Photo of the Week – March 6, 2015

Ok, it’s not a world class photo from an artistic standpoint, but it tells a story.  I just wish I knew what the story was…

Hot cross buns?

Hot cross buns?  Little mounds of snow apparently pushed up by a small mammal tunneling beneath the snow.   Restored prairie at Deep Well Waterfowl Production Area, west of Aurora, Nebraska.  February 2015

I noticed these two small mounds of snow last month in a restored prairie west of town.  I was scurrying around with my camera as the sun dropped quickly toward the horizon, hoping to get some photos before the light disappeared.  The mounds were maybe 3 inches in diameter, and when I looked straight down at the left one, I could see a small tunnel leading straight down.  If I hadn’t been distracted by the fading light and my self-imposed urgency to use it photographically, I would have done the smart naturalist thing and dug around to see what the tunnels looked like.

My guess is that these were formed by a tunneling vole that needed to push some snow up and out of its tunnel, but I’m not sure I’ve seen this before.  There were no tracks above the snow that would have indicated a deer mouse or other similar creature.  Any other suggestions?

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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6 Responses to Photo of the Week – March 6, 2015

  1. Angela Anderson says:

    I enjoy your blog and your sometimes subtle observations.

  2. btremback says:

    Weasel? It has as much reason to stay under snow as rodents, considering its size. Maybe sticking its head out to check out where it is, what’s going on?

  3. steve says:

    If it was on my prairie or restoration in Missouri, it would be moles. They’re active all winter. I find runs anytime the ground isn’t frozen.

  4. Looks like a big eyed crocodile emerging from the snow. Looking for Captain Hook!

  5. Gay Gilbert says:

    I hope you get to do your ‘naturalist thing’ next time you see this phenom and solve the mystery. Fascinating! Love your blog, even tho I’m far away in sunny ‘hottish’ Arizona…..Gay Gilbert

  6. I think you might be looking at an unused/planned escape hatch or entryway. The vole(?) in question excavated to the surface of the snow, but had no actual reason to go out on the surface so the entrance was left uncompleted – you see this sometimes in underground rodent burrows and I am pretty sure that I have seen it a couple of times in snow also.

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