Winter Preparations

I’ve been eagerly waiting for winter. Visions of cross country ski trips and downhill adventures have been dancing through my head. My skis lean against my wall patiently waiting for the snow. On my way through the notch this morning I noticed that Attitash was making snow preparing for their winter season. I’m not the only one preparing for winter, although my preparations of getting my skis ready, putting the snow stake out, and investing in snow tires are a bit different than the beavers out in Ammonoosuc Lake.

Out behind the Highland Center is Ammonoosuc Lake. If you’re out on the Around the Lake trail around dusk or dawn you might see the beavers getting ready for winter. A pair of beavers have been accumulating branches and trees and sticking them into the mud near their lodge for winter. They will collect hundreds of pounds of food. It will get pressed down into the mud and stick up above the surface of the water. The cold water will keep the bark fresh throughout the winter. This cache of food will feed the beavers over the winter months. While their cache is large in size it falls short with usable calories. The beaver’s diet is made up of the bark and cambium (the soft tissue that grows under the bark of a tree); to digest all of this the beavers have cellulose digesting bacteria in their gut to help them take advantage of their high cellulose diet. They will also take advantage of this diet by eating their fresh feces. This puts different spin on the phrase reduce, reuse, recycle.

Photo credit: Kate Keefe

The beaver’s coat serves as a wetsuit for swimming during the winter months. Their under fur traps air, and serves as insulation while swimming. Their outer guard hairs protect them from underbrush as well as acting as a raincoat when oils are spread over them. The guard hairs are re-grown each year in time for winter. This allows the beaver to have a warm, dry layer right next to their skin while swimming through the frigid winter water.

The beavers have also been doing repairs to their lodge. The walls of their lodge can easily be a foot thick. The thickness keeps them warm but it also helps keep them safe. As the weather gets consistently cold the beavers add layers of mud to their lodge. This mud hardens with the frosts and acts like a layer of cement to keep out predators like coyotes, fisher, and bobcat. Beavers will leave these repairs until the cold weather comes in order to create the rock hard mud layer that will protect them all winter long.

Beavers will breed between mid January and mid March. Their young are then born in mid May or early June. The kit’s eyes are open when they’re born and they will usually start swimming within 24 hours of birth. The young will stay with the parents until they’re second birthday when they’ll disperse and travel five to ten miles, sometimes further, in search of their own territory.

Spring is still a long way off but with any luck we’ll see some young beavers swimming around Ammonoosuc Lake come May, and maybe some snow in the month’s in between.