I spent a few hours this morning standing in between a patch of Fireweed and a patch of Snowberry in Seattle’s Discovery Park. Both of these plant species are in bloom right now, and the local nectar enthusiasts have taken notice. The area surrounding the spot in which I stood this morning was literally abuzz with activity. Much of the buzzing was coming from Rufous and Anna’s Hummingbirds as they jockeyed for position at the choicest blossoms. Bumblebees added their own, quieter drone to the mix as they did their best to visit the flowers without getting caught up in the ongoing avian conflict. Many times I nearly became a casualty of the hummingbird war myself when aerial battles buzzed so close to my head that I could feel the breeze given off by the bird’s tiny, rapidly-beating wings.
While enjoying the air show I heard the rustle of dry plant material coming from inside a tangle of snowberry bushes about 15 feet northwest of my position. The noise continued for a few moments, and the bushes above the sound’s point of origin were being shaken in rhythm with the sound. The movement crept from the middle of the bush outward toward the edge, and I did my best to peer into the shadows at the bottom of the bush while not shifting my position or making any other movement or noise. As I watched, a small, rounded, furry brown head with beady eyes poked out of the bush. Aplodontia rufa, the Mountain Beaver had come calling, and she was carrying a mouthful of freshly cut vegetation.
In the interest of accuracy, I should have actually said that it was I who had come calling, rather than the Mountain Beaver. I knew the spot I was standing in well, and Mountain Beaver burrows and sign surrounded it. But the burrows’ inhabitants had never made a daylight appearance up until this point, so I was delighted to meet one of them. The little Aplodontia disappeared back into the snowberry bush and, judging by the shaking and rustling, continued to gather vegetation. I went back to watching and photographing any hummingbirds that came close enough to enter my viewfinder. A minute or so passed and then the rustling in the bushes behind me abruptly stopped. I slowly turned my head to investigate.
I thought that the Mountain Beaver might have re-entered her burrow with her load of local, organic produce. The species usually has many different entrances and exits to the same burrow system, so I assumed that she had gone into a hole that was somewhere under the Snowberry Bush. Apparently, this thinking was correct, because as I was looking around, I saw her cautiously exit a burrow that was only about a foot away from my right hiking boot.
Despite her close proximity, the Mountain Beaver’s poor eyesight and hearing was clearly making it hard for her to get a fix on me. Still, her cautious manner told me that she was aware that something she should be concerned about was nearby. Her best senses are those of smell and touch, and since it is more prudent to rely on the former when danger is involved she began sniffing in earnest to see what news the breeze could bring her. Her nose twitched noticeably faster as her head swung in my direction. Living in a busy city park as she does, human is undoubtedly a very familiar scent to her; however, smelling one from a foot away was apparently not something she found comforting.
The Mountain Beaver turned quickly and hurried back down into her burrow. Two seconds later, her head appeared at another entrance hole about four feet away from the one she had just entered. She sniffed again, and then once more retreated to the safety of her underground home. I decided it was time to leave. The Mountain Beaver had been a far more gracious host to me than most humans would to an uninvited houseguest, and as any good houseguest should, I know when I have worn out my welcome. I thanked her for her hospitality and left her to finish her grocery shopping in peace.