Friday, January 15, 2016

A tough break for the beavers

Admiring a gray fox track (the small print) as dusk descends
A wonderful day for tracking! I went out this afternoon with Matthew, Ashley, and Zoot the goat. The snow is still just a couple of inches of frozen, crusty stuff, but a lovely layer of powder has provided a wonderful substrate for tracks for the past few days. We found tracks of flying squirrels, red squirrels, snowshoe hare, gray fox, coyote, mink, fisher, long-tailed weasel, shrew and mouse. I hoped to visit a porcupine den or two, and to check on the beavers on the way.

I was especially interested to know how the aged beaver, Willow was faring. She is the beaver I first became acquainted with eight years ago. In November I was optimistic that she was in better shape going into the winter than she had been the previous year.
Willow's lodge in late November

Read more about a trip to the pond on a cold autumn night here:
 Beaver Moon in which we visit Willow on the night of November's full moon and check on preparations for winter.

I last checked on Willow and her new mate in late November. Their lodge was small and still needed more mud, but their food cache was a good size and they had plenty of warm weather and open water in December to finish sealing things up. I was optimistic when we headed that way today that we would find the beavers secure in their lodge. Instead, Dead Duck dam, the dam that had created their pond, had been breached and the pond was drained. The entrance to their lodge was above water and most of their food cache was likewise above the water.
Dead Duck dam breached.
 A new small dam had been constructed below their lodge, but the water level had not risen enough to help the beavers.

Food cache high and dry
On our way back downstream in the growing dusk, Matthew spotted a beaver near the food cache. Willow! She clambered up onto the icy shelf by the food cache and enjoyed an apple.
Willow has an apple by the food cache

She and her mate must be sheltering in a bank burrow. With the pond gone, they will  be much more vulnerable to predators as they work to make repairs and gather more food. They are also in danger from restricted access to food should the ice grow too thick on the brook or at the entrance to their burrow.
Lodge entrance exposed

Looking upstream at the empty pond

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