Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Muskrat (Rat musqué)

     I was supposed to lead a walk for Waterloo Region Nature today, along the Mill Race Trail in St. Jacobs, so Miriam and I went to scout it out yesterday, but the trail was essentially sheer ice and we had to call off today's walk. 



     We walked gingerly along the grassy edge of the path. Single file was not too bad but it would have been impractical for a nature group, and especially for some of the older members who might do serious harm to themselves if they fell.
     Ice it seems is one of those things that is a real curse or a thing of beauty to be admired.



     There was lots of bird life with many species commonly associated with a winter walk, but what we found most interesting was the presence of several Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus).



     We observed the bizarre behaviour of one individual bent on chasing a Mallard (Anas platyrynchos) drake, to what end I am not sure.



     The Mallard was a match for his pursuer in terms of speed, but if the Muskrat got a little too close the Mallard would simply fly ahead a few metres, putting distance between himself and his irritating aquatic companion.
     Actually we saw little groups of Mallards all the way along the trail and they were very agreeable companions.


     I am a great fan of Mallards. They may be common but they are wonderful birds, and the little curls on the male's tail are exquisite.
     There has been a lot of activity by the resident American Beavers (Castor canadensis) this year and lodges and winter stores of food are to be found all along the Mill Race.





     And herein I think lies the reason for the proliferation of Muskrats. Although Muskrats commonly build their own dens, they are known to occupy beaver lodges, cohabiting with the beavers in apparent harmony. As far as I know this fact has only recently been discovered due to increasingly sophisticated photographic equipment and the possibility of placing cameras in a beaver lodge to record the activities going on there. None of my reference books, in the sections on American Beaver or on Muskrat, mention this behaviour which would indicate it was unknown at the time of publication.
     One of the individuals we watched dived under a pile of vegetation and did not resurface, but another was very busy indeed. It was gathering twigs and branches and taking them down into the den, and returning for more.


     We watched this activity for fifteen or twenty minutes and the Muskrat was constantly ferrying food to the occupants of the bank burrow below. Does this indicate a level of cooperation between beaver and Muskrat, thereby ensuring harmony in the den? It would appear so. Our observation included only the above water side of the activity but one can perhaps reasonably surmise what went on below.
     In any event it was all quite fascinating and we were glad to have been witnesses to it.

53 comments:

  1. As a keen photographer and former farm worker I must have admired and cursed ice in equal measure in my time. I've seen our water voles chase Mallards though never really look like catching one. The idea of animals of different species co-habiting like that is fascinating.

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  2. Great shot of the ice hanging on the thin branches. Interesting behaviour of the Muskrat chasing the duck.

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  3. Hola David, sin duda el hielo crea maravillosas formas y nos deja alucinados, pero para caminar es un peligro. Me encantan las fotos, son geniales. Es curioso que las ratas se dejen ver. Enhorabuena para ti y para Miriam. Un enorme abrazo.

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  4. Den där stigen liknar väldigt mycket hur det sett ut här den senaste tiden. Vis av erfarenhet och goda vänners olyckor på isbelagd mark har jag inte gott ut den senaste tiden utan broddar under skorna. Idag har vi ändå fått lite snö så vägen är framkomlig.

    Spännande att få iaktta en bisam i aktion och så trevligt att du lyckades fotografera den. Vi har både bisam och bäver här men i år saknar vattendragen helt vatten så bävrarna har fått söka sig någon annanstans. I fjol vintras gick mina promenader ofta till platsen där de byggt sin hydda. Sent på hösten hade de fällt stora träd, aspar, som de använde som vinterföda genom att gnaga av barken. Det finns alltid något spännande att upptäcka i naturen.

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  5. ¡Qué inteligente es la naturaleza amigo David! Cuando creemos saber todo sobre algún tema algo nuevo sucede que nos descoloca un poco. ¡Inteligentes! tanto la rata almizclera como el castor, probablemente pensarán, será cuestión de llevarnos bien y ayudarnos el uno al otro.
    Precioso reportaje apreciado amigo.
    Un fuerte abrazo y mucho cuidado con esas capas de hielo.

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  6. Hello David!
    Great captures and wonderful pictures of the Muskrat and the Beaver! Like especially the Muskrat shots,chasing the poor Mallard duck! I’m a great fan of Mallards too! Thank you for sharing! Enjoy your day!
    Dimi...

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  7. Hi David.
    What a wonderful meet David !
    It is so funny with The Mallard.

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  8. I love the photos of the ice hanging down from the branches, David!
    Here we got some snow lately, and it's not so much ice on the ground.

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    1. That’s what we need now, Marit, a good snowfall to cover over the ice. It has snowed a little today, but I doubt than even a centimetre has settled.

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  9. Recently, I can't get anywhere because it was snowing and also icy. I like very much
    the Muskrats. It was interesting to study them. David, you were lucky to watch them and take wonderful pictures.

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  10. Hi Both,
    What a good thing you checked the walk, even so you both could have fallen.
    Wonderful to see the Muskrat and the Beaver, I have said so many times that I think that Mallards are such an underrated duck, they are so beautiful.
    Mind interesting to see them being chased by the Muskrat.
    All the best, John

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  11. What a wonderful outing you took us on (without danger of falling). Megathanks.

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  12. Hari OM
    Well, I for one am most glad that you decided to scout out this trail - and with a camera! What a delight you brought us. I have seen some documentaries on the cooperation between the muskrat and beaver. As you way, a relatively recent discovery. what a joy!!! YAM xx

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  13. Yes, ice on a walk can be nasty so it was a good idea to check things out first.
    I did enjoy seeing your photographs and my favourite is the ice hanging down from the branches, although I did enjoy seeing the Muskrat and Mallards too.

    All the best Jan

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  14. Hi David,
    Interesting story about the harmony between Musketrat and Beaver!
    And great pictures of both of them. The Mallards are beautiful and funny!
    I hope it's not too smooth continues to can hike!
    Best regards
    Maria

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  15. You wonder if the muskrat was chasing off an overly curious mallard.

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    1. No, the Mallard was just minding its own business.

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  16. Icicles hanging from branches are exquisite, but ice along a path? No.

    Tread carefully.

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  17. We have lots of that ice too and it really makes it hard to walk easily. But looks like even with the ice you were having a very successful day. We have beaves down the street from me but ass of yet I haven't see the beavers, only their efforts.

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    Replies
    1. Winter has its beauty, and the pictures of the wild world bring more joy.

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  18. I wouldn't care to walk near the ice if avoidable.
    The photos are magic of the ice to me :)

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  19. Love to see the rat in his natural habitat! So nice. We don't love to have the muskrat here in the Netherlands. The rat burrows through dikes and that is leading to weakening of these structures. This increases the risk of flooding and is especially dangerous in a low-lying country, such as our country.The digging activities and tunnels of muskrats and rabbits really can undermine the stability of a dike

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEeqUuLlgcM

    Love to see the ice on the branches. Please, be careful!

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  20. The ice looks amazing, though it's annoying you had to cancel your walk because of it - not a problem we usually have here ;)

    Also I love the Muskrats! They seem a bit like our Rakali, though Rakalis aren't lucky enough to have any Beavers building lodges for them to share!

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  21. Hi David.

    Nice area.
    Nice pictures of the Muskrat.

    Groettie from Patricia.

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  22. Shame about the weather David but full marks for heading out to do something at least. It would have been easy to opt for staying indoors with hot coffee and a cinnamon bun instead. Those icicles look for real. The last time we had such icy weather I slipped on a sheet of ice and in Knott End and landed painfully on my "backside".

    When I was in Long Point I think I was told that the Muskrat was a favourite meal of the Great Horned Owls there. Or am I thinking of Coypu?

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    1. You are quite correct, Phil, Great Horned Owls do prey on Muskrat, but their favourite meal is Striped Skunk. Both the skunk and the owl are nocturnal and the odour of the skunk seems to have no deterrent effect on the owl.

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  23. Hola David.

    No sabía que las ratas almizcleras podían cohabitar con los castores, es una interesante observación que habría que confirmar con la introducción de más cámaras.

    Por otra parte, a mí también me gustan mucho los Anas platyrynchos (ánade real, azulón), creo que no los valoramos tanto porque son muy comunes, es notable que según como le incidan los rayos del sol los machos luzcan una u otra tonalidad, es formidable.

    Un abrazo desde Galicia,

    Rafa.

    Post data: muy bonitos los paisajes fotografiados por Miriam.

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  24. Muskrat sounds a diligent animal

    thank you for sharing beautiful photos

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  25. Glad that you can enjoy the ice, I would be very wary with my back, but then the temperature probably would not have allowed me to even put my nose out of the door 😉 You got some great photos. Take care Diane

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  26. That path looks treacherous. I think you were wise to postpone. The muskrats were a treat to see, so busy doing muskrat things. I had never heard that they would share accommodations with beavers!

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  27. Walking on ice can be treacherous, glad you decided to postone your group walk. Nice captures of the muskrats and mallards. Beautiful photos and thanks for sharing them.

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  28. Un reportaje magnífico
    Saludos amigo y feliz año, aunque sea un poco tarde...

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  29. Hi David,
    The photos with the ice are spectacular.
    I love the Mallards, they are so beautiful.
    Warm regards
    Maria
    Divagar Sobre Tudo um Pouco

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  30. I don't think I'll see ice, musk rats or beavers on my local patch! (Shame really!)

    I think it is reasonable to say that the taxonomy of the stilts in my pictures is a bit of a 'contested field'! Lots of different opinions. I'm off to LHI on Sunday, so it will be a week without internet.

    Cheers - SM

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    1. I couldn't figure out what LHI stood for until Miriam showed me Sally's post. So now I am green with envy, multicoloured even!

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  31. Beautiful nature pictures,
    have a nice weekend, David.

    Ida

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  32. A very interesting read, David, delightfully illustrated by Miriam and yourself. Miriam's shots really convey the chill, and beauty, of the scene. I looks like you made a very wise decision not to take a group there, however!

    If it hadn't have been for the old Everly Brothers song, I might have been totally unaware of the Muskrat. It looks like the (much) larger brother of our Water Vole.

    My love to you and Miriam - - - Richard

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  33. Hello David,
    Beautiful pictures of the Muskrat and the Beaver.
    The wild ducks are very beautiful, the ice on the branches is great too.
    Best regards, Irma

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  34. you would surely need skates to enjoy that path during this time of year. this ice is beautiful but surely a hazard. how nice that the muskrats and beavers live in harmony, i enjoyed seeing the beavers handy work!!!

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  35. Beautiful pictures as always. Loved seeing the muskrat and beaver. I don't get to see either around here. Have a wonderful weekend.

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  36. Nice pics of the Muskrat and Beaver. Don't think I have ever taken pics of either. I'll have to branch out a bit.

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  37. Your observations on the muskrat are most interesting. I'd like to believe they do work in cooperation. A nice thought!

    So glad you bagged the walk for the group but it looks like at some point it will be quite a lovely one and I'm glad you and Miriam got to enjoy it along the way. Your ice photos are lovely and you certainly did see a lot! Makes the walk and time all very worthwhile!

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  38. Love the ice photos, so beautiful!
    The mallards are very cute and nice seeing the beaver busy working away.

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  39. The antics of the muskrat are delightful. So interesting to see the evidence of beavers at work. Lovely winter scenes but difficult to imagine walking an icy trail.

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  40. Pity about the ice preventing the outing, but it's proof that "Time spent in reccee is never wasted"

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  41. thank you for your comment on my post today. This is truly fascinating about the muskrats, I have never seen a beaver or a muskrat and know nothing except what I see online. I wish humans could get along like they are doing.

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  42. rrrr ....... the cold is not so bad but the muskrat is a real plague in the Netherlands.
    They undermine our dykes and that takes serious forms. You could photograph this muskrat nicely :-)
    I find the path in your first and second photo very nice to see. the many icicles on the branches are also very beautiful. It will be cold with you !!!

    Kind regards and a kiss

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  43. love nature, David, he always teaches us. The photos are beautiful This year the snow does not want to get to Béjar, we have many frosts, I will show them. La Vía Verde has been very beautiful.
    Buena semana
    Un abrazo.

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  44. David - those are large muskrats! How curious to learn that muskrats and beaver cooperate. Love it! Ice is a constant around here - my Traxx are my best friend!

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    1. They perhaps look bigger in the photographs where they are out of the water. If you look at the shots where one is swimming with the Mallard you get a better idea of the size. I am not sure if you are familiar with Bergman's Rule which states that animals of the same species tend to be larger in the north.

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  45. `very interesting post about nature behavier. So sad the trail was icy, same here today actually :(

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  46. Your pictures do make ice look beautiful, but it is one kind of beauty I’d rather see in pictures. Falling is not good for old bones. I watched a muskrat at one of our nearby ponds in Oregon last summer, but through binoculars...fun to watch, too far fit good pictures like yours. I also see beaver dams there, but very seldom a glimpse of those busy creatures.

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  47. Sorry about the ice. It does make walking difficult. Love the cute muskrat photos. Enjoy your day!

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