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!)