Monday, November 30, 2009

November 1 to 7, 2009

November 1 While I didn’t let the time change make me sleep later in the morning, I still got out to the Big Pond later than I wanted, a little after 10am EDT (9am EST) or three hours after dawn which I feared would be after the otters' morning foraging. Plus I chatted with a bow hunter along Antler Trail (fortunately, no deer in sight.) When I got to the Big Pond dam the otter latrine was drenched by sunlight and since the ground was still damp from yesterday’s heavy rain, it was hard to see scats there, old or new.

However, squinting down at the ground, I saw the glint of fresh gooey scats.

One curious thing about how the latrine looks is that there is no evidence of scratching. Since adult otters are inveterate ground scratchers, does that mean that the pups are leaving these gooey poops?

Certainly the gooey scats are close to the water suggesting that a small body came up, hardly dented the grass and let fly. I’ll have to check my old journals to see if the otters and pups I saw then left gooey scats at this time of year. But let me quickly add that I saw gooey scats here deeper in the grass.

But I didn’t see any black scats, and that could mean that the otters were last here before yesterday’s heavy rains, which might have washed away the black in the scats. I didn’t see any otters in the pond so I tried to walk up on the dam. A beaver had come and pushed mud up on the dam at several spots.

So, if I think I can see so much in otter scats, what can I see in a beaver’s mud heave?

As I stood there staring at the mud, my feet were getting wet. We really did have heavy rains yesterday, and maybe the mud heave below me, which was not as bold as I usually see, reflects the beaver’s hurry as it tried to stem the flood over the dam. I retreated and walked below the dam and found that the outlet stream is almost too wide to jump over. I went back up to the dam and struggled to keep from slipping into the water. Up at the Lost Swamp Pond I thought I was seeing new scats in the mossy cove latrine,

But I didn’t see any gooey scats. And I wonder how fresh these scats are. Between the scats and the pond water were many leaves and a pine cone

suggesting that I wasn’t hot on the trail of an otter. I scanned the beaver lodges but once again saw no otters lounging. The lodge out in the west end of the pond does not have a cache near, but it looked like there might be some mud on the south side of the lodge.

In other years the beavers here made a point of having this lodge and the one by the dam ready for occupancy. In other years they’ve responded to the pond losing water by moving into the lodges closer to the dam. But no water loss yet, and it looks like the cache outside the lodge in the southeast end of the pond is growing.

I walked around the west end of the pond to the dam and at first glance at the otter latrine, I not only didn’t see any new scats but some of the old scats had been washed into the pond by the heavy rains.

Then I turned and looked into the grass and saw a new gooey scat,

And black scats next to it. Yes, a leaf had fallen on part of the scat, but this certainly was the freshest scat I had seen. Had the otters then headed down to the Second Swamp Pond? The Upper Second Swamp Pond was not muddy in the least, and the latrine in the wet meadow below the dam, was wetter, the rains seems to have rearranged the grass, and there were no new scats.

As I headed down the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond, I was intercepted by another bow hunter. It dawned on me that last weekend bow hunting ended, giving way to rifle hunting, everywhere else but in specially designated areas like this park. So area bow hunters have to come here if they want to keep bow hunting. Of course they are after deer, indeed this fellow was a “trophy hunter,” but their traipsing around can’t help but disturb the otters, and my traipsing around now doesn’t help either. Since they are legal and I am not, I decided to veer off to that part of the park where hunting was not allowed. Maybe having more hunters around explains why these otters don’t lounge on top of beaver lodges. Too bad for me, but I had been neglecting the Meander Pond beavers. There has been bow hunting here in the fall for many years but ten years ago when I was seeing many otters, half the beaver ponds were outside the hunting zone. Now the three principal ponds are in the zone and the others, Meander Pond and Audubon Pond don’t have other ponds connecting them to where the otters are now. On my way to Meander Pond, I took a photo of the remains of Shangri-la Pond.

I should get down to see how deep those pools of water are. As I got near the north end of Meander Pond, I saw trees that the beavers were cutting, red oak, white oak and maple, I think. The area where they are in is relatively open yet all three are hung up on other trees.

As I headed over to the south shore of the pond, I expected to see more recent gnawing and I did.

Or should I say more girdling. But the maple I saw cut down here a week or so ago has been stripped of almost half its bark.

The beavers still have not touched the several trees nearby that they cut down in the early summer. I headed over to the canal in the middle of the gangling pond which during the drought was about the only place the beavers went. I saw a trail in the grass up to the end of a small maple the beavers cut and now have mostly trimmed.

This southeastern end of the pond now has water, muddy water, which means the beavers are using it.

As for the central canal, it is full but not muddy.

However, as best as I could see, the lodge has a large cache and is well mudded.

So all is well in Meander Pond. Down at the dam I was surprised to see a large tree, maple I think, lying just below the dam.

All the branches have been cut and I wonder if a kit or two has been gnawing on one of the branches attached and next to the main trunk.

The beavers cut down one of the several shag-bark hickories they were working on, and did cut a branch off it.

I headed home past the southeast end of the pond and noticed that a red oak they cut well off the pond seemed to tilt the wrong way

It looks to me that it should have fallen towards the left in the direction the stump seems to point. We did have some strong winds lately they may have torqued the tree around.

November 3 I headed up Antler Trail at 2:30 to check the otter latrines along South Bay and then to see the beavers in Meander Pond as they came out for the evening. The morning was relatively warm but clouds were moving in from the north even spitting out a little sleet as I walked up to the trail. Cold was moving in. I saw the porcupine again up on the plateau nosing into the grass next to the moss on the rocks.

I couldn’t help but disturb it, and while it headed for the nearest trees, it paused and didn’t climb up one, heading for more grass farther away from me, I guess.

I didn’t see any otter signs in the South Bay latrines. Above the old dock I saw some fox poop not far from where I saw scratching in the turf a week ago. In the past, when I tracked otters in the beaver ponds, they always came down to South Bay, and I always wondered why. In such an expanse of water, it must to be harder to find fish, even crayfish.

Up at Audubon Pond, the new beaver-proof drain is finished, waiting for the pond to fill up.

It looks like it will work, except the beavers might weave sticks into the metal lattices and then pack it with mud, just like they do to their lodges. They certainly aren’t intimidated by the structure as their path to their work on the other side of the embankment is next to it. And on the other side while they have worked all along the slope, they are concentrating on the trees east of outlet stream over toward the rocky ridge.

They even half girdled the wide base of a trunk that they had been gnawing. What is surprising about all this work in front of the embankment is that they have not dammed and dredged any pools into the creek, save the small pool that has long been there.

Perhaps when water starts flowing down it again, they will dam it up. The fascinating thing to me, which is hard to communicate in a journal, is that beavers have been in Audubon Pond off and on for at least 15 years, and never showed interest in these trees. The last time I was here I saw two deer browsing down on the slope, today I saw a large porcupine.

I walked around the west end of the pond expecting to see that the beavers had left off working there since the low water forced them to leave the bank lodge there which is still high and dry. But I saw where they’ve tracked up through the mud apron around the pond and cut a small shag-bark hickory and dug down to gnaw the roots of a large one.

I usually see their digging down into roots in the spring, but this digging now is no accident as the dig is several inches deep.

I saw an ash cut along the west shore and then on the slope northwest of the pond, they cut an ash and half cut a maple just beyond it.

This work is relatively convenient to the lodge they are now occupying but I didn’t really see a beaten beaver trail up to this work. There is enough water in the pond now to make the lodge look more respectable.

A few weeks ago there was mud, not water, lapping at the back edge of the lodge. And I think because of that the beavers made a formidable crown of logs over what used to be a porous roof. At least I’ve seen otters go down into the lodge from that crown.

That would be difficult now. By the way, I saw no signs of otters being around the pond. Heading off to the northeast I saw that a beaver had even tasted a large ash tree about 20 yards off the pond. Is all this cutting only for the two beavers I’ve seen in this pond, or did they manage to make a family? I headed up the ridge so that I could approach Meander Pond from the high rocks. The pond has filled nicely. The once narrow central channel is now wide

And the area behind the dam has filled up nicely.

I sat briefly on a high rock but saw nothing stirring below. There was some fresh girdling on a large red oak below me and I scouted around for an easy way to get down the rocks and then I saw a beaver below me swimming toward the northwest shore of the pond. I got out the camcorder and followed its progress to the shore where it just nosed up on the shore, cut a small bush and swam up the meandering channels into the main channel and then I had to dance along the rock ridge hoping I could get a view of the lodge where it was headed. Several times over the years I’ve seen beavers from up here on cold fall days, when the clouds had been blown south and the cold golden glow of a fall sunset framed me and the beavers below. I always spring to life, though my view of the beaver is poor, and I am far away, but this strange pond is so magical as is the beavers' continuing ability to survive in it. I found an easy way down the ridge even with the lodge. I didn’t get there in time to see the beaver sink its fresh contribution into the cache. I sat and watched a while and saw a beaver swimming to the lodge from the east, could have been the same beaver, but I think it was another. Then I saw a beaver bobbing in the channel near the pond probably rewarding itself with a bite of bark.

The light did not provide the best view of the cache. I waited from my vantage half way up the ridge to see if I could see another beaver, but nothing stirred. Meanwhile I saw fresh cutting on the trees all below, girdling on big oaks to the west,

and several trees cut and some stripped to the east.

The beavers generally cut and girdled trees convenient to the many canals of the pond.

One tree they cut didn’t fall but seemingly jumped off its stump and landed square on the ground two feet away, and the beavers started cutting it again.

They did most of their bark stripping east of the pond almost half way up the slope to Thicket Pond.

Three winters ago I thought they had exhausted their food here. I was wrong. Excited though I was, I was also very cold and headed home instead of completing my walk around the pond.

November 4 Coming into the land, I saw a barred owl fly from the trees north of the road to the woods south of the road. I took my usual walk around the Last Pool and Boundary Pond approaching by going down Grouse Alley and saw that the beavers cut a tree a few yards closer to the pond. My guess is that they’ll soon be cutting the hornbeams on the other side of Grouse Alley. It got below freezing last night. It warmed quickly but the edge of the Last Pool still had a bit of ice.

However it did freeze enough in the night so that I could get a sense from broken ice where the beavers had been. Not that there was much mystery about that. The beavers completely stripped a birch trunk that fell next to the pond.

Judging by the narrow teeth marks on the trunk, I bet the kits feasted here.

But I’ve never made a study of that. Nearby it was easy to see how another birch was being cut into logs.

And there was a gnarly part of a branch left stripped on the wet ground

But a pile of twigs cut from the birch crown was left unmolested.

The beavers also stripped twigs while sitting in the water, can’t tell if the pile of twigs on the ground were left there so they could be selected and taken into the water.

I continued down the west shore of the Last Pool and Boundary Pond and noticed that the beavers seemed to avoid cutting thin saplings often growing next to their preferred three inch thick trees.

I must say that I didn’t examine the saplings left behind. Beavers don’t cut dead trees. For example, the birches in the clump below still standing are dead

Often saplings next to a larger tree are dead or dying. The canal coming up from Boundary Pond is quite full, and the beavers are dredging dead leaves out of it

Down along Boundary Pond, I saw juxtapositions that prompted questions. If the beavers are primarily trying to stock their cache pile next to the lodge with hornbeams and birches of a certain size, why cut an ironwood now?

And what came first in the photo below, the bite or the concentrated gnawing?

I do have an odd answer to that question. I’ve cut my share of ironwoods though usually dead ones. I’ve noticed that live ironwoods can seem rather juicy when they are cut. The sap runs and then when the tree is dead that wood seems a bit stringy. I wouldn’t want to gnaw through it. So maybe the beavers just have a taste for ironwood sap

And maybe a few twigs from the crown or branches -- ironwoods seldom have straight branches and for these beavers especially who keep an orderly cache, ironwood branches might seem too messy.

Today the light on the lodge perfectly showed the piled on muck which I think shows where the living chamber is inside the lodge.

I also walked down to the Deep Pond and walking around the southeast corner of the pond, I saw some green stalks in the water, that I assumed a muskrat had collected. Then I spied a juniper branch -- more likely a beaver cut that,

I’ll have to keep an eye on this pond, a beaver might be back, but I saw no other signs. On may way over to get a close look at the lodge, I saw some coyote poop flooded over by the rising water.

November 6 I finally arranged my errands and chores so that I could be at our land at sunset. As I drove in I saw a large hawk in a tree. I checked the Deep Pond while there was still good light and saw no beaver signs. But often when a beaver first comes into a pond, it is very shy. It was a cloudy, cool but dry evening and I didn’t have long to wait to see a beaver. As I came out of Grouse Alley, I saw a beaver retreating back into the Last Pool. Then it turned and swam slowly down to Boundary Pond, without any signs of panic. It swam head up most of the way. I would have preferred it to swim fast and disappear so I could get down to my seat above the lodge without distractions! Strange thought. I think I got to my seat before it got into Boundary Pond. At least I saw a beaver well up in the pond looking down at me. Then it turned and swam back where it came from. Meanwhile at least one, perhaps two beavers were out around the lodge below me, and I couldn’t see them. All the ripples were in the east end of the pond, in the shadows about half way up the east shore, and around the dam, behind the lodge and fallen elms. Then a muskrat popped out of the lodge, complicating my observations, though increasing my pleasures. The muskrat’s fur had a reddish sheen. It stayed near the lodge and I think it swam around it. At least I soon saw a muskrat swimming out from behind the lodge and up the channel. I was hearing both beaver hums and gnawing coming from the lodge, and soon enough there was a loud enough splash to herald the entrance of a beaver. It swam slowly up the cache where I couldn’t see it. It looked like an adult, and I think the first beaver I saw was an adult. Eventually I saw a beaver swimming in the middle of the upper end of the pond, seemingly waiting for something,, even turning a circle as if it were in a holding pattern. Then, I saw another beaver swimming along the upper shore of the pond, swimming purposefully as if it were heading to some tree work, and soon enough I did here gnawing. May the circling beaver was waiting for the beaver that swam back up to the Last Pool to bring down a branch. And a beaver did swim down the channel with a small branch but by the time it did, the one beaver welcoming committee had swam off I know not where. I think the branch was parked into the cache, but I didn’t see the beaver do it, nor am I sure where the beaver went. A large muskrat popped out making it easy to lose track of the beavers. At first glance it seemed to be eating twigs in the beavers’ cache but as I study the video, it could have been just eating duckweed floating next to the twigs and branches. I kept expecting one of the beavers to appear and shoo it away. But the muskrat went back into the beaver lodge. Then a muskrat, another one, I think, popped up, nosed around the cache and then swam up pond. Another muskrat madea brief appearance beside the lodge and seemed to splash in panic and disappear. Then another little muskrat made a brief wild swim out to the cache and back to lodge. I had the impression that the muskrat population had increased from the two I had seen before to at least four, if not more. Did the pair I saw here earlier in the year have a last litter just before winter? Muskrat can be that prolific. Then a beaver kit popped out of the lodge and nosed into the some little logs west of the lodge, then nibbled something near the cache and then swam down and found some leafy branch to nibble that was near the lodge. Struggling with my camera and camcorder, I made enough noise to alarm the kit. It swam away from the lodge to get a better view of me and then made a snappy tail slapping dive. Beaver kits seem to swim like muskrats with much tail action -- adult beavers use the tail as a rudder, but I think kits like to put an added umpf into their swimming and shake the tails so much it can look like it is rotating like a muskrat’s tail. And this kit's tail slaps sounded like a muskrat dive, though I could see its flat tail raised high, and looking at the second tail slap in the video, I see that this kit had a nice way of coming down on the water with just the tip of its tail. Soon it tired of circling in alarm and dove back into the lodge. I saw at least four beavers, one definitely a kit and two definitely adults. I continued hearing enough noise in the lodge to suggest other kits were in there. But on this cloudy night, I soon lost my light and it was getting too cold to shut my eyes and let my ears do the counting. So I hurried back to the warm car and home trying to square the feverish activity of the beavers and muskrats with the cold of the season.

November 7 I came to the land today with Leslie and straight away we saw an eagle flying high over us, perhaps a golden eagle. So first an owl, then a hawk, now an eagle, what next? I sandwiched my chores with a check of the ponds. Once again I saw no sure signs of beavers in the Deep Pond, but there were more stalks in the water along the shore where I saw the cut juniper branch.

I only had time to check the Last Pool, and not enough time to make my usual tour. So I sat on the poplar trunk down along the trail wondering what the beaver I saw here the other night had done, and I framed a photo showing the variety of the beaver’s skill: tiny stripped sticks next to a thick stump of a tree gnawed down

There were more juxtapositions to ponder. Nearby the stumps of two birches just cut

was a neat pile of stripped sticks

I've never seen stripped sticks lined up like that. Beavers usually seem to have a compulsion to cross them. Today I kept noticing freshly cut birches

like the beavers simply couldn’t resist them. That said, I wonder how much beavers get out of birch. I’ve seen them patiently eat all the bark they peel off a large red oak, but most birch bark always get left behind.

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