The beaver kits are emerging. Nick managed to film some of their activity last night…
We’ve been trying to find out what is happening with the beavers on the middle pond. Drew has put up a couple of camera traps and I have been seeing them use a burrow up at the deep end of the pond. The problem is that their pond backs up into a narrow heavily wooded gulley and when they disappear up there you cannot see what is going on apart from a few ripples. Last night I struck lucky. One of the beavers climbed up the side of the gulley and collected a big bunch of ferns, then it brought the food down to the water and swam to an overhanging multi-stemmed willow on the south bank and disappeared. So it looks like they have kits in there! We will put a camera on the spot and see what is going on.
Meanwhile I have spent a few evenings at the top pond and seen three kits out at the same time. They have been coming out about 2130, in the last hour before dark. One swam about 10 metres along the shoreline and hauled out up the bank and spent some time feeding for itself. So we expect that the parents will have less need to ferry food to them now, although the female still seems to be lactating. The kits seem to be using up to three alternative burrows each about 10 metres apart. Who knows how deep these are? Do they join up or are they separate dens? I have several times seen the adults excavating mud in front of these burrows very energetically, then piling the debris up on the bank nearby, making almost a little promontory. Presumably, when they dig inside the burrow, all the mud slides out of the entrance, making a big underwater spoil heap that then needs to be cleared away so that there is a clear passage underwater.
Drew has noticed the same behaviour with the beavers on the lake. They emerge from the lodge under a big raft of willows that they stored in winter. But he has seen them excavating mud there, so they must be clearing away spoil from tunnelling. Frustratingly Drew has not seen the kits there yet. We think they may be coming on shore at night and he has set some cameras, but no sightings yet.
The weather has been very changeable, but the oldest greylags have now made their first flights like a bomber squadron, and the first brood of swallows left the stable yesterday with a lot of excited twittering over the yard. Spring is giving way to summer.
We are pretty confident that the top and lake beavers now have kits but we are not sure about the middle beavers. Last night I spent a little time observing the pen and didn’t spot any kits but I did manage to get close to this chap.
I sneaked up to the fence and he was chomping away on some willow we had put into the pond. I was able to watch him for a while. After a few minutes he became aware of my presence and went into the classic ‘I’m a floating log, you can’t see me, go away’ pose. Every time I see these creatures I feel a great sense of privilege to be living and working with them.
It’s a glorious misty morning here in Carmarthenshire today, with the promise of a bright sunny day to follow.
I couldn’t resist an early morning quad ride round the farm, more rabbits than I’ve seen for years bobbed away at my approach and bejeweled cobwebs hung everywhere. It was quite magical.
The greylag goslings are growing apace, their adult plumage is coming along nicely with just some downy heads and necks left to go. Won’t be too long before they leave us until next spring. Where they go remains a mystery but they are a fairly local population and they probably end up on the coastal marshes.
Just realised we haven’t shown you a picture of the new hide! Well, here it is in all it’s glory. You have to see it ‘in person’ to really appreciate Nick’s work with the door and handle….it’s gorgeous!
Last night was a busy time at the top beaver pond. First I couldn’t get into the hide because a kingfisher had taken it over as a hunting perch. After a while he moved further up the pond and I managed to sneak in. I watched him all around me for about half an hour. The beavers drop willows into the pond, softening the edges. The moorhens have two nests on the pond using the beavered willows and the kingfisher used them all the time for hunting. He mainly used branches 70-100 cm above the water and seemed to be successful on about 80% of his dives, but I couldn’t see what he was catching. I think they were mainly invertebrates, but we do have more minnows now and I saw quite a lot of brown trout fry last week. Whereas you would describe a heron as ‘patient’, a kingfisher is ‘intent’. He totally concentrates on his hunting and goes straight in like a miniature gannet. What a handsome little bird in the evening dappled sunlight!
Meanwhile the moorhens look as if they have laid another clutch in their original nest which is starting to go high rise like an over-ambitious fruitcake. A teenager from the first brood, with long gawky legs and toes, was being fed by the other parent. Although beavers were moving less than a metre from the nest the incubating bird didn’t take any notice. Whereas on the lake the mallard often flush off in surprise when a beaver surfaces, until they realise it is not an otter.
While all this was going on I saw a new beaver emerge – the first of the kits! It was about the size of a rabbit with a tail the size of your hand. Quite a good size. Its swimming was a bit haphazard with a touch of ‘Look Mum, I can swim!’ before getting tangled up in duckweed or an underwater twig. But it could dive properly and come up a couple of metres further on. Then I saw a second one also hugging the pond side. They stayed out for ten minutes or so and then each disappeared down two different burrows with underwater entrances. Those two burrows are different from two other burrows on the other side of the pond and it appears that they are not just using one main base, but moving from site to site. The male took willow sprays into both the burrows so the kits were not even necessarily together all the time.
The mother beaver hauled out of the pond onto an alder stump that they had coppiced last year. There she spent 15 minutes stuffing herself with alder leaves but leaving the stalks. They don’t seem to really like alder bark and wood, but the fresh leaves are obviously a favourite. She was into it like a health-conscious lady with a salad. They also strip a lot of blackberry leaves at this time of year too. On the other hand, they totally reject elder which is one of the antisocial trees in the woods. But this week they are laden with white sprays of flowers and we pick them to make elderflower cordial. They say you are supposed to pick them by moonlight and the moon certainly is big at the moment.
Down on the lake I saw one of the beavers trudge across the whole lake towing a massive willow spray. It was like a little island moving magically across the water. They are bringing huge amounts of fresh food into their big lodge and we should see the kits soon. But to get to the lodge they dive under a floating peninsula of living willow branches that they have put there as a food store in winter, so they go at least 10 metres under water before reaching the lodge itself. Maybe this is keeping the kits from emerging, but the moorhens love the floating raft.
I called in on the beavers on the middle pond and saw an adult come out from an underwater burrow. You can see the chain of bubbles and then the beaver floated motionless amongst branches for ten minutes before going back into the burrow. Twenty minutes later the bubble reappeared and disappeared upstream into the trees but it was too dark and gloomy to see more than a few ripples. As I left I could hear the ‘tock tock’ of a beaver eating somewhere in the willows. Who knows what they are up to?
Also on that evening I saw something I’d not witnessed before. Both parents on the top pond were going in to the burrows and emerging with mouthfuls of wet soiled bedding which they proceeded to carry to a pile a short distance away. Who knew beavers were so house proud? They interspersed their chores with periods of feeding and I was lucky enough to have them haul out underneath the hide and sit a short distance away nibbling on a variety of plants. They would do it by turns and the one emerging from the water would give a few little piggy grunts as if to tell the other that time was up, back to work (much as I have to do in the staff canteen!)
We are spending time exploring down at Ricketts Mill. Every visit turns up a new delight. From the many hundreds of tiny frogs to the burgeoning plant life.
Over the next few months we’ll be making some important changes and we’ll keep you updated via the blog. The initial plan will be to soften the edges of the lakes and allow them to naturalise, there will be trees to go in, scrapes created and more.
After about six years of negotiations, the Bevis Trust has now purchased Rickets Mill, a 14 acre trout farm adjoining the west end of the farm. This is the first property actually in the name of the Bevis Trust, the intention being that the entire farm will eventually be taken over by the Trust.
The Trust’s interest in the property is two-fold. One is that the old mill, which is now demolished, used to obtain water using a leat following the river about 1 km upstream, and therefore it owns a riverine strip of bog and woodland, which connects to the farm. This contains a variety of species, including tawny owls and we look forward to surveying it properly. The remaining nine acres which includes a house suitable for a warden, is a water meadow with two trout ponds. Currently these contain rainbow trout, which we will remove. Then we will erect a predator-proof ring fence around the whole meadow so that we can restore the habitat to mixed meadow/scrub/ and woodland to host a variety of native species including water voles and a pair of beavers. We can also work on invertebrates, fish, amphibians and reptiles. The beaver re-introduction is slowly working its way through the administrative process and badly needs a public face. So we hope to build a hide or visitor viewing area over-looking the ponds. We do not plan to have this open as a visitor centre on a daily basis, but to use it for booked educational visits, and for specialist wildlife management courses. As the beaver work progresses, it will be essential to develop a core team of trained people able to undertake management of beavers so that there is minimal conflict with human activities.
There will be a lot of physical work to do, but first we have to define our plans and put in planning applications. All this will take time and it will be a step by step process. But we have taken the first step and this is a milestone in the journey of the Bevis Trust.
We accidentally ran over a weasel today with a quad bike on the track below Tula’s Wood. We have never seen a weasel on the farm before. Because we have reduced the grazing pressure on all the north banks, there is a lot more rough grass and this is thick underneath so that voles can live without exposing themselves to avian predators. Although it is common to see 30+ red kites and buzzards soaring on these slopes, they are not impacting the voles much, so there is a food source available for small mammalian predators like weasels. This weasel has quite a few ticks on its head, which we wrote about in a previous blog. Although ticks are normal, they can be a sign that the animal is not doing too well.
We have not seen a stoat on the farm either. The only one we have recorded was one caught down by where the log cabin now is, about 20 years ago. A Harris Hawk that was being exercised in the field plonked down on it. Stoat numbers fluctuate with rabbit densities, and this year we have quite a good scattering of rabbits on the farm, so quite likely some stoats will be active. Usually the flush of young rabbits that we have now will be reduced back to baseline by September. Now you see them. Now you don’t.
We have another species to add to our growing list. This morning Nick was delighted to come across a slow worm basking near the main drive. We have relocated him to a slightly less risky spot!