22 Jun Photographing Beavers
Back in the Spring of 2014 I set out to hopefully see my first wild Eurasian Beavers (Castor fiber) in the British Isles. I had known of the Scottish Beaver Trial, a preliminary reintroduction of Beavers to Knapdale in West Scotland by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Forestry Commission Scotland, through social media and TV features, but I had also heard of the ‘feral’ population expanding in the Tayside catchment, predominantly through the Tayside Beaver Group and Bob Smith. It was these Beavers I set out to see.
I had no true idea of what to expect, in both the habitat that had been created, or the creatures themselves. Grand visions of huge dams, flooding vast areas of land, visions created from the depiction of North American Beavers (Castor canadensis) in popular wildlife documentaries. In reality the habitat was on a much smaller scale, but equally as impressive.
The Beavers habitat was a beautiful mosaic of life and death, the creative opportunities for photographs and film were endless. The sheer abundance of ‘construction’ or ‘engineering’; felled trees, chippings, canals, dams, pools and lodges, all changing dramatically through the seasons, made for a full and varied subject in itself. But it was the Beavers themselves I most wanted to see and photograph.
Photographing a new species is always difficult; never mind a species that, until recently, has been extinct from the British Isles. It’s habits; behaviours and senses are all unknown in the field. Only extensive research and the guidance of experts can prepare you. Thankfully Andrew Kitchener’s book on the Beaver is extremely comprehensive and the expert Beaver watching guidance from Bob Smith (now a Wild Intrigue Eurasian Beaver Expedition Guide) gave me a good understanding of what to expect.
As with all species, it’s important to have a good understanding of their behaviour, habitat, and the tracks and signs they leave before you even consider photographing them. It allows you find areas of most activity, and predict where they may come from, go to, and how they may behave.
Finding a suitable area in the sheer mass of activity amongst the Beaver habitat can be quite difficult, (on our Eurasian Beaver Expeditions we know the best spots to get the most sightings) but once you find a suitable location it’s important to arrive quietly an hour (at least) before sunrise/sunset, and setup in position.
My first Beaver moved quietly past in the twilight, blending perfectly into the bank side, hardly making a ripple. I’ve watched Otter (Lutra lutra) many times, stealthily moving under water, but Beavers are on a whole new level. They can dive and move under water with little or no bow wave or bubbles.
They’re an extremely curious and intriguing species, a beautiful subject which forces you to use all of your field craft skills and researched information to get the best from them in images.
I already can’t wait to spend more time photographing them. Join us on our next Eurasian Beavers Expedition, visit HERE to find out more.