New Jersey

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, not far from Newark Airport, seems a reasonably reliable spot to see Woodland Voles. Vladimir Dinets photographed one in the snow here: feeding on food that had dropped off of the bird feeder in the small garden behind the Helen Fenske Visitor Centre (an image that appeared in the Handbook of the Mammals of the World).

I visited the refuge at the very end of 2020, not long after heavy snow had melted, to try my luck for this species. I went in part because I desperately needed to see my 50th new mammal for the year, an annual challenge that I have met pretty much every year since records began. In 2020 it had been complicated by COVID19.

The visitor centre and bird feeder were closed so I took the Nature Discovery Trail that runs from the visitor centre. After only about 20 metres (walking clockwise) I heard some rustling in the vegetation directly opposite this sign (i.e. on the other side of the trail).

Nature Discovery Trail

Over the next hour I heard what I am sure were several animals and – with the aid of a thermal scope and a flashlight – was able to get prolonged looks at at least one vole moving around a thicket of long grass. Identifying it as a vole from the ears was easy, though that did not necessarily make it a Woodland Vole. I eventually I got a look at the whole body, including a very short tail. The smooth fur – which looked sort of “pocket gopherish” – is also diagnostic for Woodland Vole. To me the fur looked a bit like the animal had been rubbed in clay.

I did not even  try to get proper photos but did shoot a terrible video with my phone. Not exactly NatGeo but you can spot the vole in the centre from about 35 seconds in.

This was at 3pm in the afternoon. It was sunny and the absence of wind helped me hear the animals rustling. The recent heavy snow melt meant the vegetation was more compressed than usual which might have led to the voles being more active above ground (they are largely fossorial).

My 50th species for the year. Phew.

Laurelwood Arboretum, Wayne

In September 2020 I spent a couple of hours at the arboretum on either side of dusk looking for Woodland Voles. Vladimir Dinets reported seeing an apparently habituated animal running around halfway along the main trail between the two parking lots. My thermal scope helped find deer mice and a couple of Southern Flying Squirrels on the trail but no voles. White-tailed Deer, Grey Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks are common.


Community Reports

New Jersey Mammal Watching: a guide to various sites from Vladimir Dinets, with species including Northern Flying SquirrelRiver Otter and Woodland Vole.

Princeton, 2015: Vladimir Dinets’s notes on the mammals of New Jersey with sightings from September 2015 including Masked Shrew and Meadow Jumping Mouse. See more discussion here.

Also See

New Jersey RFI (in particular sites for the Jersey Big 5 – Beaver, Otter, Porcupine, Black Bear and Bobcat), June 2017.

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