Tuesday, 29 September 2009

More about Dubingiai

The members of the International Beaver Symposium's Organising Committee were Alius Ulevicius of Vilnius University, Lithuania (whose photograph you see on the left), Algimantas Paulauskas of Vytautas Magnus University at Kaunas, Lithuania, Karl-Andreas Nitsche of the Castor Research Society, Dessau, Germany and Peter Busher from Boston University, Boston, USA.

As I said in my last post they made a splendid job of organising the symposium in a beautiful place with the added advantage of wonderful weather.

This shot is of Algimantas Paulauskas, who very kindly drove Louise and me to an ATM in order to extract some cash with which to pay for our contribution to the symposium. I thought the ATM would be just round the corner, as it were, in the village of Dubingiai, but he drove for about fifteen kilometres to a town with a supermarket that had an ATM.

Vytautas Magnus University is named after a Grand Duke of Lithuania of the fifteenth century.

I mentioned Karl-Andreas Nitsche in my last post, so there is no picture of him this time, but there is a photo of Peter Busher. He is the person in the middle of the group of three on the left. To the left, as we look at the photograph, is Göran Hartman from Sweden and to the right is Frank Rosell from Norway. Both Göran and Frank have been great supporters to those of us who are involved in the campaign to return the Eurasian beaver to Scotland.

My next photograph is of Zygmunt Gizejewski from Poland. It turned out that he had supplied Derek Gow with the black pair of beavers that later came to Perthshire and were the parents of the two sisters that arrived here at Bamff on the 1st July 2002. Zygmunt was delighted to learn that I still see black beavers in the area of the Big Ponds here and that there are dark kits.

It also turned out that Zygmunt was the supervisor of Joanna Bierla, who gave a brilliant presentation about beaver sperm at Freising in 2006. Unfortunately Joanna could not come to Dubingiai, so Zygmunt gave her presentation, an update of her earlier work.

This is Volker Zahner from Weihenstephan University of Applied Sciences. Volker was one of the hosts at the last IBS in 2006

Weihenstephan is notable in claiming to have the oldest brewery in Bavaria (perhaps in Germany) on its campus. The campus, which is near Freising, is particularly interesting for the many fine modern buildings there. One of the memorable features of the Bavarian symposium was the journey up the Danube to a monastery that also claimed to have the oldest brewery in Bavaria (perhaps in Germany).

The Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians were present in some strength as you might expect. This photo shows Alexander Saveljev.

A striking young woman in flowing green clothes turned out to be from Serbia.

Jorn Van den Bogaert from Flanders is the man in the hat talking, I think, to Duncan Halley (once a Scot, now a Norwegian). Duncan is one of the many who have been extremely helpful in our efforts to return the beaver to Scotland.

As I mentioned earlier, the Russians were probably the biggest group present and there were Belorussians as well. Vadim Sidorovich was one of these. Lying out for sale was a book by him about the trails and signs of animals in Belorussia - a wonderful book full of very interesting and highly informative text and photographs of the fauna of his country (bears, wolves, lynx and a great deal else). The photographs of the Belorussian landscape were heavy with atmosphere.
Vadim Sidorovich's email address is: vadim.sidorovich@gmail.com.

And what about the Brits? There was a group from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, led by Allan Bantick, their president, with a couple of people from the Forestry Commission Scotland and one member from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. They came with a pair of minders from Scottish Natural Heritage.

Martin Gaywood from SNH (the chief minder) gave a plenary lecture. The high point of the talk came when he told us that the Scottish Beaver Trial was going to cost £1.8 million. There was a gasp of astonishment from the audience. The low points came when he told us that the Scots were a very cautious people - was he, an Englishman, speaking for the country of Wallace and Bruce? What would Admiral Duncan have made of this description when he took on the Dutch fleet at Camperdown? And so forth. It was somewhat embarrassing, I thought, for the official trial, but there you go: at least it has lifted off at last.

It was particularly good to meet Skip Lyle from the USA again. That's him - the big man in the middle of the photograph. To his right in profile is Andrzej Czech from Poland. Skip is now in business as a designer and maker of beaver deceivers, a non-lethal way of keeping open road culverts and other things that beavers like to block on occasion. Andrzej is Skip's business partner in Poland. Allan Bantick has his back to the camera and Louise is speaking to Skip.

I think that is enough for now. Perhaps there will be more about Lithuania? There was a wonderful feast and a very interesting excursion, some photographs of which are already on my blog and in this post.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The 5th International Beaver Symposium, Dubingiai, Lithuania

We returned home from the 5th International Beaver Symposium in Dubingiai, Lithuania on the 25th September.

Louise and I have attended the last four of these Symposia and the effect is a curious one. Somehow the years that intervene between one meeting and the next seem not to have existed and it is as though the earlier meetings had all been part of a single sequence.

We found various friends there and enjoyed many conversations with them and others, new friends who we shall meet in the future.

I seem to be spending a long time in getting back on line and so I must send this post now.

Woodland near the conference centre at Dubingiai.

Here are Derek Gow, a Scotsman who lives in Devon, England, and Karl-Andreas Nitsche from Germany.

Derek has been involved in beaver matters since 1994 and quarantined the beavers that were brought in to the United Kingdom for the recent beaver trial in Scotland.

Karl-Andreas is well-known for his work on the beavers of the River Elbe, one of the places where a small population of the species survived in western Europe.

Gerhard Schwab from Bavaria is a grand old man of the beaver world. We were sorry to miss Regina, his partner, who was unwell.

A birch wood flooded as a result of activity by beavers. Many of the dead stems have become the burrows of different species of woodpecker and owls.

Vadim Sidorovich from Belorussia has a couple of splendid pictures in his fine book on animal tracks and signs in Belorussia that show the holes made by black woodpeckers. It seems that pine martens and a variety of other animals make homes in these holes as well as their makers.

Gerhard Schwab is the figure in the bottom left of the photograph.

A beaver pond in open ground. The beavers keep the pond open and it has become a haunt for wildfowl.

The figure in the fore-ground is Marie-Laure from the Office National pour la Chasse in France.

I intend to put up another post, describing more of the symposium, but I must not let the moment pass without thanking Alius Ulevicius and his organising committee for all the work they did to make this a tremendous success.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Changing Water Levels and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker

The present spell of dry weather is a godsend to the arable farmers around here (and to stock farmers keen to see the sun on their animals' backs as well). After the wet summer many must have been gnawing their finger nails with frustration. Now, at last, the spring barley and wheat can be cut. Then it will be time for potatoes to be lifted. I noticed some fields of potatoes, whose shaws (the vegetative bits above ground) had been burned off a week or two ago to be ready for lifting.

In the meantime the water level in the main burn here has dropped enough for the overflow of this dam, the first one downstream from the drive, to cease running for the moment, though water continues to gush abundantly lower down through the dam .

At the middle dam the beavers have blocked their sluice to maintain the water level.

I walked on downstream this morning and was amazed to see the height at which a beaver had cut a small branch.

While I was photographing the cut branch I became aware of a gnawing sound. After a while I placed it up above somewhere in a tree. Was it a squirrel? I couldn't make out anything .

After searching through my binoculars for a minute or two I found the beast. It was a Greater Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). The sound that I had taken for gnawing turned out to be the knocking of the bird against the branch of the tree in its search for insects and seeds to eat. Perhaps it was a juvenile? In due course it moved round the branch to a point where I could see it better. The black and white plumage made it hard to make out among the shadows and patches of light; even the red on its head and under the tail blended with the turning leaves. I watched it poking around for insects among the lichen and bark of the birch tree, one of those that the beavers have gnawed at but left standing for the moment.

Woodpeckers are among the birds that benefit greatly from the presence of beavers, thanks to their provision of plenty of dead wood into which invertebrates of many species may burrow.

The kindly bird allowed me time to change my lens, so I was able to take the next photograph, a cropped version of which you see here.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Redesigning the Burn

The recent rains have raised the water levels of the ponds here and the rivers around here are mostly in flood.

Here is water, foaming through the biggest of the dams. The stream of water coming in from the left of the picture is the bottom end of the right hand side of the overflow stream that you see in the next photo.

The left fork of this overflow rushes on down. A few metres downstream of this shot there is a path that enables beavers to walk up to the pond upstream of the dam, or to walk down from the pond (as the case may be).

Here it is a few metres downstream of the last photograph: but an interesting thing has happened. The sward of grass that underlay the new stream has been scooped up, whether by the force of the current, or by beavers, I don't know. Whatever the agency, however, the removal of the grass has exposed the floor of the stream, and has resulted in the washing away of the lighter fractions of the soil, which is now more gravelly and pebbly. You can make out one of the larger pebbles in the photograph. Are we witnessing the re-creation of a trout stream?

In this photograph, a little further downstream from the last shot, it looks as though a beaver has dug beneath the sward and pushed a tunnel through to the next open stretch before this channel flows into the pond that is contained by the next dam.

Here is the next dam, breached in the middle, and with a fine overflow channel. Is that a standing wave I see?

A few metres on: some of the water flows into the old ditch and the rest heads on through a new channel into the third pool.

Not a very good photograph, but one that I had the good luck to take of a young beaver, probably a yearling.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Beaver Swamp at Bamff

Although the beavers seem to be using their oldest lodge still, they have built a couple of new lodges on the bank of the short canal that links the two ponds.

Neither of these lodges is as extensive as the original lodge, whose construction they started on in the autumn of 2002.

This photograph shows the top impoundment that the beavers have made with another dam.