Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November 7: Sunset at the East Trail Pond

Usually the wind is an ally when I watch beavers. I sit with the wind in my face and wait. But the East Trail Pond is in a bowl with three narrow canyons funneling wind over the pond. A wind over 10 knots raking the island I live on from any direction is going to dance down those canyons and any large nose floating in the middle of the pond is going to smell anything out of the ordinary lurking anywhere around the pond. Beavers have large noses and this year I have been out of the ordinary.

The East Trail Pond is my last beaver venue. For most of the last 20 years, when I took a hike into the State Park I had five to choose from. No longer dividing my time I should be at the pond frequently. But the beavers there and I go way back. I’ve watch them survive droughts, and a succession of winters. I’ve watched them rebuild after floods only to be flooded out again. I found one of the parents dead under a tree the beavers had been cutting down.

Alas, I don’t think humans can watch or study the so-called lower animals without sometimes feeling a tad god-like. One evening as I watched the beavers, it struck: what if these beavers did indeed think I was their god…, then, given what they had been through, how angry would they be with me. In another pond once, where I sat to watch the beavers almost nightly, the beavers lost their last kit to a predator. The next time I saw the parents, I was sitting close to their lodge. Of course they saw me. They exchanged hums, dove into the lodge and I never saw them again.

So I check on the East Trail Pond beavers every week or two, keep my distance and the wind in my face.

I knew I had to break that rule tonight, if they came out. The sun went down a little before 5pm, and from November through January the sun up north casts few lingering rays. The beavers had over 12 hours of complete darkness for foraging.

But you don't have to see beavers to enjoy a beaver pond. On clear days the quick sunsets of November have a tendency to be golden which puts a shine on the beavers’ latest gnawing.

The beavers are preparing for their fourth winter in the pond. I thought they’d bail out before their third winter. To make the pond they built a long dam across a valley that used to be a grand beaver pond that had supported beavers off and on for 20 years. They made a viable pond out of the shallow end of the old pond. It had not recovered from previous beaver use. There was a short supply of trees 2 to 3 inches in diameter that beavers like to lard into their winter caches. Most of the those convenient trees are gone from the pond and nearby shore. Now, in the pond itself only grasses and a few clumps of winterberry remained.

The sunlit lodge in the photo above was their home for two winters. Then last fall they built and moved into a lodge nearer the north shore.

That winter they not only cut red oaks and white oaks on that slope, most over 5 inches in diameter, they cut down several pines. Then when the kits, two of them I think, made their entrance this summer, there was precious little kit-sized fare along the north shore, so the beavers refurbished an old beaver burrow and bank lodge on the south shore and cut down some maples which fell into the water in front of the bank lodge.

The kits', and yearlings', nightly nibbling raised that muddy halo around the crown of the tree. Then shortly after I saw that the beavers started assembling a cache of food for the winter just off the south shore, and judging from what I saw today, are still adding to it,

I thought the beavers were going to winter in that convenient bank lodge. But today I didn’t see any mud packed on it, and by now beavers start preparing lodges for winter.

Looking around the pond I could see that all the trees the beavers were cutting were along the lower south shore of the pond, a few at the dam,

A few more on the east side of the bank lodge,

And a few more just to the west of it.

I agree 100% with the assertion that the more trees beavers cut the more trees will grow back, but, in the short term which is the reality for beavers and a reality rapidly creeping up on me, we are not going to see many trees where the beavers have foraged around this pond. Here what’s their cupboard two years ago looks like now.

I was pretty sure that if I stayed on the south shore and waited, I might get a close look at the beavers. But the wind was slapping my checks left and right and then raising the hairs on the back of my neck. So I walked around to the north shore of the pond.

The wind was quieter there and the winterberries had lost all their leaves (flooded too long, apparently, to have any of their beautiful red berries), so I would have a pretty good view of beavers below if I sat up on the high rock.

But the wind soon found me. Plus on that spot I couldn’t see the lodge where I reasoned the beavers had to be. However, especially on a golden November evening when the wind zithers this way and that over the pond, I can sit by a beaver pond and enjoy the view and almost forget about the beavers responsible for it all.

Well, they have nothing to do with the clouds.

Years ago, somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that the best place to watch beavers is right next to the pond slouching under a fallen tree as close as can be to fern covered rocks. You present no silhouette and nest in damp odors that might conceal your own. I didn’t have that option by this pond, but for the past two months the beavers have been digging the dirt in the slope

leading up to the roots of a red oak and maple that have seen better days.

Plus there was a downed tree trunk that I could lean against.

I had a perfect view of the lodge, and saw the preparations for winter suggesting the beavers were there and soon enough I heard humming from the lodge.

Promising but I mainly studied the view

Two weeks ago, with no wind, I waited in vain for the beavers to come out.

Then a beaver came out of the lodge and started swimming toward the golden dam. Oh yes, the wind. It hadn’t forgotten me and seemed to gather my odor and waft it toward the beaver. The beaver turned and almost went back into the lodge,

But whose pond is it? The beaver angled toward me, then crossed a Rubicon of a log, so to speak,

And then the last 20 years of my life (watching beavers) flashed before my eyes. The beaver enriched the pond water with wide ripples as sniffing nose up it picked up speed

Then full of the stench of me it turned away from the big rock I sat on

And its back to me, it slapped its tail

Head right back up and it was at me again, unflinching gaze

And unforgiving tail

Poetic language about animals always sounds good, but it’s never true. They don’t dance to our stanzas. The beaver tolerated me, swimming off toward the dam which had appeared to be its original destination. Then it thought better of that and swam to the middle of the pond where it began gnawing on some logs.

I didn’t strain to see exactly where. I’ve learned that the proper reaction to a tail splash is not to move a muscle. Beavers have a tolerance for sedentary types. It went about its business and I waited for another beaver to come out. The one that splashed me looked like a yearling and for the past year another yearling usually came out into the pond with it. But nothing came out of the lodge.

When the sun goes down up north in the late fall, the temperature drops and I am getting too old to run home to ward off a chill. Walking back around the pond, taking a high route, I noticed that the wind had died down. I soon saw two beavers in the pond, the other one, I think, came out while the first beaver was slapping its tail at me (which shows what I think of the endlessly repeated saw that beavers slap their tail in alarm to warn other beavers away; they slap to warn you away.)

One beaver tried to find something to eat on dead stalks in the pond. The other beaver had the pick of the cache.

Yearlings never wait until winter to eat their winter cache. Who could blame them on this golden November evening?

No comments:

Post a Comment