Tuesday, December 15, 2009

November 15 to 18, 2009

November 15 warm sunny morning with the temperature rising over 60. We drove over to the Nature Center and hiked down the Middle Trail to the rocks on the ridge suitable for Leslie to sit on. I left her to enjoy the view and clammered down the rocks. I switchbacked to an over hang

where many years ago we heard a screeching porcupine. I expected to see porcupine poop, but instead saw a herb robert still in bloom.

With the sun on the rocks I could see some fresh pink faces peeking out after a billion years.

Then I headed up to Meander Pond and took a slow walk around it, which took about an hour, much to Leslie’s surprise, but the beavers here seem to be cutting trees everywhere. Even along the lower north shore, which has a granite face and a jumble of boulders below, and where the beavers cut every ironwood and maple back in the early summer, they found something to girdle, a white oak in the middle of all the rocks.

And they also cut a tree --maple?, right along the shore.

The bulging lower pond pushes the shore against the rock, but the narrow main channel cuts along the a gentle knoll wooded mostly with red oaks and hickories. The beavers cut the maples in other years. They just cut a shag-bark hickory right next to the water and they trimmed off almost all the branches

While they haven’t gnawed off any of the bark of the trunk, they seem to have gnawed ridges along the stump.

This is a hardwood tree that beavers should have nothing to do with and as I looked more closely at this one, I thought it looked less shaggy than the usual shag bark. Maybe it is indeed different, grew more quickly in this good soil. Meanwhile nearby they’ve been girdling the largest red oak

And does that low gnawing represent the misplaced efforts of a young beaver? I don’t think they could cut down this tree. They also cut a smaller tree near the shore, a maple, I think, but it gets hard to tell at this time of year. From that tree I could get a good view of the lodge

The cache looks substantial but there is not much deep water in that channel. Over the many years I’ve watched these beavers, always in shallow ponds, their caches haven’t gotten them through the winter. They’ve been masters at breaking out from under the ice and finding trees to cut and gnaw in the middle of the winter, especially in this pond where there is a spring feeding the northeast corner of the pond. That said, they certainly don’t seem to be waiting until winter to work on the trees there, including two large red oaks.

The one on the right in the photo had been half girdled the last time the beavers were here, three years ago. Will they manage to cut one of these down in the dead of winter? As I made my tour of their work, I wondered if I could identify gnawing that the kits in the family might be doing. I noticed that one tree that had fallen toward the pond had some bark gnawed off on the high part of the remaining trunk

And some on the part of the trunk near the stump

I couldn’t discern any difference in the width of the gnaws. My guess is that a beaver’s incisors are quick to reach their adult size. This is not an animal that can hang onto its baby teeth. The last two times I was here I hurried around the pond since I was hoping to see the beavers.

Taking this leisurely walk, I saw that the oak on the east slope that I thought they were only girdling, roots too, is being cut from behind

Down closer to the water of the pond they neatly cut down a smaller tree, that is, the crown fell into the water

Nearby I saw that they continue to make progress on a red oak girdled and gnawed years ago. Perhaps this will be the first big tree to be cut down.

Nearby they cut oaks that haven't fallen down yet. In once sense, beavers surround themselves with frustrations -- cut trees not falling and trees probably too big to cut through, but I trust they don't worry about it. The point is the bark, if the tree falls, the tree falls. If not, they get all the bark they can.

There is a back dam to this pond that keeps the water from trickling down to the New Pond some 150 yards away. The other day I noticed two hornbeams cut some 50 yards down that slope. Today, I veered down that way but didn't see any new work. I did see the trail they took to get down there. They came down from the south canal and I saw some trees they cut along the way.

However what is most interesting about this work is that they are digging down to get to the roots.

I’ve never seen such a wide fan of scraping. What comes first, nosing for the root or cutting the tree? Is the root the appetizer or the dessert? Closer to the pond the beavers are cutting smaller trees up on the wooded knoll to the south, not that they are abandoning work nearer the pond (as they did back in the dry summer.) They kept cutting a tree that only hopped down after the first cut.

And as they trim and girdle a tree that fell next to their canal, they have another one in line to fall down nearby.

Yet, I am still not convinced that they plan this out at all. I headed through the tall dead grass toward the knoll the pond meanders around, where the soul of their operations had been during the drought. Now rather than come up from the central channel nearer the lode, they come up from the southeast pool of the pond and work on maples they cut down.

But they don’t go up on the knoll anymore. Instead they are ranging along the shore down to the dam trying all the trees that remain

When I got passed the swath of dead asters, I seemed to be walking in a park where the authorities saw it in their wisdom to try to cut down all the stately trees preserved over many years.

That is a melancholy description but the saving virtue of the beavers is that they take their loving time to cut down the monumental trees. And it frequently seems that they might not complete a girdle or a cut and that the tree will survive.

And then there is the beauty of their efforts, though I suppose much is in the eyes of the beholder.

I can’t help thinking of the bright exposed wood which I see so often in the late fall as just a part of the succession of blooms, taking over from the dying asters in this case, that punctuate the year until the snows make all white. Closer to the dam, I saw another effort to get the roots of a tree, another shag-bark hickory. Perhaps the roots will be tasty enough so that the beavers will spare the tree. Do stripped tree roots still serve the tree?

The beavers have been pushing mud up on the dam, though it hardly needs it.

They have gotten their wallows below the dam back in order which should make it easier for them in the winter in case they need to breach the dam to get a flow of water for air passages under the ice.

One winter the wallow they built below the dam led to an expansion of the pond as they connected the wallow to the pond later. I don’t expect that to happen in this case because there are few trees remaining to expand down to. But what do I know? These beavers have discovered the grove of cherry saplings about 30 yards below the dam.

It will be curious to see if they survive the winter, or if most grow back in the spring.

Nice tour. I hurried around Audubon Pond, didn’t even take a photo, just noticed that they seem to be cutting more ash on the north slope closer to their lodge. Perhaps they will abandon their work below the embankment. Then I checked the otter latrines and found nothing new there. I flushed a heron, not by one of the ponds, but in a tree above a meadow, an old beaver pond. As the river gets cold, fishing in its shallows might be in vain. Little puddles in the meadows might be the place the life line of herons who linger here in the late fall.

November 16 I took advantage of the gentle weather and rowed along the shore of South Bay. I was particularly curious to see if there would be many gnat-like bugs out over the river. Despite a series of nights below freezing bugs have been rallying around the low vegetation bathed by sun, often dancing at just about eye level. I motored almost to the point and then rowed into the north cove. The beavers have done quite a job on the willow there, cut down one low trunk and just about cut the others in half.

I’ll get a better look at this when the bay freezes. There was not much to entertain me along the south shore of the north cove and it is so shallow I couldn’t get to the flat rocks that sometimes serve as an otter latrine. Then I rowed across the cove over patches of vegetation that looked worked over by ducks and geese.

Along the warmer north shore, more exposed to the sun low in the southern sky, I saw some flying bugs. The black gnat-like ones gravitated toward me and the aluminum boat and wooden oars, though none stayed long enough for me to get a photo. A beige flying bug landed in the water, but it too may have been attracted to my heat. Obviously the insects prefer the land that warms up more quickly than the water, which seemed cool to me. I hung over the boat and looked for tracks in the silt. I saw one snail on the bottom and saw truncated tracks.

My guess is that the snail migrations ended a while ago and I am seeing trails not smoothed over by the waves which, during blows, roil this shallow bottom. The closer I got to the shore, the more bugs flew by me. I could hear a few crickets in the grasses on shore. I didn’t see any more beaver work. As for birds -- only a few gulls, no herons.

November 17 I was planning to take advantage of another sunny day by rowing along the Picton Island shore, but at 2pm it was only 38 degrees and though the wind was light, at that temperature, out on the river, it would have a bite. So I went to our land, so I could bear the cold as the sun went down and try to watch the beavers in Boundary Pond. While I did chores, I went down to the Deep Pond where I saw no signs of beavers. I did flush the heron off the pond -- it seems to always be there when I check the pond. I didn’t see any more trees cut up on Grouse Alley. Half the Last Pool was still frozen. I saw more trees cut north of the pool and more trees cut on my path up to the ridge west of the pond. An untrimmed hornbeam was right in the way.

I rarely see hornbeams untrimmed. I kept looking down at the pond to see if a beaver was stirring and I got down into my chair overlooking the lodge without seeing a beaver. But within a few minutes a beaver swam out from the shadows of the upper east shore, and swam up toward the Last Pool. Then I saw rippling along the middle east shore and soon saw a beaver that moved to the upper end of the pool. Meanwhile I kept hearing gnawing inside the lodge. I soon heard some splashing around the lodge, expected to see one of the muskrats but didn’t. I didn’t see a beaver either but the ripples seemed to tell a story. A beaver swam out to get another stick to take it back into the lodge. The gnawing that had stopped resumed again. There were a couple of piles of stripped sticks around the lodge and cache and if a beaver began nibbling there I would get a nice photo.

At 4 pm I heard some very faint humming in the lodge, really sounded like a kit waking up. I also wanted to see one of the beavers that headed up pond, coming back down to add to the cache. I finally did but I didn’t see the beaver sink the branch -- a tree blocked my view. That beaver did some gnawing, then swam back up pond. Then the beaver who had been gnawing inside the lodge, or so I think, swam out and as it swam into the cache, it broke ice. It gnawed on several sticks but I didn’t have the best view. Finally a kit came out, well one of the beavers already out might have been a kit, but this one was the smallest. It swam over to the east shore which I thought odd until I stood up and looked over that way and saw a nicely stripped trunk conveniently down in the pond.

When the sun went down at 4:30 the temperature dropped and despite three layers of thick clothing, I was not prepared. I probably scotched my chances of seeing a beaver up pond by breaking dead branches off some hemlocks for kindling to use back home. I’m as dependent on sticks as the beavers.

November 18 we went to our land just after lunch and I got a chance to walk down the east shore of Boundary Pond to see what the beavers I saw last night might have been gnawing on. Of course I had to walk around the end of the Last Pool passing more work on birches

And hornbeams

The pool was still half frozen, but around a collection of sticks, many already stripped, and some saplings, the water was open. Perhaps beavers were there last night, already practicing swimming under the thin ice that they can easily break.

Down along the east shore of Boundary Pond, just as I expected to see, there was an elm with the bark on its trunk well stripped. It was very convenient to the lodge

And it was easy to picture kits comfortably gnawing on the bark just up from the water level.

I walked down to the dam. There was enough muck packed on the lodge over its east entrance to make it look like a classic mud packed lodge.

The patchy appearance of the water in front of the lodge is from the thin ice the beavers probably kept breaking that then has a chance to partially refreeze in the morning. There seemed to be a few more trees cut below the dam, but nothing major. I took a photo of the dam and the chair I sit in to watch the beavers can be seen in the upper right hand corner.

At this time of year it is quite exposed and it is a measure of the beavers’ tolerance of me that they go about their business when I am sitting so close to them. In my experience, the best place to watch beavers is actually lower on the slope preferably with a log or two in the way. But to try that now might upset these beavers. Last year I tried the well shaded east shore and they wouldn’t tolerate my being there.

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