Sunday, August 11, 2013

News from the Pond: Jumping Mice, Beavers, Ducks and Muskrats

Great Blue Heron and a White-tailed Deer fawn at the beaver pond
Last evening I went down to the main beaver pond to see what was happening with our beaver colony. While I waited in the blind, I heard some movement behind me in the meadow. It sounded like several grasshoppers were descending down the hillside. Finally, I saw one of them, and they weren't grasshoppers, they were instead a family of Meadow Jumping Mice.
The seldom seen Meadow Jumping Mouse most often lives close to water
These remarkable creatures were hurdling back and forth through the undergrowth at a good clip. In fact it was impossible to put my camera on them while they were moving. At one point one of them bounded up a Multiflora Rose bush - perhaps to gnaw on a berry or to glean a beetle from a leaf.
These tiny Jumping Mice are mainly nocturnal
I had put a few handfuls of sunflower seeds up on one of the blind's support posts - I do this primarily for birds, but the seeds also  attract Chipmunks, mice, voles and shrews. This time however, it was the jumping mice that were interested in the seed - or at least 2 of them were.

The Jumping Mouse's long tail helps it to keep its balance when jumping
As their name implies, jumping mice get around by hopping - using locomotion more similar to a kangaroo than other mice. Many of us that spend any time in the outdoors and are fond of examining animal tracks are familiar with the footprints of the jumping mouse. A set of their small, narrow prints look like no other mouse tracks in the region. Impressions from their disproportionately large back feet and consistently dragged tail are diagnostic. Despite the fact that this mouse's tracks are sometimes found in the snow, the jumping mouse is supposed to hibernate for the entire winter - well that's what the literature says. Since they do not make a winter food cache and instead rely on their fat reserves to survive the winter, it's conceivable that when these reserves are insufficient  they may break hibernation in order to resume foraging. 

Note the Jumping Mouse's long back leg and toes
The farthest they can travel in a single bound is 10 feet, which is astounding considering the mouse is only 3 1/2 inches long minus its tail. The tail of the Meadow Jumping Mouse is extremely long - fully 1 1/2 times longer that its head and body. The mouse's back legs, and feet are also noticeably longer than those of other mouse species.
A Great Blue Heron perches right near the blind at the beaver pond
"Tippy" the yearling beaver takes an apple
Before I became distracted by the mice, I was watching one of our yearling beavers interact with a family of Mallards. Usually the beavers don't have much to do with the waterfowl that frequent their ponds,  but this particular beaver was intrigued by the Mallards as they repeatedly swam back and forth at the east end of the pond. The ducks wanted to access the overland trail in order to walk to our turtle pond, but they didn't want to walk past me, so they just kept swimming back and forth - and this is what peaked the beaver's interest.
Tippy the Beaver checks out one of the young Mallards
The Mallard family swims back and forth in front of the blind
At one point the young beaver joined the ducks and even swam several laps with them. This culminated with the ducks and the beaver, together climbing onto shore and attempting an alternate route through the field. They hadn't gotten very far when evidently something spooked them - and all came crashing back into the pond - the beaver first, followed by the ducks.
Mother Muskrat waits for a treat
While all of this was going on a resident muskrat discovered a bag of apples that I brought down for the beavers. She bit into the bag and pulled it off of the bench - causing it to dump some of its contents into the pond. The perfect heist! This particular muskrat is quite a character; sometimes she will sit behind me and whimper until I start doling out apples or carrots. She's a mother and has at least 2 young kits that have now begun swimming after her on her foraging adventures around the pond.
One of 2 Muskrat kits
Muskrat kit (left) and mother (right) swim around the pond together

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