beaver

Return to Pine Swamp beaver pond

Pine Swamp beaver pond overview

If you click through on any of these embedded images you’ll see popup notes on my flickr images.

West Cornwall, Connecticut. Another trip to the Pine Swamp Beaver ecosystem last week during a cold snap to explore and take pictures.

This is an overview of the main beaver pond and dam from the west looking east. You can see the lodge in the middle and the large, S-shaped dam to the right. You can also see a recently felled tree (more photos later) on this shore of the pond.

This remains one of our favorite destinations on short hikes, it’s amazing what beavers have done with this stream and swamp over many generations and the ice is wonderful to photograph here as well.

Pine Swamp beaver pond overview

This is an overview of the main beaver pond and dam from the west looking east but looking further downstream. You can see the main dam but there are at least five more dams below it going out of frame on the right. There are also 5 more dams upstream to the left of this frame. Beavers construct these dams to make it easier for them to swim up and downstream with food (branches and bark). They’re very slow and awkward on land so they build waterways to safely travel in. Pure genius (and a lot of hard work).

Newly felled tree

This tree had been taken down within the few weeks before this shot was taken. It’s about 16 inches in diameter at its base and my guess this was one night’s work for one or two beavers. They took this tree down for food but also for branches to add to the dam.

I’m on the west shore of the main pond, you can see the lodge at the top of this frame.

Channel above main Pine Swamp beaver pond

This channel is typical of what you find both above and below the main pond and dam. The beavers swim up and down this channel with both food and construction material. It’s also a great place to shoot ice.

This particular channel is upstream of the main pond.

Pine Swamp ice

This was shot on the edge of a channel. You can see my left toe in the picture for scale of ice pattern. I’ll post the picture I took of that pattern in the next few days.

Early in my ice shooting experience I did a lot of macro work but lately I’m looking for larger patterns and this is about the scale of many of my more recent images taken with the Sony RX100.

Pine Swamp beaver lodge

This shot is from the east shore of the main pond looking west. You can see the newly felled tree on the far shore as well as the lodge in the middle. My earlier overview shots were taken from that far hill and the Appalachian Trail is about 200 yards beyond that hill.

Pine Swamp beaver lodge closeup

This shot is from the east shore of the main pond looking west, zoomed in a bit on the lodge.

You can see the newly felled tree on the far shore more clearly here.

What’s interesting about the lodge is that when we first started coming here six years ago it was just a single mound (the lower one on the right) and in the last few years the newer mound on the left was built. We’re not sure why, could be an expanding family or that the old one is not habitable anymore.

For those who don’t know, the beaver swims underwater to enter the lodge and has a platform inside above the waterline. The top is not only branches but mud so it’s water and wind tight. But, the water level is important here: if an upper dam breaks and the water comes up a bit the lodge can have problems and the beaver will have to let excess water out of the main dam by making a spillway. Amazingly, these animals have all of this wired into total control and you can see evidence of this all over this ecosystem, way upstream and downstream. It’s simply mind boggling what they’ve done.

Dave on main dam photographing lodge

This shot is from the east shore of the main pond looking west/northwest.

Dave walked out on the main dam to take a closer look at the loge. We routinely walk across the dam, easier in winter when things are frozen but doable any time of year. Just beyond where Dave is there’s a hole in the ice where the beaver comes up and slides across the dam to get into the lower pond(s). Each dam has a smooth place where beavers traverse.

Pine swamp beaver pond

Pine Swamp through the trees

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

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

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

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

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.

Chewed stump

Chewed stump

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

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

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.

Lower dam, pond and den

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

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

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

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

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).

Recent chewing

Recent chewing

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

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

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.

Beaver comes out

Beaver swimming

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.

Beaver swimming

Beaver swimming

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.

Beaver swimming

Beaver swimming

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.

Beaver swimming

Beaver swimming

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.

Wow.