Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Feeding Signs

The Staggsbrook as it passes under Greenfields Rise - teeming with water voles.

Feeding stations on the Prees Branch Canal

Prees Branch Canal.

Feeding station at Black Park Road.

Vole-cut reed at Black Park Road.

Feeding at White Lion Meadow - note the V and arrow-shaped ends of the nibbled stalks.
Water vole feeding at White Lion Meadow.

I think this is the remains of a frog eaten by an otter! Under the concrete bridge at Whitchurch Country Park
Seems like a good time to post a few pictures of what to look for when assessing whether water voles have been feeding in a given area. Sometimes, as well as the signs shown above, grass will have been grazed short around burrows. But it's the slanted ends of stalks that are the giveaway every time: geese and ducks will chop up vegetation and leave it floating in the water or scattered on the bank, but not neatly the way water voles do with that 45 degree cut.
Had a brief sighting tonight off the bridge at Greenfields Rise (top pic). This is an area just outside the Country Park, and depressingly, one being talked about for development by the Waterways Trust. It's stuffed with burrows and looks like a really busy, key stretch for water voles. The habitat's perfect. No improvements needed!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Rats Versus Voles Again

I'd been watching this vole at White Lion Meadow, and when it swam off I started to put my camera away. Then something - as I thought, the vole - climbed back out of the water. It was this rat, which seems only to have one eye. The vole later reappeared further down the stream, but hiding in a clump of celandine.
I know from experience rats in any serious number can be bad news for water vole colonies, so I'll need to monitor the situation carefully. A single monocular rat probably isn't much threat on its own, but rats rarely come in ones.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Prees Branch Canal 2010

Feeding station at the Prees Branch Canal

The plastic mesh baskets holding sodden oasis that keeps the clay moist and ready to take paw prints

Tracking cartridges covered in cling film and soaking in water to keep them fresh
I should have renewed the tracking pads on the mink rafts before, but I finally made it down to the Prees Branch Canal nature reserve and refreshed the inserts with new smooth clay. On one raft was water vole feeding, and on the other, water vole droppings, and there was feeding all the way between. It looks as though that colony's off to a sound start.
All the photographs of voles are taken at White Lion Meadow car park.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Serious Threat from Shropshire Council

White Lion Meadow vole.

A classically vole-cut piece of grass floating down the brook.

Helpful tree removal by Griffiths Tool Hire, reducing shading of the banks.

Latrine at Edward German Drive.

Burrows at Edward German Drive.
Stacks of burrows suddenly all along Edward German Drive and White Lion Meadow. I'm also getting regular sightings of water voles, which is a huge relief after the terrible winter we've had, where mortality rates must have been especially high.
But the new Shropshire Site Allocations and Management of Development plans that have just been released are really worrying:
(Scroll down for map of sites in Whitchurch)
Several sites under consideration for building work are key water vole hot spots. And although water voles are a legally protected species, and are supposed to be subject to incredibly strict mitigation measures in the unlikely event they genuinely do have to be disturbed, Shropshire Council's Planning Dept have got a poor record of taking notice of the law here.
According to Water Voles, The Law in Practice: Guidance for Planners and Developers, you are only allowed to catch or transport water voles if you have a special licence - to do otherwise risks a fine, imprisonment, and the confiscating of your vehicles - and there is "no provision under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for licensing what would otherwise be offences for the purposes of development". The law is very specific. Read more here:
I only hope the evidence both on this blog and that the Whitchurch Water Vole Group has gathered over the years is listened to!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

New Year, New Nest

Chewing dried grass into lengths to make a nest.

Snack break.

Close up of the vole's thick water-repellent fur.

Prints going diagonally up the picture; the Fanta bottle provides some scale.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Nicky and her Enormous Vole

A massive vole Nicky once rescued from a cat.

A female great crested newt that lives in the cellar. Nicky has a licence to handle them.

A toad, also from the cellar.

Mating toads, and spawn in the pond.

Toad spawn.
Prints along the banks at Waylands Road, where a council workman told me he'd seen a water vole this morning.
I was lucky enough to get a look round Nicky Hunter's lovely wildlife garden at Whixall. Really I was looking for water vole signs and we did find some likely burrows, though the search was pretty much academic since Nicky sees them regularly swimming across her pond. There's a good population of field voles, and also various amphibians - see above. A nature-lover's paradise, basically!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Country Park

Went and had a poke around Whitchurch Country Park - Greenfields Nature Reserve - but before I did I stopped off at White Lion Meadow car park and watched this sizeable vole eating celandine for ten minutes.
Plenty of starry foorprints on the banks of the Country Park (photo directly above) plus burrows and a bit of feeding. No latrines yet that I could see.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Burrows 2010

Burrow at Edward German Drive.

Two burrows near each other. There'll be entrances underwater, too.

Prints along the banks at Edward German Drive.

Latrine at the railway bridge by Homebase.

Prints under the bridge at White Lion Meadow
Burrows are appearing now along the banks, to accompany the prints and latrines. For hole entrance size, think Pringles tube. Water voles also tend to nibble the grass around the openings to their burrows, and they don't leave spoil heaps outside the way rats do.
Two separate sightings tonight; managed to photograph neither.