Wednesday, April 7, 2010

BEAVER!

One evening last week I was sitting on the bench which overlooks the river beside the cottage, watching the last of the day's light fade into shades of gold and vermillion and amethyst. The vultures were long on their roost in the sycamores on the island.
A dark, bulky shape caught my eye along the far side of the channel and a bit downstream. At first I thought it was a short chunk of drifting log being carried along on the still-high water. Then the "log" began to angle towards my side of the stream, keeping its place against the flow.
Huhhh-h-h?
The conscious portion of my mind was apparently having a hard time accepting what the sub-conscious had already figured out—logs don't move laterally across current. The mystery thing had power, natural power. Ergo, I was watching a living creature.
But what? Well, too big for a muskrat. Too Ohio for an alligator or nutria. And unless it was a hirsute catfish, that left only one choice…beaver!
As I said, it was almost dark and I never could see the thing well enough to tell for sure during its crossing. But when the dark bulk reached my side of the river it began to move upstream, just out from the bank. I sat quietly and readied my camera. In a moment the swimmer reached the portion of stream directly out from the bench—beaver, indeed! I took its portrait.
A couple of years ago I found a beaver lodge in an old gravel pit pond about a mile up from here, yet this is only the second time I've seen a beaver in the river. And not many years ago, even these limited sighting would have been impossible.
The story of Ohio beaver is a tale of comeback, a chronicle of how what was once lost is now slowly managing to reestablish itself. Beaver were historically abundant throughout the rich, forested land which later became Ohio—as they were all over the Great Lakes and the Midwest regions. Estimates of the pre-European population is at least 400 million beaver in North America. Prehistoric Indians killed beaver for food and their thick, warm pelts. Here in Ohio, archaeologists excavating Hopewell mounds have unearthed pipes depicting the image of beaver.
Ohio beaver trapping reached its peak between 1750 and 1800. Even then, things were already going downhill. David Zeisberger, a Moravian Missionary, writing in the 1770s about the Ohio country, noted: “The beaver was formerly found in great numbers in this region, but since the Indians have learned from the whites to catch them in steel traps, they are more rarely found.…”
By 1830, the state’s once teeming beaver population had been been totally extirpated. Their absence lasted for more than a hundred years. It wasn’t until 1936 that beavers were again seen in Ohio, when they reappeared in Belmont and Ashtabula counties. A survey made a decade later still found only 100 beaver scattered over eleven Ohio counties.
Beavers are the largest rodents in North America and the second-largest in the world. Only the South American capybara is bigger. Strictly vegetarians, they’ll eat a wide variety of plants, including cattail shoots, lily tubers, sedges, clover, water weeds, even field corn. A favorite food is the cambium layer (the soft tissue of wood, just below the outer bark) of such Ohio hardwood trees as maple, willow, and cottonwood.
An adult beaver averages between 30 and 60 pounds, though they infrequently exceed 100 pounds. A typical beaver colony is really a multi-generational family unit consisting of parental adults, yearling offspring, and offspring of the current year. The beaver which swam by the cottage might have been a two-year-old, off to find a mate and start its own family—though it appeared rather large to my untrained eye.
First it was bald eagles, now a beaver. I'm getting really excited at the prospects of a bear!

14 comments:

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

Grat pictures - wow - and I didn't know that a beaver can grow to 60pouinds and that they are multi-generational and familial.. Fascinating. I always learn so much from you here.
We have beaver too that lurk in the pond out front. I will try and get a picture. And bear? Did I mention there is black bear in our woods out back and one w spotted on the road beyond our woods on a deck. Well, consider it mentioned. :-)

How did the rest of your Friday go? Wondering.

My lil grandson is coming over to spend the night - it's Disney movies, pop corn and warm jammies - it is quite chilly here and I love it.
Love to you
Gail
peace......

have a wonderful weekend Grizz.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

What a great mini-history of the beaver in Ohio and N.A. Imagine at one point, being reduced to approx. 100 from 4,000,000 (I think that's the number you gave). Unimaginable.

I'm not sure I want to wish you a bear encounter ... (maybe a bare encounter with your ladylove would be safer and just as exciting ;-)).

I'm sure your future on the river will be full of many wonderful surprises.

Bernie said...

Grizz we have beavers, eagles and yes even bears in this part of Canada....bears come down into campgrounds in Jasper and Banff so families are always very careful about leaving food outside. We do live in a beautiful country. Hope you are well my friend....:-) Hugs

Jain said...

Nice shots!

I've fantasized about seeing a bear her for many years. There was a time when eagle and beaver sightings seemed fantastic so anything's possible.

Oh, and I want porcupines, too!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

No, don't think you've ever mentioned a bear—or beaver, that I can recall. But you have now. And as far as I'm concerned, you're lucky—though I suppose some would not view a bear neighbor as a good thing.

Actually, 60 pounds is not the upper limit for beaver weight. There have been recorded weights of well over 100 pounds…though this is an exceptional animal. A "big" average beaver is probably 45-55 pounds.

I'll get an email off to you—but things went okay yesterday. So far.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

That was 4 million (at least) IN NORTH AMERICA and zero IN OHIO, once they were extirpated by 1830…and fewer than 100 beaver total back IN OHIO in a mid-1940s survey taken a decade after they began their slow reappearance. It's only been during the last decade or so that beaver can be found again in all 88 counties of the Buckeye State. But beaver were never in trouble, population-wise, in many states and provinces. Sorry for the mixup.

By the way, their loss was due to the European penchant for hats…beaver fur being an ideal mater for making felt. Even today, if you go shopping for a good cowboy hat—say a Stetson, Resistol, Bailey or other fine maker—you'll see markings of 4X, 6X, 10X etc. This indicates the quality of the fur felt (as opposed to wool felt) and the best felts for an outdoor hat are made from aquatic animals—beaver, muskrat, mink—as the natural oils in these furs make the hat nearly water/weather proof, plus they're softer and have a great feel and sheen. Incidentally, a good cowboy hat will cost at least a couple hundred bucks—and I've seen some, using a felt made of a beaver/sable fur mix, with a price tag exceeding 5 grand!

I believe I'll leave your bear/bare comment alone… ;->

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I know that area where you live is one of the most beautiful in North America. Just awesome scenery. And I envy you your eagles and bears, beaver, elk, etc. And mountains.

I've dealt with bears, and had numerous "encounters" over the years in upper Michigan, Canada, and the Southern Appalachians. In the Smokies, one of our biggest problems used to be tourist-fed bears. But I like bears, overall.

I'm doing okay, BTW. Thank you for asking. Hope you are getting ready for your spring.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

I'm still in joyous near-disbelief re. "my" eagles. And while I've seen a beaver here along the river before—and others in the county over the last few years—they're still rare enough that I get excited about spotting one. And I haven't forgotten that for most of my life, seeing either a beaver or an eagle anywhere close to this area would have been as unlikely a stumbling onto a moose; they just weren't here.

Last year, a wandering black bear—a young male, of course—appeared about 25 miles from here. But the town is between where that bear showed up and where I live, and there's not a good woodland corridor route to expect one to come ambling by here anytime soon, though one can dream. I'd welcome a porky, too…which seems equally unlikely. And a bobcat.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

I'm sure the mix-up was at my end, but thank you for the further info.

Enjoyed reading the details about hats!

We just saw a fox cavorting on our property. He is always alone and never still for long - loping here and there. Hard to get a good photograph.

I am thinking of you and hoping that whatever your situation may be that it turns out well. Take care and know how much your contributions to our awareness of nature, in all its mystery, majesty and beauty, is appreciated.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Things are certainly looking better than they were a week ago—not fully back to normal, but well on the road. I appreciate your asking.

The search for beaver pelts is really the driving force behind North America's exploration and westward expansion—trappers and fur traders, the water routes across the continent and into the high country…all came about as a result of the European lust for felt hats and beaver-skin robes and coats. John Jacob Astor built his great wealth on the fur trade. The fur trade also prompted formation of the Hudson Bay Company, a rival to Astor's American Fur Company. The fur trade—and by this I mean mostly beaver—brought the Jesuits to the Great Lakes and beyond. The list of effects from this single furry cause is almost endless, and often surprising. Wars were fought over beaver. Blood shed, lives lost; people were driven from their homes and lands; whole cultures were altered or wiped out. It's safe to say our history as a continent would be entirely different without the beaver—language, religion, who knows what else?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Wonderful Jim. I have never seen a beaver although when in the US I have sometimes seen piles of wood debris. They are recently being introduced to some areas here in the UK. But to sit in one's own garden and see one - fantastic. I bet you never ever regret living where you do.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

No, I don't regret living here in the least—though there are a lot of things which need updating, redoing, fixing, and high water can be worrisome. What I do regret is that I won't live long enough to do what I'd like to this place—especially when it comes to landscaping. I have a clear vision of what ought to be done here with trees, bushes, planting beds, stone walkways, etc. I'd like to have had fifty years to make it happen.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Love visiting your blog, it's like reading a really good book and I always learn something...and then there are the photos! Wonderful!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Teri…

These were "pure luck" photos—right place, right tim…just happened to have the camera on the bench beside me. Just don't tell anyone…