BIRD WATCH: Rumpled ground gives clue in mole mystery

GRAY SQUIRRELS AND cottontail rabbits are Penny Dog’s favorite prey.

Perhaps prey isn’t the correct word, as she isn’t very happy if they stop running. The fun is in the chase.

A walk to pick up the morning paper is her chance to sniff every inch of ground between the paper box and the back door.

One morning, she found something new and didn’t quite to how to respond to the creature — the very dead creature.

There didn’t appear to be a mark on it. There were, however, two nearby hills of dirt obviously created by this dead mole. It was actually lying right between them.

Penny sniffed it from head to tail but very carefully. Her reaction to the corpse was surprising. It was obvious she didn’t want to touch it. The two hills and the ground around them also received a careful inspection.

If you ask, “What kills moles,” you get the usual answers: dogs, cats, coyotes, foxes and hawks.

I can’t imagine a hawk catching a mole. Maybe if it was very careless and active during the daylight hours, it might happen.

The hills created by the moles have been everywhere this past summer. Something else that’s been everywhere has been large holes around or in the middle of the mole hills.

I’ve seen them before, but not as numerous as this year. If we had large snakes in this area, they would be suspect.

This summer, these round holes were not only all over the place, but the ground has been “rumpled up.” It’s as though a creature has been moving just under the surface.

All of these mysteries came to a head when the dead mole was found.

What was doing this? I had a thought that it might be a weasel.

Some further research has convinced me that this was the mystery killer.

Weasels top the list when it comes to hunting moles. Not only that, they actually hunt them in their burrows.

We do have weasels in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, the long-tailed weasel is found throughout the entire state of Washington. These creatures that are most active during the night are common, but we just don’t see them very often.

I’ve seen a weasel twice. The first one was gamboling about in the parked cars waiting on the Edmonds ferry dock. It ran up from the beach and proceeded to check around the cars to see if something tasty had fallen out of a car or two.

The other occasion was on a hike across Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge near Spokane. That time, the animal was out in broad daylight. It just suddenly appeared from a culvert crossing the trail, and neither of us could believe the other was real. The curious animal kept ducking into the culvert and then popping out to take another look at me.

Weasels are attractive little animals. Their reddish brown fur is sleek and their stomach is either white or a pale yellow.

They are infamous for killing chickens but their usual prey consists of moles, voles, birds and other small creatures. They have the reputation of being vicious when cornered or attacked.

These handsome little animals belong to the Mustelidae family, which includes sea otter, river otter, wolverine, marten, fisher, mink and badger.

More than hawks, it seems to me that the nocturnal owls would be more likely to kill a mole.

However, neither hawks nor owls dig into the ground.

I think I will have to do some “after-dark exploring.” We do have weasels in the neighborhood. One actually looked in a neighbor’s house where large windows are close to the ground.

How I would love to spot one of these little creatures — without Penny by my side.

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Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: joanpcarson@comcast.net.