Friday, October 15, 2010

October 1 to 7, 2010

October 1 we probably had almost two inches of rain yesterday and our land was wet. I approached the Last Pool from the northeast because I put on No Hunting signs to try to keep duck hunters away from the beaver ponds, a vain quest, and I didn’t put up many but I hope the signs will at least keep them from treating us to exuberant fusillades. As I walked down to the Last Pool, I could see water flowing in several rivulets heading that way, so, of course, the Last Pool had flooded back. The little wallow they dredged had been engulfed.

I could not make my usual checks for new gnawing on the poplar since water now surrounded the poplar. I had been taking a photo of the crown from a moss mound. Now the moss mound was ten feet off the new east shore of the pond.

I wondered if the beavers took advantage of the expanded pond, and maybe they did. I saw the stump of a hornbeam -- a fresh stump twinned with an old stump.

Of course, maybe the flood just directed my gaze to something I walked past on those days I had my eyes glued on the poplar. Then a little farther on I saw a fresh stump and the cut trunk and still green leafed crown waiting to be hauled into the pond.

I would have noticed that on any day. So now instead of looking toward the pond, I looked toward the ridge. The beavers may have cut as many as four hornbeams. Then I reached the grove of girdled hemlocks, and saw that the flood did not make those trees inviting again. Fortunately I was facing the beaver hut now a little off the Boundary Pond shore and I saw a beaver swim away from it. I couldn’t be certain that it swam out from the hut but it gave that impression. I couldn’t get a good camera shot of it as it moved away slowly down pond. I took a photo of the beaver hut,

and then when I moved ahead to get a better look, I saw a surge of water at the entrance to the beaver hut. Clearly a beaver swam out of it. This beaver slapped its tail, and I expected it to hurry to the lodge. But first it curved down pond and then stopped and came back. Clearly it was loath to leave the hut. It sniffed the air and didn’t like what it smelled, and then swam up pond.

I wondered if it would move into what looked a bit like a hut near the downed poplar up in the Last Pool. Meanwhile I saw that another beaver, that looked like a large adult, was swimming slowly in the pond between me and the lodge.

Eventually it offered me its profile and we could both keep an eye on each other.

Meanwhile I could hear a kit humming in the lodge. Then while the beaver staring at me didn’t move, a beaver, not a kit, I thought, probably a yearling, appeared swimming toward that depression and mound on the east shore where I have frequently seen beavers come out of the water and rest. It reared up and sniffed the area and then it swam up toward me, angling toward the middle of the pond. I hoped it would swim up to and go into the hut. It did veer back in that direction and then veered back to the main channel and swam up pond. A few minutes later another beaver appeared swimming toward that napping area on the east shore. Then it swam up pond veering toward the adult, still looking at me, but not close enough for either to react to the other. It stopped and turned to face me.

This was kit-like behavior but it still looked too big to be a kit. Then it dove while facing up stream but I never saw it surface. Meanwhile the adult beaver looking at me was still looking at me. So I had two or three beavers up pond, the adult looking at me, and I had not heard the kit hum in a while. Then another smaller beaver appeared, probably coming out of the lodge, and it too went over to the napping area on the east shore, but only for a glance. Then it veered toward the adult beaver, still staring at me, but didn’t get close enough to cause any reaction. Then it dove and I could follow its bubbles in front of me. It surfaced and seemed to be heading toward the hut but at the last minutes veered off and headed up stream. Would another beaver come out of the lodge? I kept looking beyond the adult looking at me and often looked up pond. Then looking in the up pond direction I saw a beaver swimming right at the hut on the shore, with a smaller beaver behind it that must have been the kit. The larger beaver in front nosed up to the hut and shook some water off its fur like it was getting out of the water. Then it got back in, turned and its nose met the nose of the kit still behind it. I heard humming, the kit turned and swam away, and the larger beaver climbed back up on the hut, shaking the water off its fur a few times. It sniffed the air, sniffed the hut,

and then went inside. I had my camera on video but unfortunately the video clip I got was out of focus.

I didn’t see what became of the kit. Meanwhile the adult beaver began to swim, dove, and I lost track of it too. I walked down to the dam to see if the high water from the rain was going over it. Not quite.

I saw that the beavers had pushed up more muck, some live vegetation and logs all along the dam.

There were some leaks over the dam, though most of the puddled water below the dam was probably just from the heavy rain landing there.

Of course, the water was higher around the lodge too, but there seemed to be enough lodge above the water level to accommodate some beavers.

However given that the beavers were trying to find other places to park themselves, one of the chambers they had been using must have been flooded. It would seem that the beavers invited this because they did tend the dam even making it an inch higher. I sat briefly in my chair half way up the ridge west of the lodge, and heard no noises from inside the lodge. I headed up pond along the ridge, knowing that it would not be easy walking up the west shore of the pond. I looked for beavers and did not see one until I was half way up the Last Pool. Something dove, I followed the bubbles downstream and saw the adult beaver surface. So I think I saw the kit, two yearlings and one adult. Of course, I still worry that I miscounted the beavers after I found the dead female adult beaver in Teepee Pond, that I didn’t see two adults here, and that was the carcass of the mother of this family. But I have plenty more chances to see two adults, and shouldn’t let worries about that distract from the interesting behavior I saw today. Yesterday’s rain ended in the early evening. The beavers may have been out all night combining work on the dam with their usual foraging. So that even late this morning, when I arrived, they had not settled down to rest from the night’s excitement. That would explain the pains they took to get comfortable. On the way over, I told Leslie that in other ponds over the years, I usually didn’t find beavers out or doing much after a rain. The exception was in what I called the New Pond which was a pond beavers briefly occupied between South Bay and Beaver Point Pond, the pond below Otter Hole Pond, which was below the Second Swamp Pond. Like this pond‘s dam, the New Pond dam was not packed with mud. Maybe dams unsecured by much mud prompt beavers to pay close attention to it after a day of heavy rain. I didn’t see or hear any other beavers in the Last Pool. I saw that the trail above the pond veering to the west looked well used.

I walked up it and found it clogged with more branches

From the red oak they cut down a few days ago.

Meanwhile, especially while walking in the woods on the ridge, I saw mushrooms everywhere and couldn’t manage to take a photograph to capture the spread of their eruptions, but did get a candid of a shy pink silver one.

When we got back to the island, I hurried out to check the otter latrines at the beaver ponds. Because of the heavy rains, would the otter family remark their latrines? I went to the Big Pond dam via Antler Trail. Where it crossed meadows there was a little standing water but not enough to get my feet wet. No otters had visited the latrine south of the Big Pond dam, and judging from the gurgle of water leaking over the dam, no beavers had come to patch leaks. A muskrat had been there. On a relatively dry patch on the top of the dam, I saw fresh muskrat poops.

It sounded like the hole through the dam that a beaver had just patched had to be open again, but it wasn’t. All the water was going over the dam quickly forming noisy rivulets below the dam. I slogged along just below the dam, saw some more muskrat poops, but no signs that beavers had been there. Over at the Lost Swamp Pond I saw no fresh signs of otters either. I saw mallards and other ducks in the pond. The beaver lodge out in the southeast end of the pond looked a little different. I could see some stripped logs there that I don’t think were there a few days ago.

As I walked around the west end of the pond, on my way to check the dam, I saw a red dragonfly sitting on a plant’s one pilewort flower that had not burst out in seed.

It was easy to see that the water was high in this pond. The lodge in the middle of the pond was almost submerged.

The high water did prompt a beaver to push some vegetation up on the dam. Muskrats do that too, but this looked substantial with some mud in the mix, and it was right at the spot where the otters had breached the dam last winter.

As I was heading up to the dam, I saw a lone goose land in the pond behind it. When I got up to the dam, I saw that the goose was up on the dam eating the grass.

Close though I was, it did not fly off. I decided to cross the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam thinking that there would be less standing water on and below it than at the Second Swamp Pond dam. I had an easy crossing even though the water did rise up behind the dam causing many big bur-marigold plants to fall down into the water.

The vegetation around the pond is so thick that there is no sign of the lodge tucked on the north shore of the pond.

I walked down the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond. While the Upper Second Swamp Pond had filled up a good bit, the holes in the lower dam easily accommodated the flow of water. The water of the pond was 10 yards away from the slope where otters have latrined over the years.

I headed for the East Trail Pond, and seeing plenty of water coursing down the creek coming through the dam knew that no beavers had tried to restore that dam. I could still cross the pond on the old board walk too. The little dams the beavers had built up just below Shangri-la Pond were holding back water, looked muddy and I could see some more cut cattails in the pools.

I didn’t see any gnawing on nearby trees and didn’t see any fresh dollops of mud designed to build up the dams. I walked up the ridge north of the upper East Trail Pond and easily saw a newly build beaver lodge peaking out in the sea of vegetation.

So these beavers are going to winter here. This family has long been masterly in their dredging and while I couldn’t see clear evidence of their having done that, back up the upper end of the pond I saw what looked like commodious channels.

I have to assume these beavers know their business and that it’ll be deep enough for them to use in the winter. But questions remain: if there is no evidence of their cutting many trees, where did they get the logs for their lodge? And have they made a dam to help hold water in the upper section of the pond? I probably won’t be able to answers those questions until the pond water freezes in late November or December. I headed home via the South Bay trail where I found a great flood of water coming down the creek draining all the ponds I just saw into South Bay,

Save for the Big Pond. That creek flows into the south cove of the bay.

October 5 we’ve been away for a few days, reportedly sunny here, and we just got over to our land before the rain moved in. I loaded some wood in the car before the first drop and then headed out to the beavers just as it started rain. The Last Pool was still flooded over its back shore and a beaver had dredged a bit beyond what had been the wallow and what now looks like a canel to the pond.

Because of the flood I couldn’t go right up to their work on the downed poplar. I could see that more limbs had been stripped and there was gnawing on the thick part of the trunk.

I tried to get a good look at the pile of sticks on one of the moss islands in the pond to see if it was looking more like a lodge.

When the water level goes down again, I might get a better idea. I headed down the east shore of the pond, but not far, only a few feet, because I saw a wide trail coming off the pond,

And heading up the ridge, I saw some slick mud at a steep point suggesting that beavers had been up and down it many times.

The trail curved to the left and as I followed it I expected to see a downed tree. To gain the top of the ridge, twice before these beavers went straight up. But the curves of this new trail did not lead to fresh work on trees.

And it kept angling to the left, and when it veered up, almost gaining the ridge, it kept going left.

Then once on top of the ridge I saw that the trail led to a pool on top of the ridge that I am quite familiar with.

When we first bought the land back in 1998 this pool was one of our first discoveries. Technically it is a vernal pool but of all our vernal pools it is the most likely to muddle through to the wet fall with water in it. I had sat around it in the spring and couldn’t imagine a beaver would gnaw the big old pines, hemlocks and hardwoods around it. The birches there were either long dead or not their favorite kind. Tannin from hemlock and pine litter darkened the pool. The beavers in it didn’t raise any mud. No trees around it were cut, but I saw some stripped twigs floating in it.

I looked for some likely shrub along the shore and soon saw that the pool was only part of the trail. The beavers moved through and out of it on the other side.

Then the trail went down the other side of the ridge, and on a plateau below, I saw where the beavers had been cutting trees.

Once again the beavers had a taste for a small oak tree,

And the poplars they found to cut were less than a foot in diameter.

One poplar still had its crown which hadn’t fallen all the way to the ground.

The trunk of the other poplar had been cut up into four foot long logs.

And it appeared that a good chunk of that poplar had been hauled away. I saw the stumps of other smaller trees the beavers had cut. After some 16 years of watching beavers I have reached a somewhat banal understanding of it all: what beavers do never surprises me but I am always surprised to be there not being surprised. I suppose that arises because beavers are so guileless. They make no effort to hide what they are doing. Their work is seamless and never finished as, I suppose, true works of genius must be. I thought of continuing down the ridge to see if the beavers had been up the other two climbing trails they made, but then decided I’d only follow a trail that way if the beavers had made it. And, of course, there was none. A beaver had come up this ridge knowing exactly where it wanted to go, drawn, I suppose, by the smell of poplar. Back down along the pond shore, I walked carefully down toward the hut now a few feet out in Boundary Pond, camera ready in case a beaver came out from it. None did, even after I kicked a rotting pine trunk on which the hut had been built.

I saw that beavers had not been on the trail up the ridge that begins near the hut. Then as I continued down, I saw that a beaver was up on the shore at a place I’ve often seen them. Only this beaver was not sitting up like a sphinx looking out at the pond. It was either sleeping, or dead.

Because of that doubt, I moved closer, even said something. Finally the beaver woke up, looked at me,

slipped into the water, dove and swam up pond under water. I didn’t see it surface. I got a photo of its nest.

I took a photo of the dam but didn’t really get close enough to be sure if the beavers had built it up some more or if the water level had just dropped.

It was raining now and everything was wet. I walked back up the east shore of the pond, looking for the beaver, but didn’t see it. Then I walked up the trail going up the valley from the Last Pool to the little ridge west of the valley. A big red oak log, half stripped, was in the middle of the trail.

And the oak they cut a few days ago had been trimmed, segmented, and hauled away.

Seeing what the beavers had done made these wet woods in the middle of nowhere seem quite special.

October 7 yesterday I had a dentist appointment and then it rained another inch or more. This morning the sun broke through the clouds around 10am and we headed off in the boat before the wind picked up. Of course, I steered directly toward Picton Island, but not right to the otter latrines. I rowed around the little bays that every other fall have had some beaver work on the shore, but not this year. We also had an eye out for osprey but think we saw three or four hawks flying high. And Leslie saw a vulture emit a poop that looped in the air (I was busy at the oars.) There was a flock of warblers we couldn’t identify (forgot the binoculars.) But in the main we enjoyed the changing leaves -- a hybrid looking red maple taking the prize. Of course, I didn’t unsheathe my camera until we got to otter territory. The rock face and surrounding grass where otters usually scat looked unvisited.

I got out of the boat and walked around to make sure, and saw no scats old or new. I rowed around Quarry Point, finally finding the wind as I rowed down to the latrine on the rocks where I last saw fresh scats and, on September 1, saw otters. The rocks are not much higher than the water level of the river, plus the recent waves had washed up river grasses on the outer rocks, and everything was wet from the recent rains. We saw a bullhead head that looked like it had been bitten off by an otter, but it was white with age. But as I took a close look at it, I saw fresh scats on the wet grasses,

Once again as I looked around, I kept seeing more scats, most of it fresh.

Up on the boulders farther back from the shore I mostly saw old scats, washed and dried so I could see the fish bones. But then I saw a rock side up there with fresh scats too.

And there was a something red and yellow that from a distance looked like a flower. I walked over and saw that it was a bullhead head just cut off.

Never seen a bullhead with such exotic coloring. Before I stepped back in the boat I took a photo of the shore rubble where the otters had scatted.

We motored down to the steep slope where I had seen two otters slide, but that slide was hard to see now. I did see some scats on a boulder out in the river there, but we were now in the teeth of the wind and I couldn’t get a good look or photo. We headed home enjoying a few cormorants, some fishing and some with wings out enjoying the sun and wind.

After lunch we went to our land which we found rather water logged. Just a touch of our cistern handle was enough to bring a generous flow of water out the spout. The water in Grouse Alley was flowing, away from the Last Pool. But down in the inner valley, all the water was flowing into the beaver ponds which had swelled. Going down to the pool, I noticed that a beaver had started girdling an oak again, but no cutting gnaws yet.

I couldn’t get close to the downed poplar to discern new gnawing and I couldn’t see the pile of logs and mud that might be a new lodge.

The rain and wind had brought down many leaves but it looked like the trail up the ridge had been in use through the storm. Up I went, going slow to look for beaver gnawing on the trees on the way or on top of the ridge but I saw no beaver work. Then when I went over the ridge, I saw another pair of poplars cut down, and these two were closer than the ones the beavers first cut.

And just like with the other two poplars, one had been segmented into logs and the other was leaning into other trees,

A beaver did trim off one of the lower branches. I don’t think a beaver had revisited the other poplars, but I took a photo of the upper part of the trunk, now a log about 6 feet long, to show the trimming and stripping.

I think the beavers are principally feeding here and not taking the logs and bigger branches back down to the pond, but I may be wrong about that. The pond below is so big now I might not be seeing where logs taken down are floating. When I discovered this work two days ago, I made a point of going back down the ridge, just like the beavers. Today I realized I best walk along the ridge, just in case the beavers had cut more trees. I followed a deer trail and didn’t see any beaver work until I got to their old work above Boundary Pond. I didn’t see any evidence that a beaver had revisited that. I also went along the ridge because I wanted to get a look down at the spot where I saw a beaver napping along the pond shore. As I eased down the ridge, I saw not one, but two beavers at that spot, lying down side by side.

With my next step, one of the beavers got up and promptly went into the water.

The beaver that left had reddish blond fur which suggested that it had been lying out longer and its fur was dryer. The beaver that left headed over toward the nearby lodge, but didn’t go in it right away, because I saw it curl around to look, or smell, back in my direction. The wind was swirling and they probably could smell me, which didn’t alarm the beaver still lying on the shore.

I tried to ease down closer to it and thought I was doing a good job because it looked like the beaver stretched out and put its head down. Meanwhile, its fur was drying and it too was slowly becoming reddish blond. Of course, I could sit up there all day, but I got the notion that if I was quiet enough I could get down to the dam and not wake the beaver up. A few steps later, the beaver was up and soon in the water.

It too curled around to look at me, and then went into the lodge. Both these beavers looked like adults to me, like what I identified as the mother and father beaver when both beaver kits were alive. The first beaver to go in the water today looked like the mother, a little bigger and redder fur. So now I am sure, once again, that the female beaver I found dead in the Teepee Pond was not from this family. Thanks to the rain, the dam was brimming with water.

And there was much leakage over and through the dam.

It was hard to tell how much the beavers have been building up the dam. I think they are pushing up what vegetation they can, but there is no mud here, and it takes them a while to weight down the loose litter they can put on the dam.

But why do they want to back up more water? Given that some beavers are now often out of the lodge, space must be tight in there.

That said, I did hear the kit humming inside the lodge, perhaps pleased to have its parents back inside. I walked back along the ridge above the west shore, and couldn’t see if any beaver was using the hut on the east shore. I walked up the trail above the Last Pool veering up to the ridge to the west, and saw that a beaver had gnawed a little bit more on the red oak log they left on the trail.

But they had not cut down any more trees at the end of the trail. Again, there were mushrooms everywhere. I should collect some and get good photos. We’ll see.

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