A hopeful volunteer and a stubborn beaver….

Here at loch of the Lowes spring appears to be, for all intents and purposes, underway. Mallard ducklings are now becoming a regular sight, the lush foliage of the birch trees is becoming harder for osprey watch volunteers to peer through, swallows are to be seen over the loch searching for a snack, and the Great Crested Grebes have been scouting out potential nest sites amongst the lilypads. Furthermore it seems that the temperature is on the rise with late watch volunteers only having to wear 3 layers! Along with all the commotion of migrants arriving and buds flowering, the beavers are also becoming a lot more active, and for me, having arrived at Lowes with no previous beaver sightings under my belt, I get the feeling that it might be worth investing in a bigger buckle!

In March I arrived at Loch of the Lowes to begin my stay as a volunteer SPO (species protection officer), a position that would see me living in a bothy just off the shore of the loch with three other SPOs. Having previously done stints volunteering on the isle of st Kilda and the isle of Rhum, where electricity and central heating were luxuries, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both (and more!!) were on offer at what would be my new home for the next three months. Not only is there heating and electricity, but a hot shower, a microwave, and where on Rhum I was shacked up with two blokes and herds of red deer, here I live with three ladies (needless to say, here I have to be slightly more rigorous with my personal hygiene) and have the great pleasure of interacting with a host of different volunteers every week. The volunteers are all so enthusiastic and happy to be in the hide that it is a great reminder that the job I’m doing is a privileged one, and whilst the main purpose of our being on shift is to monitor the osprey, there is also some anticipation every night we will catch a sight of the floating barn door with an outboard motor attached-aka-the Eurasian beaver.

My first few shifts were always peppered with the prospect of a beaver encounter, although after a couple of weeks I had decided that the beavers didn’t actually exist. Soon after I had abandoned my belief we did a shore walk, examining all the new chew marks (looks like a sharpened pencil) and noting the beavers preferred choice of tree; Willow proved most popular, closely followed by Alder, Birch and Rowan. Ranger Emma assured me that these were signs that the beavers were still present and active, but I had my suspicions, perhaps these marks were actually the work of those volunteers deemed too unworthy of work in the visitor centre, sent out in the dead of night with a map of the loch and a toothpick…

However, just as we begun to enter April and the nights were turning less Arctic and the water more tepid, my luck began to turn. Twas a calm night, the evening not offering enough wind to disturb the surface of the loch and as such the Scots pines were as long in the water as they were on the land, an image that was disturbed by ripples whose source was for once not three mallards in a line doing their classic beaver impression! It was something that for all intents and purposes was looking very beaver-like, but wait, was this just another unfortunate volunteer, forced to wear the Sandy the squirrel outfit and frantically front-crawling their way to the other end of the loch in an attempt to keep public interest up?? I aimed my scope, focused, and lo and behold it was an actual Eurasian beaver; Castor fiber! Just a casual fly-by for Mr beaver (presumed to be the dominant male, large, alone) but for me a milestone in my wildlife spotting career. Since then I’ve had many sightings of the beaver, and early one morning (5am-6am; the beavering hour…) there were three of them, the most seen together at one time this season indicating that the dominant female could be back at the lodge with new kits on the way…

…So I can add beaver to the list of rare British species I have thus far encountered, a list that currently reads: Snowy owl, st Kilda wren, and a stubborn Eurasian beaver.

Dan Hobson, Volunteer Species Protection Officer

Preface

Here at loch of the Lowes spring appears to be, for all intents and purposes, underway. Mallard ducklings are now becoming a regular sight, the lush foliage of the birch …

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