Close encounters of the vole kind

Water vole © Tom Marshall

As the days draw out and nights get shorter, with the sun higher in the sky, my thoughts turn back to this time last year: a lazy moment sat on a grassy bank overlooking the crystal clear waters of a small babbling watercourse.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement upstream in the water’s edge. At first I thought a moorhen might make an appearance, but then the unmistakeable brown shape of a plump water vole appeared on the bankside. Its neat small dark eyes glinted in the sunlight and squinted towards me, but with little chance of seeing me; water voles are short-sighted, relying much more on their keen sense of smell and hearing to detect predators, who may want them on the menu.

Water vole at North Newbald Beck © Jon Traill

Water vole at North Newbald Beck © Jon Traill

I made myself more comfortable and a few minutes later was rewarded as my wetland friend arrived, paddling furiously into the current, looking like a wind up bath toy whirring along. We sat opposite each other, with the water vole busily chomping its way through a mixed salad of marginal wetland plants - a celandine leaf for starter, a long blade of grass for mains finished off with a side of feathery leaves of water crowfoot.

 

Water vole © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Water vole © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

No sooner had the water vole arrived and it was off again, PLOP as it dropped into the stream water continuing to patrol its territory, checking out its burrows for interlopers and ensuring its food supply was sufficient.

I sat in the now dappled sunlight, as shade cast across me from a nearby tree and I reminded myself that what I had just encountered couldn't be bought from an online store or truly experienced on a screen. I also know that my time spent watching this water vole was sadly not a common sight anymore, as they have disappeared from many watercourses, now only left as memories in peoples mind banks.