June 25, 2017

European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

No doubt the imminent arrival of our second son, hopefully over the next few days, has softened my outlook on this species. Yes they’re non-native, indeed a highly invasive species and as such extremely problematic to our ecosystem, but for the past couple of weeks this little rabbit and its siblings have been a great source of amusement.

Each morning they’re up bright and early, well, before us anyway, and mostly engaged in one of a number of different variations on the general theme of dashing from one part of the front garden to another, whilst showing a naive disregard for any kind of safety protocol.

Earlier in the week Joe and I managed to creep to within three feet of one of them as it blissfully nibbled the lawn. Bearing in mind the average silent sneaking skills of a toddler, you’ll see why I question these young rabbits absolute dedication to their own health and safety.

The fact that there were six playmates a fortnight ago and only three now, would appear to bear out my concerns.

Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus)

I’ve just been contacted by the non-profit group Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership to ask if they can feature one of my pictures on some of their promotional material.

Taken on a trip to the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast last Summer. I particularly like this one because it reminds me of those clichéd balanced pebble pictures, beloved of health spas and self help books.

Yellow-necked Mouse (Apodemus flavicollis)

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted a Longworth Trap. This fantastic combination of shiny aluminium and post war British engineering allows the safe live capture of small mammals. Its a very elegant design featuring a kind of hallway and nestbox arrangement with a pressure sensitive bar that triggers a trapdoor once a creature is far enough inside. I’ve experimented with various baits over the years but a smear of peanut butter (crunchy – obviously) on the inside has proven the most irresistible.

Each winter,we share our old house with a few mice. They aren’t House mice (Mus musculus) but a mixture of Wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) and this species, Yellow-necked mice, who presumably decide that they’ll have a seasonally easier time of it by visiting us. This seems like the obvious reason but in a recent study, the Mammal Society concluded that although Yellow-necked mice are not fond of wet conditions, they’re not overly worried by the cold and that this house sharing behaviour may simply be down to the fact that population pressure means that young mice set off to find new territory at the end of the summer and they’re just exploring new habitat possibilities.

This winter, there have been fewer rodent visitors than in previous years. To make sure no trapped animals perish I monitor the trap frequently when deployed, and only ever put the trap down where there’s clear mousey evidence like nibbled packets in the larder, nocturnal scampering noises or, as has happened twice recently, when the bewhiskered guest boldly dashes across the carpet. In previous years I’ve relocated a mixture of species and up to ten or so individuals, but winter2010/11 yielded only four captures and of these only a single Wood mouse.

The mouse in this case was of a particularly large Yellow-necked variety. My son Joe, picked the trap up from the living room floor the other morning and as soon as he’d handed it over I could tell it was occupied as it was pretty weighty. Sure enough the Longworth’s resident was soon scrabbling around inside so we quickly rushed to put on wellies and coats so that we could set it free in the garden. We chose a highly salubrious location on top of our compost bins as a release site and I dismantled the trap inside a large plastic bag so that we could see and record whoever popped out.

This mouse was pretty unperturbed by recent events and sat on the top of the trap getting his bearings for a moment before trying a couple of experimental jumps, much to my son’s obvious delight. I then gently tipped the mouse out onto the compost bin beside Joe and with one mammoth leap of at least four feet, it had vanished into the catkin covered hazel hedge.

Incidentally, it stuck me as quite lyrical that I was taking pictures of a mouse with a Blackberry :)

Fallow Deer (Dama dama)

Not really a wildlife picture this one as it was taken in a deer park in Denmark but I’m away on a ‘Stag Do’ tonight and this buck is the closest I’ve got.

Badger (Meles meles)

In wistful mood. Had word today that a long lost friend is irretrievably so. Perhaps it’s this then that’s made me feel even more bleak about the coalition government’s proposed Badger cull.

It’s a sad turnout that in the international year of biodiversity, extermination is considered a cheap and easy solution to any problem.

That’s enough politics, I’ll just let the picture do the talking, suffice it to say that I sincerely hope that this isn’t all that’s left of Brock in a few years time.

European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Hedgehog

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Like foxes, I’ve seen many more of these in urban areas than in my current rural habitat. I’d generally assumed that the local abundance of cover and lack of street lighting was to blame for my lack of recent sightings and in the area where I now live, this is probably is indeed the case, but I was rather dismayed to discover that in 2007 this familiar species of my childhood in Bristol, joined yesterday’s similarly ubiquitous species, the Common Toad, on the at risk register for flora and fauna – the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Habitat loss is a major threat for the modern urban Ms Tiggywinkle and it’s principally connected to the recent trend for tidy gardens. It often used to be the case that even the most fastidious of gardeners used to leave more unkempt areas to encourage wildlife and allow a bit of variety into their otherwise carefully managed plots. My Grandfather had an area about a quarter of the size of his more formal garden, which was fondly referred to as ‘the jungle’ and was filled with the truly interesting things, certainly from my perspective. This wild area was screened by trees and never mown, so was one of my earliest invertebrate hunting grounds. In fact long after my tree house fell into disrepair, the richness at the bottom end of the food chain and the general seclusion of this area, meant that it took some time for Grandpa to finally discover why he was suddenly seeing so many foxes. In fact, they’d dug a substantial earth under an old gnarled apple tree and raised a family without anyone noticing.

Without these wild urban areas, species like the Hedgehog, which have pretty meager requirements, have nowhere to forage or hibernate and so sadly their numbers decline pretty quickly. There is hope though. Maybe now that TV programs like Springwatch seem to be more popular than the garden makeover variety, it will raise people’s awareness about the impact of eradicating their own tiny ‘jungles’ which give a vital foothold to some of our most valuable and exciting garden visitors. As a matter of fact the sound of mating hedgehogs is certainly quite an experience. Leaving aside the old joke: “How do hedgehogs make love? Carefully” they do make an unearthly racket which sounds as though it’s coming from a much larger and infinitely fiercer animal.

So gardeners here’s a few wildlife gardening tips:

  • Why not leave your lawn a bit longer in places to attract pollinating insects like bees, beetles, moths and butterflies?
  • Why bother to strimmer-blitz all the far flung corners behind the shed or compost bins when you could leave them to their own devices and allow nature to move in?
  • Pile all the Autumn leaves up somewhere suitably salubrious and you could even have a traditional Hedgehog hibernation station.
  • Leave a sheet of corrugated iron in a quiet, sunny spot and you could be giving a home to Slow-worms.
  • Piles of pruned branches, logs or rocks in a quieter part of the garden make welcome habitats for everyone from Dunnocks to Frogs and Toads.

And remember the vast majority of this mob are pretty formidable predators, who’ll undoubtedly earn their keep farther down the food chain.

Most importantly though, once you’ve let the wild into your life, it’s vital for you to take a little time to appreciate it. Sitting quietly on a log, sipping tea and watching the birds, or taking a close up look at the insects attracted to your flowers, whether cultivated or wild,  or even just lying on the grass with your eyes closed, listening to the rustling, buzzing twittering sounds all around you, is more or less guaranteed to put a smile on your face.