Katie Parker, our Woods Mill Schools Officer attended our ' Introduction to Small Mammals' course led by tutor Laurie Jackson. Here's her report:
16 mammal surveyors headed off in the sunshine at Woods Mill nature reserve to open small mammal traps that had been set out the night before, with the hope of seeing a mouse, vole or shrew. We had 20 to find and you could feel the anticipation as we waited in the wings to see if the trap doors were shut.
Initially our hopes were dashed as the first few were unsuccessful, but as we moved to the reedbed we had our first catch; a very well fed bank vole.
The easiest way to study a small mammal is to transfer it to a large sturdy plastic bag so that it can be identified and its weight measured, then its sex can be determined by holding the animal gently (but firmly) by the scruff of its neck. Several willing people volunteered to take turns to carry out this process to collect the data needed to record our finds. By the end of our walk it was 4-nil to the mammal surveyors after finding three bank voles and one common shrew.
Back in the classroom we learnt some identification traits…a bank vole looks like it’s ready for a night on the town with its sleek auburn fur and perky ears, whilst the field vole looks like the morning after, its fur all ruffled and scruffy. We practiced our field work signs with a game of who ate the nut; a dormouse carves a hole with a smooth inner surface whereas a wood mouse leaves toothmarks behind. Sadly the populations of the harvest mouse, hazel dormouse and water vole are of conservation concern so our tutor encouraged us to report any sightings of these cute critters so that we can learn more about them and protect their habitats in the future.
However, it is not all doom and gloom as we learnt that “absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence” as records show that Woods Mill has a very healthy population of wood mice and voles, they’re just pretty good at hiding. I really enjoyed this course and I will definitely have more confidence and knowledge to examine small mammal traps with my holiday clubs in the summer.
Laurie Jackson will also be running three more small mammal courses this year:
Harvest Mouse Ecology and Survey on September 30th