Each winter, I like to get out to visit a variety of ponds. Like everything else in this January landscape, they are snow-covered. The snowpack has settled a bit in recent weeks, but is still ample.
Such a snow covering is a good sign for these small ponds. This snowpack coats the ice that formed here weeks ago and serves as a good preparation for the coming spring. We are a long way from April, but this winter scene will provide for moisture when melting time comes.
The subsequent vernal ponds are vital for the growth and development of myriads of aquatic critters that have some or all of their lives here. And so, I like to see if winter is being good for these ponds and swamps.
Whether walking, snowshoeing or skiing, I try to go to about 10 ponds. Some have water only intermittently, drying in the warmth of summer. Others retain their water from melting and rains of spring. As much as I can, I’ll go onto these bodies of water.
On the surface of the snow along the way, I see that a few persistent leaves have fallen and many birch seeds are scattered on the snow. At the base of some trees, I see chips of wood that tell of the work of pileated woodpeckers in the trunks above. And a red squirrel has left a pile of middens, mostly spruce cones, where it had arboreal meals.
I walk onto an old beaver pond. The years-old dam is still able to retain the present water level. Earlier in the season, I found tracks here of foxes, coyotes, raccoons, weasels and voles. Now the deep snowpack hides their movements beneath or discourages travel above.
This beaver pond is larger than the other ponds that I visit. I cross the ice to explore more of this scene. In the center of the pond is the old beaver lodge. It has been a few years since the aquatic rodents were living here and now it appears to be a snow-covered mound. But when I take a closer look, I see that there is more here.
With no beavers to maintain the lodge, opportunistic plants have taken advantage of this place to live; and I see plenty. Three kinds of trees stand up from the lodge; speckled alder, white birch and a willow. Nearby is a growth of raspberries.
Also rising above the snow cover are some plants that flowered last summer and fall and now hold seeds. I find plants of goldenrod, aster, joe pye weed, water horehound, curl dock and stinging nettle. Some are more than 5 feet tall.
A couple aquatic plants have taken advantage of this place to live and I see cattails and rushes (scirpus). Non-flowering plants that are usually not associated with aquatic sites, ferns of several species, are present as well. I locate lady fern, wood fern, sensitive fern and marsh fern.
In just the short time that I stopped to look at this snow-covered lodge, I have noted the presence of more than a dozen kinds of plants that are now using this site for their homes. And I’m sure there are unseen animals here too. The build-up of sticks by beavers a few years ago has provided a place for seeds to fall and be able to grow.
The former beaver lodge, no longer a home for the makers, has become a well-populated “lodge island” in this pond. The next step in succession of this aquatic site has begun.