November 1 - 10

 

Racine has 9 hours and 56 minutes of daylight and Superior has 9 hours and 36 minutes of daylight at the end of the period. Southern Wisconsin loses 25 minutes of daylight and northern Wisconsin has 28 minutes less than the previous period.  Early November hosts the cross-quarter day. Early pagan and religious traditions have either identified this time as Halloween or All Saints Day, but neither on are on the actual cross-quarter day. The mid-point between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice falls on November 7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muskrats and marsh ecology: Early November is a great time to observe marshlands. Muskrats have nearly completed their lodges and they are busy gathering food for winter. The urgency has the normally nocturnal critter out and about much more in the daylight. Observation opportunities are enhanced. Also while watching this interesting mammals, it is always good to think about the effects they have on the ecosystem. 

 

The muskrat has different regional names such as musquash, mushrat, marsh hare, or musk beaver. Regardless the name, the muskrat is a rodent that lives both in an out of the water along most Wisconsin waterways. The name comes from a musky odor it emits. The muskrat is a critical species for ecosystem dynamics in our marshlands.

 

Muskrats are more active at night, but they are seen in the daytime on a regular basis. They are excellent swimmers with their rudder-like tail. They are even better at diving with specially adapted eyes, nose and unique respiratory system. Muskrats can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes to find food or escape predators.

 

Muskrats prefer to eat typical marshland plants, such as cattails, arrowheads, bulrushes, sedges and reeds. They exhibit a pattern of population spikes and crashes. If there are too many muskrats in an area, they can consume almost all the living plants in a marsh. If this happens, massive starvation or migration occurs and the marsh can be nearly void of muskrats until the vegetation recovers. They also eat crayfish, mollusks, frogs and fish. Occasionally, they can be found in corn fields happily munching away. In winter, they eat underwater roots, tubers, and pondweed.

 

Tall mounds of plant material sticking above the water are most likely a muskrat lodge. Muskrats build these in the fall where the water is deep enough to not freeze to the bottom. They burrow upward from the bottom into the lodge where a room sits above the water level in the center of the pile with several "rooms" and tunnels. In winter, several muskrats can live in one "room." Their body heat keeps the underwater entrance, from freezing. Another smaller lodge may be built nearby to give them more space under the ice to search for food. They also like to build burrows or dens along steep banks.

 

Muskrats are an important prey species for many predators.  Dogs, coyotes, snapping turtles, eagles, hawks, owls, and other mid-large carnivores prey upon them.  Mink are one of the biggest predators of muskrats.

 

Muskrats are very important ecologically.  They help maintain wetlands, and open up water ways with their prolific vegetation consumption.  This allows for an influx of a variety of more sensitive types of plants as well as the insect, waterfowl, and other animal life. Their herbivory and lodge construction create open water areas in stands of emergent vegetation. Population fluctuations over time permit dynamic ebb and flow regarding the density and composition of marshland vegetation.

 

Long-term opening and closing of the thick vegetation in response to muskrat feeding and lodge building provides habitat for a diverse group of species:

  • Where muskrats abound, so do mink. The favorite prey food for mink is muskrat.

  • Nearly all other mammals species associated with marshes are found on the edges. Raccoon, short-tailed weasel, mice and shrews venture into the marsh to forage for prey, but are confined to the perimeter.

  • The other mammal found in marshes comes from the other direction. The otter can forages on the marsh edge, if the marsh lies adjacent to open water. 

  • Obvious among the benefactors are waterfowl. Every spring Canada Geese used muskrat lodges as platforms for their nest. And if they are not nesting, then nearly every lodge is used for resting. Mallards, like the geese heavily use the lodges.

  • Dabbling ducks, swans, cranes, American Coot and Redheads forage in open water areas.

  • Dense cattails harbor Marsh Wren, Swamp Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, and Red-winged Blackbird.

  • Within the thickest cattails, Sora, Virginia Rail, Least Bittern, American Bittern, and Common Gallinule forage for invertebrates and frogs.

  • The shallow edges are utilized by shorebirds pick morsels from the water or probing deep into the mud for tasty worms.

  • In deep water where the cattails are not as dense or in beds of bulrush, Yellow-headed Blackbirds set up residence.

  • Pied-billed Grebes, Black and Forster’s Terns, use matted cattails as nesting platforms.

  • A few deep water bulrush beds support nesting Red-necked Grebes.

  • Edges provide habitat for more bird species to utilize the marsh. Species nesting in the trees and shrubs surrounding the marsh and using the marsh as a foraging ground are: Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Northern Harrier, Ring-necked Pheasant, Warbling Vireo, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Common Grackle, Eastern Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole, Willow Flycatcher, and Alder Flycatcher.

  • Northern pike spawn in marshes.

  • Several minnow species, sticklebacks and mud darters can be found in the shallow turbid waters.

  • Amphibians can be found in abundance. Tadpoles, salamander larva, and adult – tiger salamanders, leopard frogs, green frogs, and bullfrogs can have extraordinary population sin marshes.

  • Three turtle species dominate the marshes – the painted turtle is by far the most numerous, snapping turtles are common and the Stinkpot is found only in far southern Wisconsin.  

  • The most common groups of invertebrates are flies, midges, mosquitoes and crane flies.

  • Several species of dragonfly and damselfly are common in marshes.

  • Water striders, backswimmers, water boatmen, whirligig beetles, and the impressive giant water bug can be easily found.

  • Throughout the summer, various adult hatches of mayfly, caddisfly, and lakefly emerge with the adults flying only a day or so.

  • Crayfish and other crustaceans are abundant.

  • Fingernail clams can reach astronomical numbers, as many as 40,000 per square meter.

  • Free swimming plankton including copepods, water fleas, algae, and protozoans form the basis of the food web.

  • Especially important are the midges. The adult can swarm in the millions at dusk. However, it’s the unseen larval stage that lies at the heart of the food web. They are called bloodworms due to their red color and they feed on organic debris within the muck on the marsh bottom. Fish, frogs, diving birds and probing shorebirds use this abundant resource for essential nutrients. The newly hatched adults provide a banquet feast for swallows, ducks, terns, and gulls.

 

Taurid meteor showers: This named meteor shower event emanates from the constellation Taurus. The time frame is quite long from mid-October through the end of November and there are usually less than 7 or 8 per hour. The real excitement lies with the size of particles entering the atmosphere.  These large particles can result in very long-lived “fireballs” streaking across the November sky.

 

Mudpuppy breeding:  The mudpuppy is our least known salamander species, except by some anglers who have caught one and summarily cut their line rather than touch it. Mudpuppies are aquatic salamanders. They can grow up to 15 inches in length. Nearly every large lakes or river in the state has mudpuppies. They have long been unjustly reviled due to their slimy skin and grotesque appearance. They are beneficial members of the aquatic community feeding on invertebrates and serving as food themselves for larger fish.

 

In early November, mudpuppies congregate in shallow (3 to 5 feet) water to breed. They prefer the rocky areas of lakes or rivers. The nuptial dance, where the male crawls under, over and around the female, ends with deposit of spermatophores. However, egg laying by the female does not occur until the next year in May or June.

 

Tidbits:

  • Long-tailed weasels start to change their pelage in October and by Mid-November. This larger cousin of the ermine can be found in woods, brushy areas and edges. They are most numerous near creeks, lakes, and other water sources. 

  • This time frame coincides with the first arrival of Tundra Swans. Many have flown all the way from the Yukon Flats in Alaska. They now stop for a few weeks in Wisconsin before headed on to the Chesapeake Bay.

  • Huge flocks of Red-winged Blackbird and other blackbirds, cowbirds, and starlings can form wavy formations a mile long. They roost in marshes and fly to fields to feed then return to the marshes at night. The fields around Horicon Marsh can hold hundreds of thousands of blackbirds in early November

  • By walking woodland trials and especially if their near wetland borders, the naturalist can see the real wild American Robin. Many of these November migrants nest in remote areas of Canada where there are no humans. They are secretive and much more intolerant of close approach.

  • Orion becomes much more visible and sky watchers start looking for belts.

  • Black bear find hibernation sites.

  • Just prior to very hard freezing weather the last alfalfa butterfly is seen.

  • Search the brushy areas for the showy fruits of winterberry, bittersweet and burning bush.

  • Shaggy mane mushrooms are sometimes found in abundance on park lawns in November.

  • Globes of carrion flower fruits still hang from the vine.

  • The linden looper moth can be found in high numbers in November and during warm spells it can even emerge in December. This species feeds on basswood and other trees and can sometimes be a serious pest.

  • Peak spawning for the introduced brown trout occurs in gravelly areas in streams.