A bounty of muskbrats!

June 10th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

I’ve read muskrats can have up to four litters with up to nine kits per litter. That’s 360 muskrats per family and there are an estimated ten muskrat families on the Brighton millpond. That’s a total of adding 3,600 new muskrats on the pond each year. We don’t see anywhere near those extreme numbers. If we get more than a dozen kits reaching adulthood each year, I’d be surprised. Predators, medical conditions, and speeding cars surely take their toll.

With its tail behind it, this muskrat looks like a fuzzy potbelly pig

Over the past six years, I’ve seen no more than two dozen muskrat kits, about three per year. I’m sure many more are born at the pond, but I think parents keep them in burrows until they are big enough to forage by themselves and they grow to adult sized beings quickly.

We’ve had an embarrassment of riches this spring. I’ve already seen at least six of the little fuzz balls in the water and on shore. The one shown here was grazing on grass behind Brighton’s fire station #31 on Thursday. You may see three other kits eating vegetation while floating just north of the Tridge. They are from the same litter living in a burrow along the cemetery’s shore.

A baby muskrat catches me photographing it Muskrats of all ages graze on grass near the millpond

I couldn’t get close to this kit. He bolted into the water. The click-thru images aren’t large or detailed. Maybe the next time I see him, he’ll be more cooperative.

Inches from the shore, when danger threatens, muskrat kits dark into the water

Muskrats on the move

May 21st, 2016     0 comments     permalink

 muskrat returns to its burrow with salad for the kids

The muskrats are very active now. I imagine most of the families have a litter of kits in their burrows now so the adults are transporting vegetation to their hungry hoards. I estimate there are at least 10 families of muskrats on the pond, maybe more. Literature tells me each bonded pair can have up to four litters each year and each little can have up to nine. Those stats mean we could have up to 360 youngsters born at the pond yearly. Yikes.

The reflected trees in the water are beautiful

I’m sure we have much fewer, maybe a dozen or so. I rarely see youngsters and believe they are kept safely inside their burrows during daylight hours. Many are still probably lost to hawks, turtles, and owls before they are full grown.

In late afternoon light, a muskrat takes plants back to its burrow A rotund muskrat moves along the shoreline

If you spend time at our pond, you’ll see muskrats. Their primary food is submerged plants, but you might also find them “farming” grass along the shore: nipping grass blades near the ground and carrying huge mouthfuls of it back to their burrows. They are always busy so they are fun to watch.

Rarely will you see muskrats at rest

Swimming in sunshine

April 28th, 2016     0 comments     permalink

Muskrats are seen swimming out to favorite submerged vegetation areas or coming back home with their mouths full of salad

The Brighton millpond muskrats are very happy now that all of the ice is gone and the water temperature is in the 40s. They swim all winter long so 40(f)+ degree water is fine with them. We have at least 10 families of muskrats on the pond. I mapped them out a couple years back and found they tended to dig burrows in the pond’s shoreline every 150 feet if there were no obstructions in their way.

Muskrats dig burrows in the millpond shoreline

Their extensive burrows make the shoreline collapse over time, but they merely move to another area of the pond and dig a new one. They rarely relax and put their clawed feet up. Instead, they are constantly in motion day and night diving for submerged vegetation, carrying their bounty back to their burrows, looking for new food sources, or “farming” (harvesting) green stuffs on shore. They are fun to watch as they traverse the pond. If you spend 30 minutes at the pond, you will surely spot at least one of them.

Though muskrats swim year 'round, they look like they enjoy it more when there is no ice to contend with

Scout is becoming more brazen

November 29th, 2015     2 comments     permalink

Scout looks larger and more bouyant swimming in the cold water because he's fluffed up his fur to better insulate himself

With less submerged vegetation to eat, Scout is searching for food intended for the ducks. The muskrat came to the south end of the pond after dark during the summer, but now he’s there is broad daylight hopping up to search for duck chow in sidewalk cracks that are beyond the reach of the ducks’ bills.

Scout usually stands on the embankment for a few seconds so he can see what the ducks are doing on the sidewalk before he hops up to join themMuskrats have poor eyesight so he isn’t bothered by humans unless they make quick movements. He might come up to sniff your shoes but hasn’t exhibited any aggressive behaviors. A 10 year old girl told me she hand fed him, and I told her that was NOT a good idea. Muskrats have long, sharp teeth and dagger-like claws.

If he hears ducks on land he's certain they are being fed and comes up to grab his share

Scout looks for danger before he hops up onto the sidewalkIf you’d like to have a portrait of Scout to display as your Facebook Cover Image, click the image to the left. It’s prepped to the size Facebook specifies.

After nibbling on duck chow, Scout often dives back into the water (probably to drink) and swims for a few minutes. Then he returns to land to continue eating.

Scout often stays on shore for just a minute or so then he cruises around the pond a bit but returns to shore within a few minutes

Harvest Festival for millpond muskrats

August 29th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

An adult muskrat returns home with a full jaw of carefully trimmed grass.

The millpond muskrats are having a celebration at the northern end. Vegetation is at its peak and our cool summer with adequate rain has kept it green and delicious. Even though the water level is about a foot below normal this year, it hasn’t curtailed their festival plans. In fact it’s helped their frequent photographer photograph them racing around submerged in a mere 6″-8″ of clear water (below).

A muskrat flies out of its burrow like a projectile heading for the harvest of green water plants

Light rain didn’t stop their antics last night. The whole tribe of 5-8 put on quite a show zooming out of their submerged burrow (to avoid owls and other predators) then leisurely paddling back with their jaws filled with salads.

Bubbles in its fur make it appear lighter in color as it blasts through the water

One of the youngsters (below left) looks like he’s been sneaking Dairy Queen Blizzards behind his parents’ backs. The rodents’ ability to shoot through the water is facilitated by their wide webbed rear feet and the thrashing of their tails which are flat vertically. They can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes if they have to. That skill comes in handy in the winter when the pond is below 12″ of ice and the muskrats need to forage beneath it.

A pudgy young muskrat floats near the entrance to the family's burrow Wide rear feet that are webbed along with a strong tail helps muskrats zoom through the water

A new fur-covered torpedo

August 16th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

The young muskrat dives along the shore looking for things to eat

A new visitor to the Main Street area of the Brighton millpond arrived this week. It’s a young muskrat horning in on Scout’s territory so it can’t be predicted if this is a short visit or will become a regular thing. I’ve named it Sprout because it might be Scout’s offspring. He lives just north of the area and makes nightly sojourns to devour what the ducks have missed and may have taught the skills to this tyke.

This muskrat is still small and not used to the public like Scout is

Muskrats can be very prolific so I’m surprised how few youngsters I see. Even though there are surely at least ten or maybe 15 muskrat families in residence at the pond, I see only one or two young ones each year. Owls and predatory fish must quickly dispatch most of them when they are still small. Hawks, great blue herons, and turtles may take a substantial toll in the population during daylight hours.

For such a small creature, it can swim and dive quickly

Low water level reveals muskrat runways

August 10th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Finicky landowners aren’t amused by the excavations of muskrats. They dig extensive burrows into shorelines that eventually collapse bringing havoc to well manicured landscapes. That’s not a problem at the millpond. Most of its shoreline has lush vegetation with entangled root systems that limits erosion.

The millpond’s water level is currently 12″ below normal. The top wooden slat in the dam broke in March which surely contributes to this, but it’s also caused by seasonal as well as upstream conditions. The City of Brighton has no control over the amount of water entering the millpond from South Ore Creek.

A runway of gravel reveals the entrance to a muskrat burrow at the north end of the pond

Muskrat burrow entrances are usually below the waterline so they can enter and exit without attracting predators to where litters of up to nine kits might be. With reduced water depth, the muskrats move silt on the pond’s bottom during their frequent arrivals and departures. Below the silt, tiny gravel (from glaciation eons ago) lines the pond. When the silt is swept away by the muskrats, the location of their burrows is as apparent as if they raised a red flag above their runways (above).

Young muskrats pack on the calories

July 8th, 2015     1 comment     permalink

A young muskrat makes evening forays to where turtles are fed near the Stillwater Grill to snatch bread before the turtles can reach itTwo of the millpond’s young muskrats have decided humans are good sources of food. This one flits from lily pad to lily pad in search of bugs and vegetation when humans aren’t around, but if it sees park visitors toss bread to the turtles near Stillwater Grill, it does its best to snatch it before the turtles can.

The other muskrat is Scout. He visits the Main Street area nightly looking for food tossed to the ducks that they miss. He’s so acclimated to park goers, he’ll hop onto the sidewalk just a couple of feet from their feet as long as they stand still and don’t squeal in surprise. Corn is his favorite but he’s happy finding duck chow in the sidewalk cracks where duck bills cannot reach it.

Muskrats are vegetarians 95% of the time and they get along well with ducks most of the time unless the two species want to occupy the same space. Then the muskrat usually wins since ducks rarely challenge them.

Muskrat rumaging

May 3rd, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Scout digs in the debris under the cement edge of the millpond

Two muskrats make nightly forages to the Main Street area of the Brighton millpond. One has become very comfortable around humans. I’ve named him Scout. He’s not quite full-sized yet.

He searches for food thrown to the ducks that they’ve missed or ignored. He crawls into places the ducks can’t reach. One of them is under the sidewalks that encircle the south end of the pond (above).

Scout usually finds more than enough food to fill his belly before returning to his burrow north of the Tridge

When Scout finds a tasty morsel, he’ll stand in shallow water and nibble on it while watching for danger (above).

With a little effort, Scout climbs up onto the sidewalk to search the cracks for duck chow pellets to eatIf he doesn’t find enough food in the water, he’ll crawl up onto the sidewalk surrounding the Main Street area of the pond. He’ll pause before pulling himself up so he can scan the area for predators.

Muskrats have poor vision but flee with any loud noise or quick movementMustrats have poor vision. If you stand still and don’t make any loud noises, they may stoll over to sniff your shoes and see if there is anything edible around them. Then they’ll saunter off to explore the rest of the sidewalk looking for grub.

Before climbing onto the sidewalk, Scout makes sure no predators are nearby

Many park visitors shriek when they see a muskrat. Their rat-like appearance is the reason. After observing them for a while, visitors realize muskrats have only two things dominating their thinking: Where’s dinner and is a predator nearby? Owls and hawks are their main adversaries at this urban pond though they may become meals for snapping turtles as well.

Anyone know the species of fish in the photo below? It might be a largemouth bass, but it lacks the characteristic dark stripe along its side. It has the shape of a shark at least from this angle.

He swims from place to place as night progresses

Millpond muskrats in rut early this year!

April 1st, 2015     0 comments     permalink

A muskrat cruises the Brighton millpond looking for something, anything, to mate with

I was fortunate to be at the Brighton millpond Wednesday night to photograph the annual spring muskrat rut. The bulls have rubbed the velvet from their antlers and called in the females (aka cows) with their haunting bugling.

Once the cows assemble, the males cruise the pond to find a hormonally receptive female who finds his antlers, acrobatic swimming, and breath-holding irresistible. The males are quite inventive with their aquatic antics while spending a good part of the night chasing rivals away from their intended partners.

The bull muskrats are currently terrorizing all of the Canada geese, their favorite target because they are wussesIf a Canada goose crosses a bull’s path, the testosterone-charged beast visciously attacks it. Canada geese are a favorite target of rutting muskrats even though they are five times larger. Though they are impressive hissers, rodents know geese are easily intimidated wusses. After a few impressive seconds of honking, splashes, and vigorous wing flapping, the bulls always win these skirmishes. Nearby cows find these displays of virility highly arousing. Ducks, being smarter than geese, find the rut rather amusing and stay clear of the feisty fur balls as they pick their partners. They know life at the pond will return to normal by dawn.

I attribute the early rut to either global warming or George Bush. Normally, when the first of April comes around, the Mallard and rodent communities are competing in the Millpond Muskrat Cross-Country Steeplechase Endurance Classic.

 

Pinkerton’s Pizza Picnic

March 18th, 2015     0 comments     permalink

Pinkerton nibbles his pizza as a Mallard hen passes

Like most humans, muskrats love carbohydrates, but they are empty calories and shouldn't be left for them

The Ides of March were good to Pinkerton, the Brighton millpond muskrat with the pink-tipped tail. Someone left pizza for him near the dam.

He was quick to find it under the pine tree and transported it to the straw-covered ice island beside the small bridge for a twilight repast. The island all but melted in the following 24 hours due to the 60 degree day so it was fitting he had meal there to commemorate its pending demise. Even though muskrats are active all winter, I’m sure they are more relaxed once open water returns to their realm and they can explore the pond search for things to fill their bellies.

Pinkerton's signture tail abnormality is clearly evident in this shot

Pinkerton can be seen traversing the southern end of the millpond on most evenings sometime after sunset. He comes searching for handouts the ducks have either missed or refused to eat. Pizza isn’t on the duck’s food pyramid; they don’t have teeth to chew. The rodent is happy to oblige so Brighton’s excellent maintenance crew don’t have to clean up edibles the public has left behind.

Scout looks for leftovers on the cement bank near the damWhile Pinkerton was nibbling, another of his species arrived (right). He has no unique physical characteristics to identify him (or her) so from this point forward I shall generically refer to any muskrat near Pinkerton as Scout. It may be his mate, offspring, sibling or rival. The two seem to be on friendly terms so I think they are related. There are 10-15 muskrat families residing at the pond. Each has its own territory and behaviors. Pinkerton and (I believe) Scout live in a burrow past the Tridge next to the cemetery. Due to the number of people they see each evening, they aren’t skittish like most muskrats. If you don’t make sudden moves or noises to frighten them, they’ll carry on their foraging and chores while you watch or photograph them.

Scout checks the sky and land for predators while on the straw island

Topi muschiati cenare al fresco el dente

January 22nd, 2015     3 comments     permalink

Three pounds of pasta arrived at the Brighton millpond last Saturday night

Three pounds of spaghetti arrived on the millpond ice Saturday night. Less customers than anticipated at Brighton’s fine Italian eateries? Probably. Online sources say ducks like its empty calories but our millpond birds don’t seem to. No matter. A furry dinner guest found it to his liking.

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Meet Pinkerton
Pinkerton is a dainty eaterPinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, MichiganHe makes nightly aquatic forages near Main Street. He’s the only millpond muskrat I can easily identify because of his pink-tipped tail. He’s a rather cordial chap unbothered by my presence or the flash of my camera when he’s famished. I can’t imagine pasta popsicles being palatable, but he’s done a good job of devouring all but one small pile of them in the course of three days.

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan
Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Pinkerton dines on spaghetti at the millpond in Brighton, Michigan

Oh, wait a minute. He’s had help!
Another muskrat arrived while I was standing there. He’s obviously a friend or family member since Pinkerton allowed him to sit at his icy table. He wasn’t very sociable, however, and decided “take out” was more his style. He headed for a dark corner under the short bridge near the dam to dine alone.

A friend joins Pinkerton for dinner Pinkerton's friend swims a mouthful of pasta back to his burrow

Pinkerton hops up onto the ice to search for other things to eatPinkerton continued to munch on the frozen strands, but he’d take occasional breaks to digest his dinner. He’d dive into the icy water and swim like a fur-covered torpedo. He’d resurface at another spot in the small pool of open water near the dam to scurry around looking for bread and duck chow the ducks had overlooked.

Ducks and muskrats coexist swimmingly — :-) — most of the time, but when food is involved, the ducks give their mammalian neighbors a wide berth. Muskrat claws, teeth. and unpredictable dispositions are no match for them.

Pinkerton dives into the water

Pinkerton would soon circle back for another helping of spaghetti. He didn’t order salad on this night, but I took photos of him snarfing down greens in mid-December. I’ll post those soon so you won’t think he’s a unrepentant carb junkie.

Pinkerton swims from one edge of the ice to another

Muskrat preppers

November 10th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Not amused by me disturbing his after dark tasks, this muskrat glared at me.

There’s been an uptick in muskrat activity at one of the Brighton millpond’s many burrows this past week. Between four and six muskrats (I can’t keep track with their movements in the dark) in one family (or commune) were all busy after dark. It was as if they decided to throw a work party to accomplish a burrow remodel before the winter weather made it more difficult. The fellow, above, seemed miffed I was photographing his group. He glared at me with a mouth full of dried leaves and reeds.

Another muskrat rested briefly on a log before returning to his foraging A young muskrat headed out from the burrow with serious intent

One of the furred workers hopped up on a floating log to take a break (above left). The water in this area of the millpond is less than a foot deep. As a result, the water warms during sunlit days and small aquatic plants are still actively growing. You can see many varieties of plants still green and algae covers the log.

A lily pad stopped in mid-growth by the cold water has turned pale before it could reach the surface. My camera’s flash illuminated it under the wake of a passing muskrat (below right).

All of the muskrats were well furred for the coming winter My flash lit a still submerged lily pad as it grew to reach the surface

Another well-focused skrat rushed back to the burrow with a full mouth of orange underbrush (below). He might be the one in charge of decor.

I don't know where this chap found orange leaves. They don't look familiar to me.

I inadvertently frightened one of the work crew. He made a big splash then headed for the bottom of the pond to escape danger. Then he popped out of the water like a breaching whale at the far limit of my camera’s flash (below).

A muskrat pops up from a deep dive in the Brighton millpond

The water lily bistro

November 1st, 2014     0 comments     permalink

A muskrat nibbles on what's left of water lilies as the sun sets behind it on an overcast day

Silvery light from the setting sun on an overcast day silhouettes a lone muskrat as it dines on what’s left of the water lilies. The muskrats devour the pads and stems so, by the time, the pond freezes, there will be few lilypads left.  Like other animals that endure the winter, I imagine muskrats pack on as much fat as they can before the pond freezes over. The combination of body fat and a thick coat must keep them comfortable as they continue to forage all winter. I’ve never found one curled up and shivering.

Mammalian munchfest

August 12th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The Resident Rabbit and a muskrat confer on the meadow grass

There are now at least three Eastern Cottontails residing in Brighton’s millpond park. Two are still classified as bunnies, young rabbits. I don’t know their precise ages since they arrive without pedigrees. The third one is officially designated as the Resident Rabbit, a high honor bestowed to only the species’ finest. She was hand raised and dumped near the pond in May, 2013, and grazes north of the fire station near the spruce trees most evenings.

Rarely are muskrats seen this far from shore Saturday night I found her dining in the company of a muskrat; the first time I’ve witnessed an interspecies gathering of this variety. They must have been planning something or complaining about annoying park visitors and unleashed dogs. It’s an odd pairing. Rabbits lollygag when not eating or bounding away in terror from real and imagined predators. They sit and watch the world go by although I’m not sure they comprehend much of it. Muskrats rarely loiter; they are driven. If they aren’t eating, they are swimming toward food or lugging vegetation home to feed the kids or insulate their burrows.

I heard grass roots ripping as I moved toward the muskrat. Without saying good-bye, it scurried back to the millpond with a mouthful of bounty (below). Muskrats are skilled harvesters, and grass is at its most delicious now. The kids in the burrow had a nutritious carry out salad for dinner on this night.

A quick run for the shore with a mouthful of goodies

A carb loading muskrat

July 10th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The muskrat heads back to its burrow

The muskrat finds a huge chunk of breadOne of the two muskrats that often shows up while the turtles are feeding paid a visit on July 7. Two carp fishermen nearby had chummed the water with large slices of bread. The muskrat made a bee-line to one of the slices and scooped up the soft bread, balled it up, and then stuffed it in his mouth (right) to head back to his burrow. As he swam, the bread streamed out of both sides of his mouth (top).

Life’s rewards for muskrats

June 30th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

A muskrat swims home to its burrow near the Stillwater Grill on the Brighton millpond at twilight. This chap has a whiter muzzle than most of the resident rodents and he isn’t bothered by human activity like many of the others.

If there’s reincarnation, coming back as one of these guys might be an enjoyable, although short (3-4 years), spin. They certainly find joy in constant activity. What could be better than spending summer dodging lily pads in a warm pond that provides bounty to fill your belly?

An adult muskrat swims home in twilight

You’d have to deal with turtles that want to bring your life to a screeching halt as well as hawks and owls with equally sinister plans. Humans are relatively benign neighbors except for those trapper types who are getting top dollar for your fur coat these days in Asia. Suburban Sapiens don’t have time to do that, but they have an afinity to mow and weed whack plants you’ve been waiting to reach peak perfection for harvest. No matter. The kids in the burrow (up to 9) aren’t fussy about the vegetation you bring home and your spouse thinks you’re a great provider. She rarely chirps displeasure and insists you provide your marital services to keep your soggy abode full of babies up to 4-5 times a year, spring through summer.

Farming the millpond

May 25th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

The farmer surveys his crop before the harvest begins The farmer heads for the pond to take his harvest home to his family

Notice is fur covered ears which often are out of sight when he swimsMay 22: I get a kick out of millpond muskrats. They are industrious in everything they do. One was observed harvesting grass the other day near the cemetery. He was precise in his choice of plants to nip with his teeth, He only selected the finest grass blades growing amid the Lilies of the Valley plants.

Once the blades were clipped, he gathered them in his mouth in what appears to be a carefully gathered bundle with all of the stems ending at about the same spot. Maybe it’s not planned and just happens the way he moves each stem around to grab it with his mouth. I need to watch him more closely to discover how he keeps the bundle in his mouth while clipping the next blade. Muskrat skulls allow it since they have no grinding teeth near their long front teeth.

How the muskrat clips the grass with a mouthful of blades is a mystery Each blade was carefully clipped with his teeth and placed in his mouth bundle

The muskrat swam his harvest back to his burrow for his family to eat Once he had a mouthful, he swam his bounty back to his burrow 50 yards away. He’s surely got a hungry litter of pups by now. Baby muskrats are rarely seen outside of their burrows until they are teenagers that begin to forage on their own. Muskrats can have up to 9 pups in each of four litters per summer.

While impressive, this mouthful is far less than some appearing on this blog. I’ve watched muskrats transport bouquets of Queen Anne’s Lace, cattail reeds six times their own length, plants bushier than the muskrats themselves, and been amazed to see one tumble a 3′ tall pondside plant to cart back to their family. I’ve yet to see a muskrat kick back on the shoreline lawn chair and chug a beer. They don’t have time.

The dam muskrat

April 27th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

This muskrat visits the dam each evening looking for scraps the ducks miss

If you arrive at the millpond at dusk, you have a good chance of seeing this muskrat or his youngster near Main Street. Their burrow is near the cemetery and they individually swim to where ducks are usually fed to devour leftovers. In this picture, dad is rummaging for morsels in the shallow pool at the top of the falls. Sometimes they swim along the shore paralleling Main Street and pop out of the water to forage on the sidewalk. Ducks can’t get their bills in the cement cracks so they might find some treats there.

There are probably 15-20 families of muskrats living in the millpond. They are more active at the beginning and end of the day, but you will likely see one no matter when you visit the park.

A visit to a salad bar then a swim through satin

April 12th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

Floating plants are already growing in the cold water

Just days after the last of the millpond ice melted, tiny green floating plants have begun to sprout much to the delight of the muskrats. Above, a  muskrat leaves a floating salad bar that’s gathered at the culvert where water enters the millpond.

With a few color shifts, the lower part of the muskrat image is a respectable textureMuskrats’ diet is mostly vegetation and the pickings are slim during the winter months so the fresh veggies are a welcome addition to their choices which have been limited to plant roots for months.

The lower part of the above image reflected the cement culvert and the dark blue sky distorted by the swirling of eddies from the water rushing into the pond from points north. A few color tweeks brought out the odd combination of blues with shades of olive greens (above left).

A muskrat swims toward its burrow directly under my feet on the millpond shoreLater, the afternoon weather conditions transformed the millpond water into a brighter range of blues. The sky and ripples give the impression the muskrat is swimming through satinDark clouds covered a portion of the sky and bright blues filled the rest. Ripples picked up reflections with the sheen of shimmering satin, a nice contrast for the fuzzy brown fur of swimming muskrats.

While they seem comfortable swimming during winter months, they must find more pleasure in the warmer waters now.

Hungry yet tolerant

March 23rd, 2014     0 comments     permalink

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March 21: There are patches of bare ground now at the north end of the Brighton millpond. It gives me an opportunity to get closer to the critters that don’t have much food until the earth warms sufficiently for plants to grow.

TCan you find the muskrat in this photo?he ducks are always happy to relieve me of duck chow, but a newly arrived pair of Canada geese made a bee-line for me, too. They must be returnees from last summer that recognized me. I try not to feel the geese but they horn in on the domestic ducks so it can’t be avoided entirely.

Within a couple of minutes, a young muskrat joined the party although he wasn’t officially invited. Muskrats tire of their winter staples by this time of year. They relish nibbling on duck chow that contains protein rich corn, wheat and soy. Muskrats are single-minded. I’ve never seen them play or do anything other than eat, swim toward food or transport it back to their burrows. Such focus!

Nose to bill in the quest for rations

This little guy mixed in with the birds and made none of the usual muskrat swipes to keep ducks at arm’s length. Ducks jostled him but he kept his attention on eating without shooing ducks away. In the above left photo, he’s barely visible in the swarm of ducks. I expected him to leap into the air when a duck pecked his tail but it didn’t happen.

The little guy was fearless if I didn't move or make loud noisesA larger muskrat also arrived but kept its distance from me. It didn’t challenge the ducks either. It ate nose-to-bill with the birds (above right). It’s most likelya parent of the smaller rodent who fearlessly approached within inches of my old boots (left).

These are the only two muskrats I’ve seen at the north end all winter. There are probably others nearby but only these two fraternize with the birds. Other muskrat families live in burrows near where the ducks spend their summer 100 yards south of their current location at the culvert.

The goose took a couple of mild pokes at the muskratThere weren’t any major disputes this night. The goose took a couple of pokes at the muskrat (right), but they were to get him out of the way rather than aggressive behavior to send him packing. The millpond critters need nutritious foods now so they can be strong and healthy for breeding. While the geese only have one nesting, the ducks can have two, and the muskrats up to four!

Muskrat are active all winter

February 23rd, 2014     4 comments     permalink

Muskrats pop out of the water day and night

As the Brighton millpond’s most prolific mammal, you’ll almost always see at least one of the critters on a visit if you slowly walk the trail.

They are active all winter. They scratch open holes in the ice or find melted openings along sun-warmed edges to get out of the water. Often they will pop out with a plant or root in their mouths and eat it while you watch.

The Canada goose is ready for an attack that doesn't happenThe most active fellow this winter pops out of the open water near the north end’s culvert. He scans for predators (top) then rummages through the straw to find food the waterfowl has overlooked. Ducks give him space. Even the Canada goose, four times his size, watches him closely as he swims by (left), but the muskrat swims as far away as possible in the limited space. “Don’t tread on me” is the motto of both the birds and beast.

Unless protecting young during the summer, muskrats are singularly focused on gathering food. As herbivores, the pickings are slim in winter so they subsist on plant parts still available when nothing is growing — roots, stems and such. Lucky for them, once the ice clears, deep water plants start sending out shoots. They’ll dive to harvest them. I’ve seen them swimming with mouthfuls of green plants as early as mid-March with temperatures near freezing. Their eyesight is poor so, if one pops up near you, stand still. You’ll be able to watch it go about its daily tasks.

The muskrats are wary of predators

Muskrat models effective winter attire

February 6th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

After popping out of the water, muskrats check the area for danger

It seems impossible wet fur can keep a small creature warm during a winter as cold as this one. Yet the millpond muskrats continue to be active in sub-zero conditions.

One fellow returns regularly to the open water at the north end of the millpond. If you remain for about 30 minutes, you’ll likely see him pop out of the water onto the ice (top). If he’s sure there’s no danger, he’ll begin hunting for food the ducks haven’t eaten. After getting his fill, he’ll slide back into the pond and dart under the ice to head back to his burrow about 50 yards away.

The ducks watch the muskrats but view them as peaceful pond matesThere’s a good chance this is a member of the same family of six I met in December, 2012. I wish muskrats would wear name tags. The ducks watch him paddle around (left). They aren’t concerned. It gives them something to do as they aimlessly float. The two species are congenial pond mates unless food resources are scarce. When that happens, ducks would get personal protection orders, if they understood Michigan laws.

Muskrats, night and day

January 13th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

After popping out of the water, the muskrat checks for danger

Muskrats love duck chow just as much as the ducks doAt night, muskrats pop out of the water at the edge of the ice. It’s almost always a surprise because they come from under the ice. After they arrive, there usually freeze in place (above) until they judge the safety of their location. Get a load of those claws.

Once topside, they wander until they find something edible. They seem to be attracted to ducks when they are feeding. The muskrats like duck chow just as much as the ducks do. That’s not surprising considering the muskrats’ diet is almost exclusively vegetariann with an occasional bug or worm tossed in for variety.

The muskrat poses in the afternoon sun just before slipping into the water

The muskrat finds corn in the straw scattered for the ducks

During the day, muskrats are less cautious when they surface. It’s easier for them to assess danger with their poor eyesight. The provider of the straw mixed in whole corn, a favorite of the muskrats (left). This one was happy digging around looking for kernals.

Muskrats are happy to consume foods humans bring for the ducks. Below, one is eating a cracker. Notice what a gentlemen he is with his two pinky fingers raised. His manners are a bit marred, however, due to his lack of a napkin.

Notice how dainty this muskrat nibbles with his pinky fingers raised

Muskrat rambles

January 10th, 2014     0 comments     permalink

An outhouse on the pond for the muskrat

It's easy to find where the muskrat livesWhen the snow gets more than a couple of inches deep, it’s easy to spot where muskrats hang out. A trail goes from a burrow near the cemetery out onto the pond (above). There’s a pocket of disturbed snow there and then the trail goes right back to the burrow. I think it’s this muskrat’s winter toilet. :-)

Near the north end of the pond, a well traveled path goes from the pond into the dried cattail reeds (left). There’s surely a burrow in the bank beyond them.

I’ve never done a thorough count of muskrat families on the pond, but I know one portion of the pond has burrows about every 150 feet. My best guess is that a couple of dozen muskrat families share the millpond. Since literature states they can have up to 9 pups in up to 4 litters a year, their numbers are kept in check by predation of the young by turtles, hawks, owls, raccoons, opossums, and the Great Blue Heron that feeds at the pond each evening when there’s open water.

Muskrats swimming cheek-to-cheek

December 5th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

Two muskrats on a midnight hunt for food

It took me a moment to point my camera and snap this unexpected visit of muskrats swimming in tandem. I was shooting blind into the night and glad I pointed the camera accurately. Just before this shot was taken, the lower muskrat had it’s snout at the cheek of upper one. That’s a typical position a young muskrat swims in with a parent. I think this is a grown child who still forages with mom/dad. There’s an interesting furry mound between them that looks like a small member of the family. It must be a wave reflecting fur. The muskrats hopped up on the ice out of my camera’s range and there were only two of them.

Harvest time for muskrat farmers, too

September 28th, 2013     0 comments     permalink

The Main Street muskrat returns home with a mouthful of weeds

Brighton’s Main Street is closed to traffic so local farmers can sell their produce at the annual Harvest Festival. Some of the local farmers, however, don’t sell their goods. Muskrats can be seen swimming in the millpond as they transport their harvest back to their burrows. It’s used to either feed their pups or insulate their chambers to get ready for winter. Muskrats don’t store food for winter like some critters. They forage through all of the frigid months without a long winter’s nap. They are so industrious, I wonder if they nap at all.

Vegetation makes up 95% of the millpond muskrats' diets

Packing on winter weight

September 13th, 2013     1 comment     permalink

Cracked corn is a muskrat favorite

The muskrat is a regular guest at food left for ducks at the north end of the Brighton millpondThe millpond muskrats are becoming more active again. This fellow discovered a pile of cracked corn left for the ducks and is snarfing it up at the north end of the pond. Cracked corn is like crack cocaine for muskrats. They love it more than their usual diet of pond and shoreline plants. As the temperatures begin to decrease, the muskrats need to build an insulation layer of fat so they can remain active all winter.

Muskrats don’t hibernate. They can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes and swim under winter ice seeking plants that might continue to grow in the icy pond or they eat the roots of water lilies and other submerged vegetation.

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