Sunday, March 1, 2015

October 24 to 30, 2004

October 24 a warm day for the season, though not hot, and I went out to check on beavers a little after four. We still had a breeze from the east, more from the south so I walked directly to the northeast end of the beaver district but this side of Audubon Pond. I went through the woods toward the Meander Pond dam and had to stare down a doe before I got there. She ran off and then as I approached the dam not only did a small deer try to run up the ridge to the north but a large raccoon went scampering that way too. The deer was stymied by a rock cliff and I think the raccoon was running so fast only because it was calculating that it had time to escape and didn't have to go directly up a tree. Then I noticed the many birds. Hairy woodpeckers were engaged in a noisy dance. A woodpecker always acts like it is eating or hurrying to the next tree, but when they are this noisy I think they have other things on their minds. Then there were a couple of hairy woodpeckers quite focused on bark and bugs. Blue jays were about and remarkably quiet. Chickadees, of course, perhaps drawn to what I think was a small flock of pine siskins, because they sounded like redpolls but had no red, but I'll have to think about that identification. I sat under a hickory tree and straightaway a downey woodpecker pecked around a hickory nut but it didn't persist so I assume a bug was the attraction not a new diet fad. A few minutes later nuthatches and perhaps a brown creeper worked the hickory bark. But I was there to see beavers. I saw no sign of beaver activity at the dam, nor at the lodge nestled in the over vegetated pond, but I could see that they were still using the larger southeast end of the pond. The setting sun lit up the bank to the east of the pond where they have been cutting so many trees. Pondering that,

I waited for a half hour. The last time I paid attention to this colony they were about their business between 5 and 5:30. I waited but no beaver appeared. Then as I walked around the pond to Thicket Pond, first appreciating the extent of their canal work which is easier to see as the grasses die back,

I saw how much more tree work they had done, principally cutting trees down. They are even well along on cutting down a white oak

-- three years ago this colony cut down a rather big white oak. This area is rather open and several cut trees fell to the ground but I saw only one tree that was well stripped.

I got no indication of where they are taking the branches and the few logs they've cut. Beavers wintering in Thicket Pond generally don't make a cache. And when I got up there I saw no signs of fresh beaver activity. This is an interesting problem which may have to wait until the first snow to solve. I still had enough light to check on the next beaver colony. Of course, the beaver-less East Trail Pond was perfectly quiet. I made a hasty check for otter scat and saw none. The Second Swamp Pond was also quiet -- no ducks. It is as if the first wave of migrating ducks had stopped here and moved on. As I eased my way through the meadow up to the upper dam, I saw a beaver cruising down to it from the opposite way. If I could only recognize these beavers by their heads I would know if these beavers came from the Lost Swamp Pond. That I can get that close to them which, I suppose, is a point in favor of their being from the Lost Swamp Pond because those beavers have been familiar with me since the spring while I had very few close encounters with the Second Swamp Pond beavers. I lost the beaver when it got close to the dam. Then as I inched forward through the wet grasses (which allowed me to move relatively noiselessly,) I saw a beaver heading along the dam coming from my left. There was no way that it would not notice me and it splashed its tail making a report loud enough to make me jerk the camcorder (how difficult it is to get a close-up of a tail splash, experienced though I am.) I briefly saw another beaver's head among some stripped logs back in the pond. With a few more splashes that head disappeared. The splashing beaver stayed on my case as I moved along below the dam.

I paused to notice some fresh otter prints in the mud. Last time I was here, there were no prints, so the otters are still using the shallow pond, if not going all the way to South Bay. When I got up to the Lost Swamp Pond dam it was almost dark, but the moon was out affording plenty of light to see wakes, and I saw two, both at the east end of the pond. One going to the north shore, the other coming out from it. Both, I think, were made by beavers. There were no wakes around the lodge in the middle of the pond. It makes sense to me that these beavers are orienting toward the Upper Second Swamp Pond. In a sense, that whole bush flooded pond has become their winter cache. And it makes sense that as they moved so closely to each other either the Second Swamp Pond colony or the Lost Swamp Pond colony would have to command this last remaining resource in the area. And it makes sense that the Lost Swamp Pond colony that at one time boasted at least 8 vigorous members would rule over the Second Swamp Pond colony, remnants of which I have watched for several years. Its high point was four or five years ago and since then it had only one or two kits a year. Once again I get glimpses of perhaps momentous events in the history of these beavers. I had learned enough without bothering the Big Pond beavers in the dark so I headed home down the quiet second swamp ponds and around the South Bay trail.

October 25 cloudy day, relatively warm. Worked at land and, of course, took the opportunity to see what the beavers had done. Southwest of the pond there were some beaver bites on the sapling that had been lying there a few days, and I saw one small tree freshly taken in that area, and then out in the valley I saw a large tree taken. Certainly they are very tentative when they are foraging here. I continued toward the pond going on the slope side of the valley pool and there they had taken bigger trees including a good sized bitternut hickory.

Then on the north side of the lodge I saw that the sticks they had embedded in the first little dam above the larger pond were now buried by fresh mud.

Nearby a birch was freshly cut. At the large pool continuing up toward the road they had cut one of the larger willows that was wrapped with chicken wire.

Of course, I was most interested in what they might have done to the poplar I cut for them. They took more bites out of the large log they moved, and more bites out of the larger trunk that log had come from. Then further on toward the road they trimmed some branches off the small poplar I pulled down and started cutting the larger poplar, half of which I left hanging, at two spots.

They ignored the two larger poplar logs I left lying for them. No sign that they started any fresh cuts on any poplars. I forgot to add that they took a pine along the little rivulet coming down from the road.

These beavers are eating pine, poplar, bitternut hickory, maple, birch, willow and prickly ash.

So, of course, the cache continues to grow.

Near the cabin Leslie noticed a magnificent hornets nest up on a birch tree,

and also some delicate spleenwort 

and a magnificent globe of moss.

Driving into the the land we saw a large hawk and while I was resting at the Teatro Picolo as I call it, a large hawk flew over me. A crow flew cawing over it, and then some wee redpolls flew by, unimpressed by the hawk which soon flew off.

October 26 cloudy day, but warm. We went out to look for otters. There seemed to be a slight wind from the southwest, so we went to the South Bay trail first and then approached the Lost Swamp Pond from the northwest. Of course, I checked the Second Swamp Pond first and saw no herons, no ducks, and no otters. The water level seems higher than its low ebb so I suspect that leaves and grass have clogged up the holes in the dam. No sign that any beaver has been to the pond. By the time we got to the Lost Swamp Pond, the wind was dead which, of course, made it easy to see anything swimming in the water. The ducks flew up pond. I soon noticed what I took for a muskrat swimming to the lodge from the west end of the pond. I saw another muskrat swimming from the northeast shore of the pond, well up pond. Then I saw a beaver coming from the upper northeast corner of the pond and swimming into the lodge in the middle of the pond. Seeing a beaver out at 9:30 in the morning always makes me think it might have been on otter-watch duty. I did see some ripples around the lodge, but they were tame, and, I assume, made by muskrats. We waited about 20 minutes and the beaver nor anything else came out. I didn't check the latrines along the north shore, but I did ascertain that there were no fresh scats at the mossy cove latrine. So we headed to the Big Pond. I angled to it so we could see any fresh beaver work among the poplars northwest of the pond. It didn't seem like there was anything new. But when we got to the dam we saw that the beavers had been active. They had packed mud up on the lodge

 and I saw several cattail rhizomes up on the dam.

In at least two spots I also noticed muskrat poop high on the beaver packed mud along the dam.

So it's possible the muskrats have been pulling out the rhizomes. A new muskrat lodge has blossomed along the south shore.

I kept scanning the pond for otters, especially the cove beyond the lodge. Two waves of ducks flew out of that area, but no otters appeared. Then we climbed the high rock overlooking the ponds and enjoyed the colorful view.

We were at the land briefly and I checked to see what the beavers had done. On the way I bumped into a painted turtle on the path between the Teepee Pond and the valley pool, and it looked rather clean and brownish, like the photo.

Then just beyond the beaver lodge I saw an outcropping of large white mushrooms.

They seem most interested in cutting birch, and with such energy that they seem bent on taking them all. Here is a photo of the same clump yesterday and today.

However, they did work with the poplar. They cut a log off the one hanging close to road

and trimmed some branches off two of the smaller poplars that I pushed down. Needless to say the canal from all this work down to the pond looks well used.

When I walked behind the lodge I heard something in the pond. I suspected a muskrat and sat in the chair for about ten minutes and sure enough a small muskrat appeared, swimming from the cache to the burrows on the north side of the pond. I also got a glimpse of something scampering along the Teepee Pond bank, could have been a black squirrel, but possibly a mink. 

October 27 The river was relatively calm so we headed off in the boat to check otter latrines. When we went through the Narrows, where the fall colors were quite nice, we hit a northeast wind with chop in Eel Bay. The wind was soon at our backs and since I could see something on the rocks at the Murray Island latrine,

I got out of the boat. I feared the smears were goose poop, but they are otter scats.

It doesn't look like the otters dug around in the nearby dirt but further along the rock there was digging, two holes,

and a tiny scat, very likely from an otter, outside of one. So we headed across the channel to the Picton Island latrine with great anticipation. To my delight there were a half dozen large relatively fresh otter scats.

Not only had otters been to that latrine but more than just the mother and the pup I've been seeing. I had been theorizing that now that the vegetation in the river has died back getting crayfish must be easier, but I didn't see any crayfish parts. I took a photo of the Picton latrine with the Murray Island rock latrine in the background. 

Further up the hill their were well bleached bullhead parts, but they were under a pine tree. So an osprey might have caught and eaten them and then raccoons, their scat was near, might have cleaned up the bones. Then we headed down to the end of the cove where beavers had an active lodge, and there are freshly cut branches outside the lodge, though not formed into a classic cache.

The beavers had been on top of the lodge, judging by the mud trail

and it seems like they have deepened the bottom around the lodge. We wished them good luck for the winter. The cove is too shallow to hazard going to the end of it, especially with the east wind picking up. I scanned rocks with the binoculars and didn't see signs of scat. Meanwhile, an osprey, we think, flew over us. No cormorants, a few ducks and seagulls. Then we went to the docking rock on South Bay where there were no signs of otters, but a beaver has been gnawing the large low willow branch.

Up at Audubon Pond I was delighted to see that the cache outside the lodges was substantial and the lodge was mudded over quite a bit.

We could see several ash trees along the shore either cut or being cut.

Beavers here have always cut ash and I was long curious why they left several near the pond shore. These beavers are profiting from what other beavers had left behind. I have long thought that only one, perhaps two beavers are here. Now I am certain that there is a pair if not more. I'll have to come over in the evening and see what I can see.

At the land, the beavers had not done much more up from the pond except segment and remove the birch that had been hanging over their canal. The cache grows and I noticed how several thick ends of birch branches rim the cache with the twigs and leafs oriented toward the center, and judging from the angle of the branch ends, well sunk in the pond. While adjusting my camera to get a photo of this, the camera froze again. An attempted on the spot repair failed. This is the season for videoing otters and beavers anyway. Pretty picture time is almost gone.

October 28 another frozen morning in a bright sun with another east wind. I crossed the golf course and headed down to the Big Pond expecting to see otters. Over the years I have gotten so used to seeing otters on these bright chilly fall days that I wouldn't let my knowing that there was only a mother and her one pup around chill my expectations. What if the crowd of otters that might have scatted at the Picton latrine had moved onto Wellesley Island? Of course, an east wind and low morning sun guarantees ripples in the Big Pond and a few gusts of wind had me standing from my low perch beside the dam, but no otters. I did hear redwing blackbirds making it sound like spring. I didn't see any ice, but the pond was rippled and sun drenched. Again there were no scats at the dam latrine and none on the dam. So I decided to hike over to where I had seen an otter on the shore, and check the lodge out along the way. The pond water is so high the old otter latrines around the lodge were flooded. This lodge always looks smaller when you get up close to it,

but it is mudded up and over and over the noise from the road traffic, which carries so well in an east wind, I heard some beaver humming. As I walked around the cove above the lodge, I began to despair of finding scat because everything was so wet. Finally I came to a broad beaver trail and on it there was an otter scat -- looking very fresh as it was just thawing off the frost. The beaver trail was well worn and the canal up to it cleared but not especially muddy.

I followed the trail

which led to a large ash along the surveyor's line that the beavers had cut down.

The other excitement up pond is a huge freshly wrought muskrat lodge across the pond.

I followed the new beaver trail further into the brush which led to another downed tree, but I couldn't see a clear trail continuing to the Lost Swamp Pond. Once there I checked the latrines on the rocks of the south shore reasoning that otters might mark the route they took to the Big Pond. I did find two scats on the pine needles just up from the pond on the flat rock where I generally see scats every year.

There were no otters and I was so far up pond that I scared away all the ducks. I took a slow walk around the pond, and saw no more scats. I even warmed myself in the sun lying in the old rolling area on the north shore, but I was too late for any excitement. Down at the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam there seemed to be no fresh work on the birches and ash on the north side of the dam. I made my way to the other side, admiring the continued dam work of the beavers, and noticed a beaver cut branch floating in the north side of the pond behind the dam.

So I checked the north end of the dam and found a broad beaver trail leading to a cut elm and large ash.

It seemed to me that the beavers could have easily made a path going further up pond, and there was a small one, but not well used. The beavers evidently like to come to the dam and then go off foraging north of the pond. As I walked down the north shore of the Second Swamp Pond, I noticed that it had more water than it had when it reached its nadir, and we have not had much rain of late. So I checked the dam. There was no evidence of beaver work so I think it is just a question of vegetation clogging the low hole made by the swirling flood waters back when we had 4 inches of rain. The water now laps up to the level of another large hole.

And in the shade behind the dam, there was ice. I also checked the East Trail Pond and after scaring off 8 ducks, saw that there were no scats around. On the way home I even eyeballed Otter Hold Pond and marveled at how green the algae remained behind the dam.

I also saw some gnawing on a maple, done by a porcupine

not by the beaver this pond so desperately needs. The current sense that I get of beaver ways is that they eat preferred trees and then move on. They come back and now eat less preferred trees and it seems to me that there remain plenty of those to eat. So what prevents a return of the beavers? I suppose its the dearth of saplings and shrub willows. The two beaver paths I discovered today led to large tree but all along the paths were tangled shrubs and here and there I could see where the beavers had taken a nip out of them. The way to the remaining red oaks and ashes around Otter Hole Pond goes over grass, and short grass at that. I can get gloomy about this because the large number of deer keep saplings from growing. But I've counted beavers out before and they've returned showing me another couple years worth of food that I had not noticed. I didn't go to the land today; Leslie did and found that a beaver had moved back into the Deep Pond.

October 29 sunny day and a little warmer. We went to the land and the first thing we did after unloading some horse manure was to check the Deep Pond for beaver activity. On the way we saw what Leslie thinks is an immature red tail hawk

that we've seen a lot of and who doesn't seem to be shy. While the pond water level has not risen much, we haven't had any rain lately, there was fresh mud on the dam

where there had been a leak that I had tried to patch and then dollops of mud here and there along the dam.

Where I had dug out the old dam to expose muskrat burrows, and where a board I put in didn't quite patch the dam, the beaver moved up heaps of mud that almost did the job

-- the board had been washed out a while ago. Save for two cattail leaves floating in the pond, I didn't see any evidence of the beaver eating along the dam. Along the shore on the opposite side of the pond the only possible signs that a beaver had been there were a sprig of cut juniper

and a trail in the grass. Juniper sprigs don't age but the nip on a juniper bush looked fresh. Leslie could have made the trail yesterday but the trail looked like a beaver plowed through. Meanwhile up at the first pond, the beavers had been back working on the poplar. The ends of the three small trees I had pushed down were taken, and while one large log had not been moved again, it had been stripped a bit. Plus there was mud on it, which I find curious.

Did a beaver try to mark it? The beavers also cut down two more willow trees. And once again I attempted to get a good photo of the cache, and failed. When I came up to the pond a heron flew off, and judging from the amount of white heron poop on the shore, this is the main hangout at least for one heron.

October 30 warm day with rain on the way so I went out just to see the otters. Of course in other years I had six large ponds or more to visit. This year I have two large ponds at the service of probably no more than two otters. To make a long story short, I didn't see any otters, nor any fresh scat, though I didn't check the beaver path up from the lodge which is the only place where I've seen otter scats around the Big Pond. Crossing the Big Pond dam, I did notice some tracks that could have been made by an otter crossing over the dam into the pond but I also saw canine tracks going along the dam so I suspect the dog or coyote made them all. I tried more photos of the new muskrat lodge hoping the lack of sunlight would make the lodge itself glow - maybe. 

Near the lodge there was a beaver path up into the brush 

which I followed and came to the beaver traffic circle around the freshly cut saplings.

The Lost Swamp Pond was also quiet save for some skittish ducks. The beavers seem to be building up the lodge in the middle of the pond putting more freshly stripped sticks on top as well as a bit of mud,

but there is no cache. However, as I walked around the pond, I saw a beaver swim into the lodge coming from the north. The other day we saw beaver here at 9:30. This beaver was out at noon. I would have waited to see if it came back out but it started raining. I checked the rock behind the lodge near the dam and saw raccoon scats and old otter scats. The dam is leaking. I noticed this the other day but it was too small a leak to mention. Now the leak should be attracting the beavers' attention. I went home going down the south shore of the Second Swamp Pond where all was quiet.

At the land I headed down to the Deep Pond in a light rain. The beaver pushed mud up all along the weak points of the dam.

At first I could only admire and not take a photo because it was raining. I moved up onto the knoll for a bit of protection and in hopes that the beaver would make an appearance. It didn't but I got a nice photo of its black work along the golden shore.

In my repair I pushed the old dam back. The beaver seems to be working along the old dam line which may be a sign of its zeal, or its sagacity.

The muskrat burrows have probably weakened the whole length of the dam. There was also mud pushed up on the path to the new holes high in the bank that I thought a muskrat might have made.

However the mudding up didn't extend along the high bank and I didn't see any signs that the beaver had been there. I saw two small stripped sticks, one square up on the mud

and the other floating in the pond. So is the former meaningful and the latter mere litter? After a brief lie down in the cabin listening to rain, I headed up to the First Pond at 4 and the rain let up. Leaves flutter down with every pulse of the wind, in legions, yet the next pulse brings more down. The litter can be measured by inches forming a thick canvas that's the summation of the growing season. The beavers are oblivious to that and cut to the essentials, demonstrated by the white wood of the stripped logs and branches floating on the brown pond water. They even cut a sapling wrapped with chicken wire

and left it behind the dam of the little pond at the side of Teepee Pond -- evidently this pool of water has become a comfort zone. The wind was swirling but I still sat in the chair at my usual exposed spot, hoping to train the beavers to accept me there in the evening as they seemed to accept me in the morning. Of course, in the morning I arrive in the dark. At about 4:30 a beaver came out quietly and bent its head to the cache pile, then its nose popped up, it turned to and swam a few toward me, then turned and splashed and disappeared. So much for their accepting me. I sat quietly for another twenty minutes, enjoying the leaves and then I decided to go up and check the work in the poplar grove. I paused at the point along the shore that affords the closest view of the lodge which the beavers are beginning to pack with mud. Then I saw a trail of bubbles coming out of the auxiliary lodge and a small beaver soon surfaced and soon swam toward me.

I snapped away with my camera and then noticed that another beaver was snacking at the cache. The beaver in front, a small beaver, began to swim over to the other beaver

then pulled up when the other beaver got interested in a stick.

It pulled the stick over to the auxiliary lodge

and dove leaving the smaller beaver in its quandary.

It circled a couple of times and then got its nose into the water and began to get interested in the sticks and leavings there.

By this time I had the camcorder on, then out of the corner of my eye I saw another beaver swimming up from my right. I have never seen a beaver with its nose so thrust up so that its back curved like an otter fresh from catching a fish. There was no doubt that this beaver had my number and it sharply smacked its tail. The other beaver's quandary was over and with a snap of its tail it dove with the other beaver. Nothing stirred after that so I moved on to chronicle the goings-on above the pond, which in the main was steady work primarily taking out the smaller trees,

though there was more gnawing on the large poplar log.

and they took another small pine. Here too are the stripped sticks in the small pools -- what a wonderful world these beavers have fashioned for themselves, but now winter comes.

No comments:

Post a Comment