Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Beaver's Winter Forecast?

Blueberry heaps another Willow Sapling on top of the winter food cache
How much stock should we put into the beavers’ weather prognostications? Experience tells me not too much, but still it makes me wonder. This year our beavers started assembling their winter food supply –or food cache, at least one month earlier than usual. Does this mean that we will be in for a harsh winter? They seem to be banking on it.
The  food cache looks like a partially submerged brush pile 
Beavers don’t hibernate; they remain active all through the winter months, though you may not see them around their habitat very often. When their ponds become covered with ice, the beavers become largely confined to their lodge and to the water beneath the ice. At this point they must survive entirely by drawing on their underwater food cache.
One of the kits tows a branch over to the cache
Normally, the cache is stored in deep water so the beavers can access it even if the pond’s ice covering becomes thick. Still, the branches can become frozen together and may need to be chewed apart. Once they have a freed a branch, a beaver will typically bring it back inside the lodge where the rest of the family is waiting to get their share of bark.
A kit unsuccessfully tries to free a large branch from the pile
Food caches are usually located close to the lodge, but this year the beavers didn’t abide by that rule, and located it in another part of the pond. They also made a smaller secondary cache that is located even further away and in more shallow water. The 2 beavers most responsible for assembling this food cache are the 2-year old, Blueberry and the 1-year old, Badger. The fact that they located the cache in a place that may become difficult to access makes me wonder if those 2 are quite ready for prime time. But this is the first time that either of them has been left to do this important job by themselves.

A Green Heron stands on the food cache 
For this early point in the fall, the food cache has gotten quite sizable. Blueberry, in particular has been busy up in the willow grove, cutting trees and dragging them back to Secret Pond. I saw him yesterday as he dealt with quite a large pussy willow sapling. He’d pull it overland for about 15 feet and then stop to rest, adjust his hold, and then pull it for another 15 feet. It’s a lot of work for a relatively little guy to do –considering that he’s probably only 45 pounds or so.

Blueberry drags in another willow sapling

Last winter, May Apple, the young beavers’ father, was primarily responsible for assembling the food cache and he made one of considerable size. As it turned out, last winter was especially mild, and the main pond was only intermittently iced over. This meant that the beavers were never ice bound for long and could usually forage for food on shore when they needed to. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the beaver’s only food source, last year’s food cache was depleted by the beginning of March; and so it seems that the lesson learned by this new generation of beavers is to create a bigger cache.

Now looking rather plump, one of the new kits has a carrot break
A questionable  attempt at giving a beaver rabbit ears

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