Beaver surveys #3

Loch Lomond NNR

Read the first two blogs in this series to discover what we’ve found out about beavers at Loch Lomond NNR here and here.

A few years ago I was in the Canadian Rocky Mountains helping out with some fieldwork on hummingbird feeding behaviour. I was sat at my field site, yawning and rubbing my eyes after a very early start, when a beaver’s head popped up from the lake just a few metres away from where I was sitting. I watched it for hours as it swam around, nibbling away at branches in the water. It was totally mesmerising and a wildlife watching experience that I will never forget.

Ever since, I have been desperate to catch a glimpse of Eurasian Beavers in Scotland, and trail camera videos are the next best thing! Whilst carrying out beaver surveys at Loch Lomond NNR, I put up trail cameras where there were fresh feeding signs. Somehow I was extremely unlucky and ended up catching very little action on my camera (although I did get a few deer and a fox). But luckily Ian, an RSPB volunteer, set up his camera too and got some amazing footage.

Ian setting up his camera

The videos show a beaver returning to the same spot to feed every few nights. With more nibbling found just a few hundred metres downstream, the beaver is likely to be feeding there on other nights. We think there is only one beaver around and that it could be setting up a new home here!

Beavers are highly territorial and live in family groups. If there is suitable habitat to move into they will leave at 2 years old to look for a territory of their own. They generally move along watercourses to do this and can cover large distances – so who knows where this beaver came from! We can’t tell the sex of the beaver from the footage as it’s difficult to do so unless they are a pregnant/lactating female but both males and females disperse from their family groups, so the beaver on the reserve could be either.

As well as being obsessed with how cute this beaver is, I observed some really interesting behaviours whilst watching the footage. Before all the crazy winter storms, the water level of the river was fairly low and the beaver would happily stand in the water and gnaw away at a fallen sycamore tree and branches.

In this video you can see the beaver feeding on the bark of a stick by stripping it. Turn your sound on for some high-speed nibbling action! I often found these peeled sticks washed up around the feeding site or floating on the waters surface.

Their eyes, ears and nose are all positioned on top of their head so they are able to use their senses whilst swimming with their head out of the water. Yet they do sometimes swim with their head fully submerged (but not for long) and there are a few videos where they suddenly appear, popping up from under the water and surprising you. In this video it snips off a branch with such ease, using its sharp chisel-like incisors to remove the obstacle out of its way.

They are highly adapted to forage in water and can dive down to retrieve wood and bring it up to the surface to eat it. They can close their nostrils and also close their lips behind their teeth to create a seal so that they can forage for food underwater, using their teeth to cut off branches and bark without letting water into their mouths. Here the beaver has turned itself on its back to be able to reach the bark that’s now underwater!

You can see its large webbed hind feet kicking around – they use them and their powerful back legs to swim, with their front feet tucked up at their chest and their tail as a rudder for steering.

After the chaos of Storm Dennis (and the rest!) the water levels were much higher and the beaver tended to bite off wood or bark and swim back to the bank, where it could stand, to eat it. There were lots of videos where you could hear a beaver loudly munching away on the riverbank just out of shot of the camera.

Now we know a bit more about the new resident we can share this information with you and with visitors to the reserve, celebrating his/her arrival to their new home on Loch Lomond NNR!

Thanks to Ian for his trail camera footage and to April, RSPB volunteer, for her help with beaver surveys.

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