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The Backyard Science group regularly features the Daily Bucket. Originally, Kos folks formed the Backyard Science group to provide a forum for documenting  the year-to-year changes around us.  

Yet any natural subject in your neck of the woods, from lichen to spiders to turtles (especially turtles)  is appropriate for a Bucket or a comment for a Bucket.  Is it raining hard on you yet?  New birds at the feeder?  Are the box elder bugs coming indoors? We look forward to your comments about your own natural area, whether it's your backyard, or a favored spot.  Include, as close as you are comfortable, the general site of your location.

I work at a golf course in northwest Oregon. In spots, it features acre-sized patches of dense, unmowed fescue grass, designed to capture errant golf shots.  Fescue is a flowering grass commonly used for turf, easily established, and relatively drought resistant.

We mow the fescue once, in the late fall when the rains start.  During the year, it grows to as much as four feet high, but the wind and rain push the fescue down to lie almost flat, so it often forms a foot-high arch over the ground underneath.

I often walk hundreds of yards a day through the fescue (festuca) fields, in part because you can often find golf balls there.  

 But the fescue also harbors a secret world. When I first began perusing the fescue patches, I had the oddest sensation.  I felt like a character in a Stephen King novel, to whom the very fabric of reality was fraying at the edges of my vision.

 Continue reading below the swirling octopus limbs to learn more.

There it was again --- A flash of brown seen from the corner of my eye.  And again.  I'd wheel around swiftly, but would see nothing beyond the initial hint of brown at shoetop level.

Then I examined the location of that flash of brown.

By gosh, there was a little tunnel plowed through the fescue for quite a distance.  I'd been glimpsing the swift scurry of the Vole through its secret passageways.  I scraped away more of the fescue, and had to admire the elaborate network carved out of this grassy world.

I was looking at the aboveground transportation  infrastructure of the Voles' empire beneath  the fescue.  Voles are what we used to call field mice, before they apparently hired a PR firm and got a new name. Meadow Voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), according to Wiki, share a subfamily (Arvicolinae) with lemmings and muskrats.

There are 150 Vole species.  My primary reason for concluding these are Meadow Moles, rather than another type, is their oft-described characteristic of forming runways or paths in thick grasses.  

Some highly concentrated Vole cities occur in lowland locations on the golf course that suffer seasonal flooding, and sport telltale rushes even in dry seasons.  That comports with descriptions of the Voles' preference for riparian areas.  I occasionally find a possibly drowned Vole, even though they are good swimmers, but my brain immediately recalls every story I ever read about bubonic plague or Hantavirus (both carried occasionally by mice) so I do not scrutinize the remains.

Because of the elaborate network of tunnels, I'd concluded there must be tens of thousands of voles under the several acres of fescue.  Wiki assures readers that density ranges from about 67 to 1482 Voles/acre, with old wetlands fields sheltering the higher populations.

I think my estimates were too high, because I'd mistakenly concluded there were as many as 4 entry holes to underground dens, per square foot of fescue.  When I methodically scraped away the fescue cover, I discovered that what I though were ground entry holes, were actually simply portions of above ground tunnels. A 900 square foot area, more carefully scrutinized, yielded about 27 entry holes.

We don't see any tree damage, so I assume the Voles are eating the fescue roots and seeds. Voles also eat quackgrass, bless their little hearts.

Voles maintain an underground kingdom of nests, which, I imagine, are amply furnished with lost golf balls, at the locations I studied. There are certain areas on the course where no matter how long you search, you simply cannot find a misguided golf ball, among the fescue that is riddled with Vole holes and pathways.

Voles must be tasty, because many birds that are not typical predators of mice, will feast on Voles.  I've personally witnessed a Heron depleting the Vole population, for instance. Virtually all types of raptors, owls, snakes, and hungry mammals also consume Voles.

Here is a broader view of a fescue field, shown immediately after the fall mowing.  The heavy equipment also flattened the remaining mowed fescue into the slick mud produced by nearly two weeks of prior steady rain.

Oddly, We don't see much other wildlife in the fescue.  I encourage the killdeer to lurk there, hoping they would find better cover from their predators, but I haven't yet found the right wee voice to persuade them.

And now, gentle reader, please take a turn at commenting about your corner of the natural world.

The Voles' burrows and pathways in the Fescue-dominated rough areas of the golf course provide opportunity for selective implementation of golf's complex regulations, including the "burrowing animal" rule. I will describe a hopefully amusing incident of this soon, in a separate non-Bucket diary, titled "The Greenskeeper and the Racist's Comeuppance."

"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!

After a hiatus of over 1 1/2 years, Meteor Blades has revived his excellent series.  As MB explained, this weekly diary is a "round-up with excerpts and links... of the hard work so many Kossacks put into bringing matters of environmental concern to the community... I'll be starting out with some commentary of my own on an issue related to the environment, a word I take in its broadest meaning."

"Green Diary Rescue" will be posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page.  Be sure to recommend and comment in the diary.

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