Thursday, February 2, 2012

December 7 to 12, 2011

December 7 after more rain the Deep Pond was leaking over, through and around the dam,

But I saw that the beaver had been the dam, not only was a bit more vegetation pushed up, but there were two nibbled sticks near by.

This is the first time the beaver left some woody leftovers at the dam, and it has left only a stick or two elsewhere around and in the whole pond. Our path from the road to the dam is now flooded and water is flowing over the path down to the outlet creek.

One pair of beavers built up a dam here when this happened years ago. Leslie set out to cut a small Xmas tree or two in our inner valley. I tagged along. She decided she didn’t need my help and then she called me back to see a dead mouse nestled up in a small pine tree.

It was difficult to tell if it landed there after being dropped by a flying bird or was carefully placed in a nexus of branches.

I headed back down to the Deep Pond and walked around the high east bank, nothing new there, and then worked my way up the inlet. By building up the dam, the beaver has widened the inlet creek which back in the summer I could cross over easily just about everywhere.

As I headed up the creek, I soon saw that the beaver had been up it to and cut what I think are birch saplings here and there amidst the dead grasses and small shrubs.

Most of the saplings here are sprouting out of roots snaking through the wet soil.

As the beaver noses about it seems to nip saplings that are not too small, say, at least over a half inch in diameter and preferably just over an inch.

There are saplings cut high off the ground, a foot or two up instead of an inch or two. Perhaps it’s a question of the low brush being too thick to get the teeth down or the beaver cuts a bit higher just to get the thickness it wants.

I don’t think the beaver has come back here much since there are no well worn trails from the inlet to where it cut saplings.

The beaver did move far enough away from the inlet creek to see where the bigger trees grow. But it only cut one thin sapling in that area.

I didn’t count how many saplings the beaver cut. I did take more photos, well deserving close study but it’s hard to keep track of the tastes of beavers. I took a photo of the inlet at a point just above where the beaver had gone up into the brush. As far as I could tell it only foraged just to the east of the creek.

Scanning the pond as I left, I couldn’t tell where the beavers took the saplings it cut nor where or if it gnawed the bark off them.

December 10 another cold night gave us a chance to check for bubbles under the ice of ponds. There were two trails of bubbles under the Last Pool Ice. One came from the lodge and the other down the main channel of the pond.

I have seen beavers swim considerable distances under the ice and under the water in this pond, but these trails of bubbles didn’t go into the canal down pond, as far as I could see, but some of the ice had melted there.

So I can’t be sure either way, but looking down at the black ice of the remaining stretch of the Last Pool, where water had spread on either side of the deep beaver canal, I didn’t see any bubbles nor any holes in the ice, which I think suggests that a beaver didn’t swim under the ice. Beavers usually bump the ice of shallow ponds. A muskrat is another matter.

I kept checking the snow covered grassy areas along the Last Pool and saw no animal tracks there

I walked around the upper end of the Last Pool to look for tracks and bubbles there and saw the stray bubble under the ice, but no trails north of the lodge.

Looking over the shoulder of the lodge so to speak I could see the trail of bubbles under the ice on the other side.

So, something took a short swim under the ice going out from and back to the old lodge. That theory held since I saw no disturbances on or under the ice as I walked down the east shore of the Last Pool and Boundary Pond until I got to the summer hut the beavers made half way up the shore of Boundary Pond. I saw a little trail of bubbles going from the hut toward the main channel of the pond.

But that trail of bubbles, like the trails in the Last Pool, didn’t seem to lead to anything. And behind the dam, where a beaver might be expected to break the ice, all was smooth and undisturbed.

We always have a tendency to underestimate muskrats but one could have complete command of the new under ice world of this pond and I saw a few tokens of its explorations. That said, there were white blotches on the ice all around the Boundary Pond lodge, I expect from icy blobs falling off tree branches above

But the spread of branches above might not account for all the blobs. Many of them were above bunches of green grasses under the ice and that vegetation under stress may have emitted bubbles. I headed up over the ridge heading down to the Deep Pond. There was not enough snow to make the Hemlock Cathedral a romantic place to stop, and there was not enough snow to bother looking for tracks. As I walked down the final slope toward the creek feeding the Deep Pond, well above the area where the beaver had been foraging, I saw gnawing on some beech trees; one was half girdled.

No way a beaver is doing that. I saw that the gnaw marks were small and pointed, a porcupine had been busy.

I walked along the high slope of the Deep Pond and saw what I interpreted as a trail of bubbles around the pond, but no way I could interpret what the beaver or muskrat making the bubbles might have been doing.

There was one bunch of bubbles off from some old muskrat burrows, but the trail of bubbles didn’t lead to the burrows.

I suppose bubbles could be coming up from the well vegetated pond bottom here too.

December 11 Leslie joined me on a hike to the interior beavers ponds. While the snow had melted around our house on the river, there was still enough on the edge on the ponds to reveal tracks. And it had stayed cold enough to keep the ice on the ponds. Over the years we’ve had some exciting hikes after snowfall in early December, but those inspiring snows were much deeper than the one we just had which probably didn’t impress any animal above the scale of a deer tick that there had been a fundamental change in their environment. The only tracks along the Big Pond dam were from a lone and small coyote. The snow covered the area where the otters had been scatting. There were bubbles under the ice just behind the commodious holes in the dam. Perhaps a muskrat made them.

In the woods and meadows the snow was very spotty, no tracking there. But I could show off the mystery of the fresh gnawing low on the large maples just up from the south shore of the Lost Swamp Pond. Leslie spotted it immediately as porcupine gnawing. As always I tried to keep my mind open to new evidence.

But as I took a closer look at the gnawing, the narrow strokes of the incisors suggested that a porcupine had the meal.

Then on the ground below the gnawing, amidst the bark and wood shavings, I saw a porcupine poop.

There were no signs of a beaver having been in the area, nor under the ice of the pond. There was a trail of bubbles from the porous bank lodge to where there are burrows in the nearby bank, most likely made by a muskrat or two.

As we walked around the west end of the pond, I saw porcupine gnawing in a tree on a slope 30 yards off the pond.

There was also gnawing at the base of the tree which looked like the work of the narrower gauge porcupine incisor.

Then on the other side of the valley, we saw that a porcupine did some extensive low gnawing on the twinned trunks of what looked like a big beach tree.

Such extensive gnawing at the bottom of trunks is not common but often a porcupine is so persistent in doing it that I assume it must have lost the ability or courage to climb up in a tree. Then, eventually, I see it up high in a tree. I didn’t see any new otter scats as I walked up the north shore of the pond. The dam still leaks, and there were some small bubbles under the ice behind the dam but not enough to credit any particular animal.

As I walked along the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam, which has had a big gap in it for about a year, I didn’t see any signs of otters, or anything else, going over it. However it wasn’t snow covered and the ice cover on the pond wasn’t solid. All to say that there was a large enough seed of doubt that I did a double take when I looked down at the Second Swamp Pond. I could see parallel patterns in the ice that I could interpret as otter trails, though they certainly looked more like the pattern gently flowing water might make when it freezes.

There were plenty of bubbles under the ice of the bank lodge below the knoll.

There were large bubbles under the ice around a dead tree trunk and rock which reminded me of an array of bubbles in the same area one winter when I saw otters here.

Looking up pond I got a different angle on the patterns of the ice about the main channel of the pond.

My trouble is that I have grown old with these ponds. I delighted in them when the beavers filled them with water and life and now that the beavers are gone, several years gone in this pond, my imagination can’t help but amplify any sign of the return of those lively times. I checked the lodge for otter scats and found none but I did see a muddy print on the snow outside a hole going into the rather porous lodge, likely mink tracks.

And as I walked along the dam I saw more prints that if they were twice their size, I could attribute to otters. They too were probably mink tracks. Every winter minks get use out of this dam as they range for muskrats, birds, and other stingy winter fare.

The little bit of snow around the gap in the dam did not betray any tracks. Otters latrined around this dam a couple years ago but I saw no scats or trails today on or below the dam.

However, my imagination could still feed on the vague patterns of the ice behind the dam. Perhaps you had to be there to think that an otter had scooted over that ice.

The area of ice narrows below the dam, and none of it looked disturbed by any animals. I can’t imagine any other animal like me hopping from clump to clump of dead grass to avoid thin ice and keep its boots dry.

I looked for fisher tracks in the woods between the Second Swamp Pond and East Trail Pond, an area I call the Fisher Woods, but there was not enough snow to see any tracks. Over the years beavers who lived in the East Trail Pond dredged mud behind the dam so even though the old dam leaks liberally there is still a small pond behind the dam. The ice behind the dam looked like it had been roughed up. However I didn’t see any animal tracks or signs on what remains of the dam.

There was a wide trail in the ice going to the west shore but nothing of note on the shore. In my experience, otters don’t impress the ice like that.

An old boardwalk, now in disrepair, bisects the old pond, and save for a few spots where small rivulets flow down to the old dam, it crosses meadow. Today the boardwalk was completely covered with an inch of fresh snow. A week or so ago I could see on a brief snow cover where beavers crossed it. Today I only saw mink tracks. One set of tracks came up from the narrowest creek and left some slightly muddy prints.

As I headed up the East Trail I didn’t see any broken ice behind the dam. Up on the ridge, in an area I haven’t be at in a while, I saw where a beaver trimmed a branch off a small trunk that had been hung up in another tree and that I had pushed over.

A beaver also resumed gnawing the other trunk of the oak.

This area is the highest point where the beavers are foraging. I am not a good judge of how high ridges are but I suppose this one is at least 50 feet high. Beavers have to take a somewhat circuitous route to get to it. Another larger tree, oak I think, that is a bit higher up the ridge is almost half girdled.

A beaver gnawing up here is rather far from safety. Coyotes coming either way along the East Trail could probably easily catch a beaver up here. However, come to think of it, I can’t recall seeing coyote tracks up here nor poop. A beaver that makes this climb and drags branches back down to the pond is probably in pretty good shape. Coyotes are probably wise to limit their patrols to the low ground. I found a spot a bit lower on the ridge to take a photo of the lodge in the middle of the pond. There looked to be open water or ice that just formed near the lodge and a trail of broken ice that beavers made after swimming to and from the north end of the pond. (I didn’t see any beavers in the pond today nor heard any ice crack.)

The way the ice was marked reminded me of the Second Swamp Pond ice, but here I knew beavers had been swimming in the pond as the ice formed.

A trail seemingly marked in the ice went toward the otter latrine on the low rock, but then veered and went parallel to the north shore of the pond. And there appeared to be a portion of the trail where the water had not frozen.

Of course, I hoped that an otter or two had a role in breaking the ice but if one did it did not go up on the rock and scat. There was a knot of bubbles under the ice about 10 yards off from the shore.

The next knot of bubbles was around the trunk of a tall tree the beavers have been slowly cutting. However the cut was above the ice and the bubbles below the ice. There were no chips of gnawed wood on the ice.

Then there were two trails on the ice that veered apart that from the distance I was looking down from looked like animals with a short gait walking on the ice, as indeed beavers would. They don’t slide on the ice like otters.

There was also some gnawing up in a tree, done by a porcupine, of course, not a beaver.

As I angled down the ridge toward the west end of the pond, I saw that the red oak along the beaver trail angling up the ridge to the west that the beavers had been gnawing at two points on the trunk a little over a foot apart had fallen down. The beavers had trimmed it and almost stripped the bark off the trunk.

The other day I opined that beavers were lured into cutting trees at two nearby points along the trunk because they appreciated gnawing into bark that didn’t move as their incisors cut into the wood. Today I saw that cutting the trunk at two points can be an efficient way to cut a tree down. The wood split between the cuts.

I don’t think I’ve seen this before, probably because beavers know it is a bit dangerous. Splitting wood is a bit unpredictable. Right below that latest windfall, with an assist from the split along the grain of the wood, the beavers were beginning to cut another good size tree that looked like a red maple.

Down beside the pond, I saw where and how the trails on, or should I say, in the ice ended. Up close they looked wider than a trail an otter would make.

And up on the snow, I could see the beaver’s prints.

I got another angle looking at the ice tracks from the east. It looked like there had been a large patch of open water and the now frozen “trails” went off from that.

It looked like there were some smaller trails in the ice which renews the hope that there is a kit or two in the family. I didn’t take my usual tour of the beavers’ gnawing along the south slope of the pond. As I walked up the slope on the way to South Bay, I saw that they cut another relatively small tree that got hung up in the neighboring bigger trees.

I saw that they had started cutting another tree higher up the slope and deeper in the woods.

I have yet to figure out if this ranging relatively far distances to cut trees means the beavers are doing well and have a surplus of energy or if it means they are desperate and fear starvation. Perhaps it is just a function of the rather mild late fall and early winter with little snow or ice formation. Given the opportunity to gather more food, the beavers will take it. As I headed up the Antler Trail on the way home I bumped into two deer and had a chat with them before they ambled off.

When I got home, Leslie, who had headed home after we got to the Lost Swamp Pond, reported that she had had a long chat with the same two deer. After months of being hunted by bow-bearing humans, they stumbled onto two chatterboxes full of good cheer.

We went to our land in the afternoon. I checked the Deep Pond dam and it was easy to see that the beaver kept the water open behind the dam as the rest of the pond iced over

That said, I wasn't sure if the ice I saw on the mud pushed up on the dam meant that it was the last thing the beaver did or the first.

More to the point were some stripped sticks just behind and beside the dam. Of course, I've seen the beaver gorge on lily pads, roots and pond weed here, but have seen little evidence of it gnawing bark. I saw a nibbled stick on the 7th too but didn't look around to see if the beaver was cutting anything near the dam.

Doubting that the beaver had brought what it cut up along the inlet creek all the way down to the dam, I checked the west side of the pond, and found that the beaver had trimmed some saplings there.

In my brief observations of this beaver's tree cutting skills, all at the willow clumps in the Third Pond, I got the impression that it was a picky forager not prone to clear cut. However, it was relatively voracious here. And why not, it is getting cold.

But it left plenty behind.

Once again I was stumped in identifying what tree it was cutting. I'm not good at it and saplings are always difficult. I did get a few leaves planning to park them on a tree identification book and compare. But as I walked up the road I saw the same type of leaves on a larger tree that I could identify, hornbeam. This is the tree the beavers at the Boundary Pond and Last Pool almost cleared out of that valley, even though, as far as I could see, they didn't really relish the bark. Of course, this is just one beaver and the amount of cutting it did rather tame, compared to what beavers feeding a family usually cut. There was a short trail back to the pond.

The water had turned to ice there too. There were large bubbles under the ice as well as small stripped sticks.

As I headed over to the lodge, curious to see if the beaver had taken any cut saplings over there, I saw some strange circles in the ice, perhaps trails made by a muskrat before the ice froze.

I went up and over the knoll to get a good look at the lodge, and really couldn't see anything worth noting, no sign of the beaver sinking sticks in front of it to start its winter cache, no new sticks up on the lodge.

This beaver had a fat summer and fall. Unless it lives off the remaining lily roots, it might have a lean winter, but I suppose beavers might expect to have to endure that.

December 12 this afternoon we go to Syracuse for a week away to take care of medical matters, so we tried to take a relaxing walk around South Bay and check Audubon Pond and the otter latrines. Water was raging down the creek that feeds the north cove of South Bay. Because it was rather cold last night there was ice on, above and around the creek to enjoy.

We especially like the ice flowers that can form around grass stalks.

Where the water wasn’t rushing down to the bay, there were some nicely patterned sheets of flat ice.

Ice had formed in the lower end of the cove, been there a couple days, and there were bubbles under the ice around the old dock.

A couple weeks ago I saw a muskrat in the area. I didn’t see any scats at the otter latrines along South Bay which put an end to my over interpreting the marks on the ice going down the Second Swamp Pond, that I saw yesterday. No otters went down the ponds to South Bay. Yesterday I saw that no otters had been at the East Trail Pond. There was plenty of bubbles to ponder under the ice of Audubon Pond, too many to really allow tracking of the beavers' comings and goings.

There was also broken ice here and there, and it was easy to conclude that all trails came from or led to the cache pile and bank lodge along the embankment.

It looked like a beaver had been up on the snow atop the bank lodge. Plus there seemed to be more sticks upon it as well as mud.

As we stood there, something swam out from the lodge and added more bubbles to rise up to the ice. The highest concentration of bubbles was under the ice around the cache of winter food, suggesting that the beavers were content to dine off what they had collected already, rather than go off and collect more.

We didn’t walk around the pond seeing what the beavers might have gnawed recently, but taking a cursory glance, I didn’t see any new activity.