Ondatra zibethicus (Or, Mr. Muskrat)

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Each day is an opportunity to learn something – about yourself, or the world, or somebody else – but really these are all one and they same, aren’t they?  On the lake, I listen and I watch and I wait.  I’m learning to hear with my heart, and to piece together the puzzle of daily interaction that happens in this amazing ecosystem.

Twice this evening I was drawn out of the house and down to the water’s edge by a desire to understand why our resident loon pair was being so vocal.  I found no immediate or obvious source of distress.  Typically certain loon calls indicate a circling bird of prey, but I saw nothing of the sort on either trip down to the water.  My first trip down was brief – twenty minutes that passed as quickly as a single breath.  (You know you are meant to do something when you have mosquitos in your ear, weird moths all over your body, an ant dragging a spider carcass across your shoulder, sun in your eyes, painfully-full bladder, husband tapping his toes, dogs neglected….and still you can spend hours at it and feel like you have only just begun.)

On my second trip down I had an entire hour to myself.  What joy!  I quickly paddled across the inlet and around “Small Island,” which is privately owned and little used.  Small Island is the location of the osprey nest that I have been watching for several months.  On the back side of this island there are several “Tiny Islands” – owned by none other than all creatures great and small.  I’ve known for several weeks now that the animal I had taken to be a beaver (I never claimed to be an animal identification expert) lived among the shallows of this area of the lake.  While I was busy shooting ducks and birds, a splash in the water gave away this critter’s presence.  I was so excited to have an opportunity to try to capture some shots of this speedy brown swimmer – who as it turns out is a muskrat, not a beaver.

I saw him (her?) disappear under a bank, so I decided to at least photograph the spot where he disappeared.  When several red-winged blackbirds glided to a near-by branch with red leaves I decided I’d capture a few shots, since the red on the leaves and the red on the wings was impossible to ignore.

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To my great surprise, the muskrat decided he’d finally seen enough of me and my blue kayak to know I was not going to eat him, so out he swam from his hiding spot.  He shimmied right back onto this log and commenced to chew on his branch.  After several minutes he did a diver’s jump and flop into the water – what startled him? – and disappeared.  How satisfying to have this little fellow decide I’m not such a bother after all.

 

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