Thursday, 31 May 2007

My Fabulous Gadget

A friend sent me this in the post today: in brief it's a coin connected to a cork, and I'll be able to carry it with me when I'm tracking to show the scale of any prints or scat, even if they're pretty inaccessible. How brilliant is that?
If you want to make your own, superglue two 2p coins together and bore a hole through both. Attach a good length of nylon thread, and tie the other end round the neck of a mushroom-shaped cork. In transit (in your pocket) the thread is wound round the cork and the coin fitted into a slot cut in the head of the cork. Genius.
I've also updated my links to show where you can buy mink raft kits. Got one on order, which I intend to use for tracking purposes.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Another sighting this evening at 9pm, off the bridge as you turn into Greenfields Rise. The people whose houses back onto the brook here sometimes get water voles in their gardens.
How jealous am I?

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Otter spraint?

I admit I was gutted when the voles moved up from White Lion Meadow car park (near Tesco), but their absence has made me look further afield. This evening I had a walk through Whitchurch Country Park and found stacks of water vole prints under both bridges, and also this possible otter spraint in the same place the survey group found one last year. It certainly smelled of fish oil, so I can't think what other type of scat it can have been. I include this photo of a feeding station, but not at all confident it isn't field vole!
On the way back to the car I saw a water vole nip across the brook from one bank to the other.
Added 9/6/2007 - I'm now not sure these footprints are water vole. they may be rat, more splayed out then usual because of the soft mud.

Monday, 21 May 2007

The field vole problem

On Sunday the vole group went to a local farm where the landowners have fenced off an area of marshy field, with the specific aim of helping wildlife. We need more farmers like this! Fencing off the ground stops cattle from destroying banks and vegetation. It's especially useful along ths margins of ponds, streams and rivers. In this particular strip there's a large section of glyceria reed (top photo) which water voles love.
As soon as we began to look for field signs, we found them: latrines, feeding stations and trackways were every few yards, plus a few burrows. However, we did run into a problem we hadn't anticipated last year, that of the similarity of field vole signs to those of water voles. Field voles also cut grass etc at a 45 degree angle; they also make little piles of chopped vegetation; they also form trackways through the grass. In the picture above, it's a water vole feeding station on the left, and a field vole one on the right.
Not always easy to tell them apart, but there are some indicators. Firstly, water vole stuff tends to be on a slightly larger scale. Their trackways are more rat-sized, as opposed to mouse-sized, they chop their food into slightly longer pieces, and their droppings are bigger and darker. Secondly, water voles tend not to put droppings on top of their food piles. (Why would field voles do this??? But they do. Teeny green ones.) And thirdly, the location's a bit of an indicator. A trackway leading straight into the water is going to be water vole.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Strange prints

Took this picture of a water vole latrine (middle) in the section of the brook near Waymills. But there seems to be some sort of a footprint next to it that reminded me of two other photos I took near there a few months ago (top and bottom). Does anyone know what might have left that mark? There are water vole prints in the top pic, for scale.

Saturday, 19 May 2007


I had to post this picture of the lovely egg I found underneath the nest box just now. The blue tits have obviously been clearing out now the babies are here, and decided to get rid of this egg that hadn't hatched.


Anxious to discover whether the voles had moved upstream, I borrowed these vole-rafts from Malcolm Monie. They're sandwiches of plywood and polystyrene with a bolt through the middle and a loop on the top, through which you put some string to tether the raft. I used the ends of a wire coat hanger as a peg (though I obviously didn't stick it in far enough because the raft moved during the night). The idea is that, if you lay the raft during dry weather, a water vole will climb onto it and mark it in some way, either with droppings or chopped grass.
It rained during the night, though, so the whole thing proved to be a bit of a waste of time. The leaves on there I suspect just dropped on of their own accord. Hopeless looking for field signs during wet weather, though the print above looks likely.
Although there are more predators in this section of the brook - lots and lots of cats, unfortunately - there's still cover and sloping banks and plenty of food, like the flag iris above. However, I couldn't find any feeding stations or cut vegetation.
Anyway, just as I was feeling it was all a bit hopeless I met a dog-walkwer who said he saw two voles there last night. Then, ten minutes later, up pops this one. Can you see him in the middle of the photo above? The voles up here are much shyer, so I couldn't get very close. Just goes to show, they can be present even in the absence of field signs.
And on a non-vole footnote, my neighbour tells me we have house martins in the roof, and this morning I spotted our blue tits taking food into the nest box.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

You meet the nicest people

...when you're involved with wildlife. Came across the photographer Andy Purcell at midday ( ). He'd come to Whitchurch looking for voles, but seen only rats near Tesco. However he had seen a latrine further up the brook, which confirms my hopes, and I spotted this interesting-looking trail yesterday.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Sad News

Something's happened at the brook - I don't know what - but there are suddenly no voles or signs of voles. I've watched for hours this week, even getting up at 5am one morning, but there hasn't been anything except lots and lots of rats. And in any case, with the breeding season well established we should be seeing more voles, not fewer.
I had a long chat with a man from the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust this morning about the fluctuating vole population on the famous Cromford canal, and he says that there is a chance the voles might come back if the balance of the brook changes, if maybe the rats can be discouraged. I suppose it depends on whether the voles have been eaten, or simply moved upstream.
The Whitchurch Water Vole team starts surveying soon, so we should start to get a clear picture of where the colonies are still going strong around the town.
To say I'm upset is an understatement, but then this is a lot of what nature-watching's about, unfortunately. Water vole colonies are fragile, and even in the best of circumstances wax and wane and peter out. As long as the overall picture for the area is healthy, that's what matters in the long run.

So there's going to be a necessary change of direction for this blog, concentrating less on one specific area and looking more broadly at water voles. I'll continue to monitor the car park stretch of the brook, and fingers crossed the voles can be encouraged back as the summer population peaks.
I'll keep watching.

Friday, 4 May 2007


I saw the manager of Tesco on the bridge this evening, and he told me they were monitoring trolley loss this month and that he has passed details of the blog and other information onto the people who make decisions about re-fits. So that's all encouraging.
Just the one vole tonight, but I wasn't there long.

Thursday, 3 May 2007


The profile photo shows the vole's blunt nose, so different from the sharp face of the rat.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Anniversary voles

It's a year since I went down in the evening and saw the banks "alive with voles". There were two this evening - not the numbers there were in 2006 at this time, which to me implies last year was a peak and this year, for this colony, there's been a bit of a crash. Which is a normal, natural cycle, of course. Or maybe the babies are just later coming out, though I don't know why as it's been warm enough!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Trolleys again

So I went in this morning to discuss the trolleys at the invitation of the new manager. I explained to him about water voles being desperately endangered, and about voles' habitat being protected by law, and about the unique situation of the brook with regard to the local community, and about the problem the trolleys were causing. Initially his response was to say they will fit grids to stop the trolleys being taken out of the car park. But that isn't going to help with the brook and I told him so. It's as if an engineer, asked to design a dam, proposed building a very nice summer house on the bank instead and insisted that would do the same job.
We talked at length and he seemed sympathetic. However, the decision isn't up to him. So he's going to ask the people in charge of this aspect of the stores, and get back to me. Can't say fairer than that, for now.
But oh, how frustrating to have been told by the previous manager that 'he was confident he'd be able to get the new trolleys by mid April' and now, apparently, be back to square one. Five months' dialogue wasted.
That aside, it's been a beautiful day and lots of passers-by were able to watch voles this afternoon at the bridge.