Peak Foliage

Peak Foliage
October on Preston Pond

Brief History of Preston Pond

Born from glaciers about 13,500 years ago, the original pond was only what is now the wider north end. Probably about 10,000 years ago, as the modern forest started to take root, beavers colonized the pond and expanded it (old dams are under the water surface).

With the arrival of Europeans in New York and coastal New England, a vigorous fur trade grew in the 17th Century. Beavers are particularly vulnerable to trapping since they are easy to find and they were wiped out by the 18th Century. With no beavers to maintain the dams, Preston Pond drained and appears on 18th and 19th Century maps as only the smaller original glacial north end.

Reintroduction in the 1920's and 1930's led to beavers recolonizing Preston Pond. By chance, they arrived the same year my grandfather bought the property in 1946. Ever since then, beavers have lived unmolested (by humans) on Preston Pond - until February 2016. They have never caused flooding problems or over-eaten the surrounding forest stand to the point that they abandoned the pond. Their population has doubtlessly had its ups and downs, but they have managed their affairs here for the last 70 years as beavers did for millions of years: on their own, despite some of their top predators having been exterminated by humans.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bolton Wildlife wins national award (small one)

"Neck Deep" West Bolton Beaver, Upper Pond Bolton Town Forest 15" x 24" acrylic - Mullen

This piece was submitted to Southwest Art Magazine's 2016 Artistic Excellence Competition just before I left for James Bay. I had less than two days to do it, so it wasn't completely finished (still some refining in foreground) and is not signed yet. It was an open international contest with no separate categories (which means wildlife has to go up against figurative, landscape, still lives etc) so I wasn't expecting much. And true enough I didn't make the cut for the big awards but was notified yesterday that it is in the "Top 100 Honorable Mentions" out of over 1,500 paintings. Minor award and small news in an art career but kind of fun that it is my first painting from Bolton that has won something on a national level.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I'm BAAAACK! Been canoeing in the North.

Well, almost 3 months quiet. That ends now, though this one post will be a bit off topic. 
15 years ago, I guess I had a mid-life crisis (one of a few possibly). I was 45 and feeling drained by the stress of the national art show circuit. I was a wildlife artist but spent most of my time in the studio or driving thousands of miles across the country to shows at which we'd spend days on end standing and talking about the inspiration of our art (and hopefully selling some). The irony was that I had no time for one of the main inspirations of my art: wilderness: real wilderness, not touring Yellowstone and various National Wildlife Refuges by car. 

So I blew off my schedule and planned a 330-mile "Source to Salt" canoe journey on the Missinaibi River to James Bay: southernmost point of the Arctic Ocean. Almost made it too.
"Conjuring House Rock" Thunderhouse Gorge, Missinaibi River 16" x 28" acrylic - Mullen

18 days into the trip a four-day storm crescendoed with a full gale with blinding sheets of rain, screaming 40 mph + winds that shifted suddenly from northerly to WSW and temps in the low 40's. It hit around 5:00 am September 9 and nearly tore my camp apart (I had set up hurriedly in the bush with the north wind). Happily, I have always tied my knots "on the bight" and so was able to quickly reset the storm tarp that provided a windbreak for my light tent. In the afternoon, the wind had subsided enough to allow me to safely get on the water and I went downstream looking for a more secure campsite. I found a beauty under an enormous red spruce on an island. I set my tarps up and snugged my tent under them and managed to build a fire (no camp stove back then). As night rolled in, I thought I caught a glimmer of light above the trees to the west. The sun? I could only hope. 

The dawn was a glory. There is little that can compare with being alone on a wilderness river and having endured days of cold, wind, and rain and to then wake up to a stunning sunrise. It could only be better by running to the shore with your camera and nearly colliding with three Sandhill Cranes. It was a religious experience. I did a field sketch and resolved to do a large painting back in the studio. I paddled 30 exhilarating miles, including Deception Rapid, set camp on Portage Island, and painted the last of the Missinaibi while dinner cooked and I fed peanuts to the Gray Jays who sat on my hat. 
Field study from Portage Island: 6" x 12" acrylic.

The field painting was the basis of "River's End" 18" x 24" acrylic (done much later).
It was two days later that I found out what the dawn of September 11, 2001, was back home. I was at the Cree Indian village of Moose River Crossing where the Ontario Northland RR crossed after coming up along the Abitibi River to the SE and flagged down the next train. I was 40 miles from the Arctic Ocean. It took 18 months to start River's End and "First Light" 24" x 36" acrylic below. 
I ran 15 more wilderness expeditions after that; from Labrador to Alaska but never went back to the Missinaibi. Then a string of situations concurred this year to inspire a return. And we are back (I had a  crew of four this time) and we made it to the sea. The end of our canoe journey was a classic. In a scene that could have been 150 years earlier, we ground onto the beach just below the original Hudson Bay Staff House at Moose Factory; now run by the Moose Cree First Nation as a Historical Site. We stayed at the Staff House (reputedly complete with ghosts) and were treated to a traditional Bannock and Tea reception accompanied by the High Ridge Singers; a traditional Cree drumming and singing group - all young men. 

Now I'm home and have been wandering the pond and forest again. The pond has a sad quality to it, rather like visiting a sick friend. No beavers at all. There are some on the Upper Pond, but all that will have to wait.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Mesozoic Soundscape

It is fascinating to note the changing frog choruses through spring into summer. The Peepers are still at it, but not at the near deafening level they were in May. The bullfrogs are going loud and long now at various times, but their schedule is capricious (still need a confirmation recording or photos of them if anyone is that ambitious). However, an interesting shift in the higher forest ponds of late has been the change to Gray Tree Frogs. They've been an accent to the overwhelming Peeper chorus for many weeks now. However, when Bonnie and I were coming back from a walk through the abandoned beaver ponds in the saddle south of the Pinnacle (Bolton Cliffs to some), they became the only voices as we left the ponds behind and the pass narrowed, providing an eerie and evocative accompaniment as we headed home for dinner.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Looking for a Bear: Found Two Paintings (will look for the bear later)

As a wildlife artist, I tend to be a rather opportunistic hunter. Most often I just go out to see what I'll see, but even if I have deer in mind when I head out, if a flock of turkeys wanders by, I am happy to switch. After filming the Black Bear last week, I went out to see if he had a regular route or had just been wandering through (bears can be very habitual). I found his trail easily enough, but it is not heavily used. Even so, I decided to sit down for a while and see if anyone happened by.

I stayed still and quiet for over an hour. In that time I saw no large mammals, but the local bird life apparently decided I had become a part of the scenery. Hairy Woodpeckers had a nest in front of me and were busy feeding their noisy brood. 

There will be a painting out of this eventually. The nest tree has interesting color patterns and lichen and the birds have to exit the nest with a bit of a curve that could work with a composition, but they weren't first in line after all was said and done.

The hen Wood Duck zoomed past a couple times and a pair of Flickers were having a grand time. They kept at it just behind me, but being backlit I didn't bother trying to photograph them. Then, seeming to realize that if they wanted to be painted they would have to step up their game and give me some better light, they moved to a different tree more to my side. They were right: the light was good. Moreover, they struck and held various poses. They obviously wanted to be painted. I rarely snub such eager subjects. Not quite done yet, but "Forest Flickers" Bolton Town Forest 12" x 9" acrylic is below. Still some refinements to do, but on to other things for a while. I like to put paintings up for a bit when at this stage before finishing them off; gives me time to recognize at least some of the errors I've made.

Speaking of looking for bears, here are a couple shots from expeditions in Nunavik (far northern Quebec) and Labrador where we have found the bears to be very curious/tolerant of people - most likely because they have rarely if ever seen any.

Top photo by Gary McGuffin on our 2006 WREAF expedition on Mushua-shipu (George River) to Ungava Bay. I had some shots here, but Gary was our pro, so we gave him front row (we were all in canoes).

Bottom photo by Cole Johnson on our 2009 WREAF "Trans-Labrador Expedition" (I was holding the canoe steady).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

While walking around Preston Pond, we came across many Lady Slippers.  Rob managed to capture the elusive white Lady Slipper before it disappeared!  They are on the List of Rare and Uncommon Native Vascular Plants of Vermont.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Revised art work and more coming

"Fire & Ice" Downy Woodpecker and Short-tailed Weasel. Libbys Lookout
9" x 12" acrylic

This painting was posted a couple months ago, but I didn't like the bird's wing position and some other naggy stuff so I repainted it. Two paintings starting this week from yesterday's foray and of course I'll be working on something with the bear. Hopefully some better reference on him soon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Looking for a Water Bottle : Found a Bear

I was helping guide a class of fourth graders from Jericho Elementary around Preston Pond and Libbys Lookout Monday. As we headed into the Town Forest I told them to keep their eyes peeled because a large bear had been seen in the area. No luck spotting it of course (21 people walking through the woods: not quiet). However, one of the students asked if afterwards I could look for his water bottle that he thought he'd dropped along the way. So yesterday afternoon I headed out with the dogs to backtrack the route. Got to our first stop where he thought he'd most likely dropped it. No water bottle, but scanning for the Wood Duck family I spotted this fellow - right where we'd been the day before. What a treat for the kids this would have been. Sending the class the video as a second-best: they were close.

Interestingly, the dogs never saw it (I have a height advantage) and the bear showed no sign of knowing we were there either. The water bottle turned out to be on the bus, but had he not mistakenly thought he'd dropped it, I wouldn't have run into the bear.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Frog songs and Deer snorts

Apparently Bullfrogs are not "officially" recorded for Bolton, so having heard a couple last night I went out to try to get some video. Little luck with the Bullfrogs; they aren't very vocal yet (I did get one, but it is faint), but the Spring Peepers, Toads, and Gray Tree Frogs were in high gear. Peepers are everywhere. Most toads were north of Preston Pond in the wetlands and there were more Green Tree Frogs singing at the Upper Pond than at Preston Pond. Green Frogs made occasional contributions on both ponds and there were quite a few Pickerel Frogs, though they were only on Preston Pond. The one Bullfrog recording I got was on Preston Pond. This is a Gray Tree Frog at the Upper Pond. Video below:
The local deer weren't happy that I was out and about when normal humans are at home with loved ones. I jumped two at very close range walking out at dusk (8:50 pm) and around 10:00 pm, while focused on recording frogs along the west shore of Preston Pond, a deer came up on me from behind along the same beaver trail I had used and scared itself. It belted out a series of warning snorts. Bit of a start for me too:-).

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend Parade on Preston Pond

Of all the geese that were hectoring about on the pond over the last couple months, these two settled down and got to business. Today they were showing off the new goslings. It is the first I've seen them, and even though I've only been up to the pond briefly on each of the last few days, they are pretty young. 90 here at the house. Nice day for a swim.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May Chorus Upper Pond

This has always been one of the most captivating sounds to me: music dinosaurs listened to (well, not the owls, but the frogs). One of these days I will have to be hard-hearted and not bring the dogs along when I want to record frogs. They were pretty good really.

Been much going on and have been very inattentive to this blog. Have not been inattentive to the pond though. We have been at least out to and often around the pond every single day. Still no beavers on the main pond. There are at least one or two on the Upper Pond.

A Great Blue Heron has been hanging around a lot lately and the otters were back a few days ago. Brief visit. Haven't seen them since. The Barred Owls are finally making a bit of a racket. They have been unusually quiet much of this spring so far. The frogs are in full chorus though. A few nights before this video was recorded, Bonnie and I went up and Bonnie had to turn back. She had a headache and the intensity of the frog song was too much.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Aside from Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, this was the first otter I had seen in Vermont.  3 of them hung around for days as the ice was melting, giving them a place to sample their catches of the day.

Here you can see the classic carnivore teeth..."all the better to eat you with my dear".


I sat out on the pond for an hour or so, and the Common Mergansers swam back and forth on the opposite shoreline.  There were 3 males and one lone, but popular female.  She definitely had everyone's attention.  The poor male looked like he had had enough of her squawking!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Osprey and Otters

Well, I have gotten rather behind and will stay behind a bit, but for Earth Day I think it worth noting that on April 19 we had a pretty good day on the pond. Not the happiest days around here lately. The one beaver we had seen in late March and another (possibly the same) on April 13, has disappeared again. It may have gone looking for company to the Upper Pond, but whatever or wherever, there are none to be seen here now for the first time in my lifetime. Still, Tuesday was a good day.

After a long day outside clearing tops and hauling some logs I dropped this winter (or was it last?), Bonnie and I walked over to the pond around 6:30 pm. Bonnie saw it. An Osprey was perched above the ledges on the east shore. I've heard them from time to time, but never seen one on the pond itself (very common elsewhere such as Mississquoi).
 Couldn't get a really good shot, but took these just for the record.
Then after Bonnie and the dogs went back to the house, I sat down for a bit. While scanning out over the pond to the north, I saw a dark shape porpoise near the main lodge. Didn't look right for a beaver, so I scanned with the binocs. The otters were back. They started periscoping, looking at something on the west shore. Turned out to be our neighbors going down to do some fishing.

The morning before, we had stayed out at the pond overnight (our part). The Common Mergansers were going at it pretty noisily sometime before 5 am: one hen, her main paramour and three other males all trying to join in. They settled down by the time it was light enough for shooting, but we were well positioned for some good shots and video.

Courting still seems to be in full swing and it is hard to figure who, if any will nest. The geese are still here: sometimes just two, but Monday there were 12. Three Mallard drakes were here this week and a pair of Hooded Mergansers were on the Upper Pond. I think the Woodies have nested, but can't be sure. Don't see them regularly, but they have been around now and then for over a month. I saw one flush out of a tree not far from the pond margin and will keep an eye peeled.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Flying Fish and (returning) Fleeing Beavers (changed during writing)

Ever since I'd seen the one beaver on Preston Pond as the ice opened, I've been trying to determine if it was the only one left (for anyone who missed it: in February, for the first time since beavers were trapped out in the 18th Century and subsequently returned in 1946, the Bolton Select Board approved trapping in Preston Pond - two dead - the Upper Pond - one or two dead - and along the hiking trails - not done as far as I know). That effort continued of course after videoing it farting as it climbed the shore with a load of greenery (previous post if you are juvenile enough to want to see it: I filmed it and posted it, so join the club:-). Around April 1st, it dawned on me that far from seeing a second beaver, I had not seen the one in several days. That was unusual. I checked the satellite ponds like the Pudding Stone Pond here. 

I didn't find any sign of beavers, but I did see this Flying Fish leaping out of the slushy ice during a snow squall. These ponds have all been abandoned for a couple years at least, but I had seen some possible sign of a visiting beaver a couple weeks before (though it could have been any similarly sized animal swimming or walking through the thin ice) and hoped that our survivor had gone exploring. No such luck.
I don't know if it is in common usage with anyone else, but the name "Pudding Stone" comes from this enormous boulder - possibly a "local" erratic that overlooks the pond and is studded with magnetite crystals. My grandfather dubbed it the Pudding Stone before I was born, though as my wife Bonnie points out, pudding is supposed to be smooth. I'd never thought of that before. Possibly my great grandmother wasn't a great cook - or there is some Irish pudding with dark chunks in it. 
I had checked the pond on the LT a few weeks ago and it has been abandoned for a couple years. None of the satellite ponds associated with Preston Pond, apart from the Upper Pond on the VAST trail have any beavers in them. 
April has had as much snow as most of the winter (which isn't saying much), and it had gotten a bit cold after it had been missing for a week or so. I have been hoping that the beaver had holed up somewhere during the chill snap. Beautiful nonetheless.
With wondrous marvels almost anywhere.
And even delicacies to eat if you work up an appetite (interesting to speculate on why this was left opened, but uneaten: could raccoons really be that fussy?
However, despite 2-3 circuits of the ponds every day and 24/7 coverage of the lodge with a trail cam, no beaver. Plenty of ducks though.
And geese. While there are still some pairing competitions being settled, between the two ponds I've seen male/female pairs of Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Wood Ducks, Mallards, and Canada Geese. The Hoodies may have moved on, but all of the rest look to be setting up house. I'm not getting much for photos since I'm leaving them be up at the north end. The geese, however, are quite tolerant and actually followed us along shore and hung around nearby while we had a get together with almost a dozen people on Sunday. But no beavers. For 18 days.

Right up to this afternoon: nada. The trail cam at the lodge only had the test shot on it.

Then when Bonnie and I went out at 5:30 this evening I saw a third merganser up at the north end. Glassing it (a second male has shown up) I noticed a fourth duck: an oddly brown one. It is a quarter mile away and at a low angle and the hand held binocs are not that steady, but there was something oddly familiar about that "duck." I was 99% sure it was a beaver. Nainette and I went back out after dinner and did a fast circuit. Confirmed: along with the Common Mergs, Canadas, and a Great Blue Heron (in the area of the goose nest), up at the north end I again spotted the "brown duck" from high up on the west shore trail. It worked along in close to the shore swimming with a big stick. A lone beaver (at least) has returned to the pond. By then it was too dark for good shots.

I went to the Upper Pond where I'd seen positive beaver sign for quite a while to try to confirm it was definitely at least a second beaver. While I had seen sign (and possibly heard a slap a week ago), I had not seen a beaver there either, though I was pretty sure they were around. Sure enough - one beaver was on patrol on the Upper Pond too. I went back around to reload the trail cam and the Preston Pond beaver cruised offshore watching. So, whether it had gone to bed to wait out the cold, gone on a walkabout and returned, or this is an entirely different beaver, we at least have one back. The dam is still gushing water, and it is a lot to do for one beaver, but it was a joy to see one back where they belong. Will keep an eye out for more and get some close-ups from which I can probably determine if it is the same one that was here almost three weeks ago.

 with a load of greenery

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Gastrointenstinal terminus auditory effect in Castor canadensis (Beaver gas)

It has taken a week to process this film; the wind noise needed to be suppressed to hear the fart and it was low on my list of things to do. However, as unique as it is, it had to be done. It may be easier to hear with headphones, but it is audible just as the beaver turns to its right up on the bank. As promised: Beaver Gas:
As entertaining as this beaver was (incredibly tolerant of the canoe), it was worrisome that it was so incautious. Even more so since we haven't seen it since, which is a full week now. This is the first time in all of our time here that we can recall going out to look for beavers on the pond and not seeing one for a week (it is usual to see them every day with modest effort).

That doesn't necessarily mean that it is gone, but the lack of sightings is unprecedented for this period of time and coming as it does a month and a half after the adult male and one young male were killed by a trapper, it is a concern. I will make an extra effort to determine how many are left and would appreciate any sightings by anyone else on the pond.
I've been out every night too. Saw a baby pickerel and a Giant Water Bug last night, but no beavers: not a sound on the pond.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Global Warming - or the New Ice Age?!

Our bizarre winter has been followed by a freaky weird spring. New species of wildlife and fishing records have fallen even before fishing season opens. One might think this is all global warming related, but many of the new species are from above the Arctic Circle!

 First were the caribou swimming across Preston Pond (north end) at dawn!

Then my buddy Dan caught the first ever Sheefish and Dog Salmon (east shore near the ledge) he released the salmon: we ate the Sheefish ... ah, for breakfast. Yeah, that's it!).

 Then! (as we should have anticipated with all those fish), a Grizzly charged!

 Nothing I couldn't handle, but still - quite a day, and it isn't even 10 am yet (oh! the mismatched boots are because these two guys stole one of my neoprene canoe boots a while before).

Happy April All!

(photos are actually from three of my canoe expeditions: Labrador - top - and the last two in Alaska. And the two young black bears did really steal one of my boots - and hung around my camps for two or three days (I couldn't move far due to dense alders and heavy rain). 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ice Show

Every now and then, I get a jolting reminder that the extraordinary is always around, even on the most (seemingly) unremarkable days: you just have to look (and not usually very hard).

This morning was deceptively ordinary as Nainette, Shiloh, and I headed over to the pond. Yesterday's snow was thin, the ground still frozen, and the sun was not quite clear of the hills.

No one was out. The geese apparently drove the otters off and the geese and Mallards were either running errands or tucked into the reeds on the north end. However, as the dogs tended to business, I got to looking a bit closer.

The entire lower part of the pond (and up past the ledge on the east shore) was frozen over with a skim of ice. Looking closer still, there appeared to be interesting patterns in it. It was amazing. 168 photos (thank goodness for digital) and two videos later, the dogs were getting anxious for breakfast (Shiloh was very noisily eating a stick) and my fingers were getting numb, so we headed back to the house.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hooded Mergansers

A treat on the Upper Pond yesterday: a pair of Hooded Mergansers. I saw them last year on Preston Pond, but they didn't stay. Maybe this year. We also have at least one pair of Mallards looking to set up house and a lot of geese.

On the down side (for photographers, maybe not anglers), the geese seem to have chased off the otters. I watched a gaggle of ten even hounding a lone beaver (still the only one I've definitely identified: a young male). The beaver is very tolerant of canoes as it turns out. Bonnie and I got some fun video of him yesterday which I will post tomorrow.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cold Feet on a Tough Spider

Well it isn't all otters, bears and boulders and Spring waits for no one. The little critters underfoot and often unnoticed are critical parts of the forest ecosystem and this spider is getting a jump on the competition. This was at the ledge south of the Upper Pond.

The Lilliputian landscape below the ledge is often quite beautiful.

Though you should exercise caution photographing it.