The Mattawoman

Taking the day off, Steve Kolbe and I went fishing for the day.  It was a sunny, chilly morning on the Mattawoman.  With only three other boat trailers at the launch, we felt like we had all of the Potomac River to ourselves.

The morning began at high tide and we worked the upper navigable headwaters of the Mattawoman.

The morning began at high tide and we worked the upper navigable headwaters of the Mattawoman.

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Every backwater marsh was alive with waterfowl, and we flushed thousands of birds.

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Turning off the engine, dropping the electric trolling motor and casting our lines did not affect a beaver that was warming himself with the early morning light.

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Beaver can be found in family units and maintain and defend territories, which are areas for feeding, nesting and mating. They invest much energy in their territories by constructing scent (castoreum, a urine-based substance) mounds along the borders of their expanded home sites.

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Once a beaver detects another scent in its territory, finding the intruder takes priority over any other activity in a busy beavers life.  Because of their investment of dam and lodge building, they are absolutely intolerant of intruders, and the holder of the territory is likely to escalate an aggressive encounter.  These encounters can be violent.

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Scent marking becomes an obligation in August/September during the dispersal of yearlings, in an attempt to prevent them from intruding on established territories.  Beaver also exhibit a behavior known as the “Dear Enemy Phenomenon.” A territory-holding beaver will investigate and become familiar with the scents of its neighbors.  As such they respond less aggressively to intruders by their territorial neighbors than those made by non-territorial strangers.

We saw three beaver in total, the two adults above were dry and much more attentive. The wet one was probably junior who slept late and just got up and out of the lodge for a bark breakfast.

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If I had a shotgun, I would have collected some mistletoe for Christmas, which was a common site in the forested wetlands.

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A blue heron works a tidal flat in search of critters that may have been left high and dry as low tide enveloped the marsh.

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We found a witch hazel bush at peak flower along the riverbank.

What a difference from last week, when Dan Betz and I caught a boatload of bass in Western Run on the Patuxent. The Mattawoman sure felt like winter mode and fishing was tough.  We may be near the end of the fishing season, and thinking about winterizing the boat until mid March.  A sad prospect to consider, but a beautiful day on the water none the less.

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