Microtus Townsendii: The humble Townsend’s vole. This one hung from a tiny stick by its teeth. When you see their feet like that, there’s no wonder their tracks have long skinny fingers in them. The field we found him in was a warren of vole tunnels, trails, and sign. Every step I took, I knew I was collapsing the roof of some small critter’s hallway or dinning room. Take that, you midget nibblers! Yes, relatively small, but so numerous. What they lack in grandiosity, they make up in consequence. I bet they transformed this field when they first arrived. The “meadow” in the park next to my city home seems lifeless compared to this one. It is not blessed with a single vole. After any half hour exploring vole tunnels, you know what fields do for voles, but what exactly do voles do for fields?
|Drew Middlebrooks inspects a Townend's vole (Microtus townsendii)|
Cervus elaphus roosevelti: They were eating sword fern! They didn’t seem to care about the car stopped 10 feet away and went on crunching the vegetation without even a raised eyebrow. The top two or three inches of each tough frond was ripped off and vanished. Why swords and not all that tender spring green stuff?
|A Roosevelt elk browses in the Hoh rainforest.|
Lepus americanus: Two snowshoe hare were sitting by the exclosure fence when we arrived. I’ve always been startled by how their bodies are the perfect picture of hell-bent runner even when they go a short 5 feet and then stop. How do they get so wound up in only the first few inches? Zero to sixty to zero in half a dozen feet. Then they execute those dainty hops that look so relaxed and floating they make me sleepy.
|Snowshoe hare outside the elk exclosure.|
Ursus americanus: The black bear tracks were massive. Almost every time I find a good way across a wild river or creek, (a downed tree, a beaver dam, or a perfect place to swim and climb up on the other side) there are the bear tracks. Good shallow fording spots with the usual loose river rocks are not attractive to the bears. They are the masters of crossing finesse and seem to protect their unshod feet. I want to know if it used the human trail on the other side of the river or came to the tree-bridge bushwhacking.
|Black bear tracks on a sandbar of the South Fork of the Hoh River.|