Water voles are one of my favourite mammals in the UK, with their plump bodies and enduring mannerisms. Water voles are often mistaken for rats and the character called Ratty, in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’, was actually a Water vole. There has been many remakes of this wonderful children’s book which was a firm favourite of mine.
While waiting to see one of these animals show up you can often feel you are among a real life set of the wind in the willows, with the many insects and small creatures all going about their lives around you, with the continuous flow of moving water.
I’m always very vigilant when I’m around rivers and streams, just in case you see any sign of these fellows around. They leave characteristic tracks in mud, close to the water, their forefoot has four toes which leaves a distinctive star shaped pattern, while the hind foot has five toes. A great way to tell if water voles are about is to look for the tell tale signs they leave, such as footprints, burrows and droppings. They are active during the daytime and particularly in the early evening.
If you sit quietly and patiently you may hear the characteristic ‘plop’ of a diving water vole and then be rewarded by seeing it make its way, doggy-paddle, across the river as it patrols the banks searching for food. Water voles are affected by poor water quality another major clue in locating them, if the water isn’t clean and healthy then you won’t find them there.
Over the last several weeks I have spent alot of time watching a couple of pairs at different locations within the rivers of the Peak District and witnessed some amazing and unseen behaviour. Last year I was amazed to see one vole climbing small trees to reach and feed on fresh leaves, sitting suspended above the water casally eating without a care in the world.
Water voles love to eat a wide range of vegetation, small fresh leaves and roots are their favourite but they will eat basically anything they can find. Recently I witnessed one vole eating holly leaves, nibbling around the sharp points consuming the juice centre parts then discarding the sharp bits aside.
Once the lower leaves on this tree had been eaten I then witnessed him climbing up, sometimes falling off to continue eating these holly leaves. At times it was so comical, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with laughter as this was behaviour I had never witnessed within Water voles before.
He would slowly climb up, in between the sharp points of the leaves to reach them, bite and begin chewing. A couple of times he’d get to where he was trying to reach a leaf, only to fall off, make a massive plop, swim a shore and continue on.
“Nearly there” I was saying while pinned to my cameras viewfinder capturing this sequence, with his eye just peeking through. At this stage I was glued to him just not knowing what would happen next. I’ve never laughed so much while watching wildlife before. And as I watched through my viewfinder I really hoped he understood I was laughing with him not at him.
Streamlining his body shape and fur in order to squeeze around the sharp edges of the holly leaves, as seen in the photo below. Almost halving his size in order to get up and past these sharp obstacles.
For every climb that he succeeded there were many that failed, where he fell and plunged into the water beneath him.
He would come to the surface and swim to the shore and carry on, occasionally having a quick look around to see if anyone had witnessed his fall. Almost like when you see a person fall over or if you trip or fall yourself, you bounce straight back up and carry on red faced , just checking around to see if anyone witnessed your fall. If they did, it just made the whole experience just that bit harder to bear. But such was the determination of this enduring fellow and the pull of these leaves he carried on for several minutes.
They say a picture paints a thousand words, so I do hope these photos really convey what might have taken me many more words to express. Where the power of visualization is key for me. I still cannot believe what I witnessed and it clearly goes to show that no matter how long or how much you know about a subject, there will be always more to learn.
This is the beauty of wildlife photography, the fact I can show now what I witnessed rather than just trying to explain what magical wonders I saw that day. By just watching and listening and taking in whats around you can often result in these wonderful moments I get chance to see whilst among nature. This is the key to my work, many thanks.