Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vole Watching

Lake in the Woods, Douglas County, Oregon: October 2010

A vole shot in Yellowstone. Voles are cousins of mice. Their ears close to their heads and they have short little tails. They are an important food source for many predators, from harriers to foxes and coyotes.

How many of you have ever gotten a good photo of a vole ….. or even tried to? If you’ve never even tried, you probably are in the wiser portion of the population. I did get a good photograh, ONCE, mostly by accident. I was photographing pikas in Yellowstone and out popped a little vole. I had just time enough to snap off this shot.

Even seeing a vole happens about once in a blue moon. My blue moon just happened.

We arrive at Lake in the Woods later than usual. Autumn is in the air. By the time we eat lunch several darners and meadowhawks are flying. I walk down to the water’s edge and zip! A vole runs across the three feet of bare shoreline below our favorite lunch site. Hummm …. Don’t get to see those often.

I continued on down the path that runs between cattails and forest looking for dragonflies. When I returned I spook a vole a second time, zipping across the same opening. Two sightings! Now my interest is piqued.

Best way to see more is to sit and watch … and best way for me to extend my patience is to sketch or paint. A pretty little butterfly is sipping nectar from purple pennyroyal blossoms. So I settled down onto the ground and get my paints out.

Twenty minutes later I am just finishing my butterfly when Dale comes along. Zip! There scurries a vole again. Have I been too busy painting to see them, or has it taken 20 minutes for them to relax? In any case, Dale fetches a stool and joins me.

There is a small carpet of trefoil to my right. The tender trefoil appears to be what the vole is after. The vole has to cross the three feet of bare shoreline to return to a thick clump of grass where I believe it lives. Except for this spot, the shoreline in this area disappears into thick cattails.

Soon there is a wiggle in the trefoil here … and a wiggle there. It is plain there is more than one vole. Dale sees one is much larger than another. I’ve seen two smalls ones … so we have at least three voles, probably a family.

Photographing voles is way harder than photographing chickarees! When one zips across the open space between trefoil and home base, I can’t even swear it has legs. I see a furry bratwurst with a stubby tail fly by. Once in the trefoil patch we know where they are by the wiggling vegetation.

I’m still sitting on the ground, my feet near their patch of trefoil. Oops! One is curious about me. I see wiggles in the trefoil approaching my foot… and my open pant leg. He wouldn’t dare run into my pant leg, or would he? My shoe has packed down the vegetation . He comes out into the packed area, into the open, for just a moment, then turns and darts back into the trefoil. I don’t want to spook him, but that was getting a little close for comfort.

Dale and I watch the little voles family busy foraging for an hour. Mostly we watch vegetation wiggling. Eventually we realized there are 4 voles, one adult and three youngsters. One by one they finally zipped across the little opening heading home. We never did get a good photograph, just bits and pieces of anatomy, or out of focus … at least I got a nose and hind toes in focus!


  1. Dear Elva,
    Oh, so cute photos and a beautiful illustration(reminds me of a picture book, Mother Goose). Thank you for your hard work!! Why are their ears bigger than mice? (*of course they need to catch sounds well, but any other reason?)
    Kind regards, Sadami

  2. I thought your chickarees were cute, but these are adorable! I love the furry bratwurst illustration.
    Vole up the trouser leg... hmm. It reminds me of the meerkats, and how one would sometimes come right up to you and peer really intently into your face. You'd just be thinking, 'oh how sweet', when it would suddenly thrust a paw up your nostril (surely there's a bug in there somewhere)!

  3. Wow! Furry bratwurst with stubby tails!! You DO live in an enchanted world, Elva! Would love to join you!!

  4. I think these photos are fabulous. You two are so patient. I have never had the opportunity to photograph them. I have been sitting on the patio and heard them squeek as they plow through the duff. I have seen them run right by me but they are so fast I don't get such a good look. I don't know what their predator is here. Iknow Luna (my dog) would eat one if she could catch it. She isn't too fast though. She has dug up moles before. UGH...

  5. I'm happy you all like my furry bratwirsts. They are cute. Their ears are pretty large, but tucked close to their heads because they spend so much time in tunnels, especially in packed mats of old grasses.

    ... I didn't know meerkats are explorers. A pet raccoon is wonderful ... lovely soft paws, always ready to explore inside your ears, nose, between your toes.... I wish it was still legal to keep one.