Shy vole, damselfly (newly-hatched?), and robin-on-the-cusp.
Saturday, 20 May 2017
Slow worm blending beautifully with its surroundings.
Raft spider: the UK's biggest species of spider.
It was brilliant to get out on a proper, planned survey day with other vole enthusiasts and do some habitat assessment. We looked at a long ditch on Whixall Moss, and found one end full of water vole signs and the other full of field vole. The records were collected and will be stored and shared by the Wildlife Trust, Natural England, and other environmental groups.
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
All likely-looking burrows, set within excellent habitat.
I took a look round the Criftins area of Ellesmere, at a ditch a colleague had told me was home to water voles. I didn't see any feeding or latrines, but there were quite a few burrows, and a man walking his dog confirmed there were water voles in the field.
The vole photographed above shows the variation in fur colour that can occur in different lights. I thought initially this was a very dark animal, possibly a baby, then it moved into the sun and the fur turned much paler. It's chewing its way through bramble stems, balancing on one with its hind paw to grip.
Thursday, 11 May 2017
Edgeley Road vole
Female chaffinch with a poorly foot
Small toad, Beeston
At Venus Pool nature reserve
Water vole feeding at the timber yard - they will chew through brambles no problem. Below, perhaps the vole that did the chewing.
A vole floats in the water, thinking.
Saturday, 6 May 2017
Thursday, 4 May 2017
Friday, 28 April 2017
Water voles are small UK mammals, about the size of small guinea pigs but with furry tails.
They like to live on the banks of streams, rivers and ponds. We call this habitat 'riparian'. Water voles like banks thickly covered in grass and reeds that they can eat and where they can hide from the animals that eat them (predators). They also like the bottom of the river to be covered in mud, so that when they're escaping underwater, they can kick up a cloud of silt and hide inside it. They are excellent swimmers, with waterproof fur.
Mostly they live inside the banks, in burrows that they dig with their strong teeth. These burrows are about as wide as a tube of Pringles, and round the entrance you'll see the grass has been nibbled short. These nibbled patches are sometimes called 'vole lawns'. Each vole will make lots of burrows so there's always a means of escape close by.
Water voles are pretty much entirely vegetarian. They spend a lot of time eating, and don't much mind what plants. I've even seen them eat nettles! They grasp each stem with their paws and bite into the middle, leaving a diagonal cut at the end. One of the most obvious signs that there are voles about is the piles of chopped-up vegetation they leave lying on the banks. The name for these is 'feeding stations'.
Voles are at the bottom of the food chain, meaning a lot of other animals like to hunt them. Cats, dogs, owls, hawks, magpies, grass snakes, pike, polecats, weasels, stoats, heron, rats, otters and mink will all take water voles. Average life expectancy for a water vole is short; none of them get much past eighteen months. So to make up for this, they breed fast, females having anything up to five litters a year with 5-6 pups in each litter. They are also excellent at a quick getaway, either plopping into the water and swimming off or shooting down a burrow out of danger.
Because they're shy, it can be hard to tell whether water voles are present on a site. But they're helpful animals and leave us little signs. As well as the burrows and feeding stations, you can look out for 'latrines', piles of droppings that water voles use as signposts for other voles - "Keep out, this is my territory". Water vole poo is made up of brown-green pellets about the size of TicTacs, and it's often place somewhere prominent like a stone.
The sad news is that water voles are very endangered. A lot of their habitat has been destroyed by building or water pollution and their situation is getting desperate. So how can we help? Mainly by looking out for them, and by reporting any sightings of water voles or even just of their feeding, burrows or latrines. You can contact the Wildlife Trust if you suspect you have water voles living near you, and send in any photos you have of signs. Try and make sure no one mistakes them for rats and tries to poison them. And if you own a cat, keep it in at night, and attach a little cheap flashing light to its collar (this makes the cat safer on the roads anyway).
Thursday, 27 April 2017
Wood Yard vole
Edward German Drive: burrow and vole.
I knew there were water voles on both sites due to the abundant field signs, but it's always nice to log an actual sighting. Saw another vole at White Lion Meadow car park tonight, too.
Monday, 24 April 2017
Treecreeper - there are a pair of these, one often feeding the other.
Below, water vole droppings on mud can be hard to spot!
Spotting water vole droppings is great because they're one of the few field signs that are unambiguous. Rounded at each end, slightly larger than Tic Tacs and odourless, water vole pellets are often deposited as territorial markers. Sometimes voles will choose prominent, impervious surfaces on which to poo, like logs or flat stones or plastic bottles, old car sponges, abandoned polystyrene tiles. Then latrines are easy to spot. But when voles leave their olive/brown droppings on mud - and then trample them - it can be hard to distinguish. Use a zoom lens or binoculars to examine closely any spot where the soil looks a bit lumpy, or where flies are gathering.