Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 4 to 9, 2011

October 4 after three days of off and on rain, the Deep Pond started rising and the beaver pushed more mud and vegetation up on the dam.

It also pushed up an old chunky log, probably from the bottom of the pond which is shallow behind the dam.

And I think it broadened the swath of mud in the next week spot along the dam.

I might be wrong in saying the beaver pushed up mud. The fresh mud might have just been attached to the vegetation it is also pushing on the dam.

I’ll have to sit on the far side of the pond when the light is good enough to get some good video from that distance. At the end of our walk down to where the road touches White Swamp, I saw more beaver cut willows.

These may well be old nips, from a month ago when I noticed fresh beaver work here, and I am just seeing them now because vegetation is dying back and leaves falling. The water in the pond behind this area doesn’t look muddy.

But there was a strange mound of mud that bears watching.

I can’t believe a beaver or muskrat would build a lodge here. Again, it is probably something I just haven’t noticed before.

October 5 On my morning walk on the road, I noticed several small yellow butterflies seeming to graze on the dirt of the road, though I think they are cabbage butterflies.

I took a break from sawing logs and sat in a chair in the field beside the garden. The spot has the virtues of a fresh breeze if there is one and sunshine if it is not cloudy. I had the bright sun today which I enjoyed after a very chilly night. Red dragonflies were quick to latch onto my blue jeans. I noticed that the first had one white circle on its compound eye. Another dragonfly quickly moved in and made my blue jeans its territory. It had two white circles.

Needless to say in the next few days when ever I took a break in the sun, I wasted many pixels trying to get a photo of a dragonfly with one “eye.” And on the 7th I did get a photo which seems to show only one white spot on the much larger compound eye of the insect.

Leslie eventually solved this mystery by holding her hand up and blocking the sun. The white circles disappeared. They are reflections of the sun on the dragonfly’s compound eyes. I noticed things perhaps more important than this white circle. Many of the dragonflies were paired and some of those pairs wagging the rear dragonfly's tail down into the still water in the grassy shallows of the Deep Pond. I tried to get a video of that.

The front dragonfly seemed to bounce off the grass which is something I never conceived of as affording any mechanical advantage to anything. One pair took a break from that exhausting effort to propagate their race and rested on my shoe.

Of course the single dragonflies were just as energetic and as always my knees were a favored spot as their base of operations. I got a photo somewhat giving a dragonfly’s view from my knee though I hope it focused on the landscape beyond my knee better than my camera did.

Now back to October 5th. In the afternoon I had the great notion of measuring the amount of material the beavers dredged when they built the canal that served as their main channel from the Boundary Pond up to the Last Pool. But first I should give some photographic evidence that this long channel was not here when the beavers first moved up the valley. Here is a photo from June 17, 2008, which I described at the time as a little water coming down from what I call the Last Pool:

Eventually I hope to get more old photos and show how the beavers changed this area in three years. Anyway, 3 years and 3 months after that photo was taken, here are my measurements of the Last Pool canal. I started at the end where there is still a tiny bit of pooled water and a shrinking patch of mud as green vegetation claims more and more of the old bottom.

Just a few feet from the pool there is a slight mound of dirt that the beavers dug through.

With tape measure in hand I found that the canal narrowed to 17 inches there. And that they had dug away 26 inches deep. The bottom 11 inches is still covered by water. I had thought this canal would dry out if we didn’t get some heavy early fall rains. We haven’t and the water seems to stay at that depth so I think the beavers reached the water table which is rather high in this area -- on average two feet according to the US Department of Agriculture. Continuing down the valley the canal widens to as much as 32 inches and the water is 10 inches deep, and the canal only loom 5 inches or so over that.

From the Last Pool, the beavers did not swim under the ice back toward Boundary Pool. Last fall, water almost filled the valley here, but except in the canal, the water was too shallow to allow a beaver to swim under the ice.

The beavers probably would have no trouble swimming under the ice where the canal was two feet deep, but the ice where the canal was little more than 10 was probably too thick. After that shallow section, about 10 feet long, there is 30 feet of deep dredging.

The depth of dredging was about 21 inches and even deeper at some spots through the mossy hills that line this valley marking where large fallen tree trunks had rotted into a garden.

I was hoping the photo above would be good enough to clearly show the layer of clay under the dark humus. I assume the clay was much harder to dig into. The beavers also had to cut through some buried tree trunks.

I imagine that wood was easy to gnaw through. At 119 feet from the end of the canal, the terrain flattened out in general. When the pond was flooded it must have been over two feet deep here and perhaps the beavers didn’t have to concentrate on dredging from there all the way to the 269 foot mark where the water of the Last Pool merged with Boundary Pond. Now, much of the canal there is almost covered by the grasses growing on both banks.

The water is very shallow here and choked with algae.

At the same time as I took photos and measurements, I took video with narration which when I listened to it later did not sound that profound. I went back to the canal on the 9th and made another video, minding the angle of the camcorder and how precious time seems to anyone listening to someone else’s video. I trotted along the canal with my best David Attenborough imitation but I had the beavers digging the canal 21 feet instead of 21 inches. Take two was not much better but I gave all the measurements correctly.

Back to my investigations on the 5th. I thought I best be more particular explaining why one portion of the Last Pool remains shady and the half just up from Boundary Pond is completely exposed to the sun, as is that pond.

At the beginning of the Last Pool a cluster of large basswoods is still standing, and were not girdled, scarcely even gnawed.

It is a very rare beaver that has a taste for basswoods. However, the basswoods are leafless and have been all summer.

They died because they have been in standing water a foot or two deep for the last two years. They are on the west side of the canal. On the east side several elm trees were cut down by the beavers and several yellow birch were left standing, some girdled, all gnawed and all dead from the flooding.

The Last Pool remains well shaded where the beavers had the most dirt to dredge to fashion their 269 foot canal. The ground was also slightly higher there. This valley does have a gentle decline. There were more large trees there and most of them were large red maples, a tree beavers might cut if they are small. These large ones were untouched by the beavers and continue to flourish.

There is also a large sugar maple tucked between them, also untouched. Plus, a swamp white oak that was almost girdled and half gnawed through flourished too. The flooding in this area of the pond was very brief, a couple of months last fall. I think if the beavers stayed here another year, most of these trees would have died.

We went back to the island and at 5:30 I biked over to the entrance to the state park and then walked over to the East Trail Pond. There was a north wind which seemed to curl a bit from the east so I angled down to a flat shady area a bit up from the southwest corner of the pond and sat, waiting for a beaver to appear.

Right below me I saw what looked like fresh gnawing on a maple. The beavers have girdled it and are gnawing into it now. Many years ago I sat just above a tree beavers were working on, at Beaver Point Pond, and to my amazement a beaver waddled right up and began gnawing on the tree, but it was darker that night, spring time, as I recall.

Across the pond, I could see the trunk of another tree that fell from the northwest corner into the pond. The beavers had trimmed branches and were well on their way to gnawing all the bark off the trunk. I didn’t go over to investigate because I was waiting for the beavers to appear.

I soon decided to move down closer to the dam, while still staying on the ridge, and I found a spot under one of the big pines on the slope that afforded me a view of three channels through the cattails to the shore that I know the beavers have used and looked recently used. Plus I still had a full view of the west end of the pond. I could also see the top of the lodge.

I had all the bases covered, I thought. I even had a tree they had been gnawing right below me, that red oak that blew down years ago, without any help from beavers. It was still alive and the beavers had been coming up and gnawing bark off its trunk.

Then I heard a loud splash in the pond, but it was followed by the whine of wood ducks. They had just landed in the pond. When I made my move, I flushed a small deer and thought nothing of it because deer are often on this slope. Then I noticed that the beavers had just cut down a maple tree on the slope, or, to be more accurate, the wind blew down a maple that the beavers had cut to a point.

None of the branches had been cut off yet and dragged to the pond so the deer had probably been there nibbling the twigs at least. Leaves don’t look that tasty to me this time of year. Soon enough I heard another deer snorting up on the ridge behind me and it was so persistent with its snorts that I wondered if I was blocking its way to that maple windfall. Then I heard coyotes howling in the distance -- nothing to do with the deer, I am sure, and then I heard a barred owl calling -- nothing to do with the coyotes. And I heard a mallard quack. Yes, it got to the point where I was cupping an ear toward the pond because I was desperate to hear a beaver starting to go about its business. The day had been warm enough, 60, but the night promised to be very cold, below 30, and I knew that drop in temperature would begin quickly once the sun was down. I wanted to get home to dinner but feared, given my recent experiences here, that I wouldn’t see or hear any beavers until it got dark. Then after swimming very quietly through the pond, a beaver slowly swam to the shore to my left.

It was an adult and soon fished up the end of a small maple branch floating in the water and nibbled. One problem with sitting on a slope is that wind that in your face can bend along the slope and soon the beaver paused and sniffed the air.

Then it turned and swam quickly toward the middle of the pond. Its tail looked to be cocked and I braced myself for a tail slap. But it turned and sniffed the air again and then swam, slowly, over to the northwest corner of the pond where I lost sight of it. Soon after that I saw another in a channel far to my right, just up from the dam. It was hunched up nibbling something I could not quite see.

I kept looking for a kit to join it. At this time of year, kits are more or less on their own but they like to sidle up to an adult to see what there is to eat, risking a brush off because sometimes the adults don't let them join in. But no kit appeared. Then the beaver swam away and since it was getting dark, I thought I had seen what I was going to see, and was grateful. Then a beaver, I think the one I had seen to my right, reappeared where the other beaver had been to my left. Here too it hunched up like a rabbit to nibble. Then the wind, light though it seemed to be, wafted my scent over that way. The beaver reared up and sniffed, nose higher and higher,

then dropped back to its nibbling; up again to sniff, back down, up again and down, and then it swam slowly to the northwest and found something to nibble in a clearing.

I tried to sneak up to the trail without making a noise, and maybe I did, because no beaver slapped its tail in good riddance.

October 6 We hiked up to the Bunny Bog which has a good bit of water for the season, and then sat next to the Turtle Bog. It too has water and it is easy to get a view of whatever might be happening there.

The end of the pool seemed to cradle all the dead pine needles that dropped into it and shaped them in a manner too profound for me to fathom.

I sat where the surface of the water was less busy, but eventually noticed that it was no less interesting. The surface tension supporting individual pine needles and fallen leaves

made each stroke of dead vegetation seem alive. There were live things in the pond. I actually had my camcorder running and properly focused when one little frog jumped but it was over so fast no sense sharing that video. We heard birds in the low trees other than a chickadee but could only see the chickadee. Then I heard scratching in the leaves right behind me, and assumed that the ubiquitous chipmunks were about, but these scratchers turned out to be towhees, three big ones, who flew off before I could train the camcorder on them. I’d like to say they were after juniper berries, but many of the junipers back on that slope we call the Juniper Jungle were brown.

There wasn’t a drought up here, just a dry July. Mushrooms were still flourishing along the path below the junipers.

We usually sit up here in the spring waiting for Blanding’s turtles to appear and tree leaves rather close around the pool so the only place to stare is at the water and immediate shore, but now enough leaves are down to afford a perspective of a bit of the higher terrain.

After Leslie left, I heard the chatter of a red squirrel, probably wishing I had left too. Then it appear on a far clearing of pine litter that I could just see and with the camcorder I could study its seemingly pointless hopping back and forth on the ground springing too lightly to be burying nuts. It was as if it was so delighted with the possibilities, it couldn’t help but keep jumping for joy. Then I packed up my cameras and two fern fronds that Leslie picked and wanted to study to see if they were different types.

She decided they were the same. Before dinner I went down to the Deep Pond to see if the beaver was out and as soon as I sat down, I saw it swimming at the far end of the pond. It seemed to notice me a few beats after I noticed it, and turned and swam toward the dam, its usual route, where it must have cleared a good bit of vegetation because I could see the muddy bottom of the shallow areas. Then the beaver veered and swam over in my direction.

I braced myself to be sniffed at but instead the beaver stopped and ate a lily pad

and part of the rhizome or root. Looking through the camcorder it seemed that if I were any closer I would be in its mouth.

It kept diving for things to eat and I could tell where it was rooting around by the bubbles on the pond surface. It seemed to prefer the roots, trimming the stringy stalks off and then grasping the thick beige sub shaped mass and eating it with relish.

Not all of its dives were successful and it had to surface, catch its breath and try again.

Then it pulled out some plants without the root and took those over to the dam. I couldn’t see what it did but I assume it pushed them up on the dam and worked mud over the stalks,

Of course I most enjoyed watching it dine on the rhizomes,

making them look delicious to eat. At 6:15 I started getting hungry, plus the sun went down and I began to get cold. The beaver swam behind the dam going away from me, and I thought it was going to do some more heaving of mud and stalks up on the part of the dam that I couldn’t see from where I was sitting. As I walked up the road I bumped into Leslie walking down the road. I told her about the beaver and when she got down to the dam, the beaver was over on the shore grooming its rolls of fat. I got a good video of that a little over a month ago.

October 7 I am going through my annual rebellion against civilization. We are spending more time at our house on the island where the winding down of the summer community does not mean an end to activity. The golf carts filled with fat kids and indulgent fat parents are mostly gone but now the heavy equipment and carpenters swarm in to repair the damage and, more importantly, start the latest salvos of improvement to impress ones neighbors. So now, when we are back on our land, merely walking down our road, as empty and quiet as ever, begins to seem like a form of capitulation to civilization. Plus the mornings are colder which ignite tropic yearnings. I’ve always wanted to make a path through the valley and up the ridge, my own beeline to the rising sun. This morning I decided to scout it out. The first challenge is to find the shortest way to cross the valley which has very high vegetation, principally dying goldenrods, which are usually dripping with the morning dew until the sun reaches the valley in the late morning. This is not an easy problem to solve since I hate the idea of mowing a path. Perhaps a series of well placed sandstone rocks would keep me from getting half as wet and also play havoc if some future owner ever brings a mower into the valley. The ridge is easy to get up and at the crest I only had time to take a photo of one group of mushrooms,

Because I was hurrying to the sun. I sorted through several invitations from the sun which was bright on the southern crest.

Being human I wanted sunshine and a view. I knew that the sunny portal at the far end of the bog led to a view of many low trees. Even beavers cutting trees there last fall couldn’t solve that problem for me. I vaguely recalled once sensing the possibilities of creating a sunny view by a snip here and a snip there. I headed in the direction dictated by that recollection but soon had to negotiate a jungle of junipers, plenty of sun but not hint of a possible view. I was easily seduced down a seam of rocks leading to what over the years I’ve called the far valley. No chance of a view there but looking up along the ridge I hoped to find a hot aerie.

But didn’t. However, the far valley is rather high relative to the lay of the land and rather sunny.

So, I looked to carve out a trail down this sunny valley with plenty of flat rocks to lizard on along the way. Unfortunately, the honeysuckles discovered parts of this valley first. Getting through a grove of honeysuckles is tough enough on flat ground, when they grow out of a jumble of rocks, it is not only impossible to get through but impossible to imagine even cutting your way through. So I found another seam up the ridge which put me at another juniper jungle. I knew where I was and zigzagged to a trail I’ve made over the years. I took that back down to the valley, the broad valley that is part of our land. The boundary line goes along the face of the ridge, at least according to the farmer below, until it dips down at my old trail affording us a share of the valley below. Back in 1998 when we bought the land, we rather enjoyed part of this area because the January ice storm had knocked all the birch trees akimbo. Then they were alive, now they are mostly dead, and still akimbo with much low vegetation flourishing in the sun.

There were three apple trees on one side of the clearing. The only one still alive no longer produces apples. I did find the warming sun but no view and no place to stretch out. I joined the trail down to where we usually find closed gentians but once again didn’t see any. However, the purple asters there now have purple leaves.

Then I walked along the least accessible part of our land, the tangles of honeysuckle and prickly ash just up from our border with our neighbor. I made it through and then went back to my sawing rock and got to work. I keep my camera handy when I saw wood since sometimes I find larvae under the bark. The one in the photo below reminded me of a sawfly larvae but has different colors.

I also checked the Deep Pond dam to see what the beaver added to it last night. I should be brutally scientific and barge out on the dam after the beaver’s early evening work just to prove my hunch that it only bothers with the dam then and doesn’t worry about it the rest of the night. Anyway the beaver left the impression, that I could almost see last night, that it nibbles while it patches.

But, thinking scientifically again, I often wonder why I think what the beaver leaves behind suggests what it is eating when obviously it didn’t eat what it left behind.

Evidently, for all its reputation for hard work, the beaver rarely clears its plate, but then the pond is not just the beaver’s dining room. It‘s the farm, grocery store and kitchen too. And to be fair to the beaver there are growing areas behind the dam which are clear of all vegetation and their remains.

Even more so behind that part of the dam I haven’t checked for a good while.

I’ll clear a path to that area when the honeysuckle bushes loose their leaves. On the 8th, I went to the side of the pond opposite from the dam to see what the beaver might be doing over there. I saw trails coming up from the pond,

But none of them went into woods. I saw two branches gnawed off a small honeysuckle bush in the vegetation ringing the pond, but no signs of where the beaver might have taken that. My photo of the cut bush was out of focus. I also spent time sitting by the Third Pond hoping to see the muskrats again but I didn’t. The only action was provided by the wind blowing leaves along the pond surface.

I also sat by Teepee Pond and saw no muskrats there. With so few beavers, muskrats and otters to keep track of this journal is shaking loose from its division by days. On the 9th I did a second take of my video of the Last Pool beaver canal which I put up with the photos I took on the 7th. I am not entirely happy veering from current observation to history complete with before and after photos. I worry that it will make my current observations too analytical. After attempting a history lesson with my photos and video of the canal, I made a point of stepping back and taking a photo looking farther up the valley. The leaves are changing color. Nature itself shows well enough the quick pace and cyclical implications of history.

Turning around and looking over one of the large poplars the beavers cut down, I got an angle on the valley below that didn’t betray any supposed ravages from beaver development.

One can’t let history simplify changes to the land and put too hard an edge nature. I did shake myself out of too many such reveries because now that I have this year's firewood cut and split, I have to scout trees for next winter. Along the way I went through the Hemlock Cathedral, not a good place to find firewood. But I did see some black trumpet mushrooms,

which I have never seen at our land. The pine and hemlock litter stretches quite a ways up on this plateau.

Conditions would seem right for hundreds of trumpets. But I saw only two small bunches of them.