Season of the Beaver
The beavers of Oakland County were snug and cozy in their lodges with plenty to eat while tens of thousands of county residents shivered in the cold and dark for almost a week after that powerful ice storm late last month. The beaver is America’s largest rodent and is not bothered by snow or freezing rain for these master builders are skilled survivalists that stay one step ahead of winter weather. Adapting to conditions by reshaping their environment with dams and lodges is the key to their winter survival and territorial expansion; and in winter the secret life of the beaver goes on under blankets of snow and a layer of ice.
About the time of the first heavy frost beavers accelerated their felling of trees to gather building materials to strengthen lodges and create food caches for winter. The lodges are 5 to 6 feet high and 10 – 12 feet in diameter and are built to withstand extremes of nature. They have two underwater entrances, one of which can function as an emergency escape hatch if a predator enters or there is a sudden rise in water level. During winter the beavers spend much of their time napping on sleeping platforms and dining in feeding dens; areas above the water level created within the security of the lodge. When the food pantry is empty all beavers need do is slip out and swim down to their nearby food cache of tasty aspen and willow branches stored in the murky depth of the cold pond bottom. And if fresh veggies are desired they swim under the ice in search of roots and stems of aquatic vegetation.
Even when winters are mild and ice is absent they seldom venture far from shore, for on dry land Oakland County beavers are vulnerable to coyotes and their northern brethren are easy prey for wolves. Beaver lodges are hidden in wetlands throughout the county but an observant hiker has the best chances of discovering one of these amazing structures in winter at Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks and Rose Oaks county parks. For details on all 13 Oakland County Parks visit: www.oakgov.com/parks
Courtesy of Jonathan Schechter, Oakland County Parks Nature Education Writer