Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mammals at a Winter Marsh

I visited Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve this afternoon to see what kinds of creatures hang out in these marshes and woods next to Lake Erie during the winter. The marshes were all iced over and quiet:

Quiet, that is, except for the loud splashes I kept hearing as I walked by this part of the marsh. I stood around for a while, and it turned out that the creatures who made the mounds in the above picture were popping in and out of holes in the ice. Hello, Muskrat!

These guys came out of the water several times, but they mostly stayed hidden in the cattails, so usually I only knew they were there because of some mysteriously waving reeds and then a splash as they flopped back into the water. I only got brief glimpses of their whole bodies. Look at those weirdo feet:

The Muskrats weren't the only mammals living in the icy marsh, either. At one point, I looked down at the big rocks piled at the edge of the water, and a little American Mink face was staring back at me! I missed that picture because the creature dashed off too quickly (alas), but another mink (or the same one) showed up a little later on the ice:

How can a creature be so cute and so fierce-looking at the same time? Right after I took this picture, the mink dove into the water and emerged a second or so later with a little fish in its mouth. Those are some pretty impressive hunting skills. Apparently mink eat muskrats (even though they're about the same size), so this seems like a pretty risky living situation for the muskrats! It was definitely cool to get to see these reclusive animals at their icy home.

There are tons of Fox Squirrels in this park; I saw them basically everywhere I turned. Fox Squirrels are such handsome creatures:

A fuzzy Fox Squirrel next to fuzzy Poison Ivy vines:

Somebody's almost certainly been feeding the Fox Squirrels at this park. This lovely girl walked right up to me and touched my boot as I made my way down the path:

She seemed confused when I kept walking without giving her anything. (I'm sorry! Don't look at me like that!)

This Red-tailed Hawk, for its part, was doing its best to keep the Fox Squirrel population in check:

While a second Red-tailed Hawk watched on from a neighboring tree:

I so rarely get to see adult Red-tailed Hawks from behind. Those rusty red feathers really are beautiful, and I love the pattern on this creature's back:

I'm so glad such wonderful surprises are out there, even the middle of winter.

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