Ashtabula County Metroparks

For Fun, For Health, For Life

Wetland Wanderings November


By on November 29, 2018

Wetlands Wanderings
In the Eyring Wetlands Park

By Joyce Bond, November 2018

As the cold and gray descended on our Ohio landscape recently, I was fortunate to spend some
time in warm, sunny Florida. I participated in a couple of the local wildlife presentations put on
by some knowledgeable naturalists that included seining for fish and crustaceans in a tidal
estuary and identifying shore birds along a barrier island. It was an interesting venture outside
of what I might see here at home. But it had me thinking about the life of our wildlife during
the Ohio winter.
There are three basic ways that wildlife deal with winter. Like a some of our native Ohio
humans, many of the wetland bird species fly south for the winter. Waterbirds like the loon
and grebe have left the area followed by the seagulls that migrate from this area. Most of the
dabbling waterfowl and diving ducks have also left the area to avoid the frozen water surfaces.
If you find yourself catching a glimpse of a few hardy wetland birds there is a wonderfully
comprehensive catalog of Ohio wetland birds that I highly recommend available at
The other way that animals deal with the winter cold is to plan ahead. They store food, get
there houses ready and bulk up. I spied the winter retreat of the muskrat at Eyring Wetland.
Muskrats have year-around homes that are
either built burrowed into the bank or on the
marsh bottom by piling up the plants into a
dome-shaped mound. In these plant and mud
lodges, the muskrat then chews out an
opening and layers the removed material to
the top of the rising mound up to 2 or 3 feet.
Muskrats spend lots of time in their winter
homes and their shacks — eating food from
their autumn caches plus other marsh plants
foraged under the ice. They can dive for up to
15 minutes to gather plants because their
heart rate decreases under water, and oxygen
is drawn from stores in muscle tissue. Thick,
waterproof fur keeps them dry and warm.

Muskrats are in many ways well adapted to survive the winter. Diving muskrats can gather
food without swallowing water because their lips seal shut behind the incisors. Nimble front
paws manipulate the roots of cattails, water lilies, arrowheads, pondweeds and other marsh
I also saw evidence of beaver activity in the Wetlands. The beaver lives a similar winter
existence to the muskrat using its lodge and the food stored in the fall to stay warm and fed,
with occasional forays down into the water at the underside of their lodge to access food
caches that they have anchored to the bottom of the waterway.
One of our most common squirrels, the Eastern gray squirrels
forage for nuts, seeds, buds, and flowers of trees. As winter
approaches, squirrels carry their food and bury it in several
locations. Eastern gray squirrels have an excellent sense of
smell, which they use to help locate food that they’ve hidden
away. These critters are homeotherms, which means that
unlike some mammals, their body temperatures remain fairly
constant throughout the year; they don’t hibernate. In the
winter, squirrels spend less time foraging outside their dens,
and it’s more common for several squirrels to share a den.
Squirrels also prepare for winter by bulking up. Throughout
fall, they maximize food consumption and body mass. In
winter, when food is hard to come by, these reserves will
help the animals survive. Dens are typically
used by squirrels in the winter and are
constructed in healthy, living trees (often by the
expansion of abandoned woodpecker holes). A
second type of housing are nests or drays.
These are usually located high up in the forked
branches of large trees and consists of leaves and
twigs arranged as needed. Several of these can be
observed at the Eyring Wetlands Park. A dray
usually serves as a place for squirrels to seek
shelter during warmer summer months. However,
drays can also be used by squirrels during the
winter months.
Another animal that we were fortunate enough to
see on our wetland walk was a frog. Amphibians
utilize the third way of dealing with the Ohio
winter and that is to go into hibernation. Frogs
and toads are cold-blooded, so their body temperatures take on the temperature of theenvironment around them. Aquatic
frogs usually spend the winter at the
bottom of a pond or other body of
water. But they don’t burrow down
into the mud. Frogs can be found
hanging out on the bottom,
sometimes even slowly swimming or
moving around. On the day we were
walking, the temperatures had
“soared” to the mid-40’s and our frog
was slowly moving about on the
pond bank.
During my wetland walk, I identified
three typical ways that animals, and
sometimes humans, deal with the
Ohio winter.
 Migration to a warmer area;
 Storing food and preparing a nest to protect them in their year-round habitat; and
 Hibernation
In your yard and in your walks around the Ashtabula County Metroparks you should be able to
identify other animals that use these wintering techniques. So enjoy your winter time
wanderings wherever they may lead.

Sign up for a Bird Count!  December 29th, 2018:  National Audubon Society Annual Christmas Bird Count. People can sign up to count for a full day or a half a day, Mark Hanneman is the Ashtabula County contact person.  He can be reached at 440 -812-5986