We have been running beaver safaris since we started Perthshire Wildlife ten years ago in 2013. Our beaver tours have been getting more popular every year as people hear about the benefits of these amazing animals and the fantastic sightings we get in the River Tay catchment.
We are going to take you on a Riverbank Beaver Safari which is our most popular tour – we spend a few hours peacefully sitting by a beautiful river in Central Perthshire enjoying the wildlife swim and fly past, while the sound of birdsong and scent of wildflowers fills the air around us.
We meet at a convenient location north of Perth and park about ten minutes’ walk from the river. We start off with an introduction to the beavers’ diet as we look at a beaver skull and its amazing long teeth which never stop growing. Lots of people think beavers are related to otters and eat fish but, of course, they are completely herbivorous and we will soon look at some of their favourite foods on our way to the river.
We talk about why they became extinct in Scotland about 500 years ago - they were hunted for their fur, meat and castoreum – and the story of how they recently returned to Scotland’s rivers and lochs.
We walk through sections of tall vegetation, full of beautiful native plants such as Comfrey and Butterbur that the beavers love to eat, and have a tasty forage of some of the beavers’ favourite foods. In the spring they adore to eat Sweet cicely, which is a lovely aniseed-flavoured plant, once used by us as a sweetener before sugar was widely available. Most people really enjoy a munch of the leaves or seed capsules but a few people aren’t so keen!
Once at the river we settle down at a go od viewing point not far from the beaver lodge to wait for the animals to appear. We usually don’t have to wait too long and are treated to a few of the lovely beaver family swimming around, sometimes within a few metres of us, grooming each other, feeding and generally being beavertastic. They live in a close knit family group and we have been getting good views of this year’s three tiny kits over the past few weeks, along with the year-old kits born last year, as well as their parents. Listening to them eating at the edge of the river is hilarious as they munch at top volume and it’s hard not to laugh out loud! We have seen beavers on all our Riverbank Safaris this year so although we can’t guarantee sightings, we are confident that we should see at least one beaver.
The adult beavers swim past looking very serene, while I think the kits look like wind-up clockwork toys as they try to keep up with the rest of the family. Watching them groom each other is quite touching – they are a very close-knit family so this helps keep the bonds strong as well as scratch any itches they can’t reach. If we are very lucky we sometimes watch the young ones playing and testing their strength – they lean back & raise the front of the body out of the water and then push at each other with their front legs. This is usually accompanied by a noise which is like a cross between a grunt and a squeak and is another beaver activity that makes us all laugh! Watching the adults sit on the opposite bank from us and groom themselves is fascinating to watch. They sit back on their tails and comb their undersides with their front paws, waterproof their fur with an oily secretion and pull the nails of their back feet through their fur. They have modified rear nails that work a bit like a comb to keep the fur in tip-top condition.
One of the reasons we love the beavers so much is due to how they create homes for other wildlife through their woodland management and wetland creation. Not every beaver build dams – the ones we watch here don’t have any dams as the river is too big and powerful and they don’t really need them as there’s plenty of water there already. B ut if they did, they would create a valuable wetland that would offer a home to many other animals.
Other wildlife that we frequently see includes an Otter family, and we are sometimes lucky enough to see the beavers chasing them off if they get too close to the lodge as they will predate on young kits; Kingfishers frequently zoom up and down the river with their piping calls; Dippers, Goosanders, Sandpipers, Swallows, Swifts and many more birds can be seen, while the song of Blackcaps, Song thrushes, Willow warblers, Yellowhammers and many more fill the air in spring and early summer.
The tour draws to an end as the sun goes down. The beavers will be out on the river for a few hours yet but it is getting difficult to see them so we turn back to the cars, frequently seeing Roe deer and Brown hare in the fields. People frequently comment on the peacefulness of the evening – it’s probably the ultimate in mindfulness – as well as the feeling of connecting to and being part of nature. I think this is almost as enjoyable as watching the animals themselves.
We always finish off the tour with a toast to the beavers’ return to Scotland with a wee dram of whisky. Plus everyone takes home a wee beaver memento so they won’t forget their evening with these amazing creatures!
Photo Credits: Mhairi Edwards