One day last spring in the Nature Preserve, Emily Fonti had an encounter with a beaver having a meal while sitting by Harpur Pond.
‘We were really quiet and it let us sit there right next to it and just watch. When it was done eating it slapped its tail. It was so cool,’ said Fonti, a junior majoring in environmental science.
Encounters like this are not rare, according to Richard Andrus, associate professor of environmental studies and biological sciences at Binghamton University. Andrus recently spent eight hours straight in the Nature Preserve chopping down invasive plants with a machete.
‘At any given time there are between four and eight beavers on campus,’ Andrus said. ‘Before sundown, go to the bridge [near the pond]. If you walk up quietly, you can just watch them.’
According to Dylan Horvath, who, as Steward of Natural Areas, is responsible for overseeing the maintenance of the Nature Preserve and promoting the educational use of it through guided tours and hikes, this time of year is best to see the beavers.
‘They are easiest to see in the fall,’ Horvath said of the beavers. ‘The best way to find them is to listen. Sometimes, you can hear them chewing.’
In the winter, beavers do not hibernate, but they do disappear into the houses they have built from sticks on the pond. Now, according to Andrus, they are at their most active, storing up food in preparation for the cold.
Birds are also active in the fall season and are easy to spot in the morning. According to Horvath, the birds of prey are migrating during the next few weeks, which means that students will likely see them flying around, even outside of the preserve.
‘Every once in a while we get a golden eagle passing through,’ Horvath said. ‘I always tell students to keep their eyes open, even when on campus.’
The Nature Preserve itself has about eight miles of trails. The most popular of these, according to Horvath, is the Marsh Trail, where observers are most likely to see squirrels, rabbits and deer, even throughout the winter.
The animals that are much harder to spot are foxes, otters, coyotes, porcupines and bears. Black bears, which hibernate between late November and early March, have been sighted in the Nature Preserve, but this is an extremely rare occurrence.
‘Most people have a zero percent chance of seeing bears,’ Horvath said. ‘They mostly stay in the hills.’
If you do happen to see one, however, Andrus recommended to not run from it.
‘It’s just not a good thing to do with any predator,’ he said, adding that there is no reason to. ‘None of the mammals are really threatening.’
However, because the preserve’s mammals are not threatening does not mean they are not threatened. In order to protect the animals in the Nature Preserve, Horvath advised visitors to keep the trails clean and not to wander off them, not to approach or disturb animals and to keep dogs on leashes.
‘By next year, we’ll probably have banned [dogs],’ Horvath said, in light of their tendency to attack and kill the preserve’s mammals. ‘I feel bad for the people who follow the rules, but they are way outnumbered by the people who let their dogs off of the leash.’
Because humans and their furry friends frighten them, mammals tend to avoid being seen when possible.
‘The main way you know these mammals exist out there is by going out in the winter during a fresh snow and looking for tracks,’ Andrus said. ‘If you’re really curious about mammals, look for indirect evidence, because seeing them isn’t easy.’
Horvath agreed, adding, ‘Winter is a great time to go out and just see the signs of animals.’
When the weather gets warmer, however, the main attraction is the amphibians, especially the spotted salamanders. Every spring, they migrate to Harpur Pond, the main pond near the wetlands where the beavers currently are, in order to breed. This migration takes place in one night, from around 8 p.m. to midnight.
‘We call it the ‘Big Night,’ Horvath said. ‘Last year we had about 100 people there watching it.’
Things like this are what make students like Kaitlin Mooney appreciate Binghamton’s Nature Preserve. Mooney, a junior majoring in psychology, goes there every full moon to listen to music with her friends.
‘I love that we have the option of just sitting out there and hanging out,’ Mooney said. ‘We’re really lucky to have it.’
More information on the Nature Preserve’s upcoming events is available at naturepreserve.binghamton.edu or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.