Whether it’s moose or beaver in Acadia National Park, rare and unusual wildlife sightings can sometimes become the talk of the town, the chatter on Facebook, and the lore of the islands.
Take the cases of beaver on Isle au Haut, or the young bull moose that once wandered all over that remote island outpost of Acadia, and then the moose that followed hikers in the woods of Mount Desert Island.
Are there beaver on Isle au Haut? A management plan by the National Park Service says that beaver are absent from the Maine island, but a newly-released photo and recent sightings suggest otherwise.
One island resident says he has long seen beaver activity on the island, half of which is included in Acadia National Park.
Other compelling evidence includes a recent photo of a beaver on the banks of Eli’s Creek on the southwest side of Isle au Haut.
The photo of the beaver was taken during a rain storm in July 2014 near a work cabin for Acadia rangers, said Acadia National Park Ranger Alison Richardson, who provided a copy of the photo.
Isle au Haut is in Penobscot Bay in the Gulf of Maine, about 7 miles south of Stonington. Richardson said she did not know how the lone beaver made it to the island.
“I don’t know if I would say beaver live on Isle au Haut,” but the single beaver was on the island somehow, she said. Fellow Ranger Nick Freedman said he thought it might be a transient.
History and evidence of beaver in Acadia National Park
Trapping had eliminated beaver from Mount Desert Island by the early 20th century, but the father of Acadia National Park, George B. Dorr, reintroduced beaver in Acadia National Park in 1920, according to “A Guide’s Guide to Acadia National Park.”
The aquatic herbivores became so prolific so fast, that John D. Rockefeller, Jr., even wrote letters of complaint to Dorr and other park officials about the beavers creating dams and ruining trees on his property and elsewhere on Mount Desert Island, in and around Acadia.
Today, evidence of beaver activity can be seen in Jordan Pond, near the park’s Sieur de Monts entrance and Beaver Dam Pond off the Park Loop Road. Even Martha Stewart found evidence of beavers, during a recent walk around Jordan Pond. Her blog post included photos of a beaver lodge and felled trees, and noted “one can understand why they were moved to a more secluded spot” by park rangers.
While beaver are now common on Mount Desert Island in the park, the National Park Service October, 2014 management plan for Isle au Haut says that beaver are “absent” from Isle au Haut, Porcupine and striped skunk are also absent from Isle au Haut because of the island’s distance from the mainland, the plan said.
One person who saw the beaver at Eli’s Creek, Camilla Seirup, a biological science technician for the National Park Service, said the beaver might only have been on Isle au Haut temporarily or perhaps longer.
“I’m not sure if anyone has searched all of Isle au Haut’s backcountry thoroughly enough to be able to say definitively that there is no long term beaver activity,” Seirup said by email. “The fact remains that we did see a beaver on Isle au Haut. It was certainly a very surprising sight!”
Coyote, deer, rabbits, river otters, mink and raccoon are among other mammals that have been documented on Isle au Haut, which includes 2,900 acres owned by the park.
Isle au Haut lobsterman has seen evidence of beaver, moose
Maybe the beaver at Eli’s Creek is becoming a year-round resident. The creek is only a mile or so from a bog near Moore’s Harbor where a beaver lodge could recently be seen from the road.
Isle au Haut resident Greg Runge, a lobster fisherman on the island since 1978, said a beaver built a lodge in a small pond in the bogs last winter and the lodge is likely still there but it might not be active. Runge said you could see the top of the lodge from the road next to the bog.
In the 1980s, there was a beaver lodge on park-owned land where Bull Brook flows into Long Pond, he said.
“It’s not uncommon to have them out here,” Runge said.
He said he also recently saw fresh beaver cuttings in ponds near gravel pits on the northeast side of the island on town land and some beaver activity on Long Pond.
“I’m pretty sure they are just individuals that are looking for new territory,” he said. “There’s no real beaver colonies with a pair and young, I don’t think so.”
He said he believes the beaver swim over from the mainland, a fairly easy swim for a beaver, he said.
He said he often sees coyote swimming in the ocean.
Runge also confirmed a popular island story about a young bull moose that swam to the island one year and left its tracks all over the island. Al Gordon showed him a picture of the moose, nose-to-nose with Gordon’s cow, he said.
“Al Gordon had a cow and he has a picture of them touching noses across the electric fence. It was a young bull. It had small antlers.”
Wildlife sightings in Acadia become lore of islands, topic of chatter
Runge said he is convinced there are no porcupine or skunks on the island.
Environmental educator Lynn Rutter, director of Roots n Shoots, a nature-based preschool in Portland and a friend of lobster fisherman Runge, has posted on Facebook about her sightings of beaver activity in Isle au Haut. She’s seen a beaver lodge and beaver-felled trees, she said.
The beaver and moose on Isle au Haut aren’t the only rare animal appearances in the Maine National Park.
A longtime Acadia hiker and writer said it was an “unforgettable moment” when he photographed a moose on Mount Desert Island in August of 2012.
Donald P. Lenahan, author of the 2010 book “The Memorials of Acadia National Park” and blog by the same name, said he was hiking with MDI trails historian David Goodrich, when they first encountered the moose between the summits of McFarland and Youngs Mountains.
Goodrich said he thought he saw a horse disappear into the woods, Lenahan wrote in an email. “We continued up the trail and Crikey! here was this moose on it blocking and staring at us, maybe 20 yards away,” Lenahan wrote.
“Neither of us knew what to do but remain still and silent and take a million photos, plus I knew I could outrun Goodrich!
“The moose grunted a few times at us but continued to eat on a short leafy tree, perhaps a gray birch. It eventually moseyed back into the woods and disappeared.
“We continued on our trail, only to be stopped again by the moose. We didn’t see how it could vanish into the woods and move ahead of us without us hearing it. It was a big critter. Our new friend hiked with us for a half hour or more, then slid again into the woods heading towards Bar Harbor.
“It was a fun and unforgettable moment for us,” he added.
The park service says moose and bear both occur on Mount Desert Island but are rarely seen.
Lenahan has also seen beaver on Mount Desert Island, sharing some of the photos he’s taken with Acadia on My Mind, as well as with park biologist Bruce Connery, “who’s interested in seeing the unusual animal or event,” Lenahan said in an e-mail.
“The wildlife pics happened serendipitously. I’m not a sophisticated photographer, so just shoot with a basic camera I always carry with me,” said Lenahan. “It’s fun to do and keeps me occupied when hiking.”
What unusual wildlife sightings have you seen in Acadia? We’ll be posting photos of some of ours, including a recent sighting of a Spruce grouse near the Triad, on a citizen science database. You might consider posting your own photos on the database.
Here’s the first of a sampling of photos of wildlife encounters we’ve experienced in Acadia National Park, with more to be uploaded from time to time, so check back!