Early Morning Sightings

Like a researcher doing experimental trials, every time I spend a week at Connery Pond, I get up at dawn, creep down to the dock and slip into the water for a sunrise swim. The reason for this “experiment” is two fold. For one, I need to test again and again that on a brisk 55°F morning, the water feels warm and I don’t even shriek when I slide in up to my neck. Amazing. The second experiment is to see if I would once again witness the uncanny arrival of some unexpected wild animal. This late August visit didn’t disappoint.

A pair of loons preened and stretched, calling periodically. The water striders dappled the surface as they skated to and fro. And about 20 feet from me, a small head surfaced, peered at me and glided away back to shore. I stared at it, squinting in the morning light, trying to decipher what I was seeing. It moved like a beaver, leaving a v-shaped wake as it swam. But it was small – about the size of a small otter. Yet it didn’t move like an otter. It moved like a beaver. A baby beaver? I had never seen a baby beaver. Has anyone seen a baby beaver?

It swam to the rocky shore and disappeared. I got out of the water, dressed quickly and silently made my way along the shore to where I’d seen it go. I don’t know why it bothered me so much not to know what it was, but it did. So I crept close to the water and stood motionless watching. In the little cove, a giant tree had fallen across from bank to bank, creating a little, quiet backwater. Suddenly a ripple formed and the baby beaver’s head popped out of the water and slid along the log. Then it crawled out onto the log and began to preen its fur. It definitely had the look of a tiny beaver until it turned to slide back into the water. That’s when its tail draped across the log momentarily. It was long, thin and hairless. A muskrat!

Muskrats are found in wetlands – swamps, marshes, ponds and lakes. They are rodents, feeding on the roots, leaves and stems of water plants like cattails and pond lilies. They are often seen during the day and are preyed upon by many predators, including fox, coyote, lynx, eagles, and hawks.  Despite their somewhat rat-like tail, they are rather adorable.

For the rest of the week I watched for the muskrat every morning when I swam. It was always in the cove, collecting green plants and swimming around between the log and rocks at dawn. It was the first time I had seen a muskrat’s behavior at length and I was pretty excited about it. I can’t wait to see what I see next time.

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About Sheri Amsel

Sheri Amsel has degrees in Botany and Zoology from the University of Montana 1980, a Master's Degree in Anatomy, Physiology and Biomedical Illustration from Colorado State University 1987. Ms. Amsel interned at the Smithsonian Institute in 1983 in Scientific Illustration, taught anatomy and biology at three colleges from 1990 - 1997. In addition, Ms. Amsel has published more than 15 nonfiction children's books, two field guides for adults, and illustrated a myriad of books and interpretive displays on nature and science topics. Ms. Amsel has done science programming at more than 300 schools nationally, developed more than 20 educational nature trails in New York State, and coordinates school visits to local nature trails for environmental education programs for the Eddy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation and habitat preservation. Ms. Amsel created the Exploring Nature Educational Resource website with the hopes of sharing her science and environmental education knowledge and experience with science educators and students worldwide.

One thought on “Early Morning Sightings

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a muskrat, but we have rodents with the odd name of nutria. They were imported from South America for their fur, but got loose and now inhabit the gulf coast and much of the east coast. They look very much like a muskrat, only larger and without the flattened tail. They’re not terribly welcome as they inhabit wetlands and like to eat roots and bulldoze through the mud, so they are quite destructive. As I recall, nutria eat something like a mere 10% of the plants that they actually destroy as they root.

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