I stopped in my tracks. I’ve never seen so much beaver sign! Trampled, packed down snow, chewed limbs, and huge shavings from felling trees.. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I knew that the beavers were back. I’d seen signs of activity at their lodge in December. But this was something else.
Wearing my snowshoes, I carefully climbed off the trail toward the water where a single hole in the ice provided access to the beaver’s underwater world. Their lodge is on the opposite shore at the edge of a vacant lot’s lawn. On this side, the Forest Preserve provides this buffet; buckthorn and dogwood are the favorites, but elm and honeysuckle grow here, too. The property owners of the mowed yard may not welcome feasting beavers, but the Forest Preserve does. Especially when they’re clearing invasive buckthorn. If the beavers stay with this strategy, they may do okay.
There are cross-country ski tracks ahead of me – the only other marks in the newly fallen snow beside the beaver tracks. Judging by the stride of his ski poles in the snow, the skier didn’t even slow down. He lives next door. Maybe he didn’t notice, won’t notice, the beavers.
After I finish my snowshoeing, and Tybee, my Labrador, is sufficiently exercised, I return alone with my motion-activated camera. I placed it facing the hole in the ice.
The next few nights would be bitter cold, so I only left the camera out a few days over concerns the batteries would drain quickly. Usually, I leave it for a week – unless I’m too impatient to see what it may have captured! Two days later, I retrieved the camera. There were no new tracks near it and just a few images. Disappointed, I tucked it into my jacket and continued my hike.
Only twenty more feet down the path, there are mazes of tracks in and around trees, across the trail and back down to the shore. I back-tracked and ducked into the trees where I spotted a hole in the earth a yard or so from the frozen pond shore. It’s a tunnel to the waters below the ice!
I was careful not to approach too closely, unsure what effect my presence might have on the beavers returning to the area. I placed the camera in sight of the earthen chute and continued gleefully down the path on my snowshoes. Tybee, who dawdles to take in all of the smells wherever we go, has absolutely no interest in the beavers.
A week passed before I was able to get out retrieve the camera. There were two pictures of deer, a few mallards, tree squirrels and a single coyote. And two hundred beaver pictures! (I need to get a new trail camera that will give me better nighttime images, but still!).
The camera stamps the images with the date, time and air temperature. It’s interesting to see all of the different times of day and night that they were out. I assume that I’m seeing at least two beavers, but no images contain more than one beaver and these images don’t have enough detail to differentiate between individuals, so I can’t be sure.
On the day that I picked up the camera, I explored the beaver hole more closely. It goes straight down a two to three feet before turning toward to water. I couldn’t see into the turn and didn’t think reaching into it would be wise. I also collected some souvenirs.
I’m excited to see the new beaver family. I hope they continue to feed from the Forest Preserve land, stay away from ornamental trees and stay under the radar of the local landowners.
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