Ripples in the reeds
‘Beaver!’ Remek’s outstretched arm pointed to a shady patch in the shallows under some river-side vegetation. My usually sharp eyes struggled to find anything vaguely animal-like in the dark waters. A sudden loud splash signalled where the young beaver had grown tired of my ineptitude and disappeared beneath the surface, slapping his tail in disgust as he went.
I was on the Emajogi, a river in southern Estonia, with wildlife filmmaker and photographer Remek Meel. Having watched, researched, filmed and photographed beavers in his native Estonia for almost all of his life, Remek has become the country’s beaver specialist. It is these years of experience of looking for beavers that makes Remek able to locate them simply by looking for what he calls ‘strange ripples’ coming from within reeds or from under overhanging vegetation. Perhaps that’s where I was going wrong – I was looking for mud-brown creatures against a mud-brown, shadowy backdrop in the fading light just before sunset.
As we went on and I had slipped into Remek’s method, it became easier to spot them. We were picking them out at such a rate that we eventually lost count once we passed the mark of Remek’s record for an evening’s Beaver watching. It was at this point that it became clear just how healthy the Beaver population has become in Estonia. Beavers were once ruthlessly hunted in Europe and by the start of the 20th Century had disappeared from all but a handful of waterways in Germany, France, Norway and Belarus. Reintroduction programmes and the introduction of protection measures have seen them make a remarkable comeback across the continent though. The UK is following suite now too with breeding, monitoring and reintroduction projects developing across the country, such as the one at the renowned Aigas Field Centre in the Scottish Highlands.
The close viewing opportunities and Remek’s infectious enthusiasm for these semi-aquatic mammals make spending a day on the Emajogi River with him an absolute must for any wildlife watcher or photographer visiting Estonia. A selection of Remek’s work can be seen on his Nature Observer website but to be shown how to look for those ripples in the reeds yourself, contact Estonian Nature Tours directly.