by Simon Knight
The weekend of May 21st and 22nd was pretty special for me in the reserve.
It started early on the Saturday morning with a hunt for water voles, which involved picking a location, sitting still and not making any noise. It sounds simple enough, but I usually end up with pins and needles in my feet, which then involves moving. And what I have learned about water voles is that if you remain still, they carry on with their lives and probably don’t even realise that you are there. But if you move, it will spook them. Even if you haven’t spotted one that’s tucked away in the greenery, it will see you if you move and the first you will know about it, is hearing a ‘plop’ as it retreats to the water and then one of its many burrows for safety. I had a two hour session before the park run started, where I saw an adult water vole, but wasn’t able to get a picture. I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t get a picture, it was rewarding enough just to see one.
Green nettle weevil (Phyllobius pomaceus) and drinker moth caterpillar (Euthrix potatoria)
I was back in the afternoon with a friend who wanted some photography tuition and we went on a short macro safari. On a warm day in the reserve during late spring and summer there are no end of subjects to point a macro lens at and we were soon clicking away. My friend spotted a green nettle weevil, which didn’t stay still for too long, but we were both able to get a couple of pictures of this very cool little insect, which was a new species for the reserve. We also saw a couple of drinker moth caterpillars, with one being quite obliging whilst we photographed it.
I had another session on Sunday evening looking for water voles. I had a few sightings, but was only able to get one picture as the other opportunities would have required me moving considerably, which I obviously wanted to avoid. After about an hour of listening and watching intently for signs of voles, I heard a ‘plop’ that was quieter than that which I had become accustomed to with the voles. I looked in the direction the plop had come from just as a tiny flash of dark grey and white scurried up the bank. For about a minute I watched in amazement as a very cute water shrew (Neomys fodiens) repeatedly darted into the water and then back up the bank to disappear into the greenery. This little mammal turned out to be another new species for the reserve. That was two in one weekend!
Water vole (Arvicola amphibius) and water shrew (Neomys fodiens)
Fun fact: The water shrew is unusual in mammals, possessing venomous saliva which it uses to paralyse its prey.
I find it remarkable that we are still discovering new species in the park. It really does prove that it deserves its Nature Reserve status. Given the wildlife we have in the reserve – the fact that it’s home to a variety of nesting birds, species of flower that often only in occur in protected wild flower meadows and of course, mammals and reptiles that are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 – I believe that we really do need to make every effort to prioritise the protection of the habitat so that its wildlife is given the best possible chance to flourish.
Header image: water vole by Simon Knight