Muskrat

Muskrat swimming

Muskrat Swimming (Luther Marsh, April 2014)

Muskrat Track (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Track (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

If you look closely at the previous photo, you might see a muskrat print with five toes.  To the left of the track, there is a subtle “tail-drag” as the muskrat moved from the shore into the water.  We back-tracked this trail and discovered some interesting muskrat sign:

Muskrat Trail (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Trail (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat dwelling (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Dwelling (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

In Guelph, there is a laneway near Dufferin Street that I used to call “The Secret Passageway”.  As I made my way home, I would ride my bike down this narrow road and observe people’s dwellings from the rear of their properties.  I found this view fascinating – a poetic glimpse into the reality of the residents’ lives.  Colourful toys were often strewn about the yards and clothing danced, suspended from washing lines in random patterns.  There were also artistic achievements ranging from sculptures to beautiful gardens with central sit-spots for meditation.  At night, you could see lights poised like lanterns, welcoming travellers and neighbours along the hidden route.  I loved looking at these homes from behind the manicured fronts.  I felt this same feeling of contentment when we found the muskrat dwelling.  He/she had personal effects strewn about his/her territory as well – not knowing that guests would be arriving that day.  Though we were most certainly unwelcome, the muskrat did give us a heart-warming tour of his property by way of the tracks and sign that he/she had left for us to find.

From the above photo, I will highlight some areas of interest surrounding the muskrat’s home:

Yellow Pond Lily Seeds (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Yellow Pond Lily Seeds (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Uneaten Yellow Pond Lily Seed Head, (Spruce Bog Trail, Algonquin Park 2014)

Uneaten Yellow Pond Lily Seed Head, (Spruce Bog Trail, Algonquin Park 2014)

I found a Blog called “Eat the Weeds” with an interesting article about Yellow Pond Lilies:

Called “wokas” by the Klamath Indians, the seed pods were gathered and the seeds popped like miniature popcorn, or dried and stored, or ground into flour. They were also used to make gruel and thicken soup. Tens of thousands of acres of wokas were harvested by the Klamath, and presumably other tribes as well.*

*Yellow Pond Lilly: Raising a Wokas, n.d., viewed October 15, 2014, http://www.eattheweeds.com/yellow-pond-lilly-raising-a-wokas/

Apparently muskrats enjoy eating the seeds from wokas as well.

Muskrat Bank Burrow (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Bank Burrow (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Bank Burrow (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Bank Burrow (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

This burrow seems to turn to the right, possibly running parallel to the shoreline.

Muskrat Scat (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Scat (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat scat posted as territorial communication?

Muskrat Scat (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrat Scat (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Muskrats form scent posts, where tremendous amounts of scat may accumulate.  Look for scent posts along runs, as well as on prominent elevated surfaces in and around water sources, such as rocks, grass clumps, or stumps*.” (Mammal Tracks and Sign, page 504).

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

Muskrat Scat, Luther Marsh (April, 2013)

Muskrat Scat, Luther Marsh (April, 2013)

An excerpt from “Muskrat Sunday” (Luther Marsh, April 2014) :

Walking the perimeter of Mallard Pond and looking for animal signs was truly therapeutic this past weekend. We were “shaking off the road dust” of a long, cold winter by warming our faces with sunshine and cleaning our lungs with cool, moist air. Winter had taken its toll on a few marsh residents and we were able to see an opossum, deer and muskrat carcass near the shoreline. We paid careful attention to the feet and noted the perfect detail of claws, toe pads and palm pads in both the opossum and muskrat.

Muskrat photo by Marcus Garvie.

In Mark Elbroch’s “Behaviour of North America Mammals” I read that muskrats are not true rats and are most closely related to voles. I believe it! We often needed to watch where we stepped on the shoreline because of an extensive network of muskrat bank burrows. It seemed like there was some friendly “vole competition” going on since the true voles of the Marsh also had an extensive network of underground tunnels nearby. The receding snow had uncovered unusual tracks called “eskers” or “trail castings”. Voles create these tubular deposits of earth when excavating underground tunnels during the winter months.

Vole Eskers (Trail Castings)

After eating a delicious waterside lunch accompanied by the sounds of sandhill cranes, ravens and grouse, we headed to the north side of the pond. It was then, that we were treated to a display of synchronized swimming by the muskrats. As we walked along the trail, the muskrats would dive into the water a few metres ahead of our footfalls, resurface and then swim parallel to the shore. Every so often, they would dive into the water again (usually when the camera came out), resurface and then continue swimming elegantly westward with their rudder-like tails sculling from side to side. Thank you to everyone who came on “Muskrat Sunday”. The spring concert was magnificent!Muskrat swimming

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