Rafting Water Voles

Two weeks ago I was at YWT Skerne Wetlands nature reserve for a conservation work day. We set up water vole rafts in some of the ponds. Mink rafts record footprints, but these simplified versions for water voles detect their presence by collecting droppings. When spaced out along a water course they can indicate individual water vole territories.

 Securing a water vole raft to a stake

The rafts are left for a fortnight

Last week we returned and were pleased to see that several of the rafts had a good sprinkling of droppings, indicating a healthy water vole population.

Water vole droppings on a raft

As they are crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) I went back last night to watch and photograph the voles. It was a sunny evening with little wind, so conditions were ideal.  I put some small pieces of apple on one of the used rafts, then sat on the opposite bank of the pond and waited.

A raft baited with apple

After half an hour or so, I heard noises coming from another pond behind me. I looked round and saw a water vole swimming across. As the light was against me, I moved to the other side of the vole’s pond and waited again. After another half hour, I noticed a movement on the water surface a few metres along the edge of the pond on my left. I watched and waited, then suddenly a head popped up right in front of me and a water vole looked me straight in the eye. I lifted my camera to take a photo, but before I could press the shutter it dived out of sight with the characteristic ‘plop’ that water voles are famous for. I waited another hour, then walked around the end of the ponds, so I could watch both ponds at once. I saw the vole again before the sun went down, but still never managed to get a photo.

 A more cooperative water vole I filmed in 2009

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