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A beaver pond diary

Reflections on how this unique species shaped our time in North Woods

Anne Stewart
Posted 1/17/19

In mid-summer, three years after we did, the beavers arrived— and changed our experience here in the North Country. Our house sits on a high ridge with red and white pines overlooking what was a …

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A beaver pond diary

Reflections on how this unique species shaped our time in North Woods

Posted

In mid-summer, three years after we did, the beavers arrived— and changed our experience here in the North Country. Our house sits on a high ridge with red and white pines overlooking what was a dried up marsh with grassy hummocks. Brunhilde’s Rock rises up twenty-five feet at the edge of the marsh and from there you can see the small stream that flows along the south edge of the marsh.

The summer of 1994, standing on Brunhilde’s Rock, I noticed inches of water in the marsh. That fall, in a letter to a friend, I noted, “Every evening at sundown there is lots of heavy-duty splashing and the water level has been creeping up—something interesting is going on”

Journal entry of December 27: We and our resident beavers, whom we can observe from our south windows, worked industriously over the summer. Now we and they have the benefits of cozy winter homes....It appears they have closed the hatches for the winter and are inside roasting marshmallows.

According to Wikipedia, after the freezing weather arrives in late fall, the beavers apply a final coating of wet mud which freezes solid and keeps warmth in– even in below-zero temperatures. The body heat of the beaver family serves as a heating source.

The beaver pond expanded and brought new sights and sounds.

1995: May 10: Peepers and other frogs have been going full force for a week now.

1996: May 10: Spring peepers in full voice.

New plants appeared in the pond, or perhaps reappeared—seeds that had been dormant, waiting for their time.

July 7: Canoed the stream and found marsh cinquefoil, calla lilies, tufted loosestrife, and smartweed.

1998:April 14: Walked along east edge of marsh. Trees including a large aspen cut down by beaver.

2000: June 23: I showed my grandson the tree, their teeth-marked whittle a testament to persistence.

“Why would they chew down such a large tree?” I ask. “They can’t possibly move it anywhere.”

“It’s a guy thing,” his mother explains to me. She could be right.

2002: March 22: Muskrat scat on our snowshoe trail in the marsh.

Muskrats sometimes carve out part of a beaver lodge for their home and have been known to share space with beavers.

April 28: Hooded mergansers in the southwest corner by the dam.

April 29: All kinds of ducks in the small pool by the dam gobbling up frogs.

2003: July 14: Sitting on top of Brunhilde’s Rock, I watched a large beaver climb up on top of the lodge. I would guess it weighed 40 or more pounds. Some can get as large as 60 pounds.

Resting on top of the lodge, the beaver groomed itself with the special claw on the second toe of its hind foot, taking oil from its oil gland and spreading it through its fur to waterproof it. The broad tail serves as a rudder when swimming and “kick stand,” as described by naturalist Sparky Stenaas, when it wants to sit upright. The rear paws are broad and webbed for swimming. The front paws have five claws, almost finger-like. It looks human-like holding its food in its front paws to eat.

In the winter, our snowshoe route circled past the beaver lodge. Once I found a star-nosed mole laying on top of snow near the lodge with no sign of injury. Otter slides and tracks were imprinted on the south ridge slope. The otter had a home past the dam in the bank by the stream. Wolf, fox, snowshoe hare, pine marten, all left their prints and scat.

And then the beavers were gone. Why? Dryer years, low water, old age? We had had several dry years. The most noticeable thing in the succeeding summers was the absence of frogs, especially the spring peepers.

The lodge developed a hole in one side. My grandchildren and I could peer inside the snug, domed hut. The dirt floor was hard packed and level. The living space was above the waterline. The downward sloped passageway exited under the water. During the time of open water, beaver store their food supply underwater near the lodge. It is a short trip under the ice to retrieve food.

2005: The marsh plant community was changing. I found marsh St. John’s-wort, water hoarhound, willow herb and Joe-Pye weed.

2006: July 14: Walked along the stream in the marsh. Found one or more deteriorated beaver lodges besides the most recent and signs of other dams and sub-dams. They seem to have put a log every twenty feet or so: to slow the movement of water?

Two hawks overhead—broad-winged. A beautiful day! Couldn’t ask for more. How lucky to live for a moment in this beautiful spot.

2012: March: Can’t find any pussy willows. Need the beavers back.

2015: September: Marsh seems to be filling with water. A few inches at least.

No dam or lodge was visible, but that fall the water steadily increased.

2016:January: On a snowshoe trip downstream we found a lodge, and farther on a massive dam. This pond is far larger than the small one that had been on our property.

2016: May 4: Water creeping higher and higher.

The water rose to cover the old dam.

May 21: Thousands of frog voices. Peepers, wood frogs. So good to have them back

July 31: Lots of small gray tree frogs: some green, some brown.

2017 April: Pond ice sinking. Ducks quacking.

June 19: Large snapping turtle on my deck. Sent it back towards the pond.

June 30: Beaver pond looks drained. Looked like a large rush of water passed under the road where the stream flows into the lake.

July 24: The pond is back. Guess the beaver fixed the break in their dam.

November 29: The spruce grove on the west side of the property is under several inches of water. The trees are dead.

That area had been damp but solid ground. As the dead trees fall and decay, they will add to decomposed trees that have fallen before. The spruce, too, are part of a cycle—this area is on its way to becoming a bog.

Spring 2018: Frogs. Many, many frogs, wood frogs, peepers by the thousands.

May 2: The beavers cut down a fair-sized birch which fell in the water. No way they can get that to their lodge.

May 16: Beavers working on top half of tree, stripping bark, and taking parts away, a branch at a time.

September 16: Piles of bleached pinchers, fish scales, and bones—remains of scat left by otters on Brunhilde’s Rock.

Throughout the summer and fall children and grandchildren came for a last visit to Brunhilde’s Rock and the pond. I am moving on. The beaver are staying for now.

For those who in the future stand on Brunhilde’s Rock, they will see the pond come and go, witness the cycle of beaver, otter fox, alder, willow, pine and birch trees, grasses, sedges, meadow rue, Joe-Pye weed...the spruce grove will evolve to bog. The stream may deepen. The cycle of marsh to pond will spin on.

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