by Barbara Walvoord
“There are old beaver signs. The beaver are gone–but they’ll be back,” said naturalist Laurie Sanders last spring when she walked our land along the north section of Bassett Brook.
She was right about the old signs. If you walk along Bassett Brook to the north, where it spreads out into a marshy area, and if you look into the adjacent woods, you’ll see many old tree stubs with that particular chewed-off pointy end that beavers make when they bring down a tree for their supper or their dam.
But a few days ago, Sharon and I went back in there again on our snowshoes, and to our delight, we saw fresh saplings chewed off, and lots of wide tracks the beavers make in the snow, dragging their tails behind them, and hauling wood into the water. The Lathrop beaver are back!
These new Lathrop residents are probably youngsters, not oldsters. About this time of the year, 2-year-old beavers are kicked out of their home territory by their parents, who are interested in mating about now (they usually mate for life), and will have another litter in May.
Beavers across the ages have shaped the American landscape. Their dams create ponds and marshes that support a huge abundance of other wildlife. Their numbers declined sharply as they were trapped for their fur, but in recent times they’ve made a comeback and are now common in New England streams and marshes that abut young forests. That would be us.
Sharon and I saw where the beaver trails lead to patches of open water, where the beaver had obviously dived in. The ears, nose, and mouth of the beaver are well adapted to swimming underwater. A membrane, like an inner eyelid, covers the eyes when the beaver is underwater so that it can see clearly. Its ears, nose, and mouth can also be closed underwater. Beavers can stay underwater 15 minutes without coming up.
Last summer, Sharon and I explored the old beaver dam, now leaking so badly that it forms a gurgling, splashing little waterfall. These new beavers are probably living in a den in the bank. They may eventually repair the old dam or build one or more new dams and lodges.
In winter, beavers eat bark. In summer, they add other vegetables such as cattail shoots. No meat.
The marketing plan for these new residents is to keep our land full of native plants–a thriving, healthy ecosystem. Welcome to these new residents!