Muskrats on Ice, 2020

Central New York is blessed with abundant wetland habitats, many of them readily accessible by secondary roads and walking trails. In Winter, when above -average temperatures prevail, muskrats can often be seen foraging and moving about in ice-free water. They use open water to access feeding and resting platforms on adjacent ice after diving for plant food. In marsh habitats, cattail stalks and roots are preferred foods.

 

Recently, I watched a pair of muskrats harvest cattail stalks and cache them on a feeding platform positioned on ice and partially submerged, woody debris. They alternately fed, groomed and rested at the site for several days.

The open water and visible muskrat activity disappeared at this wetland with the arrival of freezing temperatures and 20 inches of snow. I was forced to complete my story at another wetland, one where spring-fed water kept the ice at bay.

This solitary muskrat foraged aggressively for at least half an hour, repeatedly submersing it’s head in the shallow pool of swamp water to remove subsurface plant material. It would surface with a mouthful, eat, then go down again for more.

In about a month, males will be chasing females and pairs will be defending their breeding territories: muskrat breeding season! I’m hoping for a follow-up story.

Photos by NB Hunter (January and February, 2020). All rights reserved.

Wetland Wildlife in Early Spring

The source of a nearby reservoir and pond is a wetland complex with a mix of wooded swamps, cattail marshes and surface waters. After three months of hunkering down in cold and snow,

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it’s exhilarating to see the biological diversity of these precious habitats come alive!

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Common Merganser, drake, just after a foraging dive; a hen was nearby

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Great Blue Heron landing near the edge of a cattail marsh

Cattail marshes, as pictured above, are the preferred habitat of muskrats: they provide food, retreat cover and home-building supplies. Muskrat populations have crashed in recent years, due in part to the replacement of native cattails by an aggressive, invasive perennial plant – Common Reed (Phragmites). Needless to say, I was pleased to see two of these small furbearers on my wetland excursion.

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Great Blue Heron, navigating to another section of the wetland. Rain and melt-water have made good perches and wading sites hard to find.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.