Monday, 29 March 2010

Not Much Cover

Bank and invisible burrow



Latrine (click to enlarge)

I'd have said I knew what kind of bank habitat water voles liked - plenty of reed/grass/general plant cover, lots of vegetation to eat - but after spotting four latrines within the space of just ten metres, I saw a vole shoot up the side of this bare-looking bank (top picture) and disappear into a burrow. Traditionally we've assumed overhanging trees don't suit water voles because the branches provide too much shade and inhibit the growth of riparian plants. However, there is a marshy area of reeds about 70 metres lower down this stream, so that might well be part of this vole's territory (ranges vary, according to lushness of habitat, from 20m - 130m).

Sunday, 28 March 2010

That Blackbird

The famous White Lion Meadow blackbird.

Spraint under the concrete bridge at Greenfields.

Bridge 27 on the Shropshire Union Canal (Grindley Brook).
Otters seem to be doing well around Whitchurch. Every time I check under the bridge at Greenfields Nature Reserve - otherwise known as the County Park - there's fresh spraint, and the same goes for the canal bridges at Grindley Brook. In the photo directly above, the otter had used the whole length of this wall to deposit markings.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

First Sighting of 2010!

Feeding station is in the very centre of the picture - the cut green shoots lying on the mud.

Another latrine in the field near my house.

The vole's the dark blurry shape in the middle of the picture.
Only a fleeting glance and a rubbish photograph, but a fine, fat, unusually dark water vole in a field near my house. Even out of focus you can see the distinctive small ears, very different from a rat or mouse.
I revisited the bridge near Homebase hoping for another sighting, and spotted what looked like a very fresh feeding station, so I think I'd probably just missed a vole there.
Driving through Quoisley on Thursday night I saw a mink run across the road. This could be very bad news for our Whitchurch voles, so we all need to keep our eyes peeled.

Sharp Eyes

It was hard to get into focus through the tangle of briars, but here's a fresh water vole latrine on a bit of floating wood by the railway bridge near Homebase. (You can click the photo to enlarge it slightly.)
At the end of last year I found no signs at all - the feeding and burrow action was up the other end, by the old railway man's cottage. However, it looks as though at least one breeding female's returned.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Small Mammal Survey Day at Preston Montford

ALWAYS hold a wood mouse by its scruff, never by its tail.

Suitable bait that will keep voles, mice and shrews all happy.

Opening the Longworth trap carefully inside a bag.

A bait tube for collecting droppings.

Using the metre square to document field vole signs.

Spent half a day at the marvellous Field Studies Centre at Montford Bridge looking at mammal surveying methods. Simon Poulton of the National Small Mammal Monitoring Scheme showed us four ways to survey.
The first involved using ten Longworth traps set at intervals, in our case along a hedge. He told us that we should leave the traps out a day to let the animals get used to running in and out before we set the door to close. The traps need to have a wodge of hay inside to keep the animal warm, and be baited with juicy vegetables eg a cabbage leaf or a bit of carrot to provide hydration. If you're not using one of the new Longworths with a shrew escape hole, then you must include some blowfly pupae for them to eat. You also need to download a shrew-trapping licence from Natural England and have it on you while you're using the traps. By law you must check the traps every thirteen hours.
Method two was to make a bait tube out of a six inch piece of plastic pipe, a square of muslin and an elastic band. Food is placed inside the tube and then it's left for seven to ten days. To check the contents - and we're talking poo here - you empty them into a plastic bag, one bag per tube, and send the droppings off for DNA analysis.
Method three is one I've seen botanists and geographers use: the placing of a metre square over a piece of ground and then a thorough search of the area inside. We looked for field vole signs, and found them straight away.
And lastly, you can go along hedgerows looking for harvest mouse nests, which are about the size of a tennis ball:
However, you have to be methodical about the surveying, defining the area you're working in and the length of the section you're investigating. For more details about the national monitoring scheme that's taking place right now and needs as many volunteers as it can get, check out this site:

Friday, 19 March 2010

Where we're at in the Middle of March


An early Comma butterfly

Water vole droppings under the railway bridge near Homebase

Water vole prints along Edward German Drive

Prints under the bridge at White Lion Meadow

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Hawks and ducks

A bridleway near Ash



Trackway with footprints

Prints at White Lion Meadow car park

Wren at White Lion Meadow

Woke this morning to a pair of mallards on our garden pond, and then later on this small, probably male, sparrowhawk eating a starling on the lawn.
A walk down to Tesco's showed possible water footprints in the brook nearby, and a later search round the fields near Grocontinental revealed more prints and a couple of latrines. I heard a frog calling, too, which probably means we're due for a pond full of amphibian orgy any week now.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Spring in the Air

There's still ice on the pond, but midges dancing over it. Anyway, down in the field I believe things are stirring. I found several active-looking burrows, a latrine and some feeding. I'd like some more of this sunshine, please.