Pine Swamp through the trees
March 7, 2010. West Cornwall, Connecticut. Looking east. Approaching Pine Swamp from a hut on a blue side trail off the Appalachian Trail. From here it doesn’t look like much but generations of beavers have turned a stream and swamp into a pond with multiple dams, an enormous house/den, and enough food to last for dozens of generations if not forever.
The stream runs north to south, left frame to right and beavers have built multiple upper control dams, a main dam downstream of the den which is the width of the pond (it created the pond), and numerous dams downstream of it to control outflow for better movement in water for food hunting.
This beaver encampment has been worked on by many generations of beavers and no doubt will be around for a long time to come. The more we return to it the more evidence we see of the current beaver family’s master plan.
Note: these images are from multiple trips over the last few months to this special place.
Upstream control dam and chewed tree
March 7, 2010. Looking north. This is where the stream enters the pond and the dam in the back of this frame is one of many to control water entering the pond. In heavy rain or during snowmelt, these dams prevent flash flooding from damaging both the den and the main dam below the den. Like in a man-made dam system, these dams have to be maintained, both built up for protection and opened up as water is needed for the pond.
Upstream control dam
March 7, 2010. Looking south. This dam is the last one before the actual main pond and it has created a mini-pond here. Note the water level difference between this smaller pond and the main pond past it (out of sight in the right of the frame).
Upstream control dam
March 7, 2010. Looking north. This is another view of the last upstream control dam before the main beaver pond. Note the water level difference between the small pond behind the dam and the main pond on this side of it.
Dave shooting upstream control dam
January 10, 2010. Looking south. Dave is shooting the upstream control dam which is to my right. You can see the main pond and beaver den to his right. In back of the den, at the lower end of the pond is a large dam that spans the pond, it’s the main dam that maintains this habitat and it’s impressive.
January 10, 2010. All around this beaver pond there is evidence of beavers chewing on small trees for food (they eat bark) and larger trees to bring them down into the pond for both building materials and food. They are incredible landscape architects, bringing only enough trees down to do the work they need to do and not felling too many trees directly into the main pond to keep it clear for swimming and to protect their den from other animals that might walk out on a downed tree.
Dave photographing a chewed tree
January 31, 2010. Looking north. This tree is one of many that’s started on the west side of the pond.
Chewed tree with beaver den behind
January 31, 2010. Looking east. As you start to get a handle on how this relatively small animal plans out food and building materials and protecting his den, it’s mind blowing.
Main dam, pond and den
March 7, 2010. Looking west. The melted space in the pond shows where the stream used to run before the dam on the left was built turning this area into a pond. The den is over 7′ tall off the water (big for a den) and the main dam is hundreds of feet across and shaped like an "S" for strength in a flood.
If we climbed out on the den (impossible at this point) we’d probably hear the yipping of a family of beaver pups inside.
Main dam and den
March 7, 2010. Looking west. You can see the main beaver dam that makes the pond in its "S" shape, and the den. Note the level of the pond relative to the area on the left of the dam. This offset will be accentuated a month after this image was taken by a breach in the next dam downstream.
Dave on the main dam
March 7, 2010. Looking north. The best way across the pond is to walk across the main dam. It’s treacherous in places but in winter things are frozen in place and with care one can get across.
Dave and Nora on the main dam
March 15, 2010. Looking north. The same view on another trip. The dam is thawing and is a bit tougher to walk on. It was raining on this day.
Main dam, den, pond
March 15, 2010. Looking west. As the ice thaws one can better see the pond and how big the den is relative to it (huge).
March 15, 2010. Looking south. On this trip we saw more "current" evidence that the beavers are out and about, this tree is currently being worked on. You can’t see it but there’s a breach in a lower dam behind this tree (from all the rain we’ve been having here) and all current tree chewing is aiming at felling trees in that direction to get building material to fix the breach.
Main pond and den from the dam
March 20, 2010. Looking north. This is our latest trip and on this day the weather was perfect. The pond was smooth, there was a lot of evidence of beavers working on this dam and the lower control dam.
Dave, Bonnie, Erin, and Anne on the dam
March 20, 2010. Looking east. We brought my wife Anne, her daughter Bonnie and Bonnie’s daughter Erin on this trip thinking it would be a fun adventure for Erin. She did very well on the 1.5 steep hike in and loved the "danger" of walking across this now loose beaver dam.
Dave and I showed them evidence that beavers had been at work recently but they seemed somehow unimpressed.
Note, there were two geese nesting on the pond and in walking across the dam I made some geese noises and scared them away. They made a ruckus and flew off. Little did I know that this was actually an alarm.
March 20, 2010. Looking west. As we were eating lunch on the east shore of the pond, a beaver popped up near the den, no doubt because I’d set off his "goose alarm." All of us froze to watch him swim which he did for about ten minutes, checking us out and wondering if he needed to evacuate his family.
When beavers are alarmed they slap their tails on the water. This beaver checked us out and never slapped his tail.
Looking west. The beaver continued to swim back and forth in front of the den, at times coming within ten feet of us (seriously). Dave and I were furiously taking pictures and Erin, who is 9, got as close to the edge as she could, unafraid of this wild animal. It was amazing.
March 20, 2010. Looking west. The beaver continued to swim and as he got close he’d lift his head up out of the water to smell the air, hoping to identify us so he could either evacuate or relax.
Still no tail slapping.
March 20, 2010. Looking west. This was his last pass close to us and as you can see, this beaver is a spectacularly beautiful and healthy animal with a nice coat.
Consider this: this entire ecosystem: the dams, the den, the trees being worked on for building materials and food are all being worked out in that little brain inside his head. Beavers are peaceful creatures who don’t attack other animals including humans and about all we have to fear about beavers is that they don’t want to turn our backyards into beaver ponds.
Right after this picture was taken this beaver swam to the other side of the pond, got out of the water and disappeared into the woods, no doubt relieved that he could leave us near his den without worry that we’d bother his new family inside.