Muskrat

A sneak-peek at the star of the show…

Ohio- like much of the rest of the country- has been affected by the drought during the last few months.

I’ve noticed less variety and less quantity of certain wildflowers.  Some plants hold up better than others in dry conditions (many prairie plants for example), others don’t do as well (Jewelweed comes to mind).  Some small streams have dried up, and ponds have low water levels.  This makes it easier to see things that live in the remaining water.  My birdbath is popular with more than just birds this year.  One positive effect is that I’ve been bitten by far less mosquitoes this summer, but other bugs are numerous, such as ticks.

Earlier this month, I visited the Honda Wetlands, Hoover Reservoir and the Battelle Darby Wetlands. By late summer, the water level is usually receding at these places.  But in this current drought, lots of water has dried up.  A year ago today, there was much more water present at the Honda Wetlands.  Unlike last year, there wasn’t a rail, egret or bittern in sight, unfortunately.

What follows are photos I took at Honda, some of them showing the effects of the lack of precipitation.

A modest amount of Barn Swallows are still nesting here.

Things still look green, but there’s a lack of standing water.

This cracked ground is usually underwater at this time of year, with all sorts of teeming wildlife inhabiting the area.

Some attractive wildflowers are still blooming.  Can you name the 3 above?

Three huge old Bur Oaks are at the edge of the wetlands.  Birds like them- see the following photos.

That last one is hard to see, but scolded me severely for walking by.

This is the one spot left with (low) standing water- the pond by the shelter house.  Creatures that depend upon water are crowded together here.

The water that’s left is fairly shallow, warm, and full of aquatic plants.

Large and small Painted Turtles are numerous here.

One of the many Bullfrogs dotting the pond.

There was a small clear area in the water where fish stayed close to the surface.

A lone female Mallard dabbled enthusiastically in the pond.

I noticed a small furry creature along the edges of the water in the exposed Cattails.

It was avidly feeding upon the Cattails, seemingly unconcerned about this photographer nearby.  Notice the little hands.

This is a Muskrat, a semiaquatic North American rodent.

This is the first time I’ve seen a Muskrat here- the drastically shrinking water level has brought them out into the open.

These animals have a tail somewhat like rats, though it is flattened to be useful in swimming.  They can spend a surprisingly long time underwater.

Muskrats play an important role in clearing out swaths of certain wetland plant species such as Cattails, allowing access to water for various birds such as ducks.

Like beavers, they live in a lodge that they construct.  Being ‘indoors’ makes getting through the winter more bearable- their 2 layers of fur also help.

Muskrats usually live in pairs along with whatever young ones they are raising at the time.  I saw 2 in the pond, most likely mates.

Once extensively hunted for their fur, these creatures co-exist with Beavers in the same habitat.  They look like small Beavers at first glance.

Muskrat populations vary in size, with booms and busts every several years.  Standing water with Cattails are their preferred areas.

Some good news- yesterday my area got a good soaking rain, something we hadn’t had in a while.  And it’s raining again as I type this post.  Hopefully this will be a trend, and the wetlands will not dry up completely.  I like the wildlife that I see there, living in or on the water.