Along the shore of Red Rock Lake, I ran my fingers over fresh gnaw marks on the stump of a white poplar: the rough grooves, the bright, cream-colored heartwood. A few feet away are stumps with old gnaw marks: gray, dull, weathered. Years ago, beavers lived at Red Rock Lake, and now they have returned.
Beavers chew through trees. Can you imagine? Using their iron-rich-enameled incisors, those big front teeth, they chew through the bark, the sapwood, all the way through the heartwood to fell a tree. They eat the soft inner bark and use the logs for their lodges and dams. Due to the current drought causing water levels to drop, these beavers have relocated and are rebuilding at Red Rock Lake.
One large white poplar trunk had fallen across the trail towards the lake and gotten hung up on other trees. We stepped over it, figuring the beaver would return for this tree as she had other trunks. When it remained days later, we carefully moved the 10-foot-tall trunk down along the shore. Within a day, it was gnawed into smaller sections and then gone entirely, just a pile of wood shavings left on the shore.
Where was the beaver taking these logs? We didn’t see any big beaver lodge. Were they hauling the logs to a different part of the lake? We noticed the cattails along the shore were compacted, and a mound seemed to be forming, but we thought muskrat because no tree trunks were visible.
On an early December evening walk by the lake, we were startled by a loud clap in the water. We saw a large dark form swimming, ripples trailing behind. The beaver had sounded the alarm by smacking her flat tail on the surface of the lake. Though the sliver of moon was obscured by clouds, we saw the hulk of a brown beaver swimming in circles just beyond the patch of cattails. She swam to keep a spot of water open, unfrozen, a gate to the underwater entrance of her lodge while it was still being built.
Those felled tree trunks? Under the water and cattails and stuck in the mud. Beavers build just as the temperatures start dropping when it is cool enough to keep the logs from rotting, but before it is too cold and the water and mud freezes.
The water all around the lodge is now frozen, and the beavers are tucked in for the winter. Though they don’t hibernate, they have stashed the food they need in and under their lodge, so we likely won’t see them for a couple of months unless we glimpse them emerging for fresh air and a mid-winter snack.
Perhaps in spring, under a clear, full moon, we’ll see the beavers and their kits. We are excited to welcome our new neighbor to Red Rock Lake and to share space at an appropriate distance with another wild being.
Clockwise from left: Freshly gnawed tree (photo by Amber D. Stoner); log on shore with a pile of woodchips (photo by Toni Knorr); beaver lodge water entrance (Toni Knorr); Red Rock Lake beaver lodge under cattails and snow (Toni Knorr).
Nature nearby is a monthly column by Eden Prairie resident Amber D. Stoner.
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