Thursday, December 2, 2010

November 15-18, 2010

November 15 we toured the south from October 30 to November 14 but managed to see a beaver lodge along the Tennessee River in Chattanooga in a well wooded man made pool along a public walkway just down from one of the many industrial plants there.

And just before we got to the Indian mounds at Etowah in northwest Georgia, I saw some beaver work in a pond along a nature trail in the reconstructed last capital of the Cherokee nation in Georgia.

I’ll write about my wild theories about whether beavers influenced the construction and design of Indian mounds in another place.

The first week we were gone it was cold here and the ponds I watch probably froze, but for the last week it has been warm in the 50s and even 60s. Today it was sunny and calm and in the 50s. We were rather fatigued from the trip but, of course, went to our land and checked to see what the beavers have been up to. To avoid the water in Grouse Alley we walked down the higher Ripple Rock trail and at the end of it saw that the beavers have discovered the convenience of cutting small trees there.

This was fresh work and the flying bugs still alive were enjoying the sap darkening the stump.

They probably cut a half dozen to a dozen small trees. The light was not the best for seeing the stumps. The high sun of the south was a pleasure. Once again we are in the angling glares of the north.

They mainly cut hornbeams,

But also some birches.

As they foraged along the trail they made into the ridge last month, the beavers didn’t cut a relatively large tree. That tree is still standing, but several smaller trees in front of it have been cut.

As we continued down the trail to the Last Pool, I saw where a beaver plowed into a thicket of small leafless shrubs and cut a few.

Beavers like to vary their fare. The trail to the pond looked well used, and as it hauled branches and trunks down to the cache, one beaver at least paused to nibble the bark off some sticks.

The water in the pond was muddy.

The water level of the pond had dropped a little bit allowing me to get close enough to the lodge to get an adequate photo of it and the cache next to it.

The lodge looked built up and I took a photo of it looking from the east shore of the pond.

Meanwhile, the beavers continue to strip the bark off the trunk of the poplar that almost reaches out to the lodge.

My expectation that they might leave a good bit of this to gnaw in the winter isn’t coming to pass, but there are still three or four large branches coming off the trunk that the beavers could easily cut down. So maybe they are waiting until the winter to do that. The beavers have also amassed another cache of sticks for their winter food, arranging this one in the middle of the pond.

When they wintered in the lodge just behind the Boundary Pond dam, they had three separate piles behind the lodge heading up pond. It was easy to photograph. I haven’t found a vantage point yet that provides a good view of all these new developments. Although just by glancing that way, I could see that the beavers had been cutting trees up the valley above,

I headed down the east shore of the pond toward Boundary Pond dam to see if beavers are still going or even denning down there. Just a few yards down, still along the Last Pool (though Boundary Pond and the Last Pool are now merged into one big pond) I saw that two birch trees had been girdled.

But that was the only new work I saw, which suggests that for over two weeks the beavers have been doing almost all their foraging up pond. I didn’t see any recently stripped logs behind or on the dam or lodge either.

I sat briefly in my chair on the west slope overlooking the lodge. I folded the chair and took it up pond. I'm afraid it is no longer worth my while to sit their waiting for beavers to come out of the lodge. I had spent some good times there in that chair over the last two years. I didn’t find any new beaver work along the west shore of the pond until I walked up Grouse Alley

And I couldn’t be sure exactly which trees, mostly hornbeams, had just been cut but it looks like the beavers are cutting bigger trees closer to the Last Pool,

And smaller ones farther down the trail, getting closer to our house.

Then I went back to the upper shore of the Last Pool and walked up the valley where I think the beavers are doing most of their foraging. Everywhere I looked I saw that they cut down or were cutting white birches, not the curly yellow birches that they usually favor.

It is very difficulty to get a sense of which birches the beavers cut first. Some trunks of the cut birches have evidently been segmented and hauled away.

Others are in the process,

And some are simply cut down, or cut and leaning.

At this time of year, as they prepare for winter, beavers seem to become more methodical in their foraging. Last year this family almost clear cut the hornbeams between the Last Pool and Boundary Pond. This year they are cutting birch, and rather larger birch than they usually do. Usually with bigger birch they don’t even segment the trunk but strip the bark off it where the trunk fell. I only saw one log, from a smaller birch, that is getting that treatment now.

Judging from how small some of the gnawing teeth marks are, maybe the kit is working on this lodge.

And maybe, because there is only one kit in the family this year, there is less of this gnawing in place than usual. All this work is west of the vernal pool on the east side of the valley, and one tree in that small pool has been cut down and the trunk hauled away.

Until today, I had never seen evidence of a beaver sitting in the pond and nibbling bark.

However, the pool wasn’t muddy and judging from how few stripped sticks were in it, the beavers must generally ignore it. Up beyond the vernal pool the beavers seem to have ignored the birch and confined their foraging to smaller saplings.

Usually getting any small hornbeams that they find.

There are two trails continuing up the valley. One that we always used on the east side just below the ridge

And another which we never use that follows the rivulet of water coming down the valley.

It will be curious to see which one the beavers favor. So far, since there is no cutting right along the foot of the ridge to the east, I’d say they favor the middle trail which is more concealed and wetter. I took so many photos today to catch up for all I missed in the past two weeks. It was good to be back. On the island when I track otters, I do have a sense of the rest of the world. From our dock I look far up the St. Lawrence River and fancy that I see Lake Ontario. But in this valley today I felt momentarily rounded in a discreet world oblivious to all beyond it. Then a raven flew down the valley and called above me as if to remind me to not get carried away with such thinking.

November 16 we checked otter latrines today, first biking around to the South Bay trail and then taking the boat out to Picton Island. There was a light east wind and the water level of the river was quite low, even for this time of year, and we could see plenty of muddy bottom in the north cove of South Bay.

There were no scats, old or new, at the docking rock latrine. As usual we went up to Audubon Pond, always hoping otters might be up there doing some morning fishing. No such luck. So we checked out what the beavers are doing below the embankment. The path from Audubon Pond down the embankment to the smaller pond below looked well used and we could see marks from sticks the beavers dragged up the trail

and took to the cache beside the beaver lodge just off the north shore of Audubon Pond. In the past two weeks I could see that the beavers cut down a large tree, probably an ash, that fell squarely into the small pond, and they’ve been stripping off the bark on the trunk.

They have also narrowed their cut on two other trees to a point.

But since I haven’t been here in two weeks, I can’t say that this is a good deal of work, even for just the two beavers that I think live in Audubon Pond. I didn’t go down the embankment looking for more cutting. Before walking around Audubon Pond to look for more fresh beaver cutting closer to the lodge the beavers are using, I went back down to South Bay to check the otter latrine overlooking the entrance to South Bay. I saw two old scats on the sunny grass, old, but they had not been there two weeks or so ago.

I scanned the rocks below the latrine along the shore but saw no scats down there. When otters are here they seem particular about climbing up the rock and scating on the high grass.

Then I rejoined Leslie and we walked around Audubon Pond. At first look, the otters’ latrine on the old downed ash trunk on the west shore of the pond looked like it did two weeks ago. But when I studied the photo I noticed some smooth scat that wasn’t there two weeks ago.

I wish I had noticed that when I was there because I could have probed it to make sure it was from an otter and judge how fresh it was. We saw some stripped sticks floating near the bank beaver lodge on the west shore of the pond but the wind probably blew them over there. I looked for tree cutting along the northwest slope above the pond where the beavers did much work last fall, but didn’t see any fresh work. The first thing I noticed when I went out to the park bench on the north shore of the pond was that the muskrats had pooped on a clump of moss floating in the water just off the shore.

I’ve never seen that before. Before when I saw muskrat poop along here on a log, I saw otter scat up on the shore nearby. Not so today, but there was fresh otter scats right in front of the park bench.

I took a close up to show they were relatively fresh.

If the family of otters had been here, I would expect to see more scats here and in other places around the pond, but I didn’t. So I think one otter might be continuing to mark this pond. We sat on the bench a while and chatted. When we did that a few weeks ago a beaver came out of the lodge to slap its tail at us. Not today. I took a photo of the lodge which is packed with mud and has a growing cache for winter next to it.

As we continued around the nortwest shore of the pond we finally saw, up in the grasses, an ash tree the beavers just cut and had begun to trim.

I didn’t see any evidence that they are cutting trees around the small pond on the other side of the causeway forming the east shore of Audubon Pond. We had an uneventful trip back home, and immediately got into our motor boat. The wind was supposed to pick up in the afternoon as rain moves into the area. The only birds we saw on the way out were gulls, and not many of them. I went to the otter latrine on the sunny side of Quarry Point which is where I saw fresh otter scats the last time I was here. I saw some scats on the first patch of grass just up from the rocks forming the shore.

The scats weren’t fresh but they were still black and thus relatively recent. I stepped on the higher rock and onto the higher slope of grass and saw a good bit of older scats.

Some might have been here two weeks ago. I moved a little to the east and saw some fresh scat on top of a nicely formed scent mound.

I also saw some wet white-ish scat next to a shell laced scat also glistening with goo.

My impression is that the family that I think remains around Picton did not visit this latrine with full force recently, but over the past two weeks all three or four of the otters have left their mark here.

With the weather turning colder I might not be able to get out here at dawn to watch them, but I should be good for a few more trips out here in mid-day before the river begins to freeze. We went around to the shady side of Quarry Point which the otters had favored when cool shade was a boon. I checked two prominent rocks where they had frequently scatted before more or less bookending their latrines, but I didn’t see any fresh scat nor any more scat than had been there last time I looked two weeks ago.

On our way back home we saw a few dozen geese, and one eagle that flew up and away over the trees as we went through the Narrows.

November 18 we had a good bit of rain yesterday and the creek coming down from the beaver ponds were full. I went via Antler Trail to the South Bay trail and then headed out to Audubon Pond to see if an otter marked there again. But first I had to walk along the embankment forming the south shore of the pond which allowed me to see what the beavers had been up to down there in the last two days. One tree they had gnawed to a point had fallen, and they had begun to girdle a tree next to it.

No sign of their trimming or stripping the trunk that fell over. We had some heavy winds yesterday which probably blew the tree down. Meanwhile beavers had stripped more bark off the trunk of the tree in the middle of the pond.

So evidently, the beavers are still centering their activity down here. As I continued along the embankment, looking below, I saw two trees they cut on the slope west of the pool below.

Because of the low angle of the sun, I simply might not have noticed them two days ago. Then I headed up the west shore of Audubon Pond and got on the otters’ case. While I didn’t notice it walking here two days ago, I saw what looked like a new scat on the downed trunk latrine on the west shore. I took a close look at it today and saw that it was indeed an otter scat with fish parts under a smooth gooey veneer, and probably pretty recent. But there were no new scats there today. And when I got to the park bench on the north shore, a favorite otter latrine, I saw nothing new in the grassy latrines. However I did see a bit of otter scat-like goo on the bench.

I think I would have noticed this if it was here two days ago. I looked harder for new scats in the grass but didn’t see any. I usually don’t make much of these stray solitary scats. I’m looking for an array of fresh scats inviting me to come out early the next morning to actually see otters. As I continued around the pond, I checked the new beaver work on an ash on the north slope and didn’t see anything new there. I didn’t continue around the pond but went up to Meander Pond to see if a wandering otter marked the latrines that otters used there last year. On the way I passed a clump of alder saplings where one looked like it had been rubbed by a buck. Now almost all of the saplings have lost a long strip of bark. I don’t think a buck is rubbing its antler, I think deer are nibbling the bark.

Meander Pond was filled with water, clear, unencumbered water suggesting that no mammal had been swimming in it. However at the old otter latrine over the bank burrow next to the dam, I did see a trail in the grass, but no scats. I went to the end of the south canal of the pond where otters latrined last year. Since there are no beavers here the grass surrounding the pond is quite thick. As I took a photo of the canal, the commentary in my mind was just that -- otters don’t mind if beavers make a pond and its shore more accommodating.

Then I looked down and saw some flattened grass along the end of the canal. Sure enough, an otter had scatted there recently.

I did think that this stray scat was important, since it suggested that one otter at least might have a trail from Audubon Pond to the Lost Swamp Pond via the valley that Meander Pond is in. Over the years otters have used this route. In the winter I’ve often followed their slides there. So I went over to Thicket Pond to see if the marking continued and at first look I didn’t see any scats. From Thicket Pond, I took a photo of as much of Meander Pond as I could to show that the pond was a place to mark two valleys. Toward the East Trail and Lost Swamp ponds behind me, and also, a little valley to my left that goes south down to South Bay.

Perhaps an otter came here from Audubon Pond and turned down to South Bay, or vice versa, and marked the end of the southern most point of the gangling pond. Then I took a harder looked at a dead tree trunk crossing the path just before it ended at Thicket Pond, and I saw what could be the remnants of otter scat, a bit of white goo and a fish scale.

This is rather stretching it, but it certainly inspired me to inspect all possible trails in the vegetation around the pond, but I saw no more scats. Just the other day I saw deer nosing through the vegetation around these ponds. My next stop was the upper East Trail Pond. I was open to seeing more otter signs but my primary concern was to see what the beavers were up to there. Two weeks ago the beavers had started cutting trees again in the woods west of the pond. Today I saw that they had extended their cutting farther to the west, finding two hornbeams, one rather large.

Meanwhile the area where they had been foraging before was a bit flooded so that now a beaver didn’t have to leave the pond to gnaw of some of the bark. Not that they confined themselves to the pond, an ash lying on the ground had been completely stripped of bark.

They also went up the steep slope and found a red oak to girdle.

I should be able to sit up on the rocks north of the pond and watch them working down here -- if I can brave the cold. I climbed up the ridge to get an overview of the pond and what looked like a wet meadow in the summer when the beavers moved in now does look like a pond.

Continuing along the slope, I saw another ash they cut down and another big oak they are girdling.

I didn’t get a sense that they had done much in and around the two pools they dammed up under the bridge over the creek flowing down from Shangri-la Pond which is now a meadow.

But the twinned ash tree they had started gnawing three weeks ago had been cut down. Much of the tree seemed rotten but the beavers seemed to eat what they could.

There was a good flow of water down the creek and water overflowed the two small dams. I crossed the East Trail meadow on the boardwalk and soon saw two trails coming down from the beavers' new dam to the west.

And I saw a few shrubs they had cut, which looked like honeysuckle, though I suppose they could have been willows.

When the shrub is cut down to the ground, it’s hard to identify. Because of the flow of water, the lower part of the East Trail pond was full and water up to the top of the dam. I checked the dam and saw that no beavers had been tending it. We had a good bit of rain yesterday. So now I have checked on everything but the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond. I’ll do that tomorrow with Leslie.

In the afternoon we went to the land and I made a point of getting to work: sawing logs off trees I cut down a long time ago. Working in a piecemeal fashion as I do, I am never finished, which, of course, is what I want. I want to always be compelled to get into the woods. But I did take a quick look at the beaver pond to try to gauge the tempo of the beavers’ foraging. I walked down on the Ripple Rock trail and saw that they extended their foraging there another twenty yards, making me wonder if they left a very portable trunk behind because they had second thoughts about the distance they had to drag it.

Then I crossed over to the east side of the valley and saw that they had cut several more small trees in and around the vernal pool.

And I saw a wide trail to the pool coming up from the Last Pool and where the trail met the vernal pool, there was a pile of unstripped twigs and several freshly stripped sticks.

Perhaps the beavers are getting comfortable here. Continuing up the valley I saw that the beavers continued their methodical cutting of trees that suited the requirements of their cache.

I went back down to the Last Pool and as I looked out at the lodge, which looked about the same as it did two days ago, I noticed a tree that was on its way to being cut down, then turned into a girdling job, or vice versa.

My guess is that a yearling was doing the cutting and then let the kit do the girding. I think the two adults are doing most of the far off foraging. I found the best angle for photographing their growing cache pile.

But all the logs and branches in it are helter skelter. This pond might freeze any night now, and soon I will be able to stand a few feet from this cache and get a better measure of it. Then on the way back, I checked Grouse Alley and found something interesting just up from the Last Pool. The beavers cut a hornbeam and stripped it where it fell.

I think the beavers eat the hornbeam branches readily but are none to quick to strip the bark off the trunk for food. Looking at the work they did on this rippled log, I can see why.

The contours of the trunk which give the tree its name seem to slow down the beaver’s usually effortless gnawing.

No comments:

Post a Comment