Monday, November 3, 2014

Mopack Meadow Vole

     I need to preface this story with another consideration. Last spring I bought a used truck. I got ripped off, and soon realized I had a worthless hunk of metal sitting outside the house. So I sold the thing back in September, at a huge loss, and resolved to just ride my bike everywhere until I left for Australia next Febraury. So now, I bike everywhere, rain, sleet, wind, or shine, and I really like it. Albeit, my bike is showing a little ware and tear.
     So I'm visiting my mom, who lives 12 miles out of town. The good part is there's a nice gravel bike trail, we call the mopack, that goes right past here house only 3/4 miles to the north. So since the evening darkness is coming on cooler and earlier everyday, I fancied the idea of riding back to town in the dark to try to find some mammals on that bike trail. I figure, no one will be out, and there's plenty of cover along the trail. It's a recipe for success!
The Meadow Vole I found tonight.

      So I saddle up on my 1980's Mongoose road bike (it was my dad's bike, back in his college days). My back pockets are stuffed with leather gloves, and a old pillow case, while my camera is strapped to my belt, and my tripod is in my backpack's left water bottle pouch. I flip the peddle lace over my left foot, and swing my right leg over while pressing into the cycle. I click on the red strobe attached to my back side, and press on my white beam head lamp before I hit the road.
     To my great pleasure, I have a nice tail wind tonight. And as I scream down the gravel road hill to the trail, splashing my tires too far to either side into loose gravel, I remember just how sharp I need to be to ride state-maintained gravel roads, as I hit a monstrous wash out at the bottom of the hill. This wash board nearly jumps me off the road. Then out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of rusty red and black fur running up out of the ditch. The tom cat trots right out in from of my 25 MPH blazing hot wheels, and I momentarily wonder if I should even try the brakes. But the cat made it to the ditch fine, and I made it to the trail head fine too.
A Vole we caught in mammalogy class

One of the Meadow Voles I caught in
mammalogy class.
      As I beep-bop down the bike trail, I scan the ditches and trees for eyes. For almost 3 miles, all I see is mile markers and street signs. Then a bolt of adrenaline hits my chest, as I see a pair of galloping stars in the road ahead turn into 3 pairs of bouncing eyes. BOOYAH!! We've got action up here. Before I could think about what was happening, I was pedaling at double-time speed, no handle bars, as my hands turn my light beam to bright, and I whip out my camera, and press record while barreling full speed ahead. The 3 nice fat coons, galloped down the ditch and crossed the fence as I approached, and I didn't get a much from this beside hope for more animals ahead.
     As I neared the city, I rode through a village. Only about 3/4 of a mile after the village, I spotted a small brown ball of fur in the rode. A Microtus!!! My mind goes instantly to the Genus name because I just had a Mammalogy test over this a few days ago. This little rodent is commonly known as the Meadow Vole. I ditch my bike right as he heads for the ditch. I dove with cupped hands to gently catch the small mammal, and darn it if my knee cap didn't find the pointiest, most painful rock to jab into!
Selfies! :) -from mammalogy class
     While I set up the filming gear, I reflected on the life history of Microtus pensylvanicus, the Meadow Vole. It is a very prolific breeder, as most food sources for carnivorous animals usually are. The vole reaches sexual maturity after only a few weeks and can raise several litters of young in a year. They don't commonly live longer than a year or two. The Meadow Vole feeds on succulent parts of plants like the leaves, stems, and flowers, but they also eat seeds, and will eat tree bark in rough time. The Meadow Vole is not very fast at escaping capture because it spends most of it's time scampering through it's labyrinth of tunnels through the grass. I was thrilled to have caught the first mammal of this winter's mammal filming season.
     Even though these little guys are cute as a button, I know it's important to remember, they have a roll in the ecosystem as a food source, and nutrient converter much like other animals. So I let the Vole go on his way, and I hopped back on my bike to go on my way. Just enjoying the tail wind and the sense of a mission accomplished.