Tuesday, August 13, 2013

June 2013: Lurking Beaver Requited

June is the time to begin looking for evidence that beaver kits are being fed in the lodge. Over the years I’ve spent many an evening on the banks of the Lost Swamp Pond doing just that but for the last two years, as far as I could tell, only one beaver was living in the Lost Swamp Pond. Ergo no kit watch there. But this April and May when I noticed sure signs that there was still a beaver lurking in the pond, I also got the impression that compared to last year the lurker was a bit more on the ball. The leaky dam had been repaired and the pond’s water level was rising.

Last year the dam seemed neglected. So I hoped that maybe the lurker now had a companion.

In the past two years, I had seen the lurker in the day, which was convenient. It’s slow business looking for one beaver in a large pond as night is coming on. So on June 2 I visited the Lost Swamp Pond in the late afternoon on my way to the East Trail Pond where I had a good chance of seeing 3 or 4 beavers out before my dinner time.

In every visit to the Lost Swamp Pond over the past 19 years, I always respected it enough to sit for 20 minutes with a full view of the pond and another 20 minutes by the dam. But last year I began cutting my time a bit shorter. On June 2 I saw that the beaver had added more honeysuckle branches to the lodge.

Indeed it looked like a cache was growing on one side of the lodge.

Beavers make caches of winter food in the fall. Maybe this spring cache was a gesture by the lurking beaver to show another beaver that there was still life in the old pond and the old beaver.

I soon saw something swim out of the lodge, but it had a rotating tail, a muskrat.

Exactly where I was hoping to see the beaver.

In other years the pond was crowded with muskrats who had divided the pond into at least three territories and sometimes I witnessed some pretty vigorous defenses of those territories. But this year, as far as I can tell there are only a few muskrats centered behind the dam, all friends or family. I still waited for more muskrats, I like muskrats, but none appeared so I walked around the west end of the dam toward the lodge.

Nothing makes you feel quite so foolish as being within a few yards of a beaver and not seeing it. The vegetation along the north shore of the pond was high enough so that all I heard was a loud splash and all I saw was a pulsing wave in the pond.

Only a fleeing beaver makes a pulsing wave like that. It never surfaced. I continued on and saw the well shaded bare ground where it had been sitting.

There are two ways to regard a beaver finding shelter on shore during the day. It’s lonely and wants a change of scenery or the lodge is crowded with new born kits and its in the way. I also saw some just cut honeysuckle out on in the pond.

It seemed they were destined for the lodge, perhaps a sign of another beaver at  least. I have seen some thin honeysuckle  branches with bark stripped by a hungry beaver

but I think the bushy honeysuckle branches are primarily used to shade the lodge.

Up at the dam I saw that more mud had just been pushed up on the dam and the water level was even higher.

Then I continued on to the East Trail Pond. On May 15 I had seen 4 beavers there and had every reason to believe that there would be new kits this year. My trips to the pond are not as frequent as I would like but I don’t want to habituate these beavers to being watched by humans because they are right off a park trial. So I vary my viewing spot. The best spot up on a ridge north of the pond is a few feet off the trail. On the 2nd I went to the south end of their dam.

By the way there are narrower places in this valley to put a dam, indeed the pond was once 3 times as big thanks to a narrow dam between two ridges. But 4 years ago this family saw its narrow dam in a neighboring valley washed away twice thanks, I think, to strong gusts during thunder storms.

So the beavers made this dam less prone to that type of disaster.

As you can see I came when the pond was still bathed in sunlight, but over the years I’ve often seen beavers of this family out in the day. I’ve followed the family for over a dozen years, obviously not the original bunch I saw in 1999. I was able to follow them because they had their kits in ponds within a half mile of each other. All the ponds they used in the last 10 years (I call them Meander Pond, Thicket Pond, Shangri-la Pond and the new East Trail Pond) could not fill the Lost Swamp Pond. They survived by dredging during drought summers. They were often constrained to having just one lodge and were slow to make another, as they did here last fall after spending two winters here. And perhaps because of that, over the years I have often seen a member of the family out in the pond during the day. I’ve seen the whole family out in the fall at noon when there was work to do.

By June, in the East Trail Pond, the winterberry was leafing out and the ferns growing.  I feared I might have to stare into the green to see a beaver.

But soon enough one swam out of the green vegetation more or less toward me. Once again I saw a beaver vary its spring diet by sucking up the pollen that can coat the surface of a pond.

When the beaver left the pollen zone and cruised through unflavored water, if you will, it veered toward me.

I hoped it would come up to get some bark from a maple tree that the beavers had cut and that had blown over

But no such luck. It headed back to the greening shrubs in the middle of the pond.

On June 8 I made the same tour, this time with my 26 year old son. As we came down to the south shore of the Lost Swamp Pond, I saw large ripples. I expected to see a goose or two, but it was a beaver.

It turned toward us and promptly turned around. I expected a tail slap but none came.

It swam to the middle of the pond and I expected it to go into the lodge. Instead it went to the dam, rather far away, and when I focused on the dam, I saw a beaver up on the dam and another in the water behind the dam.

Soon they were both in the water swimming back toward the lodge in the middle of the pond.

The larger seemed almost to swim up on the back of the smaller and then it dived and surfaced far ahead of the other beaver, which briefly gave my son and I the impression that there were 3 beavers in the pond.

The smaller beaver dived into the lodge and the larger swam back to the dam, not sure why, and then swam passed the lodge and up into the southeast section of the pond. I got a picture of the changes to the lodge and, probably, the beaver who made them.

Of course I was excited to see two beavers in the pond. Pairing up is natural, of course, but the days when this pond was surrounded by other active beaver ponds are long gone. The way up from South Bay is meadow and a series of pools, remnants of the large ponds. The photo below is from June 2010.

Maybe the lurking beaver let the dam leak for two years as a way to attract another beaver, giving evidence that there was water upstream.

Then we headed for the East Trail Pond. My son got ahead of me and when I got up to him I saw him staring down at a beaver staring back at him.

Then the beaver swam even closer to us. It was on a mission. It made a shallow dive and got its mouth around a cut branch floating in the pond, and it dragged it back to the lodge.

Back on the 2nd early evening foraging seemed a bit aimless. Not today. I think this yearling was following its mothers orders: bring some branches in the lodge to feed her and her kits.

I stepped back and took photos of the trees the beavers had cut in the past week,

And some neat segmenting into logs.

Plus the beavers are building up a second lodge that they had started last fall.

Quite a contrast to what I see at the Lost Swamp Pond. There are less mouths to feed there, virtually no easily available trees to cut. You might say the Lost Swamp Pond is no longer a typical beaver pond. Maybe. But it is perhaps a better example showing how beavers have survived in wetlands where most of the palatable trees have been cut.

The Lost Swamp Pond is rather deep behind a 12 foot high dam that is conveniently flanked by two lodges.

Now the beavers can forage for greens throughout the pond. In the winter the greens in that depth, under the ice, may be what they live on

When I took the two photos above in July 2012 the long southeast section of the pond was rather shallow and rather narrow.

One beaver survived that year. There is no drought this year so I am curious to see how well these two beavers will do. If they establish a family next year, then a pond that almost seemed ready to become a beaver meadow will, after almost 30 years, still be a viable beaver pond.

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