By the lake, a well-worn walkway slips and slides underfoot as I search the still water’s edge for voles. They seem less prevalent now, the different types, than when I saw them every day along the quite rivers and streams of my youth. In the mornings, I often see foxes lope away from my approaching the workshop and I wonder what they look for around the lifeless, steel-clad buildings but then I know them as opportunists and many other species, wary through they are, present themselves to foxes like dinner on a plate for within the fences there is less of an escape. A fox will take just about anything and their diet includes every type of vole.
Weaving through the undergrowth the softer ground of unwalked trails reminds me yet once again of my youth when I searched for the arched grass pathways at my feet where the field voles created their tunnels to travel through. Well-hidden from the preying hawks that hunt by day — the lightweight kestrels, the barn owl’s clutching claws at twilight and early dawn; these enemies of rodent life snatched the unwary vole from within these crisscrossing passages that turned a dozen ways when a single twitching blade of grass betrays them.
I’ve seen field voles snatched a dozen times; as many as I’ve seen missed to see a bird of prey lift no more than a tussock of grass alone, snagged to a hooked tallon. The kestrel is lessened now too compared to those I knew in my youth when kestrels seen six times on a two-mile walk to school satisfied my hunger to glimpse and better still watch a bird of prey. How life has changed with the red kite restored to great numbers now and here in Oxfordshire where I live I see many a dozen circle in the surrounding skies wherever I am. When the farmers harvest their wheat, there they are the red kites dropping behind the harvester to snatch the exposed rodents in quick and swift twists of lowered flight just feet above the ground; in a moment’s breath from contorted awkward but controlled energy they grab their feast from the stubble and lift effortlessly to gorge themselves on their foe. How instant life and death beyond the streets and trampling feet of urban life. How does it meet the urban cry for nature to elevate the dweller to a place where such beauty can be admired without the invasion that destroys the habitats we so want to conserve, protect and maintain.