A Surprise on the Trail

I get off work each day at 2. I rush home and grab the dog, and we hit the trail for 10 minutes before I have to be at school to pick up my daughter. Today, as Joe and I were walking near Shell Ridge, I spotted a tiny lump in the middle of the trail. I realized it was some sort of creature - a rodent - and as I bent down to look at it, it tried to run away and couldn't.

So I picked it up - it squealed - and deposited it in some soft leaves. There it continued to move blindly, mewling. No mom in sight. Well, I couldn't just leave it there, rat or no. I picked it up and drove one-handed, stopping at home for a small box. I grabbed Kate from school, and we high-tailed it out to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum and Hospital, checking on the creature at every stop light. It was breathing, but it's snout was buried in the corner of the box, and it didn't want to be exposed to light.

Its tiny eyes never opened, and it didn't put up much of a fight. I was worried. (By the way, that's my thumb in the picture, so you can see how small it was.)

Lindsay is a rescue organization as well as a museum, and they take in any injured creature that folks find. Kate had once found a baby rat near our compost. We took it to Lindsay, where they identified it as a European black rat, definitely non-native and therefore disposable. The helpful volunteer said, with an eye on six-year old Kate, "we'll take care of this rat for you!" while drawing a finger across her neck. I'm sure that baby rat became food for a recuperating owl or hawk. I've never felt bad about killing the rats I found in the compost ever since, knowing that they are non-native and invasive.

However, this little creature looked different. I was pretty sure it was a mouse of some sort.

We dropped it off with the volunteer and waited to hear the news. Turns out, it was a baby vole! They gave me a sheet with a number on it, and told me to call in a few days, to see how the vole was doing.  Well, Kate and I headed off to piano lessons feeling smug and proud, since we had saved a baby vole.

I didn't know much about voles, except that they wreak havoc in the garden. But this one was on the trail, in its natural habitat, so I didn't have to be indignant. Besides, it was so darn cute. Here's what my research turned up:

Baby California voles grow fur at 5 days after birth, but don't open their eyes until 9 days after birth, so this little guy must have been between 6-8 days old. Female voles are ready to breed again 15 hours after giving birth. (Bless them.) The litters are usually 4-5 young, but can be as large as 10 babies. Voles are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) or nocturnal, and feed mostly on grasses (if a tasty garden is not nearby). They spend most of their time underground. It has numerous natural predators, including hawks, owls, skunks, and snakes.

Here's an adult vole:

Still cute, right?