Sunday, 26 April 2009

Fordhall Mystery

Fordhall feeding

Prees Branch Canal feeding (the pics below, too)

White Lion Meadow water vole from last night
We had a report of a water vole sighting at Fordhall Farm in Market Drayton, so Rosie and I went to have a look. There was certainly otter presence - we found prints and spraint, both old and fresh - but we couldn't draw any firm conclusions regarding voles.
The problem, once again, is these pesky field voles. Field voles are really common and you'll find their tiny light green droppings, little trackways and £2 coin-sized burrows in fields and banks all over the place. But they also like water, and often choose to live by streams or ponds. I've seen one swimming in the brook at White Lion Meadow. And the issue for water vole-surveyors is that field voles leave feeding stations that are very similar to water voles: they chop up lengths of vegetation using the same slanted cut, and leave it in piles. Unless there are droppings right next door, it can be impossible to tell the two types of feeding station apart.
Generally field voles cut daintier pieces, and eat thin blades of grass (and also will strip the outer layer off juncus reeds so the white pith shows, which water voles don't seem to do). Generally water voles choose chunkier plants to turn into feeding stations - thick, broad-bladed reeds, for instance. However, there's a medium length where it's hard to say which mammal's been doing the chopping, and that's what we have in the top photo taken at Fordhall Farm last week.
The only difference between the top photo and the other three, taken at the Prees Branch Canal reserve and definitely water vole, is scale. The Fordhall pieces are grass, while the others are chunky reed. I should have included a coin, to show the difference.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Massive feeding station at the railway bridge near Homebase.

This photo shows the water-repellent quality of the fur

Burrow and 'lawn' - nibbled (and squashed) grass

New latrine at White Lion Meadow - don't know whether this is marking a boundary or not

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Black Park Road

I checked the field at the back of Black Park Road and found it looking less sorry for itself than before. A brief poke about the vegetation showed feeding signs - if you enlarge the photograph of watercress, you'll see some of the stalks are chewed off at an angle.
The picture at the botom is a White Lion Meadow vole, performing the dusk patrol. We've had steady sightings through April, but I can't tell how many voles there are.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Rat holes and vole burrows

I could have sworn this hole, which appeared in January, was made by a rat because there was a spoil heap outside it. Rats dig down, kicking soil behind them, whereas water voles dig up from below using their teeth which means their entrances are neater. But either I was wrong, it was always a vole burrow, or the rat's gone and this vole's taken the burrow over. Does this happen?

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Fellow Blogger

Minnows in the brook
I was delighted to discover recently a fellow water vole blog here: It would be great if there was a countrywide network of vole blogs, all recording sightings and the fortunes of various colonies. My friend Albert always maintains there are a lot more water voles than anyone realizes, because so many smaller water courses haven't been surveyed yet. I hope he's right! Once we pin down where the voles are, we can look at how to extend habitat and create corridors to allow populations to trade genes and build up healthy stock.
Meanwhile here are field signs from White Lion Meadow:

(Massively lightened!)

Footprints under the bridge

Feeding - reeds cut off at an angle


Friday, 17 April 2009

Car Park

The only visible latrine by the timber yard is still being refreshed, so there's clearly still presence down there. The photograph above is a car park vole, spotted this afternoon.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Latrines as an indicator of water vole numbers

("The predictive equation to estimate water vole population density can be applied using the latrine numbers. This is y = 1.48+0.638x, where y = water voles and x =latrines"). However, its accuracy would depend on being able to locate all the latrines in a given stretch, and sometimes they can be extremely hard to find. This is the first and only one I've seen at White Lion Meadow car park. Again, at least one of the droppings is pointy at the end, despite what the text books say.
It's the females who make the latrines, depositing about six up and down the range of their territory and, of those, the ones marking the boundaries being trampled.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Feeding herself up

If this is the nesting female I've been watching over the last couple of days, then she'll need to be fattening herself up for the period she has to spend underground looking after her babies (each litter averages six in number; young leave at about three weeks).
It's possible that Spot is still around and he's the father - there must be a male about somewhere!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Comparison between rat and water vole droppings

On a stretch of the Soulton Brook this morning I discovered not only plenty of water vole feeding, but also these bigger droppings above (left) which are rat. I thought it was useful to see the two animals' together, for comparison. The water vole (right) are significantly smaller and more rounded. Quick reminder about rats and health & safety here:
The top photograph is one of the Cromford voles, snapped by John Harding. It shows the distinctive orange enamel of an adult water vole's teeth.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Meanwhile, back in the car park

At long last, a water vole in the car park stretch of White Lion Meadow, and even better news, it's a nesting female. Sadly it's not Spot, but still it was lovely to watch. I managed to get a shot of it swimming underwater, too.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Saddlers Walk

Took a stroll down the back of the Saddlers Walk estate and, in a ditch at the edge of one of the fields, found plenty of water vole feeding. The above photo, though out of focus, also shows droppings (you can click to enlarge).
The top photo shows a bank vole snaffling peanuts out of my friend's bird feeder!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

New ditch

Here's a new area I didn't even know existed: a ditch running parallel with the railway line, off Edgeley Road. Clear water vole activity, including some droppings which were (against the wisdom of the text books) pointy-ended. We're always told that means rat, but this was definitely w-v because of the size, colour, and siting in the open.
All the way along I was accompanied by this beautiful song thrush (or is it mistle?).

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Activity at the Prees Branch Canal

I had a report of a mink-like animal a week and a half ago in the fields by the Prees Branch nature reserve. I checked at once and found nothing. But today I found this otter spraint (top photo) on the tow path. The distinguishing feature of otter poo is that it smells fishy/not unpleasantly scented/of jasmine tea. It's a really distinctive odour.
Otters are a mixed blessing for water voles. They do predate on voles, but on the other hand, they're native and so their impact balances out (a mink will go through a colony of water voles like a blow-torch through butter). More importantly, otters drive mink out, and will kill them. I was sent a photo just this week of a mink that had probably been dispatched by an otter, but I won't post it here as it's pretty gruesome.
Hearteningly, there was a lot of water vole feeding (photos 2-5) right along the whole length of the canal, and I was interested to see an example of a water vole leaving droppings on top of food. I knew field voles did this, but I've never seen it in water voles.