Beaver!

Castor canadensis
Beaver Field Sketches

On Saturday Stephen and I went for our usual evening birding walk down the rail trail. We usually walk in along the north side of the lake, where we can get a good look at Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, and sometimes a variety of duck species, as well as warblers in the shrubs and woods. This time, though, we walked down the rail trail and cut in beside the south side of the lake and then around behind it, where I hadn’t been before.

We heard a call that was familiar but couldn’t place it at first, then saw our first Osprey of the season flying over the lake- such a beautiful bird. Then we saw a ripple in the water moving in our direction. A beaver! We do occasionally see beavers swimming across the lake, but usually from a greater distance, and not swimming in our general direction. We stopped and stood still, Stephen with camera in hand, me with pencil poised over the sketchbook in which I had just been sketching the view and jotting down bird species as we saw or heard them.

The beaver swam along the shore, pausing several times to look in our direction. I don’t know if he saw us, since their eyesight isn’t great, but perhaps he smelled us. To our astonishment, he swam to a muddy spot on the shore about six yards from where we were standing and climbed out onto land. He came a few feet closer, till he was about 10-12 feet from us, then stopped and looked at us briefly, before turning and going back into the water to resume his swim along the shore.

I’ve always loved rodents and have been fascinated with beavers, since they are the second largest rodents in the world (after the capybara of South America). North American beavers are typically 40-60 pounds but can occasionally reach 100 pounds. The beaver we saw seemed on the large size to me. I am not experienced with estimating beaver weight, having never before seen one up close on land, but I am pretty good at estimating dog weight, and I’d estimate this fellow’s weight at over 50 pounds, possibly even over 60.

We left the beaver swimming in peace and, as it was rapidly getting darker, we headed back. Once on the rail trail, I looked back and saw our beaver friend silhouetted in the dim light as he crouched on a fallen tree in the lake, eating his dinner. A wonder-filled walk by Lake Walton.

A few facts about beavers:

  • mate for life and give birth to 1-6 kits in May or June
  • young stay with their parents until they are 1.5 or 2 years old
  • one of the few species (including humans) that modifies their environment
  • eat leaves, bark, twigs, and aquatic plants
  • can remain underwater for 15 minutes
  • have special transparent eyelids to cover their eyes underwater
  • can close flaps behind their long incisors to keep water out when carrying sticks or gnawing wood underwater
  • can live 20-30 years
Beaver swimming
Beaver on land

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