Archive for the ‘Beavers’ Category

Friends in High Country News Places

Posted by heidi08 On January - 15 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

Well I’ll be gosh-darned. I just opened the nicest email from the beaver-savvy author of this High Country News review. It’s the kind of email that no girl deserves twice in her life, so I may as well just cancel the account now and hang up my ‘retired beaver tale-teller’ sign. You know, way back when I was a wee snip of a beaver advocate struggling to save our beavers from a conibear I was transfixed by a wondrous article in HCN that introduced me to the beaver shaman Mary Obrien who preached a whole new way of thinking about beavers and streams and ecology. The hair stood up on my arm to think that such wisdom existed in the world. And to get such a nice email from one of its reporters – well. You can see why I’m still tingling.

Apparently, he was prompted by reading our newsletter, which we had beautifully printed and received last week. (It came out pretty sharp, so if you would like your very own copy, email me an address and I’ll be happy to send one.)I asked his permission to share the delightful email  because it’s the kind of gratifying pipe you want to pass to your circle of friends,  but in the mean time here’s his awesome review of Frances Backhouse book. And some highlights so you can see that he really gets why all this beaver business matters.

The historical lifetime of the beaver

Our relationship with North America’s largest rodent is so complex that we can no longer classify beavers as simply as Horace T. Martin did in Castorologia, an 1892 zoological monograph written when beavers hovered on the brink of extinction. Frances Backhouse — formerly a seabird and grizzly biologist, now a University of Victoria-based writer/teacher — takes a new look at this landscape-changing critter in her book, Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver. The book was a finalist for the Lane Anderson award for the best Canadian science book of 2015.

For last few centuries, we’ve regarded beavers as either nuisances or commodities. Now, we’re increasingly learning how they make our landscapes livable: not only by clearing a path for settled lands and farms, but by filtering, diversifying and storing the water on which we depend. Backhouse identifies beavers as “a classic keystone species — that is, the indispensable creator of ecosystems that support entire ecological communities; an unwitting faunal philanthropist.” As a Canadian, she surely has a particular affinity for her national animal, but the beavers’ watershed stewardship blurs political borders. In her final chapter, “Détente,” Backhouse shows that countries that once fought over fur are finding between beavers and humans can help provide a cooler future, too.

First of all, if you haven’t read the book yet, buy it NOW. Because you really need to support this kind of revisionist beaver thinking. And second of all, go read the whole review because it’s very well written and will make you eager to start flipping through pages. And third, I just heard from Mr. Rich that he is willing to let me share this so here’s the first paragraph that you can use please at my eulogy.

Dear Heidi,

As we start a new year, I want to thank you for your tireless coverage of all things beaver. After reading your recent post and newsletter on the decade you have honored this marvelous rodent, I realized what a small fraction of those 10,000 viewers/week probably reciprocate with the praise and support that Worth a Dam deserves. I know that I am guilty of this, having been a daily reader for at least the last two years without ever saying a word. I am so devoted to your site because there is no other nexus with such comprehensive insights into the beaver’s ecological benefits, and wisdom about their evolving relationship with us. There are many places to learn “facts” about beavers, but you connect them with humor and heart as you bring “distant leaders and particular regional blind spots” into conversation. So I hope I speak for many hundreds more when I say THANK YOU!

Rob Rich

I honestly have never read anything that makes me happier. Or ascribes better purpose to my weirdly addictive pastime. I frankly would be making it up if I ever tried to say why I post about beavers every day, or who I think reads and depends on it. But now I have the perfect answer, and suddenly it all makes sense.

I do it for Mr. Rich.

Beaver Benefits at the Big Boy Table

Posted by heidi08 On January - 14 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

Didn’t I tell you that the quest for beavers in Marin would find answers quickly? Apparently there have already been discussions behind the scenes with the head of CDFG and now this article just magically appears in the SFGate. Mind you, and others have written them literally millions of time of the years about the important  relationship between beavers and salmon, but they obviously needed just the right motivation.

My mac is currently having issues so I can’t introduce the article the way I want but just go read it, and especially read the quotes about how important beavers are. Then set your watch for how long it takes to get them reintroduced in Marin. Maybe we should have a poll. I’m guessing they’ll be reintroduced before the first day of spring if the weather allows it.

California’s recent storms are devastating endangered salmon

Back in the North Bay, great efforts are underway to further restore the endangered coho salmon population. Ettinger hopes soon, beavers are re-introduced to the waterways.

“Beavers create the kind of habitat that really protect salmon in floods and drought by creating slow water ponds,” he said. “Coho salmon and beaver co-evolved for thousands of years and we lost beavers from trapping a long time ago. It would be really helpful to get that partnership re-established.”



It’s Raining Beavers!

Posted by heidi08 On January - 13 - 2017ADD COMMENTS

Reach deep in your pockets and under that couch cushion. If you find anything there other than cheetos and lint you will want to donate it to the Lindsay wildlife hospital and thank them for treating two beavers in two days, which is more than they’ve seen in two years.

The Benicia Police Department posted this video yesterday after a beaver
was found disoriented on the campus of Joe Henderson Elementary School. That beaver is apparently on the mend this morning, and the papers have amused themselves with the story.

Walnut Creek: Injured beaver found outside Benicia school

20170112_134444WALNUT CREEK — A disoriented beaver that showed up outside a Benicia elementary school early Thursday morning is recuperating at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience.

School personnel discovered the 40-pound male beaver drooling at the front door of Joe Henderson Elementary School around 5:30 a.m. Animal control officers took the beaver to the Lindsay for treatment.

Other than abrasions on its tail and the soles of the feet, the beaver appeared to be healthy, according to Dr. Guthrum Purdin, director of veterinary services at the Lindsay.

This is the second injured beaver brought to the Lindsay this week. On Tuesday, two beavers were found near Mohr Lane in Concord. One had been struck by a vehicle and died at the scene. The second beaver suffered a broken tooth and a fractured skull, and was euthanized Wednesday.

We’ve known for years about the beavers near Lake Hermann in Benicia, which is not far from the school. Cheryl has even been out to photograph them. The odd thing is that their series of beaver dams are currently upsetting public works enough that they are complaining to anyone that will listen. A reporter for the Vallejo Herald wanted to talk to me about it yesterday and find out how we managed them in Martinez. Neither of us even knew about that local rescue until last night!

North American Beaver Castor canadensis Guthrum Purdin, Director of Veterinary Services at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience, examines six-week-old orphaned kit Lindsay Wildlife Experience, Walnut Creek, CA *Model release availableDr. Guthrum is the veterinarian who treated our sick kit. He came to the beaver festival that year and is a big supporter. We are grateful that there is a safe place for beavers to recover and that compassionate teachers and animal control officers made sure he got there. Please tell them you support their beaver rescue by donating to help keep their doors open. And if you write “This is for the next beaver” on your donation we’ll be even happier.

And there’s one more thing we’re grateful for, and that has to be the silver lining in these stories.

A beaver population in Concord, in Benicia, in Napa, in Hercules, in Sonoma. We are surrounded by beavers on every side. Ten years ago that would never, ever have been possible. Ten years ago it was unheard of for beavers to suddenly appear in a  city. Worth A Dam made sure that Martinez was safe harbor for the birth of 24 kits over a decade. Even if they haven’t found their way back to Marin, these lucky beaver have changed the population of beavers in the greater Bay area for evermore.

No matter what happens now, they’ll never put that particular genie back in that bottle again.  Happy New Year!


‘Dome Sweet Dome’

Posted by heidi08 On January - 10 - 2017Comments Off on ‘Dome Sweet Dome’

The inside of a beaver lodge has captured the fancies of folks from Lewis Carol to Ian Timothy! I have been interested in art describing this because we’re thinking about doing some over/under art for our activity this festival. I thought I would show you some of my favorites so far.


Greg Newbold Art

Greg Newbold is an illustrator in Salt Lake City Utah who created this wonderful glimpse of the inside of a beaver lodge.  The colors are amazing, but even his sketch for the finished piece is pretty great. I particularly like the adorable young inhabitants inside. On his website “Life needs Art” he says about this,

I just finished up this one for an educational publisher. It’s fun to dig into details on something like this and create a feeling of reality even though this view is impossible to see in nature. I enjoyed the challenge of making the submerged portion of the beaver abode look like it was underwater which I achieved by shifting colors and values to reflect the effects of the water. Once again this is rendered in Photoshop over a graphite drawing. Size is 16″ x 11″ at 400 dpi. This one will print in the student edition as well as an oversize teacher edition to be used in group reading.

Fantastic job, Greg.  I love watching the family members swim home. Let’s just hope the book says in HUGE red LETTERS This is NOT a beaver dam. Because some people really need help telling them apart, apparently.

I did find a couple illustrations that shows the lodge, the dam, and the important food cache. This is from Miles Kelly publishing.

Or this nice peek from M.H. Peterson, although I’m not sure what that hole is at the base of the lodge. A place to turn around?

And that fun one in the snow from the Adirondack book I posted earlier this week by Mike Storey:


And of course there are a few fanciful ones that just grab our imagination. I came across this last year from an illustrator who’s name escapes me. I know it was a  female and I didn’t find it with the usual suspects looking for ‘interiors’ or ‘inside’ lodge. I will keep trying, because she deserves credit for this wonderful work. Aren’t the colors lovely?


I came across this yesterday and fell in love all over again. It is a watercolor by artist Jodi Lynn Burton of Detroit Michigan.

Get ready for some awesome inside artwork this summer I think!

Surviving the Storm

Posted by heidi08 On January - 9 - 2017Comments Off on Surviving the Storm

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Yesterday it rained and rained, so much that we parked across the street on a higher curb to avoid the runoff.  Folks armed their driveways with sandbags and there were no beavers in Martinez to blame for the flooding. Just the sky, which decided we needed a two-day dousing.

Rusty in Napa was undaunted and boldly went to see how their soggy beavers were holding up in all that rain. Of course the broken dam was topped, but the lodge too was underwater in the worst of it. Remember if there is water over the lodge, there is water IN the lodge, and the beavers were rudely awoken out of their days slumber and had to find another bed.


Beaver atop lodge in flood: Rusty Cohn

Sometimes they crouch in a cluster of trees, or have a little bank hole they can reach. Sometimes they decide to use the lodge like snoopy uses his dog house. And that’s what Rusty was hoping to photograph.

drybeaverThe amazing part to me, is that not only does this beaver look wonderfully calm and composed –

Dry yearling in storm: Rusty Cohn

(Nothing like we would look if we were flooded out of our home in the middle of the night) but he is also completely DRY. Look at his fur and consider the wonders of beaver weatherproofing.
On days like these we remember the countless worried storms we trudged down to our own beaver dam to see how our beavers were faring.


Beaver sleeps on bank while beaver swims below: Rusty Cohen

I remember the only beaver ‘swear word‘ I ever heard, watching a kit come out of the old lodge during very high current and immediately getting washed downstream in the flow. He was so surprised and alarmed he tailslapped loudly before swimming back. Which I’m sure has got to be the forensic equivalent of honking very loudly at a snow storm.

I’ve seen our beavers swim effortlessly upstream in a torrent, and move aside as terrible debris washed thru their ruined pond. Rain doesn’t hurt beavers. Snow doesn’t hurt beavers. Drought doesn’t hurt beavers. Really. Only we do that. Rusty had to work hard to protect his camera in the storm. But he was able to capture this later in the day so you could see for yourself that they are coping.

Sleepy and soggy, this beaver handles things just fine. Cue the “I will survive” soundtrack will you?


Here’s looking at you kid: Rusty Cohn


All the pretty little foxes

Posted by heidi08 On January - 6 - 2017Comments Off on All the pretty little foxes

Yesterday while I was busy writing about how we were lucky that  rare individuals took on certain species and protected them, this was published about our good friends Bill Leikam and Greg Kerekes in Palo Alto.  It’s not about beavers, but you will recognize immediately why it merits discussion here.

Palo Alto: Gray foxes decimated by disease in December

PALO ALTO — For seven years, Bill “The Fox Guy” Leikam has kept close tabs on the gray foxes that lurk largely unseen amid scrub and marshland near the edge of San Francisco Bay. So he was quick to notice that they’re in trouble.

The 17 foxes belonging to four skulks, or groups, that Leikam has studied as a retirement hobby and given names like Dark, Sideburns and One-Eye, have gone missing or turned up dead in the last month, victims, he believes, of a fast-spreading disease.

“It was like a black wind swept through the area and infected all of them,” said Leikam. “They’re all gone now.”

Twelve dead gray foxes have been found, with two sent to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for analysis. Five more are missing and believed dead. Wildlife officials say they are victims of canine distemper syndrome — a common virus that afflicts carnivores, including man’s best friend. But while the family dog is usually inoculated against the disease, wild relatives including foxes, coyotes and wolves as well as raccoons and skunks, are very vulnerable.

Other possible culprits wildlife officials considered before tests confirmed distemper included speculation that the animals could either have been poisoned deliberately by people who consider them pests, or accidentally by eating poisoned rodents or even toxic mushrooms.

Dr. Deana Clifford, a lead veterinarian with Fish and Game and researcher at UC Davis, said that such numbers are “unfortunately very typical of a localized outbreak” and that the virus can “dramatically reduce the number of animals in an area and even make it seem like they’ve disappeared altogether for a while.”

Leikam been called the “Jane Goodall of gray foxes,” and said he was the first person to do a comprehensive assessment of gray fox behavior in the country since he first happened upon a specimen while on a bird-watching hike in 2010. Unlike the invasive red foxes that are also found in the area, the gray fox is native and has the unusual ability of being a canine that can climb trees.

Recently, Leikam and Kerekez have been talking with other conservationists about the need for better wildlife corridors. David Johns of the Wildlands Project said that when Leikam told him about the die-off, he thought it was a clear example of the need for animals to have more room to roam.

“You have this small population, they’re often very genetically similar, and very easy to wipe out if they are susceptible,” Johns said. “That’s why connectivity is so important — it’s a reach for these foxes to find other populations that are bigger and wilder and that might bring in some new genes.”

All the foxes in an entire city wiped out by distemper, and  two guardians left with nothing to guard. This article gave me a total flashback of our lost kits, and Junior. I think I even called the high tide a ‘wave of death’ that took them away at the time. Deanna Clifford was the same veterinarian who was investigating our kit mortality. And many locals logically assumed poison. Or rat poison. It was hard not to.

But for us there were no causes to pinpoint: no culprits to blame and identify. Beavers can’t get distemper and what they could get and they knew to look for was never found. We couldn’t even say a wildlife corridor would protect them, because our beavers had all Carquinez Strait as their corridor and we think that’s where death came from. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s what our beavers think too and that’s why they moved so far up stream?)

He has single-handedly changed the way we see foxes, and those lost 11 souls helped him. Bill is attentive to the issue, be he says not heartbroken. Maybe it’s a boy thing, or maybe it has to do with watching them on camera instead of in person, or maybe I’m just a big baby. He and Greg will be at our next festival so you can ask him then. In the mean time we can just be sorry and watch Moses wonderful video again of the young foxes down near where the beaver dam was,


Posted by heidi08 On January - 5 - 2017Comments Off on Stewardship

For some reason, (for many reasons), we are lucky that special people take things on and protect them. Martinez protected beavers, Megan Isadore protects otters, Corky Quirk protects bats, and Steve Holmes protects the urban creeks of Los Gatos and the south bay.

Steve Holmes: San Jose needs to step up to protect creeks

For the past two years, Friends of Los Gatos Creek, an affiliate of South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition, has been conducting cleanups along creeks in Santa Clara County. We have tallied an astounding 76 cleanups. On our most recent event, June 4, we had 55 volunteers from Google, Santa Clara County Parks and the Friends team leaders converge on Los Gatos Creek in downtown San Jose.

With very little fanfare, our small grass-roots effort has surpassed a milestone: 100 tons of trash removed from the Los Gatos Creek — with over 85 percent of it linked to encampment activity.

Sometimes Steve uses the removed trash in artistic sculptures, (because man does not live by bread alone). A recent clean up struck such a fancy he had to send it my way. I met Steve at the creeks coalition conference in 2010 and we have swapped emails ever since. Isn’t this beautiful? The fur is cigarette butts, the tail is an old tire, and the ‘creek’ is an rusted box spring. I told him he should really come to the beaver festival and share his work and his message.


Steve Holes: South bay clean creeks coalition.

There might be very exciting news soon, but I won’t jinx anything by sharing it. For now we can delight appreciation of this inspiring article in the LA Times about an elementary’s school appreciation of the appearance of a burrowing owl. Because urban wildlife matters.

In a paved, urban world, nature makes a rare appearance — delighting kids near MacArthur Park

Principal Brad Rumble took a photo of the burrowing owl that has been spotted on the grounds of Esperanza Elementary. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

Nathan, 9, had no idea how the bird found its way to the courtyard of his school, Esperanza Elementary, near MacArthur Park in the middle of the city.

“This is a big deal,” he thought.

Nathan told a teacher, who then told Brad Rumble, the school’s principal and a man who takes bird matters very seriously.

Rumble pulled a few students out of class to observe the visitor, identified as a burrowing owl. In a neighborhood of asphalt, street vendors and crowded apartment buildings, this was their closest encounter yet with nature.

Decades ago, before buildings and cars covered Los Angeles, burrowing owls were a common sight, said Kimball Garrett, an ornithologist who manages bird collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  Now, sightings are rare. The last one spotted near downtown Los Angeles was six years ago, near the museum.  

Rumble thinks he knows what attracted the bird. In mid-November, he teamed up with the Los Angeles Audubon Society to transform more than 4,000 square feet of asphalt on campus into a native habitat.

High school students helped Esperanza families lay down a bark path and plant California golden poppies, an oak tree and a sycamore.

“It’s not natural around here for kids to come down from their apartments and walk down to the creek and play,” the principal said. “But if the neighborhood is lacking, at least the school campus can serve as a living laboratory.”

He created something similar once before — with remarkable results.  A few years ago, at Leo Politi Elementary in Pico-Union, he had 5,000 square feet of concrete ripped out and replaced with native flora. 

The plants attracted insects, which attracted birds, fascinating students. They learned so much, their test scores in science rose sixfold, “from the basement to the penthouse,” Rumble told The Times in 2012.

Since the owl showed up on campus, peculiar things have happened: Students have skipped recess to stay in the library, poring over books about falcons, swallows and hummingbirds. Some have pulled their parents out of their cars after school to hunt down the owl’s droppings. Teachers watched in shock one day when two crows tried to attack the school’s honored guest.

Rumble encourages students to use an observation board he set up outside the main office to document each owl sighting. There have been more than a dozen so far — on drainpipes, rooftops, PA speakers, even a library rolling cart. For more than a week, the owl frequented a jacaranda tree located next to the lunch tables, amusing the 200 kids who munched on pizza and sandwiches below.

The bird has caused such a stir, the student council is considering changing the school’s mascot from a dragon to an owl. 

On a recent morning, teacher Elizabeth Williams talked with her third-graders about the bird’s diet, markings and nesting habits. She introduced new vocabulary: perch, burrowing, conservation, habitat. 

  • “It likes to burrow in nests underground,” said Emily Guzman.
  • “It bobs its head up and down to protect itself,” said Yonathan Trujillo. 
  • “It makes sounds like a snake,” said another student. 

Some students are getting quite savvy about birds. They see them soar overhead, dark specks in a blue sky, and know them by name: a yellow-rumped warbler, a red-tailed hawk, a common raven.

When he asked Jose what he thought of the bird, the boy’s eyes glowed and he smiled. 

“It’s made me very happy,” Jose said.  

The arrival of a simple burrowing owl delights and energizes an entire public school.  Are we surprised? And the principal is smart enough to know how special this is. If you doubt its value go to Martinez California and read how some children responded to beavers. Urban Wildlife reminds us that there are things alive and precious besides roads and freeways. Children are reminded that there are wonderful things the adults don’t control. And adults are reminded that not everything has been formed in concrete and shaped by convenience.

I think it reassures us of that special place inside each one of us that isn’t molded by expectation and responsibility. Something wild and free even amidst the most tangled constraints.