The last time I saw a water vole was some 25 years ago, when I was a student ion derby. I used to sit down by the river in Darley Park and watch them plop in and out of the water there. When friend and photographer, Iain Green (www.wildwonder.co.uk) asked me if I would like to come and see some, I leapt at the chance! Iain lives in Gloucestershire and there is a healthy population on the river close to where he lives. Leaving early, I met Iain at half seven in the morning and we headed straight down to the water. It was a stunning morning and a beautiful place to spend some tim before the heat of the day set in.
The river shows all the signs that it is not only perfect for water voles, but that they are definitely present! Little holes little the banks and freshly cropped ‘lawns’ frequent the area, with fresh dropping on many of the muddied banks. I was not to be disappointed, because within a few minutes, Ian suddenly pointed downstream. There, swimming purposefully across the water, was my first water vole in many years! Like a wind-up toy, they swim at an amazing speed, their little faces and whiskers up above the surface. A quick shake on the other side of the bank and they would disappear into one of the many holes.
This time of year is probably not the best time to photograph them. There is a tremendous amount of foliage, a lot of it overhanging the banks, meaning it is very dark. Next year, I will take Iain’s advice and visit in March or April, when the banks are bare and I can get a better view. Despite the challenges, we were able to watch a series of individuals and I got some shots…. on a very low shutter speed though!
The best views we had were of one vole who was using a hole right opposite the bank. There was quite a lot of plant growth around it, but I managed to position myself so I could see this entrance. At this time of the year, they love the stinging nettle stems. He was popping out of the hole, grabbing a nearby nettle stem and then pulling it down into the hole, where he could eat it in safety in the burrow! It was quite comical to watch and I managed to get some shots!
I had a wonderful morning and these endearing creatures are wonderful to watch and photograph. It is a lovely site and I know I will be back with my camera to get some better pictures of these super little mammals. A big thank you to Iain who gave up some of his precious time to show me his neighbours!