Winter Solstice

I didn’t mention to the wildlife that I had signed off for Christmas and so things just kept happening. So, today, on the really rather special shortest day of the year, I find myself settling down to write another update.

Trail camera
Female Sparrowhawk on the gate…
Trail camera
…Male Sparrowhawk in the same spot. Great for comparing and brushing up on Sparrowhawk ID skills. Female – brown back and head. Male – steel grey back and head but with rufous cheeks and armpits.

Here they are both bathing in the same spot as well:

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Female Sparrowhawk
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Male Sparrowhawk.

The four Grey Partridge have been coming every day to the seed on the strip. It is possible to tell the males and females apart in these birds as well. There are three males at the front of the photo with rufous heads. The single female is at the back with the paler stripe above her eye:

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Female at the back with the stripe.

 

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One of the males in a flap.

Apparently there is often a shortage of females because they have to sit on nests in hedgerows incubating eggs and are much more vulnerable to predation by foxes.

Who, me? Yes, you:

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Also still coming to the strip are many House Sparrows and Chaffinches:

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All this rain has meant that the ground is so easy to metal detect in. We went out a few days ago and dug up the usual haul of assorted odd bits of metal. However, we also found a 1965 old Penny although the star find was a musket ball. This is the second one we have found in roughly the same area – both unfired we think.

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With a diameter of .69 inches, it would have been used in a Brown Bess flintlock musket which was in service in the British army from 1725 until 1838:

 

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A Brown Bess musket.

Wandering around the copse of trees, we noticed this interesting thing about 2.5m up a Holm Oak:

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On closer examination up a step ladder, a shiny black body could be seen within leading us to think that this was a spider nest:

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However, we now know that this is the nest of a moth, not a spider – the Vapourer moth – although it may be that a spider is also opportunistically sheltering in there. The Vapourer is fascinating because the females are flightless. Here is a photo I took in June 2016 on the very same Holm Oak – this is a Vapourer caterpillar, such a wacky thing.

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Once the caterpillar phase is over, it spins a cocoon and pupates. The males hatch into a flying moth:

Vapourer Moth (Orgyia antiqua) jitty near Bath House SP 4901 9363 (taken 8.9.2009)
Male Vapourer Moth (internet photo)

The females, however, hatch into a flightless moth and stay on the cocoon, attracting the males to her with pheromones:

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Wingless female Vapourer Moth (internet photo)

Because flight isn’t an issue for her, she can be heavy with lots of eggs. Once mated, she lays her eggs on the outside of the same cocoon that she pupated in.

This must mean that Vapourer populations become very localised since the female can only move as a caterpillar and presumably that is not very far.

The eggs in this nest are overwintering like this and will start hatching out into caterpillars next May. Obviously we will be watching!

The Mustelid box has been getting more visitors recently – but not by Mustelids. The small mammals here occupy an important position in the food chain although their populations are strongly cyclical and increase tenfold between the high and low points. They are directly preyed upon by Owls, Kestrels, Foxes, Weasels to name a few and so their relative abundance has a big effect on how well many other species will be doing.

Given all this, it is long overdue that we attempt to get to grips with the rodents that live  here.

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Wood Mouse (visits exclusively at night)

For several weeks we had just been getting Wood Mice visiting the box. Now, however, other species have begun visiting:

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Field Vole or Bank Vole? Voles visit mostly during the day.

I have been trying to work out if this is a Field Vole (Microtus agrestis) or a Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus). A Field Vole has a shorter tail (30% of total body length), a grey-brown coloured coat and less prominent ears. A Bank vole has a longer tail (50% of total body length), a red-brown coat and more noticeable ears.

Both Voles happily live alongside each other and I finally decided that both types of Voles have been visiting, although I am slightly wobbly about that decision.

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I thought this was a Bank Vole – longer tail
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And that this was a Field Vole with a much shorter tail.

We bought a much more expensive trail camera with a short focus lens specifically to go into this box – I’m not sure that I’m that impressed with the results. Identification would surely be easier if the photos were a bit clearer.

Here is another photo of a Vole for scale:

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But now for something much smaller – a Pygmy Shrew

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Unlike the mice and the voles, the Shrew is insectivorous and so won’t have been interested in the nuts and dried fruit that I put in the box and no doubt was just having a bit of an explore.

I feel that there is much more work to be done on properly getting familiar with the rodents that call these meadows their home. Another project on the list for 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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