Photographing birds turns into tug-of-war with muskrat in Bangor

I skipped out of the office early yesterday to take a walk in Bangor’s Essex Woods and see if any egrets or herons had returned to the bog yet this year. I didn’t see any of those big wading birds, but I did run across a wide variety of songbirds and several eastern kingbirds, grey and white flycatchers that are a lot of fun to watch. I was also greeted by a group of mallard ducks, many of them this year’s young, now at their awkward “teenage” stage. And I had fun photographing a variety of bees, including a bee-like insect with a shiny green head.

The bog had changed a lot in the past few weeks, I noticed. The cattails and grasses surrounding the water had grown tall so that the water was only visible from the path in a few places. This is great for wildlife — a place for species to nest and travel under cover.

I had a funny wildlife run-in because of the tall grass, actually — though I didn’t capture evidence of it on camera. As I walked along the path that travels around the edges of the bog, I heard a rustling in the grass and cattails from time to time, and sometimes I would peer in to see if I could spot an animal. Usually, it was a mallard duck, coming up onto the path from the water. I was headed back to the car when I noticed a bunch of cattails swaying beside the path. Certain it was another duck, I walked up to the cattails and grabbed ahold of a few to part them and have a look. I looked down and saw a muskrat gnawing on the base of the cattail — one I was holding. We appeared to be playing tug-of-war with the cattail. Then he (or she) looked up, and upon seeing me, dropped his end of the green stalk, turned and fled through the cattails and grasses toward the water, his dark ratlike tail trailing behind him. Not meaning to rob him of his cattail, I threw it after him and said, “You can have it back!” — then started laughing. If anyone had been walking nearby, I’m sure they would have wondered what I was doing.

I did a little research later and learned that muskrats use aquatic plants, especially cattails, to build their lodges.

Anyway — here are a few photos from the trip. I’m sorry I didn’t have the wits about me to photograph the muskrat. But I’m OK with just having the funny memory.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at