Saturday, July 6, 2013

May 2013: Saying Goodbye to a Beaver

In late May 2011 I noticed a beaver cutting the willow saplings in a pond not larger than a typical backyard swimming pool and its surrounding patio.

Ten days later I saw the beaver, and it saw me.

I got into the habit of going down in the late afternoon and watching the beaver cut willows.

I had seen beavers in that small pond before, once there were two beavers there in the spring. The pond typically dries up in July but as late as June 21 I saw the beaver dragging a long willow sapling over to its burrow.

Then sometime in late June it moved down to a much larger pond down a wooded hill, leaving plenty of willows behind and those that it cut would soon grow back. On July 1 I saw it eating pond weed in its new, larger, and deep pond.

It also ate the roots of some of the many water lilies in the pond.

We had water lilies blooming there for years but not as many as in the summer of 2011. On July 12, I could tell by the muddy water that the beaver had eaten many water lilies, but there were plenty thriving in the pond.

Beavers had lived in the pond over the years, sometimes two at a time, though none had successfully bred, but I had never seen one of them eating the lily roots or lilies. All the beavers who came to the pond moved up from White Swamp, a huge wetland a quarter mile downstream, where there are  acres of water lilies. 

For years I thought beavers came up to the pond on our land to get at more saplings and trees, but not this new beaver. Mostly it just ate the water lilies.

As the close up photos and videos I got suggest that beaver and I became pretty tight, especially when I sat in a lawn chair I always kept next to the dam. From that angle I got my Facebook photo.

This month, May 2013, a year and a half later, I got a photo of the beaver yawning.

The good times were gone; so were the water lilies.

In the spring of 2012 another beaver moved into the pond and it didn’t gorge on lily roots. It cut some maple saplings and honeysuckle. I was away much of the winter but by report knew the beavers stayed in the pond. When the snow melted I found ironwoods, ash trees, and nannyberries that had been cut by the beavers for winter chow. There was a long log near one of their burrows that had been completely stripped.

But my beaver friend had seemed to have no talent for cutting any but the smallest stalk, let alone a tree. At the end of March enough of the ice on the pond melted so that I could once again see my old friend. Before the grass grows, beavers usually cut trees. The beavers that I watch in the East Trail Pond on Wellesley Island were not at all shy about doing that.

On March 30 I saw something I never saw before. The beaver dug into its dam where it found a root that evidently had been pushed up with mud to make the dam higher in the fall.

Then the beaver disappeared for 6 weeks. I had one worry. Trapping season had not ended and some kid had traps along the creek down to White Swamp.

I think I happened by on the morning when the beaver returned. It swam sprightly and I noticed that it again dived in the shallows of the pond where I often saw it find lily roots. It climbed on shore, did some grooming

and then waded into the fresh green grass, I assumed for a meal. Seeing that it made itself at home again, the next week I walked around the pond every day to see what it might be eating. I saw a few nibbled honeysuckle branches and even a few scent mounds, but no stripped logs that proved to me that the beaver had a square meal.

Then came that yawning day. It was very disconcerting to me. I saw the beaver hunched on the shore near a bank lodge, under a thick wall of honeysuckles. But it wasn’t grooming like the jolly beaver I saw in 2011. It was on a tilt, looked like it could hardly hold itself up.

Then two chatty girls walked down the road near us, a rare occurrence. The beaver dove into the water, came up without anything to eat, nosed the nearby honeysuckle leaves hanging over the pond, but evidently had no taste for that and then climbed back up on shore. I left it just as I had found a half hour before, moping.

I came back after my dinner saw the beaver swimming toward me. I think it had just moved off the shore where I saw it in the afternoon because its fur seemed dry which means it was having a bad hair moment. It came swimming toward and paused just below me, and then turned and swam back to where it had been.

But it didn't climb back up on shore. It began trying to collect the pollen on the surface of the pond, an easy but meager meal I have seen beavers resort to in the spring.

I got the impression that the beaver was begging. Once every summer we cut some aspen saplings when they begin to shade our garden, and if there is a beaver in the pond nearby we offer the saplings to them. Over the years some beavers have almost eaten them out of our hands,

But this beaver was usually shy of eating even what supposedly is a beaver's favorite bark.  I hurried up to the garden, broke of some leafy aspen saplings and hurried down to the beaver. It seemed to perk up, but didn't swim right over.

I left it and the next morning was pleased to see the aspen taken away. I brought down some more, but it floated untouched for many days. As I write this now, July 5, I've seen no signs of the beaver that liked me and liked our pond, but liked lily roots down in the huge swamp more. Though they spread by roots, water lilies can grow by seeds. The famous beavers in the book Lily Pond ate all the lilies there and had to move away, but the lilies began growing again it two years. So maybe it is au revoir and not goodbye.

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