Who Done It?

Sandy River

These tracks were found coming from the water's edge of the Sandy River, a fairly swift mountain stream originating on Mt. Hood west of Portland, Oregon. The substrate was wet sand.

Photo by Dennis Deck

Who is this little creature? [ View Answer ]


The front foot has 4 toes. A close look at the hind track reveals 5 toes (though the first is faint and offset to the inside). That pattern identifies this animal as a member of the rodent order. The size of the track eliminates squirrels and anything smaller. The proximity to water is another important clue but this is much smaller than a beaver.

This muskrat hauled out of the water in a quiet stretch of the Sandy River in Oxbow Park one morning in April. At first the tracks seemed out of place on a fast moving stream like the Sandy but this wasn't the first time I had seen evidence of this aquatic mammal. On a visit to the park the previous fall, I saw cut reeds in the water downstream of this spot but was assured by a local naturalist that muskrat were not found in the park. However, on other visits to the area I found further evidence of muskrat and one day in July I was able to observe a muskrat upstream of this location, swimming along the bank.

Although muskrat are more typically seen around cattail marshes and lakes, apparently they can live in fairly swift moving water. With a bit of research I have found other references to muskrats living in moving water.

For Oregonians in the Portland area, the cattail pond at Fernhill wetlands (south of the Forest Grove sewage plant) is an excellent place to observe muskrat at work and play.

[ View Question ] - [ Return to Menu ]