Beaver Blazing a Trail to Montauk

Downed trees, gnaw marks, wood shavings point to new resident in Hither Woods
The chips tell the tale. A beaver has taken up residence in Fresh Pond. Russell Drumm

    East Hampton has become a Noah’s Ark of sorts, Noah being the dedicated folk who for years have turned woods into parkland, guarded sea life, and created a haven for disappearing birds in the face of Long Island’s flood of development.
    Wild turkeys have come on board — more than two by two — piping plovers have rebounded, hawks, migratory song birds, deer by the drove, and now a lone beaver who is busy preparing a watery home for a mate. 
    There is no sure way to know, but the beaver that has taken up residence in Montauk’s Fresh Pond (also called Hidden Lake) deep in Hither Woods is probably the same one who had felled trees and built lodges at Scoy Pond in the Northwest section of East Hampton, according to Mike Bottini, a nature writer who has guided and explored the South Fork for 30 years.
    He does not think the beaver was trapped somewhere else and dropped here, as some have hypothesized.
    Beavers have webbed hind feet and a strong broad tail. “They have been sighted swimming in the ocean, and down the Hudson River,” he said Monday, adding that it was not hard to imagine a beaver leaving the Connecticut River and making stops on Fishers Island, Plum Island (where a beaver was in fact discovered in 2003), then Big and Little Gull Islands, Gardiner’s Island, perhaps, and finally making landfall at Northwest.
    “They’re strong, swim slow and steady at about two knots,” Mr. Bottini said. He said the beaver might also have moved through the Long Island Sound stopping along the north shore of Long Island en route to the East End.
    In January 2007, Steven Niggles was duck hunting on Scoy Pond in Northwest Woods when he did a double take at a tree with a ring chewed out of its lower trunk. He said he wondered why the pond’s water level seemed about three feet higher than normal, overflowing its banks. Turned out a dam meticulously fashioned from twigs and saplings was blocking the mouth of Ely Brook. A lodge made of sticks showed up later in a shallow section of the pond within the Grace Estate Preserve.
    After felling dozens of trees and building two lodges around Scoy Pond the first beaver to have been seen on Long Island in 100 years (since being trapped out of existence here) left when its structures were destroyed by persons unknown.
    In August of 2009, Steven Schoenig and Ray Waleko, carpenters working on a house near Napeague Harbor, watched a beaver scuttle across a path. Evidence that she had taken up residency in Montauk’s Fresh Pond was discovered soon after.
    “Their favorite trees are alders of the cottonwood family, and poplars,” said Larry Penny, East Hampton Town’s natural resources for nearly three decades. East Hampton’s lone beaver seems to be getting along fine gnawing on tupelos. Mr. Penny said beavers feast on the under-bark, “the active growth layer” of trees — perhaps red maples in this area — as well as aquatic plants. Mr. Bottini said lily pad tubers were also high on their list of favorite foods. 
    Castor canadensis is the second largest rodent in the world after the capybara of South America. Beavers are nocturnal for the most part, working at night to harvest vegetation as small as weeds and as big as trees for the construction of their dams and lodges. Beavers have a hyperactive engineering gene that drives them to customize their watery habitats. They often cut off or reroute streams and cause flooding in an effort to create a moat against predators. This does not endear them to everyone.
    They are ingenious builders, first cutting trees to size, pushing them through the water to the building site, erecting vertical poles, cross-hatching the frames in with branches laid horizontally, then filling the gaps with weeds and mud.
    When beavers sense danger they slap the surface of the water with their broad tails to warn others and then submerge. They can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes. They have poor eyesight but great hearing, smell, and sense of touch. One reason they put lumberjacks to shame is the fact that their chisel-like teeth never stop growing. Continual gnawing is required to wear them down.
    Mr. Bottini said that if the Montauk beaver is the same one that left Scoy Pond, it is likely still alone. “The question is, is it a bachelor or a bachelorette?”