Posted tagged ‘beavers’

Peregrine Too

November 22, 2021

The watershed for my lake at Roundrock is a little more than 100 acres. Most of that is forest, and while most of that forest is not very old (less than 50 years), it’s had a varied past. My little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks was once part of a large cattle ranch. For some reason, my 80 acres was fenced off from the rest of the ranch and the trees were allowed to grow. Thus the 50-year-old forest, but within that were some much older trees that must have dotted the pasture land it all once was. And as is sometimes the way in such land, ground fires had swept through. We still find the charred stumps of ancient trees here and there in our woods.

One of the things within the watershed that washed into the lake was a burnt remnant of a tree. This blackened log floated in the lake for a long time, and it was our little task to find where it had drifted to each time we visited. We named it Peregrine (at the suggestion of another blogger because it traveled around so much). When we would swim in the lake, I would sometimes push Peregrine from near the spillway to the other side of the lake so it wouldn’t wash over the top. As the months and years passed, Peregrine rode lower in the water. I guess it was getting waterlogged. One long-ago time as I was swimming it across the lake, I gave it a push and it slowly sank out of sight. I suppose it is now somewhere on the bottom.

When the beavers took down a trio of large shoreside trees below the cabin this year, I cut up what I could (because it spoiled the view of the lake from the shady porch), but the heat of the summer (and the sloping, rocky hillside I had to stand on) always seemed to rob me of my motivation to finish the job. Also, the trunk was resting on the rocks in such a way that cutting it would pinch the chainsaw, so I had to do some muscling of the thing to change the physics.

But last weekend I did (mostly) finish the job. At least the bit that was visible from the cabin porch. I cut the fallen tree into liftable sections and then carried those sections into the forest. I managed to get about half of those logs moved, but the rest will have to wait for a return visit. (They were heavy!)

I cut one part of the trunk (the tree forked and there were two long, thickish section) into a longer piece and rolled it down the slope to the water. I intended this to be the new Peregrine, and I’ve named it Peregrine Too.

I want to say that I intended all of the artistry in this image: the reflection of the sun on the water, the scattering of water plants, the swirl of the mud where the log had rolled. But it was really just taking a shot before the log drifted away. (That green dot is an artifact of the process, I suspect, because of the sun in the photo; there was no green object in the water.)

So now when we return we can look for Peregrine Too somewhere in the lake and marvel as it drifts around.

the NYC grands at Roundrock

July 26, 2021

The NYC grands have been here for the entire month of July, but their social calendars are so busy that we had to find a time in their schedule to go to my cabin. This ended being last Wednesday, so I took off of work and we traveled down there with the promise of a fire, S’mores, and maybe chopping down a tree.

My daughter took the photo above, which is a panoramic of the lake, so it’s a bit distorted and looks larger than it is. (Click to embiggen.) In the foreground on the left you see some of the branches of a fallen tree. This was one of the few trees right up at the lake’s edge that the builder had left (actually a cluster of three trees) when he pushed everything else down to make the basin. It was a nice tree, but it was slowly dying, and I feared that it would fall into the lake, which would make it a lot harder to deal with. But it turns out I didn’t have to deal with that outcome because another builder brought it down on the land instead.

Here is some other, nearby handiwork* of that builder;

The beavers have moved their operations to the cabin side of the lake now. Not sure why since there are plenty of waterside trees near their den. (See the embiggened panoramic above.) And the mostly gnawed-through tree you see here will likely fall into the lake, which won’t be a problem for the beavers, but will make swimming and fishing there more challenging. (I’ve read some recommendations that you don’t really want to swim in a lake beavers use.)

So that was this trip’s surprise, but the grands loved it and the fact that wild animals did the work. We visited and talked about it a couple of times that day. The oldest one, Kenneth, who is six and a half, had been to the cabin once before, but that was more than three years ago. He claimed to still have some memories. The twins, Rett and Evie, had not been before but had been regaled by Kenneth, so they were excited by everything.

The first task of the day, once we unpacked and completed our inspection of the beaver doings, was to build a fire. The grands helped, though Evie didn’t understand why I was tearing pages out of a notebook and crumbling them. Until she did, and then she did so as well. I topped the crumbled pages with an egg carton (thank you for this suggestion, Ellen!) and then began adding sticks on top of that. When I had sufficient kindling in place, it was time to bring out the one match. Kenneth wanted to be the one to light the fire, and he did successfully strike the match, but holding it to the paper was a bit beyond him since he was afraid of getting burned. So I did that part, but he get’s the credit for lighting the day’s one-match fire.

As the fire burned to cooking coals, I got the grands busy with scattering marbles in the gravel around the cabin. I’d been hoarding marbles for a long time in anticipation of this, and when I poured them out with instructions, the grands got to it.

Here you see Evie selecting all of the blue marbles, which I told them I wanted scattered on the west side of the cabin. There is also a gravel bed in front of the cabin that is for only red, yellow, black, and white marbles. These are the colors of the Kenyan flag, and Small Paul, who is half Kenyan, gave me those marbles as a gift. Once the visiting grands understood this, they supplemented that bed with the proper colored marbles too. It was fun and exciting work for them. (Good thing, too, since I expected the gravel pile to really interest them, as it does Emmett, but they took no notice of it.)

When the fire had burned sufficiently, we got started on cooking our burgers and later S’mores. An innovation my daughter introduced was to use Double-Stuffed Oreos in place of Graham crackers for the S’Mores. That’s much too sweet for me, but the reports I received gave them an official thumbs up.

Then it was time to cut down the tree, as I pretty much promised Kenneth we would do. There was one in the place where I park that I wanted to take down and so double the parking area. It was less that a foot in diameter and should have been easy work except for two things. One is that it was leaning toward the cabin, with enuf heavy branches on the cabin side to make it want to fall that direction naturally, regardless of how I cut it. The second problem was that it was a Black Jack oak, which pretty much dulls a sharpened chain maliciously.

Part of the solution was to tie a rope to the tree as high as I could reach and then take that around another nearby tree. Thus my helpers (son-in-law, mostly, though the grands wanted to participate) could pull the rope from around the “corner” of the second tree and help direct its fall while being out of its way.

The other part of the solution was a careful cutting of the wedge and the back cut to help direct the fall. Unfortunately, the tree wasn’t interested in cooperating. I think I should probably have started with a new chain, freshly sharpened, but I didn’t have one. I managed to make my cuts, but the back cut was on the cabin side, and when that was done, the tree began leaning toward the cabin. The back cut wasn’t far enuf through the meet the wedge cut, but the leaning was a problem, even with the gang pulling on the rope. The solution was to put a wedge in the back cut. And I happened to have a nice steel wedge in the cabin that I use for splitting wood. We worked that into the back cut and then took turns slamming it with the sledge hammer to persuade the tree not to fall on the cabin. With a little more very careful cutting with the dull chainsaw and some serious effort with rope pulling, the tree began to fall in the proper direction. And immediately got caught in the branches of another tree. So it was off the stump but still standing (more or less). This was, of course, a dangerous situation, especially with three grands (and three dogs) underfoot. But the whole tree cutting operation was out of order, so why not?

I grabbed the rope and moved into the road so I could pull it more directly in the direction we needed. My SIL pushed on the trunk, and together we managed to drag the base a few feet across the gravel while the top of the tree remained in the embrace of its kindred. But we kept at it, and when we got a rocking motion going, we could see progress.

The tree eventually fell on the gravel pile with a mighty crash, which was about ten feet from its intended destination, but that was still well away from the cabin. Then we gave the grands each a handsaw and they got to work removing branches, that we carried into the woods. The trunk of the tree lay across the parking area (we had moved our cars up the road before this), but the chainsaw had decided it had had enuf. We could start it but couldn’t keep it running. So my SIL and I grabbed the end of the shorn tree and carried it to the side of the parking area as it pivoted on its base.

Then it was time to go home. We packed up, which took more time than normally since so many things were brought out to entertain the grands. We made sure to splash through the stream we have to cross to get to the main road (Kenneth loved this), and by the time we got to the paved road (only two miles from the cabin), the twins were already asleep from their big day. Kenneth followed soon after.

I’m having all five (!) of the chains I have sharpened, and the next time I visit my woods, I’ll cut up the remains of that fallen tree beside the parking area. (Unless the beavers do it for me?)

Here is a recent picture of Small Paul, just because:

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*I’m not sure what the equivalent for “handiwork” would be for tooth work.

something new under the Roundrock sun

March 1, 2021

I’ve been stomping about my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks for twenty years. In that time I’ve seen a lot of things and made a few discoveries (including, possibly, a bear sighting a couple of months ago). I like to think I keep myself open the the possibility of surprise — I’m still hoping to find an arrowhead before I shuffle off this mortal coil — and I like to think I’m a pretty good steward of the earth in my 80 acres.

Since the climate in Missouri decided to change from -13 degrees two weeks ago to 60+ degrees last weekend, I made a dash down to Roundrock, the second-to-last day of the month and the first time in February. I had a few things on my agenda, including a hike to a particularly nice spot about in the center of my 80-acre rectangle. Here it is:

This stream feeds my lake, and it’s a wet-weather stream, so often when I visit this spot (it’s a bit of a hike) I’m standing on the bedrock below the water you see. But what you see in the photo is what I saw on Saturday. I think most of this water is snowmelt, which was still on the ground a few days before. In fact, the lake still had some skim ice on it when I visited. Anyway, this is a nice spot, and Flike and I made our way to it as a way to enjoy the nice day after our first chore of the morning. You don’t see any round rocks in this picture because they’re shy.

And our first chore of the day was do some work in the pines. They are in the tall grass, which is more or less impassible most of the year because of the bugs. (Ozark chiggers are the worst!) So it is in the winter months that I can dare to venture in there. It seems that my pines are favorites of the deer who need to thrash the velvet off their antlers. A couple of years ago, when I last planted pines there, I decided to save some money and not buy steel fence posts to use for the caging about the baby pines. Instead, I cut down cedar trees, trimmed them, and pounded them into the ground beside the pines. I then wrapped chickenwire around them and had a pretty good defense system. For a year.

The cedar posts rotted quickly in the ground here. The pine plantation is about the only spot in my entire forest that has actual soil, and it’s just down hill from my neighbor’s pond, so this soil is often wet. Pretty good growing conditions for pines, but not so good for rotting wood. As the cedar posts weakened, the deer, I guess, saw their chance and used the pines to thrash off their velvet. The poor pines got pretty battered — some were lost altogether — and I knew I had to get more serious about protecting them. To this end I’ve been collecting fence posts from around Roundrock. Some were from trees long gone but some were from the older pines now fifty feet tall and no longer needing protection. All I needed was a reasonably warm winter day to replace the cedar posts with the steel ones, spruce up the chicken wire all fallen and full of weeds, then pat myself on the back for a job well done. Which is pretty much how it went down. Flike was not much help, and he decided if I wasn’t going to throw a stick for him full time, he was just going to chill in the truck.

I managed to rescue four of the battered pines, but the rest in that area are hardly worth saving and I think it’s time I ordered more from the Conservation Department and start again. (It is good soil, and the setting gets sun and water. I ought to do it. I really should.) As I worked in the pines I saw that many of the mature ones had lost their leaders or large branches to the ice storm last month. They’ll recover, but I did spend a little time collecting these fallen limbs where I could. (Some were deep in the blackberries!) I also found a deer antler as I poked around, so that was nice.

And then it was time to go back to the cabin for lunch. Normally, I sit on the porch for my meals. I can look down at the lake and watch for water birds or turtles (none of the former and still a little early for the latter). But as I gazed across the lake I saw a downed tree on the far shore. Another casualty of the ice storm (I thought). The exposed core of the tree was white in the February gray, so it was easy to see even at that distance. Well, I have a lot of trees, and I can’t fight the weather, so I decided to be at peace with nature.

But then I saw another white spot nearby. And what looked like white flakes underneath it. Keep in mind this is probably 300 feet away. So I decided that when Flike and I took our walk to that nice spot (above), we’d first detour to the spot across the lake to have a look at the fallen tree.

And this is what I found:

This was something new under the sun. I have beavers in my lake! I feel like a good steward of the land if it’s attracting new tenants. All of this work was relatively fresh. The chips on the ground were still white and clean, and the weather had only turned tolerable in the last week. (My neighbor lost four calves to the bitter cold just two weeks before.) I wonder if the beavers would have been busy with their work had I not arrived with a barking dog that morning. Actually, I understand they’re mostly nocturnal, so I guess my presence wasn’t a factor on Saturday.

The beaver don’t need to build a dam to create a pool of water for their den since I’ve done that already, so I think they’re bringing down the trees (about a half dozen) in order to get at the tips that they will eat until more palatable food becomes available. A couple of the downed trees were stripped of their branches, which were not around, so I suspect the beavers carried them to their den, which is probably in the muddy little “cliff” just below these trees. (In the very top photo, this area is just out of sight to the left across the lake.) I think their den entrance is usually under the water, but with the fluctuating levels of my lake, it may be exposed later.

My lake has been around nearly as long as I have been stomping around my woods, but it was only this year that the beaver moved in. My assumption had been that my elevation was too high for them to venture that far from the nearby river. Plus, there is a massive Corps of Engineers lake only a few miles from my woods. Seems like there is plenty of beaver homesteading opportunity there. But I’ve read that beaver were nearly completely extirpated in Missouri in the early part of the last century and that restoration efforts have thoroughly turned that around, so maybe the beaver in my lake are part of that rebounding population effort. If so, I’m glad to play a part.

This looked like a Golden Retriever to me. Wearing a Covid mask, of course.