Monday, October 11, 2021

Valiant, Vulnerable Voles (and lots ov pictures!)

This week I had an interesting experience with some baby voles in my yard.  I have a screened porch off the back of my house that opens onto a small deck.  One day this week, I opened the back door and saw a little furry ball on the mat by the deck doorway.  It was not moving much, so I went to investigate.  I found myself up-close-and-personal with a very small vole.  That, in and of itself, was quite unusual.  I know I have voles in the yard because I occasionally see one under the bird feeder (through my office window) and I see their trails under the snow as it melts in late spring.  But, I am usually unable to get anywhere near a vole, and the best pictures I can get are through the office window with the zoom lens.  Instead, I had this view, a few inches from my nose.

Immediately, given this behaviour, I knew something was wrong.  Voles are typically skittish and fast and very good at not being photographed.  They don't do this:

Worried about my little friend, I immediately found a small box and put a handful of chicken scratch grains in it, and sat my little friend in the box, whereupon it immediately began to eat.  I gave it a soft little pat (honestly, it was impossible not to do so) and sat to watch it and have a bit of a think about what to do.

As I sat thinking, I heard a small rustling noise out on the deck.  A quick investigation uncovered a sibling, and I thought my little friend needed company, so I was able to catch the second one and put it into the box as well.

They both ate seeds and explored the box.  I decided to set up a small cage that I had in storage, just to see if the poorly one would improve with a bit of food and drink.  I thought it might be good to keep it safe from birds of prey and other predators for a few hours.  It was definitely much slower than its sibling, and was almost stumbling at times.  

I left them for a while and went back out a few hours later to check on them.  They were both walking around, and I thought the weaker one was doing better, so I decided to let them go.  I put them back out on the deck where they had been.  I decided to sit and watch them for a while, and that was the most delightful experience I've had in a long time.

Can I climb this?

I think I can!

Watch me go!  

Nearly there!

Hurry up!

Hooray!  I'm at the top!

Seriously, does it get any cuter than this?  You can see the one on the right still looks a bit rough.  Its eyes are not quite as bright and alert.  I was still a bit concerned.

Suddenly, there was a little more rustling...and a third one appeared!

I was just riveted, watching these tiny vole siblings running all along the deck steps and in and out of the flowerpots.

Absolutely charming!

I put out some more seed and hoped they would all enjoy it.

I also set up some broken bricks for a climbing exercise area.  They immediately tried it out.

Then I had to go back in the house.  I worked for a while, and then came back out to find them all gone...except for the poorly one.  It was still in one of the flowerpots, but more-or-less lifeless.  It was on its side, feet all stuck out, and cold.  I held it in my hand and saw it making little gasping breaths.  I felt so terribly sad.  I didn't want it to die alone in the flowerpot, so I sat with it in my hand, expecting the end soon.  The end didn't happen all that soon, so I took it inside because I had a long to-do list and needed to get busy.  I just wanted it to be comfortable.  I lay it down on a soft cloth on the top of my dehydrator, which was busy dehydrating tomatoes, and was quite warm as a result.  I thought at least it would die in a warm spot instead of in a cold flowerpot.  I got busy with things in the kitchen and when I checked in about half an hour later, it was sitting up!  I was stunned.  I was absolutely sure it would be dead. 

I hastily got out a syringe that has a tiny plastic tip for administering medications to animals.  I heated a small amount of oat milk, and got some into the syringe.  I managed to get my wee vole to take a drop, and then it put its paws up on the syringe barrel and had several more drops.  I was amazed.  I've never had a creature that was so cold and lifeless and gasping actually make a recovery.  But we weren't out of the woods yet, so I got the cage ready again but this time, I put a heating pad underneath it on low, so that it would keep warm.  Without its littermates, it would be hard to keep warm by itself.  I put it into the cage with seeds and water and a piece of apple, and went about the rest of my day with regular checks on my tiny friend, who was hanging in there, so I kept my fingers crossed.

Honestly, I didn't have high hopes.  I just wanted to do my best for it, but I also know that nature is tough, and this little one was having a difficult time, and sometimes there's nothing we can do.  I checked on it regularly and it had burrowed down into the bedding.  I could still easily touch it and so I gave it more oat milk and told it what a good vole it was and tried to be the best substitute mother vole that I could be.  

By this morning, it had been in the house for 2 days in the heated cage, and I can tell you that as of this morning, that vole has somehow installed rocket-powered boosters on its feet, because it was super fast, and it would have nothing to do with me trying to touch it.  In fact, it had a good attempt at biting my finger, which was very encouraging.  It was just as fast as its siblings were 2 days ago, and was showing no signs of its former dopey, slow self.  

Yesterday I saw one of the siblings still in the same area, so I released my tiny friend this afternoon in the warmest part of the day.  I'd like to think that this vole is quite lucky to have been born in my yard and to have such a rodent-loving, garden-providing human as its caretaker, but I also think I'm even more lucky to have had such a remarkable experience with this lovely gift of nature. I got a picture of it just before release, and I think you can see that its eyes are much more alert. 

Most of the post-release pictures looked like this.  Zoom zoom!

A last clear shot, and then it was off, into the garden beds!  Hooray!  Live long, little vole!

In case you're interested, my tiny friend is a southern red-backed vole (Myodes gapperi).  The reddish brown stripe of fur down its back is a distinctive quality of this vole species.  They eat seeds, roots, nuts, berries, and some insects, and also some green plants.  I never see any damage from voles in my yard, but they have plenty of food sources in the woods surrounding me.  Mother voles have 2 to 4 litters per year of 2 to 8 young.  The average lifespan of a vole in the wild is 3 to 6 months.  It's hard being at the bottom of the food chain.  I'm glad I was able to give this little one a chance.  A lot of people think that voles are mice.  Mice have longer tails and their noses are more pointed, whereas voles have a more blunt, rounded nose.  Their ears are also smaller than most mouse ears.  Of course, if you just catch a fleeting glimpse, it's hard to say for sure.  I hope you get to see one someday!

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Wildlife Weekend

 I had a couple of up-close wildlife encounters this weekend that I wasn't expecting, so I thought I'd share a few pictures.  I don't typically see deer in my yard, even though I live surrounded by woods.   I did see one last year, but just one time.  I'm pretty lucky on that score, because otherwise they'd decimate my garden.  Well, today was an exception. first, there was a lookout.

She gave the signal....and the rest appeared.

I believe it was a mother and her young.

All three of her young!  They sampled the hostas.

A lovely family really.  But I don't want them to make a habit of visiting.

The littlest one.

They look fairly healthy so that made me happy.  Just please...stay away from my veggie garden!

A visitor that I don't really mind in my veggie garden was this little friend I found in the greenhouse today while I was picking tomatoes.  She was pretty shy.

She was playing hide-and-seek for a while.

When she finally showed herself, I realized she was a lovely two-toned little mouse.  I'd never seen one quite like this before, so I was excited to look up the species.

This is Zapus hudsonius, the meadow jumping mouse.  I can tell you that she definitely lives up to her name.  She took amazing leaps when I got too close to her, which is how I first noticed her.  Boing!!  Boing!!

For scale, here she is next to a cherry tomato.  Awww.  She was absolutely adorable.  I don't mind sharing some tomatoes with her.  I read that they eat seeds, fruits, and some insects.  She will hibernate soon.  Perhaps she thinks my greenhouse is a good place to hibernate.  She is most welcome to stay there.  I gave her a piece of pumpkin and some chicken scratch grains as well.  

The greenhouse would be a good place to stay over the winter - warmer than other locations, with lots of seeds in the soil, and protected from predators because of its door.  Stay cozy, little one!