Throughout the river valley and along the creeks in the city many trees have been wrapped in metal wire to protect them from being chewed on and felled by beavers. Obviously not every tree can be protected like this so the city is focusing its effort on large and high-valued trees. One does not have to go far to see the effect energetic beavers can have on trees. The forest understory all over the city is littered with tree trunks having chewed on, stumps and felled tree trunks. Beavers require a large number of trees for food and for building dams. I have not seen any beaver dams in Edmonton so I assume that within city limits the beavers use the trees primarily as a food source. As soon as one goes outside the city, however, most lakes, ponds and creeks have lots of beaver dams in them. If the city beavers do not build dams, where do they live? This is a question I have not yet been able to find a satisfactory answer to.
Well, I don’t actually know if the beavers are back…, I do know, however, that at least one beaver is back at the Whitemud Creek. The last time I encountered beavers at the creek was over three months ago back in mid-April (See Post No. 020). At that time there were beavers galore in the creek and then they just vanished. There is obviously much more to this story, but I’ll save that for a different day. What matters is that it appears that a beaver has somehow found its way back to the creek. A few days ago I caught a fleeting glimpse of one individual doing the rounds in the creek. I just barely managed to snap a picture of it. It is a good thing I did, otherwise I probably would have been second guessing myself, questioning myself if I really had seen what I thought I had seen or if my eye or brain were just playing tricks on me. I am intrigued about where this beaver came from. Did it swim in from the North Saskatchewan River or did it come down from an upstream location of the creek? My suspicion is that it came in from the North Saskatchewan River, but I have no idea how to prove that. I have to admit that while it was super exciting to spot a beaver at the creek again, it did not come entirely as a surprise. A few days earlier I saw the writing on the wall in the form of a freshly felled poplar bearing the unmistakable signs of a beavers handywork.
The water level at out local creek in the Whitemud Ravine was high for most of March due to the snow melt. Now that the snow is gone the water has receded substantially leaving areas along the bank, that previously were submerged, exposed. We came across the following tracks on a recently exposed sand bank along the shore. Due to recent erosion when the water level had been high we were unable to actually get down on the sand bank to have a closer look at the tracks. The tracks were large, though, and were leading from the water’s edge. The only two possibilities in terms of who could have made them are either a beaver or a musk rat. The tracks were far too big for a muskrat and they were missing the markings caused by the tell-tale muskrat tail, which leaves a beaver as the only plausible candidate. As we were pondering these questions guess who emerges out of the water? No one other than a beaver him/her self. As the beaver slowly waddled up on the bank it left exactly the same tracks behind it. I almost wish the same thing would happen everything you find animal tracks in the wild. After spotting animal tracks, you take your best shot at identifying them and then comes the “answer key” walking along leaving exactly the same tracks.
Monday after school we grabbed a quick snack, out gear and headed right down to the Whitemud Ravine. After a weekend of birding out of town we were antsy to check in on our Great-horned Owl couple. The female is in a large tree cavity sitting on eggs while the male is always on guard in a nearby tree. The eggs are predicted to hatch any day now. Well, they were still there. Nothing new and no indications that the eggs have hatched. Other than mom and pops owl, there was not much bird action along the creek. The lack of birds was, however, more than made up by beaver action. There were beavers everywhere. Swimming in the creek, sitting on the banks and waddling along the shore. We stopped counting at ten beavers and instead focused on trying to shoot pictures instead. Unfortunately it was an overcast day and the sun was getting low so our bridge camera had trouble with the low light. The photos turned out blurry no matter how we sliced it. Either the shutter speed was to slow or the ISO was to high. Even without the pictures though it was quite a show. Some of the beavers were “muzzle wrestling”, they swam up towards each other, their muzzles side by side and then they pushed each other around in the water. The interaction was not overly aggressive so I am not sure if these were hostile or friendly encounters. On our way back to the car we managed to track down a rumoured porcupine sitting high in a pine tree. We have heard stories of this fella from other birders but we have never managed to track him/her down…, until today. Clearly the porcupine did not want to be disturbed so we took a few grainy pictures of his spiky derrière and called it a day.
A few weeks ago, as the ice on the creek still was breaking up, we came across this fuzzy Muskrat sitting on a muddy back grooming himself. I imagine it must have just woken up from the long winter hibernation and was doing his “spring cleaning” of the fur. Muskrats are often found in association with beavers, and indeed, further down on the same muddy bank there were two adult beavers Also busy grooming themselves. While both Muskrats and beavers are rodents, they are not particularly closely related. Contrary to what the name suggests, Muskrats are not a species of rat. It’s closest relative are mice, voles and lemmings. It is basically a large field mouse adapted to an aquatic life. I was on the opposite side of the creek when I spotted it. Over the next few minutes I managed to slowly sneak through the vegetation until I was at the water’s edge right across from it, no more than 10 m away. While the both the Muskrat and the beavers must have known I was there, they completely ignored me and just minded their own business. While I have seen Muskrats before, this was the first time I have been able to study one this closely for an extended period.
May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling). Copyright Mario Pineda.