There was an odd scraping sound coming from the creek that was twenty feet from where I was standing. The noise was unmistakable, but impossible to describe. It sounded like a cross between chewing and the harsh grate of a rusty metal file. That description made no sense to most people, but the sound was truly impossible to describe.
The noise was that of a beaver chewing in a creek just a little ways away. I got down on my knees and began to crawl slowly through the tall grass, inching along until the beaver was just eight feet away. My body froze as I watched the beaver in the moonlight chewing the bark off of a stick.
Moving forward ever slower, millimetering along, I got within three feet of the largest beaver I had ever seen. It ignored me, chewing contentedly on the stick, while smaller beavers swam up, hit the water frantically with their tail and swam away. Eye to eye with the beaver, we stared at each other. I was filled with amazement that I was this close to a wild animal. The beaver was placidly eating a stick like a cow and ignoring me with brown bovine eyes. It was amazing.
Close encounters with wildlife seem to go one of two ways: amazement or annoyance. A beaver that is awesome in a close-up encounter in the wilderness might be annoying in a close-up encounter while cleaning out a drain plugged with beaver debris. Audubon wrestles with the problem of beavers that are awesome for visitors to the trails; but they are annoying for the volunteers and staff that try to keep the beavers from flooding the grounds.
Beavers are strange and peculiar beasts. They are one of the few animals that can directly change their habitats, creating massive ponds where there were none by damming up creeks and seeps with mud, sticks, and rocks. They seem to be motivated by the sound of running water and dam up areas to stop that sound.
Researchers, both in zoos and in the wild, have played the sound of running water for the beavers. It only takes a night for the speakers to be covered with mud and sticks until the sound could not be heard.
This is the spot where biology and science collide to find solutions to beaver problems. Beavers build dams and plug pipes in part to stop the sound and feel of running water. Once the sound and feel of running water stops, the beaver stops working. Many people don’t mind beavers, they mind the hassle of flooding, cleaning out plugged pipes, and the miscellaneous hard labor and inconvenience that beavers can cause.
There are whole books out there on how to create “beaver deceivers” that use the beavers’ biology against them to move water quietly and slowly and sneak water out of the pond without the beavers seeing how it is done. Sometimes, it is easier to outsmart your opponent rather than fight them.
Audubon will host a program on how to live with beavers on April 27 at 10:00 a.m. Owen and Sharon Brown, founders of the Adirondack non-profit Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife put this program together. Their combined degrees in material engineering and biology give them the perfect insight in how to work with and around the beavers that cause flooding and other problems.
The program, Living with Beavers, costs $25 for the public or $20 for ACNC members.
To see the beavers at Audubon, you have to be on the trails early in the morning or close to sunset. The beavers are most active on Audubon’s Big Pond.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.