Elizabeth woke me up one unseasonably warm February morning, all excited about some huge animal in our pond, visible from our upper story bedroom dormer. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that I confirmed it was a beaver, America’s largest rodent, and an animal I’d never seen anywhere near our pond before. Although we’ve long seen evidence of beavers, and even captured one on the game camera just over a year earlier, until this year, I’ve never seen one in person anywhere at Heiser Hollow.
My parents’ purchase of the Hollow coincided somewhat with Ohio’s Beaver Renaissance. Reintroduced to the state after being totally trapped out in 1830s, beaver activities characterized some of our earliest experiences at the Hollow. A family had set up shop in the creek bordering the edge of our property, regularly climbing the steep bluff from our wet flat spots up to an area with a stand of aspens in order to chew down some surprisingly large trees. Clogging up the tiles under his bean field, the neighboring farmer blew up that first dam with dynamite, spectacularly, and probably coincidentally, doing it when Dad and I were flying just overhead in a chartered Piper. Every few years, evidence of beaver chew would reappear, but only in the low flat area, which offer beavers an endless supply of one of their favorite foods, small alder trees. None ever again climbed the steep hill up to the aspen patch, and until last month, I never saw any evidence that any beaver was willing to make any further exploration of our wooded and hilly property.
I’d been out on a short walk with my DSLR and 150-600mm lens, when I walked down to the pond and startled a large animal that surprisingly, turned out to be a beaver. I sat on a log, with my camera, and began what would turn into a two and a half our show. After leisurely swimming around the pond in big lazy loops, apparently completely aware that I was there, it crawled up the bank in front of our cabin, and began an extensive grooming process.
It was almost embarrassing to watch. At the time, I was not aware that the beaver has a sort of all purpose cloaca, supporting not just excretory and sexual functions, but also containing the castoreum glands. The beaver uses its front paws to obtain a waterproofing oil from those glands, which it rubs all over its body.
The beaver has a split in one of its rear toenails (visible above) that it uses as a brush. After spending a full 20 minutes grooming, the now relatively fluffy beaver turned around and started looking for something to eat.
It spent about 10 minutes nibbling on something on the ground. I got a great view of its distinctive orange teeth.
Apparently bored with raspberry canes and dead ferns, the beaver jumped back into the water and took a few more lazy loops around the pond.
Then it climbed back out of the water and spent a couple minutes in the same spot where it had groomed 20 minutes earlier, it jumped back in the pond, made a figure 8, and spent a couple minutes gnawing on a branch hanging out over the pond.
Then it came back out. And went back in. And crawled back out. I eventually got bored of sitting on the dead cherry tree, and moved to the other side of the pond to inspect the chewed up root. Maybe this was the opening that Bucky was looking for. Finally, after I’d spent over an hour and half observing it, the beaver started beavering away at a beech sapling on the far side of the pond.
It took the beaver almost eight minutes to gnaw through the small tree. After the top fell into the water, the beaver took a small and lazy victory loop around the center of the pond. Then it pulled the fallen sapling along the edge of the pond, underneath the fallen cherry log, and spent the rest of the evening biting the branches off, and noisily tripping them of their bark. It held the branches in its front paws, rotating the branch while gnawing on it like an ear of corn. The biting and chewing noise could be clearly heard all around the pond.
I moved further around the pond and kneeled next to a rock to capture some video and more stills of the feeding beaver, resting my camera on the rock. By now it was almost 7:30 PM, well after sunset, and I’d spent two and a half hours watching and filming the beaver. I took a few more shots with the electronic flash, clearly gaining the animal’s attention, without scaring it away.
I walked out a few hours later, with a flashlight, and found the beaver about 50 feet away from the pond, up a hill. That was the last I saw of it. It was gone the next day, and there’s no further evidence that it has come back. I can’t find any other beaver-chewed trees or saplings anywhere on the property, even in the alder patches down near the stream.
Previous blog entries using our game camera to track the activity on the Fall 2015 beaver dam on the northern border of Heiser Hollow: