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Posts Tagged ‘muskrat’

As I was scanning a pond last week for activity at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted this structure. Its relatively large size initially made me think that it might be a beaver lodge, but after more closely examining the construction materials, I have concluded that it is more likely to be a muskrat habitation.

Unlike beavers that use large sticks and logs and a lot of mud, muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) mostly use cattails and other reeds to form mounds that permit them to dry out and get some air. Occasionally beavers and muskrats will share a beaver lodge, but I am pretty sure that is not the case here. The fragile nature of this kind of muskrat house makes it vulnerable to predators if the pond freezes over and allows access to foxes or coyotes, both of which inhabit this wildlife refuge.

muskrat house

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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All wild creatures seem especially beautiful in the early morning light, like this cute little muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) that I spotted last week in one of the small ponds at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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What was on your menu for Thanksgiving? No, I did not dine on muskrat for Thanksgiving dinner, but early in the morning yesterday this little muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) at Huntley Meadows Park decided to celebrate the holiday with some fresh greens. That was almost certainly a healthier meal than most of us consumed later in the day.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the early morning hours at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend, a tiny muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) silently swam to the shore and began to forage for food in the vegetation at the water’s edge. It was a peaceful moment, a perfect start to a beautiful day.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am not completely certain what these two muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) were doing on Monday at Huntley Meadows Park. It may have been only grooming, but to me it looks like muskrat love.

muskrat love

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am not exactly sure what was going on, but this muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) seemed to be really struggling in the open water one afternoon last week as the strong wind gusts made the water really choppy at Huntley Meadows Park. Normally muskrats use their tails as a source of underwater propulsion, but it seemed really unusual to see a muskrat’s tail completely out of the water.

A Wikipedia article noted that muskrat tails are covered with scales rather than hair, and, to aid them in swimming, are slightly flattened vertically, which is a shape that is unique to them. I somehow had always thought of muskrat tails as being long and skinny, but, as the image shows, their tails are quite substantial.

I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like the muskrat may be carrying something in its mouth and/or front paws. Is that why it was seeking to balance itself with its tail? For now it remains a mystery, but I think I will go back over the other photos that I took of this muskrat to see if I can find an answer.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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This muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was so close yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park that I almost stepped back off of the edge of the slippery boardwalk as I tried to make sure that I was within the focusing range of my telephoto zoom lens.

I ended up wet from the intermittent rain, but managed to avoid falling into the water.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It has been quite a while since I have seen any mammals other than squirrels, dogs, and humans at Huntley Meadows Park. Although I long to spot a fox, beaver, or even a coyote (someone saw one recently in one of the remote areas of the park), I was quite happy when I caught sight recently of a little muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) as it munched away on some vegetation. The sound of my camera’s shutter or my movement must have alerted the muskrat to my presence and within seconds the furry creature disappeared beneath the surface of the water.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was walking along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on Monday, a lady with binoculars around her neck vigorously motioned to me and pointed downwards. A muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was foraging in the vegetation almost directly below the raised observation deck on which she was standing and she correctly assumed I’d be interested—it might have had something to do with the enormous zoom lens that was prominently attached to my camera.

I don’t see muskrats very often, so it was a treat to get a relatively unobstructed view of one. The muskrat used its “hands” to hold the leafy vegetation as it delicately nibbled on its lunch. The muskrat seemed so prim and proper that I almost expected to see it use a napkin to wipe its lips when it was done.

From this overhead angle, the muskrat looked a bit like a beaver, but the undulations of its long, thin tail as it swam away left no doubts that it was a muskrat.

muskrat

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For the second time in two weeks I spotted a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) at my local marshland park this past Monday and I was able to get some shots at even closer range that the last time.  (At my closest, I was well within ten feet (three meters) of the little muskrat). I was on a boardwalk above the level of the water and I hung over the edge in an effort to get some shots at close to eye level.

The muskrat was a really small one and paid very little attention to me. It concentrated in pulling some of the vegetation out of the plants at water’s edge and them chewing on them while in the water. Once again, I was amazed at the dexterity of the front paws, which functioned as hands to get the food into the muskrat’s mouth.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As promised, here are some additional images of the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) that I was able to observe one day last weekend at dusk, as it was foraging for food. I posted one photo in an initial blog entry entitle Muskrat at dusk—preview, but I knew that there were other shots that I wanted to share.

The muskrat would dig around a bit in the cattails and marsh grass and then would drag its food into the water to gnaw on it. I was struck by the muskrat’s dexterity and the way that it used its front paws, which looked remarkably like little hands. In some shots, the muskrat might be mistaken for a beaver, but in other shots you can clearly see the tail, which lets you know immediately that it is not a beaver.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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At dusk yesterday as I was preparing to leave Huntley Meadows Park, my local marshland park, I stumbled upon this muskrat enjoying its dinner. The sun was setting, but it provided just enough warm light for me to capture some images of this elusive little animal.

Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) generally are skittish and the most common view that I get of them is when they are swimming away from me. I was fortunate that this muskrat was concentrating on feeding, so its guard might have been down a little, and I was able to approach it without startling it.

I was snapping away in an effort to take advantage of the disappearing light and my moment of solitude with the muskrat, when my camera alerted me that my memory card was full. I backed away slowly and surprisingly was able to change memory cards and resume shooting.

Suddenly I started to feel vibrations in the boardwalk on which I was kneeling and I realized that I was not alone. I tried to concentrate as much as I could, knowing that my time was limited as I felt and heard the approach of a young family with both a stroller and a toddler. The noise and movement was too much for the muskrat and after a bit of hesitation, it scrambled under the ice and swam away.

I haven’t yet downloaded and looked through all of my shots, but wanted to share an initial image. I really like that the last rays of sunlight were able illuminate the muskrat’s fur and add a little catch light in the eyes. (As you can probably tell, the light was coming from camera right and shining right on the muskrat.)  Stay tuned, as I am sure that I will post at least a few more photos of my encounter with this little muskrat.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Growing up in the suburbs of Boston, I was never exposed to muskrats and my first impression of them may well have come from the Captain and Tennille version of the song “Muskrat Love.” So every time I see one now, that song comes into my head and I think of Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam doing the jitterbug out in muskrat land.

This past Monday I came upon this little muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) at my local marsh as I was trying to get some shots of a Green Heron. I was on the boardwalk, maybe 18 inches (about 45 cm) or so above the level of the land and the muskrat was close enough that I was able to get this shot with my 180mm macro lens. Once it became aware of our presence, the muskrat slipped into the water and swam away, perhaps returning to Muskrat Susie.

One interesting note about “Muskrat Love” is that the Captain and Tennille chose to sing that song at the White House in 1976 at a bicentennial dinner that included Queen Elizabeth as a guest, according to Wikipedia. If you have never heard the song (or if you want to relive memories of your childhood), here’s a link to a YouTube version. In the introduction to the song, Toni Tennille describes an impassive Henry Kissinger during the performance at the White House (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBYV_7a0FQs).

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It has been a while since I featured a mammal in my blog, so I thought that I would post a photo of this little muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) that I encountered this past weekend at my local marsh. I observes muskrats there fairly often, but most of the time they are swimming away or are submerging themselves by the time my camera is ready.

This muskrat was poking about at the edge of a formerly inhabited beaver lodge when I first caught sight of him. He did not immediately perceive my presence, so I was able to creep close enough to him to get this shot using my 55-250mm zoom lens.

Unlike the beavers, which sleep during daylight hours, muskrats are active when it its light—in theory it should be easy to get a good shot of a muskrat. The reality, though, is that muskrats are small, fast, and elusive, so I have not yet been able to get many good shots of them.

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I am old enough to remember the 1977 Captain and Tenille hit song “Muskrat Love,” but inexperienced enough with muskrats not to know if the one that I photographed yesterday is a male or female.

I’ve had the chance to get photos of muskrats in the past, but the muskrat has always been swimming in the water or had been a long way away. Yesterday I came across this as he was eating no more than six to eight feet from where I was standing.

I had my long telephoto on my camera and had to back way down from the 400mm end of the zoom to get this frame-filling shot. I should have been able to get more good shots, but I didn’t notice at the time that my shutter speed was approximately 1/100 of a second and most of my images are blurred. It’s ironic that I had the chance for a close-up at a moment when I had replaced my image-stabilized lens for one with greater reach (but no stabilization).

Still, I got a pretty good shot that captured many of the muskrat’s details, so I am content (until the next time).

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I am not absolutely sure what this muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) was doing when I took these photos yesterday, but it look to me like he was grooming himself.

I really like the way that you can see his two little front paws in the first photo—he almost looks like he is praying. In the second photo, it appears that he is rubbing something onto his cheek. Was he putting on make-up because he knew that I was photographing him?

I don’t know the beauty secrets of muskrats, but maybe rubbing cattails on your face helps to reduce wrinkles.

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Yesterday was the first time that I was able to get some shots of a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) out of the water, eating and grooming.

The muskrat was at the edge of a patch of cattails that grow in the middle of the beaver pond at my local marshland park and I actually heard his feeding sounds before I was able to see him. He was a pretty good distance away, but the late afternoon sun illuminated the scene from the left and provided enough light for me to focus the camera.

I am going through the other shots that I was able to snap off before he slid into the water, but thought I’d share this image of the muskrat chewing on what looks to be a cattail stalk. I like the way in which the cattails help to frame the image, rather than block the view, which is usually the case.

I went to the marsh yesterday with the hope of getting some photos of the beavers, which did not make an appearance while I was there, but I ended up with something a bit better—one of the serendipitous joys of photographing wildlife.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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On a cold, windy day I was looking out into the beaver pond, when suddenly my eyes detected movement. Initially, it looked like some debris on the surface was being blown about, but gradually it became apparent that the little pile of debris was headed toward me. Uncertain of what I was looking at, I focused my camera on the unknown material and began to shoot.

Eventually, I realized that what I was seeing was a muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) swimming, pushing along some plants and what looks like some berries. My guess is that he had gone out to gather food and was returning home with the results of his efforts. You can get a better  what he is transporting if you click on the photos.

The muskrat was putting so much effort into swimming on the surface that he did not seem to notice me until he was pretty close. By then, however, he was almost home, so he would have had to go underwater anyways.

I don’t know enough about what muskrats eat to hazard a guess about what exactly the muskrat was carrying across the water, but hopefully it looked more tasty to him than it does to me.

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In my last posting, there were photos of what might have been a muskrat or maybe a beaver—this time I know it is a muskrat, because I can see its skinny tail.

I watched as this muskrat ferried back supplies of what I assume is food from the cattail field to the area where he lives. I was standing on a boardwalk and was able to photograph him from above as he swam right toward me. Because of the size of the stalk he was carrying, he swam mostly above water, rather than swimming under water as he normally does.

Once he got closer to me, he dove and I lost sight of him.

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On days when I am trying to get photos of the beavers at my local marshland park, I sometimes see muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) swimming in the beaver pond. The muskrats seem to be swimming from the direction of the beaver lodge so often that I wonder if they are sharing the lodge with the beavers.

Today, there was a thin layer of ice on the beaver pond, but the muskrats had created an open-water channel that they seemed to be using to get to the cattails, one of the foods they eat. Frequently the muskrats will dive and swim away when they become aware of my presence.

Today, however, I was able to get a couple of shots of what I think is one of the muskrats partially out of the water on the ice. It was getting close to sunset and the animal was some distance away, so my photos ended up a a bit grainy and soft. The more I look at the photos, the more I am conflicted about whether this is a large muskrat or a small beaver. Since I haven’t seen a muskrat out of water, I am not sure about its body shape.

Whatever he is, I especially like the pose of the animal in the first image. In the second shot, he almost looks like he is praying—it was a Sunday, after all.

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