Guest blog by Vicky Bolton, RSPB Minsmere Learning Assistant

In January of this year I relocated to the rural town of Halesworth, only a stone's throw from my childhood home near Lowestoft. Being busy with two jobs, I barely spent any time in my new home, let alone in its green spaces. Well, now is my chance to discover what wildlife awaits me in my local patch.

I’d given myself the challenge to develop my bird I.D. skills, specifically bird song, so with notebook in hand I set out over the road to the park where I would follow the stream and start my practice. I’d listen out for birds singing and try to pin point them, searching with my binoculars and try to I.D. the mystery singer. I found the common favourites, robin - one of the loudest and easiest to spot - being so brazen and territorial. I heard a bird I recognised, the squeaking door of a great tit in the distance, but alas hidden from my view. Wren, blue tit, blackbird, dunnock, moorhen, long-tailed tit, goldfinches and so much more to hear and find.

I continued this practice every day at the same time, following the same route, hoping to add something new to my list of sightings for the day. I’d also note the butterflies that had flown past, with regular sightings of commas and peacocks.

One day I was walking down the stream, very excited with a sighting of a goldcrest singing in a tall mess of ivy, when something caught my eye. A creature swimming over the stream to the neighbouring bank. But what was it? A rat maybe? I carried on walking to try and investigate further. No sign of the mystery creature. Could it have been a water vole? Surely not.

During my nature walks it occurred to me - I’m so lucky. I can walk out of my door, over the road and there it is. Nature. Plentiful and beautiful, blissfully unaware of current events. Spring is in the air and nothing's stopping it now. The birds are signing at the top of their lungs, the bumblebee queens are busy, butterflies are dancing and its all happening here, close to home.

I walked along the edge of the stream, watching the bumblebees searching amount the grass and it’s there I stop. Two beady black eyes are staring at me. A water vole. Brown fluffy creature, about the size of a guinea pig just frozen into place. I’m shocked, amazed and stunned all at the same time. One small movement to grab my binoculars and ‘PLOP’. He's gone, dived straight into the water. Most likely rushing back to his burrow through an underwater entrance. Absolute joy, the biggest smile spreads across me face. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many reserves that have water voles, but when you’re normally being followed by a large group of noisy children the likelihood of seeing them is virtually non-existent. I wait to see if he reappears, alas he does not. I carry on with my walk, heading in the direction of home when I spot a small brown lump of fur sitting upon a branch that’s fallen into the stream. Another one! I watched as it swam, tail straight behind it, acting as a rudder to steer its course. There it was, sat under a large alder tree, nibbling something green. 

Over the next week I would discover that not only were there water voles living among the wildlife at the stream, but there were five individuals. My own Ratty’s, on my doorstep. I’ve been visiting them each day, watching them and relishing the chance to be so close to them. It just goes to show that the wonder of wildlife isn’t just in our natures reserves and protected spaces, it could be down your local stream, field, park or even at the bottom of your garden. Nature starts at home, and we need to do our best to protect it.