far more organic and dependent on their daily relationship with their pond. They don’t make a dam, pond and lodge; they live through them. When they leave, what’s left behind becomes something else. And I sat along the east shore trying to figure out what.

Thinking about it this way made me feel better. I could finally sit and look out at the water and not just see what was missing. There was nothing else using it then, no ducks, frogs, turtles, though I know they have all used the pond this Spring. So it is not a duck pond now, nor a frog pond, and it doesn’t really strike me as perfect for their uses. It was certainly easier to see them when the beavers were keeping the pond deeper. I have no sense of what the aquatic vegetation is like now and might get a better sense of it when everything has leafed out for the summer and everything that might live in it adjusts to the low water level. The old pond bottom, now dry, is another matter. Just like last summer, fine green grass stakes the first claim. The photo below shows a few ferns starting to grow in the midst of it and there is, not easily seen, a maple seedling.

No signs yet of the tall yellow flowered plants, bur-marigold and tickseed sunflowers, that might dominate the flat in the late summer, unless it is already too dry for them to flourish. Back toward the woods there are yellow violets here and there.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of a broad white trillium with the tiny white flowers of miterwort.

Obviously I generally keep my gaze low looking for flowers (unless I hear a bird singing and even then in the woods during the day at this time of year it is usually a hermit thrush, beautiful song but you rarely see it) so I am not checking the trees. I did notice the lush beech tree shoots coming up from the root of a large beech that the beavers almost girdled two years ago.

That big tree is still alive, too. Finally I enjoyed some bloodroot plants, the blooms gone, on a moss pedestal in the middle of the ridge forming the east wall of the valley.

Since I feel better about coming down here, I’ll describe the remnants of the Last Pool later.

May 14 we finally got out in our kayaks and headed for the bays west of the entrance to the Narrows. A loon was fishing when we got there. It tolerated our gawking at it, but kept its head low. Turning toward the bays, we saw a muskrat swimming to the huge beaver lodge tucked in the corner formed by a high rock ridge along the shore of Murray Island. As we paddled into the shallows we glided over a huge school of sunnies. I haven’t seen that many in many years. All were relatively small. Then we saw some new beaver work on the far shore of the south end of the bay, actually not that close to the beaver lodge. But it wasn’t fresh. Then as we paddled around the biggest of the little islands in the bay, we saw a large oak that beavers had cut down with what looked like pretty recent gnawing and the path up the slight bank looked used. And there was a huge burrow going into the island almost heading under the oak. I’ll have to come out in the motor boat and get a photo. The owners of the island had wrapped screen around other trees, though not using a good chicken wire. Blackbirds dominated the bird noise, until the osprey nesting on the smallest island took alarm. We alarmed a couple small carp. Then I did a quick paddle around South Bay. Earlier in the Spring I had seen fresh gnawing on a huge willow trunk on the east shore of the Narrows. I didn’t see any more work there, and didn’t see any beaver work until I got down to the windfall red oak branches that we saw on the lower north shore of the bay when we paddled around the bay with Ottoleo. I didn’t see any signs of otters. I am sure there is no shortage of fish into the bay because there seemed to be more herons along the bay than usual at this time of year. One was loath to even fly off its perch as I paddled under it, probably didn’t want to give up its territory.

At 5 pm I headed off to check on the beavers in the East Trail Pond. On my way along the branch of Antler Trail that goes to the bay, I noticed that there were fewer budding mayapples than usual.

Then I studied the situation and discovered that the buds only formed on plants with twin leaves.

And few of the plants had twinned. Not sure why. After seeing few signs of mammal activity from the kayak this morning, I had to take a photo of a little scent mound left high on the shore near the old dock.

I got photo of the windfall oak branches beavers gnawed.

I hadn’t noticed any beaver activity around the windfall so I don’t think a beaver bumped into it on its way to other trees it was cutting down. It must have gotten a scent of the exposed wood down on the ground as it swam along the shore. Some of the girdling looks older than the rest and none of it looks like it was done in the last few weeks.

I got up to the East Trail Pond around 6pm and in a few minutes saw ripples just southeast of the lodge and saw one beaver diving on the lodge side of the patch of dead cattail stalks. I thought I saw another beaver working the patch but when I got the camcorder working that second beaver seemed to disappear. The trouble is unless you definitely see the beaver you can’t be sure because the muskrats work this area too. Searching for the animal I didn’t clearly see, I lost track of the beaver I did see. Which surprised me because the angle of the sunlight illuminated the pond brilliantly. I finally tired of trying to see ripples in the dead stalks and instead took photos of what looked like recent beaver gnawing. A photo of the stripped trunk of a tree, probably a red oak, just behind the dam gives a good impression of the layers of tree cutting done by the beaver here over the past two years.

The beavers are making slow progress gnawing the bark off a maple that fell into the pond.

I also noticed two trees pushed to extremes by beaver girdling. A tree just below the dam is a dense ball of leaves gasping for sunlight.

An oak on the north shore ridge is dead from the beavers’ girdling.

I was sitting directly across from the spiral formation at the foot of the granite cliff that forms the north shore of the pond, the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a portal to another universe.

A mother wood duck with tailing ducklings, so small and close that they were hard to count, brought me back to reality.

Then I saw a muskrat swim from the lodge over through the dead cattails and a few minutes later saw a muskrat swim from the dam back to the lodge. A male wood duck looked as confused as I was.

The last time I was here a muskrat kept carrying vegetation up on the lodge. Today I took a photo and perhaps there is a bit of a mound sticking out of the side of the lodge.

At 7pm, about an hour after I first saw a beaver, perhaps two, I saw a beaver again swimming between the lodge and the dam. After diving near the dam it swam over into the dead cattails southeast of the lodge. Meanwhile I heard gnawing from over on the north shore. The shrubs there are leafing out making it difficult to see what’s going on in the water.

Then at 7:12, I saw two beavers in the water munching away just below the rocks along that north shore.

It is possible that the beaver I saw a few minutes before heading toward the dam swam over to the north shore. However, I didn’t see it do that and the two beavers over there seemed rather sedentary. So maybe I saw three beavers.

May 15 Usually I give collecting firewood for next winter priority over clearing trails, unless I need to make the trail to get to the trees I’m cutting up. But we might be taking care of Leslie’s father for most of the winter which means we might not be burning wood until next February. Plus if we don’t keep up our trails this year and miss the usual late fall trimming, what trails we have made over the years might become entirely overgrown or clogged with fallen branches and trees. Because it is well shaded our trail at the foot of the moss covered ridge east of our interior valley never gets overgrown, but several branches had fallen over it and the crown of a huge poplar just off the Last Pool that had been girdled and half cut by the beavers. It blew over about 5 months after the beavers left.

The beavers would have done a better job of clearing the trail. I just cut the branches in the crown and piled them back on the main trunk. They would have taken the branches to the pond, stripped off the bark, perhaps cut them into smaller logs and the wood would be recycled into the earth more quickly than they will be now. Then I addressed the problem of the Last Pool. From 1998, when we bought this land, until 2008, beavers had not been there. Of course the beavers arrival changed how I regarded it. Back then I called the area the “lower valley pools.” Before the beavers moved in, I had no particular reason to take photos of the area in May. But in July 2007 we began to spend every night and most every day in our house on the land, that we finished building in the fall of 2006. So I roamed about quite a bit more and noticed on a July 13 hike how cool some of the lower valley pools looked. This July I don’ t think I will find anything in that part of the valley that looks like this.

I am not exactly sure where I took the photo above, and the photo below wasn’t taken of the exact same place, but the photo below shows a depression that obviously was a pool of water before and while the beavers were here.

I can find a photo from July 2007 that shows a pool of water about like what I see now in May 2012. Here is a photo of a shallow pool in 2007, in a relatively open area with grasses growing in it.

This is roughly the same area today.

There is a chance there will be almost as much water here as in July because the beavers dredged the area for channels to the lodge they had here. However, there is an equal chance that the area might be completely dry because the beavers dug a channel from the this pool all the way down to the now ineffectual Boundary Pond dam.

There are areas almost completely dried out now

And back in July 2007 there were areas that were dry. Although the photo below I think shows the area through which the beavers dredged their main channel down to Boundary Pond.

In my experience beavers usually live in an area longer than the beavers lived here. They occupied the lodge for one winter, 2010-2011, and it was only during the fall of 2010 that the whole area was flooded. So all the large trees that they did not cut down, remain healthy. They were not flooded to death as so often happens in beaver ponds that last a long time. Only 3 large poplars and a few good sized white birches were cut and they don’t provide as much shade as the red and sugar maples and white oak that survive. I am coming to the conclusion that the beavers’ channels we’ll keep this area too well drained for it to regain the charm it had before the beavers came. However, we had very little snow last winter which might be contributing to the dryness. And the area still has some glimpses of paradise like the little island below where your little barque can be pulled up in a forest of white violets.

It would be nice to add that by better draining this section of the valley, the beavers filled up the lower end of the valley with water. They have to a degree, as my pleasant sojourn there the other day proved to me. But because they cut several elms and girdling and flooding killed a white oak, a bitternut hickory and some large ash, and most of all, because their stripping almost all the medium sized hemlocks for bedding in their lodge (I never saw them eating it), this once well shaded area is getting baked by the sun.

My trail clearing and critique of the beavers done, I couldn’t resist yet another photo of trilliums.

I decided to check on the beavers after dinner which meant that I had to bother them if they were already out. And they were. The larger beaver was across from me, where the south shore is broken by the inlet bay, nibbling on leaves.

But the smaller beaver was pond center and slapped its tail at me smartly. That broke the other beaver's train of eating and it swam into the pond while the smaller beaver patrolled the pond in front of me.

The other beaver then dove toward the lodge and I thought the gig was up, but it reappeared and began swimming side by side with the other beaver as it swam by me.

Then that angry beaver slapped its tail again

and I wondered it if it was directed at me or the other beaver. They separated and the angry beaver angled toward the dam.

I hoped it would do a little work on it, but it just floated and stared at me. The other patrolled the pond to the other side of me, also playing the log and not taking an eye off me.

Then it turned and swam back to the leafy branch floating in the water and began munching again.

Then the angry swam back to the middle of the pond and it dove into the lodge, but not for long. It swam back out and then swam over to the munching it beaver who in turn swam out into the pond. They almost bumped noses

and then seemed to get on the same wavelength and they both dove into the lodge.

My interpretation is that the angry beaver, the smaller male who just moved in a few months ago, thought that I presented enough of a threat that precautions should be taken. The larger beaver, the female who had let me watch her eat all last summer and fall, knew I wasn’t a threat. But she must appreciate the dam building of the male, and perhaps his other services, and she went along with his alarm. That gave me a chance to walk around and see what she had just been eating. There appeared to be the usual honeysuckle bough but also some maple shaped leaves (many plants have the same shape so I can’t be sure it was from a tree.)

The twigs next to the maple leaves were rather white and wavy, which confused me.

At least the beavers seem to be varying their fare. As for fare, who I am the fare for is also varying. The big spring mosquitoes are almost out in full force.

The beaver show over, I took a walk down the road and back. On the way back I saw the beavers back in the pond. The one over with her leaves, the other patrolling behind his dam.

May 16 coming back from my morning walk down the road, I took a photo of the west end of the dam. I can now walk on the vegetation they pushed up and now there is one dollop of mud.

It is still a bit soggy where I have my chair which is only fitting for such a good venue for green frogs. When I get down to the pond, almost 3 hours after sunrise, 8:30am, the pond is bathed in sunshine and the green frogs twang away. I was able to see a large one seemingly jailed by the grass stalks shooting out of the water.

While certainly not the leading voice in the chorus it contributed its twangs, clucks and rodomontades, as I like to call them, though at the end of the short video it seemed to forget its part and play a little catch up.

There were several frogs on the grassy part of the dam, small to medium sized frogs that tended to keep silent, and some on the muddy heaves around the chair.

I continued my trail clearing campaign by making a new trail paralleling our old trail down from the Third Pond to the apple tree, sometimes with very tasty apples, almost at the foot of the ridge. The old trail has been closed by hefty honeysuckles lying down across it. The honeysuckles are still alive and so ferocious because every Spring after I trim the honeysuckles, they grow back with a vengeance. So I decided to see if I could make a trail along the little creek that flows down from the Third Pond which feeds a little boggy area between the road and the Deep Pond. The creek has a good flow in the Spring then usually goes dry in the summer. We have rarely walked up the creek because it is such a tangle of vegetation, but as I walked up it, I saw that the creek itself danced down boulders -- no vegetation growing on them except moss, and in the lower part, the main obstructions were branches that fell off a dead elm next to the creek. Once some honeysuckles were cut and the branches cut up and moved, there was a semblance of a trail.

It took me about an hour to cut a trail up to the Third Pond and there is a big rounded granite rock at the upper entrance.

Of course when water is rushing down this little creek, a very slow flow today, we won’t be able to walk on the rocks in the middle of the creek. I decided to favor the road side of the creek because I found what looked like the remnants of a wall made with large granite boulders.

Along that side of the creek I also uncovered what might have been an open well.

It is only a foot deep now but is in a position, almost at the bottom of the slope, to have collected a lot of silt over the years. There are two wells nearby, a relatively deep one up on the hill and a smaller one out in the boggy flat. Neither of the wells are easy to use. All the ridges on our land are sandstone, though we see a few granite boulders and when they drilled our well a layer of granite about 15 feet down busted the drill. (We got water at 30 feet.) So maybe retreating glaciers raked up a granite wall. Leslie walked down the road and got Val who grew up at the end of the road. When he was a kid back in the 60s this part of our land was a pasture for heifers. Val thought the owners built the granite wall to keep the heifers from running down the hill. There is a wall made of sandstone blocks on parts of the crest of the ridge.