Headed for the patio again aboard my coupe-de-ville Scooter, eager to take advantage of this break in the weather, two days ago it was 103 degrees, it’s just 85 today and the humidity is down too. As I coaxed the Scooter over the threshold and turned towards the sun, I noticed the sky was empty…..Our skyrats, the seagulls, were no doubt out on the Bay fishing or on some Shopping Center parking lot looking through a McDonald’s bag for a fry someone overlooked. Two Canada Geese were honking back and forth across the canal, probably searching for their two goslings I saw with them yesterday.
As I got settled in the sun, I noticed a wake emerging from an old Chris Craft anchored directly across the canal from the patio, a little more than 100 feet from where I was sitting. There is usually a gang of Mallards patrolling the canal all day long, enforcing the local trespassing laws. They fly up and down the canal and keep strangers from sharing the bread and occasional corn that the tenants throw out for them – the owners frown on the practice but the ducks are so cute, some even peck on the slider after five minutes of quacking.
I reached inside to get my binoculars, just wanted to see if it was a Momma or a Poppa or maybe even a scarce Black Duck trying to sneak a crumb or two. Then I said to myself, nimrod, that’s no duck. Whatever it is, it’s making a good-sized wake but very little of it’s body is above the water-line. The tide was out and the water in the canal was about 2 or 3 feet below the concrete retainer wall. I thought at first it might be some one’s dog or cat that had fallen into the canal and couldn’t find a way to climb out. I Scooted inside and retrieved a more powerful pair of field glasses and confirmed my suspicions. It had a roundish head, short ears and brown fur and was about two feet in length. I had two choices, it was either a Muskrat dragging a log behind him or a Beaver, with his tail-for-a-rudder making the wake.
When I worked the Eagle Counting project at Aberdeen Test Center, I saw hundreds of these dam builders who populate all the marshes on the facility. Every time I would go to the middle of a certain bridge over an inlet to the marsh at an observation point, a Beaver would emerge from an underwater tunnel leading from his den and swim to within 20 feet of my position. Then he would proceed to swim back and forth, slapping his flat tail loudly on the surface of the water, trying to scare me away from his territory. Sitting in my car at dusk, I had a Beaver that probably weighed 50 pounds come over to the car and stand against the door.
Our visitor to the Rumsey Island Canal was a Beaver, sure enough, probably from Day’s Cove, over by the Little and the Big Gunpowder confluence or maybe from Foster Branch, a large stream that empties into the Gunpowder River. Probably had taken a left turn and swam into the Canal and now just needed a way out. I watched her for over an hour, swimming along that concrete wall. She was gone for about 20 minutes and I began to worry that she might have tired and drowned, but then I saw her emerge from one of the handful of side-inlets that is still surrounded by this same wall. She looked like her swimming was slowing down, like she might be getting tired.
On the Rumsey Island side of the canal, there is no low spot or way out unless the tide is high and the water level reaches the top of the wall. However, just about 125 feet from my patio, and on my side of the canal is a storm drain outlet that brings rain water from the streets when we have downpours, it is next to a tennis court that has a basketball hoop on the backstop and kids are shooting hoops and making a lot of noise so she is not even looking in their direction…This could be her way out.
I began to worry about her once more, she could tire and drown. I even considered calling my friends at the Department of Natural Resources but I figured by the time they got their boat, trailed it over here to Rumsey Island, she would be out or have already drowned. Then suddenly, like she had received a communique from Beaver Central, she made a beeline straight for that drain, passing close to the kids, who stood there with their mouths open, most never having seen a full-grown Beaver before. I watched the site for 20 or 30 minutes and she never came back out, so I surmised she made it to freedom.
Thanks to conservation, their toughness and ability to adapt, Beavers are one of the most successful examples of bringing a species back from near extinction. They were trapped and hunted so heavily that in the 1920’s and 30’s, you would be hard-pressed to find one anywhere, especially east of the Mississippi. Now, almost every community that has a medium to large stream is enjoying a family of these industrious chisel-tooth creatures or they are in a struggle with them to release water from a lake they created with one of their dams.