Stepped right off the bus into the gutter, didn’t you? Or rather a vole hole. I mean, er holes where voles live. If you recall, I mentioned back in March that a few of us had volunteered to collect data on wildlife around the Fens. Subsequently, we prevailed upon our Easter dinner guests to trudge out to our nearest ditch in order to examine it for evidence of vole. We actually did find evidence of vole (no latrines, just holes). Shortly after Easter, though, my bees went crazy so all thoughts of vole were dispatched while I wrote endless entries on swarming bees.
Now that things have calmed down a bit, I can write about voles. (yippee! ) That’s a bit of a sarcastic yippee, as truth to tell I’m not altogether jazzed by voles and newts (another subject of our examinations). And toads and frogs, well, let’s not even go there….
I guess I thought we were going to be looking at birds, probably more like hoping. What our group expedition turned out to be was an exploration of life aquatic-amphibians (newts) and yes voles and otters. I had not realized how threatened these creatures are until we were shown a few ponds that had completely evaporated in the dry winter months (I’d like to see them now in July after record rains). Droughts such as those we experienced in the winter and spring deprive them of their habitats. As if this were not enough to worry about, they have to beware of predators like mink, county council employees, and farmers.
Voles look something like mice, maybe more between a mouse and a rat. The closest we got to identifying one on the day was in a plastic bag. Our guide had a frozen, dead (is this word redundant here?) one in a bag in the trunk of her car. These people are hard core. And a little scary. But, in a nice way.
Anyway, even if you don’t see voles, you can detect their presence through vole holes. And poo. Piles of it. Mashed. That’s right, I said it. Mashed piles of vole pool is what is known in the trade as ‘latrines’, and it is generally the females who are the mashers. Voles and otters also love to poo on some kind of a platform. Which is probably why they like Fenland ditches as there’s plenty of platform-like objects floating in the ditches hereabouts–pieces of wood, trash, and yes mattresses. Vole heaven..Weren’t We Just Talking about Ferns?
I felt a tad alone in my appreciation of Dylan Thomas’ poem, Fern Hill, not as strong a reaction as I thought I would get. And what exactly are ‘ricks’? I mean, I know about the hay connection, but then how could the nightjars be flying with them? I had always assumed it was some kind of bird… Anyway, for this post I am referring to a fern of quite another kind. When we went on our Easter expedition, not only did we find evidence of voles, but unwittingly we uncovered a notorious Kiwi-type pest of the countryside. A response we received to our observations:
Incidentally, your pictures also include New Zealand water Fern, Azolla filiculoides. It is the reddish floating leaves a bit like duckweed on the water at the ditch margin. It is a non-native floating water plant that can grow exponentially and cover the ditch completely. It had a year that favoured its growth last year and has appeared all over the country. It was introduced as a pond plant from Australia and New Zealand many years ago. The only effective way it is controlled is by a weevil that also comes from the same part of the word and only eats Azolla. It is present in the country in small numbers but is affected by cold winters like the one we just had so it may be that the Azolla spreads before the weevil can breed sufficient numbers to overcome it. Having said that, I had Azolla covering several ditches near you last year where water voles were numerous and they didn’t seem to be affected in the short term. We did control the Azolla with a pack of the weevils that we bought in and added to the ditches in June.
Now, where does one get a pack of weevils?
‘The Foxes on the Hills Barked Clear and Cold’
Admittedly there aren’t many hills roundabout, but twice in the spring, once in March and then again in May, a fox came trotting through the yard as bold as you please. It was scared off each time by my yelps of surprise. These were the first time I had ever seen one in the flesh and fur, a lot taller than the ones I had seen on TV.
Upcoming posts: Little Birds Nursery School; The Fenland Bee Artist Colony
- A cool Water Fern called Azolla -aka- Mosquito Fern -aka- Duckweed Fern. (veganmyway.tumblr.com)
- Voles invade North Salt Lake neighborhood (abc4.com)
- Azolla: The Amazing Fern We May All Be Eating in the Future (thekitchn.com)
Dylan Thomas reading ‘Fern Hill’: