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Monday, August 22, 2011

Species Spotlight #1: Nutria

You might remember when James and I were down at Pea Island a couple weekends ago and through the smoke and haze we found a Nutria feeding beside North Pond. Now, normally this is something I’d add to our “Other Animals” gallery, but because it was such a mediocre picture, I really don’t want to. So instead, I’m going to start a new column that’ll show up every once in a while wherein we spotlight one of the many non-bird animals we’ve seen on our adventures.

This story goes all the way back to December of 2010 (er, so, eight months ago). I’d just taken part in an amazing bird count at Bodie and Pea Islands, and now we were moving on to our second Christmas Bird Count of the weekend – Lake Mattamuskeet, a place that at the right time of the year, can be filled with damn near a million ducks, geese, and swans. Our scheduled route took us along the wildlife drives that surrounds the waterfowl impoundments next to the lake, and we were finding the usual stuff – Northern Harriers, Tundra Swans, and multiple species of ducks. All of a sudden, we came across a couple of large furry rodents feeding alongside the gravel drive.

Not a care in the world!

They were Nutria, a mother and a baby, happily munching away amongst the American Coots and Wilson’s Snipes that surrounded them. They didn’t seem to mind us getting out of the car for pictures, and when we did end up getting too close, they tried to bail into the water as Nutria are wont to do. There’s only one problem: that week, eastern North Carolina had seen somewhat unusual snow and cold temperatures, which meant the impoundments had all frozen over. So what did the Nutria do? Walk on the ice, of course!

This is going to work out well, I'm sure of it.

Both the mother and the baby tried walking on ice – I think the baby even fell in at one point, leading to an adorably hilarious attempt to get back onto the slippery surface, probably because the water was pretty darn cold. The mother, on the other hand, decided she’d had enough of us. With as much grace as a large rodent could possibly have on ice, she turned around and waddled to the canal on the other side of the road, never to be seen again.

Hey, who you lookin' at tough guy?!

Not sure which animal I’m gonna spotlight next, but I should let it be known that I saw two “lifer” mammals on that day at Lake Mattamuskeet… and the Nutria was by far merely second best!

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