Any reader of this website knows the magic of a beaver pond, and what it’s like to sit or stand in its shadows just watching the teaming life at its borders as heron, fish, frogs, muskrats, waterfowl and otter enjoy the bounty it offers. It’s delights are freely offered and free to enjoy, from sea to shining sea. Here are three recent news stories of folks who enjoy beaver ponds in other states.
We can start in Alaska with our old friend Mary Willson who braves the cold to visit a pond in the snow.
• Mid-December, Eaglecrest. Lovely soft snow covered the ground, so animal-tracking was really good. Shrews had been very busy, running over the snow from one bush to another. Lots of other mammals had been active, too: deer, weasel, hare, porcupine, red squirrel, and mouse. Sadly, we found no ptarmigan tracks at all.
• Mid-December, Dredge Lakes area. After a deep freeze, a warm spell had melted ice cover and opened up some of the ponds, and beavers had become active. There were new cuttings in the woods, new twigs in the winter caches, and some of the perpetrators were repairing their dams. The Beaver Patrol was called out of its own winter torpor to make notches in a few dams, lowering water levels in certain ponds so that nearby trails were dry , permitting passage of any late-spawning coho and allowing juvenile salmon to move up and down stream if they chose to do so.
I guess retired ecology professors of any age still don snowshoes and wander around beaver pond? Thanks Mary for the crisp magical description! But beaver ponds aren’t just an Alaskan treasure. They are also enjoyed 4000 miles away in upstate Grafton.
At first glance, Grafton doesn’t seem different from most rural towns. You could drive through on Route 2 without giving it much thought. I have been to the Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center, owned by Rensselaer County and featuring 6 miles of trails through beech-maple forests and spruce-fir swamps, by beaver ponds and vernal pools. It’s worth a visit, but be prepared to navigate to 2 miles of rutted dirt road to get there.
Grafton is a place for people who love nature. There is often not much else to do in Grafton.Maybe not. But the world need places where there is not much to do.
Imagine how dramatic it would be to tour the entire country by JUST hopping from one beaver pond to the next! That would be a wonderful way to see the wild places that no tax dollars support. How about a visit to the Grace Estate on Long Island, where the beaver pond is still a destination even after the animals themselves are long gone?
During last week’s thaw, before the ground and pond ice melted significantly, I revisited the pond in the Grace Estate Preserve where a beaver had resided over the three years from 2006 to 2009. But sometime in 2009 someone with a lot of time and energy on their hands, and a problem with beavers, dismantled the lodge’s roof and caused the beaver to flee the area. I was curious to see what remained a decade after its construction activities: a lodge, dam, and two narrow channels excavated through a shallow shrub swamp from the pond’s edge to the lodge’s two underwater entrances.
Remnants of the dam are still visible, and it seems to be maintaining the pond at a level noticeably higher than its pre-beaver level, but not at the level that I recorded in 2006: approximately one to two feet higher than today. The narrow dam at the pond’s ditched outlet is easily overlooked, at first glance resembling a jumbled brush pile. Closer inspection reveals a significant mass of bottom sediment—mud and peat—buttressing the upstream side of the wooden lattice.
Perhaps something that the nearby river otters could refurbish as a den to have their young. I was wrong. The only clear indications of where the lodge once stood were the two channels that the beaver had excavated. Everything else had been recycled back into the peaty soil. But there was another interesting aspect to the beaver’s choice of location for the lodge that I had not noted in 2008: two groundwater seeps nearby that had enough relatively warm groundwater flow to remain ice-free during the cold snap.
Beavers draw attention even in their absence it seems. We shouldn’t be surprised, because we still meet folks coming to see the the site of our old beaver dams and asking about their story. I guess archeologists visit the sites of early man thousands of years later. Why shouldn’t there be teams of beaver archeologists? Come to think of it, where do I sign up?