The Beaver Family
of Doolittle Creek
Story and Photos by Robert Strickland
oolittle Creek is a small stream that meanders through the Fairfield Valley east of
Candor, New York. The Doolittle Creek beavers, henceforth known as the beavers,
had built a nice dam across the creek, turning a patch of abandoned pasture into
a pond. The pond provided refuge for a large variety of birds and other animals.
Then last June, the area got hit with a torrential downpour. Driving rains caused the inlets
to overflow, and tons of debris washed into Doolittle Creek. The flood hit with such force that
it completely wiped out the dam. The next day, what had been a beaver pond was a flowing
stream littered with sticks, logs, and stones. The lodge looked intact – though high and dry –
but there were no beavers to be found. Did they survive the onslaught?
I feared the worst, and so was glad to notice the start of a new dam shortly after the flood.
Every morning I would go down to check the progress being made on the dam, and I was
always surprised to see how much work was done. At first I noticed just one beaver, but when
I started going earlier in the mornings it was common to see two adults and a yearling working
on the dam. To rebuild, they first propped poles against the banks that were pointed upstream.
They weighed the poles down with heavy rocks, and used grass and dirt as mortar. I watched
them dig clean dirt with their front, as well as rear, feet. Once the base was established, they
jammed other sticks into the dam, aligning the wood with the direction of the stream flow. Still
more sticks were inserted between the existing sticks and branches. As the water backed up,
they’d dive down and scoop up mud from the pond bottom with their front feet. With the mud
lodged between their front legs and neck, they’d swim to the dam. Time and time again the
beavers did this until the dam was secure.
In about five weeks the dam was completely rebuilt and work began on a secondary pool,
where the beavers had access to tasty willow twigs. To get into the second pond, the beavers
had to come out of the water and go over the dam. When they were on land, I marveled at
how big they were. Like icebergs in the water, on most occurrences you only see their heads
and not the large masses underneath.
As spring progressed into summer, I began to see the young of the year, who were allowed
to come out of the lodge and eat with the adults. Beavers typically live in family groups made
up of monogamous parents, yearlings, and that spring’s young. As the pond complex grew,
the beavers split the work up. An adult tended to work the dam nearest the road, while others
would work on the main dam or in one of the smaller, secondary pools. In emergencies,
they’d join forces to take care of any pressing leaks. They did almost all of their daylight work
around dawn and dusk, though most was accomplished in the dark of night.
By September, the beaver family from Doolittle Creek had replaced the dam with a
structure that was bigger and stronger than the original; they’d also created six new (smaller)
ponds for feeding and socializing. As you can see from these pictures, the new ponds were
inviting to both wildlife and nature photographers.
Robert Strickland is a self-taught nature and wildlife photographer. More photos and stories can be found
on his website: www.robertstricklandphotography.com
1 The flood.
2 The first step of the dam-building process
involved collecting new material, some of
it recycled, some of it fresh.
3 The larger adult – probably the male –
with a full load of building material.