Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Shrew, a Vole and a Weasel - Oh yes, and a Killer Chipmunk

A Meadow Vole peeks out from one of many hiding places at the blind
I often get a nice variety of small rodents around one of our beaver dams. They come over to the blind in order to partake of the bird seed that I put down there. A few months ago, I wrote a blog entry about the Jumping Mice that were showing up at this same place after sunset. But while the sun is still up, it's mostly shrews and Meadow Voles that come. In fact there is a little Short-tailed Shrew scurrying around at my feet right now. It’s interesting to see how he varies his route over to the seed every other time or so. I imagine that he's trying not to be too predictable in case there's a predator watching - or someone with a camera.
The Short-tailed Shrew looks a bit like a gray furry bullet

 Including its short tail, the meadow Vole is about 5.5 inches long
There's probably not a prettier little animal than a Meadow Vole. They have a stout round look and a gentle mouse-like face  with round furry ears. They also have a rich brown coat with reddish highlights. On the other hand the Short-tailed shrew is a strange looking little being with very indistinct facial features - especially when viewed from directly above. In fact this animal looks a bit like a fuzzy bullet. They are uniformly silvery gray. They also have pointed faces that look like they have spent some time in a pencil sharpener. OK, so they are not that attractive, but I can just imagine what I look like to them. Actually, I suspect that to them, I look like a pair of shoes.
Both the Meadow Vole and the Short-tailed Shrew have relatively short tails
At 4 inches long with a 1"tail, the Northern Short-tailed Shrew is our largest Shrew
The diets of these 2 small rodents are for the most part quite different; while the Meadow Vole feeds on a wide variety of plant material, the Shrew eats mostly insects - some it will paralyze with its poisonous saliva and store for later use. Obviously both species appreciate sunflower seeds and peanuts. When they come to feed at the same time, it's obvious that the vole and the shrew don't get along very well and too frequently they become involved in yelling matches. They don't actually get into physical fighting, but they only sound as if they're going at it. Their vocalizations are very harsh. The sound is like something between an old door creaking and the noise made by handling Styrofoam. I'm not sure which creature is responsible for the bulk of this noise, but I suspect it's that shrew.
Looking a bit like a mouse herself, the Ermine or Short-tailed Weasel preys mainly on mice
There's a weasel on the move 
I just watched the Vole run off and this time it went right to the beaver dam and disappeared into a crevice.There are a million places for a mouse to hide out in in a beaver dam and that’s true for a beaver lodge as well. That's one of the reasons that predators like to hunt on beaver dams. Weasels like the Ermine and the Mink are particularly well suited for hunting on a beaver dam. Their extremely thin bodies allow them to enter some of the most narrow crevices and mouse burrows.
Later in the fall the Ermine will turn completely white except for a black tip on the end of its tail

Possibly the weasel was attracted to the site by the noise made by the shrew and the vole 
The female Short-tailed Weasel is between 5 and 8 inches long. The male is slightly longer
I saw an Ermine (AKA: Short-tailed Weasel) on the beaver dam a few days ago. She was threading herself through the piles branches and logs that make up the back side of the dam. At one point her attention turned to the blind. Evidently she must have recently seen or heard the small rodent activity that takes place there and so she thought she might try her luck at catching something. After comically popping just her head out of several different rotten logs near the blind, she finally got the nerve to run past me. She blasted over to the post where most of the seed is placed and quickly investigated all of the little nooks where the Chipmunks, sparrows and and mice scurry in and out from.
Weasels can fly? Well, not really, but they can jump pretty well
Another kind of weasel that hunts on the beaver dam is the Mink
I had a great view of this and thought that I was filming it, but alas, my camera was not set properly as so I taped a lot of nothing instead. At one point, she entered the bottom of a dilapidated bat house that I keep in the blind and use as a second tier seed tray. She climbed up through the slatted box and poked her skinny head out of a hole that some Red Squirrel had chewed through the side of it. It was then that a Chipmunk came on the scene. I thought, oh no, that poor little chipmunk is in for it now. Run for your life, little chippy! No, this great bull chipmunk ran right up into the weasel's face and sent it scrambling away with a flea in its ear (and no, not literally a flea). Now who expected that to happen!. Granted, a Short-tailed Weasel is about the same size as a Chipmunk - if skinnier and a little longer. All I can say to the Chipmunk is don't try that trick on the Mink - and positively don't try it on the Fisher!
Don't let this tough guy ever catch you in some dark back alley 
An immature Sharp-shinned Hawk is trying to scare up something on the beaver dam
The day after all of the weasel action, an immature male Sharp-shinned Hawk was seen hunting on the beaver dam. Sharp-shinned Hawks specialize in hunting birds for the most part, so what was he doing there?  Currently we are in the midst of a rather impressive sparrow migration and occasionally Song Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows hunt for insects on and around the beaver dam, so maybe these songbirds were what the Sharp-shin was interested in. Well, he never caught anything at that dam, but when he left he flew low over the stream and landed somewhere behind the next beaver dam. I guess that maybe this particular Sharp-shinned Hawk specializes in hunting on beaver dams. I should have warned him about the killer Chipmunk that lives here. 
Swamp Sparrows are occasionally hanging out on the dam these day

Song Sparrows are the most commonly occurring species near the beaver pond

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