Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A late winter walk to a beaver pond, with rodent droppings.

This is a beaver pond near Haliburton, Ontario. It's a warm day in late winter, and all is quiet. But rain is predicted, and if it arrives by nightfall, the pond will become a world of manic activity. Hundreds of "Blue-spotted" Salamanders, many of which are unisexual female hybrids of Blue-spotted plus Jefferson Salamander genomes -- and more genetically straightforward Spotted Salamanders -- will emerge from their terrestrial hiding places, trek across the soggy forest floor and lingering bands of snow, and enter the frigid water at pond's edge. Tumbling masses of salamanders will roll around on the muddy bottom, many males clutching at relatively few females, trying to coax them to take the spermatophores they have deposited on the substrate.

Other amphibians may join the fun. Eastern newts, American toads, green frogs seek each other out, and every wilted cattail stalk bears a Spring Peeper, calling, the mass of them creating a din that can drive a human mad.

Whups, I hadn't intended to wax poetic on amphibian mating. I guess the point of this post is that on warm, rainy nights in late winter or early spring, a heck of a lot goes on beneath the ice in this pond -- and probably every similarly-sized pond still surrounded by native forest in northeastern North America. And once you witness the explosive spectacle of amphibian breeding at such a pond, and contemplate that this occurs every year, and has been happening for tens of thousands of years, it becomes diffficult to see forest and pond as separate things.

This pond is maintained by a series of large dams. The concept of the beaver as a "keystone species" seems apt, considering the vast numbers of other species that make use of beaver ponds for food, shelter, reproduction, and (for aquatic species) basic habitat.

One of several beaver lodges in the pond.

Testament to the longevity of this pond: an aged beaver stump wigged out in turkey tail fungus and moss.

In the water at dam's edge, some beaver scat. Wood goes in, sawdust comes out.

And then a bonus on the way back to the road: A mound of porcupine droppings ("porki-poo") at the base of a hemlock. Porcupines are bark-eaters, so not surprisingly, like beavers, they poop sawdust.

Beneath the fallen leaves, the salamanders stir.

1 comment:

Wanderin' Weeta said...

I'll be looking for beaver scat next time we're in Cougar Creek. They've been eating trees like crazy down there.