Muskrats we sighted at Cranberry Marsh in Whitby

Muskrats we sighted at Cranberry Marsh in Whitby

Muskrat holds a stick in its hands - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

On a visit to the Cranberry Marsh in Whitby, Bob and I were lucky enough to sight Muskrats at the edge of the marsh foraging for food.  That was at the southern portion of the West Cranberry Tract.

West Cranberry Tract marsh - Whitby - Ontario

Cranberry Marsh is part of the Lynde Shores Conservation Area, and typical of the few remaining coastal wetlands found along that northern section of the Lake Ontario shoreline, it provides wonderful habitat for birds and animals.

Muskrat - ventures near canada goose nest - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Our first stop that day, however, was at the northern section of the Cranberry Marsh.  From the observation deck that overlooks the marsh there, Bob and I saw large numbers of ducks and several Canada Geese, so we patiently waited to see if any muskrats would show themselves.  We didn’t have to wait long before a muskrat hauled itself out of the water and climbed up onto one of the muskrat mounds wherein it probably had its den.

Muskrat mounds - West Cranberry Tract - Whitby - Ontario

When Bob and I visited the marsh during the wintertime, we had taken note of the vast number of muskrat mounds or push-ups, as they are also called.  The wetland was peppered with them.   We counted about a dozen dens, so we knew there had to be a good number of muskrats making their homes in that particular wetland.

Muskrat mounds - - West Cranberry Tract - Whitby - Ontario

We didn’t see any muskrats on that cold winter’s day, but signs of them existed in the form of frozen footprints in the snow.

Muskrat mounds - push-ups - West Cranberry Tract - Whitby - Ontario

The tops of the muskrat mounds stood above the frozen water of the marsh making them very obvious.  Muskrats construct their mounds from vegetation and mud, and they can be up to three feet in height.

Canada Goose on nest - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Jump ahead to the springtime when it is quite common for wildfowl to establish their nests on top of  muskrat mounds  since the tops are well above the water.  One Canada Goose had selected a muskrat mound for its nest there at Cranberry Marsh, and was diligently roosting on it.

Muskrat - swims through marsh - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

While Bob and I took in our surroundings, no less than 3 muskrats were seen swimming around the reeds in the marsh.  It was difficult to train my camera lens on them because they are capable of swimming very quickly.  Adding to that, the fact that muskrats can remain under water for 12 to 17 minutes meant that I never knew where they would pop up next.

Muskrat chews on stick - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Another visitor to the marsh informed us that a “friendlier” muskrat had been seen by the observation deck at the south section of Cranberry Marsh, so Bob and I headed over that way.  A short walk brought us to the edge of the marsh where a young muskrat sat huddled in water and surrounded by last year’s bulrushes.

Muskrat holds a stick and looks at me - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

The muskrat was constantly nibbling at pieces of food that were held in its nimble paws.

As you see in our video, the muskrat expertly located tidbits of vegetable matter in the water.

Muskrat - long finger nails hold a stick - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Muskrats feed on cattails and other aquatic vegetation for the bulk of their diet, but they will also consume small animals, such as freshwater mussels, frogs, crayfish, fish and small turtles.  Those creatures wouldn’t stand a chance against the muskrat’s strong paws and sharp claws.

Muskrat - stares at my from waters edge - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

The muskrat certainly was aware of the visitors nearby, and if anyone ventured too close, it moved further into the overhanging branches of low-slung bushes.  This one’s expression suggested that it thought, “Who?  Me?”

Muskrat - swims through cat-tails - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

After several minutes, the muskrat edged into deeper water and swam away from the shoreline.  I hurried to the observation deck from which I was able to follow the muskrat’s progress into the marsh.  Then, I saw the muskrat dive under the water’s surface.  I thought that was the end of our wildlife observation for the day.

Muskrat - chews on fresh plant root - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Next thing you know, the muskrat resurfaced right in front of me with a fresh cattail stem or root in its claws.

Muskrat - enjoys a fresh plant root - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

For several minutes, the muskrat nibbled at the plant matter, at first appearing to peel the outer layer from the stalk.

Muskrat - enjoys a big bite of a fresh plant root - Cranberry Marsh - Lynde Shores Conservation Area

Bob and I watched the muskrat peacefully consume its meal before it swam off into deeper waters.  We wondered if, on our next visit to the marsh, we might see some babies.  It is springtime after all.

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