Saturday, 29 August 2009


Above, an active burrow at Steel Heath.

This is often what you have to fight through!
Below, water vole droppings at the Country Park. (Click to enlarge, if necessary.)

You do need usually to get right down close to the bank if you're going to spot water vole signs. This time of year that means wearing thick trousers, waterproof boots, full-length sleeves and stout gloves. Carrying a stick to part the tall reeds, and dousing yourself in insect repellent's a must: a pair of gardening shears or sharp scissors doesn't go amiss, either. What you're looking for is droppings less than the length of a 1p coin, that are the same colour as the mud they're sitting on - you really do need sharp eyes. Any vegetation you push aside MUST be put back to cover the bank back up and protect the voles.
Anyway, in summary, there are burrows and feeding at Steel Heath, and droppings and feeding in Whitchurch Country Park.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Do different colonies have different habits?

Nice clear shot of a water vole's tail.
Anecdotal observation: when I go round the area to check on the various colonies, I find they leave different sets of field signs. The ones at the bridge near Homebase are still making feeding stations, whereas as White Lion Meadow it's just grazing I'm seeing. Down in the country park there are lawns and burrows and slipways but no obvious latrines; in the field near my house it's latrines all the way. In addition, there are some colonies who demolish any watercress down to the stalks, while others leave it untouched.
I know in general latrines mean breeding females, so when I fail to find any latrines it may be a lone male's territory I'm looking at (or, more likely, that I'm just not spotting them - but then why do some water voles leave droppings in very obvious places, while others seem to hide them away?).
Maybe the feeding stations are to do with the kind of plants available, though I seem to find more in the spring than later on in the year, so I have a feeling it might be seasonal too.
And perhaps the percentage of watercress eaten depends on what else is available; it's possibly way down the list of what they like to eat, so if something better's on the menu they'll go for that first.
But it does seem odd that certain field signs characterize certain colonies to such a degree.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Special Moment

Sometimes a vole comes so close I could reach down and stroke it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Railway bridge near Homebase

White Ermine caterpillar

Water vole latrine

Two large feeding stations
Revisited the cottage by the railway bridge, where last year I had several sightings of water voles. We haven't had any sightings this year, but I recorded signs in spring and a quick check today showed clear water vole presence there still.
It's important to keep an eye on established colonies and not just assume a strong population will stay that way: in this case, the voles have been having a bit of a battle with rats and numbers appear to have dropped, but now we've identified the problem we can keep a special watch on the situation and help the water voles. Terrifically sympathetic landowners, I'm delighted to report. Many thanks to them for allowing us access.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Other voles are available

Spotted this very tiny chap at White Lion Meadow - the bottle in front is a Tango bottle, so that gives an idea of scale. Much much smaller than a water vole. I'm told by, my friend at Wild About Britain, that this is a bank vole because it's darker than a field vole and its ears aren't quite as much on show.
Note a bit of vole-cut grass - possibly water vole - right in front of the bank vole's nose.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Rats again

Enormous water vole

Feeding station

Heavy grazing by water voles

Peacock butterfly
There seems to be a fair amount of water vole activity at both ends of the Edward German Drive stretch of the Staggsbrook: the feeding station was at the far end, and the grazing by the road.
Was disappointed to see a rat this evening at White Lion Meadow, and not just because at first I thought it was a water vole. The rat population there needs keeping in check, or they overwhelm the voles, eating their babies and taking over their burrows.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Ooh, all sorts!

Ditch near Grocontinental - a stronghold for water voles

Heavy water vole grazing in the ditch - click to enlarge and see the angle of the cut-off stalks

Large latrine in the ditch, indicating a breeding female
Photographs below are from the Country Park:

Meadow grasshopper

Common Blue

Small Copper

Painted Lady

The shocked expression of a vole as I fall backwards off my camping stool

Cromford Treat

I've been too poorly to get out for the last couple of days - an insect bite to the inside of my eyelid, somehow, and a fairly violent allergic reaction has had me hiding indoors so as not to frighten small children. But in the meantime John Harding's sent these wonderful photographs taken at the Cromford Canal. They'd cheer anyone up, wouldn't they?
Anyway, thought for the day is insect repellent. Don't go voling without it!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

White Lion Meadow - a photo at last

Not a brilliant picture, I grant you, but the first one since May. There was so much nibbled watercress under the bridge, I thought I had a chance of seeing a water vole if I stood there long enough.
Added later - went to check the Prees Branch Canal this evening and found plenty of water vole evidence, including a feeding station made of chewed horsetail. I know w-vs eat over 200 species of plants, but I've never seen them chop up horsetail before. There were about four little piles of it, so the vole must have been keen. On the drive back I stopped near Dobson's Bridge ( ) and saw another water vole swimming in the brook there.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

First August Vole


The characteristic profile of a sitting hare. Click to enlarge the picture.

The hare crouches as we get closer.

Large Yellow Underwing moth.

Very ragged Green Veined White butterfly
Spent a terrific afternoon watching hares at a dairy farm near Wem. Once you've seen a hare, there's no mistaking the leggy, elegant shape for that of a rabbit. Black-tipped ears are another giveaway, plus the fur on the body is more of a nut-brown colour, where rabbits are a bit greyish.