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Beavers of Schwabacher Landing

Schwabacher Landing 2008

Beaver with BranchesBeavers have been a fixture at Schwabacher Landing for many years. They are responsible for the beautiful pool of water found in most of the images there. A slow moving branch of the Snake flows in front of the Teton Range north of the parking area. Beavers dammed the flow years ago. When we moved to Jackson Hole in 1986, a channel of the Snake River cut across the river bottom allowing boaters to launch from the parking area. It fed back into the main channel of the Snake. I an not sure of the year, but at some point, the channel was cut off at the main river, restricting the flow at Schwabacher Landing to only a trickle of water. Each year, the beaver families attempted to dam up the old branch of the Snake, but during high water, the dams were washed away.

South Dam - November 2013

Busy as Beavers: The family of beavers have now built several new dams in the old channel and they appear to be holding up well…at least for now! Who knows when the Snake will change it course again, jeopardizing all of their recent work. For now, they are busy adding to their dams and cutting down large cottonwoods that once stood along the river banks. The image above was taken in November of 2013 from the south, looking north towards the big parking area. There are at least three more dams above this one in the old channel. None of the cottonwoods above are “safe” from these aquatic rodents!

Schwabacher Landing Satellite View

Schwabacher Landing via The Photographer’s Ephemeris: The map above shows most of the dams (in red) with a few of the important locations identified. Much of the area of the river bottom is braided with small channels. You can see how the old channel could have been used by boaters for many years—giving Schwabacher Landing its original name. (Note: click the map image to view it larger, or click the link to go to the interactive map where you can move around and zoom in as desired). The Park Service graded and added an asphalt road at the top of the bench in 2013, making travel down to Schwabacher Landing much better, safer and easier. I don’t recommend going there is a large camper or with a trailer, but people do it on occasions. The turnaround might be tight on some days.

Reflected Beaver

By late summer and fall, it seems the beaver family’s primary mission is to store up food for the winter, yet they must maintain their existing dams. This beaver, with its bright orange teeth, is headed back to the main lodge with some of this winter’s food supply. At many beaver ponds I’ve been to, beavers are skittish when people are around. They often hit their tail hard against the water to create a loud splash as they go under and usually stay. This family of beavers is more tolerant of all the tourists visiting Schwabacher Landing. Possibly there are fewer predators in the area with all the human traffic? At any rate, the beavers go on about their business with little regard for people. If you want to read more about beavers, check out this informative link: Beavers: Wetland & Wildlife

Dogs in the Area: While there are no signs at either parking area to let people know, dogs are not permitted out of the parking area….EVER! Even while in the parking area, they have to be on a leash. People have been seen taking their large dogs down to the side of the stream—spooking the beavers. A barking dog inside a vehicle can change their behavior. Pets in the Park: and Pets in GTNP: These two official pages explain the pet rules in GTNP. The short version is you can only have a pet where you can drive a vehicle. Pets must be on a leash at all times and you are required to “scoop the poop”.

Leary Beaver

Beaver on Land: It took quite a few trips to get a shot like this one. It was a bit of a self imposed challenge. I was hoping to capture a shot out of the water, with eyes open, a bit of its front feet and at least some of its tail. I got lucky that day with all the pieces falling into place.

Beaver with Branches

Beaver with Branches: This is probably the easiest kind of shot to get of the beavers as they swim by with clumps of willows and cottonwoods.

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Just Swimming By: Of course, they swim by often with no branches.

Beaver at Sunset

Red Sky: I took this one late in the evening while I had a red sky. As I mentioned earlier, getting swimming shots is relatively easy. For a photographer, the tougher challenge is to capture images showing at least some of their tail—otherwise, they can look like just a large wet rat!

Aftermath

Dead Spruce Trees: A few years after the beavers built their dam and lodge, some of the existing spruce trees died. They are now systematically taking down the big cottonwoods in the vicinity. Needless to say, a family of beavers can drastically change a large area of the landscape to the benefit of a lot of other species of plants and animals.

Cottonwood Trunk

Cottonwood Trunk: The beavers do half the work and the winds finish the job. Only a few yards away is a tree the beavers attempted to take down. Instead of falling to the earth, it fell into another tree and is still standing. I’d be curious how long it takes a group of beavers to chew through this much of a tree trunk. Once you see all the down cottonwoods, you’ll know to be especially alert while walking around the area on a windy day!

Stripping Bark

Once Felled: After the wind completes its half of the felling, the beavers strip the bark and eat it like candy. The smaller branches are carried back to the lodge area.

Dinner Time at the Cottonwood

Cottonwood Bark Feast: After stripping off a chunk of the bark, they sit back and dine away. One site I read suggests a beaver can grow to up to 60 pounds. This one is definitely a tubby.

Teeth Marks

Teeth Marks: Their teeth are perfectly adapted to do the job.

Cottonwood Pattern

Evening Light on a Downed Cottonwood Stump: These teeth marks were on the tree trunk I included earlier. It is a beautiful pattern.

Beaver on the Dam

Heading to the Main Channel: Actually, the main channel of the Snake River is a good half mile away, but in this case, the main channel is the old river landing channel. There are ample supplies of cottonwoods downstream.

Beaver Crossing a Dam

Young Beaver Returning with Branches: Some of the larger beavers return to the lodge with huge clumps of branches, often covering their entire face. This one had just the right amount. They often hold the branches in their mouth and one paw, then hop across flat areas like this on the other free leg.

Beaver with Clump of Branches

A Bigger Meal: I got lucky with this shot. The clump was large, but I got a small opening to capture the eye. I’ve deleted a lot of images in which the face was completely covered.

Late October 2009

Late October 2009: The current dam at the old “landing” is about 60 feet south of this 2009 dam. I always thought it added a nice touch to the composition.

Late November 2006

Late November 2006: Not that many people get to see Schwabacher Landing in the winter time. The large pool freezes over solid enough to walk across. The entire river bottom is closed to public entry after the 15th of December, but the road down to the parking area might be closed even sooner. In many previous years, the road was kept open to aid the elk hunters, but the area was closed to hunting last year. Currently (it’s late October as I write this post), you can still drive to the “landing”. The crowds of summer and fall are gone now. The beavers have been active all summer, but I was hesitant to make this post any earlier. It’s your chance to really experience the area, but it won’t last much longer!

Black Kettle

The Beaver Trade: Beavers played an important part in the history of the Jackson Hole valley. During the period between 1825 and 1840, trappers entered this valley to harvest beaver pelts to be used for fashionable top hats in Europe. French trappers were responsible for giving the Tetons their name. This area was originally called Jackson’s Hole for the trapper Davey Jackson while much of the west side of the Teton range was called Pierre’s Hole.  The rugged mountain men spent the late winter and early spring trapping beavers before taking their bounty to the regional rendezvous. Some of the depictions in popular movies like Jeremiah Johnson, show a solitary trapper in a vast, dangerous world. In reality, large brigades of trappers moved into an area as a team to trap the beaver population. They trapped an area out, then moved on with little regard for sustainability or the damage they might have done to the ecology. Some of the same trappers later became guides for the army and wagon trains as they expanded West. After 160 plus years of recovery, I suspect much of the a Schwabacher Landing looks similar to the mountain man days. The Jackson Lake dam may have played its part in changing the downstream ecology, but that’s an entirely different story.

Beaver at a Dam

Photography Notes: I used a Nikon D4 and a Nikon 200-400mm lens on most of the photos of the beavers on this page. I also used it for the detail shots. The early landscape shots were probably taken with a Nikon D300 and a 24-70 lens. Some people use 500mm and 600mm lenses there, especially to capture beavers going over the dams or on the lodge. I don’t own one, so it’s an easy call for me. Some shots are difficult because of the severe back lighting at certain times of the evening. The beavers cross through light areas right into dark areas on a regular basis so dealing with a wide range of exposure can cause problems with metering and exposures. Stopping action after the sun goes down is another challenge. The beavers come out to feed, work, and play late in the evening and work until late.

2006I’ve seen them working early in the morning, but not that often. A few years ago, I was set up at the north pool waiting for the morning sunrise. A beaver approached me. I stepped back from the tripod. He walked right under it, then stopped to preen not far from me. I snapped off a few shots, as seen  here in the 2006 image.

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Comments (7)

  1. Barney Koszalka

    Thanks for the detailed info on when to capture these critters in action and what you used to get the images.

  2. Eugene Wright

    Mike,
    What time of day are the beaver most active/visible? I just may have to make a visit up there in the next day or two to see them.

  3. If I can, I try to be there at 4:30 pm. Sometimes they are already active, but usually you see the first one not too long afterwards. There are four or five dams with the possibility of seeing them in any of the pools. As I was leaving to do the light painting, I stopped to see two working the south end.

  4. Great article Mike, thanks so much for putting it together. I have never photographed beavers, but I hope to the next time I got to the Tetons.
    Tim Vaclavek

  5. Awesome images and post, Mike. It’s nice to see that these guys are back at Schwabacher.

  6. Lowell Schechter

    Mike , nice images of the Beavers at work. I think they are just another of the amazing animals in the Teton area but as with the bisons, you have to keep a safe distance from Beavers.

  7. Ian Mitchell

    Thank you for the great photographs of the Beavers it reminded us of our last trip to GNTP and Yellowstone there in September 2015 and how much we love the area. It was my 4th trip to GNTP and my wife’s 2nd. We discovered the beaver dams having attended a Ranger led wildlife safari and just loved watching them. Your photographs bring back such great memories of spending time in an area I love and first visited in 1981. I am British but this area of the USA holds a special place in my heart. I think that passion for GNTP and YW has rubbed off a little on my niece and her new family who currently live in DC but who will visit GNTP and Yellowstone next September and we have told them about visiting the beavers. Once again thanks for the brilliant photos -Ian

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