Reunited with Old Friends

Well, I’ve finally managed to get the kayak back out to one of my favorite places … a place that I haven’t been to since early June. This area is owned by the Missouri Conservation Department (MCD) and they adjust the water levels to accommodate migrating waterfowl in both the fall and spring. But as the migration finished this past spring, and the spring rains ended, the water levels went down by at least a couple of feet or so. This may not sound like much, but the creek that feeds the main water area has lots of dead trees that have fallen into the creek. When the water level drops, it is virtually impossible to travel up the creek with photographic gear (due to the probability of capsizing the kayak).

I’ve been routinely checking the water level here the past month, but the level is still below what I need to safely travel the creek. But where there’s a will, there’s a way! I decided to buy a kayak carrier … a very portable 2-wheeled carrier where I can tie the kayak down and “easily” pull it around. You see, this area has another place I can launch the kayak, but it is between 1/4 and 1/2 mile from the parking lot! I received the carrier late last week, so decided to give it a try today … everything worked well and I was able to cruise back into the area, where I met up with some of my old friends there:

Adult beaver in front of lodge

This is the first family of beavers that I began photographing, about 3 years ago. The population of beavers at this location has been steadily increasing; at last count, I know of 3 lodges at this rather small location. As I sat in the waters in front of the lodge, another beaver exited the lodge and swam out into the open waters. Often, you can follow their course as they swim underwater by simply following their trail of exhaled bubbles:

Bubbles from a beaver swimming underwater

Not long after the above image was made, the underwater swimmer surfaced and swam near the kayak, checking me out:

Beaver swimming close to kayak

I guess these guys remember me from earlier this year as I did not elicit a single tail slap! I continued to sit outside the lodge for some time, watching the beavers come and go. At one count, I was aware of at least 3 beavers swimming around me at one time. After the activity slowed down, I decided to paddle around to see what else I could see. As I left the lodge area, I turned the kayak around and grabbed an image of their lodge:

Beaver Lodge

The main lodge is located on the righthand side of the above image. To the left is a newer addition to the lodge (is the family growing enough that a room addition was necessary?) that appears a bit larger than I remember it in spring. In a few weeks, the green foliage in front of the lodge will be free of leaves and a better image will be made to show the structure. We often think of a free-standing lodge in the water, but beavers in my area often build a lodge like this one, one that is built into the bank of the creek. When beavers build a lodge in this manner, they tunnel into the bank (usually several different tunnel entrances) and then pile limbs and mud on top of the lodge.

I left the lodge and headed up the creek (yes, with my paddle). Approximately 500 yards from the lodge, I found this area where the beavers had recently been cutting down saplings. They cut down the small trees (willows are one of their favorites) and drag them back to the lodge where they either use them to repair the lodge, or store them for food. From the looks of things, their activity has been pretty heavy, probably starting to store some for food over the winter: 

Saplings cut down by beavers

In the winter when ice covers the water, the beavers use the stored saplings for food. When they are cut down in fall, they are dragged back to the lodge and then pulled underwater and “stuck” into the mud at the bottom of the creek (note: check out the first 2-3 images in this post and you can see some of these saplings, even some with leaves, coming out of the water). Then, as ice forms over the area, the beavers simply swim out of the lodge to the “buffet table” of saplings that they planted outside the entrance.

It was really great to be reunited with my old friends here again. I did notice that the water level appears to be coming up, so I should be able to once again launch from the parking lot very soon. It looks like the MDC is redirecting water to this area, preparing it for the arrival of fall migrants.

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