Beaver Expedition: Day Three

This morning we were up before the sun at a bleary-eyed 3:30am. Once again we headed towards the river, confident that this time we’d get more than a fleeting glimpse of a face in the shadows. The sky was cloudy, so the morning grew slowly brighter without direct sunlight. The water beneath the rhododendrons was shrouded in darkness, so we needed sharp eyes to spot any faces emerging from the lodge.

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(Above) A beaver dam on the river, showing the significant difference between the water levels.

Sharp sheep bleats and whistling thrush song burst through the empty air, as well as the splashes of fish leaping from the water. A chilly breeze swept the reeds from side to side, making it a real challenge telling apart the normal water ripples and those made by the beavers. We waited a little while longer, then a slim flat shape made its way out from under the dead wood. Our beaver soon dived under again, but slowly and surely other individuals emerged. One of the rustles was tiny, and as two leaves parted a different face appeared: a kit. Far smaller than the adults, the kit swam in a small circle then dived down, showing a tail that would be more at home on an otter’s rump than a beaver’s; skinny and ending in a point.

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At this time of year, the kit may only be weeks old, having only just begun to venture out of the safety of the lodge. Similar to the precocious development of many other species of rodents, beaver kits are born at a very advanced stage of growth. Their eyes are fully open within a few days of birth and begin to eat solid food at just a week old.

The kit didn’t stay out for long, but the adults kept reappearing over the next two hours. At one point the male and a larger female met in a nose nuzzle, which was a great moment to capture brief footage of. At nearly 6am, the river grew quiet and still again, and after a while of inactivity we made our way back to the cottage.

The next job of the day was checking the moth trap, and we got a much more successful haul than yesterday; Peach Blossom, Latticed Heath and Pale-Shouldered Brocade, as well as some we had yesterday like the Beautiful Golden Y, White Ermine and the formidable, spaceship-esque Poplar Hawkmoth. I really have fallen in love with moths this weekend; after only previously having seen them flapping around my face in the bath, it was great being able to see them properly and appreciate just how beautiful they can be.

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Identifying a Silver Ground Carpet moth

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Ghost moth

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Beautiful Golden Y

After releasing the moths, it was time for lunch, then we went back out for a potter down the river. The clouds had long gone and now the sun was beating down, turning the grass and tree neon-green. Blue damselflies zipped about and bees buzzed, weaving in and out of the foxgloves. I took cover from the direct sun and sat by the water’s edge, where I was joined by a tiny, copper-coloured froglet, and then two aphids. It’s only at a time like this, when all my senses are tuned to nature, do I truly stop to study invertebrates. The aphids had pale spots on their backs and tiny black tips on their feet. I ended up walking them from hand to hand for ages.

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Before long the heat made the day just a little too sticky, so I took refuge in the shade of the cottage, where I spent the rest of the afternoon transferring my notes and backing up the photos from the day.

Species seen: Blackbird (Turdus merula) Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) European beaver (Castor fiber) European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) Great tit (Parus major) Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) House martin (Delichon urbicum) Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) Pied wagtail (Motacilla alba) Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)

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