Another Week of Sunshine

Temperatures were forecast to soar last weekend for August’s check of the dormouse boxes. But nevertheless we were able to get ourselves round all the boxes, mostly working in the shade of the trees and being well provisioned with bottles of water. Once more there were sadly no signs of dormouse activity in the fifty wooden dormouse boxes, although we did find a family of them in a bird box.

There were, however, other interesting occupants to be found in the dormice boxes. Two of the boxes contained yellow-necked mice and their nests. Having got a glimpse and realising there is a rodent within, the box is taken off the tree and put into a large plastic bag, thus containing the mice within the bag once the lid of the box is fully removed.

These yellow-necked mice are about 1.5 times the weight of a wood mouse and are more aggressive when handled, as well as biting, urinating and vocalising more readily. In the UK they are much rarer than wood mice and are mainly found in the east and south of the country, living in mature deciduous woodland

Because of their tendency to bite, the mice were turned over whilst still in the bag to show that they had yellow fur forming a continuous band across their chests. A wood mouse may well also have yellow fur on its chest but not in a continuous band like this:

The nest of the yellow-necked mouse is an unstructured collection of leaves without the shredded, woven material that would be expected in a dormouse nest:

The mice and their nests were evicted from the dormice boxes since they have plenty of alternative places to nest and the mice being in the box means that it is unavailable for dormice. However, if they had had young, they would have been allowed to stay.

Another inhabitant, seen in many of the boxes this month, was the copper underwing moth which is mainly a woodland moth species:

When this bird box was opened, at least this number of moths again had already flown out before I took the photo so there were really quite a lot in there

These moths often hide in groups by day, frequently accompanied by the very similar Svensson’s copper underwing, in the hollows of tree trunks, behind bark, and of course also in dormice and bird boxes.

In another of the boxes there was an abandoned blue tit nest, together with six eggs. We had made a note of this nest and its eggs on the previous month’s inspection and so, this time, the nest was cleared out.

In July’s visit round the boxes, we had found a mother and two juvenile dormice in one of the many heavy ‘woodcrete’ bird boxes that we have up in the wood. This time, in the very same box, we found a family of much younger dormice whose eyes were only just on the verge of opening and presume that this is a second brood. Although there is generally only one litter a year, there can be two in good years:

At this young and tender age, the young dormice are quickly weighed together and an average weight is calculated before rapidly returning them to the box and their mother

These sweet young dormice weighed about 5g each and were probably approaching seventeen days old. They stay with their mother for up to eight weeks and so could still be in the box for our September visit.

Their mother was in the box with them:

The adult female dormouse

In Britain the dormouse population has fallen by 50% since the year 2000, even though it was already known by then that they needed help. So, depressingly, whatever we are doing to help them, it is not yet enough. The monitoring scheme that our wood is now enrolled in, administered by The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, seeks to gain a greater understanding of the problems facing our British dormice to better inform their conservation.

Elsewhere in the wood, the hot and dry weather continues to bring birds of prey down to the ponds:

A wonderfully enormous buzzard comes in for a cooling bath
Probably the same buzzard at a different pond
I haven’t seen a tawny owl at this particular pond before
Sparrowhawk as well

Now finally, finally there is some rain in the weather forecast for this week, so let’s hope it actually materialises.

The ponds are also being thoroughly appreciated by the wildlife in the meadows as well. A kestrel is about to take a bath but spots a magpie coming in behind her:

She starts to square up to the corvid:

But the magpie backs down and leaves the kestrel to get on with her wash:

Kestrels don’t always have it so easy, though, and are often seen being mobbed by a group of magpies as they attempt to hunt in the meadows.

A male kestrel
Sparrowhawk on a gate
Robins have this ability to puff their feathers up, making themselves completely globular
On a few evenings this week, black-headed gulls have been atmospherically circling the meadows in large numbers to catch flying ants. They are only over the meadows rather than the surrounding farmland and we feel proud that our management of the land has produced this resource for them

This photo of a jay in flight shows what a dramatic moult the corvids go through at this time of year:

There has been a medical drama in the meadows involving a different corvid. The dog alerted us to the fact that there was an injured crow on the ground by standing over it and barking.

The bird had quite an extensively damaged wing and so we got it into a box and phoned our local wildlife rescue lady. It was 6.45pm and she told us to jump into the car and get driving to a vet in Deal that shut at 7pm and she would ring them and ask them to stay open for us.

This vet in Deal is apparently fantastic at helping wildlife and we think we will bring the dog here from now on

I rang the vet the next morning and learnt that unfortunately they had had to put the bird to sleep. But yet again I have been so impressed and moved with the dedication of our local wildlife charities and vets for helping wildlife in distress.

The most likely explanation for the crow’s injury is that it was caught by a fox but had somehow managed to escape its clutches.

I like this photo of a fox investigating a frog:

It obviously decided that it wasn’t interested because this was the next photo taken shortly afterwards:

I always like to see the interaction of foxes and badgers:

Squirrels are only very rarely seen in the meadows but there has been one around these last few weeks:

A few colourful Jersey Tiger Moths from across the Channel have been around lately:

One landed on a window and so we could see the underside

This weekend, we hired a canoe and paddled the 8km along the River Stour from Fordwich to Grove Ferry together with one of our daughters and son-in-laws:

It is a truly lovely stretch of river and was mostly shady on an otherwise unrelentingly hot day. Although it looked very tempting to swim, I was worried about getting myself back into the canoe again afterwards and so stayed firmly put.

Swimming in the lovely Stour

We have done this paddle before and had previously seen a lot of wildlife, but this time everything seemed to be keeping its head down in the heat. Beavers now live freely on this stretch of river and we knew that they had a lodge that we would be going past. Having been given guidance as to its approximate location, we were delighted that we managed to spot it:

A beaver lodge on the river stour – what a heart-warming sight

The canoe hire company run sunset wildlife tours through the summer and told us that they have seen beavers swimming in the river on every one so far this year. We have now put this on our list of things we must do next year.

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