Saturday, 9 June 2007

Plop!








Nothing makes the same noise entering water as a water vole: fish plunk, frogs spalsh, and rats tend to slip in noiselessly. So when I heard the tell-tale plop near the bank at Brick Kiln Farm today, I was fairly certain I'd just missed a water vole. I think they do it to warn others in the colony, the way a rabbit flashes its tail as it runs away.
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I've finally managed to get some comparative-scale shots of latrines (nice, I know). The top shows water vole, and you can tell it's fresh because of the greenish color, and because it's moist. The middle's water vole again but an older latrine, darker brown and dried out. The third picture down is field vole, and you can see how very much smaller the pellets are. Water vole droppings are a lot like those of guinea pigs actually, for shape and size. I haven't shown rat, but they're pretty much the same except darker and pointy at one end.*
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The bottom shots all show feeding stations; the banks are full of them, they're literally every two or three paces. There must be a very healthy population of voles along this waterway**. However, it's becoming clear to me how tricky it is to spot 'wild' water voles, and how spoilt we were to have the semi-tame ones near Tesco in the town centre, where everyone could see them, close up, at almost any time of the day. I've been looking all week at Yocking's Gate and the Country Park and had no more sightings, though I'm sure the reed beds are full of voles. I have, however, seen a fox, a buzzard and some more otter spraint, and it's just nice to get out of an evening and consider the water.
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*If as a naturalist you go getting down and dirty by river banks, you should obviously be washing your hands very carefully afterwards. But you also need to take care with eating and drinking while you're on the spot. Rat wee carries a nasty disease and can be present in the water, so a sterile wipe is a handy thing to carry if you fancy stopping mid-survey for a snack or drink.
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**I should stress that the area of Brick Kiln Farm I go watching in is private land, but I have permission to go on there.

6 comments:

Sue said...

I was sitting down by the brook just now and saw some ripples. As I stood up there was a clear "plop" and no sign of a water vole. I waited for a few minutes and was rewarded with the sight of a small water vole swimming "up brook" under the water. My next door neighbour saw a water vole in the same place, i.e. at the bottom of my garden, yesterday. It's lovely watching them swimming!!!!

Kate said...

Fantastic. Are you on the Staggs Brook, then? If it's a Whitchurch sighting, I can report it to John Harding for his records.

I wonder if it was a juvenile?

sue said...

Yes. I am on the Staggs Brook, at Brookfield. I can't be sure if it was a juvenile or not as it was under water and moving away at top speed!! It did seem smaller than usual though. Sadly there seem to be a lot of cats down by the brook at the moment, watching the water with great interest....

Kate said...

Maybe you could persuade some of your neighbours to invest in bells for their cats' collars? Just a thought.

Thanks for letting me know about the vole - you've made my night.

Dave said...

We had a lovely walk along the Montgomery canal, from Ardleen, yesterday. It was teeming with roach, perch and the odd twig-like pike waiting in ambush. There were a couple of “ploppy-plunks” really near the bank but by the time you’d peered over the vegetation the culprit had gone just leaving a few rippling weeds under the water. I’m pretty sure, although inches from the sides, they were fish. Quite rightly they’ve allowed a strip of bank-side vegetation to grow long and wild so by the time you get close to anything they’ve heard or felt your presence and are away. The best observation points for seeing things often seem to bridges or piers or if you’re lucky a boat – you get a better and longer view of both banks.

Kate said...

A little micro-light would be ideal, lol. Pike eat wvs (what doesn't?) so if there were voles about, they'd have to keep an eye out.