Have you ever gone kayaking or canoeing at night? By the light of a full moon? Imagine the darkness, the singing of the crickets, the slap of a beaver’s tail. If you haven’t ever done it I highly recommend it. Without a flashlight, without a motor, just you and your paddle cutting silently through the black water.
As the sun was setting two nights ago, we quietly pulled our two kayaks into the water and let the current take us. The western sky was a lovely shade of coral, with the clouds backlit. Before we had been on the river two minutes I spotted two otters running on the left side of the bank, moving steadily through the brush. When they saw us, they stopped momentarily, checking us out, then slid silently into the cold water, disappearing in the darkness. I have had many chances in my lifetime to observe wild otters, having lived at the edge of a wetland in eastern New York state for ten years. My experience tells me they are very playful and can be curious. In the winter, their slides on the ice into open spots of river were common. I was thrilled for the chance to see them in my new home state of North Carolina.
As the darkness descended on the river, the almost-full-moon rose up into the cloudless sky, shining brightly across the water. I spotted a muskrat swimming towards me but as I got closer he ducked under and disappeared just like the otters. Here and then gone. A little while later there was a loud crash, like a big animal jumping into the river. And then, before a minute had passed, an even louder SLAP of a beaver’s tail against the still surface of the water, shattering the silence. SLAP! Again and again, even as we paddled out of sight.
In the 5 miles of paddling we surprised 7 beavers, all of them crashing into the water loudly and then repeatedly slapping their tails.
Do you know why they do this? They do it to alert other beavers that there is some kind of danger in the area. Even though we meant them no harm, this is not something they know. They simply see us and think we are a potential predator.
It was an amazing night of paddling, absolutely thrilling to me to learn about all these animals that make the French Broad River their home. Before it was all over, we saw otters, muskrat, beavers and even an opossum. Most people never see these animals unless they visit a zoo.
Did you know beavers can hold their breath for 15 minutes? Or that they spread an oil that they produce onto their fur to waterproof it? Do you know how long they live or what they use their tails for besides warning others? Do you know how they see underwater? To learn more about beavers, check back on Monday as they will be next week’s Creature Feature. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. Make time to be outside for a while–you never know what interesting animals YOU will see! See you on Monday for this week’s CREATURE FEATURE.