Guest Column: Beaver Marsh is a unique place to view wildlife

Published:

by Jennie Vasarhelyi

The Beaver Marsh in Cuyahoga Valley National Park has a wide diversity of plant and animal life in its varied habitat.

Throughout the year, the Beaver Marsh in Cuyahoga Valley National Park teams with life. Depending on the month, you may be serenaded by a choir of frogs, watch turtles swim among lily pads, or hear northern cardinals call from snowy trees.

Let the opportunities to make new discoveries lure you back to the Beaver Marsh each month, where you can watch for wildlife along the marshlands boardwalk.

November is an active month for beavers as they prepare for winter. They are primarily nocturnal animals, but are frequently observed at dawn or dusk.

You may see them busily repairing their dams or collecting softwood branches, such as willow and aspen, to store in under-water caches in front of their lodge as a winter food supply.

Beavers built a system of dams at the Beaver Marsh to hold water. This gives them a wider area to swim and minimizes dangers from predators on land. When at the marsh, notice the tremendous amount of work beavers have done to build berms around the deeper water and create side channels that extend water access.

Beavers built a system of dams at the Beaver Marsh to hold water. This gives them a wider area to swim and minimizes dangers from predators on land. When at the marsh, notice the tremendous amount of work beavers have done to build berms around the deeper water and create side channels that extend water access.

Once the marsh freezes, the beavers' world becomes constricted. They no longer have open water to swim easily around their marsh. They will spend more time in their lodge, using the underwater entrance and exit to access their stored food cache.

To delay freezing, beavers will break up the ice. Look for spots where beavers have used their heads to break up ice from below its surface.

The Audubon Society of Ohio has named the Beaver Marsh as an Important Bird Area. November bird sightings helped earn this designation. Some of these sightings are rare, so consider return trips to look for new species.

Heat held by marsh water creates a warmer spot in the valley. As a result, insect populations, which have diminished in the surrounding uplands, linger into November. Even finding a mosquito is not out of the question.

Birds that feed on insects are drawn to the marsh. Search for eastern bluebirds and cedar waxwings, two of the more beautiful valley species.

Eastern bluebirds, as their name suggests, have a vivid blue color that contrasts with their rusty breast. Cedar waxwings are a blend of brown, gray, and yellow that contrasts with their black mask. Cedar waxwings travel in groups; the group chatter can help you find them.

Southbound migrating waterfowl also pass through the Beaver Marsh. Their numbers start to peak in late October and continue into November.

While wood ducks are summer residents, their numbers increase during fall migration. Sometimes you can spot more than 20 wood ducks within the marsh and surrounding channels.

Males are ornate, with a glossy green head and back, brown breast, and tan sides -- all highlighted with white striping.

You also have the chance to see less common waterfowl, such as pintails. These graceful ducks are easy to identify by their chocolate head with a white marking up the back of their necks.

Tundra swans may also stop by. This native swan has a predominately black bill, unlike the red bill of the non-native mute swan.

Some year-round residents may also make surprising appearances at the Beaver Marsh in November. A visit to the marsh near dawn may be rewarded with the sounds of great horned owls calling from nearby woodlands.

On warmer days, you still may see turtles sunning themselves on logs. Abundant nature viewing opportunities occur because the Beaver Marsh is among the most diverse natural communities in the park.

It is also one of the valley's most inspiring places. Scientists believe that a wetland existed in the area before settlement. Starting in the 19th century, land development drained the original wetland. By the time the National Park Service purchased the land, it had become home for an auto repair shop.

Efforts by humans and beavers transformed this site back into a wetland. In 1984, the Portage Trail Group of the Sierra Club organized a site clean-up.

Around the same time, beavers started returning to the valley after more than 100 years. By flooding the area, beavers awakened long-dormant seeds of wetland plants. Today, the Beaver Marsh is one of nearly 1,500 individual wetlands covering over 1,900 acres of parkland. Many of these are less than one acre.

The 70-acre Beaver Marsh is significant because of its size, rich seed bed, complex water chemistry, and plant diversity. This plant diversity, in turn, meets the habitat needs of a diverse wildlife.

This salvage-yard-turned-magnificent wetland shows the potential for nature to recover when we give it a chance.

The Beaver Marsh is located a quarter mile north of Ira Trailhead along the Towpath Trail. The easy walk is accessible by wheelchair or stroller. The Towpath Trail can be congested here, so exercise caution by staying to the right and watching for passing cyclists.

If you are out at night, wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight. For more information, see www.nps.gov/cuva or call 330-657-2752.

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