Vole, latrine, burrow and feeding at the railway bridge by Homebase
Latrine (and trolleys) at White Lion Meadow
Great habitat at Steel Grange - we found droppings, feeding and burrows.
Edgeley Road vole
This morning I visited the colony near Homebase, and immediately spotted the vole in the top photo. There were plenty of burrows, and though I didn't get down into the water channel and have a good poke about, the feeding signs and droppings were obvious even from the top of the bank.
Next I took a walk into town and glanced over the bridge in the main town car park (White Lion Meadow) to see this latrine laid out on a stone. So it looks as if there's at least one breeding female on that site.
Then this afternoon I went with a group to Steel Heath to examine good and bad water vole habitat. The bad habitat was a ditch too overshadowed with trees to have any useful vegetation growing underneath, and even in the patches where the trees thinned out, the bank had been poached by horses in the field.
Just a few hundred yards away, however, was a friend's garden where an open stretch of brook ran through and there was lots of cover and food for voles. After a little searching we found droppings, feeding, burrows and trackways. The landowner here, as on the first site I visited, is nature-savvy and doesn't use chemical sprays or over-strim the riparian vegetation. It's always heartening to meet wildlife-guardians like these.
Reed eaten by water voles - 45 degree cut at the end
Albert looks down a burrow and comes nose to nose with a vole
Very freshly dead water vole. We don't know what killed it.
A positive day's surveying out in the Coton/Whixall area. We had three live sightings, and found evidence of water voles across the three lots of land we examined, some areas being richer than others. Three ponds we looked at had voles living in them, even though some of the banks were quite shaded.
The ditches proved more variable: where there was plenty of vegetation and no weeds had been sprayed, the voles were active and happy. But where the ditches had been dredged and the cover removed, and there was evidence of herbicide use, the results were poor. Careful management of the land is crucial if we're going to help this animal survive, I think.
Spotting water vole droppings is a really important skill for surveyors, since it's probably the most unambiguous sign of the animal's presence. Latrines, eg photo 2, are often fairly easy as clumps of pellets tend to stand out (unless they've been well-trampled, in which case look for a small patch of soil that's differently-browner than its surroundings). But individual droppings are tricky to see against a bare bank. Can you see the poo in photos 3 and 4? Once you've spotted a place where water voles like to come and mark, then that's a good place to wait with your camera.
I knew the water voles had retuned to White Lion Meadow, the main town car park in Whitchurch next to Tesco, because I'd seen a latrine by the bridge (second photo down). But it's always nice to get an actual sighting of an animal, as I did just now. The first sighting for WLM this year, in fact.
Took the opportunity to have a stroll along the brook at Edward German Drive too, but couldn't see much activity yet bar a few droppings on a stone (fourth picture) near the road end.
This blog charts the fortunes of water voles in and around the Whitchurch area, North Shropshire. Water voles are one of the UK's most threatened mammals, extinct in many counties, and so it's vital they receive as much monitoring and protection as there is going. Here in Whitchurch we're lucky enough to have them right in the middle of town - how cool is that?