Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October 11 to 17, 2011

October 11 I’ve been slow in doing a postmortem of the Boundary Pond because I still can’t figure out how to figure out how virtually all the water leaked out of the pond. The dam appears to be as mighty as it always was. I’m also puzzled why heavy rains now don’t seem to add much water to the pond while when the beavers were here the pond seemed to fill up after it rained. I fear that it is a trick of the mind. When beavers are in it, the pond is always half-full never half-empty. Seeing a beaver swim in water makes that water seem deep. But that the pond didn’t completely dry up like the Last Pool is also frustrating, since it means I can't see holes in the dam, if they are there. The water that remains is caked with bright green duckweed which always defeat profound contemplation of a pond.

The duckweed does outline where the pond was deep when the beavers were here, but I can’t judge the depth just by looking and would have to thrust a stick everywhere to get a feel for the bottom. What I am most curious about is where did the beavers dredge. I need to search for old photos. The best I have found so far are photos I took of the lodge in June 2008 when I first discovered that the beavers were building it.

Anyway, a winter project will be a photo review of the beavers’ brief time here. Meanwhile, I had the pleasure of picking through the fresh green coat on what they left behind. I doubt if I have a before photo of the one below simply because I usually didn’t take photos of dense groves of trees when something so photogenic as a pool of water with a beaver lodge in it was so close. But I can share a June 2008 photo that looks at the lodge from dam and shows the trees and shrubs a bit up pond from it.

Meanwhile most of the pond has no water. Sunlight has met the mud and there is green around all the stumps of the trees the beavers cut. I could at least wander about and get photos of the plants growing up.

These plants seem to be out of sync, growing now like it is late spring. One plant had a stalk coated with fungi,

though I didn’t look closely to see if they were actually mites of some sort. The healthiest of the plants strike me as being a swamp milkweed, but I will have to get out a plant guide to confirm that.

The two plants in the photo above struggling to grow, a mint or nettle, I am thinking, did better nearby.

There was one example of a low vigorous green plant with lobed leaves,

Should be easy to identify that. Perhaps the most pleasing to contemplate was the delicate grasses on the areas where water had been a month or so ago.

How nicely they seem to evolve from the duckweed floating on the water that remains. Then as I continued up stream I left all this delicacy and negotiated the dying bur-marigolds and beggar tickseeds.

It was quite impossible to get the camera to focus on that in any meaningful way, except to say there’s more to autumn than colorful leaves high in the trees. We planned to spend the night at the land which gave me a chance to sit down at the Deep Pond before dinner to see if the beaver came out. To my surprise it didn’t, so I had to content myself with hearing a few stray peepers and crickets and watching the colorful leaves across the pond seem to get brighter as the sun went down ending a hazy day.

Walking up the road I saw a small porcupine crossing it. We still hear coyotes at night, but its too cold at night to keep the windows open and hear what else is stirring.

October 12 I checked the Deep Pond dam to see if I could tell if the beaver had been there after I left. At the gap next to where I sit it looked much the same, but the beaver has not been doing much work there. I decided I best get photos of the other areas where it has been pushing up more mud.

Seeing wet mud and cut vegetation on a dam at any other time of the year would suggest that beavers had just been there. But cold nights and dewy mornings keep many things looking wet at this time of year. I began looking for dead ash trees to cut for next year’s firewood and decided to begin with one just over the ridge behind the Deep Pond. That’s where a huge dead maple trunk almost fell to the ground and I cut a live bitternut hickory and several live ironwoods to bring the maple down. I spared a dead ash that was next to the bitternut. Since I had made a path by hauling the logs I cut from all those trees, I thought it made sense to begin my fall tree cutting campaign with that dead ash at the end of a well beaten path. Going back there I found that the path was not so well beaten, but relatively easy going compared to most are areas of our land. Then I found that the dead ash had mushrooms growing all up the trunk. Made no sense to cut it down. In the spring I paid some attention to the what was growing up in the clearing. As I expected one fast growing plant prevailed.

I’ll try to figure out what it is, but I took a photo of it on June 14th and since then have not bent the pages of the flower guide.

I continued over the ridge, saw in hand, and resumed sawing the maple I cut down a few weeks ago. Hard going through that had persuaded me to sharpen my saw and it was nice to see how much easier the sawing went today. Since I have been sharing photos of the dying plants, I may be giving the misimpression that nothing is blooming. A tall mullein stalk still had several yellow blossoms.

Then we headed home and despite the opening of bow season in much of the state park, I thought I best check the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond. So I put on hunter orange and tried to keep in the open so Nimrod would face a manslaughter rap if he shot an arrow into me. Last night I fished out my old journals which I wrote with a pen from June 1994 to August 1999. Of course there were no photos in those journals, but I did have sketches of the ponds I watched. In one of the first pages of the 1994 Journal there is a map I sketched of the ponds I toured then that 17 subsequent years of taking photos and videos have not quite captured.

Back then I called the Big Pond the First Swamp. Indeed I called all the ponds “swamps,” which I suppose reflected a bit of my experience in Massachusetts and reading Thoreau where a pond is a permanent body of water of a higher order than the beavers’ creation; and it reflected my experience writing about the founding of Washington, D.C., where I learned to distinguish a marsh from a swamp; and maybe it reflected the number of trees I saw in all the ponds which, I think, technically defines them as swamps. Anyway, reading on in my Journal I saw a sketch of the Middle Pond which I had just walked through two weeks ago. In the sketch I saw that there were two lodges on the north shore of the relatively small Middle Pond. (In the sketch above the Middle Pond is one of the little circles on the way from the First Swamp to South Bay, the whole series looking like a porcupine’s lower intestines.)

I was a bit shocked that I didn’t remember those lodges. So today, on my way to the Big Pond, I walked down the ridge to the old Middle Pond, something I did on a weekly basis for several years while beavers were in the lower part of the valley. It was at this pond that I was seduced into my fascination with beavers. I moved up here thinking I would principally watch porcupines. While sitting on the south shore,

Well, here is the journal entry from August 20, 1994: “Today I went into woods for an hours hike at about 4:45 pm;… [and] aimed for Lost Swamp via South Bay road swamps…. As I stood debating which dam to cross, I saw something in the water - a beaver. I sat to observe - it circled and slapped its tail twice and then cruised up the pond. I decided to sit and see if he'd come back. He did and then another beaver humped over the dam. The first beaver paddled off again and the new beaver circled over to me. It reared up in the water as if to get a better scent of me, but didn't, as I was sure he would, conclude with a tail slap and dive to safety. Apparently as I sat stock still in red hat, no shirt, brown bathing suit, socks and shoes and sweating, it could not figure out what I was. It swam right in front of me and then got out of the pond a few feet downstream of me! It stood on its hind legs and seemed to be scouting for a proper small tree. Then I moved my head slightly, and without signs of panic, with aplomb, it quickly moved back into the water and away. I could see its air bubbles coming up - perhaps a sign of some perturbation and then I got a tail splash. The reason why I moved my head was that a tree fell across the pond and I kept straining to see and hear if a beaver was working on it…. Perhaps the first beaver had warned the second beaver back into the pond and then the tree blew over.” That was the first time I had seen a beaver out of the water. Now there is no water save for a tiny stream of water coming down from the hole in the Big Pond dam and, here and there, a few inches that puddles behind what remains of the dam.

Looking toward the north shore there was no signs of an old dam. The two lodges in the lower ponds, which I could find no trace of, were abandoned around 1995. These lodges in the Middle Pond were kept in a semblance of repair until 2000, though muskrats were the principal occupants by 1999 and any upkeep they did on the lodges were with grass stalks no logs. I checked the area where the lodge was in what I called the lower part of the pond and saw logs lying in the vegetation which was more likely part of the beavers old cache piles which can seem to form a superstructure for a lodge.

Or this was part of the line of tree they may have cut and stripped as the water began flooding back from their new dam. Looking back toward the dam I could see the stump of relatively large tree that the beavers cut.

Stumbling around in the grass I discovered another way to find old lodge sites. Thick as the vegetation in this little beaver meadow is, I could see that it still revealed the contours of the channels the beavers dredged to their lodge. Unfortunately those contours don’t show up well in a photo.

There is about a 5 meter wide strip of flat land through this meadow which probably marks the extent of the flooding caused by the spring melt which brings down silt from the Big Pond to smooth over the terrain below. Otherwise the meadow is on roly-poly ground thanks to the dredging done by the beavers while they were here.

I found a good photo of the lodge in the upper Middle Pond and of the two lodges that were here it is the one I was most familiar with. When the water was low in the pond, I would come to the lodge and then get down on the grassy rib that almost divided the pond and try to across the pond on that,

a route that makes no sense to me today, but as I go over the way things were I realize that the pattern presented by the ponds and trees felled by the beavers around the pond dictated my path through the woods. Today I saw a few stray old logs on the bank where the beavers made their lodge, and now it was quite easy to see a burrow into the bank, though I really can’t say that was a burrow that beavers used when they were here 15 years ago.

I took a photo looking down to the principal dam of the pond, and comparing that to the photo I took in 1995, shows why the beavers moved down here. There was a plethora of small trees, and once the beaver used them up, the beavers retreated back up to the much larger Big Pond.

Which is where I headed today. Now that the tall grasses are sere and bending, the wind has shaped them into what looks like a river running up stream. I confess that this retrospective tour of the beaver ponds somewhat bends my mind into shapes I don’t want to follow. Sitting by a full pond is the acme of serenity. I get nervous following the ghostly flow of vegetation where water should be.

That flow led me to the most curious pond of all, the small pond below the Big Pond that I called Double Lodge Pond. In time I hope to make an exhausting analysis of it. In brief I think the beavers in the Big Pond always kept up this pond to protect themselves from the failure of the Big Pond dam where otters were prone to make holes. However, when the beavers added the last foot or two of mud to the Big Pond dam, that dam got too big in relation to the Double Lodge Pond dam and the beavers stopped building up the lower dam. Still as a consequence of years of dam building here, which really took them no closer to trees to cut, the beavers made a very fertile crescent crossing the valley.

The name “double lodge” comes from the fact that over the years the beavers built two bank lodges into the high bank that forms the south shore of the pond a few meters up stream from the dam. Here are photos from 90s and today.

I was able to find some remnants of one of the bank lodge logs.

Then I was back in the flow of vegetation heading up to the Big Pond.

Coming to the Big Pond after walking up through the beaver meadows now below, certainly casts a different light on the Big Pond. It has water in it! In the 30 years I’ve known this pond, it more or less looked like this with beavers living off pond vegetation, thickets of osier and willow shrubs and small trees in the nearby woods. Over those 30 years they often moved up or down the valley to find more small trees and I am hoping that there ability to keep up that pattern has not ended because of a lack of small trees. I’m hoping they let the pond drain away this year to get a fresh pulse of vegetation which they will flood over when they patch the dam.

Over the years I have seen it that low at times and beavers were surviving in it, but not at this time of year, which is the serious time of the year for beavers as they prepare for the winter. The water is still low behind the dam.

I could walk behind the dam and get a view of the holes in the dam, which still slowly let water leak through.

However, there are signs of life, I think. The muskrats may be back, at least there were areas just behind the dam that were muddy as if muskrats had been swimming there.

I would be more sure about that if there was a bit of nibbled vegetation in the water. Plus there is a curious clearing on the dam. I don’t recall ever seeing a patch of well vegetated dam being beaten down to dirt.

If there was some hope of concealing oneself there, I could blame duck hunters. There was a white coyote poop in the middle of it so perhaps a few coyotes cleared the area to get down to dirt to roll on. And there was a hole dug in the middle of the patch. Perhaps coyotes were trying to dig down to where the muskrats were denning. However, I don’t think coyotes are hungry enough to dig for muskrats at this time of year. Anyway as I continued along the dam and looked back, I found that the bare patch helped counterpoint the beauty of all the dying vegetation.

Looking north along the dam, where the water had last drained away, there was still lush green grass on the exposed sure and even on water surface since the wind blew the duckweed over there.

I also took a photo looking up pond from the dam. My hope is that there are beavers in a pond up there, and that soon enough they will patch this dam for the winter, but it is getting rather late for that.

I forgot to mention that as I approached the pond, a heron flew off. But I saw no otter scats along the dam. As I approached the Lost Swamp Pond, I expected to see more life. And a small flock of mallards flew out of the west end of the pond. I saw geese around the lodge in the middle of the pond, and two geese were up on the lodge as if they were staking out a nesting spot for next spring.

When geese do this in the spring it is often a bone of contention and any other goose nearby would be honked away. Today there were several geese around and nary a honk. When I walked closer, they all flew off. As usual I first checked the rock above the mossy cove latrine, and once again I saw new scats, that small black smear in the bottom of the photo below.

Looking closer I could see dead moss around the scat which marks where the otter’s urine sprayed.

Looking down at the grassy slope below the rock, it looked like an otter had roughed it up, but I couldn‘t see any scats.

When I went down to look for scats, I only found one, which was a bit disappointing.

I went over to the dam and just as I was noticing how low the pond was, exposing a bit of pink granite that serves as a seat when the level is very low, I saw fresh otter scats up on the grass above the ledge of rock.

There were many new scats here, as well as moss dying from the otter urine.

With so many scats spread about it was tempting to picture an otter mother and two or three pups.

Early in the year, to point out evidence that otters were not here, I took a photo of the tall pilewort stalks on the lodge. Those stalks are still standing tall on the lodge and on the dam.

None of the scats were piping fresh, as I often put it, but I sat down hoping to see something swimming in the pond. I didn’t but I did see flocks of birds in the lush vegetation below the leaking dam. One bird was brave enough to forage close enough to see so I could get a photo of what I think was a hermit thrush.

The photo doesn’t capture the reddish brown that I could see when the bird turned away from me. On my way I home I looked down at the Second Swamp Pond but didn’t see any otters there.

While the pond has little water compared to those October days a few years ago when otters feasted in the pond, the water level probably equals the amount of water under the ice the last two winters when otters spent a week or two living off the pond. I should check for scats around the pond, but in deference to hunting season, I’ll check that out later. And today I took the most direct route out of the hunting zone which brought me along the south shore of the old Otter Hole Pond. I took a photo of the meadow,

when I began to seriously watch the otters in 1997, I frequently saw them in Otter Hole Pond, and then, all the meadow in the photo above was pond and the otters seemed to find fish everywhere.

October 16 since I am trying to break the routine of daily journal entries, let me begin my observations on this day with what I saw two days ago. At our land, the only “story” I am following at the moment is the lone beaver in the Deep Pond. Since it doesn’t cut trees there, I can’t follow its progress by following the wood chips. Keeping track of all the lily pads so I can tell if it ate any seems like tedious work. So I check those areas along the dam where it has pushed up mud and vegetation. On the 14th this is what that arc of attention right next to where I sit looked like.

Then we had a good bit of rain, and today the pond was higher and that area looked like this.

So I think it is safe to say that the beaver is still here. On the 14th I saw a clump of grass and some milfoil floating in the water behind the dam, perhaps suggesting that the beaver is now eating something other than lilies and pond grass.

But I’ve never seen beavers manage a meal of grass like that. Maybe a deer browsed into the pond here. It would be nice to gain the ability to tell whether the disappearance of vegetation in a pond in the fall was due to browsing or the vegetation simply died back. For example at the First Pond it seems clear that the vegetation has not been eaten nor died back.

The Teepee Pond next to it looks rather clear of vegetation.

The fore pond in the photo above is deeper than the First Pond but the rest of the pond is about as shallow. I did see muskrats here a few months ago. I never sit around long enough to be sure they are still here. Today we showed a friend around our land and we took him down to the Boundary Pond where I was surprised to see more water than I expected. The dam is holding back a credible amount of water.

When I looked across the pond the other day I saw shrinking channels and pools clogged with duckweed. Now it looked a beaver could make itself at home.

When I crossed the dam, I crossed the mysterious hole in the dam where the water is leaking. Looking down behind the dam, I have never seen a hole.

I went over the dam and could hear the water flowing through it, but the logs the beavers pushed over the dam blocked my view of any leak.

Even if I had any inclination to do it, ripping those logs out to get a better look would be difficult. While bending over that, I saw the remains of a bull frog on one of the logs.

I find it difficult to picture how it wound up there. On the ridge up to the Hemlock Cathedral we saw a small garter snake,

and a mushroom seemingly splitting its sides as it emerged from the earth.

There were more mushrooms up in the Hemlock Cathedral, but far fewer than a month ago.

October 17 We took a mid-morning hike to the East Trail Pond. I needed to check up on the beavers and Leslie wanted to sit up on the ridge overlooking Shangri-la Pond and enjoy the changing leaves. I took the same approach to the pond as I did back on the 5th and after failing to get any good photos of the 8 or 10 wood ducks foraging along the south shore of the pond, I inspected the trees the beavers have been cutting. The maple tree that I sat behind on the 5th and that was then girdled with a few gnaws into it was now cut to a point.

I could see a crack in the wood just below the point of the cut. Perhaps the beaver sensed the tree shifting and prudently retreated to wait for the wind would blow the tree down.

Down along the edge of the pond, I saw that the beavers trimmed the branches off the maple they cut down at the end of September that fell on the trimmed trunk of another maple.

There is a larger maple right next to those two. A beaver has only tasted that, a light gnaw into the outer bark.

There is another maple perhaps slightly larger that they have gnawed and girdled a bit more.

That tree looks like it had been gnawed a bit last year, too. They did not trim too much off the maple that fell higher up on the ridge, maybe three large branches, leaving several behind,

and they gnawed a few feet of bark off the tree. Back down on the shore, closer to the dam, they cut down a large tree that they had half gnawed through last year. It looks like a red oak to me.

I couldn’t be sure because there were no leaves in the crown. Last year’s gnawing probably stressed the tree and it lost its leaves early this year.

I saw fresh gnawing on a few more trees, not as big as this one. I didn’t see any fresh mud heaves on the dam, but the water level is higher thanks to our recent rains and perhaps that covers some of their recent mud heaves. Heading back up pond, I saw another large tree freshly gnawed.

This family of beavers has always had a taste for girdling large trees, and often not cutting them down. But in past winters they have returned to the job and tried to cut the big trees down. Indeed, I thought their bad luck when a couple of big red oaks were hung up on other trees accounted for their leaving Meander Pond for the East Trail Pond soon after the thaw. Since I had no expectation of any beavers appearing, I moved around the pond to the north shore. The canal at the west end of the pond has water in it, but there is no evidence that any beavers came up it.

I finally inspected the tree in the northwest corner of the pond that I saw beavers had cut and mostly stripped back on the 4th. They were girdling and gnawing a larger tree nearby a bit out in the pond.

I think the tree they cut down is a red oak.

Since there were no chips floating in the water next to it, maybe they are not going to eat the rib of bark on top of the trunk. I didn’t see any more fresh work as I headed up the ridge north of the pond. Looking back down, I saw that they had resumed gnawing on a large tree they girdled early in the year.

But as the photo above suggests I was distracted from examining more beaver gnawing by the beautiful colors of the dying vegetation in the pond.

I don’t recall the ferns turning like this in past falls. I might have taken a closer look at more ferns today but I was distracted by another thought. I did see otter scats here in the summer and my theory was that the mother otter brought her pups to this shallow pond to teach them how to swim. I developed another theory from observing otters returning to natal ponds, including this one back in its prime 10 years ago, that in the fall the mother otter took the pups back to all the ponds they grew up in. So, I looked for otter scats. I didn’t see any where I last saw otter scats here, high on the ridge, but lower down I saw a huge latrine on the pine needles and shallow dirt on a big rock coming up from the pond.

Pine needles and dirt were scraped up all down the slope

And below the rock on a piney ledge there was a well worn rolling area.

I have not seen such a good rolling area in years. The scats scattered around the latrine were piled up and looked fresh.

I have never seen any fish in this pond but I know there are plenty of frogs. Judging by the smooth creamy black scats frogs and fat tadpoles are what the otters are eating here.

There were scent mounds all over. (I think at a certain point, mothers teach the pups how to make them and you see them all over.) I tried to get a good photo showing the exuberance of the thrones otters can make for their poops, which I always find it difficult to do.

The one above even has bark under it. I tried another photo showing a scent mound higher on the ridge, hoping to suggest that sense of elevation that doesn’t come across in two dimensions.

Of course I scanned the pond for otters, saw none. I had an urge to check for scats between Thicket and Meander Ponds where I think I saw some in the summer, but there is no hurry. I’ll come back in a couple days and be able to tell if they have stayed in the East Trail Pond. If they haven’t, I will try to figure out where they went. On our way home, I tried to match an old photo of the old New Pond with what it looks like today. It proved rather difficult and I’ll have to come back and try again. A good bit of water is flowing down the creek, enough to flood our usual stones we use to hop across it and forcing us to use the ancient log bridge, and I took a photo to show how much of the water pooled behind what remains of the dam.

I suppose that was the deepest part of the old pond. I’ll have to check old videos to see if that’s where the beavers tried to dredge up the mud that they needed to patch the dam, which they never really managed to do, forcing them to leave after just a year in the pond.