Friday, 1 April 2016

Searching for Water Voles @ Thorley Wash!

River Stort and Thorley Wash Nature Reserve - 19th Mar 16

Weather: Cloudy, overcast, cold. Drizzle.

Bird Total: 35

Today I was booked to visit Thorley Wash, in search of the recently released Water Voles. It was a guided walk by Martin Ketcher, the HMWT's Water Vole Officer. My friend Barry was also going to attend, but he wimped out because of the poor weather. In fact, although the event was fully booked, with 28 people expected, only 18 turned up.

No photos of the day - so some photos of days gone by.
I left home around 9.30 and made slow progress up the River Stort to the Reserve. It was slow progress for a number of reasons. I was keeping an eye out for any Vole activity on the river, plus any birds on show. Not long into the walk the drizzle came. It was initially light, but became a little heavier as time went on. I was thinking that Barry had made the right decision.

Fortunately, it didn't last long and soon the birds began appearing. Pairs of Canada Geese were a surprise, along the river. There were loads of Moorhen, but only a pair of Coot. Feral Pigeons are quite common along this stretch. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard drumming and a Green Woodpecker yaffled out. I could also hear a Song Thrush in full song. The only wildfowl on show were Mallards.

Amwell last year.
I was so absorbed in bird-watching, I nearly forgot the reason why I was out here. Time was getting on and so I quickened my pace. There were plenty of cyclists, dog-walkers and joggers about, unfortunately. I eventually arrived at the meeting point, a lock near the Three Horseshoes pub.

There was only one other person there, when I arrived. It was her first time visiting the Reserve and, indeed, the area. Not long after, Martin turned up, clipboard in hand and ticked us off. Over the next 15 minutes, the rest of the group arrived. In the meantime, whilst waiting, I had spotted Goldcrest, Grey and Pied Wagtail and Long-tailed Tit.

Adult and young, at Rye Meads
After a brief introduction, including H&S advice, we set off for the Reserve. Unfortunately, due to the poor weather, I was almost certain we wouldn't see any Water Voles. We didn't, but we did see plenty of signs of activity from them. Martin pointed out areas where droppings were left and of feeding areas .

Whilst on the Reserve itself, we spotted Grey Heron; Buzzard; Kingfisher and Great Spotted Woodpecker. We could also hear a Chiffchaff calling.

Taken at RSPB Rainham Marsh
Martin was very eloquent and informative, not only showing us signs of Vole activity, but also explaining the events leading up to and including the recent release. There were thoughts of releasing more this year, but these plans have been put on hold until next year.

There was still a stiff breeze blowing and the thick clouds weren't allowing any blue sky to appear; but at least it had stopped raining. I had also noticed that a lot of tree clearance work had been done around the Reserve. Good if you are a Water Vole, as it should help to encourage vegetation around the streams. It should also be good for odonata, as well.

This one was taken at TW last year!
Factoid of the day for me was the surprise that Water Voles only live for one or two years. That's if they survive the cold Winters and the Mink! Hopefully, after the recent warm Winter we've just had, most of the recent release are still with us. Although we were also told that 2 Mink had recently been caught, further upstream.

Being a small Reserve the walk finished after around 30 minutes. After a minor question and answer session, we all dispersed and headed for home. The only additions to my bird list were Mute Swan; Jackdaw; House Sparrow and Greenfinch.

Martin accompanied me part the way back, checking for Vole activity. Pleasingly, he found feeder station and droppings signs.

It was a very enjoyable morning, reminding me of how good a Reserve Thorley Wash is. I shall certainly be visiting again, during the Summer months, in search of Mammal & Odonata.

'Although Water Voles numbers in the UK have crashed by more than 90%, they are still classified as 'Least Concern' on the IUCN Red List.'