Nicola Chester's feature on water voles in a recent Nature's Home magazine got plenty of you thinking about how to find this furry denizen of our waterways. Now I'm delighted to follow up with a guest blog from wildlife photographer Tom Mason who has also had considerable success not only seeing, but also capturing this beautiful mammal on film. With this double whammy of advice, I hope you have success (seeing and photographing them) near you! Here's Tom - and some more of his incredible photography.
Living close to a wetland reserve, there has always been one small mammal that has a place close to my heart. The oh so cute, water vole!
Sadly water voles haven’t had the best of times over the last fifty years with loss of habitat and the introduction of the American mink causing huge declines around the UK. It’s not all bad news however, because due to the fantastic work of the RSPB, as well as many other conservation organisations (The Wildlife Trusts, Mammal Society and many more) these charismatic little fellows are making a remarkable comeback across the UK.
Where to look
The type of habitat you will want to look for is one that combines a slow moving water way, with lush vegetation and soft banks for the voles to dig out their burrows within. Often feeding on the fresh rushes and sedges they leave a number of tell tail signs.
Look slowly along the edge of the water for flat platforms of reeds/rushes that are around 10-20cm wide. Often these will be topped with the ends of freshly cut vegetation the voles have been feeding on or small droppings. In terms of vole activity listen out for the “Plop” of disturbed voles as they enter the water, or the small chatter and rustle on the reeds of the voles feeding.
If you spot a vole once it is likely they will return to the same location on a number of occasions, so for the best photographic opportunities its all about identifying a location and sticking it out!
A few great locations to start looking for water voles include:
- RSPB Rainham Marshes, Essex
- The London Wetland Centre, Barnes
- RSPB Ham Wall, Somerset
- Cromford Canal, Derbyshire
- Ranworth Broad, Norfolk
How to photograph them
So after finding your location, you are certainly going to want to produce some images of these stunning little creatures. Firstly you want to choose a spot where you have been seeing the voles on a regular basis, look for feeding platforms or other areas where they spend time sitting or eating, as these will give you a better chance for some photographs.
Water voles are small, so in order to get a good angle you are going to need to get down and dirty (or sometimes not so much) to get the shots you want. Lying down on the ground will give you a far better perspective that is at eye level with your subject, for a more flattering final image.
In terms of cameras, a longer lens will help you isolate your subject from the background. Giving you a nice set of clean results, however the wider perspective with the vole in its habitat can also look great. At some locations a long lens will be quite necessary to get frame filling images whilst at others, the voles can be far more accommodating.
In addition for clean shots also look for foliage that you can use to frame your subjects, using out of focus elements to draw the viewers eye onto the vole positioned within them. In the past at my local nature reserve I have got even closer to the action using a GoPro action camera, a tiny little machine with an ultra wide viewpoint. Using it on a long stick I positioned it ready and waited for the voles, triggering the shutter remotely for my images. It takes a load of practise and trial an error… but remember, the camera in your hand is never the problem. It’s all about who's using it!
How did you get on?
I would love to hear how you get on out in the field photographing water voles, so why not Tweet me @TomMasonPhoto? To see more of my work you can always visit my website at www.tommasonphoto.com
Regular readers of Nature's Home might know of my passion to see as many species of UK wildlife as possible. Every issue I set the challenge for nine species to track down each season, ranging from garden wildlife to some tricky rarities and scarcities which will require a bit of travelling (and luck!).
3,500 species and counting
It has been what i'd describe as an "on time" spring with many things appearing when they should, which certainly helps plan your wildlife trips! This month, I've pushed through the 3,500 species seen and identified in the UK. Hooray! One of the techniques I use to help me identify things is to snap them on my phone and identify them using my library of nature books (which my wife would love me to slim down!) and great online resources, such as Naturespot. This is great for bugs, beetles, spiders and plants. I also take the occasional shot on the phone when showy other wildlife is posing, so here are a few below.
Not just about the numbers
Not necessarily "new", but absolute must-see iconic UK wildlife have also featured prominently in my superb spring. Also on my hit list were seeing as many adders as I could, plus all of the UK's reptiles. I'm pleased to say I managed to see them all in a day and a trip to RSPB Arne to meet Rob Farrington got me up close and personal with a smooth snake - thanks Rob! I had some phenomenal adder-watching days (with a memorable trip producing more than 40 individuals!) and a visit to Cricklade North Meadow in Gloucestershire produced 500,000 snakes-head fritillaries (as featured in Nature's Home Summer 2015). One of the best wildlife sights I have seen anywhere.
I've even managed to add a few new birds to my UK lifelist with Hudsonian godwit, harlequin duck, citril finch and little bustard - extreme rarities all - pushing me up to the (nearly) 500 mark! The next few weeks are all about getting my head into the beautiful borders here at The Lodge to see what is lurking there. Do come and visit the reserve if you can - you'll be amazed at the variety of life.
Pasque flower, one of thousands, on a south-facing slope back in April.
A legless lizard - the slow worm, caught basking in a bracken patch.
Some of the half a million snake's-head fritillaries at Cricklade North Meadow. Gorgeous flowers.
Smooth snake at RSPB Arne - one of my "most wanted"!
"Two-headed" adder basking in the early spring sunshine.
How's your spring going?
I'm gearing up for a trip to Lancashire this coming weekend for some of our rarest plants and I hope a bit of sun will enable a bit of butterfly-watching, too.
How's your spring been? Let me know by posting a comment, or by contacting the magazine direct: email@example.com