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Montauk Beaver Meets Its End on Highway

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 20:36
Mike Bottini, a wildlife biologist, had a trail camera trained on the Hither Woods beaver's lodge, but took it down just before the lodge was damaged by a raccoon and apparently abandoned by the beaver.
Mike Bottini

A beaver that likely arrived at Hither Hills State Park in the ocean surf last April and then built a lodge in a secluded part of Fresh Pond in Hither Woods was found dead on the side of Montauk Highway Tuesday morning. 

Joe Cucci, who lives in Montauk, was driving west for work early that morning when he noticed the large animal on the eastbound side of Montauk Highway on the Napeague stretch near Shark Bar (the former Cyril’s Fish House). He stopped to take a closer look and to photograph it. Its distinctive paddle tail is proof positive of its species. 

Mike Bottini, a wildlife biologist with the Seatuck Environmental Association, had been tracking the Hither Woods beaver from a distance since it was first filmed emerging from the surf last year. When he learned late Tuesday afternoon that it had been discovered dead, Mr. Bottini raced to the spot where it was found so that he could document its demise and later dissect it. He surmised that the animal must have been hit by a car overnight. 

Joe Cucci spotted the beaver on the side of Montauk Highway on his way to work Tuesday morning.

Mr. Cucci’s photograph shows that the beaver, though dead, was fairly intact; by late afternoon, that was not the case. “The carcass was tossed into the shrubs on the side of the road,” Mr. Bottini said in an email. “It was in rough shape, but I didn’t examine it carefully . . . just stuffed it into a plastic bag and drove home.” However, he said, “when I examined it back home, I realized it was in rough shape not because it had been run over many times, but because someone had cut out the skull and the portion of the lower abdomen needed to determine the sex.” Perhaps another wildlife biologist had reached it first, but, if so, why had they left the carcass behind?

Mr. Bottini had kept tabs on the beaver living in Fresh Pond using a trail camera placed not far from its lodge. The animal left its calling cards — wood shavings, gnawed trunks, and toppled trees — all around the pond’s perimeter. On a guided hike last fall for the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, Mr. Bottini pointed out the beaver’s entry points, but was circumspect about the exact location of its lodge. 

When he visited the area recently to resurvey it and retrieve a trail camera, “I couldn’t find any fresh signs of the beaver and there was a hole in the side of the lodge . . . like six inches in diameter.” Some Canada geese had nested on the lodge and there were signs of a raccoon visit. He had taken down a separate trail camera trained on the area near the lodge before it was damaged, so only these clues remained to hint at the story. 

Mr. Bottini is fairly certain that the beaver in the pond was the one that two New York State Parks employees had filmed emerging from the ocean last April. If so, it could have traveled a great distance. “They’re good swimmers, but they’re very slow,” Mr. Bottini said. (Another beaver washed up dead on Two Mile Hollow Beach in East Hampton just a few weeks ago.) 

The beaver at Hither Hills walked right by the parks employees, close enough for them to touch, and then “headed up into the Fresh Pond area,” Mr. Bottini said. Young beavers “start to disperse when the mom is having the second litter,” he said. 

Once common on Long Island, beavers are rare here now but have been in residence over the past decade and a half at Scoy Pond in East Hampton’s Northwest Woods and, for a time, near Montauk’s Fresh Pond, sometimes called Hidden Pond. 

One built a lodge in Scoy Pond around 2006, and the dam it constructed blocking the mouth of Ely Brook was thought to have raised the water level in the pond by about three feet. In 2009, a beaver lodge was discovered at Fresh Pond in Hither Woods. At the time, a wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guessed that the animal responsible for that lodge was the same one that had been living previously in Scoy Pond. A beaver was spotted again at Fresh Pond in 2012. 

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