Usually, I manage to juggle my SEANET responsibilities amid my teaching ones. These past couple of weeks, as I descended into finals and student hysteria, I had to entirely toggle off you all and this blog. Apologies for that, but I submitted final grades today, and now turn my attention to you all once again. Today, I have a request for help with identifications on some mystery skulls and weathered wings–it seems our reputation precedes us on that score.
The photos come from an island off the Massachusetts coast, and as I paged through them all, there was a good bit of evidence of muskrat activity–trails, little piles of vegetation, and scat everywhere. Muskrats are native to New England, but when they manage to get out to distant islands, and their predators don’t follow, artificially high numbers can result.
Appledore Island in Maine has historically had a high muskrat population as well, and the animals have become so acclimated to humans that they scamper around in plain sight and approach people unnervingly closely. Last summer, however, there was a conspicuous lack of these rodentine islanders. It seems likely that the Snowy Owls that overwintered on the Isles of Shoals fed heavily on the muskrats, to the extent that I did not see a single one during my week on the island. Their homes and trails looked fairly deserted, and muskrat bones and leathery, weathered skin lay strewn about on all the trails.
There were owls up and down the New England coast this past winter, so it may be that the muskrat populations are reduced on other islands too. But on all these islands, unless every last muskrat was eaten, their populations will likely rebound now that the predation pressure is back down to low levels.
Now, for your perusal, the dead bird photos. I have my strong suspicions regarding their identities, but I want to get some unbiased opinions from you all first.