Sunday, 13 December 2009

Some Winter Activity

In my experience it's very unusual to find many water vole signs over the winter months, but here are some I came across on a walk this afternoon. Plenty of field vole presence, too.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Grey Squirrel Dancing

This is the tail-end of a mad ten minutes, where a grey squirrel went bananas up and down our compost heap and in and out of the mahonia. I've seen stoats dance in this way, but never squirrels. At this time of year, when there must be a need to conserve energy, I wonder why it dashed about so much? Unless it was to keep warm.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Bumper Year for Water Voles?

Possibly a slightly misleading headline, as more recorded sightings doesn't necessarily mean more water voles, but it's still encouraging. The linear nature of canals actually can work against water voles, as mink also like defined linear routes; some of the best habitats for water voles I've come across are ponds and ditches away from the bigger water courses.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Mustelid Action at Quoisley

Old otter spriant

Not sure what this is: it's definitely mustelid, but had no detectable smell so could feasibly be mink.
Here's a busy place! After the comments on my last post, I went to take another look at Quoisley. I don't bother with this area much because I suspect there are now mink around that section of the canal and therefore no water voles: Malcolm Monie and I surveyed several ditches there last summer and drew a blank.
However, the bridge looks as though it's a very ottery spot, judging by the amount of spraint on the kerb under there. That's probably good news for water voles, in that the theory is otters drive away mink. While otters do take the odd vole, they don't go through a whole colony and wipe it out the way a female mink does.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Never Pick Up a Wood Mouse by its Tail

Someone on the Wild About Britain forums told me this: that if you grab a wood mouse's tail, the skin sloughs off painfully, and then that portion of the tail dies and falls away. I found this dead wood mouse in a field and tried to move it so I could take a picture, and sure enough, away came the tail skin. It's a survival strategy, but a costly one. The correct way to hold a wood mouse is by its scruff, like the yellow-necked mouse and bank vole here:
Short walk this afternoon down Edgeley Road revealed this water vole latrine. It seems very late in the year to be seeing latrines. Does that mean late-breeding females?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Otters at Grindley Brook

It's always worth checking under a bridge! The fairly busy canal area at Grindley Brook is obviously home to at least one otter. I found two spraints under two different bridges this lunchtime.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Another surprise guest

Greater spotted woodpeckers aren't by any means rare, but I've never had one in my garden before. I've been much more scrupulous this year about keeping the feeder filled, and I've started getting nuthatches, goldfinches, greenfinches and siskins which are also out of the ordinary for me. The woodmouse in the shed appreciates sunflower hearts too, I've found.

Monday, 19 October 2009

While I was washing up

A commotion outside my kitchen window, and this creature emerges from the bushes. My son says it's a female sparrowhawk. (Photos are taken through glass, the best I could do under the circumstances!)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Summary of 2009

The vole-watching season's pretty much over, so this blog will be doing what the water voles do, which is to go into semi-hibernation till the spring (not true hibernation, but a kind of torpor with only occasional appearances above ground!).
So has it been a good year for water voles in and around Whitchurch? Well, there've been gains and losses, as some colonies began well and then seemed to fall away, and others started hesitantly and became very strong. The most active have been in the fields near me, the ditches near Grocontinental which have afforded me lots of sightings and photographs. White Lion Meadow's been quiet, but perhaps not as quiet as sightings would suggest, in that I've spent a lot less time watching there because there wasn't so much obvious activity - a vicious and unscientific circle. I'm still not sure whether the sightings across the car park at Lidl were field/bank vole.
Edward German Drive has been steady: no actual sightings, but a lot of clear field signs. The back of Wayland Road is hard to access, but there were certainly water voles there mid-summer.
Moving further up, the section by the railway bridge near Homebase suffered some kind of crash: last year there was a very strong colony there, and there were plenty of field signs in spring 2009. But when I surveyed late summer, there was nothing at all round the bridge, only at the end near the field. I have no explanation for that, but it goes to show how what looks like a completely established group can easily be wiped out. However, they do beed quickly, and colonies naturally shift and expand and contract, so as long as there are voles on reither side, that section should be repopulated again as the habitat's excellent.
Albert and I both found lots of vole activity at Black Park Road, but I couldn't see anything at Yockings Gate. There was some vicious dredging there, so I think it'll need anopther year before the banks are suitable again. And I haven't followed the Staggs Brook further up as it's private land. The golf course now seems to have lost all its water voles (and there were so many a few years back! I suspect mink as we've had reports from round there) but there've been vole sightings in ditches close by.
On the other side of town the various colonies at the Country Park have been consistent, and moving out of Whitchurch, we've continued to see field signs at Steel Heath, the Prees Branch Canal between Waterloo and Whixall Marina, and in Whixall generally. I haven't spent much time oneither Brown Moss or Whixall Moss this year, so I don't know how the voles are doing there.
Anyway, all we can do is hope enough make it through the winter to get cracking next year. I'll be out with my camera the first warm day in February!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Winding Down

Now we're into October, water vole field signs are disappearing, but an afternoon in the Country Park turned up a couple of active-looking burrows and a bit of feeding and paw prints.
The otter's still about - lots and lots of fresh spraint - and my sons fished out this nine spined stickleback to study for a few minutes. The stream's also heaving with little shrimps, which seems a good sign.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Edward German Drive - good landowners

Baby water vole, taken by my friend James. More at his blog here:

Edwards German Drive - the side that's overhung by dense tree foliage

Edward German Drive -the side that's fairly clear and light (better for water voles)

Water vole droppings, Edward German Drive.

Fresh otter spraint under the bridge, Country Park.

Otter tracks (I think) emerging from the water under the bridge

Large adult water vole.

A hunt along the brook by Edward German drive shows water vole presence all along the stretch that joins Waylands Crescent - prints, feeding and droppings. I have once found a latrine down the other stretch, by Griffiths Tool Hire, but in general those banks are too shaded by householders' hedges for much to grow, so unsuitable for water voles. However, I was delighted when a man came out of one of the houses and asked me about pruning back the bushes at the end of his garden, so as to make it better for the voles.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Two voles

Two voles tonight, a large one and a smaller, darker one. The bigger vole didn't want to share the food, but there wasn't any serious scrapping such as goes on during mating time (I've seen the water 'boil' with fighting voles). So I think this might have been a parent and juvenile, especially as they both seemed to use the same burrow. Or perhaps some burrows are communal?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Vole after my bag!

Otter spraint under the bridge, Whitchurch Country Park

Spraint in close-up

The tempting bag sitting next to my stool ...

I've never experienced anything like it: heard a rustle at my feet, then a water vole pokes its head out of the brambles, sneaks up to my bag and starts trying to pull it down the bank! You can see from the picture how close it came to where I was sitting.
Later in the evening I went to the Country Park nature reserve and found three fresh otter spraints under the bridge.
A visit to Black Park Road on Tuesday, to check on the possible effects of the blue-green algae, was inconclusive. I couldn't find any latrines, but there was a bit of grazing. However, I did have a sighting of a water vole at White Lion Meadow, which is good news.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Still some feeding at White Lion Meadow

Definitely vole feeding. Water- or field-?
I'll be ringing the council about the blue-green algae business first thing Monday.

Friday, 11 September 2009


Water vole demonstrating good camouflage.

New otter spraint found tonight under the bridge in the Country Park

I'm trying to find out the implications of this sign that's gone up by the White Lion Meadow stretch of the brook. I have to say, it doesn't look good for the water voles, though I've seen rats and bank voles there within the last week. How easily does cyanobacteria spread? What can be done about it?
Update: I've spoken to the Environment Agency and the algae are coming from Blakemere, which is the source of the Staggsbrook, meaning the whole length of the water course will be affected, including Black Park Road, the stretch by the railway bridge near Homebase, the back of Wayland Road, Edward German Drive and the Whitchurch Country Park. If this algae does affect water voles, it's disastrous.
However, there was some positive news. Firstly, barley straw has been put down in the water at Blakemere, which should help purify the water. Secondly, the algae will disappear by itself when the warm weather passes (ie any day now). Thirdly, it's been there for a good few weeks, but I've still been seeing plenty of mammal activity all along the brook, so I don't think the consequences can be devastating. The concentrations are much lower further down the brook, in any case.
Still, I'll pop up to Black Park Road this evening and take a look at what's happening there.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A productive evening's voling

A fairly clear print at the bottom of the picture, and droppings at the top left side.

Latrine in the ditch near Grocontinental. Thanks goodness for a zoom lens as it was way too far down the bank for me to reach!

Feeding at Edward German Drive. There were several feeding stations, but I couldn't get them into focus as they were behind reeds.

The product of an hour's walk around three water vole haunts.