Beavers, Bugs and Birdlife
Greetings from the North Woods!
Bill and I agreed that our full-moon kayaking last night was one of the best ever! Truly gorgeous out there!! It’s hard to imagine that a 10-mile-long lake, about a mile across in our upper part, could be dead calm, but it was. A little before 9PM and on nearly the longest day of the year, the full moon rose before the sun had completely set; the moon was in its perigee, the full moon closest to the earth for 2013 and thus the largest. Paddling down lake a mile, the sun exuded a faint yellow glow over the treetops in the west; the dusk set a mystical tone. After rounding Little Raven and Raven Islands, the yellow became a shallow swath of pink below the partly cloudy sky, before substantial light emanated only from the huge moon. We headed back across the big expanse. No matter where we were on the lake, the moon’s path followed us! In 2-1/2 miles, there were lights in only 4 cabins, including our own, and this was a Saturday! Hearing became the predominant sense; the sounds were varied and spectacular!! Crickets chirped and bullfrogs croaked deeply from near and far. A pair of ducks flew overhead, quacking. Airplanes droned in the distance overhead on their path to Europe. Some at the head of the lake were partying with what appeared to be a bonfire down by the water; others farther down lake were shooting off fireworks, well ahead of a 4th of July celebration. But most spectacular were the loon choruses. A couple got going nearby, and all of a sudden their voices and echoes were joined by other loons way in the distance, both on our lake and on other lakes around. We heard three different “songs,” some simultaneous. This is truly something to experience and one never tires of their incredible voices. When I see and hear loons, I know that all is well on the lakes in the North Woods!
One of the most industrious creatures on earth is also the largest rodent, the beaver. Tremendous builders, they make lodges that are 5-7 feet above water in height and width and bi-leveled (one for feeding and drying and a separate area for bedding). There could be a dozen family members per lodge. Beavers have 4 large incisor teeth that continue to grow, but the constant gnawing prevents them from getting too long and keeps them sharp; they can chew through tree trunks 6” or more in diameter. And they prefer hard woods such as maple, alder, beech, birch and pin cherry that we have along our shorefront. They gnawed and dragged a half mile down lake almost three dozen of our trees since we left here last fall; some trees were well up onto land, and they left a few behind in the process too. (Pictures attached.) We “donated” substantially to their abode. Bill actually saw one beaver near the pictured lodge, and I remember on a full-moon paddle last year a big splash that could have been a beaver jumping into the water or slapping his tail at our intrusion into his territory; they are nocturnal.
The northeast does not suffer from drought! Apparently in the 10 days before we arrived this spring, it had rained every day, and we have had plenty since. The lake is the highest we can remember, so much so that we couldn’t put our dock out as far as usual and not have the water continually slapping over it. It also happened that the bilge pump on our boat went out, and before we knew it, below deck was full and there was standing water over the floorboards! The immediate solution was to take the boat out for a spin, take the plug out of the back and get the water to drain out while the boat was going fast, and then put the plug back in against water pressure – not easy! Then we discovered that we had a hand pump that has served the purpose until we can determine the cause of the bilge pump problem and fix it. It is likely electrical, and perhaps in the switch. More work to come on this.
The continuous rain has meant lots of mosquitos, even during the daytime, and they are vicious! I take great glee in frustrating them entirely by automatically donning my net bug shirt and gaiters (which bridge the gap between ankles and pant bottoms) when I go outside. They can buzz around me all they want, but they can’t get the goods! And unlike the ones in Texas, they do let you know they are nearby! At the same time, the black flies, plentiful in the North Woods in May and early June, have been practically non-existent. On our paddle last night, I was not smart like Bill who put on his bug shirt, so I was chasing away mosquitos constantly. On the return leg, despite being past sundown, I felt a multi-winged fluttering and brushing against my right ear – a dragonfly, coming to my rescue! They are just the best of friends, along with the bats that we sometimes see skimming over the water at that time of the night, also seeking those miserable creatures.
One of the great pleasures of working in the yard and gardens is listening to the songs of the birds, so melodious and varied. This is equally true in Austin. I also love watching the flycatchers dart to catch a bug, but lament if it’s a dragonfly. The robins are ubiquitous, poking around in the grass. Then there’s the tap, tap of the sapsucker/woodpecker as it circles the tree trunk searching for ants or grubs. We discovered a large broken bird egg in the yard, and thought it could belong to a hatched eagle or hawk. One bird that is often startled by our car is the grouse, and we have seen quite a few on our driveway and up the road. I suppose some may hunt them.
I cannot close without mentioning old mama snapping turtle, as ponderous as ever. She has come up multiple times, digging in our gravel on the sunny side of the house to find just the right spot to lay her leathery-shelled eggs. She even climbed over the stone enclosure of my garden to test that soil, mowing over ¼ row of lettuce that had just come up. It was early morning, and taking a cue from a local, I grabbed my garden rake. I put it on the back side of her shell to try to pull her off the perimeter; she leaned into the rake tines and hissed at me. She is huge and heavy, and I couldn’t move her without a real fight, so I gave up, and she eventually ambled off to find a better spot.
I’ll leave you with a picture of Siberian Irises in bloom here, as far as the eye can see!
Best to you,