Chasing beavers

No, you silly perverts. This post is not about your wildest dreams. It is just a simple story about me – a simple Dutch ecologist – chasing wet beavers that are out there looking for some solid Bavarian wood.

It had already occurred to me during various hikes along the river Isar last year, that there quite some fresh beaver chew marks on many trees in one particular stretch. I had never seen one, but it had been high on my wish list. A trail cam has crossed my mind many times. (This was mostly triggered by hearing large mammal activity around my tent one night, when I was wildcamping in Oman in 2016, and the next day finding tracks all around that I could only link to Arabian leopards, which – I found out later – were present in the area) It would be a very helpful tool to spot some beaver activity too. Then this shitty pandemic came, and suddenly everyone felt like they had to go on leasurely walks on my specific quiet stretch of beaver territory. As a result, I have not seen any fresh chewing marks this past winter. I think the beavers have moved base. I understand.

I didn’t look at the tree species when I was there, but from the bark I would say it is oak. One tough beaver has been going at it. I’ve been pruning oaks for years professionally, oaks are a tough wood to get through. These animals do not mess around!

Now, I am slowly but surely exploring all the nature conservation areas in this municipality, and this weekend visited two particular areas that were both connected to the Isar, albeit quite far away. Yesterday’s location showed lots and lots of old beaver activity, resulting in lots of tall and what must have been at least a hundred year-old standing dead willows. The beavers had stripped the outer bark and removed lots of the inner wood, which trees tend not to like much. Except for a few scattered rather fresh (weeks to months old) chewing marks, there was mostly a legacy of beaver activity of the past. Beavers are the types of animals that through their activities – such as damming obviously, but also by felling trees, creating openness in the canopy – can change entire habitats. They’re a textbook example of what’s often referred to as ecosystem engineering. I have not yet found any proper dams, but their presence and felling activity can clearly be seen in the habitats they live in.

Some very active beavers roamed this place once – note the base of the two trees in the upper right corner
The beavers even made us a bench 🙂

This morning, we visited another nature conservation area, adjacent to the river Amper. It’s still a mystery to me why I only recently came up with the idea to look up a list of local nature conservation areas. I should have done this much earlier, because they are a great alternative to my now deserted once quiet beaver stretch along the Isar. They are generally not very well-known, and not necessarily located close to towns or parking lots, but they are still accessible, and, of course, something worthy of protection, so likely worthy of being seen by me. Except me and my family, there was no one there. Perfect. It was already obvious from the place we parked our vehicle that beavers had been active. A small pond (I think used for hunting activity) surrounded by various planted trees had clearly once been home to a bunch of them. Or maybe just one. But one with a great appetite. All trees were dead or dying and the remaining living ones were now protected with rebar grids.

The hunter’s pond, all beaver marks had been covered in red – my guess is to keep track of whether they are still chewing or not?

We continued our way toward the Amper river, where a whole bunch of what I think were little ringed plovers on one of the pebble banks flew off. Barn swallows were performing their most beautiful tricks in the air above us. They must have arrived from their winter grounds in Africa this week. It feels like they are a bit early this year, but it could just be that the cold weather is fooling me. Once we followed the narrow trail along the riverside, it was immediately clear that something had been very active, and very recently, too. Many trails were leading from the river to nearby ponds with standing water. Wherever there was live wood, it had been chewn on by beavers. The countless trees that had fallen into the river, all were stripped from their bark completely.

I made a video of a particularly cool area that included a beaver trail into the water. WordPress wants me to pay more money to post videos. Fuck them. Here’s a still shot. The beavers dug through this tree to make the trail (bottom right). If you look through the branches, you can see where the tunnel goes into the water.

This was beaver heaven!

On our way back to the car, we stopped briefly around the hunter’s pond, and walked around it to see if there was anything interesting to be seen. There I saw something swim across the pond. Once it arrived at the bank, it climbed out and rested on the banks for a bit. I took some video material, but it is super zoomed-in and a bit blurry. Was it a beaver? It was hard to gauge the size of it. It was certainly bigger than a rat, but could have easily been a bisam or a nutria, one of two highly invasive rodents from North and South America, respectively. These animals have similar appearances and lifestyles, and often even share habitat (but they don’t fell trees, from what I’ve read). Up close I could easily make the distinction, the tails give them away quite easily. But at this distance? Fuck me. I have no clue.

It may even be harder to say from a still shot zoomed from a video. The whole thing must have been 40-50 cm long, comparing to the pink beaver damage in the upper right, I’d say this is too small for a beaver. Nutrias are not that much smaller than beavers. Bisams are smaller than this thing here. I saw one last week from pretty close. I’m not sure if otters live here. I really need a trail cam…

Last week, a good friend (who’s also an ecologist) sent me some results of what turned out to be his latest hobby – chasing beavers. Unlike me, he did go for a trail cam and he did capture an unmistakable beaver. Now, of course that makes me somewhat envious… I think I’m gonna go buy a trail cam after all these years.

Clearly all men (and maybe women, too?) like a good beaver pic and I guess I’m no exception. Stay tuned – maybe.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

4 thoughts on “Chasing beavers

    1. It’s bizarre isn’t it? Where I lived before in the Netherlands, beavers were less common. Here in Bavaria, they seem to have settled everywhere. The damages is real. But the damage is generally good for the ecosystem, but generally does not align well with the orderly way that humans want ecosystems to look. I think it often leads to conflict.

      Liked by 1 person

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