It was a scurrying, a flickering movement under a tumbled branch by the river margin, yet for a tantalising moment the distinct form of a water shrew appeared on the bankside before it quickly took to the water and swam away.
Water shrews are mysterious creatures, elusive and seldom seen, and rather than being a physical sighting, the scene just described was captured by my sensor-operated trail-camera set by the riverbank, which provided a unique glimpse into the life of this little water gem.
Trail cam footage
Over a period of about a month, my trail-cam detected the water shrew on two just occasions.
Did this mean it had large home range, or was it spending most of its time foraging in the water rather than by the bank margin?
I don’t know, but the more you delve into water shrews, the greater the intrigue becomes.
Of the three shrew species that occur in Scotland, the water shrew is the largest, although still smaller than a wood mouse or bank vole.
It has distinctive two-tone body of dark above and white on the undersides, along with a long pointy nose that is a feature of all shrews.
However, unlike other shrews, it is a proficient swimmer with a fringe of hairs on each hind foot aiding propulsion, and two rows of stiff hairs on the tail acting like a keel.
Water shrews are proficient divers, and they will forage underwater to depths of two metres for small invertebrates.
Thus, on our riverbanks, streams and pond margins exists a fearsome mini-predator, which has another formidable weapon up its sleeve – venomous saliva that enables a water shrew to tackle prey larger than itself such as small amphibians and fish.
Another trail-camera of mine has delivered further insight into the wonderful happenings on the river.
A thin willow branch that hung over a narrow side-creek got me thinking – this would be the perfect hunting perch for a kingfisher.
And, so it proved, for after setting my trail-cam there, it quickly captured several kingfisher videos.
In some instances, the kingfisher could be seen catching and swallowing minnows.
Another capture revealed a most remarkable scene – a kingfisher with a writhing eel firmly held in its beak.
It was a gargantuan battle, equivalent to a human grappling with an anaconda snake, as this little kingfisher determinedly held onto the writhing eel it had just caught.
The eel was at least the same length as the kingfisher, probably a bit longer, and the cobalt-blue halcyon did all in its power to overpower the snake-like fish by beating it against its fishing perch.
Frequently, the eel would wrap itself around the branch to try and gain leverage to pull free, but gradually the kingfisher gained the upper hand as it beat the eel into submission.
Both the water shrew and kingfisher gave a vivid illustration of the battles of life and death down by the river – scenes which are replicated across the land as creatures engage in their daily struggle for survival.