Spooky Beaver Boo

   Posted by heidi08 On October - 24 - 2016ADD COMMENTS

It’s getting to be my favorite time of year! No, not halloween. But Boo at the ZOO day! In San Francisco they let you in free if you’re wearing a costume, and they feed the animals inside pumpkins!

Apparently it’s even happen in Detroit, Michigan.

Early Halloween at Zoo Boo


A beaver passes and four kids cheer Sunday, October 23 at the Detroit  Zoo for the annual Zoo Boo celebration.

636128523018422727-2016-1023-fl-ec-zooboo-004Looks like a lot of fun. And we all know how much beavers love Halloween.


Beaver Public Radio

   Posted by heidi08 On October - 23 - 2016ADD COMMENTS

Now new  Hampshire Public Radio reports on beavers!

Something Wild: West End Farm Trail

 Over another small hill, Knight leads us to a beaver complex, pointing out the three ponds these rodents have constructed. Chris explains how each of the ponds are formed by beavers channeling water and flooding forest land. And if we come back in another year or two there could be a fourth pond. “You build another dam, flood another forest and presto you’ve got a fourth pond.”

Eventually this first pond drains, and shrubs and trees return to what is now a clearing. Dave explains those first plants to colonize after the water has drained are actually primary food source for beavers. “So they’ll move back up to the top of the drainage and they start all over again. So they cycle in and out, and up and down the watershed.” Flooding a forest seems like extreme behavior, but it creates habitat for fish, frogs, turtles and water birds. And all inside the city limits.

captureAfter 9 years of covering beaver news I’m starting to see a pattern.  September is full of beaver problem reports because the animals are busy taking trees and making food stores for the winter. But come late October we’re treated to an assortment of beaver benefits as people either start noticing the wildlife, water storage or upcoming beaver moon. I might like late October the best of all the year!

In the meantime, lets just appreciate the harvest.

loggly celebrate

How the West was Watered: The next chapter.

   Posted by heidi08 On October - 22 - 2016ADD COMMENTS

These are the golden days of beaver news. Yesterday a glowing report on VPR and today a glowing report on NHPR. But we’ll talk about that later, because this article from New Scientist Magazine has earned top billing.

captureHow beavers could help save the western US from a dry future

By MacGregor Campbell

How fortunes change. The fur rush drove the North American beaver, Castor canadensis, to near-extinction. Then, after a remarkable comeback last century, the once-prized rodent became a pest. Now, some say it could be on the cusp of a fresh rebranding: not as a prize or a pest, but as a prodigy.

Known as nature’s engineers, beavers seem to magic water out of nowhere. Crucially, their dams also help to store that water. At a time when California faces endless water shortages and long-standing drought, could beavers be part of a more natural solution?

Shrubs swallow the rocks, bulrushes stand in a wide expanse of clear, still
water, and cottonwood trees tower over the landscape. In the speckled
shadows, yellow butterflies dip and soar while finger-sized blue dragonflies
perch on reeds. Translucent baby fish take cover under waterlogged sticks.
Beavers and humans have been busy. “We’re building an ecosystem here,
says Michael Pollock, a researcher with the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), based in Seattle, Washington state.

Ohlala! Curl up with your saturday morning cuppa and settle in for the best read of the entire week. Any article that starts out with Pollock is going to go places we want to be. We’re all in at this point. Unfortunately that’s all the preview the magazine gives for free but we are old friends right? They didn’t mean to keep us out.

In 2010, local landowner Betsy Stapleton got in touch with Pollock after
reading about some of his research. Pollock was interested in something
called beaver dam analogues. Typically consisting of a line of posts set
across a stream bed and interwoven with willow and cottonwood branches,
these faux dams slow water down and widen out a stream to form a pond.
The goal? To attract beavers. Putting one up is like prepping beaver real
estate for sale.

scotts-riverIn Sugar Creek, much to Stapleton’s delight, the faux dams worked. As she wades through soft muck into surprisingly pristine pond water, she points out evidence of beavers all around. Sticks with chew marks are strewn across the pond bottom. A scent-mound of dried mud stands guard telling interlopers that the pond is spoken for. Vegetation has been stuffed into both dam analogues. “They like to plug every little hole,” says Stapleton.

For Pollock, Sugar Creek was a test case for a new way to manage water.
When Stapleton first contacted him, the site had just a trickle of water. It felt
symptomatic of the wider issues facing California, namely persistent
drought and dwindling groundwater resources, neither of which is likely to
be eased by climate change. Traditionally, the answer has been to build
more channels, reservoirs and other artificial water infrastructure. Pollock
believes beavers are a better solution.

At Sugar Creek, on the other hand, the water gets stuck. Beneath it isn’t just
rock but rich soil too. NOAA hydrologist Brian Cluer points out sand and fine
dirt that has come from further upstream. In the still waters of the ponds, it
settles. Grasses, reeds and other plants take root in the stuff, locking it and
its moisture in place. With time, a thick base of rich, moist soil builds up,
helping to raise the water table.

Cluer says that all this has a huge knock-on effect. The water seeps down
into the ground, recharging underground aquifers. That matters because
California is depleting its groundwater at an alarming rate. It is now tapping
into “fossil” water that has been underground for tens of thousands of
years. Farmland is sinking as aquifers collapse. This is the price you pay for
an intensive water management system predicated on drained wetlands
and artificial channels, says Cluer.

Oh my goodness, creating biodiversity AND recharging our bone- dry collapsed aquifers. That’s got to sound pretty good to a lot of bureaucrats out there. Hope the aide to the governor is reading this. We’re at the part of the article where they talk about the ‘buts’ though. But here’s the bad news. I’m braced. Give it your best shot MacGregor.

It’s not all sweetness and light, however. Humans and beavers working in
harmony to restore degraded ecosystems is an alluring dream, but the
reality is somewhat more complicated. For one, there’s a reason why
beavers are considered a nuisance: they don’t always do what you want
them to. Introduce them in the wrong area and they can wreak havoc.
Chewed trees, plugged culverts, flooded fields and roads – the same
behaviours that make beavers excellent engineers are often at odds with
human infrastructure. Across the US, that means damage costing tens of
millions of dollars each year.

Introducing beavers to an area doesn’t always go well for the animals either,
says Jimmy Taylor, a wildlife biologist with the US Department of
Agriculture, based in Corvallis, Oregon. Dropping them into a new area can
leave them vulnerable to predators and without enough food while they
build their infrastructure.

Alright if the most negative voice you got is Jimmy Taylor, I can handle it.It’s funny how this article is turning into a ‘Who’s who’ of beavers and my beaver podcasts isn’t it? You really should go listen to them again just to make sure you know what’s going on. Yes, beavers don’t always survive reintroduction and beavers block culverts. Can we go back to the good news now? No we have to fret about fish first.

Minimising conflict between beavers and humans is a good start, but not
the whole story. Some fish and wildlife managers are concerned that the
dams obstruct fish and so will harm stocks. Pollock doesn’t buy the
argument. Together with Wheaton and others, he has recently completed a
large-scale study of the effect beaver dams have on steelhead trout
numbers at Bridge Creek in Oregon. In 2008, the team started building
beaver dam analogues along a 32-kilometre stretch of the watershed,
eventually completing 121 by 2012. The resident beavers chipped in,
building on top of the artificial dams and creating new ones too. By 2013,
there were 236.

Before the experiment, the density of fish living in Bridge Creek was the
same as at nearby Murderer’s Creek, but by 2013 it was nearly double. It
seems that far from being harmed by the dams, fish were benefiting from
the wetter, more protected environment. What’s more, so far as the team
could tell, there was no change in the number of adult fish heading
upstream to spawn. They seemed to have no trouble hopping over the

“Beavers and salmon have been evolving together since at least the
Pliocene, 3 million years ago,” Pollock points out. He says preliminary
results at Sugar Creek tell a similar story. Before the beaver dam analogues,
they counted tens or hundreds of baby fish in a typical summer. After?
Thousands. “There’s way more than we can count,” says Pollock.

Ohhh yes, that’s the kind of research I like best! The snappy ‘take that’ kind of research! If I didn’t know better I’d think that maybe this would change the way people looked at beavers. I’d think that this article would open eyes, and minds. But  I’ve been in the beaver biz a long time. People are very, very stubborn. I guess I should be happy if it changes a few minds and gives some others pause.

Oddly enough, this article does a lot of heavy lifting for the rodents but makes the decision to end on an appreciation of their anal scent glands. Hmm? Not the note I would have ended on, but the rest is wonderful so we’ll let this slide.

babyHow could you not love beavers? They are intensely social and form lifelong pairs. Each family – or colony – splits its duties: while one animal gathers
building material, another excavates the pond and yet another watches the kits (that’s a baby beaver to me and you), keeping an eye out for predators
or rival colonies.

A single family can create and maintain tens of square kilometres of water infrastructure. They thin local forests, both for building material and bark – their preferred food – and store it in underwater caches of sticks and small logs that also provide homes to baby fish.

Perhaps the beaver’s most surprising attribute is its anal scent glands. They
produce a substance called castoreum, which beavers use as a calling card.
Humans use it in perfumes and occasionally as a flavouring additive,
typically in substitutes for vanilla.

Lets give MacGregor the benefit of the doubt and lets assume that he wanted to finish the article on some grand sweeping note about beaver benefits or how society misunderstands the gift it was given, and his small minded editor in gaberdine made the article end on anal scent glands, because ew!  People will tell their friends!

Overall this is a fantastic read and just in case you want to pass it along to your friends or senators I will risk  the long arm of the law and link to it here. Shhh,

On a local note, I heard from Leslie this morning that our wayward beavers have nearly finished the tree they took down and she had fun watching them all evening. I also heard back from the grounds  keeper at the junior high that he is grateful for the information and loves nature and will keep my number handy. So that’s about the best we could hope for.

You do everything you can to raise your children right, and get the right information out there,  but at some point they go out in the world and you just have to trust things will work out.



The good news and the bad news…

   Posted by heidi08 On October - 21 - 2016ADD COMMENTS

We haven’t seen our wayWard™ street beavers since the last week of September. Jon has been down faithfully in the evenings and we have looked all over in the mornings from Green street to the corp yard. I was starting to feel like they had left us and getting a little sad.

Then I got an email yesterday from “Leslie” who wondered how to discourage beavers from chewing her trees. I get these kind of queries all the time from the web site so I thought nothing of it. I wrote back about how to wrap them and asked her as an afterthought what part of the country she was in just in case I had a local contact that could help her more.

MARTINEZ, she answered.

img_1587Turns out she lives around the junior high where our AWOL beavers have been hanging out for the last week.  Jon went to check out the damage. The beavers had taken two rough barked willow trees from the bank near her house. Meanwhile I scrambled to contact the maintenance crew there and get something out  to the neighbors about protecting trees.

Here is what I sent out as post cards yesterday.


Our two beavers were there last night and this morning again. Our friendly beaver-spotter volunteer can watch them from her deck. While we’re happy they’re still around we aren’t exactly thrilled about the odds of getting every single resident in the area excited about having beavers, and there is really nothing we can do to make them move down stream where its safer. She said they took the trees 5 days ago which would have been during the heavy rain when it must have been easy for them to swim up far.

Lets hope the next big rain doesn’t leave them at Arch street!

In the mean time I assume this means they didn’t have offspring because I can’t imagine they’d go exploring with kits. I’ve racked my brain to think how to get them down here and can’t think of anything yet. I guess they might try building a dam up there because the walls are so narrow and steep it will seem easy, but the first big rain will blow it out because there’s just too much water pressure up there. And that might eventually convince them its a bad idea.

That’s about all we have in our favor at the moment.

In the meantime if you have any friends or contacts in the area please give them a heads up and we’ll cross our fingers.  And I’ll keep trying to make friends with the Junior High.

Really nice beaver reporting from Vermont Public Radio, the home state of Skip Lisle. You really should find time to listen.

Outdoor Radio: Inside A Beaver Lodge capture

Praise beavers from sea to shining sea

   Posted by heidi08 On October - 20 - 2016ADD COMMENTS

Nice description from Ruth Grierson of the Mount Desert Island in Maine. Even though they’re east coast and not very far from solutions they aren’t exactly floating in beaver wisdom and coexistence up there, so this is nice to read.

Eager beavers help selves, others

Many have noticed lately that the water level in island beaver ponds is way down. Someone asked me what the beavers will do this winter if we don’t get more rain before winter starts. This could be a problem for them. I know my pond is quite low at the moment. The beaver ponds are interesting to see now, for you really can check out their lodges and dams and realize what wonderful structures they have made. They are excellent engineers. The term “busy as a beaver” has real meaning.

Beavers are the largest living rodents in North America and among the mammals living on this island that are easy to see and observe as they live their lives. Other wildlife benefit considerably by their presence, for they create an excellent habit supplying food, shelter and water, the requirements for life. Plants also benefit from their presence. Migrants find the many beaver ponds excellent places to stop, rest and eat on their long journeys. You sometimes even come across geese or ducks nesting on the top of a beaver lodge, for it makes a safe place for a home. The trees that have died because of the flooding of an area provide great nesting places for many birds and mammals.

Well said, Ruth. It’s a good point that is never made often enough. In fact I think it deserves a poster. What do you think?

posterJeanette Carroll from Redding has some similar thoughts. Here’s a recent letter she published in the Record Searchlight which is part of USA today. Redding is famously beaver danger zone, so we are thrilled about this.

Please help the salmon.

Thousands of dollars are spent restoring salmon habitat and pouring suitable sized gravel into the Sacramento River for the salmon to use as they migrate upriver to spawn. All efforts to increase the salmon species are very worthwhile.

I sincerely hope the Department of Fish and Wildlife will provide some guidance to the Department of the Interior so the waters from Shasta and Keswick dams are not abruptly curtailed as was the case in 2014 and 2015. The salmon no sooner completed their spawning efforts and their depleted and decaying bodies began to wash downstream in the Sacramento River when the water flow stopped so abruptly that not enough water was left to allow their eggs to hatch.

Their nicely cleaned gravel spawn beds were exposed to the elements and their eggs would have never hatched into tiny fry had not our local pair of beavers quickly rebuilt their dam just in time to inundate the salmon eggs in their redd. So, the 2014 and 2015 eggs did hatch but there are not enough beaver and suitable sloughs in the Sacramento River to save other vulnerable spawning grounds. If the same thing occurs this year, will the beaver come to the rescue again and save the 2016 salmon eggs?

This is a fine reminder of what NOAA fisheries research has been pointing out for 20 years. Beaver ponds are salmon nurseries. And ripping out beaver ponds is salmon genocide. If you’re going to save one, you have to cooperate with the other. Shorter column: When Jeanette writes “Please help save the salmon’ what she is really asking is “Please help save the beavers”.

Mountain men didn’t ask for directions, either.

   Posted by heidi08 On October - 19 - 2016Comments Off on Mountain men didn’t ask for directions, either.

There’s going to be another historical post. It cannot be helped. There is only one way this works and that is if I get to write about what I’m thinking about beavers every day. Even if I’m thinking about something that happened 175 years ago that affected beavers. Trust me, this is going to be fascinating.

I had suspected that reading through Zenas Leonard’s account of the passage through the Sierras would be like reading the Odyssey – dry with details and slumber-inducing. Instead it was like taking a kayak through the rapids. Zip! Zip! Zoom! So much amazing distance covered in such a little time and very hard to climb out of.

One of the first things I noticed is that mountain men didn’t ask for directions, either.

While they’re starving on the mountain skree, struggling to find a pass, and eating their starving horses at a considerable rate, a scouting party comes across an indian hiking purposefully through the snow. Do they ask him how the heck to get over the mountain? Or where he is going? Or maybe just follow him and see for themselves?

No, they shoot him and creep back to camp.

Another pair of Indians they meet later are so startled they drop the basket of acorns they were carrying and run away. They don’t follow these either. But they do take the basket and eat roasted acorns that night, which made a nice change from horse. They had very little regard for or interest in the native peoples, describing them as ‘slothful’ ‘ignorant’ and ‘filthy’.  This is even though they marveled at the pumpkin,  corn and squash they saw being grown once they made it over. Zenas was especially suspicious of the tribe he meets later in SF because even when the troop rode closer the natives continued with their fishing and didn’t pay attention to the white men at all. (Imagine!) At one point Leonard observes that they ‘all seemed to be from the same tribe‘ since they were the same shade and spoke the same language.

(Sure. I’m pretty sure that common native tongue was later identified by the scholars as ‘Notenglish‘).

But back to the Sierras, eventually they crawl through enough snowy terrifying spaces that they find themselves on the other side and Zenas notes tellingly,

redwoodAhh this is what made folks think they were in Yosemite. But there are four other stands of Giant Sequoia and historians have argued over whether they might have ended up at Calaveras instead. They quickly started thinking about trapping again to pay for their trip, and hunted about for beaver sign. Leonard describes beaver as ‘scarce’ in the area.  But never mind, I got more interested in what they saw as they headed down that mountain. The night of November 12 the sky seemed to explode with falling lights and the men and horses were terrified of certain death.


Apparently, coming out of the trees they had the bizarre fortune to witness the largest meteor shower the country has ever known. Starting a little before midnight on the November 12th, 1833 and continuing until dawn that morning, a meteor shower occurred that was visible across the entire United States. Typical Leonid showers have a rate of something like 5 meteors an hour. This had more like 100,000. Famous poets, abolitionists and pastors all described it in horror and awe. Fathers woke their wives and children to pray because they were sure it was the end of days. Even Abraham Lincoln wrote about it years later.

And even though you didn’t think you knew about this amazing moment in history it is captured in a famous song you did know, with a title from the book of the same name published shortly after the event.

The odds of them surviving the Sierra pass at all are pretty incredible. The odds of them living on cricket and starving horseflesh and acorns aren’t good. But the odds of them arriving out of the dense redwoods in time for this extravaganza were stunning. Consider that for a moment. The very next day the men were terrified to hear a great crashing all around them,  and were sure some huge animal was bursting through the trees to chase them. It seemed to get louder the faster they rode away from the treeline.

But we know what it really was, right?

The crash of ocean waves was proof of the success of their journey and divine assurance that America really did have a “manifest destiny” after all.  They rushed down to the shore in time to see a very rare three mast ship far out to sea. Again the odds of such a meeting were stacked against them. There weren’t many ships sailing around the Pacific coast at the time. This was a whaling ship named the Lagoda from Boston. When they hailed it by fashioning a  large flag the captain sent out longboats and invited them aboard for  dinner.

Most of the 57 men went aboard and had a grand feast drinking cognac from Captain  Baggshaw’s private reserve. Later Zenas commented that it was the first bread, butter and cheese that any of their company had eaten in two years.hospitality

So they made buddies with the crew and captain and agreed to meet up again in Monterey. They got all the gossip on the natives and the Spaniards they were likely to meet along the way. Leonard doesn’t say whether they talked about the Meteor shower but they must have. It had to be at least as terrifying at sea as it was coming out of the forest. Maybe even more so.

Afterwards they slept off the cognac and started their way down the peninsula through what is now the Bay Area. And the craziest coincidence of all? When they were leaving San Francisco and picking their way over the marshlands they came across the skeleton of a narwhale.

No, really.


Beaver in a camel suit!

   Posted by heidi08 On October - 18 - 2016Comments Off on Beaver in a camel suit!

captureZenas Leonard is best known for his eye-witness account of the Walker expedition (which was the first westward pass) over the Sierras. The account was serialized in his home town paper in PA the Clearfield Republican when he got back and published in book form in 1839. Despite dying before his 50th birthday, Zenas did alright for himself. His account has been republished several times since and is readable online in several places. His writing is concise, frank, and gives a richly detailed account of a pivotal moment in American History. In fact, the original printed first edition sold last year at auction in San Francisco for a cool 125,000.

Yesterday I had the very fun fortune to come across this:  First some context, the troop of 58 men is starving at the Nevada foot of the Sierras trying to find a way over in very deep snow, and sent a hunting party to look for anything they could find to eat. (Although not cactus, because unlike the natives, mountain men were strictly Paleo in their diet). The narrative writes that the unsuccessful hunters came back only with a “colt and a CAMEL“.

captureThe footnotes are from a later reprinting explaining that the great California Camel experiment didn’t occur until some 20 years later, so Leonard must have gotten it wrong since camels are in Africa and not California.

Which leaves a bit of a mystery with something like three possible solutions.

  1. Zenas was wrong and it was some other animal that he didn’t recognize. 
  2. Zenas was right but his manuscript was illegible in places and the word is some related other word that makes more sense – like ‘cattle’ or ‘ram’ 
  3. There really was a camel in Nevada in 1832 because it got left behind or lost from some forgotten expedition.

Robin of Napa and I had a fun chat about what it might have been and she suggested maybe a llama that had straggled behind. And, honestly if the potato could make it here from Peru, why not a llama?

Rickipedia’s more serious answer thinks its explanation #1. He believes the animal was a pronghorn.

I would wager the “camel” was our pronghorn Antilocapra americana. They had nothing like it in Europe or the eastern US. They knew deer and they knew elk (which they call red deer in Europe) but not pronghorn. It is commonly called antelope, although incorrectly, because of pronghorn’s vague resemblance to African antelopes.

Well, I am almost always prepared to trust Rick’s instinct but a camel with horns? Even  female pronghorn have horns so it must have had them. Of course not every 19th century illustration of a species actually looks like the animal in question. We all know that right?

Konrad Gesner Woodcutting: 1558

Here’s some personal history that migt be relevant: Jon and I had the odd fortune of actually riding camels to a monastery in Egypt many years ago, I can testify that they are fairly LARGE and unmistakable – intimidating even without the horns. I can’t imagine there was ever one lost in Nevada. But then, we’ve never ridden pronghorn.