Barn swallows, beavers offer challenge

As nature lovers, we constantly are challenged with wildlife problems and environmental dilemmas.
Beavers and barn swallows are a good example of the complexity of these issues.
Last week, a pair of young swallows about to take flight from a beam in our boathouse looked cute, but the mess of droppings especially frustrated my husband.
He was tempted to solve the problem with a paddle.
Then that evening, a beaver chomped the flowered tops of some dogwoods I recently planted, provoking me to chase it with a stick (although I should be thankful beavers aren’t occupying the boathouse, which is what happened to our neighbours).
Such encounters are not always easily solved.
To prevent swallows from entering next year, I’ll try draping strips of rubber from the bottom of our boathouse door.
Some people also recommend nailing plastic strips of spikes on ledges (a product designed as a bird deterrent) or obstructing nest sites with chicken wire.
Wrapping mesh around birch and poplars also protects trees from beaver. In addition, we’ve decided not to attract beavers with the scent of newly-cut deciduous wood right on the property we’re trying to protect.
We unwittingly attracted the beaver to our yard with the delicious scent of newly-ground poplar mulch spread on the front path. In human terms, the wafting aroma is like a steaming cake fresh from the oven.
Learning about what makes creatures unique also is helping us build up resistance to gregarious ones.
In early July, for instance, I spent about 15 minutes watching a barn swallow start to build a nest as it repeatedly grabbed from a mud puddle before flying away again.
According to the books, it requires 2,000 beak loads of mud to build each nest.
I’ll confess I dismantled the start of the swallow’s nest in our boathouse in hopes that it would relocate. Now the nest is hidden in an unreachable crevice above our roll-up door.
Smart bird.
So now we lay out an old sheet on the boat to pick up the droppings, which isn’t a big deal since the birds won’t use the boathouse once the young ones start to fly.
The other interesting thing about swallows is that they each devour hundreds of mosquitoes a day.
As for the beavers, I can’t help but admire their industrious work habits. A pair of beavers can build a dam in three or four days, with branches stuck perfectly diagonal into the mud.
They scoop up the mud with their paws to fill in the structure once all the branches are woven in place.
The benefit to these dams is that the flooded areas created often develop into rich habitat for a succession of plants and animals. Plus these romanticized tail-slappers are innately friendly, which charms tourists.
Many naturalists have written about relationships with adopted orphaned beavers, providing a perspective most people don’t consider.
R.D. Lawrence, for one, wrote a memoir called “Paddy” about the perils and pleasures of raising a baby beaver in a location “north of International Falls.”
The New York Times, back in the 1970s, published that Paddy is “endlessly engaging” while the Oakland Tribune chimed it’s the “most informative” story about this animal which is “very important to Canada’s history.”
It’s all a matter of perspective.
For the number of problems beavers and barn swallows create, they also help to enhance a uniquely human characteristic–the ability to have an open mind.

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