Saturday, September 7, 2013

Underwater Beavers and More

Spring Farm's beavers are seen underwater for the first time
Recently, I've tried to take some underwater video of our beavers. It’s proved to be somewhat difficult since the beavers are not sure to make of this strange apparatus that I’m immersing in the water near them. Perhaps more disturbing to them was the fact that I was sitting on their dam, but I had to do that in order to get the camera into deep enough water. Anyhow, they didn't appreciate it and half of them refused to come out during the “operation”.
Julia swims close to the bottom of the pond
She bites off a poplar branch while remaining underwater
Julia returns to the surface
After a few sessions I did finally manage to get a few shots of them. Tippy, one of the yearlings was the most accommodating. Julia, the colony’s matriarch had pretty much seen everything at this point – and she may in fact be the most videotaped wild beaver in the history of time. Still, she acted as if I had transgressed some unwritten agreement and she wasn't overly pleased about it.
The beavers' wide foot paddles provide their primary propulsion 
Tippy swims in toward the camera
A little too close now
Tippy grabs the camera and takes it to the surface - Hey!
The cliche thing to say is that beavers move awkwardly on land, and I guess they do, but honestly, once you get used to the way they walk, it doesn't seem that strange anymore. In fact they are capable of walking long distances and they can even run in short spurts.
Julia Feeding at the surface
Whatever you thing about their locomotion on land, beavers really do fly in the water. Their bulky bodies are stream-lined and move as gracefully as any seal or otter.

Julia stopped to smell the air while traveling over-land between ponds
In my ongoing efforts to keep tabs on our beaver colony, I had set a trail camera up on one of the foot trails so I could monitor their movements between 2 ponds. I was most interested in determining which beavers were making the overland trip and at what time of the night they were doing it. Unfortunately, too often the camera wasn't being triggered until a beaver was just about out of frame and so I wasn't always able to determine which beaver was traveling, but I could get the time that an individual passed through. As expected, it was always at different times. Beavers apparently don’t like to be overly predicable, which makes good sense for any prey species.
A yearling caught by the trail-cam as it makes the journey by day
One constant seemed to be that they would not stay overnight at Wick’s Pond, which makes perfect sense since to my knowledge there is no lodge or burrow at that pond. So the excursions that they made over to the far pond would usually take place sometime in late afternoon or early evening and the trips back home to the beaver pond would be in the evening or as late as just a few hours before dawn. Occasionally more than one beaver would travel together, but more often a beaver would brave the overland journey alone.
The Mallard family decides to turn around when they see a rabbit
Other animals made the same journey. A family of Mallards were caught on camera nearly every day for a couple of weeks. Ducklings followed closely behind their mother. All were ready to turn on a dime and rush back if any predator appeared on the foot trail. The camera caught one such event when the ducks spied movement in a trail side bush up ahead of them. The whole family did an about face and sped back to the other pond. The “predator” in this case turned out to be an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, but when your’re a small unflighted duck you can never be too careful.
The Great Blue Heron that regularly hunts at both ponds
The beavers, as large as they are wouldn't always trigger the camera, but the waddling train of ducks never failed get the film rolling. Muskrats also were seen a few times, One clip showed a mother Muskrat wait for her small kits to catch up with her before proceeding up the trail.
The beaver dam is covered with a late-season mix of wildflowers

Mad-dog Skullcap blooms by one of the old ponds
Pickerelweed does well this year at one of the ponds 
Back at the main beaver pond – the beaver dam is alive with color, as a profusion of late season flowers cover its span. Currently this is the only one of our large beaver ponds which is receiving any maintenance. Every night the beavers plaster a fresh load of mud against it in order to keep it as water tight as possible. Of course, no beaver dams are ever completely water tight – and the sound of water trickling through in many places is a hallmark of an active beaver dam. One of the great services beavers provide for wildlife and for the environment in general is to provide water filtration services. It has been shown that when a stream passes through a beaver dam, the water comes out much cleaner – silts and pollutants are largely removed. When the water passes through a series of beaver dams the amount of filtration is greatly increased.
Post beaver dam stream water is much clearer and cleaner - better for stream life of all kinds

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