rockymountaincolumbine

An encounter With Beavers

I spend most of the summer on a small lake in central Massachusetts. The lake empties through a culvert under a road and into a large marsh through which the water flows. The marsh goes under a footbridge, and around a couple of corners and eventually spills over a large beaver dam. That there are beavers active in the area is clear. Last fall, the trees right in front of my house were chewed, though not felled, by a beaver.

Last week, I bought a small, inflatable kayak, specifically so that I could paddle it across the lake to the road, carry it over the road and then continue on into the marsh. Two days after I bought the kayak, I was up early and decided to try it out. As I made my way through the marsh, I passed a beaver lodge. Just as I came up on it, I heard a slap on the water and saw a big splash. Slapping the water with the flat of their tail is a common beaver behavior. It makes a loud noise that is quite effective in its presumed intent to startle. While a potential predator recovers from the surprise, the beaver escapes in the water.

I never actually saw the beaver. I just heard the splash and saw the ripples left behind. As I moved a little further along in the marsh, I saw a beaver coming towards me. Whether the same or another beaver, I’m not sure. The beaver was swimming, as they do, with just its head exposed in the water, and it was carrying something. At first I thought it was carrying sticks, but I got out the binoculars to take a closer look and realized it was carrying a baby beaver, or kit, as they are called. When I first saw it, the beaver was maybe 50 or 60 feet away (15-18 meters), headed directly at me, and I sat still in the water in my bright yellow inflatable kayak. The beaver continued to get closer and closer with the limp baby in its mouth. As it grew really close, I began to get concerned as to what exactly the beaver’s intentions were as I sat there in a blow-up vinyl boat. Finally, when the beaver was about five or six feet away, mother beaver apparently noticed for the first time that there was a person in the yellow inflatable kayak in her way and, startled, she dove under the water … leaving her baby floating five feet from the kayak.

The kit at that point came out of its limp stupor and began swimming … right at my bright yellow kayak. So I paddled backwards a bit. The kit kept coming at me. I paddled back a bit more. The kit kept coming. Finally, I paddled back about thirty feet away, at which point the kit lost interest in me and began swimming in a big circle, making soft whimpering noises. I feared I had done something wrong and broken up a happy little beaver family. So I waited and hoped Mama beaver would come back to get her baby.

After watching and listening to the heartbreaking whimpers of the baby beaver for about five minutes, I began thinking, “Oh, great. I’m going to have rescue a baby beaver.” But just when I started thinking seriously about that, Mama beaver surfaced and began swimming with the baby. For a while they swam around each other, and the kit climbed on the mother’s back a couple of times. Finally, the mother took the baby in her mouth again and began to swim off. Relieved, I continued on my way through the marsh.

On the way back, however, when I came to the same part of the marsh, baby beaver was again swimming around whining. At this point, I was less worried about its safety than about my ability to paddle past it without it chasing me again. So I waited for it to move off to the side, and then quickly scooted past. A little further on, I saw another adult beaver, presumably Mama again, working in some reeds. It seems she was just giving baby beaver a little taste of independence.

A quick search on the internet didn’t turn up a lot of information, but I did find a couple of references to beavers moving kits when the mother beaver feels her kits might be in danger if left behind in the lodge. So maybe there was a fox or coyote in the area that made mama beaver nervous and that’s why she took her kit to work with her. I guess she didn’t count on meeting a bright yellow kayak. And then once she realized inflatable boats didn’t pose any particular threat, she just went back to being busy.

Anyway, it was ultimately an interesting encounter, and a nice christening for my new inflatable kayak.

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