What You Can See on March 13

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Muskrat Love In every contiguous state and north to Arctic tundra, muskrats are beginning or about to begin their long, productive breeding season. Four times the size of Norway rats but stockier and with rounder ears and blunter faces, they are really aquatic voles. And like other voles, they are primarily herbivores, consuming a wide variety of marsh plants with occasional side dishes of mussels, crayfish, frogs, and turtles. On still nights listen for the squeaky vocalization of the courting female, approximated with surprising accuracy in the pop song “Muskrat Love.” Where there is still ice you’ll see muskrats popping up through the dome-shaped “push-ups” they have maintained all winter. In warmer latitudes look for them at the apex of the V’s they carve on moonlit or starlit water, as they paddle with outward-turned feet, steering with vertically flattened tails, heads, and rumps above the surface, pushing silver wedges of “bow wake.” Return of the Striper Fresh from the chill Atlantic, silver fish clad in the black pinstripes of football referees (but blessed with better eyesight) are pouring into the Hudson, the Delaware, and the rivers of Chesapeake Bay to spawn in fresh water. The striped bass, a.k.a. “striper,” is capable of attaining weights of more than 100 pounds. Ten to 50 males orbit the larger female, churning the surface and racing over her on their sides, as if wounded. A 4-pound female can produce 426,000 eggs; a 55-pounder, 4.2 million. Stripers, which range naturally from New Brunswick to Florida and west to Louisiana, have been introduced on the Pacific Coast and in freshwater rivers and impoundments around the nation. Recent fluctuations in the native Atlantic population illustrate what waggish conservationists have called “the First Maxim of Fisheries Management”—that is, we don’t start managing a stock until we wipe it out. In the late 1970s Atlantic stripers crashed, due largely to overfishing, but in 1984 Congress relieved the torpid states of management authority and awarded it to the feds. Today, after strict bag limits, the stock has rebounded.