Saturday, 18 May 2019

Surveys

As of the first of April life changes in the Yeomans household in that I begin undertaking wildlife surveys again. First there are the transect walks on behalf of Butterfly Conservation and these take place between the first of April and the last day of September each year. One walk each week and, since I cover Duncliffe and Fifehead woods, I am committed to two walks a week. Duncliffe being the longest with eight sections and Fifehead has five sections. Certain conditions have to be met in order that a walk can take place. The temperature has to be over thirteen degrees, the amount of sunlight has to be taken into account as does the wind and time of day. Walks take place between 1045 and 1545. It is usually possible to fit the walks in but there are the odd weeks when the weather and conditions are just not suitable and a walk is missed. So far this year all of my walks have been completed but last week was testing. 

Early butterflies are Brimstones, orange tips, speckled woods, common and holly blues with the odd red admirals and peacocks. I have also been fortunate enough to record the lovely little small copper which has appeared again in a meadow beside Duncliffe woods. Last year I was recording the odd one or two of the small coppers but so far this year it has been eight or nine which is very encouraging. The meadow in question is, incidentally, of an old unspoiled type containing lots of wild flowers. Just like meadows used to be before farmers began the widespread use of pesticides and weed killers. 

In general terms last year was a fairly good year for most butterfly species and increases in numbers were recorded in these parts for most. However, the small tortoiseshell did not do well with numbers dramatically down.

At the same time as the transect walks begin so do the dormouse surveys and I attend two of those. One in a small copse called Oysters copse which belongs to the Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation. The other is Goblin Coombe in North Somerset where the surveys are undertaken by members of the Somerset Trusts mammal group. Both areas are of old woodland and contain a wide variety of trees and shrubs and contain the elusive little dormouse. The first survey in Oysters proved negative as far as dormice were concerned. However, almost half of the dormouse boxes surveyed contained nesting tits. Blue tits, great tits and marsh tits. One wonders how on earth these little birds find the entrance hole to the boxes as they are located at the back of the box and against the tree trunk. Bird boxes, of course have their holes facing outwards and are obvious and easy to locate. But find the entrances they do and then occupy the boxes for just over a month until the fledglings have flown the nest. The other, less welcome, squatters are bees, These take over the odd box or two and are usually very aggressive when disturbed. 

I missed the first Goblin Coombe survey due to a post opp. infection but six individuals were recorded. The second survey, Mays, took place yesterday and we were lucky enough to record nine individuals. Some boxes had two mice in them and one had three. All were torpid and remained fast asleep during the process of sexing and weighing them. The smallest weighed ten grams and the heaviest seventeen grams. All were in good condition and, clearly, had survived the winter hibernation. It never fails to thrill when a box is opened and inside is a little dormouse they are just the most delightful of little creatures. Although all nine were found to be asleep this is not uncommon as the dormouse has the ability to induce this state of temporary hibernation as and when they feel like it. No doubt, when the weather is a bit unfavorable or perhaps when food is scarce. They can remain in this torpid state for a few hours or a day or two which is quite handy. When found the mice feel very cold and one could be forgiven for imagining that they were dead. Often they are snoring and occasionally the warmth from the hand of the surveyor will cause the mouse to partially wake. All quite charming. So there you have it, that’s what surveying is all about as far as I am concerned, a joy to be involved in. Anyone reading this and thinking they might like to get involved can do so by contacting their local Trust for Nature Conservation. In my experience I have found them to be helpful and willing to provide the necessary contacts. The good news is you don’t have to be a member if you don’t want to. 

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