Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Mystery solved (maybe)

An absolutely freezing evening strolling up and down the ditch, revealed more feeding signs and this time footprints.

Then, just when I was going to give up, this little creature popped it's head out (the colour has been enhanced).

The following analysis is an attempt to identify it:

Rat: The size and it's locality (in a dried ditch) made me initially think it was a brown rat. Having studied the picture (colour changed and cropped), it lacks the pointed nose and the prominant ears, as can be seen in this picture:

Therefore, it is most likely to be a vole:

Field Vole (Short Tailed Vole): A field vole would explain the feeding signs as (like water voles) they feed on vegetation in the same way. However, they are smaller (10cm) and as the initial identification was a brown rate (22cm) then it is probably too big to be a field vole, as this picture shows (warning, cute picture):

Bank Vole:Bank voles are smaller than field voles (9-11cm), so using the same logic, it's possibly not a bank vole:

Water Vole: Given it's size, it's vole like features, nearby feeding and proximity to an existing water vole colony, the most likely identification is as water vole.

Pictures at:


This sighting is now recorded in google maps and although it is near the existing colony, it is far enough away and not directly connected to it to suggest this is a different population of water voles.

View River Ock #4 in a larger map

Identification with assistance from:
ARKive (
About a Brook (
Collins complete British Wildlife (1997)

Walk to work

I'm very fortunate - I can walk to work along several of the streams and rivers in Abingdon, so this blog entry is today's walk. I hope to repeat it, to see how the rivers change with the seasons.
Starting off along along the Ock, west of Drayton road, continuing along the 'Ock valley walk' (east of Drayton Road), with a detour to where the Ock joins the Thames.

Continuing the detour following the Thames along St Helen's wharf, then through the town and along the Abbey stream, with the first ducklings of the year and then the final detour - the view from Abingdon weir.

In total, a 60 minute walk, it can take 45 minutes if I'm not taking photos, looking for water voles or admiring the kingfishers.
The irony is that it can sometimes take that long to drive.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Ditch life?

Although dried out, something has been eating the shoots in the ditch running through the centre of the floodplain

Further down the ditch, there is more water and I think I heard something move for cover. There do seems to be more signs of feeding and burrows. Definitely a place to come back to.

Views of the ditch...

The stream that runs past Tescos is a delightful stroll and it offers a variety of habitats, from banks overgrown with nettles:

To ditches with little vegetation.

Although it offers what seems ideal water vole habitat, it possibly is to few and far between to sustain a population, but it's worth coming back to - especially to see what else might live their - I've seen water shrews and pigmy shrews in similar places.
The ditch running through the centre of the flood plain has dryed out in numerous places, but there are potential field signs which are worth further investigation.


Song birds define their territory and attract mates by singing. Woodpeckers define theirs buy drumming their beaks against a tree,or in this case a telegraph pole.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Drawing a blank.

Several evenings this week, I've been exploring slightly further downstream, up to the weir where the Ock splits in two

As all the water vole sightings have been in one area
(in blue on the map), I'm keen to know if the population is larger or if there are other colonies in the area ). Although it does look good water vole habitat and there may be some burrows, so far there have been no sightings or obvious field signs (in red).

View River Ock #3 in a larger map

I may come back to this area, but there's other places I hope to explore this weekend and next week - probably the ditches near Tescos.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Radley Brook

Radley brook is probably more of a ditch than a brook and is not connected to the Ock. It joins the Thames via the Abbey streams just north of Abingdon weir, whilst the Ock joins south of the Abingdon bridge.

Several years ago, I signed up for the Wildlife Trusts water vole survey and then preceded - over 3 or 4 years to look for signs of feeding, droppings and burrows up and down the Kennet and Avon canal in Berkshire. With nothing to show for my effort, I eventually became disillusioned and stopped doing the surveys.

Meanwhile, my lunch times were spent walking along the Thames path - which runs next to Radley brook.

Then, one lunch time I saw my first ever water vole, then another and my fascination with this endearing - if somewhat reclusive mammal was restored. I then spent many happy lunch breaks just watching them.

That was two years ago and I haven't seen one there since.

Maybe, I'm unlucky - midday isn't the best time to go looking for water voles and hopefully they're still there.
But as far as I can see the population is extinct - maybe predated by Mink; maybe drowned in the recent floods; or perhaps just a natural population crash, these things do happen.
Still, whilst the sun shines and the nettles remain low, I'll continue to spend my lunch breaks searching for water voles.

So last year, I was thrilled to find water voles on the river Ock near where I live and since they're still there, I've decided to use this blog and google maps to record this population
(and other wildlife) - and with some luck, they'll avoid the same fate.

If anyone knows differently about the Radley brook water voles, please let me know.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

At last....

A decent water vole picture.

More Birdlife

The most common waterfowl on the Ock are mallard ducks and moorhens.

A pair of moorhens have set up nest just underneath a footbridge.

And this solitary female mallard was further upstream, near another footbridge.

One of the interesting things with starting this blog will be to see how they both progress and to be honest, I'm still looking forward to my first ducklings of the year.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Friday evening stroll...

It's been an hectic week at work - impending deadlines, annoying managers and the horror that is Microsoft Project.
So, perhaps there isn't a better way of relaxing than going for a walk and seeing what can be found. This evenings wildlife highlights include one water vole, a buzzard and a muntjac deer - all to fleeting to be caught on camera. Especially as I forgot to recharge the batteries after a recent trip to the Oxford Botanic Gardens.

The muntjac is the third I've seen along the Ock, although this is the first time I've seen one this close to the A34. Muntjacs aren't native and are from Asia originally and have escaped or been released from private collections including Woburn Abbey and Whipsnade Zoo.
Muntjac, like squirrels, divide opinion. At various nature reserves where I have done voluntary work,large amounts of effort is taken to stop the deer eating the shoots of coppiced trees. But they still seem to find a way through - including getting through a badger door in a deer proof fence. They are also prone to eating cultivated flowers, much to the annoyance of some gardners.
However, others - like myself just enjoy seeing them in the countryside.

More information is at:


Monday, 13 April 2009

More voles...

Last nights walk was a real treat, as well as the aforementioned Pipistrelle bats, the water voles were also out and in a different part of the Ock - more westerly and could be viewed from the bridge. Four sightings in total.

It's great news to see so many of them, as water voles are britains fastest declining mammal - with a 90% decline in numbers in recent years - attributed to pollution, habitat loss and american mink - escaped or released from fur farms, (fur farms a practice banned in England and Wales since 2000 and in Scotland since 2002).
In fact, it looks like the colony at Radley Brook near the Thames to the north of Abingdon is extinct, I haven't seen a water vole there for two years now. The colony has possibly been predated by american mink that may have moved into the area (although I haven't seen signs).

More information on water voles can be found at:

Here is the map of last nights sightings:

View River Ock #2 in a larger


During a late night stroll along the Ock at about 9.30 and was treated to four or five bats (it was hard to count), judging by their flight pattern they are almost certainly Pipistrelles. These are the most common British Bat and have erratic in flight - darting and diving as it eats up to 4000 insects per night. But II can't determine if they were Common or Soprano pipistrelles - the two most widespread bats.

More bat information is available from the Bats Trust:

Sunday, 12 April 2009


This took me by suprise, on the wooden bridge crossing the Ock to the west of Abingdon were of pair of toads...

What they were doing on the bridge - it's about two meter's high - I don't know and the Ock certainly isn't suitable for the toad spawn and tadpoles - it moves to fast. Maybe they are heading for one of the ditches that are on either side of the river.
In later weeks I hope to explore some of these ditches.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Water vole sightings

I am chuffed to find that my detective work earlier was correct and the Water Vole colony has survived the high water during the winter (I wonder where they go). I have been spoilt bv seeing seven different water voles (the most I have ever seen - anywhere) in one stretch of the Ock. Although the photographs aren't worth sharing, I'm using Google Maps to record the sitings throughout the year.

View River Ock #1 in a larger map

Easter Saturday

A lovely day for a balloon flight

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Water Voles..?

The inspiration behind this blog is the excellent 'About a Brook' and I hope to use this blog to document any water vole activity on the Ock and the first signs are promising:


Latrine, feeding and possible footprint..?

More feeding..?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


An excellent walk along the Ock and the birds were out in numbers - Mallards, a Kingfisher and Yellow Wagtail. But the only decent photograph was of a Robin.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


Spring is the time when hibernating bumblebees seek out nest sites. This Buff-tailed bumblebee was searching for a nest near the Ock:

Further information on Bumblebees can be found at the bumblebee conservation trusts web site at:

And the news on their 2009 bee survey at:

First post....

The river Ock is a small tributary of the River Thames. Rising in the North Wessex Downs (famous for the Uffington White Horse) it flows through South Oxfordshire, eventually joining the Thames in Abingdon.

It even has it's own Wikipedia entry

In this blog, I hope to write about and photograph the wildlife and changes to the Ock and surrounding area, which I have enjoyed for the past few years.

The river Ock - viewed from the 'Ock Valley Walk' bridge, west of Abingdon.