Georgia (US State)
Round-tailed Muskrats in the Okefenokee Region
In May 2012 I stopped in southern Georgia for a night on my way to a bat catching blitz in Florida.
Round-tailed Muskrats are a species which had generated a fair bit of correspondence on the mammalwatching blog over the years and I know of no one who has seen one other than Vladimir Dinets, who reported seeing a couple at Grand Bay near Moody Air Force Bay in south-east Georgia. So I went to Georgia and met up with John Fox who was also very keen to see this species.
I did a bit of research before I got there. Vladimir had seen rats at Grand Bay: he saw one swimming and another sitting on top of a nest. Greg Nelms, a biologist at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, knew a fair bit about the animals in Grand Bay. He said they were rare there, hard to see and very difficult to trap (plus they are endangered so I’d have needed a permit).
The only area of the swamp where he had seen nests was in the prairie areas (areas of floating vegetation), to the north of the observation tower. A map is here (the “neotema” label should say “neofiber“). But to get out there I’d need a canoe. There was nowhere to hire one that I could find, and I didn’t think American Airlines would let me check one in from New York …
So I met up with John Fox in the late afternoon and we walked the boardwalk. It is a lovely spot but there was no sign of a muskrat nor any nests. I did see an Eastern Fox Squirrel in the car park.
From there we headed to nearby Banks Lake Outpost where we could rent a canoe, even if we could only paddle on the lake behind the outpost. The friendly manager said biologists had never found rats on the lake, but they had said they might be there. Needless to say we didn’t find one in an hour’s paddling at dusk. We did something that might have been a nest, but probably wasn’t. The rats nest on floating clumps of vegetation, as shown in Greg Nelms’ photo from the Okefenokee Swamp. The nests are quite large – some people can spot them from the air during surveys. No muskrats, but it was fun to paddle among the Alligators.
The next morning I took a three hour canoe trip through the Okefenokee at dawn. It was beautiful. Heaps of Alligators, plus a Fox Squirrel and a White-tailed Deer along the swamp drive. Marsh Rabbits are reported from here too though I didn’t see one.
I’d spoken to a biologist at the swamp who said that the rats were sparsely distributed but she’d seen nests occassionally out in the prarie areas. I’d left it too late to get a permit to canoe camp. Perhaps if I’d gotten one a paddle in the dark through some of the right habitat might have been productive (it is possible to hire canoes for day or longer trips from the park HQ east of Folkston).
Williams Bluff Preserve, South West Georgia
In May 2020 I was desperate to get out of New York City, so once travel restrictions eased I popped down to Georgia, one of the few states that had reopened after Covid-19. Although The Nature Conservancy’s Williams Bluff Reserve was closed because of coronavirus, I was given permission to visit by the extremely helpful Malcolm Hodges from TNC (thanks Matt Miller for the introduction!). He also was interested for me to set traps to see what small mammals I could find.
This is a lovely reserve but perhaps May isn’t the best time to find smaller mammals. Despite 100 trap nights I caught only three Cotton Mice and my first Oldfield Mouse. I also saw two armadillos and many White-tailed Deer and Eastern Cottontails. The reserve has a dense population of South Eastern Pocket Gophers but it was already too hot for them to be active above ground and I couldn’t find any fresh mounds.
Florida and Georgia, 2019: Sjef Ollers, a few days & 13 species including Southern Short-tailed Shrew, Bobcat, River Otter and the last few seconds of a Round-tailed Muskrat‘s life.
Northern Georgia, 2017: Vladimir Dinets and a few tips on sites for various (mainly small) mammals.
RFI Mammals in Athens, Georgia (Feb, 2015)