Busy as a beaver

Beaver are renowned for their engineering skills and their obsessive hard work. Most of us have seen the end result of their labour; a small lake, or pond, reflecting the surrounding landscape. But we seldom see what’s underneath that reflective pool.

Over the past several years a family of beaver have labored hard and long to build a dam on the Bragg Creek in West Bragg Creek, Kananaskis. Each year it would get bigger and bigger. It attracted a lot of wildlife. Moose used it as a source of drinking water. Ducks and geese raised families there. Great blue herron and Kingfishers hunted for food. Many other birds, cedar waxwings, crossbills, sandpipers and more flocked in large numbers to the ecosystem surrounding the pond.

In the early winter of 2018 a small hole appeared to breach the dam. The water level fell. In the spring, repairs were made and the pond filled up. Then, on June 23 a lot of rain fell, and the pond appeared to be bursting at the seam. Then, it did. The water level fell slowly, but eventually with the water streaming through the hole, it grew and grew until most of the water drained out and the creek became a creek again. I wondered if they would attempt another repair, but I think they had already used up most of the material, small trees, they needed to make the repair.

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I wonder if beaver feel emotion; frustration and despair. Maybe that factored in. I set up a trail camera on a large tree a beaver was chewing away on. It spent days working on it. Eventually, it tipped, but got caught in an adjacent tree and didn’t fall. I wondered if beaver swore.

The images on this page show the size of the dam. It was over a metre high and at least 60 metres long. There was a large lodge in the middle and large channels dug into the bottom of the pond. They excavated dirt and let it drift downstream where it would pack into the branches creating a sturdy wall for the dam. The pond is now a dirty scar, but vegetation is beginning to grow. Many foot and paw prints have appeared in the soft mud. Even a set of bare footprints where someone had squished their toes into the mud.

During the summer of 2018 I noticed a few branches collecting at a shallow point in the stream, upstream from the original dam. Slowly, but surely the new dam has grown, reinforced with rocks, mud and a few dead trees that were floating nearby. It is much smaller than the original, but they have a fair sized pond held by the dam already and it may grow.