Friday, 4 February 2011

Of "Ratty" and Rats and Ragondin

We are both currently in the grip of a bad cold... that has meant that we aren't doing much.... except watching out of the window and keeping ourselves warm.
I was observing the meadow and bief [millstream] this morning keeping an eye out for the pheasants, the water rail and the dabchicks. The latter haven't passed our way since the heavy rain of the end of January... the bief changed into weak, milky tea and we presume that the dabchicks have moved elsewhere to cleaner water, where they can see the fish they are after! The rail is still with us... water quality doesn't affect his probing and leaf-flipping feeding methods... just before the weekend I saw him get quite a large larva [possibly dragonfly or water-beetle], wash it in the murky water and bash it on a stone, then swallowing it whole... that was caught by the probing method!
And yesterday, in the current gloom, I managed to get some pictures of "the ladies" cleaning up under the feeder.... but, until they're worked up [and I need a clear head to do that], none good enough to post!
But, what has this to do with "Ratty", Rats and Ragondin.... I search for the water rail by looking for ripples coming out from the bank... they are small and vanish quickly and easily told from the moorhens' frantic splashings.
And I spotted some, just opposite the window, where I'd seen the rail appear before.... binos to that point and.... fur and short legs... and out from cover came "Ratty" our water-vole [arvicola amphibius] Campagnol amphibie and cruised stately across towards our bank of the bief [this was at 11AM].... I'd seen him yesterday, earlier, and had presumed that he'd been partying at at Toad Hall... all the books put them as nocturnal....
Water-vole. Taken by Nick Ford at Castle Acre, Norfolk at 8:35 am.

but as this picture [again one of my brother's and taken later than the above at ten to ten.... very useful is my bruvver!] shows.... they are out in the daytime too! So for "nocturnal"... please read "mainly".... I've seen them at midday, in high summer, full sun on a Norfolk stream. Actually the French guide (2) says they are both.... ie: out when you see them out!!

Water-vole. This is my shot of our vole.... not in the same class [picture that is!]

The three aquatic rodents we've got here are this little fellow [maximum head and body length 220mm], the Muskrat [Ondatra zibethicus] Rat Musqué [Head and body length from 240 to 370mm] and the Coypu [Myocastor coypus] Ragondin with a minimum head and body length of around 340mm]... so there is some overlap in size.... you cannot mistake the Coypu out of water... the long thick tail and the humped appearance.... along with the droopy, white moustache. But in water? Well, from observations here, they don't seem to like getting the moustache wet... they hold all of their head upward, out of the water, that makes their back sink more than the Muskrat with a gap 'twixt head and hump... also, contrary to illustrations in Collins(1) and the Delachaux et Niestlé (2) guides, they've got a distinctly buff-cream appearance around the ears.

Coypu. The cream round the ears can be seen here... but the white nose and moustache are very clear.

The Muskrat swims higher in the water and the long, wedge shaped head, almost vertical from the nose to the upper lip give it the appearance of a small tugboat chugging through the water. It leaves quite a narrow, clean wake too. There is a rich cream colour to the cheeks of the 'Musky'... again, in real life, much brighter than illustrated... and it is a BIG panel of colour running from the nose to the ears... and fully as deep as it is long. And, if you see it swimming away from you, the vertically flattened tail is a clear indicator!

Muskrat picture[it's on the system somewhere... please call back!]

Finally 'Ratty'... very obviously a vole.... same shape nearly, front and back, and the tail can only be seen in clear water. It seems to bob along on the water surface!

Water-vole. From directly above by our bridge.

Water-vole. And swimming away... beautifully hidden by the iris leaf!

But there are also European Beavers [Castor fiber] Castor d'Eurasie nearby... in the centre of Grand-Pressigny to be precise [they felled a riverside tree last year, and a couple of months ago did the same to a neighbouring tree!] As where this occured is right by where the Aigronne joins the Claise.... will they venture up the Aigronne.......?

Beaver evidence. This is last year's tree.... this years has fallen across this [right to left]
This years felled tree shows some bark removal and there is a possible entry/exit point on the bank nearby.

(1) Collins Field Guide Mammals Britain and Europe [1993]
(2) Les Guides du Naturaliste - Guide des mammifères d'Europe, d'Afrique du Nord et du Moyen-Orient [2008/2010]


GaynorB said...

A really interesting post and super photographs. Thank you.

Our garden slopes down to an 'offshoot' of the Aigronne (perhaps it is a bief?) We've seen a few small animals from a distance, and there is certainly some evidence of tunnelling into the bank and under the garden.

When we next get an opportunity we'll investigate.

Tim said...

Gaynor, if you like I'll take a look... looking forward to meeting you.
As with the Broads, the Coypu is a nuisance... destroying the integrity of the banks and therefore the field boundaries.
The Muskrats are also a pest... but not as damaging as the Coypu... they don't venture far from the water's edge and their tunnel networks aren't as big.

Jean said...

Exciting news about the beavers. We will definitely keep our eyes peeled for those during our frequent trips down to the river.

A few years ago we thought we saw a pair of beavers in the river near Avoine but Susan has since pointed out that they are more likely to have been coypu.

I was mortified when our previous poodle, Dusty, pounced on something she saw moving in the long grass down by the canal near my place of work, then dragged out a little water vole. The poor thing was alive but in a bad way with two wonky legs. I grabbed her and stopped her attacking it again and the little mite crawled off into the grass. Do you think it would have died a long and miserable death? I feel guilty about that, but then most wild animals probably have a miserable or violent end, I guess.

Yours, guilty of Le Grand-Pressigny........