Wildlife Wednesday: A Slow Flow

My daily dog walk takes us along a stretch of our local river (the Rhee) that Sadie loves to swim in, especially on the way back, when she is hot and panting.

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She’s not the only one to enjoy its cool waters, because at this time of year it attracts all manner of creatures, including otters, voles, kingfishers, badgers and humans. The main focus for the local kids is the weir and its monitoring station of course. Apparently, the Environment Agency monitors the flow here and sends people out at regular intervals to clear the banks and scrub the weir clean, so that their remote readings are accurate.

The Rhee, is a tributary of the Cam, but as it runs passed our village the flow is a leisurely and somewhat weedy affair and this suits a number of its residents perfectly, particularly the damselflies. This year the mayflies were a pretty spectacular sight, gyrating in clouds in the air near the river.

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Mayflies have a short lifespan once they emerge from the water, with an unusual double shedding.

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Adult mayfly in its colourful (2nd) imago form

They don’t feed at all as adults, but once mating and egg-laying are achieved they quickly end up as food for the fish etc. … unless they become prey even before that, because there are larger damselflies and dragonflies patrolling the river looking for snacks.

Banded damselflies are beautiful, lustrous insects and are always numerous in summer by the Rhee. The river’s slow flow and muddy bottom are an ideal match for their lifecycle requirements.

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Banded damselflies are very flighty and hard to catch on camera unless are they are occupied. Luckily, I found some eating mayflies, so I have some pictures to show. The males are easily identified by the large black spots on each wing and are metallic cyan in colour.

Female banded damselflies don’t have the distinctive spots on their wings and are more of an olive green.

Another river resident that seems to be well settled here and is finally increasing in numbers is the water vole. The water vole population has undergone one of the fastest and most serious recent declines of any British mammal, so this local abundance is fantastic news. A few years ago there were American mink around and until they were all trapped and removed, there was not much chance for the water voles. Now we have our own ‘Ratty’ (and family) from Wind in the Willows, hurray!

They are shy creatures and for ages all that I experienced of them were loud plops as they hurled themselves into the water to make a quick, dramatic exit. Finally, I saw one swimming, so I made a composite image and if you peer carefully you will see a vole at various stages of his escape.

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With Sadie around I didn’t expect to ever see one in repose on the bank, but eventually she was pre-occupied and I happened to be looking at the burrows in the bank, when I finally noticed a water vole sitting eating grass, just above a hole. So here it is:

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Again, going against the trend, we are fortunate to having breeding Terns in the vicinity. I’ve been told that these are actually Arctic Terns, which makes them pretty unusual, because these summer visitors normally head straight for the northern isles, Orkney or Shetland. I’ve been watching a video by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) which helps punters distinguish between common and arctic terns. Although I’ve seen the pair around a lot (see below), I’ve never seen them close enough to tell which they are.

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A Tern composite image – for ID purposes

My pictures don’t really help either, but from what little I can make out the birds do seem to have the dark edge all the way along the wing which would support the Artic tern theory. I need someone with a proper camera to take a look at them.

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The last riverside residents that I will mention in this post are the Barn owls. There is an owl box, mounted on a telegraph-pole, about 20yards away from the weir and for the third year running there is a nesting pair using it. The owls are so busy lugging small mammals back to their babies currently, that I see one of them most mornings. I’ve made a composite photo for them too, because I am always only just spotting them in time to whip my camera out:

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Barn owl composite

But then I got lucky. One of the owls dropped down near me for a mouse (or something – hopefully not a water vole!!!):

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Barn owl with prey spotted

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On a collision course with its prey

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And back to the nest with the ‘mouse’

So I hope you’ve enjoyed walking by the river with me (including my ‘try, try again’ composites).

I am linking up for Wildlife Wednesday with Tina of mygardenersays. Tina hosts a monthly (first Wednesday) meme that takes a look at the wildlife in our backyards. Why don’t you take a look at the beautiful butterflies and insects she has visiting her garden this month.

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About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in Nature, Out and about, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Wildlife Wednesday: A Slow Flow

  1. Tina says:

    Wow–you have so much here, but then that’s the beauty and value of a water source–dogs and other critters love it! I liked seeing the vole shots, they don’t live here (maybe in the Midwest??), so they’re exotic to me. I also really like your composite shots–that was a smart trick. But your mayfly and your damsel-eating-mayfly shots–stunning!

    • Thanks Tina. It’s always entertaining by the river! I’ve persuaded a friend with a telescope to check out those terns by the weir, so hopefully we should have a definite ID soon.

  2. your river is a wonderful wildlife habitat, I love the photos of the mayflies and damsels, but the barn owl is my favourite, I’ve read that many of our seabirds go to southern England to breed, how wonderful to have Artic terns and good to know ratty is thriving in some places, mink have been troublesome here too, like hedgehogs they eat the sea bird eggs, Frances

    • I am told that the terns are eating the crayfish from the river and leaving the shells in little piles. So we have crayfish as well! It is no wonder there is always a heron in the vicinity too.

  3. Great post, I especially enjoy seeing the owl photos. I don’t know anything about water voles but was surprised to see the long tail, as our destructive garden voles have stubby tails. Of course, they must be different species. Do you have garden voles too?

  4. What a wonderful array of pictures and comments – very evocative!

  5. What a fascinating post, it’s great to see Ratty is doing well in your locale. The composite shots are very effective, what a good idea.

  6. Sue says:

    Interesting reading about the water vole, and really love your photos of the damselflies.The males look incredible in that metallic cyan colour. Great shots of the barn owl catching prey, that would have been amazing to watch!

    • The barn owls are magnificent. We have them in the orchard at the back of our house too and it can be heart-stopping (but wonderful) to see them when they fly under the trees along the alley straight at you!

  7. Fabulous captures. Wonderful

  8. Eliza Waters says:

    Fantastic images – lots of action shots, too. 🙂

  9. Brian Skeys says:

    You have such a wonderful variety of wildlife along your walk, and to see a barn owl hunting, magical.

    • The abundance of river wildlife this year is drawing lots of people to the river who usually wouldn’t normally walk that way, so that is great to see too. The owls are wonderful to see at work. I had no idea they hunted so much in daylight, but I guess that is a result of little mouths to feed!

  10. Fabulous pics! Especially the Damselflies and the Owl on the hunt! Great catch! Your small local river looks like a hot spot for wildlife.

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