OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeaver Dam and Wetland on Doe Creek, January 2010

For twenty years
beavers lived on Doe Creek,
at the southern most point
of our farm.
Their lodge helped slow
the flow of the creek
and created a wide wetlands
just above the 20-foot-long
pile of branches
that covered their home.
Drought dried
even the wetland
a couple of years ago
and the beavers had to leave.
With some relief from the drought,
the wetland is filling again,
as is that part of Doe Creek,
though both are far from full.
Sadly, beavers have not returned.

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Beaver Tracks

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Fresh cuttings along the north side of the Big Pond

DSCN2717Beaver Teeth Marks

Beavers have,
however, taken up residence
at the Big Pond.
It’s been a few years since
they were active here.
Now we find their paw prints
along the north edge of the pond,
just east of the fresh cuttings
they’re making in a grove
of young willows, pond-side.
We have yet to locate their lodge
and are hoping it is on one of the islands.
The Cypress trees planted on the islands,
are safe from beaver housing projects,
since the mammals don’t like
sinking their teeth into them.
One of these warm, windless days
we will take out a kayak
and make another attempt
at locating the lodge.
Too,
we’ll have to consider
wrapping fencing around trees
we want to protect.
One other happy consideration:
If the beavers create problems
at the Big Pond,
maybe we can trap them
and move them back
to their abandoned lodge on Doe Creek!

Doe Creek, Filling Again

We are experiencing
the second day
of rain.
It’s falling gently,
though heavy at times.
We’re hoping it will be enough
for the ponds that are still low
to fill.
The puddles are huge.
Everything is getting a good soaking,
long overdue.
December is normally one of our three driest months.
The blistering, dry summer
is still scorched into our memory,
this rain is sheer, sumptuous gift.
Or could it be a new trend?
We haven’t been “normal” all year.

Dove

Pheasant

The birds are not daunted.
They come in the rain
to feed from the grain I put out
in the front yard
and the Pheasants — three females and two males —
are still enjoying the hay straw in the back yard.
They feed morning and evening
in the rain.

Canada Geese have come in great flocks
to the flood control reservoir
south of the farm house.
They rise from the water
honking. Why do they honk
as they take off, fly and land?
In the evening, they fly to wheat fields
in the east for supper.
I watched one flock
after another
and listened as they flew over
a couple of evenings ago
when I was down at the beaver dam
on Doe Creek,
just downstream from the reservoir.
The wetlands that the beavers created
are filling again,
as is the creek.
But there are no signs of beavers now:
no fresh cuttings,
no tracks.
And the dam itself is in disrepair.
I hope they come back soon
or I’m going to take up Deb’s offer
to have her beavers
relocated to our place.

Wetlands above the Beaver Dam

Beaver Dam, Needing Attention

Doe Creek, below Beaver Dam
16 December 2010

We go down to Doe Creek
where the beavers lodge
every month
to make observations
and monitor the water
for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s
Blue Thumb program.
Last month,
the water was much lower
and this month
the creek is way down.
The shoreline is muddy a good three feet
from the water,
which is only about six inches deep.
I don’t find the tiny fish
that normally dart about the shallows.
There wouldn’t be water
in the creek here at all
if it weren’t for the beavers.

The Beaver Dam, with wetlands above

The water in the wetlands
they have created above their huge dam
is lower as well,
but still there is more here than anywhere else
along the creek.
If it weren’t backed up by the dam
and trickling down the creek bed,
the creek would be dry here too.

Fresh Water Mussel Shells

Raccoon Scat

There’s a lot of activity at the creek.
We don’t see any animals,
but we see evidence of them.
Fresh water mussels shells
lay open on the creek bank –
only recently cleaned.
There is raccoon scat nearby
and we can tell they’ve been eating
the various berries that are thick
in the bushes at creek’s edge.
But we don’t see the tell-tale signs
of beaver activity – paw prints in the mud
and tree stumps with recently-gnawed,
pointy, pencil-like peaks.
We hope the beaver lodge
far beneath the twenty-plus-year-old dam
is still habitable
and that the prairie’s natural hydrologists
are safe.

Beaver Dam on Kirby Place

When we go down to the Kirby Place
each month to monitor Doe Creek,
we always take a short walk
up to the huge beaver dam
to see what’s happening there.
This week there were lots of new branches
on top of the dam,
probably to repair the flooding that occurred there
last month.
And above the dam,
the lovely wetlands
stretch far back up the creek
and out toward another branch
coming in from the east.
While farmers don’t like beavers’ wetlands
to dam up their crop land,
we don’t mind.
It takes up very little cropland in this case
and we know that the wetlands recharge
the water table
in huge ways.
In this drought-prone prairie,
that is an invaluable service.

It’s a very peaceful place –
quiet, with the gentle sound
of water gurgling slowly
through the dam.
It’s a place for birds and deer,
and other wildlife.
We sometimes see a Great Blue Heron here.

Last week, we saw fresh beaver paw prints.
It’s the closest we get
to seeing these amazing hydrologists
that help create such a beautiful ecosystem.


Beaver Dam on Kirby Place
with wetland above it

Went down to sit by the beaver dam on the Kirby Place.
We’ve been having rains regularly of late
and so the creek waters rush and vanish,
as they do on the prairie.
They usually have at least some water in them,
in places,
then flood
and often go dry.
Over the years, the conservation people
have built a series of flood-control dams and lakes
to try to maintain a more steady flow of water
through the watershed
and finally into the Gulf of Mexico.
But the human constructions don’t seem to work as well
as the beavers’ constructions.
This beaver community
has been maintaining their home here
for twenty years.

Though water is rushing down the creek at one end of the dam,
it is still a slow process,
which means that a most amazing and healthy thing
is happening above the beaver dam:
there is a broad wetland,
which doesn’t go dry,
and the creek above it
is still out of its banks.
Farther upstream,
the creek is already back to normal,
or below normal.
Though rushing through one end of the beaver dam,
the water here is only slowly making its way down the creek
below the beaver dam.
In the meantime,
the wetland provides habitat for life
and helps recharge the water table.

In modern times, beavers have been trapped and killed
to prevent them from damming the creeks.
They normally make a series of dams –
building another upstream when the community gets large enough.
And that causes flooding of farmers’ crop land.
Ironically,
the beavers here can’t go immediately upstream
because there is a flood-control dam about a quarter of a mile upstream.
This beaver community’s dam is situated
where it doesn’t interfere with cropland
and so it has been left alone.

Flooded Doe Creek, just above the beaver dam

Coming here
is like entering a sacred place.
It is a natural wonder.
The sense of the healthy life here
is palpable.
It must have been like this all across the Great Plains
long ago.