Wonderful Water Voles

Last year I made the mistake of making numerous predictions about the sort of things I aimed to photograph and blog about. I failed to do most of them. So this year, I learned from that and will just let everything come along as and when it happens. Which leads me to today’s post.

When I moved to the new house in York last year, I was delighted to learn we had a local population of Water Voles. I did share some photos back in May, but they were a bit gloomy. So I’ve been trying to get at least one vole to sit in the sun. Sadly, whenever I’ve seen one in good light it’s been when I haven’t had my camera to hand.

I’ve been off work sick this week (nothing serious), and have been making myself better with the occasional walk in the afternoon sunshine. I know where the voles are, and I’ve seen them out over the past few weeks. So I knew where to look.

Water Vole hole, with footprint ringed York, March 2014

Water Vole hole, with footprint ringed
York, March 2014

Examining their various bolt-holes (at least the ones on the surface) showed signs of action (see above). Water Rats (an inaccurate alternate name for Water Voles) were nearby.

Unfortunately the first sighting wasn’t a Water Rat, merely a Rat by the water:

Rat, collecting his dinner York, March 2014

Rat, collecting his dinner
York, March 2014

A lot of people chuck whole slices of bread into the water (something you shouldn’t do), but the rats are at least clearing up. Many people dislike rats, but a healthy population of these bright rodents is no bad thing.

People often confuse Rats and Water Voles, and they are of similar size. But as you’ll see, not similar appearance.

Blessed art thou, a rat swimmin' York March 2014

Blessed art thou, a rat swimmin’
York March 2014

While staring at the opposite bank, looking for any sign of a Water Vole poking his nose out, or swimming along, I heard a plop/splash noise just down below me. Sure enough, on my side of the river, mere feet away, was this little fellow:

Water Vole York, March 2014

Water Vole
York, March 2014

Yes! There, in the full sun, so close I almost needed to back up to get it in focus, was a Water Vole! You can even see his yellow front teeth (incisors). Most rodents have yellow incisors. It’s not that they are dirty or rotten, and they aren’t heavy smokers! They have a very heavy enamel coating on those teeth, as otherwise they would wear down far too quickly.

It was quite content to sit there while I took a lot of photos, and even happily changed position a few times to get different angles:

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCHopefully you can clearly see the difference in shape and bearing between the vole and the rat. Colour isn’t so reliable, you get pale voles and dark rats. But the shape of the head is pretty distinctive, especially in the eyes, ears, and nose:


If you want to know more, the Mammal Society and your local Wildlife Trust will have more resources. There’s also this Natural England factsheet (pdf).

So there you have it. Spiky wet Water Voles, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Certainly made me feel better for a while.


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3 Responses to Wonderful Water Voles

  1. Emily Heath says:

    How gorgeous. I can see that the vole is a very different shape to the rat, much more rounded.

  2. Carrie says:

    I live in York and spotted what I thought was two water voles in a ditch near my house.
    I saw one of them run into a hole near the waters edge. I didn’t get a photo and I’m wondering now if it was a rat. It definitely had a tail no longer than two inches.
    I could send you pictures of the hole and tracks in the mud that I took.
    Thank you

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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