As this is being written, Americans, and many others around the world, are keeping their distance from each other, fearful of contracting the new Corona virus COVID-19. We're staying out of work, school, restaurants, sports events, and other places where people gather. This is likely to go on for many weeks.
Many are probably wondering what they can do to pass the time and forget about viruses. Well, for me, there's no better way to escape the saturated media Covid coverage than to head for the nearest forest and beaver pond.
It's late winter. Actually, spring begins in a couple days on March 19, the earliest first-of-spring since 1896. Just a few weeks ago, local beaver ponds here in Massachusetts were still capped with ice. Beavers, mostly locked under a frozen crystal roof, were rarely seen on "our side" of the ice during the winter, unless they kept plunge holes open. They've relied on the brushy food cache they anchored in the muddy pond bottom near their lodges last fall; this they could access under the ice, after exiting the lodge via its underwater passageway.
Muskrats don't have the foresight beavers do, and don't establish a winter food cache. They must forage for food (plants, roots, etc) under the ice. They too typically maintain open plunge holes though, so, in winter, you might spot them above the ice if you're lucky, and/or patient.
|Beaver lodge in ice|
|Beaver at plunge hole, with ice on its head|
|Muskrat at plunge hole. Note acorns it was eating.|
But those few weeks have made all the difference. Although we still have cool days and cold nights, the ice has pretty much flown the coop. Warming days coax beavers and muskrats out of their nocturnal habits to enjoy some sunshine.
|A beaver at the last of its winter food cache of submerged branches|
|Muskrat enjoying spring and a marsh meal|
And now that warm spring breezes are sweeping last year's tenacious leaves out of the oaks, migrant birds are heading north. Some will stay with us, others will just pass through on their way to higher latitudes. Either way, spring is the time of great awakening in our region, when the solitude of winter woods is broken by the chirping, peeping, quacking, trilling, honking, and warbling of birds in the trees and on the water. Redwing blackbirds. Belted kingfishers. Tree swallows. Ducks of many persuasions... mallards, ring-necks, blacks, pintails, teal, mergansers, wood ducks, and more.
|Ring-necks, Canada geese, green-winged teal|
|Male wood duck|
I've been visiting and enjoying beaver ponds all winter, and have never been disappointed. But there's so much more action now that energetic creatures are returning, eager to bring new generations of life into the world. Competition for territory, food, and mates brings an energy to the pond that is unmatched at any other time of year. It's exciting. The hours evaporate.
So, here's a suggestion. If you're stuck at home with rambunctious kids, or you just need some time away from the tube to reclaim your sanity, take a romp around a swamp and let nature soothe your spirit. Take time to look closely at the little things. You'll wonder where the time went.
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|Beaver-chewed American Elm|