Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 3, 2017

Leave It to Beavers

For all the time I’ve spent hiking in the countryside, I don’t have many sightings — not to mention photographs — of wild animals. I wrote recently about a few beasts I spotted in the Anza-Borrego Desert, but two of the three species were lizards, not that unusual to see.

I’m not complaining. I’ve been fortunate, overall, especially on a memorable day in Denali National Park when I saw — and photographed —grizzlies, moose, bighorn sheep and a pack of wolves(!).

Denali NP Wolf Pack Brad Nixon 021_1A (640x463)

I may have seen a caribou, too, but it was so distant that I had to take the guide’s word for it.

I have photos of golden eagles, orcas, puffins, cottontail rabbits and jackrabbits and once, in North Cascades National Park, the rabbits’ partner in the order lagomorpha, the elusive pika. I have a number of less-than-satisfactory photos of the backs of gray whales spotted here in southern California, too. They don’t stop swimming just to have their photo taken. Bison, elk, black bears and a few other animals and birds, but not exactly an overwhelming portfolio of wildlife sightings. Here’s a grizzly feasting on berries.

Denali NP grizzly Brad Nixon 018_7

A mammal that’s eluded me once ranged across much of North America in numbers estimated to be 60 million. It’s the planet’s second-largest rodent, Castor canadensis, the North American Beaver. Reduced by intensive hunting and trapping to their current population of 6-12 million, they’re no longer common, especially in the U.S. There are more in Canada, where it’s designated as the national animal.

Not only scarce, beavers are primarily nocturnal, putting them out of my normal hiking window.

On a trip through Colorado, Dad and I were making our way southwesterly from Rocky Mountain National Park toward the Colorado River valley. There, I had my one and only brush with beaverdom: a beaver dam and lodge. Here’s the dam from the upstream side:

beaver dam Brad Nixon 9505 (640x475)

Long a symbol for industriousness, if beavers need a body of water in which to situate their distinctive lodges with underwater entrances, they build dams by inserting vertical wooden poles in a line across the stream, lay horizontal branches between them and daub mud and weeds into that framework so that it impounds water.

beaver dam Brad Nixon 9503 (640x480)

Voila! The lodge occupies its custom-made enclosing moat.

beaver lodge Brad Nixon 9511 (640x480)

The labor required, not to mention the instinctual engineering acumen, is impressive. I didn’t have to look far from the edge of the beaver pond to find evidence of the work of the beavers’ powerful front teeth on surrounding saplings and brush.

beaver cuttings Brad Nixon 9508 (640x448)

It’s always interesting to find traces of a wild animal’s presence — tracks, nests, scat or even fur, feathers or snakeskin — but the beavers may be nature’s most ostentatious builders. I hope they manage it without looking enviously over at the neighbors’ lodge, thinking it’s time to put on an addition.

I’ll keep looking. How’s your luck with beaver spotting? Tips? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017


  1. Last spring I was on a mission to see a beaver, had watched a bunch of documentaries and became obsessed with the creatures. Knew there was a den at a particular pond and just kept visiting early in the morning or late at night. Finally I had the most majestic encounter with two beavers and their kits around dusk. Now I’m hoping to see a moose.


    • Good luck. At least they’re larger, and easier to catch sight of.


  2. Such beautiful pictures. Thank you for posting them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s my pleasure. Thank you for visiting.


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