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In frigid Idaho temperatures, the beavers work at a frantic pace

Living the Wild Life

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In the bitter cold, five degrees below zero, a Rocky Mountain beaver broke the thin ice covering the edge-ice along the shoreline of Ririe Reservoir before hiking up the snow-covered bank to harvest its breakfast. With a single bite, the large rodent severed a one-inch thick willow branch before dragging it to the ice edge to its feeding table.

Once safely near the escape hole, the large vegetarian began peeling and eating the tender bark of the willow. The prized inner bark laden with sugars and other nutrients were critical for the beaver’s survival during the cold winter months.

After stripping the bark off the main willow branch and consuming the tender twigs, the beaver, dragging its large flat tail, made another dangerous trip to the willow patch for an even larger willow. These hourly trips had become a necessity due to the dropping level of the Ririe Reservoir during the summer and fall months.

Beginning last spring when the reservoir was full, a family of beaver had moved into the area, building a large lodge about four feet high and 15 feet wide. The three-roomed lodge was made of trees, willows, and grass enter-twined, covered with mud and rocks gathered from reservoir bottom. The beavers also excavated three underwater entrances to their dream home.

Once the lodge was built, the family of six began harvesting willows, dragging them into the water and anchoring them into a window across the small bay. The beavers worked hard making a feed pile about 50 yards long, four feet across and two feet high, anchored into the bottom of the bay.

When the demand for irrigation water required water from Ririe Reservoir to be used, the water level began to drop. Soon the lodge was high and dry. Entrances were useless, allowing the younger beaver to be exposed to predation from marauding coyotes. Adults were forced to excavate temporary tunnels into the reservoir bank, but with the dropping surface, these, too, become worthless as waves on collapsed entrances.

The large row of harvested willows became sunbaked and dried out, destroying the winter food for the beavers. Several new feed-piles were started, but abandoned as they ended up above the water.

By the time the waterline became stable after the irrigation season was over, there appeared to be only one large beaver left. With no winter food storage left, it was forced to make the dangerous, almost hourly trek to the willow patch to survive. After the reservoir froze over, these trips have continued and with the recent rains and warm weather, this lonely beaver has become more active harvesting extra willows.

This past Thursday, I watched as the beaver made six trips in two hours, eating two willows and diving with four to build an underwater supply. As the reservoir will soon begin to fill, forcing the large rodent to make new digs as the old ones become flooded.

Here is a list of some things that should be occurring in the next month.

Migrating robins have now joined the few that wintered along the area waterways and are looking for food in many lawns. Canada geese have started pairing up with some of them looking for nesting sites along the cliffs above Ririe Reservoir.

    March 1 – Male Red-winged blackbirds start establishing their territories.

    March 5 – Sandhill cranes usually show up and Great-horned owls start nesting.

    March 10 – Tundra and Trumpeter swans migrate through the area and usually only stay a few days.

    March 15 – Snow geese start arriving with some staying until late April. These can be seen in amazing numbers with flocks up to 50,000 some years.

    March 20 – Long-billed curlews show up and Pintails, Mallards and Teal ducks show up in huge flocks.

    March 22 – Tree swallows start showing up to stake out their nesting spots.

    March 25 – Peregrine falcons return to Camas NWR.

    March 30 – Duck numbers peak on ponds in the Osgood area, Mud Lake, Market Lake and Camas.

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