Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Beaver!

The place I found this beaver sign was deep in a mixed deciduous/coniferous forest in the Adirondacks, along side of a iced over lake. It was a bright sunny day, and what alerted us to the presence of the beaver were drag marks across our path. There was ~1+ feet of snow on the ground. My club, The Wildlife Society, and I were visiting with FLCC alum Elaina Burns. Elaina is currently working on a study with the DEC on the American marten (Martes Americana) and the fisher (Martes pennant) in and around Newcomb, NY.
Newcomb, NY 3/27

We took a hike with her the morning of Sunday March 27 and discovered this drag that the beaver(s) had made across our trail. It was a few days fresh, as the last snow had fallen just several days prior. There were no distinguishable tracks that I could make out, but it was obviously that we found the site of the beaver. The drag marks led from freshly gnawed saplings and branches, across the trail down to the water’s edge, and disappeared into a now frozen over hole in the ice. There was just a thin layer of ice on it, but the temperature had been in the ‘teens that morning, so it had probably just frozen over. Along the beaver’s path there were loose twigs and pieces of trees that had come loose from his bundle. The beaver is such a fascinating creature!

Despite what many people may think, the beaver does not hibernate.  Instead, to battle the long cold winter, the beaver creates caches. A cache is a collection of food (branches) that beaver stock piles in front or within close proximity to his lodge. The branches become frozen in place, and are then accessible from underwater all winter long. I did witness this, but the lodge was too far from where I was to snap a good picture. The beaver stays cozy and warm underneath a thick layer of brown fat which insulates him against the cold air temperatures as well as frigid water temperatures. The beaver is most commonly recognized to live in a lodge, but may sometimes live in a bank den or burrow. Either way, both of these structures provide good protection through the winter months.
Why does beaver urine smell the way it does? Just ‘cause? To tell other beavers who has been where?  To lure the opposite sex in? To deter predators?  Walking along the path we were able to detect a whiff of beaver scent, which is very strong and unpleasant. To get a closer and “better” sniff, my fellow club members and I bent down to get a smell. It’s very musky and pungent. It’s the kind of smell that sticks with you for a few seconds as you pull away and makes you wrinkle your nose. Not pleasant, although cool to experience!

My friends and I smelling beaver pee!

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