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17 September 2014
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Nature's Calendar

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Waterway activities

Water wonderland

Otter c/o PA Images

Our waterways offer great opportunities for wildlife watching.

Why not take a few tips from the Nature's Calendar team as we get closer to waterway wildlife.

Otters love fresh water but are hard to spot. Photo - PA Images.

Here are some great nature activities which you can take part in or near waterways in the British Isles:

* Bird and mammal watching.
* Swan safari.
* Vole watching.
* Bat watching.

Bird and mammal watching

Badger c/o SWT Waterways are great places to watch birds dabbling and diving on and around the water.

Look out for the Dipper, a small white and brown bird which wades, skims, swims and dives in fast-running streams and waterways.

Also watch out for Grey Wagtails, a grey, yellow and white bird which loves streams and riversides.

Scan the landscape for both birds dabbling close to the water and perching on rocks and boulders near streams.

But it's not just the birds putting on a show for visitors - if you're really patient you might even see one or two small mammals cross your path.

Here are Nature's Calendar's top tips for bird and mammal watching in lochs, rivers and lakes:

* Small mammals such as Otters, Badgers and Voles can sometimes be spotted on shorelines e.g. Loch Leven.

* Why not look for footprints? Badgers have five toes with big front claws and smaller ones at the back, while foxes have four toes, leaving a paw print similar to a dog's.

* If you've brought your binoculars to watch the birds, try turning them around to use them as a magnifying glass for tracks on the ground to help you identify them.

* The best time of day to spot an Otter or Water Vole is early morning or evening when they are more active in and around the water's edge

* Try and find a spot which already has some evidence of animal activity e.g. prints or droppings

* The golden rule - stay still, quiet and be patient!

Water Voles

Water  Vole c/o PA ImagesIt goes without saying that rivers and wetlands are great places to watch Water Voles.

These shy creatures aren't always the easiest to spot, but here are a few tips for seeing them:

* Look along river and waterway bank sides for small mounds of mud covered in animal poo and chewed up grass.

* Keep your eyes open for Water Vole prints in soft mud. Their front feet have four toes, leaving a star shaped pattern, whilst their back feet boast five toes.

* Listen out for a distinctive plopping sound when a Water Vole jumps into the water to avoid any humans passing-by.

* These chestnut-brown coloured creatures have distinctive short rounded ears and a long hairy tail. They resemble a Rat with a blunt nose.

* The Mammal Society website provides a wealth of information about Water Voles.

Bat-watching tips

Many waterway areas are good for bat watching including the following Nature's Calendar locations:

Loch Leven in Scotland
Golden Valley, Herefordshire

Also try country estates such as Culzean in Scotland and Crom Castle in Northern Ireland.

Here's a few tips to get you started:

* It goes without saying that night-time is the best time of day to watch bat activity.

* Wear dark clothing to blend in with the landscape and stay very still and quiet so as not to startle the bats.

* Bats can be hard to identify during flight but there is one obvious factor - the smallest common bat, the Pipistrelle, only measures about 25cm, while the Noctule bat has a wingspan one and a half times this size.

* If you listen very carefully you may also be able to hear some of the bats' lower frequency calls, about 12 to 15 high-pitched squeaks per second.



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Seal safari

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Activities (Image: Shelduck c/o Wildlife and Wetlandd Trust)

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