Wednesday, 30 July 2008

After the flood...'s always reassuring to see a vole. They can get swept away and drowned when water levels rise very quickly. Aside from rats, that's their main problem at White Lion Meadow.
Chiara, if you're reading this, hello! And huge thanks.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


The vegetation's getting so
lush everywhere it's
hard to see anything much.
But at White Lion Meadow car park there are various gaps where something's flattened the leaves down. How can I tell it's a vole? Because of the 45% feeding cut at the end of some of the stalks.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Another behind

I could hear this White Lion Meadow vole long before I saw it - they sound like they're eating celery sometimes. No more rat sightings since the 22nd, which is hopeful.
I also went down to Greenfields Rise, at the entrance to the Country Park, and noted feeding there, plus some more near the metal suspension bridge on the way to Yocking's Gate. But it was too hot to stay out long, and I've mislaid my litter-picker, which means I can't root among the nettles like I normally do.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

What I didn't want to see

Two juvenile rats and this adult at White Lion Meadow tonight, unfortunately. No voles. Note the pointed nose, large ears and light brown fur.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Rats, and vole backsides

Went down to White Lion Meadow car park last night and saw, to my dismay, a family of five rats, all using the same runs and platforms that the voles had made. As I've said before, rats will eat young water voles, and drive adults out of their burrows - it happened here last year, around May/June. Luckily I'd already been in touch with NSDC, and their sympathetic pest control officer is now on the case.
Just checked now (midday) and seen a young rat, but also this vole, which I initially identified by its bottom. There's no mistaking that conker-brown fur (rats are greyer) and that hairy tail (rats' are naked and scaly).

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Great Crested Newt, and friends

Not sure whether the chap immediately above is a frog or a toad, but all of them I found under logs round Brown Moss. You can be fined thousands of pounds for interefering with GCNs, so you can be sure I put that bit of wood back very carefully! The tiny lizard in the middle I think is a common lizard. Update: see comments below. What we're looking at is newts and toads.
Took a walk down Edward German Drive afterwards and found fresh water vole feeding, prints, and an old latrine I hadn't seen before, up at the Waylands Close end.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Whixall and the Prees Branch Canal

Young vole sitting just about where NSDC want to install a drainage pipe!

Male banded demoiselle, Pres Branch canal

White legged damselflies, Prees Branch Canal

Female large skipper

Prints on the raft at the marina end of the canal

A little feeding.
Not as much feeding - at at least, not as much visible feeding - at the Prees Branch canal, and also some worrying prints on the raft near the marina. Obviously this needs investigating, so I'm seeking an ID from a friend. Then again, the lady who lives in the cottage at the other end said she saw two water voles this week in the vegetation by her house.

Lots of insects by the canal; Whixall's a wonderful area for wildlife.
Came back to Whitchurch and spotted this young water vole by the railway bridge.
Update: my WAB friend Mark thinks the prints aren't mink because there's too small a gap between toe pads, and "palm" pad, toe pad spread is too small, and there are no claw marks. It might be a cat, which isn't ideal for w-vs, but it's nothing like as disastrous as mink.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Comma and feeding

Two picures of feeding, one from White Lion Meadow immediately above (you can just see two little diagonally-cut strips of reed), and one from near the railway bridge (click to enlarge the photo, and the feeding station's in the bottom right hand corner, on a little mud flat by the base of the arch).
Three voles this evening, one at White Lion Meadow and two by the railway bridge, plus I give you this lovely comma butterfly - yet another creature using the short section of brook by the town centre car park.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

New Area

Well, not really new, as Rosie Rees saw a water vole here two years back, but it's nice to know they're still there. This is the railway bridge by Homebase, where I peeped over the stone sill hoping to see a latrine - which there was - and as a bonus got four voles: three babies and an adult. It's very overgrown there, but also very quiet as the lane which runs parallel with the brook is a private driveway. Ideal, then, for water voles.
I crossed over the road and under the railway bridge, and went down the little track that leads to the back of Waylands Road to see if there was any activity there. This is serious dog-walking territory, so you have to be extremely careful where you tread, but even so I managed to ascertain there's a lot of feeding going on in that short stretch (see photo directly above). To me that's interesting, because one side of this section is brick wall, so the voles only have limited bank-space for their burrows. Apparently that's enough!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Two voles again

I have to again assume these are mates? I need to read up on water vole territories, but these two came right next to each other at one point. Usually, when water voles get this close, fighting and chasing ensues (apparently they 'box' like hares, though I've only ever seen thrashing about in the water).

Sunday, 13 July 2008

And a vole to end the day with:

The Wood Yard

On first impressions, the ditch outside Haydock's wood yard is a really unpromising environment for water voles. The banks are very steep and it's a stretch that's often filled with litter. But the water's clean, and like the section on the other side of the culvert (White Lion Meadow), it's so noisy here that there are unlikely to be any predators around. With razor wire along one bank, and nettles down the other, the place gets left to itself.
So it's great to see some more latrines here, this time right next to the far end culvert near the timber yard gates. This indicates the water voles have spread right along, as they did in 2006.

Good Showing in the Country Park

It's been a while since I've checked Whitchurch Country Park, and I was delighted to find when I visited today lots of signs of a good water vole colony. In the three places I managed to get down to the water side, I found latrines, which is just about the only unambiguous field sign, bar seeing an actual water vole. The burrow above is a particularly helpful example: 'Just how obvious do you want me to be that this is a w-v burrow?' says the occupant.
The whole area round the brook here is chest-high in nettles and other plants, making it pretty much undisturbed habitat for all sorts of creatures like this common shrew, butterfly and dragonfly (IDs, anyone?) Never mind the rain-forest canopy: what's going on here at ground level is an incredibly busy and rich eco system.
While I'm here, hello to my readers at Aberdeen University!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

This Weather!

Managing to get sightings, despite the squally weather. Light rain never hurt a water vole, but heavy downpours can cause flash flooding which can fill burrows and drown young, while adults are swept away by very strong currents. I'm pleased to say, though, there've been no flash floods here this summer.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Good Practice by North Shropshire District Council

In response to my post about strimming, I've had some really helpful correspondence with NSDC. Tim Sneddon, Street Scene Manager, had this to say:

As you are probably aware North Shropshire District Council are indeed vole-savvy. As part of our commitment to promoting biodiversity all sites are appropriately managed to promote the widest range of flora and fauna possible. We go to considerable lengths and have changed our operating practices to accommodate water voles on land we are responsible for. We work with both English Nature and the Shropshire Wildlife Trust (SWT) on this and our Pest Control officer has attended SWT meetings, in Whitchurch, to ensure we only treat target pests and not water voles. We will continue with this approach and wherever the opportunity arises develop it further. If there is any guidance you may wish us to consider please let me know and we will.

Isn't this great? Three cheers for forward-thinking councils like this, and let's hope their joined-up approach to environmental management is reflected across the country.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Burrows and the law

I'm finding a lot of burrows at the back of Edward German Drive just now, plus this feeding station (directly above) and a latrine (middle picture). It's rare to find a burrow you can be absolutely 100% sure is water vole, but this one was as it contained some cut-off stalks of buttercup, which I removed carefully with my litter picker. Another vole fan reminded me the other day that w-v burrows are about the size of a Pringles tube, which is a handy reference; rat holes are a bit larger. Vole borrows also tend to be nearer the water level than rats'.
Worth saying here that it's against the law to interfere with a water vole burrow, or disturb it in any way, so when we do our surveys we're always super-careful not to tread on the actual banks, and when we've parted vegetation to look at something, we always put it back in place again. My litter picker's very useful when it comes to remote-examination!
A steady stream of sightings at White Lion Meadow this week, despite the weather.

What water voles need from councils, gardeners and landowners

North Shropshire District Council are pretty vole-savvy, on the whole, but even so, they can sometimes be too enthusiatic with their bank strimming (top photo). Water voles need plenty of cover leaving, especially in an area like Edward German Drive which is full of cats. Where a water course is overshadowed by trees (middle pic) the banks become bare, so that's another area which becomes no-go for water voles. The bottom photo shows perfect, vole-friendly manangement of banks - plenty of long grass, and no rubbish or pesticides - and that's where I found burrows and a latrine this evening.
Post Script: NSDC say in the comment below that this strimming isn't their work. I'm therefore trying to find out who it might have been, so I can ask them to leave a slightly bigger margin next time.