Monday, June 28, 2010

A Beaver to Touch

I'm always amazed by some of the beaver behaviours I see. Beavers like to eat their supper in peace and quiet, and shallow water they can put their back feet down in is always a good choice. That lets the beaver use it's front paws to manipulate the food item. But what to do when supper is in a small shallow pond with people walking by? Simple - take your willow branch under the boardwalk. This young beaver figured out of sight was out of danger. It wasn't just hiding under the boardwalk - it was quite happily munching. And it didn't stop even when I stood on the boards it was hiding under. I'm sure it knew I was there. After several minutes of being amazed at this, I couldn't resist putting my finger down between the boards to touch the beaver on the back, just to see what would happen. Nothing - beaver simply kept on with the meal. Now how often can one claim to have touched a wild beaver? That's a first for me!

When the beaver was finished it came out from under the boardwalk, saw me, and promptly dove. Not for long though. It swam alongside the boardwalk for about 15 m and then came up again underneath. This must have been a routine, because there was another willow branch already there, and the dinner continued. Two other people came by and we all marvelled at the beaver beneath our feet. The first photo shows the original willow branch just disappearing under the boardwalk, and the second shows the beaver's rich chocolate fur between the boards. Click the photo to see a closer view.

Ring-necked Duck Drama

This evening a ring-necked duck hen accompanied by 10 active youngsters was minding her own business at the west end of Maxwell Lake. Then she was ambushed by 2 aggressive males. They chased her and wouldn't leave her alone. At one point one of the males climbed on her back, perhaps in an attempt to mate. Her brood was scattered, although they didn't seem to mind and continued to catch insects along the shoreline and over the lily pads. The photo shows the males, the female, and one duckling in a calmer moment. Eventually the female retreated to the sedges and the males flew over to the beaver pond. I checked again about 15 minutes later and 6 ducklings were still foraging. The others and the female were probably out of sight in the sedges.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Slap-happy Beaver

Beavers slap their tails on the water when they are upset about anything they view as a threat. The loud noise may startle an animal and it also warns other beavers about the danger. The Maxwell beaver family is pretty tame and normally it's members don't slap their tails a lot at people to indicate their alarm. The beaver colonies further up Happy Creek are another story. Those beavers don't particularly care for people at close range, and a large adult let me know it last week, swimming back and forth and slapping repeatedly while I sat on the bank nearby and tried to capture the action in photos.

How can you tell when a beaver is going to slap? First off, they swim with their head much higher in the water than usual, as shown in the first photo. After the first slap swimming back and forth is a sure sign of continued agitation. It's really hard to time the actual action because it happens so fast. I got a decent photo of the early part of the slap - the beaver initiates a dive which raises it's tail above the water and produces speed. As the beaver continues the dive the flat tail whacks the water hard.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a good picture of the height of the splash. This somewhat blurry frame was the best I could do. The splash is pretty impressive, and the noise carries a long way. Often the beaver surfaces again right away and continues to swim back and forth slapping until the intruder leaves. Other times the beaver simply disappears - either swimming underwater to a burrow or lodge or simply holding it's breath while wedged under some underwater anchor like a log. I once watched a beaver who had slapped and then stayed under a log for over 10 minutes. I could clearly see the beaver remaining still under the submerged log. I left because I really didn't want to see how long a beaver could hold it's breath and I'm sure that beaver agreed with me.

Bufflehead Broods

It looks like no ducks nested in the Maxwell Lake nest boxes I put up this spring, but I had much higher hopes for the 4 boxes up Happy Creek. All were well attended by bufflehead and I'm pretty sure they were occupied. I won't know for sure until this winter when I open the boxes to clean them. That's when I'll see if there are any eggshells inside.

Last week my watching was rewarded with two bufflehead broods near two of the nest boxes. The first hen had 10 tiny ducklings and the second had 8. There are still bufflehead hens near the other two boxes, so they might produce little fluffballs yet.

I haven't had much luck getting a good photo of the broods. This photo shows the bufflhead hen with 8 ducklings. Also on the Happy Creek ponds are two mallard hens, one with 2 ducklings and the other with 9.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Goats and Groundhogs

Eight days ago I was lucky enough to get into good position to watch a mountain goat nanny with a new kid feeding in the trees below me on a steep slope. Although I was only about 30 m from the goats they had no idea I was there. Unfortunately the dense vegetation didn't make for great photography opportunities, but I did get this "window in a wall of green" shot of the kid.

While I was waiting I heard a sound to my left. The noisemaker turned out to be a marmot (also known as groundhog or woodchuck). Marmots are pretty uncommon sights in our area, especially in forest habitats. This marmot cautiously moved to the entrance to it's den, where I took the second photo that shows both the marmot and the goats in the same frame. You never know what you will see when you stand quietly in the forest.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mallard Family

This hen mallard with 9 ducklings appeared on Maxwell Lake over a week ago, which is pretty early for ducklings around here. Many have seen her since as she's quite tame and let's people approach fairly closely. On Saturday evening I got a chance to take some photos of her with brood as the light was fading. The ducklings are growing rapidly and are more than twice as big as they were when they first appeared.

I'm still seeing ring-necked ducks on the lake so I'm hopeful that we'll soon see a few broods from them as well. And bufflehead broods from the new nest boxes up Happy Creek are a virtual certainty. I'm pretty sure all 4 boxes are occupied.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June Hail

Yesterday around dinner time the Hinton Hill District was treated to a really strong storm cell. Pea-sized hail followed by heavy rain. A real frog-drowner, as a friend once said. By the time I got home from work there was about 5 cm of hail on my front lawn. The hail severely damaged the newly sprouted leaves on deciduous trees and neatly plucked the small new candles of spruce needles from a tree beside the house. All the bedding plants my wife put out over the weekend were thrashed.

At 10:00 PM I went over to the Boardwalk to see if there were any changes. Happy Creek was raging at bank full depth, and the beaver dam was overflowing at many places. Two beavers were swimming back and forth watching for big leaks, but otherwise they weren't attempting to repair the flows. The dam is designed to take floods in stride - the excess water washes over but doesn't breach the dam.

At Maxwell Lake 3 more beavers were either feasting on water lily pads or up on the bank bending over willows to eat the new leaves. I watched two up on the bank about 10 m away for 15 minutes as the light faded and the mist after the rain wafted over the lake. Then a barred owl called 3 times from across the lake. A fitting end to an unusual day.