Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beavers disappearing, lounging, and lurking

At the end of my March 2013 journal I related how we got a trapper to take away his traps from our pond after having the heart stopping moment of seeing one of the beavers swim right by one of the traps before our son could remove them.

After that rescue, we had to go away for 3 days and, of course, when we got back, we kept an eye on the pond for the beaver and signs that the beaver was still there. We saw the ice on the pond slowly dissolve but as water continued to flow through the dam weakened by the freeze and thaw of the winter and a hole otters probably dug through it, we saw no signs that the beavers had any interest in patching it.

Walking around the pond, I saw stripped sticks along the shore.

While it looked like a beaver just did this, when the ice on a pond melts, the meals of winter can collect in patches of just opened water and look as bright and fresh as the first flowers of spring. To make a long vigil short, through April we saw no sure signs that beavers were still there: no fresh dollops of mud on the dam or shore, no gnawed sticks up on the bank that we knew were not there the day before, and what mud we saw in the pond could be attributed to the activities of two muskrats. Then the trapper told us he put traps around the beaver lodge on the north shore of White Swamp about a quarter mile away and near where the outlet creek flows into the huge swamp. Finally, one of the 6 brothers who grew up at the end of the road, who had told me he saw two otters in our pond during the winter, now told us that one of his brothers shot one of the otters on White Swamp.

When we bought our 52 acres of land in April 1998, we decided not to mow any fields, even around the pond. Flowers slowly began to recover and honeysuckle bushes spread, but there was no great growth of trees. What trees that began to grow were cut by beavers before they could amount to much. As a result, especially in the winter, everybody who drove by could see what was happening in and around our pond. In a sense it was fair enough. Forty years ago the pond had been made when a steam shovel struck a spring as it was digging dirt for road fill. However, recalling seeing otters and beavers in the spring in secluded ponds, I resolved to begin planting pines between the pond and the road so that people driving by could no longer get a bead on otters and beavers using the pond. Too many of those trucks had rifles in them.

I felt a new Truth welling up inside me prompting me to action: Beavers and Otters needed cover to thrive, even during the bare days of early spring. A few days after that epiphany, back on Wellesley Island, I checked on the beavers in the portion of the East Trail Pond where they still thrive. My guess was that the beavers in our Deep Pond had left looking for cover and food down at White Swamp. I worried that the beavers in the East Trail Pond might leave for the same reason. Ha. Here's what I saw:

I am pretty sure that was one of the adults, and meanwhile the yearlings were not exactly pining for shade. They had a close encounter with each other and dived, which may be emblematic of the trouble with my epiphany about beavers wanting cover. They mainly want to keep other hungry beavers out of their pond. Of course, the two yearlings were playing and went about their feeding peacefully.

What is impressive about the pond is how deep it is now. On March 12, using the camcorder zoom I got a pretty good measure of how a beaver sized up with the dam before all the holes in it were patched.

Here is how a beaver measured up on May 15:

Here is what the pond looked like on April 18:

All to say that the beavers explored all areas of the pond foraging along the shore with their butt safely in the water or wrestling logs up on remaining islands of mud where they also found some new spring shoots to eat.

The beavers seemed to have no interest in cover. That adult beaver seemed to have no interest in anything. My son, who was with me and had the binoculars at that moment, saw it yawn. One of the yearlings finally got a whiff of me and swam over and slapped its tail. Adults seldom flee for cover in reaction to alarms from such young tail, but given my new theory, I at least expected it to open its eyes.

At the same time that my visit to the East Trail Pond on Wellesley Island destroyed my Beavers Need Cover theory, my visits to nearby Lost Swamp Pond caused me to doubt whether the beaver on our land actually left at all. I found evidence that a beaver is once again lurking in the Lost Swamp Pond. What I mean by a lurking beaver is one that stays in a pond but doesn't cut down or girdle trees, doesn't collect branches and twigs on shore for its meals, doesn't mark the shore, and when it does do something, you have to carefully compare your new photo with old photos. As the ice and snow thawed, I got the usual enchanting photos of curves at the Lost Swamp Pond.

A couple otters dug a hole through the dam in the winter and the water was draining out. I expected to have the chance to make a leisurely observation of the otter hole once the pond drained down to its level. I began preliminary investigations on April 2 and while noting how cavernous the hole in the dam was -- animals could live in it -- I saw what looked like recently cut and stripped stick stuffed in the hole.

I decided it was simply an ageless stick. Beavers always add mud to their patches and I saw no fresh dollops of that, and the water was still running out. Then in successive visits over several weeks, I saw that the lodge in the middle of the pond was growing. I give you the snow covered lodge on March 21, again on April 24 and finally in May

All this happened without any signs of beavers along the shore and only minimal repairs on the dam. I saw similar changes in the lodge last summer, but with leafy honeysuckle boughs pile on the lodge. I saw some nibbled sticks on the shore, but never saw the beaver. The last time I saw a beaver at this pond was June 16, 2011, and I think this same beaver is still there, lurking.

I can only think the lurking beaver lives off the thick vegetation in the basin formed behind the dam that's probably about 8 feet deep. The beaver at the pond on our land lived off lily roots the first year it was there and rarely gnawed a tree. It spent this winter in the pond with another beaver and that one, I assume, cut a good bit of nannyberry and honeysuckle around the pond (not particularly good food for beavers). Maybe that bark-lusting beaver left and the root eater remained in lurking mode? Well, I really didn't think so. Finally, on May 12 a beaver returned to our pond at the land. I saw it as I took a morning walk. Although that it isn't the usual time to see beavers, the beaver seemed quite at home in the pond and acted like my old friend, even seemed to get a whiff of me, and groomed on the shore where anyone going down the road could see it. Then the beaver waded into the tall green grass on shore for a meal.

That day I began my planting project and put in two small pines, some button bush, and managed to separate a 12 foot tall willow trunk from a group of four willows rooted along the shore of another pond. The pines would block the view year round and a thick stand of willows would be great cover and food. Yes the beaver would cut it every spring but more sprouts would shoot up, just as they do at the other pond. The next morning I walked around the pond to see how the beaver marked its return. I saw some fresh scent mounds,

and I found that freshly planted willow, roots and all, cut up and a bit beaver gnawed on the bank not far from where I had seen the beaver grooming.

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