Muskrat: The Beaver’s Lesser Cousin

Muskrats seem like little beavers – both are rodents, and both are in the same family. Both have similarities, but the Muskrat is smaller and has a round tail instead of a flat one. Their houses are even similar, except the Muskrat’s is constructed of herbaceous vegetation (often Bulrush) instead of wood.

I don’t know how many times we have spotted this rodent, rushed to get a photograph, only to have it submerge out of sight for a long time. It can be a long time, because they can stay under for as long as 15 minutes. If that isn’t enough, they can always enter a burrow dug under the water’s bank. The photos we have are strictly the result of good luck.

These animals seek wetlands where the water is 5 to 6 feet deep with plenty of sedges. They are mainly herbivorous but will eat frogs, clams, and small fish. The interesting thing about their diet is that they consume up to a third of their body weight each day – a tremendous amount for a mammal, although equaled and surpassed by birds.

They have a couple of unusual traits: communicating through their musky odors and heterothermia. This is the control of the blood flow to their feet and tail. This allows those parts to remain cooler than the main body.

Muskrats only live about 3 years in the wild. This calls for fast reproduction and the reaching of puberty as early as 7 months. Heavy reproduction is also necessary for the species survival because so many predators find this animal a very desirable food item.

muskrat at An early breakfast of Bulrush

An early breakfast of Bulrush

Green Jay: Essence of the Rio Grande Valley

Witness the greens of the forest They show forth in an interesting array From the lights to the darks They make a dazzling display

Green is dominant in the natural world, but there are few birds of this color. Female hummingbirds. some ducks, and a jay in southern Texas are about the only ones with any green coloration that you’ll see in the USA.

Texas may not be your scenery “cup of tea”, but it has the most bird species of any state. Especially in the Rio Grande Valley, there are types found nowhere else north of Mexico. Some are very brilliantly colored. Such is the multi-colored Green Jay. The word green may be misleading as there are large amounts of yellow, blue, and black. Also known as the “Inca Jay”, its range is from the Rio Grande Valley, to Mexico, to Central American, and to northern South America. Its range is expanding north, however.

It prefers open woodlands or brushy habitats and, like all jays, is very opportunistic. Opportunistic is a good trait to have because it lends to adaptability and species survival. These jays live in groups of one breeding pair, nestlings of the current year, plus one year olds. The group is very territorial. During the nesting season, the male will feed the female more than 6 times a day.

This cousin of our Magpie is also raucous. The harsh “shek, shek, shek”, sounds quite “magpie-ish”. It is also a good mimic and can mimic many other birds.

This bird is non-migratory and a special attraction for anyone interested in a southern Texas winter trip. It is very curious and will readily come to a feeding station. The specimen in the photo was lured in by peanut butter spread on the log (out of sight in the picture). Texas is a great bird watcher’s state and has many birding trails mapped out. McAllen, Texas recognizes the Green Jay as its official bird emblem.

(Photographed from a blind on a rancher’s property)