A Muskrat at Billings Bridge

Muskrat Last Thursday I returned to Billings Bridge to check out the water level of the Rideau River and to see if any Wood Ducks or Groundhogs were around.  The water has indeed receded, and the small “lake” in the middle of the lawn has dried up. A large number of Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls were busy foraging in the grass, but the groundhogs were all still sleeping in their dens.  After last week’s mild weather, the temperature has dropped below seasonal for the last few days, reaching only 0°C most days.  A cold wind seemed to be blowing straight down from the Arctic, and I suspect the smarter mammals have decided to hibernate for another week.

While there were plenty of ducks around, I didn’t see any Wood Ducks.  Although a few have been reported around the Ottawa area, they haven’t returned to Billings Bridge Park yet, one of the spots along the Rideau River where they traditionally nest.  A group of about five or six Hooded Mergansers diving in the middle of the river made for a pleasant discovery; most were males, with one or two females among them.  A spotting scope would have provided much better views, but the short bodies, white wing patches and white crest of the males were unmistakable.

The island where I had seen the otter slide last January was almost completely submerged.  I did a double-take when I saw a largish mammal sitting on part of the exposed ground, gnawing away on the dead vegetation.  At first I thought it was a beaver, given its size, but when I saw its long, narrow tail and the shape of its face I realized it was a muskrat instead.

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

A little disappointed that I would have to wait to see my first beaver of the year, I was nonetheless pleased to take my first photographs of a muskrat this year.  He was a most cooperative subject, staying out in the open for a long period as he gnawed away on whatever he was eating.

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

After taking my fill of pictures, I followed the shoreline to the end of the park, still searching for Wood Ducks hidden among the vegetation along the water’s edge, avoiding the wet, mucky parts as best I could.  This gull was completely unaffected by my presence as I photographed him standing on one of the rocks that leads down to the water.

Ring-billed Gull, breeding plumage

A little further along, I came across this pair of American Black Ducks standing together on the narrow ice shelf at the river’s edge.  I took a few photos of them, but this is the only one that shows them both facing the same direction, with their distinctive yellowish bills pointing the same way.  A female mallard is standing in the background, showing how different these two species are.

American Black Ducks (with mallard)



Although the groundhogs were still hibernating, I did come across this chipmunk scampering about near the water’s edge.  He ran away when he saw me, only allowing me this one photo of him.


There wasn’t much to see by the end of the park, so I turned around and walked back.  The muskrat had disappeared, as had the Hooded Mergansers.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any Red-winged Blackbirds or grackles on my walk either; perhaps they’ll show up in a week or two with the Wood Ducks.  I’ll definitely have to return next week after this cold spell ends to look for them again!

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