Many of our surface waters remain frozen, so my search for waterfowl has been limited to small pockets of open water. One site in particular attracts much of my attention: a marshy wetland in the watershed of a large pond.
Canada Geese in a cattail marsh (4March2016)
The morning (5March2016) appeared to be more of the same: ice everywhere after another bitterly cold night; bright, overcast skies; and geese honking overhead. Just as I was about to leave for home, there was movement in the cattails and a ripple spreading across the surface. Probably a muskrat; oh, why not – there’s nothing else going on. The decision to stay, set up and observe led to a unique experience that can only be conveyed with images.
The disturbance was indeed a muskrat, but …
I soon I realized that I was in the middle of something special. Another muskrat appeared, then another, and another – four in all (I think – things got a little chaotic in and around the cattails). Muskrat love?! These denizens of cattail marshes breed in late winter and early spring. The frenzy appeared to be several males battling and pursuing a female.
Muskrat chase scene
Males battling for dominance and breeding rights
This muskrat left the water in the midst of the action (returned later though). I’m not sure why; was it subordination? exhaustion? … or simply a cagey female sitting back and watching the men behave like idiots?
Under normal circumstances, that would conclude my post. However, I omitted one small detail, the most memorable and befuddling part of the experience.
This mink circled the muskrat melee four times during the 45 minutes that I was on site. It moved across the ice, under water and through the cattails in a counterclockwise loop, becoming visible for a minute or so on each loop. The members of the mink family are curious by nature and that might explain the behavior. Or not.
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.