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.

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).