Thursday, 12 October 2017

Saturday, 7 October 2017

And Into Autumn


We're coming to the end of the season for vole-spotting. As I wrote in BBC Wildlife Magazine, water voles don't hibernate in the true sense of the word but they do spent most of winter below ground, sleeping a lot and eating roots and stored food. As hormone levels drop, individuals become less territorial and come together in groups for warmth. There's also a possibility, mooted by Professor Xavier Lambin, that they make their own 'radiators' out of rotting vegetation which they pack into the burrows: we know that's something beavers do, and badgers.

So, like the voles, this blog goes pretty quiet over winter. But we keep the faith, we keep looking out for little signs and hoping that around February/March time, activity will start again on the banks of Staggs Brook.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Big Vole, Little Vole

I've normally given up looking for water vole by late September, but there's been a flurry of activity at the Wood Yard this week. Now the vegetation's died back you can see several voles at work, feeding up on rhizomes for the winter. The top photo shows a nervous juvenile, and the second a large adult.

Worth mentioning that I had a nice chat with three teenage lads who wandered past and asked what I was looking for. So many youngsters are interested, if you catch them at the right time.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Sad Post about Hedgehogs

A marked hog (the red spines are nail varnish) we got from a rescue centre to over-winter, back in 2013.

 Some of the lists I made of sightings.

In hoggier times.

Those of you who've followed this blog for years might remember a lot of posts about hedgehogs. A few years back I realised there were hogs in my garden, so I started to monitor them using a trail cam. If I came across a hog in the flesh, I'd take it inside for weighing, sexing and marking-as-approved-by-the-BHPS. (That meant a little bit of white enamel model paint applied to the tips of the spines only.) By this method I was able to keep tabs on numbers. What I discovered was that we had over twenty individuals visiting over the course of the year. Some nights there'd be as many as seven in the garden at once.

I began to speak to neighbours about it, and found out they were seeing hogs too, and the animals were going up and down the length of the street. People would call out to me, 'We had one of your hedgehogs on our patio last night!' I leafleted houses nearby, explaining how to help hedgehogs and what kind of things were dangerous to them. For the four years I kept tabs, it was a busy, thriving hog community.

Then, at the start of 2016, I found on the lane behind my house a dead hog that had been hollowed out. Only the skin and spines remained. This individual had been on camera only four hours before, so it hadn't lain around and been eaten by scavengers over time. Whatever had killed the hog had scooped the flesh out in one go. The only predator I knew that killed hedgehogs this way was the badger. 

Over the next couple of months, hog sightings on my trail cam dropped right off, until at what's normally a peak time for numbers, July/August, just one was visiting the garden. Then in early autumn, my next door neighbour called to say there was a hedgehog sleeping in his compost heap and it might be in trouble. I went round to see, and when we turned the animal over it again had been scooped out leaving just the spines. Dismayed, he showed me where 'something big and strong' had pushed apart his wood pile in the night to gain access to the garden. I was wondering if a dog might have done it, but they don't hollow out hedgehogs that way.

Two days later another neighbour from across the road messaged me to say she'd come back from an extended stay abroad and found her garden had been taken over by badgers.

We haven't seen a single hedgehog since. Someone at the far end of the road reported a nesting one at the beginning of the year, and we all got hopeful, but it quickly disappeared. There are just no hedgehogs here any more. The entire community has vanished.

I'm aware this will not be a popular post at a time when badgers are politically vulnerable. But as an ecologist, albeit an amateur one, I have to report a true observation. I know it's mainly environmental threats that have brought hedgehog numbers to desperately low levels; however, when a species becomes so vulnerable, then even native predators can become a critical threat. 

I believe it's an issue we have to at least talk about if we're going to save hedgehogs from extinction.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Appropriate Management of Banks

The Environment Agency have been strimming the banks as they usually do in autumn, using what I'm pretty sure is an 'M cut' where you leave a good fringe of cover next to the water's edge. This is vole-friendly maintenance. A few years back, the EA very kindly came out and chatted with the Whitchurch Water Vole Group about what was best for both flood management and wildlife, and have consulted us ever since.

I was delighted to get three sightings at White Lion Meadow today. There are certainly quite a lot of droppings about, showing that voles are active there.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

September Voles

Bank vole

The water vole activity remains stubbornly nocturnal, though there've been no more otter sightings or particular signs of other predators. Video footage shows the colony's as busy as ever.

Meanwhile this dead bank vole was left on our drive by a cat, and I post the photo because it's useful to get a really good close look at the features which make it identifiable. Nose blunt and ears small = vole, no question. But it's too small for a water vole, which means (on mainland UK) either bank-vole or field-vole. So then you check the tail and here it's just over 50% of body length, which makes it definitely bank vole; in field voles the tail is much shorter. In fact sometimes field voles are called 'short-tailed voles'. There are subtle differences in fur colour and texture too, with bank voles being a little redder than their greyish cousins. Tail's the main identifying factor, though.

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Relative Sizes of Riparian Mammals

Otter Bottom



A surprise last night: this flash of full-grown adult otter disappearing upstream. I've seen otters before here, in Sept 2014 (previous otters) and twice over the years found their spraint, but I don't believe they use this tiny stream as anything other than a corridor. It's barely deep enough for an otter to paddle in, and only about two-otters-wide. Otters will take water voles but are too big to fit down the burrows in pursuit, so I'm hoping my little team will stay safe.

I've no idea whether this is related to the change in my voles' routines!

Saturday, 26 August 2017




I'm getting nightly sightings but still nothing in the day. It was lovely to capture footage of this nesting vole, though. I've seen voles gathering bedding before, but never managed to catch it on camera. Not sure whether this is a female getting ready for a litter, or whether voles of both sexes gather material this way. Does anyone know?

Edited: yes, Derek Gow, patron saint of water voles does. He says: "Both sexes are perfectly capable of building nests. Males underground tend to avoid females as they are pretty belligerent. We don't know if the males play a direct role in rearing young but they are tolerant of them." So this vole in the video clip could be male or female. 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Nocturnal Voles



 18th August

 19th August

 20th August

 21st August

22nd August

I haven't seen any voles out in daylight for ten days now, but there've been fresh droppings every time I've looked so I knew they were still around. Putting down a trail cam revealed plenty of activity, but all taking place at night. This is behaviour I normally see towards the middle of September, so I'm surprised. Unless there's a new predator about, and that's affecting their routine?

Sunday, 13 August 2017

One of Those Days

 Possibly a September Thorn moth.

Below: a variety of common lizards basking at Llanymynech Rocks this morning.

So much of wildlife-watching is waiting, and often failing to see what you went to look for. But today began with two new-to-me species of moth, a Bulrush Wainscot and a Common Wainscot, plus this characterful Thorn. Mid-morning a trip to Llanymynech Rocks revealed a dozen or so lizards happy to pose while I photographed them. I was very taken with the variety of colours they come in. The air was full of butterflies, especially Common Blues and Small Coppers. Then this evening, a water vole, very close and bold (until I moved!).

Some days are magical.

Monday, 7 August 2017

How to Detect Invisible Voles

Below: plenty of water vole droppings.

A burrow that's clearly occupied.

As I've said, this time of year the voles go suddenly very shy; I don't know if it's to do with populations thinning out as young disperse, but it happens almost overnight and, for the dedicated vole-watcher, it's unnerving. When you were used to seeing several voles a day and then you're down to nothing, how do you know they haven't all packed up and gone, or been wiped out?

Because the signs are all still there. The daily fresh droppings, nibbled vegetation, the visibly-in-use burrows, the mysterious clouds of mud that bloom as a nervous vole shoots past under water. And there are plopping noises, and violent ripples, and sometimes the sound of roots being crunched under your feet. So it's a matter of keeping the faith, till their collective psyche becomes more confident again and you start getting sightings once more.