More on Mr. Nibbles

Mr. Nibbles, the Arboretum’s resident beaver, is well on his way to earning the alternate nickname of “Chainsaw.” Not content with his efforts to dam up the drain that connects our wetland to the Lower Blockston Branch, Nibbles has built an impressive lodge further upstream, complete with an adjacent flotilla of sticks for good eating throughout the winter months.

So far, Adkins Arboretum is sticking to its “live and let live” philosophy. Preventative measures against complete deforestation of the wetland include wrapping our most valued trees in chicken wire. Despite the destruction that beavers cause, they are an important keystone species. The pond habitats that their dams create provide habitat for a host of other wildlife.

To see signs of Mr. Nibbles’ activities—if not the elusive beaver himself—walk by the pyramid-shaped weir located at the edge of the wetland. Each week, Chesapeake Conservation Corps interns and the Arboretum’s Land Steward remove beaver-chewed branches from the weir. A mound of these branches is steadily growing. You may also cross the members-only bridge by the parking lot and look to the left; Mr. Nibbles’ lodge and flotilla of branches will be on the far bank.

By Jenny Houghton
Photos by Kellen McCluskey


Introducing Mr. Nibbles

There’s a new kid in town. Mr. Nibbles, AKA Chainsaw, moved to Adkins Arboretum last spring. He’s slick, sly, and well groomed. He’s also a beaver.


Beavers are motivated to build their dams by the sound of running water. In Mr. Nibbles’ case, that running water flows through a drainage system connecting our wetland to the Lower Blockston Branch. Damming this area has, in part, been responsible for elevating the water level.

In the past, similar attempts by beavers to transform the wetland were met with relocation strategies that led to tragic, unintended beaver fatalities. Under current leadership, and with the help of a motivated Chesapeake Bay Trust intern, measures are now being taken to protect the interests of both Mr. Nibbles and the Arboretum.

A few beaver facts:

  • Well-known for their industrious nature, beavers also have the dubious honor of being the largest rodents in North America.
  • The sound of running water dictates when and where a beaver builds its dam.
  • Dams are built with bark, sticks, and mud to change the course of streams and create ponds.
  • Lodges contain a nesting chamber and a chamber for sleeping, eating, and grooming.
  • Bedding is changed regularly
  • A ventilation shaft can be found in the top of the lodge.
  • A dam includes at least two water-filled tunnels for entering and exiting underwater.

Stay tuned for future updates on the progress of beaver mediation at Adkins Arboretum. To see Mr. Nibbles, visit the Arboretum’s wetland at dusk, when he is most likely to be active.

By Jenny Houghton
Assistant Director

Photo of Mr. Nibbles by CBT Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer
Nathan Simmons

Eastern Gray Squirrel Observations

On a colorful fall day with some rainy drizzle, I sat watching two squirrels running down an eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and jumping onto an American beech (Fagus grandifolia), biting off small branches full of leaves, and running back up the tree as fast as they could climb. Back and forth—the two squirrels took turns and continued this behavior for several hours as they worked on their nest-building.


American beech has always been one of my favorite landscape plants because of its winter interest: the leaves hold on to the tree all winter long.  Every spring, I enjoy trying to guess what day in the first week of April the leaves will finally fall off. Of course, these leaves would be excellent nest-building materials. Eastern squirrels will also use pine needles and white oak leaves if available, and squirrels, being social creatures, will share their nests during certain times of the year.

Another fun squirrel behavior is to see them use their bushy tail as an umbrella in the rain as they sit on a tree branch. A little rain does not keep them from being active and enjoying their habitat. This is a prime example of the importance of planting native trees for habitat.

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator

Beech Drops and Bedrooms

800px-Epifagus_virginiana_2For two of my children, sharing a bedroom is a source of constant contention. Attempts to maintain peace—including a line of tape down the center of the room and a “rules and regulation” sign tacked to the door—have been short-lived. They wait with ill-concealed anticipation for their older sister to leave for college and vacate a bedroom.

While cohabitation can prove problematic in the human world, examples of two species successfully sharing space are common in nature. Meander along the Tuckahoe Creekside Walk, and you may spy a scattering of beech drops on the forest floor. These less-than-showy brown annuals are one of the roughly one percent of plant species that do not produce their own carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Completely lacking chlorophyll, beech drops subsist on nutrients siphoned from the roots of the American beech tree.

Beech drops are fall ephemerals, appearing only briefly to flower. The rest of the year is spent underground, firmly attached to the beech tree’s roots. Beech drops do not seem to harm their hosts, making them an example of commensal symbiosis, in which one species benefits while the other is neither helped nor harmed.

Going on a treasure hunt for beech drops and other similarly intriguing plants is a wonderful way to engage children in the outdoors. With luck, the serenity of nature will follow them home. At least for a little while.

by Jenny Houghton
Assistant Director

Photo credit: By Eric Hunt – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 

Got Eastern Wild Turkey?


photo courtesy of Kerry Wixted

Have you seen Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) near your home or in a roadside field? The answer is probably yes, since Maryland now has a healthy population of more than 40,000 wild turkeys!

Wild turkeys eat foods such as insects, acorns, seeds, fruits, and leaves. They are found close to forest lines so they may safely roost in trees at night. Wild turkeys nest in spring in fields or in areas thick with vegetation. They usually lay 9–12 eggs that hatch in about 26–28 days. Sadly, more than 50% of poults will be lost to cold or predation.

Humans are not the only ones who enjoy eating turkey—so does the fox! Foxes will eat adult turkeys and nesting hens. Nest predation usually occurs by raccoons, opossums, skunks, and snakes.

Eastern Wild Turkey are fun to watch, whether they are slowly crossing the road in a straight line or clumsily landing from flight on a farm field. I remember back in the ’90s when Maryland’s turkey population was around 10,000. Today’s increase to more than 40,000 is truly something to feel good about and gobble about!


by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator