Sunday, May 27, 2012

Interesting Activity at the Beaver Pond

The Main Beaver Lodge at the Nature Preserve
There was lots going on down at the beaver pond yesterday morning. Unusual was the fact that several beavers were out and actively working in their pond. Beavers, for the most part, work at night, though you can sometimes see them toiling away in the afternoon. But working in mid-morning, what’s up with that? Their task must’ve been deemed particularly important to bring them to work double shifts like this. Mainly, they seemed to be concentrating on the lodge. They were dragging branches up one side of the lodge and laying them down lengthwise, so that one end protruded over the peak of the structure.
May Apple drags a branch up the side of the lodge
Why they were doing this work now and with such urgency? 2 possible reasons came to mind: first, there may have been a hole in the side of the lodge –possibly created by a predator. The second and more likely explanation has to do with the rising level of the 2nd Pond. As the beavers have increased the height of the dam, the pond’s water level rose, and this necessitated raising the level of the living chamber inside the lodge. The only way to do this is to build a higher roof.
May Apple adds a load of mud to the dam - raising the pond's water level
Over the last few weeks, the water level at this pond has noticeably risen. In fact the water is high enough so that for the first time since it was originally constructed (over 10 years ago), the lodge has now become an island. Originally, this lodge was built at the end of a peninsula that jutted out into the second pond from the 1st pond’s dam. Morton and Sarah, our nature preserve’s original beaver pair and the parents of this colony’s current matriarch, Julia, were the rugged pioneers that built this lodge.
When I heard especially loud chewing coming from the inside of the lodge, I realized that the beavers were most likely raising the ceiling of their chamber. They do this by chewing up through the wood of the old roof, while at the same time putting on the new roof and building up the floor platform. One of the beavers was seen retrieving some grass from the shore –and bringing back into the lodge. The grass will be used to carpet the floor of the living chamber.
Renovations to the lodge may not be appreciated by some of the beaver’s tenants. Muskrats, which very often live in their own chambers inside of beaver lodges, will now also have to cope with the change in water level. They may be forced to create a new chamber, or even move to another pond --perhaps into one of the currently uninhabited beaver lodges. The muskrats, as far as I know, have never paid any rent to the beavers, so they can hardly complain.

Julia - enjoying some Quaking Aspen leaves
Far from paying the beavers, the muskrats regularly take what they want from whatever beaver supplies are within reach. Beavers don’t often scold muskrats for this behavior, not unless they try to make away with the very poplar branch that they are eating at the time. And even then, they may just receive a quick swat.
Other action at the beaver pond included a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers that were feeding their brood of begging nestlings. These birds chose a dead tree right in front of the lodge as their nest site, while a Flicker and a Great crested Flycatcher were using cavities in trees on the other side of the pond. The noise created by the begging Hairy Woodpeckers was persistent and quite loud. Most likely these youngsters will leave the nest in a couple of days.

The female Great Crested Flycatcher peers out from her nest cavity
The Great Crested Flycatchers were just beginning their nest. The presumed female was seen bringing some white animal hair into the cavity to use as nesting material. This flycatcher is incapable of excavating their own nest cavity, and so they must rely on woodpeckers to provide them with nesting opportunities. 

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