Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Beaver Pond in November

The beaver pond is quiet in November. Great blue herons, ospreys and kingfishers left the wetland weeks ago, their young fledged and dispersed by summer's end. A few mallards swim silently along the edge, preparing for a flight south. The water level is high following heavy rains last weekend. The sturdy dam holds fast. Any leaks are inspected and fixed each night by the resident beavers.

The industrious beaver, is especially busy this time of year. The parents and their 1 1/2 year old offspring are filling the pantry next to the lodge. They gather their favorite woody foods -- small branches from aspens, willows, birches, and other tender hardwoods. These twigs are cached in the pond close to their lodge; the top layer sticks up above the pond, which helps prevent water freezing around the food cache.

The lodge is firmed up with mud to form a solid roof that is nearly impenetrable by beaver predators such as coyotes. This also keeps the beaver warm in winter. Safe inside the lodge the beaver family -- which includes the parents, the teenagers, and the young of the year -- swims out from its underwater entrances to grab something from the underwater cache and carry it back into the lodge. Beavers can tuck their lips behind their large incisors. This allows them to carry twigs in their mouth without swallowing lots of water.

Elsewhere, along a river, another beaver seems to be on a different mission. This beaver is busy gnawing large oaks. Actually, he's taken a bite or two out of every tree in a small circle around this oak. Maybe he's nervous, feeling the pressure of oncoming winter, the lodge not ready, the food not stowed. Maybe he lost his life-mate and is starting over.

The results of a busy beaver

Back at the pond, the low sun captures a perfect reflection of the rock-studded shoreline. The pond is calm and serene at mid-day.

On warmer winter days, the beavers will swim out to feed on the fleshy tubers of pond lilies and cattails. On the pond's surface oak leaves and pine needles float among the lily pads now tinged in red, marking the season's end.

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