Tuesday 21 January 2014

A mole, on towpath, in water, now back in its hole.

Me and a Mole

An amazing thing when on the return leg of my BTO monthly WeBS waterbird count this morning. I count along the Union canal, Linlithgow to Philpstoun. A kilometer east of Linlithgow, approaching Wilcoxholm Farm bridge I spotted a mole scurrying along the path away from me. It was close in against the banking, away from the canal side of the path, trying to dig back into darkness as it moved forward in a rapid, jerky, side-to-side way. I stopped and watched through my binoculars for fear of scaring it towards the water. It continued towards the bridge, never finding a place to burrow because of the old stone wall that holds up the embankment here.

As the mole approached the bridge I was increasingly worried it was going to end up in the canal, and I knew that in a couple of minutes a boat would be chugging round the corner behind me. I tried to get my gloves on, still not wanting to run forwards and make a grab in case I made things worse. My decision was taken away - mole bumped into the base of the bridge, made a sharp left turn, trundled across the narrow path, over the few inches of grass, and splash, plop, straight into the water.

Now I ran forwards, dropping rucksack and binoculars to the ground at the side of the path. Luckily luckily after several seconds splashing out towards the centre of the canal mole turned and swam back towards shore, making contact with the vertical edge and scrabbling there. Because of the bridge there was no chance of clambering up vegetation or slope here. I knelt in the least muddy patch of mud and reached down with both hands, scooping mole from the water.

I stood up and mole struggled against my hands, not exactly difficult to hold but very squiggly and squirmy. When those huge but soft baby-pink hands find purchase between your fingers the mole prises and shovels at the gap, quite easily widening it. The claws are long but didn't seem to scratch. It was not unlike holding a hamster, though much stronger in its burrowing. The snout is long and tapering, reminiscent of a shrew's, and bright moist pink at the end. The eyes are pinpricks and I couldn't spot them. The body is small and tubby, like a beanbag sausage. The tail is a tight length of thin black rope, not very furry. The velvet is as soft as soft. I couldn't believe I was holding a mole! I don't know if I've ever even seen one before and I'll likely never have opportunity to be this close to one again. I held it for several minutes just looking.

I walked along the banking until I found what I think was its hole. I put my mole-holding hand to the entrance, watched black bottom and tail wiggle away from me into more black, then it was gone. What a beautiful creature.

When you type 'mole' into Google a lot of the information you get is about how to kill them.

More info about moles here: www.mammal.org.uk/mole

The Mole

The Hole (for Mole)