Muskrat at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015.

A Morning With Muskrat, Oxbow Nature Study Area

In Truckee River trails, Wildlife, Winter by KelseyFitzgerald6 Comments


If you follow 2nd Street west until the end, then continue down Dickerson Road past the warehouses and apartment complexes, you’ll descend a small hill, pass through a gate, and arrive at a quiet place called the Oxbow Nature Study Area.  Despite its downtown location, Oxbow feels peaceful and secluded, and is arguably the best place in Reno to experience native riparian (riverside) habitat.  That’s not to say that the site is undisturbed and undeveloped, as it also hosts a network of hiking trails, benches, interpretive signs, and a pond with an observation deck — but unlike many Reno parks, the vegetation is native and there’s lots of wildlife to see.


Oxbow Nature Study Area is located in Reno, NV at 3100 Dickerson Road.

The entrance to Oxbow Nature Study Area is located in Reno, NV at 3100 Dickerson Road.

Wildlife at Oxbow Pond
Patricia Bouweraerts sent two photographs of mystery mammals that she saw swimming in the pond in Oxbow in November (thanks Patricia!) and said:

“On Nov. 15, between 3-3:30 p.m., I was at Oxbow Nature Study Area, and saw about two-three small mammals swimming in the pond by the viewing platform. I don’t know if they are baby beavers, muskrat or mink, and didn’t have my long lens with me. The attached pic was taken at 3:25, and I took it as one was shaking water off of its fur, and another may be right behind.”

Here are her photos (click to enlarge): Do you recognize these animals?

Mystery mammals in Oxbow pond, Nov. 2014. Photo by Patricia Bouweraerts.
Mystery mammals in Oxbow pond, Nov. 2014. Photo by Patricia Bouweraerts.

Mystery mammals at Oxbow pond, Nov. 2014. Photos by Patricia Bouweraerts. 

If you guessed muskrat, you’re correct.  Beaver and muskrat look similar from a distance (both brown, furry and hang out in ponds), but are easy to tell apart of you can get a look at their tails: Beaver tails are wide and paddle-shaped, and muskrat have thin tails, like rats.  As adults, beaver are also much bigger.  In Patricia’s photos, you can’t see the tail, but Aaron Keller, NDOW’s Regional Wildlife Coordinator, identified this animal as a muskrat.

“They are very common in and around the pond at the Oxbow Nature Study Area, and they are very photogenic,” according to Keller. “We are very glad that we have those little guys swimming and sunbathing in front of the pond deck.”


The pond at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015.

The pond at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015.

Just for fun (do I have a strange idea of fun?), I went down to Oxbow this morning with my camera and my coffee, and waited on the deck by the pond to see if a muskrat would appear.  Red-winged blackbirds sang and whistled from the tops of the dried cattails, and the mountains and treetops in the distance glowed with morning light.  I could see my breath, but I felt warm.  I waited for what seemed like long enough, then just as I was getting up to leave, I saw a ripple in the water across the pond.  A tiny brown head plowed through the water near the cattails, then veered left, and swam straight toward the deck where I was sitting, propelling itself with its thin tail.  A muskrat!  It dove, and a few seconds later I saw it swim under the red wooden deck, only a few feet from where I sat.  A train came by (as they often do at Oxbow), shrieking and rumbling, temporarily drowning out the peace of the morning.  The blackbirds sang on, unconcerned.

A muskrat swimming across the pond at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015.

A muskrat swimming across the pond at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015. 

Muskrat at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015.

Muskrat at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015.

A muskrat (bottom left) swims past, underwater. Note the thin tail.

A muskrat (bottom left) swims past, underwater. Note the thin tail.  Feb. 26, 2015.

Red-winged blackbirds sing from the tops of cattails, Oxbow Pond, Feb. 26, 2015.

Red-winged blackbirds sing from the tops of cattails, Oxbow Pond, Feb. 26, 2015.


On my way out, I stopped at the river overlook deck, and heard a rustling in the bushes. Look close; can you see who it was?

A raccoon peers out from the vegetation at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015.

A raccoon peers out from the vegetation at Oxbow Nature Study Area, Feb. 26, 2015. 

A beautiful February morning on the Truckee, in Oxbow Nature Study Area.

A beautiful February morning on the Truckee, in Oxbow Nature Study Area.

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Comments

  1. Two or three months ago a muskrat was frequently active under the Booth St. bridge, but I haven’t seen it since the water rose.

  2. Author

    That’s good to know, Oxbow is the only place I’ve seen them yet. Thanks Dylan!

  3. I love this! Your voice is so strong ! The writing is beautiful and I love that little muskrat!!

    1. Author

      Thanks Aunt Kim, it was a beautiful morning and a cute little muskrat!

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