Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 20, 2007

Ying Yang at the Mouillee Marsh

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:47 pm

April 18, 2007

 Today an overcast sky and a mild wind are attempting to set a desolate mood upon the Pointe Mouillee Marsh (Pointe Mouillee State Game area in N.E. Monroe Co.). I last visited here in late January when it was ice bound and bitter. Now the place is busting with life and sound. Huge flocks of cackling Coots mix with Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal, Widgeons, and Mallards. Ring-neck Duck pairs patrol the weedy shallows while Bluebill troops dive in the deeper water. The calls of Red-wing Blackbirds mix with the “Tee-O-Wees” of calling Yellowlegs. Paired Canada Geese, lots of them, protest loudly at incursions from other pairs. They launch low-headed attacks at each other. A flurry of wing beats and honking ends in some reassuring head bobs between partners.

  Atop one of the weathered muskrat lodges, a goose sights tight and motionless upon her eggs. Her neck is extended but laid close to the surface of the lodge as she attempts to conceal her location from this passerby. She blends in very well, although her bright white cheek patch betrays her. 

  Dozens of Mute Swans have also set up nest spots atop other muskrat lodges. Like the geese, they too engage in a blustery display of wing beating aimed at other swans and encroaching geese.  One individual, protecting his nesting mate, launches an attack on a threesome of swans. His slapping wing beats echo across the water and prompts the invaders to flee.  As they become airborne and fly overhead, their wing feathers whistle and vibrate. 

  Defying the very meaning of their name, another Mute Swan – possibly an immature bird – emits a reedy “whe-ow, whe-ow” call from across the way.

  The marsh has almost shed the desolation of winter……almost.  There are about three miles of barren dike enclosing the Lead Unit and the route is littered with death.  The bodies of at least 26 dead muskrats give testament to the dire conditions still faced by the Mouillee ‘rats. Some of the bodies have obviously been there a while and are flattened and hollow from decay.  Others have been scavenged upon and remain only as hindquarters or gut piles.  Many, however, are fresh and clean.  Exhibiting no signs of violence or sickness, they lay in various positions on the fresh grass.  One lies on his side in the middle of the gravel service road. This one had simply stopped in mid-stride and died.

  I approached another animal that appeared so freshly dead that I was prompted to stroke his fur to assure myself that it was truly deceased.  The body was relatively warm, but stiff. A dead reed stem was clutched in his teeth and his squinting eyes were still moist. His fur, far from being matted or disheveled, was lush and reddish orange. In fact, the only thing that hinted at the events leading to his death were a few deep, and unhealed, bite wounds on his tail. 

  It is likely that all these animals were pushed to their limit by the constant competition for food and space. Starvation was probably the grim reaper in this affair, but stress certainly played its part. With no home territory, these animals are forced to battle with other ‘rats and keep moving – moving and battling, that is, until they cannot move anymore.

  A large living ‘rat crossed the dike ahead of me and ambled down to the waters edge.  Looking a bit out of order and confused, he searched about for roots along the sterile edge and swam down the shoreline.  On his way to the water, he plowed through a spider web full of dead midges before entering the water.

The mesh encased his back and peppered his fur with the carcasses of the tiny black flies.   Normally such an affront to the neatness of the pelt would instantly be remedied with a grooming session, but his mind is geared only to the essentials of being. He keeps moving. I get the sense that his time is limited, but, since I will never know his fate, I secretly invent a scenario where this one cheats death

 Even though some 10,000 of their numbers were harvested in the winter trapping season and this current die-off was chipping away at the overburden of population, many muskrats still live here.  Bank dens show evidence of heavy use and swimming ‘rats are everywhere.

  An amorous muskrat couple affectionately groomed each other outside of their den entrance. The male stopped to deposit his scent on the ledge over the burrow by lifting his tail and rubbing his hind end back and forth against the surface.  He then hopped over to his mate, approached her from behind and resumed grooming her fur. 

  Here is a couple that will insure that the muskrats will join in the explosion of spring life at Mouillee.



  1. Hey, you were up in my area. I can walk to the game reserve from my house. Been through the entire thing. I’ve got the same critters in my own backyard. I’m on a canal off the river, there is a strip of land between my canal and a wetlands area. I don’t know all of the real names of the birds you’ve mentioned. We know them as B52’s, P51’s, etc. My husband names the larger egrets and herons that fly by.

    I was watching a 3 or 4 ft. heron I believe this morning. He was standing on a branch in the canal that is usually occupied by various sizes of turtles. I have a baby muskrat that I give apples to all the time. It’s great out here.

    People should visit the game reserve if they get a chance. Wear walking shoes because it goes all the way to the banana dike. I walked my dog there for years. 2 years ago my husband spotted 2 snowy owls. He wasn’t 15 ft. from the post where one landed. That set off a flurry of birdwatchers in the reserve. There’s nothing like watching an eagle fly overhead though. They’re so large you can see their feet.

    Comment by Ria — April 26, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

  2. Ria:
    Pointe Mouillee is a great place to watch wildlife, that’s for sure. Snowy Owls are seen there almost every winter, but you’ve got to be hardy to withstand those bitter north winds. Another bird to watch for in the summer are the White Pelicans. They used to be quite regular every year, but lately it’s been hit or miss.
    Hope you are enjoying my blog.

    Comment by Gerry Wykes — April 26, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  3. I certainly am enjoying it. I became involved with environmentalism out of my passion as a nature nut. If I can preserve, protect, or defend nature in any way, I’ll do it.
    One of my heroes is Dr. Albert Schweitzer. What a philosophy for all living things!

    Thanks for the tip on the White Pelicans. I’ve always got my binoculars handy.

    Comment by Ria — April 27, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

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