Lessons from Muskrats and Beavers

Cousins they are, but the semi-aquatic rodents are often confused. Muskrats and Beavers are easiest to identify by their tails, but those aren’t always visible when they are swimming. Typically, a Muskrat’s whole body is visible as it swims, its long, skinny tail sticking out behind. With a Beaver, though its tail is wide, flat, and paddle-shaped, it’s usually only the large wedge-shaped head that we spy.

Today, I had the good fortune to search a friend’s property for both. My journey began at an old beaver pond that’s been devoid of water in recent years, but this year’s snowmelt and rain water have filled the space where an old, yet substantial dam does stand. The curious thing about the dam is that the Beavers built it just above an old man-made dam, or did they? I had to wonder: who came first?

For close to an hour I stood and reflected . . . on the reflections before me and past memories of times spent observing this space. All the while I hoped to see two Muskrats my friend had observed mating last week, but they were a no show.

About twenty-five feet to the left, however, I did note a well-worn hole in a tree.

It must have been a flash of action that first drew my attention to it and so in between moments of Muskrat surveillance, I turned my attention to the snag where a Chickadee did pause.

All the while “Hey sweetie, sweetie” Chickadee songs reverberated through the woodland, and then . . . the bird slipped into the hole and a minute or two later flew out. Hey Sweetie, indeed.

When I finally pulled myself away from the beaver pond, my sense of disappointment for not spying the Muskrats thankfully displaced by the thrill of seeing the Chickadee nest snag, I started to hear a certain high-pitched whistle. I looked and looked but couldn’t locate the whistler, though I did spy a nest in the lower third of the canopy.

And then . . . movement caught my attention and it settled on a snag. A Broad-winged Hawk stayed high, but let me know that this was its territory and I was an intruder.

Not too much further along, it was movement rather than song that drew my attention. I knew I was looking at a thrush, and suspected a Hermit Thrush, but I’ve been wrong before. If you know better, please teach me. What I did note was the eye ring and smudges of brown on the lower breast. Again, I’m open to interpretation.

Eventually I reached another beaver pond of sorts.

There, the Hobblebush bouquet shown its sweet face. In reality, it’s an inflorescence or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Those larger, sterile flowers attract insects while the tiny fertile flowers do all the work of seed production. Nature has its way.

And so do the Beavers. As I moved along the wetland, I noted numerous scent mounds and knew that somewhere out there the rodents were active and making their claim on the place.

Everywhere, their works old . . .

and new . . .

and new again were on display.

In the water, a raft of winter chew sticks provided another indication that the lodge had been active.

But even more evident were the birds, their songs and calls filling the air space.

My favorites were the Yellow-rumped Warblers that flew from tree to tree along the water’s edge.

That yellow. White throat. Black mask. And black and white stripes. What’s not to love?

As I walked out, a Song Sparrow didn’t sing for me, but I loved its contrasting colors among deciduous needles.

And finally a Veery.

So, I went in search of two Muskrats and the Beavers. Perhaps I was too late in the morning to see them. But because of them I was treated to a variety of birds and appreciated the opportunity to spend some time with them and learn a little more about their habitats and habits.

My gracious thanks to M.Y. for the opportunity yet again. I have to admit that I covet your property.