Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What's New With the Beavers and Their Habitat & The Release of a Rehabilitated American Bittern

Anxious beaver kits come up onto shore
All seems to be well with our beaver colony --at least with the 7 family members that remained with us following the dam collapse at their former main pond. The 4 new kits are getting noticeably bigger, though they are still easily dwarfed by their mother and 2 older siblings.

2 beaver kits engage in a playful shoving match
The 2-year old beaver named Blueberry, has become quite proficient at obtaining food, and I, as an honorary beaver, do my part to drag a few branches down to their pond whenever I pay a visit. I think that it's the least I can do to help make restitution to this species that experienced almost unparalleled exploitation at the hands of people. In fact, by the first part of the 1800s, they were trapped to the point of extinction in New York State.

Beaver kits eating willow and poplar leaves at Secret Pond
I occasionally will give the young kits some pieces of carrot. 3 of them go absolutely bonkers for the “exotic” orange roots. They can't quite wait for me to put them in the water and so they waddle up on shore and park themselves in front of my chair and patiently wait for me to get them out of my bag.
One of the new kits grooms its sides while awaiting a treat
For many years now, I’ve tried to dispel the common misconception that beavers live inside of their dams, only now to be sort-of proven wrong by our own colony. The beavers appear to have made a lodge out of a portion of the 3rd Pond’s wrecked dam. That part of the dam had been mostly detached from the original structure by the big flood, and though the 3rd Pond’s dam was recently repaired, this old section was left hanging on it like a flange –protruding into the newly enlarged, Secret Pond.
A particularly crabby Great Blue Heron waits for me to leave Secret Pond
It's hard to say if the beavers are serious about turning it into a full-fledged lodge. So far nothing has been done to improve the outside of the structure. The beavers also already have at their disposal a large semi-dilapidated (but repairable) lodge at 3rd Pond and a new bank lodge at Secret Pond. Having a lodge that's attached to a dam is problematic. If there is ever another major dam collapse at Pond 3, the lodge could be washed away along with the dam. Hopefully, the beavers will come to this realization before they install their appliances in that place.
A sea of green plants now completely surround the old beaver lodge at Sarah's Pond
Meanwhile, the meadow that once was the beavers' largest pond, continues to evolve and as it does, new plants and animals are getting a foothold there. Woodchucks and Eastern Cottontail Rabbits are the latest immigrants to the habitat. Both enjoy the lush grasses and the tender new leaves of a variety of perennial flowers.

A new inhabitant of the beavers' former domain is the Woodchuck
The sandpipers have moved on since the mud flats disappeared, but Robins still remain to feed on the worms that are easy to pull out of the moist silty soil.

American Robins finding food on the beaver-meadow

Blue Vervain is growing all over the new beaver-meadow
At the release site the bittern slowly sticks its head out of the carrier
On Sunday, I released a rehabilitated American Bittern at the first beaver pond. The bittern had been in the care of Judy Cusworth at Woodhaven Wildlife Center. The orphaned bird came in to the Center earlier in the summer, and this weekend it was finally deemed ready for release back into the wild.
The American Bittern gets closer to the stream channel
American Bitterns are wading birds that primarily prey on fish and other small aquatic animals. They hunt by stealthily wading in the water and then slowly positioning their head over their (ususally swimming) prey. With a quick stab of their stiletto-like bill, they secure a meal, which they then proceed to swallow whole. 
Assuming the camouflage position. It would work better with a different background
The American Bittern is an uncommon species in our area and generally, in New York State. They are bigger than the crow sized Green Heron, but smaller than the familiar Great Blue Heron. The American Bittern is mostly brown. Its underside is light, but with brown longitudinal stripes that stretch from its head to its belly. These stripes, which actually resemble brown wetland reeds, help the bittern to blend into its surroundings. The bittern adds to the illusion by holding its beak straight up into the air --so that its beak looks like the top of a reed. Strangely enough, while holding this position, the bird is still able point its eyes directly forward to stay aware of potential dangers. 

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