February 2017 - Warrens

It's the little things in life ...

The first two weeks of February have been cold. It has brought our first snow of the winter, although a mere dusting that lasted for just a few hours, and then disappeared. But, the winds have been coming down either from the North, or across from the East, which in either direction they have been biting cold and the skies remained dull, grey and misty.

So it was great to meet up with a friend of mine to take some pictures of Harvest mice. Bob Brind-Surch who has been monitoring and photographing Harvest Mice for over 40 years and is an expert in everything to do with these adorable creatures. 

As Britain’s smallest British rodent harvest mice are the only old world mammal to have truly prehensile tails which they use to help them climb. They are indeed extremely active and agile climbers feeding in the stalk zone of long grasses and reeds.

Their eyesight is poor but the hearing very acute and in the wild they will react rapidly to noise, either freezing or dropping into cover in response to rustling sounds up to 7m away.

In the wild and with the correct conditions in captivity they build exquisite nests of woven grass well above ground. Indeed it is these nests which are the most obvious signs of their presence.

The nests tend to be found in dense vegetation and are generally located on the stalk zone of supportive grasses, at least 30cm above ground in short grasses and up to a metre in tall reeds.

The size of the nest can vary from only 5cm in diameter for non-breeding nests to 10cm in diameter for breeding nests.

The time spent with Bob is always fascinating. The knowledge and information he shares about his passion of Harvest mice is an absolute joy to listen too. With the added opportunity to take my own pictures, (which is more difficult then you initially imagine) I came away with a great understanding of the peril that these tiny creatures face with the decline of their natural habitat.

Back on the stream ...

With periods of heavy rain, the stream has been running at high levels and at such a quick pace for the majority of February. It must be difficult a time for the Kingfisher to source food. The water is dark from the silt being stirred from the bed as it races down the course of the stream. The light has been dark  every day I have spent here, so photography has been an almost pointless endeavour. The cold has kept me from staying in the hide any more than a few hours at a time.

We have a pair of kestrels nesting in an Oak tree in the opposite field across from the stream that are now making regular appearances . The meadow at the side of the stream is perfect hunting ground for both the barn owl and the Kestrel. Although this is clearly agitating our Kingfisher as it feels threatened in the presence of the raptor.

Our resident Kingfisher remains active, yet still alone. I am thankful he has survived the winter thus far and seems to be in peak condition. As I hope warmer weather is not too far in the distant future, I hope a female will start becoming present on our patch of the stream. 

But now, the winter months gives the impression the stream a desolate place, and sometimes it appears this way during the coldest moments. I await eagerly now for the Spring to start arriving and for the ground to warm up, bringing with it the colour and warmer, brighter days.

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