Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
No matter how many trips I make to the marsh, it seems there is always something new to see. No two days are alike. Although this year’s special teal season ended yesterday, there was no reason for not going to the cattails with my camera. The place I chose was a shallow, quiet pothole that is completely covered by a thick green carpet of duckweed. Although many local marshes are currently at high water, a limited watershed has kept this spot from flooding out; the combination of food and cover is attracting wildlife like a magnet. By the time first light arrived, the marsh creatures were beginning to stir. Resident muskrats were especially busy as they aggressively prepared for winter. As one nearby ‘rat worked atop a small feeding platform, the animal suddenly stopped munching its arrowhead root to intently watch as a blue-winged teal swam past. The muskrat quickly dropped its root and began swimming after the duck. As the teal stepped up the pace, so did the ‘rat. The speeds increased until both animals were leaving a visible wake in the duckweed. The teal eventually took wing and the muskrat returned to gathering submergent roots. A few minutes later, a different muskrat emerged from the bulrush and swam into a flock of feeding wood ducks. Like a cutting horse singling out a calf, the ‘rat picked out a hen and began pushing her around. The wood duck was soon separated from the flock and, like the blue-wing, was soon picking up the pace. Swim as she might, the hen was unable to shake the furbearer which dogged her every move. The hen finally took wing which ended the contest. Although the ‘rat turned around and swam back to within a foot or two of the remaining woodies, it completely ignored the rest of the birds. I’ve been watching muskrats since I was a little kid and have never observed that sort of “bullying behavior” until today. To see two different animals do the same thing on the same marsh on the same morning seemed highly unusual. Disclaimer: Due to extremely low light, the attached photos are grainy but are all I have to accurately document my observations.