Good News from Unexpected, November 2012
SUMMER OF VOLUNTEERS. Well it sure was a busy summer here at Unexpected — a summer of volunteers. As I mentioned in the last issue, we got hit pretty hard with the storm that smashed through South Jersey the last week in June. One thing is certain, we have some pretty great friends who always step up to help out when the chips are down (or rather when the trees are down!) Trail work began in earnest August 1, and our first recruit was my nephew, Manny Saad (left). We hit the trail at Station 19, with a full array of equipment and worked our way to Station 17 over the course of several days. One afternoon, we were finishing up for the day at Station 18, stowing our tools and fuel under the big blue tarp, when the sky began to darken. We beat it all the way back to the truck at Squirrel Haven keeping in front of the front. The sky was purple and low, and we just made it into the cab and slammed the doors when the skies opened up with a fierce summer storm.
The devastation wrought by June’s derecho (a widespread, intense windstorm) was so vast that the trails were impassible in places. After going about 200 feet down the trail with the mower or weed whacker, you had to switch over to the chainsaw to remove the next obstruction. The process was slow and laborious. In some places it was so hard to find the trail, you had to climb through or around the mess and approach it from the other direction. In most places, we were able to cut our way through the downed trees and restore the path to its original state, but in a few locations there were so many trees tangled up in one spot that we had to re-route the trail instead of removing the lumber. In addition to the appreciation for work performed by Manny, a big thank you goes out to Al Federici, Moe Bresser and Jimmy Redmond for their sawing expertise. Moe told me he could only give me two hours, but it would be a butt-kicking two hours (not his exact words). In two hours he and I cut up 12 downed trees lying in the trail from Station 12 to Station 11. It is amazing what two people can accomplish in a short period of time.
Of course we had a lot of help from folks who didn’t run chainsaws. Volunteering here can take many forms, and all help is appreciated. Some like to work alone, like Jan, who comes with her loppers and enjoys her quiet time trimming trails and enjoying the forest. Jan has been helping out here for many years, as has Karen. Karen and I worked the trails some, but our bailiwick is splitting firewood. Since we killed our wood splitter last year, we borrowed Moe’s this summer and put up several cords of wood for the coming cold weather. Manny threw in his hand here as well and gave me an afternoon of wood splitting.
I recently met Andrew Perrone, Director of Rowan University’s Service Learning, Volunteerism and Community Engagement Office. A huge part of his job is to connect the students at Rowan University with places to volunteer. Wow, what a great guy to know! Fifteen freshmen showed up in two vans to have a go Student Volunteers from Rowan University at projects around the cabin in August. We spent a beautiful Thursday afternoon doing light trail maintenance, general clean up and a couple of gals repainted the outhouse. What a great group of young people who find volunteering to be a valuable part of their active lives. These kind of people make a difference in our lives.
RECENT PROJECTS. Our good friend and Beaver Defender Bob Bevilaqua came to the rescue again — he’s the fellow responsible for resurrecting the driveway five years ago when it looked like the surface of the moon. After the storm, we developed a terrible erosion problem — the storm washed a lot of the driveway into the pond, leaving gullies, silting up the cove and leaving us exposed for more of the same with the next downpour. He and his crew brought in two truckloads of crushed stone and graded the driveway from in front of the cabin to the end of the barn, essentially stopping the unchecked runoff.
With the crushed stone in place, we began to track stones into the cabin. Jimmy Redmond’s project solved that problem. He built a form in front of the cabin, and he and his good friend Richie Fazzio, of Frank Fazzio Concrete out of Pitman, poured a new concrete pad. Now we have a nice tidy staging area for muddy dogs and boots and a spot for storing extra firewood this winter.
That weekend, Boy Scout Troop 65 came down for their 13th annual work/camp weekend. (Boy Scouts and wet concrete — oh my!) Nine Scouts participated in trail maintenance on the Perimeter Trail and Main Trail, and as you have read, that was no easy task. They worked most of Saturday and then set up their camp. They came back to the cabin and had their annual pumpkin carving contest, made dinner and then called it a night.
The beavers have not called it a night here at Unexpected. After our last issue, in which I described meeting the kittens and feeding the beavers on the Dike where they lived, we had many calls from folks who wanted to come and meet our little friends. Much to my embarrassment, I had to explain that Mom beaver had other plans for her family. It seems she was biding her time until the kittens were strong enough for an extended swim. In August, she relocated her family to a remote location upstream, just below Wild Goose Blind on the west end of the pond. The lodge is inaccessible to humans, but the beavers visit the Dike late at night and work on their dam, shoving mud and sticks under and on top of my wooden planks. I, on the day shift, pull mud and sticks from under and on top of my wooden planks. We had a lovely pre-Thanksgiving snow, and the lodge, very large and sturdy, stood out in stark contrast to a dark woody background. It would seem that we are all ready for the coming winter weather.
The Happy Vagabonds
by Hope Sawyer Buyukmihci, October 1972
One August morning from my cabin window overlooking the beaver pond, I saw the water move in giant swells. Then came high-pitched chirping. Creeping out the door and crouching low, I moved to the shore, where from behind a tangle of honeysuckle I could view the pond. There were two otter cubs, less than 20 feet away, dipping among the lilies and wild rice. Now and then they held up periscope-like heads tufted with whiskers, and gave companionable chirps of pleasure and discovery.
These youngsters, born perhaps as early as February, had grown to three-quarters adult size. They resembled long, sleek house cats with small ears and wet fur. This was not the first time I had seen them. They often swam up or down stream in close formation with their parents, who guarded them fore and aft. Both adults and young then kept up a mellow, duck-like quacking.
That August day I wondered what otter cubs were doing on their own, for I had heard that the family stays together for a year. I soon found out. An adult otter appeared, swimming far out in the pond, head high, looking frantically this way and that, her tail standing straight in the air. Back and forth she charged, 300 feet away, while the two cubs dallied among the lilies, Suddenly she swerved and raced toward them with excited snorts. The young ones hurried to meet her, and after a flurry of nose-touching the three went undulating off.
An adult otter can weigh up to 25 pounds and has rich reddish-brown fur with a buff-colored crescent at the throat. His foot-long tail is thick and rounded at the end, and is a powerful part of his swimming equipment. And at swimming, otters have the grace of seals.
Infant otters are more helpless than beavers, being born without fur and blind. They nurse for four months, twice as long as beaver kits, and are dependent on their parents much longer. Strangely, the otters who will eventually out-swim and out-dive the beavers, must be taught to swim, while beaver babies are ready to slide right into the water, eyes open, at birth. The mother otter, it is said, carries her cubs on her back into the water, then submerges, leaving them to flounder an squeak. They soon learn to swim.
Although the myth that otters are deadly enemies to beavers still persists, it is fading in the light of recent findings. My own experience is of one batch of beaver kittens after another being raised without mishap in the presence of otters. Emil Liers, “The Otter Man” of Minnesota, says “Otters who burrow into a beaver lodge are often after crustaceans. If a beaver is killed by an otter it is the exception to the rule.”
One day at sunrise, while observing a father beaver shoring up his woodland dam, I noticed two of his kittens playing just before a bend 50 feet up the stream. As I watched, the water at the bend was agitated, and a pair of adult otters with two half-grown cubs swept into sight. One of the cubs barked a greeting — like a high-pitched puppy yap — and rushing headlong to where one of the beaver kits sat on shore combing his fur, chased the young beaver into the water. A boisterous session followed as kittens and cubs played tag in the water, the beaver kits displaying good-natured tolerance of the lively cubs, who yipped and chirped with excitement, swimming circles around, under and over the kits.
While the four youngsters frolicked, the father beaver continued methodically plastering his dam, and the parent otters, long and agile, looped smoothly about the pool or ran along the shore before sliding back in. Soon the otter family moved on downstream, with the exuberant cubs sandwiched as usual between their watchful parents.
On many occasions I have seen otters and beavers mingle, neither species showing concern about the presence of the other. Once I saw an otter cub who had evidently mistaken a mother beaver for his own. At sundown a group of otters came galloping over the dike and into the pond, paying no attention to a mother beaver and her five kittens, to whom I was feeding poplar at the dike. Soon after they passed, I noticed a youngster swimming rapidly all around the mother beaver. Puzzled, I counted noses and found that all five kittens were at my feet. Who then was circling the big beaver?
Came a piercing yip, and I realized that the swimmer must be an otter cub. As he continued to circle, dipping in and out, yipping in frenzy each time he came to the surface, the mother beaver kept on eating in her usual tranquil manner. Meanwhile, the otter family was traveling far up the pond, leisurely feeding as they went. After a few more minutes of enduring the mother beaver’s indifference, the cub stopped crying, swam about uncertainly, then speeded to catch up with his family.
Otters may feed on fish, frogs, crustaceans, turtles, snakes, muskrats, ducks and other aquatic life. I have seen them furnish food to others, too, for they are often accompanied by bevies of green herons who snatch morsels from almost under their chins. The otters never seem to mind.
Some fishermen still believe that otters are a menace to their fishing, but this idea has been disproved. In fact, fishing is often better where otters are present as they keep fish populations healthy, as they did for centuries before man’s interference. Otters do sometimes invade man-operated hatcheries, but this intrusion can be prevented by an otter-proof fence.
So many books have been written about the otter’s playful habits that his name is almost synonymous with “play”. “Joyful, keen and fearless,” as Earnest Thompson Seton called him, “mild and loving to his own kind, and gentle with his neighbor of the stream.”
2012 Pinelands Bluebird Trail Results
by Nels Anderson
This year’s season began earlier than usual and the big factor there was the warm winter weather. The first Bluebird egg was observed March 29 while last year it was April 7. The first young to fledge did so the week of May 1 with 13 leaving home that week. The last to fledge left on or about August 17 and this clearly defines the long Bluebird nesting season. The midpoint was late June with an equal number fledging before or after that. The most productive week was the first week in July.
There were a few fatalities, mostly due to the extreme heat, and some due to cold temps in April. A remote temperature sensor placed in a NABS (North American Bluebird Society) nest box in my yard in full afternoon sun registered min/max temps. This was reset when the first Bluebird nest was observed. The readings during the nesting season were 30F to 105F. Predation was not a big factor this year. The total Bluebirds fledged was 212 which is near normal and shows the Bluebird population is well established in the Pines. Again there was a nest with white eggs. In all cases of white eggs all in the clutch were white and all developed into normal looking Bluebirds. This can be a helpful tool in tracking Bluebird nesting activity as a pair may nest in one box and then raise a second brood is an adjacent area.
Thanks are due to all who provide space and care for nest boxes on their property and in their yards.
Bluebird nests - 69;
Bluebirds fledged - 212;
Chickadees fledged - 28;
Tree Swallows fledged - 39.