When it comes to work trips, bowling, a team breakfast or a meal out are up there with some of the most common choices. But how about beaver watching?
The KOR team were lucky enough to head out on a rather unusual field trip recently to see the results of a major project we’ve worked on over the past few years, which has seen the reintroduction of these fascinating creatures in East Devon.
We chose the perfect summers evening to go beaver watching with Stephen Hussey from Devon Wildlife Trust. The late afternoon sun was warm and there was little to no breeze on the banks of the River Otter.
We were incredibly lucky to see our first beaver, the mother of the family, within the first five minutes. She was gracefully wading upstream, in the cool waters to find food for her young kits. Stephen told us she would gather aquatic plants such as willow branches which they slice with their teeth, as well as bark, twigs and leaves of trees. We also learnt that adult beavers, are the size of a small Labrador dog making them Britain’s largest rodent at around 20kg.
As mother beaver continued to make her way upstream, we headed further down to the beaver’s ‘lodge’. As we approached this part of the river it was clear by the number of other spotters that the beavers are a source of much excitement to those living close to the River Otter. Waiting to catch a glimpse of the semiaquatic rodents were parents and young children, keen wildlife photographers with long lensed cameras in camouflage cases and the clothing to match, as well as those out for an evening stroll pausing on their way to see what the fuss was about.
We stood quietly for some time practicing patience until a juvenile beaver appeared from the plunge hole of the lodge. The juvenile was immediately aware of our presence so disappeared back underwater only to be seen for a few seconds at a time when he popped up for air. Beavers can hold their breath for up to eight minutes so it’s always a gamble as to whether the beaver will stay above water when they know people are around.
Later, the mother returned, a leafy willow branch in tow and settled on the opposite bank, gnawing at her catch which made a surprisingly satisfying sound. The juvenile tried on several occasions to steal some of the willow from the adult beaver but a swipe from her saw him fail and return to the banks to fend for himself.
Following her dinner, the adult beaver began grooming to keep her fur waterproof and well maintained. She propped herself upright, sitting with her tail in between her back legs and used the split nail (grooming claw) on her hind foot to comb debris out of her fur and distribute waterproofing oil (castor oil) that beavers get from their inverted oil glands. Without this they would become water soaked and would not be able to tolerate the cold water.
Once she had finished, the mum returned to the lodge, along with the juvenile, presumably to check on her young kits, which we were told, were due to emerge in the next few days.
A huge thank you to Stephen Hussey from Devon Wildlife Trust for taking team KOR on such a special trip. We’re extremely privileged to work on important projects such as the historic trial reintroduction of beavers and it was fantastic to see them thriving in their natural habitats.
For more information on the River Otter Beaver Trial, click here.