The voles are really soft and kind of sweet, though they are not at all happy about being caught and held. However, they have adapted to stress. In their lives they are stressed often, like every time a bird of prey flies overhead, so their bodies are well suited to handle the physical response to stress. They calm down and carry on immediately after the scary thing has passed. So as soon as we release this little guy, he'll be happy again.
It is hard to catch the vole in the plastic bag. It wants to run away. This little guy was hard to trap in the corner because he kept squirming. If you grab them by the fur/skin on the back of the neck, between the head and shoulders, you can pinch there to hold them up without hurting them. They have no nerves there, so they can be carried without any pain. It is just like how a cat can pick up her kittens by biting them on the back of the neck to carry them.
When we took a close look at this guy, we discovered he was the one we caught this morning! He must have been really hungry. When I opened the trap this afternoon, he had pooped a lot from his two big trap meals!
Today we did a lot in the field. We did three transects for deer droppings. This meant we used four poles to stake out a measured area of 10 meters by 10 meters. Then we stood at arm's length from each other along one side of the square and all walked or crawled through the square counting how many piles of deer droppings we found. On Friday morning we will learn how to use those numbers to extrapolate how many deer live in the area.
Then we made habitat piles again in part of the forest. This is sort of a complicated thing to me: this area of the forest is relatively new growth, but with some non-native species, and is cluttered because of human intervention about 20 years ago (before the research started here). So the scientists decided to thin it by taking out certain trees. Normally, whatever trees die in a forest would fall to the ground and become nice habitats for animals as they slowly decay and become part of the floor. However, since the thinning of the forest meant a lot of trees were cut down all at once, the normal pace of forest decay and regrowth was sped up. That means that the forest floor had way more debris on it than would normally occur. This means that the general habitat was more cluttered, and more difficult for the larger animals to get around. So we cleaned up the debris, to get the area back to the way it was before the thinning and cutting. However, by piling all the debris into big mounds, we created things larger animals can use to hide in, sleep in, or have babies in. So we turned too much clutter into nice new homes for animals. Here are pictures of team members at work and piles we built.
It will take some time for the animals to make use of these piles. They need to figure out that suddenly these piles exist, and it will take some time for our scents to wear off.