Grand Canyon stories: Beavers in the Canyon
It was clear from the start that our first effort to film beavers down in the Grand Canyon was going to be a challenge. In advance I’ve been talking with biologists and other people working for National Parks about their presence in the canyon. They all mentioned places covered with tracks and signs of their activity but none of them had ever really seen one! Moreover, not equipped to film at night I was limited to the daylight hours to find and film them. It was going to be hard and a bit of a guess but worth giving it a try. I selected a film location at the Bright Angel Creek -a tributary of the Colorado River- in between the Roaring Springs bunk house and Cottonwood campground. Not only from logistic point of view did this seem the best option (accessibility, facilities to charge, cook, sleep, trails nearby…) but according to my sources this place also had a good size beaver dam and lots of signs of beaver activity in a nearby, more remote and narrow side canyon called Transept.
On our way down from the North Rim it was pouring with rain. Soaking wet Matt (my camera assistant) and I arrived at Roaring Springs. Except for the camera equipment -we sacrificed everything to keep this as dry and protected as possible- everything else of our gear and clothes was wet and moist. At our arrival a backcountry ranger and good friend told me to be very aware of flash floods which could form easily and out of nowhere under these weather conditions. She advised me to stick to the Bright Angel Creek and not to go into the narrow Transept where flash floods could be extremely dangerous and most likely fatal.
So next couple of days Matt and I were trying to unravel the secret life of the beavers living at the dam on the Bright Angel Creek. Not an easy task and finding the right approach was not always easy either. For days we were scanning the river, the dam, the pond and the banks from dawn till dusk. Nothing. We tried different methods only to try to catch at least a glimpse of a beaver: observation from a blind near the dam, walking along the riverbanks, setting up camera traps, sitting on higher vantage points overlooking the river. Still nothing. Frustration began to grow because the signs of their presence were all around and so obvious. Did the high water level and/or muddy waters influence their activity? Even if they really were that strictly nocturnal, you would expect to see at least a tiny bit of activity at dusk or dawn?
It took us about 5 days to finally catch our first glimpse of a beaver in the canyon. That early morning Matt sat on a lookout downstream while I stayed in the blind near the dam. Suddenly I saw movement in the corner of my eye, just at the bottom of the dam. It was a beaver! I never saw him crossing the pond at the top of the dam but now he suddenly showed up out of nowhere down below me. He continued to move along the creek with amazing speed and easy for such a bulky animal. As quick as he appeared he disappeared out of sight and in the stream again. Over the radio I alerted Matt about the beaver heading his direction. But no luck: we never saw him appearing downstream that day. At least we had a sign there was a beaver and he moved in daylight hours!
The following days, always at about the same time early morning we could see the beaver doing the same thing in the area where I’d seen him first and we found out about his routine (or at least about the part of it we could witness). Every morning he crossed his pond behind the dam by 5:30 am, preferably under water but occasionally at the surface so I could film him. Then he started to work his way downstream: first climbing down his dam under the cover of leaves and bushes on the riverbank, then swimming and diving trough the creek in high speed without delay. Finally arriving at waterfalls about 200 meters further downstream where he disappears again under a huge boulder and never shows himself again. Probably he comes out to forage at nighttime but we never saw him doing so despite all our efforts. This whole morning ritual took him about 5 to 10 minutes. A challenge to get that on film!