A discrete life by the stream

Wildlife sometimes lives where you least suspect it. You visit a place for months and see nothing until one day something pops up, seemingly out of nowhere. This little water vole inhabits a stream that I have passed many times without ever noticing it, probably because it moves around quickly, never stays long in the open, has good camouflage and is small in size, weighing no more than 340 g.

I had been watching a starling nest by the stream for a long time that day, when I suddenly saw the vole swimming towards me. The episode only lasted a few seconds, just enough time for me to take these photos.

Water voles are adapted to a variety of freshwater habitats, including slow-flowing streams with lush banks like in the present case. They are great little swimmers that perfectly know how to use the currents in their favor to move with ease from one point to another and reach the various entrances of their underground burrow network along the bank.

The species is a least concern on most of its extensive range and frequently considered a pest. Water voles are however threatened in some areas, especially in the United Kingdom where they have suffered a dramatic decline due to habitat loss—intensive riverbank management often destroys the vegetation cover and drains the streams—and predation by the non-native, invasive American mink. Minks were introduced in the UK for the fur trade in the 1920’s. Some individuals escaped from fur farms or were released into the wild from the 1950’s and progressively colonized most of the country. Female minks can follow voles down their burrows and therefore kill entire families at once during the voles’ breeding season.

Over 90% of the water vole population has been lost in the UK where the rodent is believed to be extinct on 97% of its historic range. Various conservation programs are in place across the country.

Location: Bayreuth, Germany

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