Birds and Beavers
The other picture at the feeder shows some of the goldfinches that are here right now. I count 49 on the ground and 23 on the feeder (click to expand the view). They, and the cardinals and chickadees and titmice are consuming about ten pounds of seeds each day. The trees, like swamp maple, are starting to bud out and this natural food might be attractive to them soon. There is a pine siskin feeding with the goldfinches. The siskins visit our yard about one year out of every two, on average, so it’s always good to see one.
Dugan and Chip and I were doing a bird survey for the Louisiana Winter Bird Atlas this past Saturday. We did pretty well on total species (69) for one day and had some high numbers too for a few species. It’s always energizing to see a bald eagle sitting in a cypress tree - that white head and tail against the brown winter landscape – and we did see one near Butte La Rose.
Of interest on the bird survey was a non-bird. As we traveled down the levee road from Henderson, we saw a brown furry blob on the grassy shoulder. I pulled over and there was a beaver, freshly killed by some vehicle. Because I’m always interested in material I can use for my bone-reference collection, I stopped and took a look. Usually these serendipitous events involving road kill include the smells related to some level of decomposition. Not this time. The beaver had so recently met its end that it was still warm. I had had the opportunity to handle a whole beaver once before, but I had forgotten how big they really are! This animal was BIG; estimated weight was 60 pounds. I weigh about 200 and you can see that this guy was at least 30% of me.
People who visit the swamp to experience the range of wildlife available to be seen do tend to appreciate the occasional beaver. But otherwise, beavers have a pretty negative reputation around here. You almost never hear praise for the value of having a beaver population in the vicinity, especially if the speaker interacts with the river or swamp environment in some way that includes some type of land management activity. Beavers just seem to do things that run counter to the desires of people. They build dams in the Basin between lakes that otherwise would flow from one lake to the other and eventually out into a bayou. They cut trees that fall and get in the way of boats. They gnaw wood that is meant to support boat docks and other manmade structures. They cut trotlines tied to trees on the bank, necessitating the use of twenty feet of wire to attach the line to the bank. They find hoopnets and either cut the anchor lines or get into the nets and gnaw giant holes in the webbing (can’t hardly blame them for that). As commercial line fishermen, we used to use willow poles to support shrimp bushes in the Basin. These days, you can put out 50 shrimp bushes on willow poles and when you come back next day all the poles will be cut at the water line and your bushes will be gone for good. That is a lot of wasted work. We used the willow saplings because they grow long and slender and are plentiful, the beavers use them because willow bark is a primary food. Other species of trees were tried with mixed results until we discovered that the beavers don’t like Chinese tallow wood (EJ Daigle told me this). This may be one of the very few good things about importing the Chinese tallow tree into the U.S., aside from providing about the only really striking fall colors that we have here.
As for me, a beaver or two is visible most nights when I go down to the river to see what kinds of animals are out and doing what they do. Seeing the river at night is kind of like watching one scene of a stage play. You see Act One of the play as a daytime scene, and then down comes the curtain, and when the curtain rises on Act Two – it sets the scene in darkness. The beaver is a player in Act Two.
The river is at 15.6 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge right now, falling to 13.5 feet by Friday. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling hard all the way up, so this loss of two feet of water on the Atchafalaya this week will be followed by more losses next week. Not good news for the crawfishermen who are putting out traps right now in areas flooded only by two or three feet of water. This isn’t the sustained rise we hoped for.
Rise and Shine, Jim