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Apr 22, 2019 10:32 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Beaver Sighting

Apr 25, 2019 2:16 PM

The most interesting wildlife report from back home while I was away was that of a roadkilled beaver in Orient. Peg Lauber, who is monitoring several otter sites for the Long Island River Otter Project, sent me photos of the young beaver taken by Rob McGinness on April 10. It was collected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for examination. This is not the first time a beaver has shown up on Long Island and certainly will not be the last.Over the past decade, several beavers have made it over to Fishers Island, where there is adequate food for a short layover but little suitable habitat for them to set up a home base. Beavers have a strong preference for moving water in which they can construct their wood, mud and stone dam to flood the adjacent woodlands, either forest or shrub, and create easier and safer access to food. The moving water need not be very swift or very large, and beavers are content raising the level of an existing pond as opposed to creating a new one, as they did at Scoy Pond, East Hampton, some years ago.

The last beaver sighting on Long Island that I’m aware of was that of Bill Becker, accompanied by a photograph of the thin and old-looking animal, near Fresh Pond, Amagansett in August 2012. Although it is difficult to prove conclusively, I think this beaver was the same individual that established a dam and lodge at Scoy Pond in 2006 and resided there until the spring of 2009, when its lodge was dismantled by someone and resulted in the lone beaver abandoning the area. It eventually settled in Fresh Pond, Hither Woods, creating a small lodge and winter food stash nearby, but with no outlet on the isolated pond, there was no dam. In August 2012 the East Hampton beaver would have been 8 or 9 years old, the approximate life expectancy of a beaver in the wild.

Beavers spend their first two years living with their parents learning the intricate tricks of their engineering and construction trade. In the spring of their second year, they disperse, usually finding a mate along the way and traveling as a couple in search of a good waterway to settle into by fall, when they begin constructing a lodge, stockpile of food, and dam before winter sets in. I expect that the Orient beaver will turn out to be a 2- or 3-year-old, and it most likely reached the North Fork by way of the Fishers Island-Plum Island archipelago.

Some readers familiar with the treacherous currents running through The Race (between Fishers and Little Gull) and Plum Gut (between Plum Island and Orient Point) might be skeptical of such a swim feat. But these currents are no stronger than the swifts and rapids beavers successfully navigate on many of the rivers found in their range throughout North America. And the strong currents and standing waves between Fishers and Orient are easily avoided with a minor detour to the northwest or southeast.

Beavers, and beaver cuttings, have been found on both Fishers Island (2 miles from the Connecticut and Rhode Island mainland) and Plum Island (1.3 miles from Orient). The gap between Fishers and Plum is less than 7 miles, with Little Gull and Great Gull offering resting points along the way. The last report of beaver cuttings on Plum Island was, interestingly, just last fall. Because of the work they do on Plum Island, staff there have a policy toward mammals that boils down to “nothing that gets on the island leaves the island alive.” Homo sapiens excluded, of course.

Beavers are like tugboats in the water: slow but strong swimmers. With an energy-efficient cruising speed of 2.2 mph, the Fishers to Plum crossing might take as little as 3 to 4 hours.

As with the otter, beaver populations throughout North America were decimated by the unregulated fur trade. While I could not find any exact information as to the date of their extermination here, as early as 1640 they were eliminated from coastal Massachusetts, and by the late 1700s they could not be found in Connecticut. Long Island, settled in the early 1600s by the Dutch at its west end and the English at its eastern end, surely had its beaver population cleaned out by the 1700s.

Someday beavers will join the bald eagles, wild turkeys, harbor seals, humpback whales and river otters that are in the process of repopulating their historic haunts on and around Long Island. All come with “issues” as they interact with humans and our modified, developed landscape. But naturalists, birders, wildlife biologists and other outdoorspeople should welcome the beaver back. Although its habit of damming moving water can create problems in developed areas, many studies have shown that this “keystone species” has an overall positive impact on the environment, modifying habitat to the benefit of turtles, amphibians, otters, waterfowl and many other birds, many species of cavity dwellers and, I was surprised to learn, the endangered New England cottontail.

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We had a beaver sighting Thursday, April 18, 2019 on Fishers Island. I can send you the video.
By Jane Ahrens (1), Fishers Island on Apr 23, 19 8:34 AM
That would be great, Jane! My email address is dbudd@pressnewsgroup.com if you want to send it over.
By Drew Budd, Sports Editor (11), Southampton on Apr 25, 19 2:12 PM