Saturday, February 25, 2012

January 1 to 8, 2012

January 1 usually the New Year here starts with a hard freeze or substantial snow or both, but this year it was warm and dry, though there is cold front on the way. Ottoleo took advantage of the calm and warmth before the front to take a last cruise in our motor boat with some friends. They saw a snowy owl on the head of Goose Island which forms our cove. It didn’t mind the boat noise or people. Ottoleo came back and took Leslie and me out and we got a close look.

The photo above is lifted from a video I took in the rocking boat. The wind had picked up. The owl soon flew off, flying low across the river.

I hope this is an auspicious beginning for the New Year.

January 2 we went to our land and I had a chance to take a good look at the Deep Pond in the cold light of day. The pond is overflowing. We’ve had nights down to 0F but warm days follow quickly. More water is flowing than is being locked into ice. The path from the road to the dam has water flowing through it.

The beaver did push up a little dead grass, I think, which doesn’t stop the flow.

Not that the beaver has been idle. The beaver pushed a rather large poplar log over the dam. I cut that log two or three years ago from a poplar I cut that was shading one of our gardens. I had hauled it down to the Deep Pond where the two beavers then there enjoyed it. It has been nestled on the pond bottom behind the dam, and now this beaver has found another use for it. And the beaver pushed another long but thinner log up on top of the poplar log.

The beaver has pushed mud up on the dam recently enough so that the mud is still dark,

but, judging from the ice behind it, I think it had been pushed up before the ice formed. The rest of the dam looked to be backed by ice.

And where the ice is not firm, water is leaking freely over the dam.

And there is a large poplar log, that I also cut years ago, pushed up on this section of the dam, I assume, before the water froze behind the dam.

I may have conducted a scientific experiment of sorts that suggests that if a beaver finds big logs to spare to help stabilize the dam, then it will be less inclined to cut large trees. This beaver has not cut any trees much bigger than 2 inches in diameter at the base of the trunk. Going back along the dam, I saw some muskrat poops below the dam.

I also saw graphic evidence of how badly the dam leaks. The leaking water below the dam had frozen into thick columns of ice.

Going back along the dam, I got a better photo of the first part of it, showing the two big logs pushed up on the dam.

I am impressed that the beaver could push up something that big. I walked around to the west side of the pond where a week or two ago I had noticed several thin hornbeam saplings the beaver cut and took away. I didn’t see any new burst of activity there.

And where they had been coming out of the pond to get to those saplings was now well iced over.

The ice was thick enough for me to walk on and I slid over toward the bank lodge below the knoll. There is a patch of open water and a few nibbled sticks around that.

Toward the middle of the pond, where the ice was a bit transparent there were what looked like frozen eruptions in the ice. The first photo shows what they more less looked like color wise. The second photo hypes the contrast giving a better sense of the dynamics of the situation.


It almost looks like a magnetic field under the ice. I don’t know what caused it, whether something the beaver did or just gas bubbling up from below. I also got the impression from the relative smoothness and transparency of the ice that the beaver had kept open a much larger area of open water before everything iced over.

And there was one ghost-like shape of a frozen bubble under the ice that looked like the whole body of the beaver made the impression.

As I stood on the ice of the pond, I could see a flow of open water down the inlet creek.

I had also seen where the beaver had cut saplings along the east shore of that creek, so I got up on the bank and walked back to see if there was any fresh work back there. I didn’t see any, nor any trails coming off the inlet. There was a deer trail crossing it. I was about to get out my camera and take a photo looking back toward the pond, when I saw the wake of something swimming down the inlet underwater heading back to the pond. So I hurried back to see if I could see what made the wake, a muskrat probably, but nothing surfaced, or got up on the ice of the pond. January 6 home duties make it difficult to get out for hikes, but the conditions in the last few days have not been inviting: no snow for tracking and high winds which tend to keep one from lapsing into pleasant winter reveries as one walks on the bare frozen ground. Yesterday it began snowing in the morning which doesn’t make for good tracking. It snowed off and on last night and a little this morning, but since it all amounted to only an inch or two, I thought I might see some good tracks. I went over the ridge on Antler Trail and didn’t follow deer tracks, as is usually the case. But when I got down to the South Bay trail, I interrupted 5 deer as they browsed along the trail. They ran into the woods before I could get a photo of them. Backtracking those deer proved the only excitement going around the bay. The otter latrines were undisturbed, and so was the snow on South Bay and on Audubon Pond. I took a photo of the cache in front of the bank lodge there just to suggest how snug the beavers were in their burrows in the bank below me.

I checked the trees west of the pond that the beavers have been gnawing. I saw no evidence that they had done any more work on them since the last time I was here a week or so ago.

I did see what I think was a fox trail coming down the woods from the west to the pond.

The ice on the bay stretched out to just beyond the otter latrine up on the high shore. There were no tracks in the latrine nor below on the ice. I hoped to see slides on the snow where the ice ended, but all I saw were nice shapes as a warm west wind slowly pushed water through the ice.

But if you look long enough you can see intriguing holes in the ice, but none of them led my eyes to a definitive otter slide.

Going back down the South Bay trail, I briefly followed the fox trail again. The way up to the East Trail Pond was trackless. As I walked down to the pond I saw where a hanging tree the beavers cut was now on the ground. But the beavers had not been up yet to take advantage of that.

Just as at Audubon Pond, snow half covered the beavers’ recent gnawing. And the pond appeared to have no holes and no dramatic tracks. It crossed my mind that I could turn around and get home to lunch, but I’ve learned that when conditions permit one should take advantage of the opportunity of walking on a frozen pond.

I headed down to where there was a burrow into the bank, where I had been seeing trails of bubbles under the ice suggesting that something was denning there. The snow covered the ice but as I stood there, I heard something splash in the water under the ice. I also saw some small tracks in the snow on the ground. A few weeks ago I had seen a mink on the ice above the burrow. My eyes followed tracks to a hole, though it didn’t look like the mink went into the hole, at least since the snow stopped falling this morning.

Then I saw tracks trail going down into a hole through the ice. Minks are less prone than beavers, otters and muskrats to be content living in burrows and lodges and simply foraging under the ice, even though that is where they are likely to find more to eat at this time of year.

Tracks from that hole went up to where it looked like a mink dug a bit into the ground. I checked to see if the mink left anything there and couldn’t see anything.

Then I saw deer tracks going out into the pond and thought it safe to follow them.

The deer seemed to pause at a buttonbush farther in the pond, but I can’t say it ate any part of it.

Because the dam is higher, the water level in this pond is higher, and the ice too. I imagine much of what a deer would browse here is under the ice and water. Staying on the ice, I walked down to the dam. Not only was it undisturbed, no holes, no tracks, but the pools in the meadow below looked to be all ice and snow.

I’ve learned not to walk too close to a dam while standing on the ice behind it. And in this pond especially, I’ve learned to stay well clear of the lodge. Last year one leg went through the ice. So I didn’t make a close inspection of the lodge but I stood close enough to hear a beaver gnawing inside it. As usual, these beavers have not make a huge cache. They are accustomed to getting out from under the ice all winter and gnawing trees around the pond. 

I walked up the west end of the ice and picked up a mink trail coming from a hole in the ice at the edge of the pond.

The mink and perhaps there were two minks had done a good bit of running around the hole. Plus I saw three spots of blood near the hole.

Before I took a close look at the blood, I checked the end of a short trail of mink tracks to what looked like a little hole in the turf.

Evidently the mink is stashing a meal there, one whole pollywog and a big ball of red which I assume is part of a frog or pollywog. I didn’t touch it.

With a closer look I saw more blood in the snow but no bits of what the mink might be eating, which raises the possibility that two mink were fighting.

But one excited animal can make a lot of tracks, and why not be excited after digging holes into a pond and getting pollywog for all your trouble. There was only the tracks of one mink coming around the pond to the hole. However there were tracks coming down from the woods to west too. I backtracked the trail on the pond. Looking back I got a good photo of mink prints in the snow.

Mink tracks in the snow strike me as the most energetic tracks of all and it always a pleasure to follow them.

At one point the mink scooted under a log and must have dragged its belly because it slid through snow down to the pond ice.

If the snow had been harder the mink probably would have slid on the snow to get around much of the pond. The tracks came down from a jumble of rocks on the north shore below the ridge. In the early summer I saw otter scats in front of an opening in these rocks and suspected that it served as a den. Judging from the tracks the mink or minks had been in and out several holes in the rock jumble.

There was a wild dance of tracks on the rocks. I think if two minks were fighting or chasing each other, the dance would have been wilder.

The trail, trails really -- if there was only one mink that raced around more than once, went on the pond below the rocks forming the north shore of the pond.

At one point the minks found a little hole in the ice. There were a few spots of blood on the snow around it.

The mink trails veered close to a granite wall where years ago when otters lived in this pond during the winter, they dug a hole through the ice.

The granite formation at that particular spot, where the rock seemed scooped out, has always fascinated me, a billion year old warp in space and time.

What animal would not try to dig a hole there. Then the tracks went around the clump of bushes in the pond, here too I saw some spots of blood.

The trough the tracks made was so wide, I began to wonder if a couple of otters had been around the pond too, but when I saw any individual prints they were made by a mink. And along the edge of the cliff I saw a small hole into the foot of the ridge. There were spots of blood here too.

Then I looked over to the left and tucked between the rock and the bushes there was a hole the beavers made in the ice.

A beaver had come out of it since the snow fell and brought branches to nibble down to it. It looked like the beavers gnawed the hole through the ice. It appeared to be at least 3 inches thick.

Although the expert explanation for the gnawing I just heard in the lodge is that a beaver swam under the ice to its nearby cache and brought a branch back to the lodge to eat, a beaver probably brought something back to the lodge from this shore. It also enjoyed the fresh air dining just outside the hole. I followed the beavers’ trail up the ridge.

Higher up the ridge I could see the marks in the snow from the branches the beavers dragged down to the hole.

I also saw some blood in the snow which puzzled me. Did gnawing through the ice cause a bit of bleeding? Or was that wide trail below that I attributed to minks actually made by a beaver walking on the pond? Or did a bleeding mink come up to see where the beaver was going?

I should have gone back to the trail to figure that out but was too eager to see what the beavers cut up on the ridge. After the crown of a big maple in the pond fell on the ridge, a beaver resumed gnawing an oak on the ridge that hadn’t been gnawed in months. Now that oak has fallen down the ridge.

It appears that a beaver reared up, cut a branch and gnawed a bit of the trunk without falling off the ridge. I didn’t make a close inspection.

The beavers also began cutting another oak, that will soon fall.

So what began as a dull hike taken too soon after a snowfall turned quite exciting. I didn’t even have to content myself with just the thrill of being able to walk almost everywhere on a pond that I had been studying from the shore since last winter. While walking on the pond tracking the mink, I did see a stray bit of beaver gnawing of interest. A beaver took some bites out of a shag-bark hickory.

This was done before the snow, perhaps weeks or months ago. Judging from my observations around Audubon Pond it takes a while for beavers to be convinced that shag-barks are worth cutting down. On top of the park trail on the ridge, I saw some snow fleas spread evenly about on the snow.

An over edited photo makes the little bugs seem bigger than they actually appear to my blinking eyes. An unidentified flying insect tried to land on my nose.

January 8 we had a brief visit to our land. The temperatures have stayed cold enough to keep the ponds frozen and the light snows and sleets we’ve had just cover the ice enough to make it rough and opaque. The two logs the beavers pushed over the dam in the last month still have not been anointed with mud.

Now I can walk on the ice and with only one beaver operating under the pond I don’t have to worry about getting too close. I was surprised, given how leaky the pond was during the last thaw, that there were no holes in the ice behind the dam.

Even where the dam was leaking most there was no hole behind the ice but, as the photo shows, there is still a meager stream of water flowing below the dam.

Judging from the shading of the ice something was active where the beaver had not pushed mud up on the dam. Perhaps that is where a muskrat is fashioning a burrow.

The ice seemed the weakest in front of the beaver lodge at the base of the knoll on the other side of the pond. I would not walk too close to the edge of the pond there.

But I didn’t see much evidence of the beaver eating on the ice back when there was open water, just a few nibbled sticks. I assume the beaver still has lily roots to eat underneath the ice. There was another shaded area with white bubbles frozen in the ice as well as two sticks frozen in the ice. This area may have been kept open longer thanks to the run off from the inlet creek.

That said, the area to and up the inlet creek appeared to be frozen solid. I didn’t see any signs of underwater life along the high bank of the pond. I headed up to the Third Pond to see what I could learn from walking around on its ice. The beaver lived in this pond from April through June and seemed to exclusively live off the bark of the thin willows it cut. Since July the willows have been growing out again. The new branches are thinner and not as tall.

It looks like a beaver will live off these willows again. However, a number of thicker willows remain. The beaver didn’t cut any from a clump of willows closer to where it denned in the bank on the east side of the pond.

Observers of beavers in other parts of the world emphasize the beavers ability to live off willows suggesting that the rapid regeneration of the willow gives the beavers an inexhaustible supply of food. This hasn’t been the case in my observations. The only pond where willow remains the principle food for a beaver is at this small man-made pond, dug out years ago, I suppose, to provide water for cattle. However the pond is so small no beaver has spent more than a few months there. The pond often dries out in the summer. When the beaver leaves, the willows grow back. As much as I hoped and continue hope this will always happen, from what I’ve seen another scenario can play out. The stress the beavers put on the smaller trees it likes to cut, trees that coppice readily, makes it easier for woody shrubs that the beaver doesn’t eat like buttonbush to flourish. Buttonbushes are growing in this small pond. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t soon dominate the pond.

I think I can show photographic evidence of this happening in Thicket Pond, back on Wellesley Island, where buttonbushes are now the only thing growing. One thing about a cold January day when there is no snow on the ground: you can walk everywhere rather quickly. The ponds are frozen and the vegetation is quite subdued with leaves gone and fronds flat on the ground. I walked down to the Last Pool and was able to walk on the ice down to the Boundary Pond dam and back in no time. Since the ice was whitened with a dusting of wet snow last night that quickly melted on the land, the Last Pool looked rather full. There was even a streak of white coming into the pond. One could no longer see that there was no water under most of the ice.

The whiteness, however, did not cover tracks in the ice. I saw that about 6 turkeys walked down the pond.

I was struck by the ice spreading out east of the channel. The lay of the valley is lower over there, and the beavers, when they were here, did forage over there more, but I can’t say they dredged much over there, if at all. I stood and pondered the little hut they fashioned off the main channel, which looked like it could still rather snugly accommodate an animal.

Not that I think any animal is denning there. If so, I would see some signs of life. Boundary Pond also looked full under the whitened ice. There is indeed more water here, which might bode well for the coming Spring. Perhaps there won’t be beavers here, but there might be plenty of frogs.

Every winter the beavers have lived here, I took some photos principally for aesthetic reasons that featured their works, usually gnawing on yellow birch trees. None of that here this winter so I focused on a remnant island of moss arching over the ice.

Or is it a giant green toad stool? There were some shapes in the ice too. I couldn’t quite conclude that an animal swimming under the ice was responsible for any of them.

As I got nearer the lodge, I fell behind tracks in the ice that I think were made by a coyote but could have been deer tracks. Seeing how low the lodge seemed above the ice reminded me of how the beavers usually build up the lodge they winter in even if it accommodated them well enough the winter before.

If I had any knack at measurement, I could do a study of how lodges settle down over time, dams too. In all that the beaver does, there is no pretense to permanence. That said, I’ve never seen a beaver dam left so trim by the beavers and yet so solid. I do hope this one lasts as long as I am alive.

However, water still leaks through the dam. There is open water below.

And that the water is open as much as it is suggests that the leak in the dam is relatively big. I got the impression debris began to plug up the leak. Now the freezing and thawing endemic to winter may be enlarging the leak again.

No comments: