Everybody Loves a Beaver Pond

November 23rd, 2015


We didn’t realize how much natural activity a beaver pond attracts until we set up an automated game camera alongside the beaver dam. Besides the beavers and bobcats, we captured a variety of birds and beasts.


The wood ducks have been especially enthusiastic visitors, paddling around the deep water behind the dam, and dabbling around the shallow water along the face of the dam.  The blue heron has appeared multiple times, mostly hunting on the downstream side of the dam, but sometimes alongside the dam and at least once, jumping into the pond in water up to his waist.


During the day, squirrels and chipmunks use the damn as a bridge to an opposite shore that otherwise is inconvenient or impossible for them to visit.


We’ve seen a lot of raccoons on the game cam, or more likely, a lot shots of the same one. He regularly crossed the first dam multiple times a night, and it didn’t take him long to find the new dam.

Busy Beavers

November 17th, 2015

When the beaver dam first appeared, one of our neighbors said that if we knocked a hole in it and waited, we’d soon see some beavers. We had the patience to try that—once.  Then we came up with the idea of using the game camera to find out when they were active, and what they were up to. It took a couple weeks of experimentation to figure out where to put the automated camera and how to use it. Our initial results came up with just about everything but a beaver, including the surprising appearance of a bobcat.  The stills from the game camera confirmed that our beaver were entirely nocturnal, so we decided to set the camera in video mode and enjoy the beavers from the comfort of indoors.


This short video contains the best of several weeks worth of observation.  Over that period of time, the dam became at least a foot taller, and probably several feet wider, creating a pool that was at least 4 feet deep in places.  The beaver pond became a popular hangout for wood ducks, a heron, and served as a bridge for squirrels, chipmunks, and at least one very fat raccoon.  The dam also was totally incompatible with local agriculture, blocking the drainage from several hundred acres of farmland.  The dam would have to come down, and last Friday, it did.  However, the beaver are still at work, now on a new dam, and I’ve reset the game camera to see what they do.

Bobcats and Beavers

November 7th, 2015


After a couple of fruitless attempts at catching our busy beavers with the game camera, Kirk and I about fell over when we swapped memory cards, checked the previous nights images, and found that a bobcat had strolled past the breach we’d made in the left side of the dam.


The game camera did not get any shots of the beavers repairing the dam (see the breach visible just above the bobcat in the shots above), but when the bobcat returned 5 hours later, the breach had mostly been repaired.


What’s especially interesting about the second series of bobcat shots is that it also captured the beaver. Note the white dot in the dark water just to the left of the tall upright branch above. That’s the infrared light of the game camera reflecting off the eye of a beaver swimming towards the bobcat.


16 seconds after the bobcat walks away from the game camera’s field of view, the swimming beaver reaches the shore where the bobcat had been standing. In the shots below, you can see the beaver’s eyes swimming back to the right.


An hour later, a raccoon made the first of two appearances, but we didn’t see any more evidence of beaver or bobcat.


Split Point Lighthouse

September 10th, 2015

Split Point Lighthouse

Located in a dramatic location along the rugged southern coast of Victoria, Australia, the Split Point Lighthouse has provided continuous lifesaving service since it was first lit in 1891. Like the Cape Otway Lighthouse, this light house was mostly built from a kit, shipped from England.  One of several lighthouses punctuating the 244 kilometer Great Ocean Road, it was likely easier and less expensive to build than the other light house we visited, because the shell is composed of poured concrete, instead of laboriously cut and fitted stone.

Cast iron steps

All of the steps in the 112’ high lighthouse are made from a pair of identical iron castings, bolted together, and bolted to the cement interior wall.

Split Point Lighthouse

Other than the difference in wall and lower stair construction, the two lighthouses are very similar in configuration, topping the walls with an iron dome consisting of an exterior platform and interior operator’s area at the same level, providing a great view of the rocky coast.  In both lighthouses, an exterior catwalk one level higher facilitates dome maintenance and window cleaning, and a cast iron grid floor at the same level on the inside provides access to the lighting unit.

 View west from lighthouse platform

Originally lit by a fussy and messy bank of oil lamps, the working light station now uses a high tech LED unit (visible in the center of the photo below).  The Chance Brothers Fresnel Lens is a marvel of late Victorian engineering.  Composed of multiple segments of high-refraction flint glass securely mounted into an iron frame, Fresnel lenses were common in lighthouses, because their design was several orders of magnitude thinner and lighter than what would have been possible with a single piece of glass.

Fresnel lens, light, and red filters

Both of the lighthouses we visited had mechanically rotating light units, but the Split Point station had an additional visual element provided by red filters on both sides of the window.  When viewed by boat from the water directly in front of the lighthouse, the light appears white, but when viewed at more oblique angles, the light becomes red, helping mariners determine their position in the Bass Straight relative to the lighthouse. 

Split Point Lighthouse

The addition of the colored filters on the exterior window baths the interior of the light unit, and the iron floor, in red light, so make for a much more interesting photographic opportunity.

Chance Brothers

Cape Otway Lighthouse

August 30th, 2015

Cape Otway Lighthouse

The Cape Otway Light Station might not be the most significant lighthouse in Australia, but its up there.  Cape Otway is the southernmost tip of eastern Australia, forming the northern boundary of the Bass Straight, a relatively narrow sea channel between Tasmania and mainland Australia that becomes even narrow between the cape and King Island. After several sailing vessels managed to get all the way from England to Australia, only to wreck along the rocky and windy southern shore of Victoria, the British government began building lighthouses.   The one at Cape Otway was built between 1846 and 1848.


Most of the walls, including the steps, are of masonry construction, with the carefully curved and fitted exterior stones cut nearby.

Platform Support

The topmost part of the lighthouse, along with the mechanisms, was provided in pre-fab form from England.  A large cast iron funnel, with a stack on top, provides the support for the rotating light mechanism on the level above.

Iron Eye

A metal rod (no, I don’t know what it is for) is contained within the cast iron tube, connecting the mechanism at the top of the lightstation with the cast iron eye set in the floor, beneath the winding staircase.

Cast iron steps

The steps leading up to the working level of the light house are made from cast iron, as are the railings, posts, the platform underneath the light mechanism, and apparently, the domed roof of the station.

Fresnel Lens

A rotating Fresnel lens, which was originally powered by a weight-enabled clockwork mechanism that had to be rewound by the keepers every day, was eventually electrified.


A wooden ladder leads from the cast iron grating immediately underneath the rotating lens mechanism, enabling the keepers to maintain the interior of the dome and the lighting mechanism. Like the ladder in a library, this ladder can be repositioned around the interior of the lightstation dome, hooking onto cast iron bars above the lens unit.

Elizabeth on the observation platform

The exterior of the light station has a platform, completely surrounding the station, made from cast iron.

Exterior catwalk

A secondary, and much more precarious platform, also made from cast iron, was used to maintain the exterior of the lighthouse, and presumably, to wash the salt spray off the windows.

New Lighthouse

The Cape Otway Lightstation was Australia’s longest serving lighthouse when it was finally deactivated in 1994, after almost a century and a half of service. The replacement is a surprisingly small construction, visible above from the lighthouse platform.

Ashes to Ashes

August 18th, 2015


Death is of course, a natural outcome of life, but the death of an entire species is more than sad, it is tragic and unrecoverable. In a few short years, the damage brought about by the rapid incursion of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has had a devastating impact on the flatlands along the low end of our property, as Coshocton County joins the rest of Ohio, mourning  the apparent loss of yet another prominent tree species.


Although not one of our property’s more prominent tree species, the swampy area across our northern face is dominated by small and bushy Alder trees, and dozens of tall Ash trees that grew up after farming ceased, some time in the mid 20th century.   Seemingly healthy just two years ago, signs of significant woodpecker activity were apparent last summer, suggesting an unusual insect infestation. In January, it was easy to see how pockmarked many of the ash trees had become, from the woodpeckers trying to extract the fat juicy larvae, and the worms boring back out of the tree to mate and infect the neighboring Ashes.


The exterior of an infected ash tree fails to make clear the degree to which the borers crisscross the living wood layers immediately underneath the bark.  The effect is the same as girdling the tree, cutting off the flow of sap and nutrients to the tree’s canopy, which usually dies within a few years


Although they appeared fully leafed out last year, the ash trees lining our township road now appear mostly dead, with only a few scraggly outbreaks of leafs in the crowns, and an almost poodlelike outbreak of leaves around the trunk and lower limbs, as the trees desperately try to spread a few leaves in the summer sun. The smaller ash trees in the interior, feet wet in vernal pools, have already died (camera right, above).  Only a couple of the ash trees seem to have a full canopy this summer (camera center shows an ash tree in front in lighter green, with a darker green hickory behind it, flanked by dead and dying ash).  


A quadrant of 18 inch diameter trees along the creek bank, apparently the mother trees that seeded our part of the valley, still looked healthy last January, but are now showing signs of woodpecker damage, and branches in the canopy are failing. It seems only a matter of a few short years before these lovely giants fade, too. 


The stark appearance of a leafless and dead tree jumps out of a forest of green trees. Even in the winter, there’s something different in the appearance of a dead and decaying tree, in comparison to one that is only taking a few months rest.  While 1-3% of forest trees die every year, the victim of disease, wind, and competition, in a short 13 years, millions of Americans ash trees have fallen to this latest scourge. The highways and country lanes of Franklin, Knox, and Licking counties between us and Columbus are punctuated by long lines of dead and struggling ash trees, and the roadsides in our neighborhood are beginning to show the inevitable results of a tree species that is helpless against a beetle that evolved on some other part of the planet.


Several of the ashes near the dying trees are showing no obvious signs of distress, but their near mortality seems inevitable.  Farther uphill, and a few hundred yards away from the flat area with the dying trees, several small stands of very tall ash seem to be thriving within a dense stand of maple and oak.  Some research indicates that EABs prefer trees in the open.  Heroic chemical action can sometimes save single trees in the city, but there are just too many trees to spray in a rural setting. Our choices are to harvest our trees, which are the classic wood used for baseball bats, or to leave them as woodpecker havens. In some ways, this latest tree die off parallels what happened 40-50 years ago, when Dutch Elm Disease spread across Ohio, destroying millions of beautiful fan shaped shade trees. When my parents’ bought the Hollow in the early 70s, there were many elm trees, dead, but still standing. A new generation of elm trees grew up from seed and sapling, with many of them reaching over 40 feet tall.  As many of the medium and small elms dotting the base of our pond’s dam began dying over the previous several years, I hadn’t recognized yet what was happening. It wasn’t until our largest, and most classically shaped elm (below) began losing its leaves that I understood that our region was being revisited by another round of elm disease, which is now taking advantage of the regrowth in our elm population.  This has killed a number of trees in the areas where we spend most of our time. 


Taking are required classes in forestry has been a great learning experience for me and Elizabeth, but we’ve also lost some of our blissful ignorance.  A growing variety of insects and diseases are threatening other species in Ohio.  In the 1970s, lovely white dogwoods covered our hillsides in the springtime, but now, I can almost count our dogwood trees on my fingers. While changes in the overall canopy, and a reduction in open space have reduced our dogwood habitat, its hard not to believe that Dogwood Anthracnose hasn’t played a role.   While it is still relatively rare, Oak Wilt would potentially be a huge impact on one of our most common and our most economically valuable trees.  I don’t find the walnut trees to be especially pretty to look at, but they have lovely and valuable wood, and most falls provide us with a large crop of inconvenient but tasty nuts.  Thousand Cankers Disease is not yet impacting Ohio walnuts, but the state foresters are on the lookout for it.  The Asian Long-Horned Beetle hasn’t made inroads into Ohio, yet, but could potentially destroy the hundreds of sugar and red maples on our property.  There doesn’t seem to be any specific disease impacting black cherries, which are a surprisingly short-lived tree, but there seem to be an exceptional number of our larger cherries that are sustaining heavy woodpecker damage, which indicates fatal levels of insect infestation, which probably also means fungus.

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