Beavers are Busy Before the Beaver Moon

| Tom Driscoll |

The late November full moon is sometimes known as the “Beaver Moon,” the last full moon before the winter solstice on December 22nd when, according to Robert Frost, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep.”

Just as we prepare for winter by dutifully stacking firewood and doing our yardwork, the busy beavers are also stockpiling provisions and preparing their homes to survive during the coming cold months.

Beavers are nocturnal so we rarely see them at work, yet we are all familiar with evidence of their night shift industriousness – beaver dams, ponds, and tree stumps along the riverbanks.

Midnight munching on the buds, twigs, and bark of aspen trees – as well as alders, maples, and other brands – is something that keeps beavers up at night.

Evidence of nighttime beaver activity can currently be seen in the daytime along the flatwater of the Royal River just below the falls near the New Gloucester Fairgrounds.  The five freshly cut stumps in this photo were either the work of New Gloucester resident beavers or someone with an exceptionally large and portable pencil sharpener. 

Harvesting trees in or near the waterways makes them easier to haul off to the beaver lodge or dam.  Pre-industrial Maine loggers emulated beavers’ tree-harvesting techniques with river drive transport and mill pond storage.

Freshly cut trees in the Royal River just below The Fairgrounds | Tom Driscoll

Beavers are master tree choppers as you can see with this recently harvested tree stump, a natural work of symmetrical art.  The dark inner circle is the “heartwood,” the lighter outer circle is the “sapwood,” and then of course, the outer layer is the tasty bark.

Fresh beaver-harvested tree stump with chips | Tom Driscoll

Maintaining the sharpness of chainsaw teeth is a challenging chore for us.  Beaver teeth, however, are naturally self-sharpening.  Human sawyers often take pride when large chips fly from their sharpened power saws, proof of their saw-sharpening skills.  But none can compare to the huge chips naturally made by busy beavers.

Fresh wood chips produced by beaver teeth cutting action | Tom Driscoll

Beaver dams and lodges are abundant along the upper reaches of the Royal River from the headwaters at Sabbathday Lake and everywhere downstream to the overpass at Route 202.  The final beaver-made dam on this stretch abuts the culvert that passes under the highway.

Repairing a breach in a dam is a routine chore for a beaver.  From a beaver perspective, Route 202 crossing over the Royal River near the Auburn town line is a natural dam, and the culvert underneath is a temporary breach; hence, the “repair work” which we see as a beaver-made dam across the man-made culvert.  A beaver job well done, but a nuisance for some.

Some lodges are located along the river banks, and others are midstream like this lodge of lodges just above the turnpike and the Fairgrounds. | Tom Driscoll

Beavers are also homesteading in the Shaker Bog, from whence the waters pass under Route 26 to pause briefly in the old Mill Pond before commencing the downstream flow through the still standing stone-lined canal at the once “Great Mill”; thence meandering through the woodlands and spilling over Aurelius Falls, to join with Sabbathday Lake along the West Shore in the shadow of Loon Point; mixing and flowing north toward The Outlet to metamorphose and thereafter to be known as the Royal River; flowing first on a northward detour around Peacock Hill, then slowly south and lazily eastward through The Intervale; and off to places beyond, last falling over the two man-made dams at Yarmouth – and then untraceably into Casco Bay and out to sea, quietly around the clock and under the light of the Beaver Moon.

Beaver Moon 2020 rising over Shaker  Village | Tom Driscoll