Monday, March 22, 2010

March 7 to 12, 2010

March 7 I went to Meander Pond via Antler Trail and with such patchy snow there was no opportunity to track. Despite the thawing the two creeks draining the swamps were not flowing with their usual spring rush. I approached Meander Pond from the south and despite the thawing the pond was still all ice and snow. The ponds are always the last to thaw but since there was so little snow in the woods and fields, they will rather stick out this spring. I took a photo of the end of the south canal of the pond, to show how far that has to thaw.

I walked over to the lodge. The north canal has almost thawed back to the lodge, but no signs that beavers used that open water, nor are there any holes in the ice near the lodge and cache.

The beavers continue to use the hole over the main channel, about 15 yards down pond from the lodge. However, I’m not sure they are still getting out through the hole. They are dredging mud there and pushing it up on the ice

This channel must be well dredged. It’s the principal route the beavers take when they swim down to the dam. Maybe the beaver was dredging up sticks worth nibbling. On my way down to the hole the beavers made in the middle of the wide lower section of the pond, I saw two new holes in the pond.

There was a beaver trail from one heading over to a large oak the beavers had started girdling in the fall.

I think the small patch of brighter yellow wood has been exposed in the last few days.

The older hole in the ice looked well used but perhaps not as many stripped sticks around it.

There seemed to be less activity down below the dam. Indeed the freshest trail coming out from the hole through the dam went straight down into the cattail marsh below.

I followed and saw one cut sapling, but didn’t really get any sense of what the beavers are doing down there. It was easy walking through the cattails. The ice was still hard. Then I angled over to the shore and walked down to Audubon Pond. With all the snow gone from the shore of that pond, I couldn’t be sure that the many cut ash trees that I saw had been winter work. Ash cuts don’t age that quickly. However, judging from the hole near the lodge out at the end of the cache and the fresh work around the hole, there are beavers there.

I walked around the pond and didn’t see any more beaver signs. On my way to the park bench near the lodge I saw some otter scats above the muskrat burrows that I don’t recollect seeing before, but when the snow melts, recollecting means recalling the look of things back in November, about four months ago. I walked from the west shore of Audubon Pond through the woods down to the Narrows. At the end of other winters, otters have congregated here. But not this year. I studied the ice which was quite broken, beautiful, but no signs that otters had been on it.

Basically the Narrows was clear of most of its ice

And what I was looking at was ice from the end of South Bay blown in by the sharp SSW wind. With the snow gone from the shore here too, I again played the game of trying to spot fresh beaver work from work I might have seen back in November. I couldn’t be sure of the girdling on a huge oak

But farther up the trail along the Narrows toward South Bay, I saw some cuts that had to be fresh, including a pine tree crossing the trail.

Pine trees are reputed to be more favored by beavers in the spring. I checked the otter latrine at the entrance to South Bay. There was still ice in the bay there, but an otter could have easily gotten up to the latrine. No sure signs that any had. I did see some fresh scraping in the dirt.

I also saw more fresh beaver work nearby, but by camera battery went dead. I’ll get a photo next time. I crossed the South Bay ice trying to shield myself from the stiff wind, and cold since it blew across water not much warmer than freezing.

March 9 we went to our land to collect and boil maple sap, and I had my ironwood logs to work on. It got below freezing last night but the temperature soon climbed over 45. Of course, I walked down to check on the beavers. While snow is retreating from the ridges, and most of the valleys, it clings to the beaver ponds. So the beavers remain trapped in winter. The open water on the west side of the lodge slowly expands. Thanks to the beavers sloshing in and out, the two holes they made through the ice in mid-winter are almost joined.

Not that the beavers are necessarily making a conscious effort to expand the holes, just their sloshing water on the ice and sitting on the ice with their warm bodies aids the thawing process.

The arc of stripped sticks left on the ice gives the impression that two or three beavers were up there gnawing away. I didn’t see any evidence of beavers going up on the snowless ridge, but I didn’t look hard. They are stripping a cut down ironwood trunk close to the holes, and beavers rarely stripped ironwood trunks.

So despite the easier conditions, some beavers still want to stay close to the lodge even if it means eating less satisfying fare. I sat up in the chair half way up the ridge long enough to hear some stirring in the lodge, call it a few half-hums because it really didn’t sound like any beavers were awake. Looking down on the lodge I could see that a beaver has probably been pulling sticks off the lodge to strip the bark.

Nice idea: in a pinch you can always eat your own house. Going up pond, I saw that the beavers made another hole through the ice just beyond the big birch tree they cut down two falls ago. It was a small hole, and not in a spot I’d expect them to make one.

Perhaps while heading up stream the beaver noticed a weakness in the ice there. The beaver nipped the saplings just outside the hole and also went over to the edge of the ice. One trail was hard to read and perhaps the beaver went up on the ridge,

Another trail went to a scrawny dead choke cherry tree and then came back to the hole without taking a bite. Up at the hole in the Last Pool that they have been using for several days, there was a picturesque spread of leftovers, so to speak.

The beavers seem to select the thicker parts of the twigs. I’ll have hurry and figure out when these beavers are active and try to get a look at how they dine out of this hole. They also walk on the ice, but not far. The only fresh trail went to the end of one of the hornbeams.

When I got to work sawing ironwood, the retreating snow revealed a pile of grouse poop under a slight ledge made by the jumbled sandstone.

I’m not sure why there is a small pile of darker colored poop next to the large pile of typical poop.

Did a grouse leave, eat some different kind of seeds, and come back? Leslie heard a frog slip into a hole along the edge of the ice in the Turtle Bog. No remarkable spring arrivals yet. Chipmunks are out around our house on the island, but not here.

March 10 warm sunny day and I waited until the afternoon to go to the beaver ponds hoping that a beaver might be out. Walking through meadow and sticks along Antler Trail, I picked up my first deer ticks, all red backed and big. The Big Pond looked about the same as it did a few days ago, water still flowing out. Perhaps it looked a bit depleted.

I sat on my perch and waited for something to happen. I heard a song sparrow sing. Nothing happened out on the pond. Then as I walked over the hole through the dam, a small muskrat swam out from it, underwater and swam under the ice on the other side of the open water. Its rotating tail churned up mud. Then as I got out toward the middle of the dam, I noticed something diving in a slip of open water up in the middle of the pond. It was too big to be a muskrat and while I suspected it was a beaver, it could have been an otter. I brought my little binoculars with me and could see it dive, but grasses up pond obscured my view. When I moved farther along the dam and had an unobstructed view, the animal disappeared.

Meanwhile, I was seeing no animal signs as I walked along the dam -- surely an otter would have visited if an otter was around. The days of otters hiding under the ice are ending. There were no otter signs at the beaver lodge in the lower part of the pond that had briefly been the base of their operations. Thanks, I think, to the shedding cattail heads meeting melting snow, the pond around the lodge had a pinkish hue.

When I got to the upper end of the pond, I saw that the slip of open water was longer and oriented differently than it appeared when I looked up from the dam. The animal working its way up the slit, as I saw it do, would be more or less heading toward the upper beaver lodge.

There was more open water around that lodge, but it didn’t look like anything was using the new patch of open water on the west side of the lodge.

I saw one small beaver stripped logs in the open water on the east side of the lodge.

I continued up pond where I could that the inlet creek had opened a wide swath of open water which stopped me in my tracks. Didn’t look like either a beaver or otter had been up there.

As I headed back down the pond, even with the sun in my eyes, I was able to see the unmistakable silhouette of a beaver floating low at the upper end of that slit of open water. We appreciated each other's company for about two minutes and then it slipped back under the water. So a beaver survived. The dam should be patched. I headed to the Lost Swamp Pond hoping to see more beavers. I saw more open water around the lodge in the southeast end of the pond and that lured me up for a closer look. The lodge and melt made for a pretty picture but I didn’t see any stabs of stripped sticks on the ice or lodge proving a beaver was active, which was disappointing given the tracks I saw in the snow around the lodge the last time I was here.

On the other shore I saw some possible tracks around holes in the ice there so I somewhat foolishly set out across the rotting ice of the pond. I knew there was only one deep channel, perhaps three feet deep, to get over. I made it. I noticed that though I eased my feet so I thought they’d make no impression, the open water around the lodge began rippling. No beaver under water just my 180 pounds making waves. What I thought might be tracks in the snow were just crumbling snow and ice

but what the crumbling revealed was a rather deep channel into the bank, undoubtedly an entrance to a beaver burrow.

Beavers have lived over here before, centering their activity between this burrow and the lodge out in the pond, but given how much water has drained out of the pond, I was impressed by the depth, suggesting that the canal is being used. However I didn’t any beaver leftovers. I crossed over the ridge to the northeast end of the pond. No signs of activity there, but I noticed what I vaguely recall noticing once before. The muskrats had refurbished an old beaver lodge into the muskrat style. Instead of mud and sticks on the outside, there were cattail stalks and other dead grasses.

Muskrats evidently can’t use mud. They simply don’t have the heft and balance that beavers have for cradling and carrying mud. Got to have a big tail. Down at the dam it was easy to see the low water level.

No sign of anyone taking a bath in it. I dutifully checked the old otter latrine but no otter coming or going thought to leave a fresh scat. I sat up on a rock to appreciate the beauty of a beaver pond thawing in the March sun.

Then I noticed some tracks in the snow along the edge of the pond, that looked like a fisher’s but perhaps it could have been an otter walking slowly along the shore.

I back tracked the prints until I got to the southwest shore and saw that a fisher came down from the ridge. I went up to the bank lodge where an otter had been and saw no fresh sign of one. I went up on the ridge north of the pond, sat, and studied the open water of the Upper Second Swamp Pond and Second Swamp Pond. The latter is the most open pond now. I went down to where the Second Swamp Pond narrows and saw a big hole in the muskrat lodge I think the otters had used.

Looking at the open water and rotting ice up stream, I could almost see a trail made by an otter.

But the problem at this time of year is figuring out if trails in the ice are new, or old tracks no longer covered by snow and melting away. Usually it is the latter. There was a nice otter trail with periodic sliding going down pond to another muskrat lodge.

And then on the other side of the lodge, I saw what might be the trails of the otter family tearing around the pond.

I think the proof that these are old slides is that they paid no attention to the open water nearby.

Then at the dam, there was no sign of anything using the open water there or fishing through the rotting ice up the main channel of the pond.

I went back home via the Big Pond and took a better photo of the hole in the dam.

No muskrat swam out this time. It is possible that muskrats dug the hole, but they usually dig laterally in the dam and a hole forms through the dam inadvertently. I saw no signs of beavers down here, which leaves the otters as the hole digger or just the natural course of things. Hopefully, I won’t get a good look at this hole because the beaver will soon patch it, so maybe I’ll never know. When I got home, I heard my first redwing blackbird song.

March 11 we went to collect and boil maple sap at our land, and I sawed up ironwood trees into logs up on the ridge above the First Pond. Then during a break, I walked around saw in hand, looking for other dead trees to cut. As I passed one of the smaller pine trees, I heard some scratching and then a barred owl flew out, but not away. It made a low circle and landed on the low limb of another pine tree about 20 yards away. I suspect it has its nest in that smaller pine I walked by.

I went down to watch the beavers after lunch. All was quiet when I sat in my chair half way up the ridge above the lodge. The patch of open water beside the lodge was bigger and filled with logs, stripped and unstripped. There were logs and twigs, mostly stripped, up on the ice around the open water.

I waited about 45 minutes and heard no activity in the lodge. Seeing the beaver in the Big Pond in the early afternoon yesterday suggested to me that beavers in thawing ponds are likely to come out when the sun is highest, especially in this pond which is flanked on the southeast with a high ridge. With the sun shining on the ice, every move a beaver makes is liable to widen the patch of open water. But today, it seemed wasn’t the day for that theory to be proved. I did hear a peeper singing below the dam. As I was leaving a little before 1 pm, I took a photo of the smaller hole in the ice on the dam side of the lodge. It too was jammed with food and leftovers.

Then I took a photo of the ironwood they have been stripping

Seldom do they show such a taste for ironwood. Then I heard the water below stir. I froze and down below a beaver appeared in the water.

It soon was up on the ice at the far end of the open patch stripping the bark off a small stick.

The beavers looked quite large and healthy, but when seen in a small patch of open water or on the ice, beavers usually look big. Then I think it heard me or smelled me. It swam out into the middle of the patch of water and looked up at me.

Then I heard sloshing in the lodge and soon another beaver surfaced, looked about the same size. I didn’t hear any humming or grunting from the beavers. They were briefly nose to nose, but certainly no show of affection. I’m not sure why the beavers parted and why the first beaver went back into the lodge. The new arrival went right over to where the other beaver had been munching. It too climbed up on the ice and began eating a small stick.

Then it got back into the pond and went a few feet over and then up on the ice and began gnawing a bigger log that had already been half stripped. I was right that the beavers just let their swimming and walking break off the ice. Meanwhile I didn’t hear any humming from inside the lodge. I backed up the hill and left the beaver in peace, glad to see them after so long.

March 12 We drove over to the Nature Center after lunch to walk along Eel Bay which mostly remains frozen, though all the ice is gray and rotting. When the sun peaked out the ice got that appealing tinge of green. We saw three eagles out on the ice toward the edge of open water. Although the huge smooth granite boulders forming the upper shore of the bay face the north, they’ve been hot enough to melt back the ice in the bay.

A wide margin of ice between the rotting ice and open water has been played on by the north wind leaving wavy streaks of white.

Not sure what we were seeing and no way we were going to walk down on that ice. We haven’t had snow recently so maybe that wet snow we had several days ago froze into the ice, but why hasn’t it thawed into a more uniform color and pattern like the rest of the bay? The open water looked like it extended out to Picton Island. I’ll soon put the motor on the boat and head out there to look for otter signs.

Of course, I looked for otter signs as I walked along the Narrows. I scared up a couple flights of ducks out of the Narrows, mostly buffleheads. As usual some hooded mergansers were loath to flee.

I checked an old otter latrine on the granite shelf where I never saw scats last year, and there was a spread of scat.

I had been here a few days ago so these were fresh scats.

They gave me the impression that more than one otter was here. And there was a blob of scaly scat flanked by a few black squirts closer to the water.

Meanwhile there was much beaver work to sort through including some impressive beaver gouging on big willow trees hanging over the water, but I think must of that was done in the fall.

However, a beaver did strip a bit of pine and maple that I saw cut here the other day.

And I got a photo of the recent beaver cutting along the north shore of South Bay.

No signs of otters visiting their latrine at the entrance to South Bay. However, out on the ice still in the bay, I could see what looked like an otter slide.

Since I didn’t see anything like this in the snow all winter, and since I saw fresh scat in the Narrows, there is a good chance this is a fresh slide. I walked up to Audubon Pond and along the embankment saw no scats there nor otter slides on the ice. I could see more stripped logs in the open water around the beaver lodge near the bench on the north shore. I expected to see some signs of otters down on the docking rock latrine. There was a wide expanse of open water there, and all down the north shore of the bay,

But I didn’t see any fresh otters signs, just an old scat laced with crayfish parts that I don’t recall seeing before but it certainly was old. I headed up to Meander Pond hoping to see the beavers. March, I always boast, is the month I take my beaver census but it never quite works out. There was a steady northeast wind so I felt good approaching from the southwest. There was still a snow pack between the clumps of alders and the pond, so I could tell if the beavers had been there and saw no signs of them. I walked around to the dam and saw open water in front of the bank burrow just back from the dam. Many small stripped sticks were in the water and since I don’t think a beaver had denned in here since June, I think these were fresh leftovers, though when I stood over the burrow nothing stirred down below.

As I crossed on the dam to get a look at the hole I noticed there was water flowing out, though I could see no hole in the dam, or even open water behind the dam at that point.

And I was surprised to find no water flowing out of the hole in the dam, and while a beaver might have piled some logs and mud in preparation for patching the hole, the hole was still wide open.

Then it struck me that the beavers had struck on an ingenious way to patch their dam. Back at where there is a hole, I saw that the water flowed into a little hole in the mud below the dam that the beavers had just made.

It looked like the beavers had burrowed down and back from just in front of the dam until they got the water to flow out. This stopped the flow out of the big hole through the middle of the dam. Now they can easily patch that hole, and push the dirt back into the new hole they made, and the dam is repaired. I was quite impressed with that. I headed up pond to see if I could see one of the geniuses. I found that I could still walk out on the ice, and was confident that there was little water underneath it. I saw a beaver nibbling on something (I call it nibbling when I can’t hear their teeth at work) next to the lodge.

I could also hear gnawing a bit down-pond but never saw a beaver. I decided that it was gnawing a log inside the auxiliary lodge where the beavers had made a hole in the top during the winter.

Well, this was pleasant as always, but beavers in March are at their slowest. I had plenty of time to study the pond and ridge as I waited for another beaver or two to appear. I did hear humming from the auxiliary lodge which could have been from a third beaver. I saw that to get a census here, I need a southwest wind and I have to sit up on the rocks north of the pond. I also noticed how the beavers had blocked off the entrance to the north canal with logs.

Had an adult done that to keep younger beavers from straying up there? I backed off the ice without disturbing the beaver. I didn’t see any evidence of their returning to old work south of the pond, not even the big ash trees that they worked on during the winter and that had finally been blown down. The end of their south canal is ice free, though I don’t think a beaver swam under the ice all the way from the lodge to break out through the ice and find sticks they left on the trail in the fall.

Down at the end of South Bay, I heard several red winged blackbirds. They will have an easy time of it this spring with so little snow and ice.

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