The Beaver Family of Doolittle Creek
Doolittle Creek is a small stream that meanders down through the Fairfield Valley of east of Candor, New York. The stream is normally a trickle in the summer and can be a torrent if a flash flood happens. That brings me to the beavers. The Doolittle Creek Beavers, here on known as the beavers, had a nice dam built across the Doolittle Creek, with generous pool of water behind it with a lodge at the top end and a couple of smaller pool of to the side of the dam. The beaver worked on this pool for months just to get it deep enough for the winter months. This year the creek water levels were high from the continuous rain the area was receiving and at one point was running over the existing dam. The dam was holding and everything was fine. The beavers were waiting for the level to recede so they could make some repairs. The flooded pasture provided refuge to abundant variety of birds, ducks, and white tail deer and I took advantage of the beaver pond to photograph birds and other wildlife.
Then in June of this year the area got hit with a torrential downpours causing flash flooding. The downpours filled up the ponds, ditches, and the tiny streams that flow into the Doolittle Creek. The water had nowhere to go, as the spring was wetter than usual and the streams were already flowing from the wet season. The torrents of rains caused the ponds, streams, to over flow and bring tons of debris down into Doolittle Creek. Ditches washed out causing severe damage to the roads. The Debris was catching under bridges causing a damming effect that caused more damage. With all that water and debris flowing down Doolittle Creek and into the beaver‘s pond, there was no way the beautiful dam was going to stand the brunt of the flooding water. There was way too much water and debris flowing directly into the dam, the torrential flood hit with such force it completely wiped out the dam and flooded the entire pasture. The lodge was flooded and the beavers had to escape the best way they could. The next day you could see the devastation as the beaver pond was now just a flowing stream with piles of debris where the dam once stood. The lodge looked intact, but where are the beavers. Did they survive the on slot? Did they drown in the lodge? Where were they?
The next evening I went down to see what happened over night with the flooding, the water was slowly receding and I was thinking about the beavers and said,” how do they survive something like this”? Then I saw something moving in one of the other pools and it was one of the beavers getting something to eat off a willow bush, so I knew that at least one survived. The Wet weather ended and the Doolittle Creek was receding, however there was still a good flow of water everything seemed to be normal. Then one morning on one of my visits I noticed something different in the creek, there was some work on the start of a new dam. There was pile of debris in the creek. I did not think much of it until I went back the next day and found more mud and sticks near to the first one. Now I am suspecting that the beaver I saw was working to build back what got washed away. Every Morning I would go down to the beaver pond to see how much more was being accomplished on the dam. Every day I would see more work being done, placing sticks, mud and other debris across Doolittle Creek. The Dam was starting to take shape, although I only seen the one beaver. I said” Can that one beaver be doing all this work to replace the dam”. Then I saw the beaver working hard in the fast water placing debris for the dam. It looked as if he was having a hard time, but the dam still showed accomplishment.
Then one morning about 5 weeks later, I was totally dumbfounded as the dam reached across the entire creek and was much higher than the day before. I said,” There has to be more than one beaver to accomplish this much work over night”. The pool behind the dam was forming, although still shallow in places, the pond was growing. I decided I needed to get down to the beaver pond much earlier than I had been going. So the next morning I was there before 6 am and to my surprise I found three beavers working on the dam. There was still some water running over the dam as the beavers would dig in the mud and carry it to the dam to plug the leaks. They would go get sticks, branches and other debris and insert them into and between the existing sticks and branches previously placed. This work routine was steady one after the other would travel off to find sticks, branches and bring mud to form a seal tight dam. The beavers never seem to rest, they just kept working until the pool behind the dam was to their satisfaction; that the water level in the pond is deep enough for protection and to live out the winter months under the ice.
As the main pool filled with water, it also created a secondary pond; the secondary pond is where they go to eat. In the secondary pool there is many willow bushes with succulent twigs for the choosing their favorite food here at Doolittle Creek. The second pond is somewhat hidden so they like going in there to eat. When a beaver eats it is very noisy, they chew on the twigs, bark off the larger branches and it can be hear for some distance. They need to chew constantly because their teeth must be kept worn down to a certain length. The teeth of the beaver continue to grow and if they did not chew on trees, branches and other wooden things their teeth would grow so long they could not use them. The dam now is now to their satisfaction and they provide continuous maintenance to keep it up in good shape, but it also allows them the luxury of taking it easy. They can socialize more, play with the kids, eat more and swim around checking and maintaining the lodge and dam. It also gives them time to work on more ponds. It seems that beavers often make additional ponds ahead of the main dam. The Doolittle Creek Beaver pond has a least two more ponds. I have seen the beavers go to an area of the pond with clean dirt and dig both with their front feet as well as the rear. Once they have an abundant supply of dirt dug they take it to the dam. The dive down scooping up the mud with their front feet and lodge it between their front legs and under their neck and cart it off to the dam. Time and time again the beaver do this to ensure the dam is secure. Every evening I can see the beavers leave their lodge and swim down to the dam, check it out, place some mud or go eat. Once the dam checks out fine they go to the secondary pond for some tasty willow twigs. To get into the second pond the beaver have to come out of the water and over the dam to get into the other pool. When they come out of the water they are a very large animal it is unbelievable how big they really are, as on most occurrences you only see the head, some the their backs and once in a while a tail, they resemble an ice berg as most of their body is under water.
They are quite a sociable animal; they groom each other, eat together, sleep together and work together. They are what you call a perfect family. On one occasion I finally saw the babies, they were allowed to come out of the lodge and eat with the adults. They live in large family groups of monogamous parents, young kits, and the yearlings from the previous spring. Now they have at least 6 ponds you can identify. This pool is a long slender one that is holding back water below the main dam. This pool intersects with the one of the others. The beavers can now leave the lodge cross over the main dam and swim down to the new pool. I caught them working on the new dam, digging in the silt, then grabbing up some sticks and place the mixture on the dam. It is amazing to see them dig with their hind feet, then dive under and pick up the muck with their front paws tucking it under their chin and then going after sticks to mix in, then place the debris just right. They continuously do this routine until they are satisfied with the construction. The new dam is about completed. The Beaver s are placing mad on the dam plugging the leaks. The water level is rising and it is running off the side of the dam, the beavers have to slow down the trickle so they are building a smaller dam to contain the over flow. The new pond has created several water passage ways to the other ponds so now all the ponds are joined by water passages or canals. The new pond is right straight down below the level of the road. It’s short of hidden with all the tall bushes that have along the road. The yearling have a routine developed, he goes to entrance to one of the canals that go to the other ponds, digs with his back feet, loosens the mud and debris go down and scoops up the mixture and bring to the dam, pack it in and around seepage holes. Then he go and does it all over again, he continues this routine until he gets tired, then it off to the lodge for a day of sleep
The saying “a Beavers Work is never done” is very true here in the Doolittle Creek Beaver Pond. The beaver do most of their work at night as they are nocturnal, sleeping in their dry lodges during the day. Coming out in the evening to work, eat and socialize.
The American Beavers are amazing engineers; they are fun to watch and photograph as you never know what they are going to do next. If you use the car as a blind in my case and remain relatively quiet you can get some really nice action photos. To photograph the Doolittle Creek Beavers, I used the car for a blind and once in a while I used the tripod, as most of the beaver activity was fairly close and down below the road level as Doolittle Creek meanders down through the pasture and gets close to the Lower Fairfield Road. The main dam is the one that is further from the road but my 150-600 Tamron lens worked prefect from that distance. I was able to photograph the entire re-building process. The lower dam as I call it was built after the main dam was finished. It is below the level of the road. Just about straight down, allowing me an unobstructed view of the activity. I was able to capture the beavers carrying mud, sticks and other debris to build the dam. I was also able to get them eating, socializing and grooming
It is now Mid-September and the beavers have spread out. All the ponds are linked by inland water canals that the beaver use to navigate to all parts of the of the Doolittle Beaver Pond complex as I call it now. There are several ponds, dams and lodges. The beavers are maintaining the structures and digging the canals as needed. The beavers have split up as far as the work goes, one beaver will be working the dam nearest the road, another will be working the main dam and the others will go to the far end to maintain the dam there. In emergencies they join forces and immediately take care of any pressing issue such as a leak. As fall approaches they will be gathering branches of succulent green willow to place underwater in the mud around the lodge. A stockpile of sticks that they live on, because once their pond freezes they will no longer have access to trees on the land. These branches are used for food during the winter months; which enables them not to use so much energy going out to find food. It is readily available right outside the lodge. Beavers remain inside their lodge all winter except when they swim under the ice to their food cache for a stick to nibble on.
I used a Canon EOS 7D MKII, EOS 6D and a Tamron SP 150-600MM F/5-6.3 Di VC USD to photograph all the photos in the article. I used 3200 ISO for all the shots, all were hand held braced against the window frame of the car, the reason for the higher ISO, making sure I had good shutter speeds to ensure quality because most the shots are early morning or late afternoon as Beavers are nocturnal. For processing I use Lightroom 5.7.1 and try my best to have a true accounting of the actual photo after processing.
The Beaver Family from Doolittle Creek has now replaced the dam, bigger, stronger and better than the original one, open up new ponds for feeding and socializing, created a new pond inviting other wildlife to the pond. The beaver family has beaten the odds and has survived a flash flood that devastated their family and their way of life.
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