In Search of Beavers

It is almost impossible in the UK to say that one went out for a walk with the specific goal of hunting for signs of beavers. In Europe, it is much more common to be able to say such a thing. There are still rivers here in the mountains that have suitable habitat for colonies of beavers and indeed the beavers have often created the suitable habitat themselves. We are very lucky to have a few colonies along our river here.

The other day I decided that I needed to have a photographic record of them, having only in the past got a snapshot here and there whenever I had come across a sign and I really wanted to find a track or other evidence of their activities, rather than just the typical and unique gnawing marks they leave on tree trunks near their lodges. It is extremely hard to spot a beaver in the flesh here during the day, as the valley is rather populated and that drives them to remain entirely nocturnal throughout the year.

A ten minute drive to the local lake proved very fruitful indeed. We have lots of signs of beaver activity along the river which runs behind our local supermarket but the large lake is always better for beaver activity as it has a more complex habitat with a maze of small rivers running off the lake, tracks and shoreline.

Once you know what to look for, it is pretty easy to suss out the type of habitat they live in; broad, fast-flowing and moderately deep rivers with evidence of small tributaries running off one or both sides into lightly wooded areas (these have more often than not been engineered by the beavers themselves to provide fast growing trees, which sustain them during the winter). When you see a lodge, it is easy to recognise – a large construction of branches standing alone in the middle of the fastest flowing and deepest parts of the river. The entrance to their homes are via an underwater hole and so there is hardly any evidence of tracks in the mud directly outside, making the location of footprints even harder, however, they do often have mud slides that go directly into the water, which the beavers will slide down for easy entry, where tracks can be seen.

It was a bitter day and there was a sprinkling of snow. We didn’t hang around for too long because thankfully we found signs of beavers straight away. Here we found abundant signs. The stump in the photo below has already been felled by a beaver but a long time previously, shown by the diagonal hewn top, which has grey with age but then, another (or the same) beaver has returned to gnaw at it again. Notice that the beaver has also shorn off the small side shoots of this tree, probably to eat them straight away. Gnawing marks usually go across the trunk horizontally. I would say that because the weather right now is damp and there is a lot of moisture held in the tree, that this beaver activity was made in the last two weeks at most.

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Here below is a more substantial beaver attack on a young tree. It has been completely felled (to more than likely then be dragged to the lodge) and also gnawed down the length of the remaining stump. The horizontal teeth marks are so indicative of beaver and the multi-planed point is almost always observed.

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Over the path next to the lake, there was a tree, which had been completely felled in two places by a beaver.

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The weight of the trunk had caused it to sheer right off before the beaver had finished gnawing it straight through (you can see in the next photo). There is definitely a difference in direction between the teeth marks and the natural tear of the wood which run vertically from the base.

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Here is another very typical beaver sight. Note the many-planed tips of the branches and the pile of shavings on the ground.

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I’d never seen anything like this next photo, The beaver has tackled a larger tree and has not been able to finish the job. A concave shape has been formed with the typical horizontal teeth marks still to be seen. It’s interesting, as it shows the beaver’s methodology; he will gnaw like this all the way around the trunk leaving a point in the middle from which the tree will pivot and eventually fall. Because this is unfinished, I would assume that this had definitely been done within the last couple of nights.

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This group shows a smaller concave shape to the right hand side along with the typical points.

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Here, a larger tree has been felled and left in place. This was near to the large river that runs next to the lake.

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There are piles of felled branches all over this stretch of the river that have been caught on tree roots after being swept down the river during floods and every single one of them shows beaver teeth marks either along the length of the branch or at the end. Many, if not all, have been completely stripped of bark.

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I was really keen to find other signs of beaver activity in the area and I wasn’t disappointed. Here on the sand by the water’s edge, I saw signs of branches being dragged towards the lodge, they more than likely had a lot of foliage still attached. These branches will have been stored underwater as a winter supply for the beavers.

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And at last, the trace of a footprint. Two claws having dug into the sand by the water’s edge when the beaver dragged the branches into the water. Sorry, there is no scale shown but a typical fore paw is about 6.5 cms.

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