Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Boehm Pond's Very Busy Beaver

Map showing how much larger  Boehm Pond has become

Boehm Pond keeps growing and growing, thanks to some very busy beaver. The Red Trail is almost a shoreline path, and hikers can see the edge of the pond through the trees as they ramble down the path.  The surface area of the pond has perhaps quadrupled in the past few months.

Beaver art
People have strong feelings about beaver, and reaction has been all over the place. For example:

Announcement: "We have some beaver here."
Response #1: "Why do you need to kill them?!" (no one ever said anything about killing them)
Response #2: "Beaver, cool." (exactly)
Response #3: "What are you going to DO about the beaver? They're damaging the trees" (that's OK - it's open space and beaver are just part of the ecosystem). 
Response #4: "I trap beaver if you ever need help" (thanks, hope we don't need that)
The extended beaver pond is full of trees
Yes, sometimes beaver need to be killed if they are causing significant damage to human structures. They can flood out basements, roadways, and septics.  But Boehm Pond is completely surrounded by open space, and so far we don't see any serious problems caused by the beaver. They can be left in peace. There used to be a wooden bridge on the north side of the pond, little used, and that appears to be underwater, or maybe it floated away. That's the extent of the known damage to human structures.

Beaver dam located above a box culvert at Winthrop Woods Road
The beaver are, however, continuing to build their dam bigger and bigger. The dam is located just before a box culvert that takes Boehm Brook under Winthrop Woods Road, and is easy to access if anyone wants to see it. If the beaver were to block the culvert and cause the road to flood, that would be a serious problem. So far that doesn't appear to be a problem, however. 

An alternative to killing beaver is to install a piping system under their dam which drains the pond. This can work in some places, but it's very tricky to do correctly (a professional is needed, and it's not cheap), and the water conditions need to be just right. Otherwise the beaver will hear the water going into the pipe and just build a dam around it. Beaver compulsively build dams in response to the sound of running water, so it's useless to just remove their dam. They'll rebuild immediately. 

Water now covers this spot on the north side of the pond
Beaver have been part of the ecosystem for thousands of years. They create great habitat for fish, heron, wood ducks, muskrat, and other aquatic species.  Nature is dynamic and ever-changing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sharpening a Hedgetrimmer

Sharp tools work better than dull tools.  Over time, all tools get dull with use.  Occasionally you have to bite the bullet and sharpen things.  This week it was an electric hedgetrimmer.

This was a Black & Decker 20 volt electric hedgetrimmer.  Originally I thought this was a whimpy tool, but with the larger battery packs it's surprisingly good and versatile.  Step one is play with the trigger to expose the slanted cutting teeth.

Then take out the battery pack so it doesn't accidentally go off while you're holding it during sharpening.

Get a medium sized (10") single cut file.  You can sharpen the bar with the blade on.  It proved to be much easier to take the blade guard off (it's just undoing 2 screws) to get at the last half dozen teeth near the saw body.

 Have the hedgetrimmer under some good light so you can see what your doing and file the angled cutting teeth.  File in one direction away from the cutting edge.  Take even, long strokes.

File both sides of each tooth.  You'll have to stop, plug in the battery, and burp the trigger a couple of times to expose all the teeth where you can get a file into them.  Remember to take the battery out before you start filing, and wear leather gloves to hold the end of the bar steady while you file.

It should take 4-6 strokes per tooth face depending on how worn the teeth are.  There are 4 sets of teeth faces to sharpen, and you have to flip the bar over from time to time.  It takes a little while to get the right angle, but once you get the hang of it, it moves quickly. 

After you're done put a little oil on each tooth and wipe some on the bar to lubricate it.  It'll help the trimmer cut easier and prolong your battery life.  Put the blade guard back on, plug in a fresh battery, and listen to the difference.  It's good to have two or more batteries with you when you cut.

All sharpened, oiled, re-assembled, with a fresh battery pack.  Ready to go around the yard trimming hedges or along the trails cutting brush.  It cuts a lot better after the blade has been sharpened.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Birchbank Mtn. Work Party, or Why Do I Keep Hearing Bells?

There have been a lot of trees and branches knocked down in recent storms.  The trails at Birchbank Mountain had not gotten a full clean up in a while so on a crisp Saturday morning a work party was scheduled to clear up a number of blowdowns across the trails.

We had a great turn out of 15 volunteers to tackle the trails in the park.  When we met at the trailhead next to the railroad on Indian Well Road we were greeted by flashing lights and clanging bells at the railroad crossing, but no train.  Everyone stopped, looked for the train, then crossed the tracks to the parking area and walked back.  Still no train, the signal apparently was malfunctioning.

So while the railroad signal kept clanging away we signed everyone in, enjoyed some doughnuts from Royal Bakery, and headed off into the woods to the sound of  bells.

There was a number of trees down across the trail.  Some small, some quite large.

We split up into 3 groups with multiple chainsaw teams and worked along the White trail.  Helpful Trail Tip #1: A sharp chainsaw cuts much better than a dull chainsaw.  Sharpen your saws on Friday night.

Helpful Trail Tip #2:  A fresh chain cuts better than a dull chain, but only if you put it on the bar with the teeth facing forward.  

The teams then proceeded along Birchbank Trail, then up along the brook to the Paugussett Trail, up above the stone chimney, and then worked their way back down the hill.  Meanwhile, another team was tackling some large blowdowns at the bottom of the hill.

One big tulip was too high to get over easily, and a decision made to notch out a step thru the tree instead.  Here's Mark Vallero with Jim, Luis, and Graham notching out the tree.

Then, with the help of several wedges, and some persistence they were able to wedge out the block of wood.  Actually, it was a lot of persistence, various wedging tries, more sawing, with some prying and hauling.  But they're a stubborn lot and eventually they got it out of there.

Success!  The trail is much easier to walk now.  The log also acts as a barrier to keep vehicles and  ATVs from damaging the trails.

Other blowdowns and tree tops were removed from the trails.

The clearing made it easier to follow the trails without having to zig zag around all the blowdowns.  The trails were pretty busy too.  We had multiple residents and hikers walking past or around us as we worked.

The trails are much clearer now due to all the work.  There was also a lot of brush along the trails that was cut, and fallen branches and logs hauled away.

It really does help to have a big crew when there's this much work to be done.  Thanks to Clay, Gary, Ryan, Vince, James, Tommy, Bill, Bob, Val, Graham, Jim, Luis, Mike, Mark, and Terry. 

When we were got back to the trailhead about 3 hours later, the railroad bells were still going off at the crossing signal.  We phoned Housatonic Railroad to let them know and they said that they had already gotten calls.  A very pleasant woman said she was trying to get someone down to look at it, but everybody was in Mass. and since it was Saturday they didn't have many people working.  Hopefully the signal has been fixed by now and the bells have stopped ringing.

Helpful Safety Tip #1: Remember to look both ways before you cross the tracks on the way to the trails.

Helpful Safety Tip #2: Yield to oncoming traffic when leaving Birchbank going South toward Indian Well State Park.  The road is rather curvy and there are some tight bends where only one car can pass at a time.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Where's the Yellow Trail at Boehm Pond??

"BEFORE": No idea which way the trail goes
The Yellow Trail at Boehm Pond got pretty hard to follow recently. It's a twisty trail through very open woods, and it doesn't seem like many people walk it. A lack of hikers makes a trail harder to follow. So then even fewer people walk the trail. It's a viscous cycle.  In the first photo, the way forward was impossible to tell, even by the seasoned trails crews.

Just added a blaze. Bet you still can't tell where the trail is. 
A yellow blaze was added, but it was hard to see. And who wants to stand there hunting for the next blaze, right? In this case, a quick clipping of a beech branch fixed that problem. The tree in this spot is dark, so the yellow blaze stood out. For much of the trail, however, the trees have light-colored bark (like beech trees and white oak), so the blazes don't really grab your eye. And they tend to fade fast on those types of trees, too. A lot of additional blazes were added yesterday, while the old blazes were resized and freshened. Even then, depending on the season and trail conditions, it can be hard to follow a twisty-turning trail through open woods.

Trimmed a small beech branch.
The blaze is now visible, but you might not notice it immediately.
So the next step was to rake out the trail, which normally should not need to be done, but there were a few years worth of leaves and sticks on the tread and the footing was tedious. If more people walked the trail, that shouldn't be a problem. The foot traffic pulverizes leaves and sticks. Leaf removal can make a trail erode faster, so it not something that would normally be done unless there's a specific reason for it.

AFTER: Raked out the tread and cut two saplings.
The way forward is obvious.
Finally, some of the saplings were cut along the edges to make more of a visual gap through the woods and draw the eye towards the trail. That way, even if there are fresh leaves or snow cover, and the next tree with a blaze gets knocked over, following the trail should be easier and more intuitive. Hopefully that will lead to more foot traffic, which will in turn make the trail easier to follow.