Wednesday took me to Fleetwood in search of Water Voles. My only experience before Wednesday was Ratty from Wind in the Willows who was in fact not a rat but a vole. I suppose the tales wouldn’t have read so well if it was Voley and Moley messing about in boats.
Helen and Ann were the ecologists leading this survey, and work experience Scott came too. It was a scorcher of a day. The site was grass and scrub land with a ditch running around it. The ditch contained a stream with tall vegetation growing on the banks, and some reed beds.
Ann is a botanist and I picked her brains as we walked around. She explained the difference between Phragmites and Reed Canary Grass from an ID perspective…
We donned our waders and entered the stream which as it turned out was thigh deep and very silty giving it the feeling of quick sand as you sank slowly before finally settling, unsettlingly close to the rim of your waders.
We were looking out for Water Vole droppings which are apparently tic-tac size, for runs where they have repeatedly trampled commuting routes, for food piles of neatly trimmed vegetation cut at a 45 degree angle, and for holes potentially with a neat lawn maintained at the entrance.
The stream was humid, thick with silt and home to many horse flies which set upon us enthusiastically. One bit Ann on the nose almost immediately. It’s as though they can tell when you’re vulnerable, bracing yourself on the bank and a tree branch to try and suck one leg out of the boggy stream with a squelch. That’s the moment you hear a horse fly enter your ear or feel it land on your mouth and you have to hastily complete your movement to free up your hands and wave them away. But they always come back.
I found a hole which apparently was more likely to be a rat hole. Ann found a food pile which apparently wasn’t the right size to be conclusive. But the site was interesting all the same. I saw several species of butterfly and on the pond on the site damselflies were mating. A Reed Warbler fired through its full repertoire from within the reeds. We left a buffer zone several meters either side of it undisturbed. Inside the reeds was dense and alien. There weren’t even any horse flies in there, just the rustling of many tall stems and the occasional giant chrysalis dangling from a leaf.
It was a short drive to the beach nearby where we drove to find shade from the afternoon sun and eat our sandwiches. My egg and prawn role was microwave warm after a day in the foot well of our hot car.
Thursday afternoon was our return to Liverpool for the second of our dusk/dawn surveys at the red brick industrial site. We followed the same time table and stayed in the same hotel. This time though I took the position outside of the side, on the road facing the building. This was where Paul had been on the other survey and he had detected a couple of commuting bats so my colleagues thought it would be nice for me.
This was good and bad for me. Good because I might see some bats, bad because in Liverpool apparently Thursdays are the new Fridays. While Paul hadn’t encountered another sole during his stint on the road, I had a different experience.
Most people just looked at me funny. I suppose it’s fair enough, I was stood on a side street facing a large empty building, holding some electronic devises emitting white noise. They probably thought I was either a policeman or a Ghostbuster.
Two women out walking a scotty dog asked what I was doing. I told them. They said they’d assumed I was a policeman. They were friendly and told me about when they’d seen bats in Liverpool before, and also foxes and squirrels. They said I must feel awkward stood there like that. “Bit weird isn’t it?” I said. “Yeah” they said sympathetically.
After they’d gone a fox appeared from between some railings. It stopped and looked at me as foxes do, then trotted off down the road. An hour or so later the women returned to tell me they’d seen a bat. I told them I’d seen a fox. As we were talking my duet detector let out the familiar wet, slapping sound of a pipistrelle. The bat flew right behind the ladies almost mockingly, like the pandas in that Kitkat advert, before disappearing into the shadows.
I didn’t detect any other bats on the dusk survey but I did attract the attention of a variety of drunk people one of who fired questions at me about what I was doing as though he was trying to catch me out, before saying good night, shooting me a suspicious look over his shoulder, getting into his car and driving away. As the dusk survey neared its end three young lads observed me from across the road. One asked another loudly what I was doing. His friend replied that he didn’t know but it looked as though I was enjoying myself.
I read for a while before going to sleep between the two surveys. This helped me fall into a good sleep but consequently made it harder to get up at 02:50. I can see this is a technique I will be forever refining. Back at the site from 3am it was now dark and deserted other than the sound of a couple shouting at each other just around the corner.
I tried not to make any noise so as not to attract their attention and was doing well at it until their dog came wandering around the corner with a punctured football in its mouth. A lady followed after it in her dressing gown and bizarrely appeared not to notice me in my high vis jacket as she retrieved Baby and returned to shout some more with her boyfriend.
I detected two more bats and slept soundly back at the hotel with the feeling of a job well done. Back in Buxton I completed my time sheet, practiced some of the sound analysis Helen had sent me and made the station in time for the 14:29 to Manchester Piccadilly.
It’s been an excellent week. Next week I don’t have anything booked in but I’m sure I’ll still learn a lot and I’m looking forward to finding out what’s in store.