Sunday, August 26, 2012

June 10 to 15, 2012

June 10 Now that I made it easier to see the sandstone cliffs, I tried to make a closer study beginning with the Ripple Rock trail. The cliff, to my untrained eye, is a mishmash of grays and grains etched with lichens presenting no coherent story.

Except on some sandstone faces, each about 4 feet long and, say, 3 feet high, there the are beautiful ripple patterns.

Which conjures in my mind vast shallow seas in grained by a constant wind reminding me of sandy beaches with shallow tides. Then, a few feet away there is a rock with a much different ripple pattern, and also oriented differently and I have to wonder if I am not studying some capricious force’s role of rock dice.

So sandstone which seems so easy to explain with just the word sedimentary which in my mind I confuse with sedentary and dull, unless an old fossil gives rise to speculation, suddenly seems more difficult to grasp than the pink granite on the island with its crystalline cooling of hot magma rounded by mile thick retreating ice. Plus the granite keeps its integrity usual unblemished by vegetation and what lichens and mosses that do adhere to it are patently temporary. But many servings of sandstone seem permeated with green and looks somewhat like a vegetable itself.

And then just when I am about to conclude that sandstone is nothing but a huge fossil of ancient seas or the plaything of various virulent vegetables, I can frame a face of sandstone that is as striking as art and numbs any attempt at interpretation.

Then a few more feet down the trail the sandstone juts and jags to afford a porcupine a perfect den.

At the south end of the ripple rock trail, beavers coming up from the Last Pool cut several trees, birch, oaks, hornbeams and maples. One maple stump at least had a wide wreath of bright maple leaves around it.

To be sure, this is regeneration but the beavers left in May 2011 and the maple tree was probably cut in the fall of 2010 so it seems unlikely that any sapling serviceable to a foraging beaver will sprout out here anytime soon. Behind this old beaver work is a portion of the sandstone ridge which is actually higher than where the ripple rocks are, but as often is the case on our land, when the sandstone piles up the jumble gets incoherent and I seldom see ripples harkening to ancient seas.

The trail more or less ends at the Last Pool and I noticed a curious contrast along the channel the beavers dug. Vegetation on the east side is a couple feet high and virtually nothing is growing on the west side.

I’ll have to ponder that sometime. The lower part of the channel has the same extent of vegetation on each side.

There are still pools in what had been Boundary Pond and something seems to have parted the surface of duckweed here and there, ducks I assume. I still hear frogs splashing in these pools as I walked along.

What had been side pools in the pond are easy to spot because the vegetation hasn’t reclaim them. The water remained here longer and when the pond was in its prime the water was deeper here. And I think the beavers were in the habit of dragging the logs they collected here to gnaw off the bark, plus they may have eaten the vegetation flooded over.

I could do some pondering here too. All of this area is getting much more sunlight than it did before the beavers moved through thanks to all the tall trees killed by the flooding.

I didn’t hear as many birds singing down here today. I did see that blackbird catching bugs. The dam is fully vegetated, looking quite lush.

A turtle dug a hole and laid its eggs which a raccoon soon found.

I saw some rugosa roses or are they berry bush roses up on the ridge west of the dam.

One columbine is still blooming and some herb robert. Then I headed up through the Hemlock Cathedral and tried to find the easy trail I found up the west slope down the plateau. I more or less found it and the photo below shows that once down the rocky slope there is a open area to walk in under the tall trees that are there.

The trick is to keep using this path. I don’t want to mark trails with colored ribbons or signs, which leaves marking trail by using them over and over. That works better for flat trails through grasses. It’s not easy to wear down sandstone ridges. So I was on the look out for big trees. I took a photo of the huge hemlock, oak and poplar that helped create the clear woods where I may be able to wear down a trail.

Once down from the Hemlock Cathedral it is easy to wend yourself down to the Deep Pond as long as you stay in the woods. My most problematic trail will one down the ridge just above the Deep Pond. The easiest way down is to go on our neighbor’s land where there is a small vernal creek that goes down to the inlet creek. I went down the ridge on our land today, aimlessly as I usually do. I will try to make a trail another day. I also sat for a spell but no scarlet tanager today. On my way to where the beavers do much of their nibbling, along the low shore near where the inlet creek comes in, I saw that the snapping turtle did lay eggs on the slope where I saw it, next to where I had seen it that day. But a raccoon dug out the eggs.

Since I saw the beavers here yesterday, I didn’t parse the stripped sticks to prove to myself that beavers are here.

I keep expecting to see some sizeable saplings if not logs or branches from a tree dragged over here. Not today. Looking over at the inlet, I did see a cattail frond perhaps cut by a beaver, though muskrats can do that too.

I went into the woods, where I didn’t see any evidence of beavers, and then crossed the inlet. Especially on the west side of it, the beavers have some channels through rather lush vegetation. I thought I saw a stripped stick but when I tried to get closer to it, I couldn’t find it.

The longest canal, about 15 yards, now extends beyond the extent of the water. A month ago it must have been quite attractive,

Not that I saw any beaver signs along the shore on the slight ridge at the end of the canal. But these beavers eat modestly and don’t leave much of a record of their foraging. I managed to get over to the shore of the pond, half wading through puddles, to get a photo of the stripped sticks left by the beaver there, again, a very modest collection.

I couldn’t get close to the lodge so to get around the pond, I climbed up the back side of the knoll. I knew catbirds were nesting in there and expected to cause a ruckus. Instead a catbird sang melodiously in a small tree on the knoll, the whole time I clawed my way through the honeysuckle. Luckily a trail I cut last year still provides a slight pathway. Ottoleo came to join us for lunch and I we drove out in our cars, he led the way and stopped when he saw a Blanding’s turtle in the road. He put it on the side of the road it was facing.

I asked him to hold the turtle up and it looked like a female judging from the convex bottom shell.

Not quite as big as some we’ve seen here.

June 11 I headed off in the motor boat to check the Picton Island shore for otter scats and take photos of the beaver burrow on Murray Island. I decided to approach the otter latrine on the north shore of Picton by going around the island clockwise which allowed me to take photos of the sandstone shore on the southwest side of the island. Paddling by them in a low kayak is far more exciting.

I used to keep an eye on these layered and crumbling cliffs thinking the caves and ledges would attract otters. But I never saw otter scats there.

Sandstone layers stretch out on Wellesley Island too, along part of the headland, and even away from the river a top one of the highest granite ridges. I bumped into a geology class on a field trip once and had too many questions to ask and got no farther than ascertaining that the granite here is 500 million to a billion years old. When I kayaked here a couple weeks ago I was also struck by the willows along the southwest shore of the island that are oriented like the willows on the north shore of South Bay save that the beavers had not cut any down or gnawed them severely. But in the boat it was harder to get intimate with that shore.

A virtue of this side of Picton is that it shows how the islands might look if they were not lined with boat house and cottages. I continued around the island and as I rounded it I saw a common merganser, I think, and her brood. The noise on the video clip is from my idling motor.

I slowed down along the northeast shore where I usually see otter scats. There is nothing especially natural about this shore since 100 years ago it was heavily quarried. That’s what created the innumerable hiding places for otters both along the water’s edge and up in the ridge, not to mention pools of water just above the shore. I didn’t take a photo of the shore today because I didn’t see any otter scats. This is a bit puzzling. Otters that use Picton are likely far from the range of human trappers who prefer trapping in beaver ponds and swamps where there ATVs have free rain. However, Grindstone Island is just across a channel about a quarter mile wide. My impression is that Grindstone Island is a murderous places though usually deer bare the brunt. Beavers on these island haven’t reached what the typical landowner would consider nuisance levels for years, but that's my opinion. Not a few landowners consider one beaver a plague and once beavers are in a trappers sight killing more valuable otters is alluring. I could ask around but those who kill animals are always so proud, I hate to hear of their exploits and always suspect they are exaggerated. And it is possible otters are just late in using the area. Last year I hoped the arrival of gobies would keep the otters even better fed out here, but perhaps otters are adapting to the ways of the gobies and there are better places to catch them than in the relatively deep waters off this shore of Picton. I did see a muskrat some 30 yards off shore, tail slightly cocked up, enjoying a bite. I cruised along the north shore of Murray Island and saw no scratches in the moss or possible otter rolling areas. Then I rowed over to the small island in the bay between the Narrows and Murray Island where we saw beaver activity. Kayaking a few weeks ago we easily noticed the gnawing on the downed oak.

Then we saw a huge burrow into the dirt next to the granite boulder. A few weeks ago, the pathway up the slight slope was wet from the beaver’s using it.

Unfortunately the bright sunlight cut across the entrance to the burrow defeating any possibility of getting a good photo with the cameras I have.

I don’t think the beaver is still using it. There are no branches concealing the entrance. While the beaver or beavers mostly stripped bark off the tree,

They did cut at least one large branch off the tree.

This area is just across the small cove where there is a huge old beaver lodge on the Murray Island shore. So I am not sure why the beavers dug out a burrow. Perhaps the strange winter with little ice and a rise in water level in January and February made digging the burrow attractive and easy. I didn’t get out of the boat and look around the small island which is private property. I could see that the beavers girdled the base of the oak but that the tree fell more because of the rot inside than from the beavers’ cutting.

This bay is rather protected from the wind, but I imagine a strong west wind going up and down and around Murray Island could have come down pretty heavily on this tree. The last time I kayaked around South Bay I saw that spatterdock was popping up. There is some in this bay too.

Last time I kayaked I saw a good bit of beaver work in the south cove of South Bay, several water lily rhizomes floating in the water and fresh gnawing on a huge willow sprawled out on the shore of a shallow cove along the upper end of the peninsula. I rowed into the cove but the angle of the sun was bad for photos.

And the fresh gnawing on the willow was hard to see.

Given the absence of otter signs, seeing this is the first invitation I’ve had to get up at dawn and paddle around the bay. Despite the extent of beaver gnawing on this willow over the years, all that work is well covered by this year’s leaves. I took a photo of the upper shore of the peninsula with the upper north shore of South Bay in the background which shows the shores green with willows just above the water level and, along the north shore of the bay, red oaks in the woods behind the willows.

Seen from a distance, one might say the beavers’ impact has been minimal, but I’ve kayaked along the shore for years and now miss some particular willows either dead or diminished by beaver gnawing that afforded me shade from the sun high in the southern sky. And comparison with the photo I took today of the willows along the Picton shore

shows how exuberant the willows can be. I suppose because they had to grow in dirt wedged between granite rocks, the South Bay willows were rarely straight up like the Picton willows growing on a shore leveled by sandstone. Their leaning out over the bay afforded me the shade but it also made it easy for the beavers to gnaw the sprawling trunks. Here’s a photo from 11 June 2009 showing what I mean.

Despite the amazing regenerative powers of willows in several case the withered dead trunks eventually show no signs of life at all and collapse on the granite rocks.

June 13 during my usual break by the Third Pond, a deer slowly approached the pond coming out of the woods opposite to where I was sitting. Quite a beauty, a doe, I assume, though no fawn followed. It didn’t come out to the pond for a drink. After sniffing the grass, it seemed to nibble leaves off a large shrub over there and then stood in the open and was relaxed enough to lick its fur.

Then something got its attention and it first looked directly back in the woods, then it looked directly at me.

I engaged it in a staring contest which it easily won and it also seemed less bothered by the deer flies and mosquitoes than I was. My twitching persuaded it to go back into the woods not in any great panic. Nothing quite as beautiful as a deer in the late spring.

I went down to the Deep Pond and checked the shore where I’ve usually seen the beavers nibbling branches, leaves and roots. I thought I could fairly say that there had been some nibbling there last night, but by no means the remains of a feast or perhaps even a meal.

Even when I took a broader shot of the area.

Over the years the beavers I’ve watched have cut down trees, trimmed branches and gnawed off bark and I can’t help but inflate the possible nutrition from a meal when it is gnawed off a huge trees. But every beaver I’ve ever watched has spent much time eating leaves and twigs. These two beavers do that, plus have lily roots to eat. They don’t need to cut down trees, so far. As always, I walked back to where the nearest trees were, mostly maples, and there were no signs of the beavers being back there. But the inlet creek looked muddy. The channels deep enough to accommodate beavers,

and the surrounding greenery, mostly ferns and fan grass, quite beautiful. From the east shore of the pond, I saw a blooming lily on the west shore. So I crossed the inlet and climbed up and over the knoll after looking in vain for beaver work below the knoll and behind the lodge. The pond water level is still high enough to keep me from getting close to the bank lodge. I took a photo of the lone lily bloom,

I always check the slight indentation along the shore where beavers have been leaving scent mounds since the late winter.

I thought the pile of mud and grass on the right might have been freshened a bit. Meanwhile Leslie heard a scarlet tanager and saw a rose breasted grosbeak by the Third Pond, plus a porcupine up in one of the pear trees. She showed me the way in hopes that I could get a video of the grosbeak, but he was gone. I did see the porcupine, a large one, too entangled in the tree to afford me a good photo, and I saw a cedar waxwing.

June 14 I headed off in the evening to check on the beavers in the East Trail Pond, going directly to the pond. I found a spot low on the ridge south of the pond which gave me a slight view of the water around the southeast side of the lodge.

But given that most of the shrubs in the pond have all their leaves, I had a pretty good view of the pond especially all along the south shore where the new cattails were not up. You can’t exactly see what is happening at the base of the dead cattails but the stalks are thin now so I could see most of the water on that side of the pond. I didn’t have long to wait to see something. One beaver was already out just off the shore of the southeast corner of the pond just behind the dam.

Then another beaver swam quickly along the shore right below me. I expected it to either stop and take a sniff in my direction or slap its tail

but it sped on, diving after got by me and swimming underwater fast enough to leave a wake on the surface. I didn’t see where it surfaced.

Then a muskrat swam quickly from the middle of the pond toward and south shore seeming to bump into a clump of greening cattail fronds. It dove, I saw one of the fronds wigging and when I saw the muskrat surface, it was facing a green frond, its jaws chewing rapidly and its tail cocked just above the water. With that attitude of attack, with the tail looking so big behind it, I could fancy that I was watching an otter eating a fish.

However, I wasn’t even sure if it was eating the frond. A strand of green moved past its mouth. It must have been eating a twin frond. Then I saw a muskrat pulling a branch from the open water behind the lodge, not that I can be sure that’s were it cut the branch or little sapling. It still had a long haul, and brought it smartly into the burrow along the shore below me.

I am not sure what kind of shrub or tree it was dragging. It certainly wasn’t the usual bouquet of grass or flowers. It looked a bit like oak leaves. Then I saw some ripples in the southeast end of the pond and figured they came from the muskrat I saw earlier. Then I looked on shore and saw a beaver browsing for grass under a fallen tree trunk. It swaggered out from the under that and up the shore and seemed to be sorting through the low vegetation and pausing to bite some of it.

It seemed most eager when it got a mouthful of grass. Then it nosed into a little sapling and rather than cut it down smartly, it bent it over and started eating off its leaves.

Then it slowly lumbered back to the pond, nose down and seeming to bite all the way. It swam directly out to the channel of the pond clear of vegetation and I guessed that it would head to the lodge,

But it veered to the left and started eating the leaves off one of the low shrubs growing out of pond.

When that seemed to be subdued it turned again into the clear channel and took what looked like a profound bow into the water. Then it popped back up, veered over to the vegetation to its left and pulled down a sapling that looked to be 3 feet high and started biting the leaves off its crown.

When it finished, the bare trunk of the sapling sprang back straight up. I’ll have to look for more stripped sapling trunks. Then the beaver went to the vegetation on the other side of that channel and varied its approach, rearing up and biting off the leaves of a low shrub.

While I always enjoy seeing beavers eat, I was hoping to see the beavers in the pond carry vegetation in the lodge, which I saw once, and which I thought suggested that the beavers were feeding the mother and kits in the lodge. And I was mindful of the muskrats doing the same thing. The one that brought vegetation from the other side of the pond swam back that way and I kept expecting to see it carry back some more vegetation to the den in the burrow, but about a half hour passed before a muskrat coming up from the dam took some grass into the den. Then a muskrat swam quickly over to the south shore from the middle of the pond and weaved through the vegetation, dove and came up with something to nibble, easy to see it broadcasting rapid ripples around its meal.

Meanwhile I kept seeing ripples around the lodge and because I couldn’t see who was making them, it was probably a muskrat. I can’t say that I ever saw a beaver go into the lodge. The next beaver I saw swam up from the dam and began gnawing on a sunken log.

Every few minutes it would gnaw off a wood chip that it could hold up in its paws before gnawing.

Then it swam back and veered toward the lodge but stopped to nipped the leaves off more low shrubs.

Needless to say, I was getting hungry too and I headed home to dinner.

June 15 I set off to scout trails at our land beginning by going down the Ripple Rock trail where I got another measure of the patterns in the sandstone. I found them about half the size that my memory had of them but still beautiful. I’ll correct the earlier journal entry in which I made them sound too grand. While crossing the valley in the sun, I saw a green dragonfly on an elecampane leaf.

Then I tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out the best way through the thick stand of ferns to get to the small, peaceful pool just below the ridge.

While I stood taking the photo I could hear frogs slipping or gently plopping into the water leaving only their ripples to be seen. Then I realized a convergence of interesting features along a possible trail more or less straight up the ridge. The rock face behind the pool had several broad faces of moss and lichen covered sandstone, plus some caves and small vegetated ledges. On either side there are easy stepping stones up the cliff.

There is a rounded sandstone boulder, piebald with symbiosis, at the top of the ridge with open woods behind it and an easy slope up to another pool.

I’ll have to ponder why the two pools are in a line with one on top of the ridge and the other below. The frogs were more active in the upper pool and I wasted several minutes failing to get a photo. The light on and reflections from the shallow tannic pool were too much for both my cameras. This is the best photo I could get.

Then I headed south on the ridge and angled down the slope and was surprised that I only got as far down the valley as the Last Pool. I didn’t get distracted by walking down along the shores of the old ponds, but I did take a photo of the back entrances to the beaver lodge in the Last Pool, now high and dry.

Here is something else to do: explore the interior of this strange lodge fashioned in and around mossy mounds left by old tree stumps. While I often relieve myself in the woods, I was close enough to the compost toilet by the house that I went back there. Then I figured it was high time I resumed collecting firewood and resumed my hike walking down Grouse Alley heading to where I had left maple logs to collect. Along the east wall of the little sandstone canyon that forms Grouse Alley, I’ve often notice some rock faces generally free of moss.

Looking closely today I saw two panels, if you will, of rippled rock: one angled into the cliff and rather tinged green.

And another flatter and grayer.

Another day I will try to determine if the same ripples continue along both rocks, though I feel odd thinking of such ancient marks as the remnants of the same wave. Then I saw an equally intriguing feature, a jumble of small moss covered rocks and holes into the rocks, in a nearby crevasse.

What do I want to study, rippled rocks or rock rot? There are also the striations in overhanging rock as I saw in an overhang on the trail up the ridge farther down the valley. Does it make sense to try to explain all this?

Then I looked to the future and carried out some maple logs I cut in the fall. The logs were in a clearing that afforded a good view of Boundary Pond and a good view of how the dead hemlocks, girdled by the beavers, were letting more sun into the valley.

Birds didn’t seem to mind as a flock was working the dead trees. I determined that it was a flock of nuthatches, and soon enough they flew across the valley and were in the leaves above me. By no means a melodious birds and individually hard to hear in the late spring because of all the other bird song, this little flock had a nice rhythm.

After lunch I resumed exploring trails this time taking the trail I cut going up the north end of the ridge that leads to the Hemlock Cathedral. There are sandstone outcrops every where and I saw another intriguing pattern.

I vaguely recalled once cutting a trail along the rim of the ridge. I continued that way instead of under the hemlocks and found myself confronted with thick juniper bushes.

Junipers have a way of obscuring your next step but I picked my way carefully and got to the west edge of the ridge and a semblance of a trail. I was looking for the big poplar and hemlock that marks the easy way down the ridge and instead found a ring of big basswoods marking an easy way down the ridge.

There were also some interesting rocks here including a thick flat rock about 12 square feet in area that was intersected with marks.

I will have to get a better photo. Then I picked my way down through the woods to the Third Pond, helped by a bit of trail we cut in the winter down to that pond. On the way, at the edge of the trail, I got a glance at a large bird I am sure was a cuckoo. I saw the striped tail. I enjoyed sitting down on the other side of the Third Pond, looking across the water to where I usually sit and walk.

Of course the east shore of the pond is shallow and much of the water has retreated and grass is taking over. Finally I went down to the Deep Pond to look for signs of beavers, and one of the beavers swam out into the pond. This was definitely the smaller beaver, the newcomer.

Its fur was reddish probably because it had been sleeping up on the flat spot on the knoll under all the shrubs. It was rather placid, perhaps one could even say sleepy. I took a brief video and then left.