Tuesday, December 15, 2009

November 30 to December 6, 2009

November 30 We were away for a week and were greeted with heavy rain last night. After the drizzle ended this morning, I repeated my last hike to see if the otters are still visiting Audubon Pond and Meander Pond. On the way I saw that the little porcupine is still feasting on the grasses up on the granite plateau, though it looked like it was tugging at the moss.

Of course, it stopped as I approached and then waddled away. I didn’t see any signs of recent otter visits in any of the latrines along South Bay. The two swans are still in the bay, and a heron flew off the shore. I admired a small channel down the north cove hoping I could remember it when I’ll be kayaking next summer.

Up at Audubon Pond, the beavers seem to have lost their enthusiasm for the trees below the embankment, but they continue working on the west shore, including some bold gnawing on an ash that refuses to fall down.

The water in the pond is high enough to make the bank lodge viable but I didn’t see any evidence that the beavers are using it again. When I got over to the north shore near the lodge they are using, the sunlight played on the muddy dome and showed where the beavers had been eating in the cache.

A week ago I found otter scat in front of the bench on the shore near the lodge. At first glance it did not look much different today, so I don’t think otters have been here every day in the last week,

but on closer look I did see new scats. I could tell because there were a couple with brown goo, something I would have surely chronicled the last time I was here. I am a sucker for otter scat goo!

I think the beavers are doing most of their cutting on the slope northeast of the pond.

This goes against my theory that beavers take trees as far away from the lodge as possible, knowing that when the ice thickens it will be harder to get to those trees. I headed to Meander Pond and saw three deer on the way. Their dark brown coats perfectly match the landscape, but it will soon snow. I couldn’t get close enough for a photo. Good that they are wary, still another week of hunting to go. I think the beavers are still cutting in the grove of cherry saplings

And the trail back to pond, rather convenient to the lodge (just peaking up in the left top in the photo below), looks well used, but still no litter of gnawed sticks along it.

As I approached the otter latrine I discovered by the dam the last time I was here, I predicted that there would be a good bit of scat, that the intricate channels of the pond might still be entertaining the otters, especially the pups, but I was wrong. There were no new scats. The beavers have been busy, mudding the dam and I think they are raising the water level of the pond now.

I don’t think they have resumed gnawing on the several big trees they’ve been half girdling but they are caressing a clump of maples, I guess, caressing with their teeth. Beavers do kill trees but who loves them more in the process?

It was getting dark so I kept an eye out for beavers in the channels, but saw none. Some channels looked muddy

and they didn’t all lead to beaver work, so I was looking forward to seeing scats in the latrine the otters made last time at the end of the south canal, especially after the grass around it looked matted down. I did see a scat that looked fresh

But I couldn’t find the old scats and I well know that wet conditions, especially in the fall, can make old scats look fresh. Here is the photo I took a week ago

So it certainly looks different. I should walk around the whole pond carefully. I’ve never known otters to fish here and, as far as I know, there are no traditional latrines here. But it was getting dark in a hurry so that will have to wait. The beavers have also been out here, even digging and gnawing on a small root. As I hurried off, I took a photo of one bit of beaver gnawing well down the slope toward the southeast.

The whole area I call the second swamp which at one time included the New Pond, Beaver Point Pond, Otter Hole Pond, Second Swamp Pond and Upper Second Swamp Pond seems to be beaverless for the first time in 20 or 25 years. So go down and take a look, beaver.

December 1 we woke with two inches of snow on the ground and enough falling so that we couldn’t see the mainland across the river. But by the early afternoon, the snow stopped and temperature climbed up to 40. We didn’t go to the land today, so I decided to tie up loose ends and walk around Meander Pond to see if I could tell how the otters used it, and, of course, to get a better look at what the beavers are up to. I approached the pond from the southeast and the first possible otter latrine I checked, a beaver trail off the large pool,

had some otter scats, relatively small, and, I think, a bit trodden on by beavers going up and down the trail.

The beavers have been doing some magnificent gnawing at the end of the trail, gnawing a white oak so it seems a toothpick is holding it up,

And on a large red oak.

This is not gnawing, it’s sculpting.

I bet this tree will fall soon in one of our early winter gales. I followed the beavers paths up to Thicket Pond, and unlike the other week, I did not see scat on the path just off the pond.

No signs of a beaver is using the lodge nestled in the thickets. Why wouldn’t this make a good lodge for otters at this time of year when they eat frogs? But if they were using this lodge, there would probably be scats on the trail down to Meander Pond.

And, I think, if the otters were making themselves at home in these ponds, the best place to latrine, and roll and rest would be on the warmer, drier north slope -- and over the years I have chronicled their doings on the north slopes of other ponds. I looked closely but saw no signs of otters. So I don’t think the otters are spending that much time in this pond. Probably it is on their route from Audubon Pond to the Second Swamp Pond. When hunting season ends next week perhaps I’ll be able to figure it out. Meanwhile, the beavers are wearing out the trees on this slope, completely stripping some trunks

And doing some more sculpting

These cut trees are being held up for the moment. In this case I think vibrations from the wind and gravity will get them down. Another red oak is probably hung up for good.

All this cutting seems dire, but a clock is running. The pond will probably be frozen in two weeks, which while it doesn’t stop work like this, does give the beavers pause, perhaps long enough so that when they adjust to the new conditions they will have a new enthusiasm in another neck of the pond. Since I had resolved only to visit this pond, I had time to sit and watch the pond. Since it was 2:30, I didn’t expect to see anything swimming in the pond. Then as I sat on a small rock on the slope, a mink hopped up on a log in front of me, danced along that, through the grass, and then out on another log that led to a channel of the pond. It eased into the channel and swam up it toward the lodge. It is a good thing I saw the mink, because if I came up and saw something in the water, I would be sure that it was an otter, even with a bushy tail above the wake. The mink seemed to swim into the cache near the lodge, but soon swam out and swam down the main channel toward the dam. I got as close to the lodge as I could to take a photo of it,

and of the cache next to it

which looks pretty ferocious, to use an unscientific term. Once all this water freezes, it will be rather dicey getting close to the lodge until February perhaps. I noted a few weeks ago a grand bit of red oak girdling just up from a trail down to a channel leading to the lodge.

The work pictured above is just a snack compared to the potential in that big red oak

But I don’t think they’ll cut these trees down. There didn’t seem to be any recent tree cutting along the rocky slope they favored in the summer, nor below the dam. They have been fashioning a small pool below the dam. Now they are building up a dam in the creek that drains the pond.

They don’t seem to be taking anything into these pools yet. I think it just increases their options in the winter, especially if they need to get water flowing out of the pond proper. These small pools will stay open too. The dam proper is leaking now, even though the beavers have pushed more mud up on it. Despite the warmth, some areas of the pond were still frozen, and in the pond where there is an old burrow, I saw tracks on a snow covered log, and bubbles under the ice

and then I heard a slight glug in the water below and a mink popped up on a log next to the snow covered log

It climbed up on the higher log, and then quickly slipped onto the ice, now slush that gave way until the mink dove under it. I took a video of its progress, out of the water, onto another log, where it rubbed its nose in the snow and then up the slight knoll and into the southeast end of the pond. Before I followed it, I took a photo of its trail in the slush.

Nice to have a record of a track when you are certain what made it. I walked around to the end of the south canal, taking another photo of some artistic gnawing on two maples that I noticed the last time I was here.

I didn’t see any fresh scats, nor could I find the old scats. The water in the canal was muddy like something had just been there, probably the mink. The beavers are also coming out of the pond here. Their trail looked wet too. I went up on the slight ridge south of the pond where they are cutting smaller trees

clearing stunted tree that never had a chance to grow much under the shade of the big trees.

December 2 We went to our land today, positively dripping from all the rain and snow -- more snow lingering here than on the island. The Third Pond and Deep Pond are both full with water going over the dams. No beavers about to tend them. I walked down along the ridge west of our inner valley to get to the Last Pool. These are Spring conditions at the moment. I haven’t seen the Last Pool for over a week and there were many changes. The birch that fell at the northwest corner of the pond has been half stripped. The beavers started at the stump and worked down the trunk.

I noted that the snow on the trunk hadn’t been disturbed. We had snow two mornings ago, on the island at least. Snow is a freakish thing up here so perhaps there was some at the land this morning, but I don’t think so. Anyway, to make a long story short, I kept looking for beaver prints in what snow remained, but never saw any. Still, no doubt that the beavers are around and busy. I even got an answer to the question: are the beavers still gnawing on the big poplar they felled across the pond last summer. The cold wet weather has dulled all the exposed bark, so that where the beavers gnaw now is easy to see, and I saw a bit of fresh gnawing.

The trail going up from the pond is almost wet enough to flow

And the trail going up the valley is rather soggy.

How much higher up the valley will the beavers go? Looking back down toward the pond, I saw a neat collection of cut birch logs.

Not far away, just along the shore of the Last Pool, there is a neat pile of stripped sticks. But I shouldn’t make too much of this wet trail, because the beavers mark their routes back to the ponds by the hornbeam saplings they cut and they are off to the east side of the pool.

The beavers are also beginning to cut ash trees, which they have rarely done. Some beavers I watch, like at Audubon Pond, are living off ash trees. There was a nice juxtaposition of cut birch, hornbeam and a gnawed ash.

The wet conditions made the cut wood lambent, especially gnawing on what we call curly birch.

That work is at the upper end of Boundary Pond which has broadened out nicely.

When I got down to the lodge I saw what the beavers have been spending much of their time doing: putting muck up on the lodge

And building up the dam with muck.

They are still coming down over the lodge, and have dammed the wallow pools below the dam a little, and there is one stripped log on the side

So a beaver is parking itself there and gnawing away. The dam is as tight as I’ve ever seen it, without too much leaking.

The higher water makes the cache by the lodge look less grand, but I now know how much is sunk beneath the water.

If the water level goes up any higher, I may have trouble walking along the west shore of the pond.

As far as I could see, the beavers are not going up on the high ridge. I was surprise to see that they are gnawing on two roots by the edge of the pond. I am not sure what tree the one below is attached to, no big trees nearby.

They have cut an elm on the upper shore of the pond, and continue to go up the slighter ridges to the west. But the Last Pool must seem most attractive to them. It is rather large now thanks to all the rain.

And the beavers are very slowly working their way down Grouse Alley,

Toward our house, only taking saplings for now.

December 4 more rain, then clouds and peaks of sun, I headed for South Bay and Audubon Pond in the morning hoping that the otters might have remarked their latrines. I didn’t go over Antler Trail so didn’t bump into the little porcupine who eats the grass up there. But a porcupine has been working along the South Bay trail, if you call ambling along, keeping back feet on the ground and girdling work.

The striking thing to me is how comfortable the porcupine is eating bark so out in the open.

These trees are just off a wide trail used, I know, by fishers, as well as coyotes, though I guess the latter wouldn’t tangle with a porcupine. The tree in the photo is just up from the docking rock latrine where there were no signs of otters, just a big white heron poop. Getting late for a heron to be hanging around, maybe it will try to winter here. I continued up the South Bay trail and saw some impressive beaver work on a willow along the shore. They cut a large log off the trunk and it was bobbing in the wash of the shore half stripped.

A few weeks ago I noticed another large willow being gnawed and I think a beaver was at it again. Here, two other small trees, probably maples, were cut.

I saw a fresh scrape in the wet grass of the otter latrine at the entrance to South Bay.

Of course, a coyote scrapes too. I had to look hard to see a bit of otter scats on the grass.

This is clearly not the work of an otter family. So I suppose a single otter is continuing to mark here as it has done most of the fall. To continue the otter story, I didn’t see any new scats up at Audubon Pond. The big news there is that the pond finally filled up and water is going out the drain causing a nice flood in the creek below the embankment. Another indication that the beavers stopped going down there for trees, is that they made no effort to dam the sudden surfeit of water.

They continue to do some tree cutting along the west shore, and may start doing more because they may have moved back into that lodge. There are freshly stripped sticks on the shore beside the lodge

But they have not packed mud on the lodge. The nearest recent tree harvesting to that lodge is on the northwest shore where the beavers have cut several ash, and another is down.

I had written that the tree they’ve stripped the most was a maple. I saw clearly today that the tree I thought was a maple was an ash. Not many maples around this pond, mostly ash, shag-bark hickory, and large red and white oaks, and a few choke cherry. Then I heard a beaver slap its tail.

When the beavers denned in the bank lodge, they commonly swam out after I stood too close to the lodge and this appeared to be the case today, even though the beaver followed me over to the lodge by the bench along the north shore, briefly swimming behind the cache by that lodge while still looking at me.

However, before I left the pond, I saw it swimming just in front of the bank lodge on the west shore and then it disappeared. The higher water may have made the lodge in the pond less comfortable.

And there’s a good chance muskrats are living in there too. I saw some bright green stalks just outside old muskrat burrows along the shore that may now be flooded.

Just as in the northwest corner of the pond, there is a just cut ash in the northeast corner of the pond convenient to the lodge near the bench.

The ash in the center of the photo had been cut a while ago. The crown of a large ash just cut fell over that trunk and the beavers have been cutting off the branches. I heard and then saw a pileated woodpecker as I walked home along the South Bay trail.

December 6 cold gray days until just before noon when the sun broke through. That made it seem warmer than 35, but the wind kept getting stronger. We went to our land and I walked down to the Deep Pond first. As I approached a heron that had been standing at the dam flew off, probably the heron that has been hanging out around the pond for the past couple months. Most of the pond had a thin coating of ice, but there was open water behind the dam, and also in front of the lodge.

As I walked around the pond toward the lodge something slipped off of it and into the water. I thought it should be a muskrat but its easy slip into the water reminded me more of a mink. I’ve never seen a muskrat sitting on the lodge, but I have seen a mink there.

I went over the knoll to the lodge and saw a few small bubbles under the ice, and one green stalk which a muskrat might have gathered.

Then I cross the inlet creek and walked around the bank where I thought a muskrat or two was denning. I saw a good deal more cut grasses and some trails of bubbles under the ice.

Certainly seems like a muskrat has been there. I went up to the Lonesome Pine ridge and then followed the boundary line to Boundary Pond. Quiet in the woods except for the wind blowing in the hemlocks. When I went down to my chair overlooking the beaver lodge something slipped under the water, much too quietly to be a beaver. I thought it might be a muskrat especially since the strip of open water where it had dove led over to the near shore, not to one of the beaver projects all around the pond. In time I saw a small muskrat swim back to the lodge. I heard two beavers humming in the lodge, but none came out. I sat for about 20 minutes and once heard the ice, which covered most of the pond, crack. Moments later I saw a bigger muskrat. It seemed to know I was there, swimming to where it could get a peek at me without fully exposing itself. Then it dove and swam I know not where. I took photos of the dam and lodge,

perhaps parts of the former had more muck, but no more on the lodge. There was a neat pile of stripped sticks on a sunken tree trunk not far from the lodge. I walked down the west shore. Closer to the lodge, the only recent worked seemed to be a small ironwood cut down, but not trimmed or stripped.

As usual of late all the fresh cutting was around the upper part of the pond or around the Last Pool. They are cutting a curly birch on the east shore

And on the west shore. I must say there is something about a birch being cut down that piques my appetite. Does it look like cake and confectionary?

They seem to favor the west shore for taking saplings. What use to be a dense area of scrubby trees is now almost a mall.

The Last Pool seems to be the center of their activity, and who can blame them as not only is the shore inviting but the moss mound islands also have trees to strip

And all the trees recently cut have fallen convenient to trails just up from the pond. Here’s certainly where they concentrate on stripping the bark off fallen trunks, and they've almost turned one white birch into a yellow trunk.

Then up along Grouse Alley, just up from the Last Pool, they take hornbeam saplings. Those stumps like those in the new "mall" may soon be tripping me up as I trudge through the snow.

Where they’ve cut the hornbeam closest to our house, I turned and took a photo looking back toward their house.

Leslie had walked up to the First Pond and saw signs of muskrat activity. I went up and took a photo of what looks to be their field of operations out of the many old burrows along the north shore of the pond.

I also checked the pool above but no signs of their having been there. I did see the bottom of a honeysuckle bush with bark shredded by the red squirrels.

Materials for their nest.