Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 17 to 22, 2011

March 15 we went to our land and I walked down the ridge trail to the Last Pool just as I did yesterday. Where the trail came down to the still snow covered valley, I saw my tracks in the snow from yesterday and next to them I thought I saw fresh beaver tracks which suggested that the beaver was tracking me. Then the fresh trail split in two and I saw that a pair of turkeys had momentarily left the impression worthy of one beaver.

The temperature was below freezing last night so the tracks I saw yesterday had not melted away, and it was hard to tell if a beaver had been out last night on the harder snow. I think so. There were fewer stripped sticks up on the snow around the hole that the beavers are using to get out from under the pond ice.

There was some residue from gnawing a few feet from a small hole that was a couple yards from the big hole.

I walked up to where I had pulled a hornbeam down on the snow but saw no sign that the beavers had visited that. I walked down the east shore of the Last Pool and saw how the south side of the lodge was free of snow.

Then I continued down the east shore of Boundary Pond (I still insist on calling it that though both ponds have long been one,) and saw no signs of activity save for many hemlock boughs cut by porcupines littered on the snow. I never noticed porcupine trails the few times I came down here this winter.

The dam looked like it was holding back more water than the last time I was here about a month ago. There were holes in the ice behind the dam so I could see the water brimming under the ice.

There was enough leaking through the dam to make extensive puddles of water below the dam, but compared to the Big Pond and Lost Swamp Pond dams on the island, this dam is quite tight.

There is a hole in the ice behind the dam which an animal might have used, I almost saw prints by the hole and there were bubbles under the clear ice covering the hole. But no animals had compromised the dam.

The flow on the other side of the hole was minimal.

There were also holes in the ice behind the west end of the dam and no signs of any animals using it. So I think this dam has had a steady leak all winter so that the pond lost a couple feet of water, but with the thaw the water level is back up and if the dam survives the disruptions attending the final thaw, the dam should be in good shape for the spring. Last year, with the beavers living in the lodge right behind it, the dam was also in good shape in the spring. So having beavers living near the dam or far away didn’t make any difference. I had some worry that muskrats might move into the empty lodge by the dam and do some mischief.

March 17 we went back to the land to boil sap and I wrestled with a thick ash trunk managing to split it so that it will be easier to cut. I was hoping to be entertained by birds as I worked, and the chickadees did their part with many feee-beeee calls. When I knocked some bark off the ash trunk I found what was either little balls of dirt or a slew of brown eggs.

I went down to check the Last Pool taking the ridge route again. The snow was still hard from a cold night and new tracks were not easy to see, but I did see where a beaver nipped what looked like small honeysuckle.

Since beavers generally don’t eat honeysuckle, I'll double check this. Honeysuckles leaf early. Down within sight of the hole in the ice that the beavers are using I saw that the beaver cut another small tree, about the same size and near the birch that they cut when they first got out of this hole. I could see the gnawing on the ice where they had cut the trunk into logs.

I’m not sure what kind of tree it is, perhaps a red oak. This is the perfectly sized tree for cutting in the fall and storing in a cache, but the beavers evidently realized that standing where it did, the tree would be available late in the winter.

Part of the crown of the tree was half in the hole in the ice. And it looked like the beaver had walked down from that hole, which is getting bigger, to browse in the cache of branches sticking up through the ice.

Beavers often pull branches right through their holes in the ice and into the lodge. These beavers seem to be doing their eating outside the lodge.

I sat for a while in my chair on the west slope down to the pond, but didn’t hear anything stirring in the lodge or under the ice.

March 18 a chilly cloudy morning with the promise of sun; too cold last night to expect much in the sap buckets at the land so we hiked out to check on the beaver ponds. The snow was just about gone but it clung to the slopes facing north as did ice on our trail. There was not enough snow to reveal any tracks especially around the ponds, but we couldn‘t take our eyes off the ponds anyway. The thaw had transformed the white and gray of the past two months into a multicolored patchwork of ice, water and mud.

We sat on our perch at the south end of the Big Pond dam and tried to take it all in. The color comes from cattail fuzz adhering to the ice.

Then especially along the shore there is the rich brown of exposed mud. Clumps of grass and muskrat lodges that had been flooded were now exposed to the sun.

How fun it would to walk on the pond and take it all in, but those days are gone. It was difficult enough to walk along the dam. Now it is easy to see the hole in the dam but the gushing water doesn’t come out of the hole you see in the photo.

It comes out a hole angled into the dam that is 6 feet farther along and 2 feet below the other hole. Fortunately the dirt above the 6 foot long hole with water gushing through it was able to support us as we walked on the dam.

I checked the dam for new otter scats and saw none. It took me a few minutes to find the scats an otter left here a few days ago. I have to reorient myself to the loss of the snow. The thaw denies us the ability to see where the animals have just been, but it reveals some of what has happened under the ice over the winter. There was a collection of dead bullheads, some of them several inches long along the shore.

On shore next to these dead and uneaten fish, we saw a couple of bullhead heads.

This is at the same point along the dam where I saw a bullhead head up in the snow. It is also where I know minks liked to go. Otters commonly leave the head of the bullheads they eat. I suppose mink do to, but am not sure. An otter could have managed to eat the bigger fish. A mink could have collected those fish; they tend to do that. The fish most likely died of a lack of oxygen but an animal probably collected them here. There is no flow of water that I can see directing them here. For the past two months I always walked from the dam along the north shore up to the beaver lodge. That’s difficult now. Hopefully I’ll soon see signs of beavers repairing the dam or at least looking for things to eat out in the diminished pond. We headed for the Lost Swamp Pond through the woods and my first impression of that pond was that it had lost more of its water than the Big Pond. We sat briefly up on the mossy cove rock to take in the new reality of the pond, which won’t last long.

The west end of the pond remains mostly snow covered.

The long southeast end of the pond appears to have mostly drained away.

Perhaps the pool of water around the dead trunks that had attracted the otters now and then all winter still had enough water to support them.

We did see several ducks in the far southeast end of the pond. I forgot to mention that we also saw ducks in the Big Pond. But ducks do adapt to shallow water at this time of year; plus no ducks or geese have foraged in the pond for over three months. Then after enjoying the strange new vistas, I got down to work. Could I find any signs left by the otters who ranged under the ice of the pond since the beginning of the year? I investigated those area along the shore, that I could still get to, that the otters had used during the winter.

I could see a semblance of a channel just off from the rocks and tree trunk and limbs, and back closer to shore I saw some otter scats on a rock.

That suggests that otters had been here under the ice, but I was looking for a pile of scats, where otters might have spent those many hours under the ice. Over the years I have found some perfect otter set ups along the rocks that had been under the ice. I headed for the west end of the pond where the otters probably spent most of their time. There I found an extensive spread of scats.

There were piles of typical black scale laden scats but also blobs of white scat.

These scats were in an area where the otters had scatted up on the snow. I noticed white scats on the snow but not as many as I saw now. I had seen holes in the snow and ice all around here and know that the otters had also been under the ice. So I don’t think it is a case of my not seeing all the white scats on the white snow. This area had few rocks, but the ground looked soft, with a good bit of plant matter, now looking rather wrung out after being flattened by melting ice.

But I can’t say that I saw one area that struck me as definitely being a den. Leslie had walked along the north shore of the pond to the dam before me, and she alerted me that there were fresh tracks in the mud. So as I walked up the north shore, I looked for signs that an otter had just been there.

First I saw where voles or mice had been. I imagine they have a good life under the snow where birds can no longer find them, but these trails were right where the minks had been running under the ice much of the winter.

In the upper left had corner of the photo above there is a depression in the mud that an otter could have made.

But an otter more likely made that by squeezing under the ice. I found the tracks that Leslie saw and they looked fresh.

The prints looked like an otter's, but if they had been left in side-by-side pairs, I’d give a raccoon the credit because they are indefatigable circlers of ponds, like me. But the gait was like an otter. Plus the tracks went perpendicular to the remaining water of the pond giving every appearance of going into the pond, which a raccoon might do but which an otter always does.

If an otter had just been in the pond then it likely visited the latrine by the dam. There was no snow behind or around the dam to reveal fresh tracks and the rotting ice on the pond didn’t show any otter traffic.

And I couldn’t spot any new scats amongst the many old scats now revealed by the thaw. However, grass near where an otter scatted four days ago looked like it had been stained with urine, so maybe an otter just marked that spot, freshening up his most recent scats, so to speak.

Meanwhile I could step down on a rock close to what water remained in the pond and get a better photo of the big hole in the dam.

The water is still deep behind the dam. When it was built about 25 years ago the dam was 12 feet high at the crest of a little gulch and soon backed up a good depth of water. And for 25 years the beavers have dredged up mud behind the dam, probably keeping up with the amount of silt settling behind the dam. The nearby lodge, which has been there for about 15 years, while a bit high in the water, looked like it had a depth of water around one side, again thanks to years of beavers dredging to keep their channels deep.

Leslie had been sitting below the dam listening to the water rushing out through the dam, and she saw a garter snake sunning on the rocks. (Talking about animals emerging, we both find several deer ticks on our pants.) Then I finally focused at what I had been looking at but ignoring. There were bits of red osier cut by a beaver floating in the deep water behind the dam, some had been stripped.

There is a good bit of osier below the dam and it certainly is the most colorful plant around at the moment, looks good to eat.

But, over the years, I’ve never noticed these beavers gorging on it. That the beaver came down to the dam is a good sign. The dam has to be repaired. However, after Shangri-la Pond dam had its second spectacular failure, I saw fresh beaver gnawing eating next to it, and thought that was a good sign. Then the beavers abandoned the pond. Beavers don’t repair dams on instinct. They mull the situation over, even while gnawing on the food that suggests they could still survive in the pond. Leslie wondered if the beavers went down stream to repair ponds there, so we walked by the Upper Second Swamp Pond dam,

and the Second Swamp Pond dam and saw no signs of beavers there; and we saw low ponds that will get lower once all the ice melts and the water drains out of the valley or the beavers patch the Lost Swamp Pond dam.

Then when we went through the woods back to the Big Pond, snowless woods so no tracking there. We did see a muskrat up on the ice of the Big Pond along the north shore, diving and bringing up things to munch.

March 19 cool cloudy morning and I headed up Antler Trail bound for the South Bay otter latrines and the East Trail Pond. I haven’t checked either in a while. I went around the bay first and as I headed up the north shore, I flushed a heron from the trees. It flew in front of me and then back over the bay and I just missed getting a photo. My head is still in winter tracking but I realized that the birds are checking in, though the red winged blackbirds haven’t moved into the swamps and marshes yet. This was the first heron I've seen. As for the ducks the golden eyes seem to be gone and we mostly have buffle heads and mergansers, and the usual mallards. There were a pair of bufflehead out in the lower part of the north cove of the bay, and they flew away. Then I heard something splash into the water. I waited and soon saw a beaver. I took a photo just after it dove into the water, without slapping its tail.

I checked out where the beaver had been along the shore and saw a stubby stick well gnawed.

The lower part of the bay is ice free but the upper part has plenty all the way out beyond the entrance to the bay.

That got me to worrying that the beaver was not among the usual beavers that patrol the bay who are generally hard to keep track of, but that it was a refugee from the beaver ponds. It surfaced out in the middle of the ice free cove. I certainly don’t want any beavers from the Lost Swamp Pond moving into South Bay. That dam has to be fixed. I didn’t see any signs of otters at the old dock latrine, nor the docking rock latrine but as I got nearer to the latrine above the entrance to South Bay, I saw some wrinkles in the newly formed ice between the shore and the old ice pack.

Sure enough when I got to the latrine I saw a fresh black scat high in the grass, a little bit above where otters usually latrine.

The scat wasn't dripping wet, but looked fresh enough to be from this morning, dropped just as the ice was freezing from the night’s cold.

Not that there was much commotion in the ice directly below the latrine, but it looked like something did break the ice.

The otter could have broken some ice coming up and then going back in. There were a few bubbles under the ice too. I found another scat lower on the slope of grass and two wet scats on the flat rocks between the river and grass. The rock itself was wet (I almost slipped on it) so those scats may not have been as fresh as they looked. But the important point is that one otter at least had been in the bay. Meanwhile Leslie was on the Thousand Island Park side of the bay and she saw a bullhead head up on the grass. I’ve actually seen otters on that side of the bay -- never on this side up near this latrine. I headed up to Audubon Pond which is still covered with ice. There is some open water around the lodge and some old beaver tracks in the ice going from the shore to the lodge.

There had never been much of a cache of sticks around the lodge but what had been there was gone. Otherwise I didn’t see any signs of fresh beaver activity around the north shore. I thought I heard a noise in the lodge, but not from a beaver. I thought I heard a muskrat whistling. As I headed down the causeway forming the east shore of the pond, I saw a collection of short gray and brown fur all around a hole that I had seen a baby muskrat use last spring.

Seeing gray and brown fur, I think of squirrels, just the animal I wouldn’t expect to see here, where there are so few oaks. A closer look at the fur didn’t give me any better idea of the animal but I did see a long streak of white poor poop in the midst of the fur. (When Leslie saw this a few days later, she thought it was the remains of a rabbit.)

And as I continued down the causeway, I flushed a hawk from the trees south of the pond -- where there are oak trees. Where water comes into the pond under the causeway, through two large pipes, I saw some nibbling of grass and twigs under the thin clear ice that formed last night.

I can’t be sure if a beaver or muskrat did the nibbling, probably the latter because of the delicacy of the work and broken ice. I checked the drain behind the embankment forming the south shore, and there was plenty of open ice around it. I also saw a mound with some logs in it, that could serve as a beaver lodge, but I saw no signs of a beaver using it.

What a beaver there would really want to do is burrow all the way through the embankment, moving about 20 yards of dirt, to get to the pond below the embankment where the ice is almost gone and many of the trees cut in the fall that lie uneaten. I think beavers have been there since it looked like there was fresh gnawing on the tree lying along the dam.

Of course, now a beaver can go up and over the embankment again. After seeing how depleted the other ponds are, I was expecting the worse at the East Trail Pond, but no otters had breeched this pond, and it looked rather full.

The far west end of the pond still has a good bit of ice.

I didn’t have the time to walk around and figure out what the beavers have done since I was last here. I took a photo of the red oak half way down the ridge that I saw a beaver gnawing on back on March 7.

And I took a photo of their high reach up on a tree they gnawed but hardly girdled and a smaller tree they cut down higher up on the ridge.

Meanwhile the sun had come out making a beautiful day which I wasted back home by lounging on the glassed in porch.

March 20 we went to our land to boil maple sap but before things got rolling I had a chance to check the beaver pond. I went down by the dry ridge trail, though in the morning the snow is still hard from the cold night and easy to walk on. As the snow leaves the valley it is revealing a not so peaceful winter. I saw rabbit fur including a white tail,

And not far from that, half of the remains of a blackbird.

Not sure who had the meals. I got a closer look at the tree the beavers just cut and saw that it was a bitternut hickory.

Not the beavers favorite tree. Meanwhile the beaver didn’t seem to gnaw any of the crown of the bitternut that had been left outside the hole in the ice.

The hole is no longer a hole. The ice is thawing and the pond is regaining its shape at least in the north end around the beavers’ cache piles. I am a bit surprised at how few of the many sticks and logs in the cache that the beavers ate.

Since much of what they collected was on top of the ice, it must have been difficult to get at.

I’ll be curious to see how much of the pile they gnaw now, or will they cut down trees around the pond. I walked down to the Boundary Pond dam again and while I didn’t see any signs of beavers, I did see bubbles under a patch of clear ice right behind the dam.

And under the ice behind the spill way I saw some cut grass, which suggests that muskrats have been under the ice.

The west shore of the Boundary Pond has thawed and under the clear ice that formed last night I could see a trail of bubbles to the greens,

A sure sign of a muskrat. Farther up pond the old ice ruled though I could see how it had melted and refrozen in the middle of what is the lower Last Pool.

Before the beavers dammed this area, I used to enjoy seeing the last bit of ice in the small pools of water that collected in the many depressions in the this valley.

March 22 wet snow, gave way to sleet, then rain yesterday, all in all a damp dreary day. Today we boiled maple sap on our land, I cut dead ironwoods, and briefly checked on the ponds. Rather than just enjoy the logs stored in their cache pile, a beaver enjoyed stripping a birch log that I think they cut in the last week

However, I also saw smaller sticks, probably taken from the cache pile, that had just been stripped,

though it’s hard to be sure about that. I also walked around the high bank of the Deep Pond, and saw no fresh signs of any animals. However, a hole in the bank that an otter and minks probably used in the early winter, that had been covered with mud, is now uncovered.

I can’t be sure when it was uncovered, probably recently since when the area was covered with snow I didn’t notice any hole in the snow down to that hole. If an otter had been back, I’d expect to see some sign of that on the ice around the open water where the inlet creek comes into the pond.

But there was not a wrinkle or even a shadow of activity.

No comments: