Saturday, 6 September 2014

Golden-brown....

What's small and golden-brown....
...and climbs around in the wheat?

((Some pictures in this post might upset.))
 

A Harvest Mouse [Micromys minutus] Rat des Moissons of course...


Our story starts when Baron proudly marched in with...
not a vole...
but this ball of grass!

Small and spherical...
the cross-head screw gives scale!



I'd found Harvest Mouse nests occasionally when mowing the pré...
and immediately recognised it!
This one may well have had an occupant when Baron "caught" it!
He hunts by hearing, not scent.
It is easy to imagine the little critter wondering what was happening....
and making a break for cover as it was being transported back!!

Door's open....
no one at home!


Wonderful object, the Harvest Mouse nest, the size of a tennis ball...
we've blogged about finding one before
and so to re-blog the main information:
"It is the nest of a Harvest Mouse [Micromys minutus] Rat des moissons.
It is a loose woven ball of grass.
There are no signs of an exit/entrance hole.
It is also exceptionally clean.
These are all indicators to me of what it was...
Its position, quite high up in the brambles, isn't really an indicator as this would have been a very good site for many birds.
No hole? Yes, no hole. The harvest mouse pushes its way in and out, the hole closing behind it. This leaves the young in a secure, invisible package.
"

So this one has a hole...
either not occupied...
which I think was unlikely...
Baron is a few braincells short of a full package, admittedly, but he's not that daft...
or there was something in the nest...
which left in haste, no time to close the front door!!

Then, when I mowed the central portion of the verger...
an awkward triangle that will be the site of an hotel for insects...
I found three more...
all disused....

A tower of nests....
the top one is very dilapidated...
either well used....
or built by a juvenile?

but none more than three and a half months old...
the last time I'd mowed that area flat was at the beginning of May.
Also for a creature that builds nests between five and twelve cms across...
these were all at the ten to twelve end...
which could indicate a breeding population as the large size is used for breeding.

However, about a week before, Baron had come in with the poor little mouthful below...
a youngster, at 2.9gms, so not long expelled from the nest...
which confirmed my theory.
Pauline wanted to report the "find" on Faune Touraine so it was photographed and weighed...
as was the nest he'd brought in earlier.

Our precision scales for field measurements.
It was only half a gram heavier than the nest.

Tail almost the same length as the body and almost hairless...
and note the head end is vole-like...
NOT mouse-like....
with very small, hairy ears.


It turned out to be the first actual sighting of a Harvest Mouse...
despite the fact that they aren't exactly uncommon....
just unobserved....
all the other records had come from owl pellets as skulls.
In fact most of the records of mammals, 'cept squirrels and hares, on Faune Touraine...
seem to be of the well known species, such as...
pressed rat...
flatbrock...
tyredtiggywinkle...
wellironedrenard....
etc. 
You get the picture...
but it is important to record roadkill, however unpleasant and upsetting...
it adds to population dynamics, both number and "end of life" cause.

Following that, I found a nest, still suspended in the unmown grass beneath one of the fruit trees...
the door was open... so probably unoccupied...
I say probably because if there are young in the nest....
they might have been outside whilst I blundered around near the tree...
before I'd spotted it....
and dropped into the grass beneath.

The doorway is the small, dark spot...
on the upper right surface.


After a few days, and some quiet watching, there had been no change to the nice round doorway...
so I harvested the nest, this time still suspended by the stalks of grass....
by carefully cutting the grass stems much lower down.
The topmost blades of the stems that it is built amongst...
are very carefully incorporated into the nest, thus securing it.
Wonderful to behold.
This, nest and stems, is now boxed up.
Any local readers who would like to see it, just ask when you call round...
it is a marvel to see in the round, as it were...
flat pictures don't really do it justice.

And all four nests together...

There is still one that we know about out there...
Pauline discovered it beneath one of the hazels as she was harvesting fallen nuts...
Most definitely a Harvest Mouse nest, a door has been invisible on occasions...
which is why it has been left.
They will breed up to early October...
in fact they breed up to seven times a year [that is a captivity number]!!

Spot the ball!!

Then Baron came in, proud as Punch....
and placed a live Harvest Mouse at Pauline's feet...
he was shouted at and backed off quickly, allowing me to pick the wee mouse up and cradle it...
Pauline passed me the camera, having turned it on and I managed the picture below...



You will easily see that the adult, while vole-like, does have a longer nose...
and the tail is smooth, almost scaly in appearance, but the ears are very small...

OK, back out to the verger with it, camera in hand, mouse closely cradled against chest...
my intention was to put it on top of the nest and take another photograph.
Fat chance...

As I walked back to the nest that was left, the tail curled around my finger...
and the mouse shuffled around a little...
becoming more active....
getting over the shock of seeing Baron's tonsils in close-up....
arrived at nest, readied camera....
gently offered mouse up to convenient perch...
viz. top of nest...
mouse leapt for nearest hazel stem...
landed, swivelled, and shot down into the grass below...
and vanished!!
No time to move camera, or press the shutter!!
At least with Field Mice, they take a pause to gather themselves....
before scampering off...
and you can watch them go!
Not the Harvest Mouse, apparently...
their survival instinct says...
"DROP"...
and then vanish in the long grass...
all I can say is....
it works!!

However Susan, of Days on the Claise, sent us this link to some marvellously cute pix...
taken in Alsace by a couple of researchers...
each pic reloads the page... so on an old machine it can take a while...
but it is worth it...
Susan's link to more CUTE pix.

And there are more of their pix on the Archive slideshow...
link in the notes below...

and...

for the inquisitive out there....
here is some further reading....
including about the re-use of used Wimbledon tennis balls...
gathered, via the Web, from:

____________________________________________________________


The Mammal Society ::::

Common Name:  Harvest mouse
Scientific Name:  Micromys minutus
Downloadable Factsheet; basically what's below... with pictures
harvest_mouse_complete.pdf

Description:
Blunt nose, small eyes, and small hairy ears in contrast to other British species of mice and also much smaller; prehensile tail the same length as the head and body; russet orange fur with a white underside.


Size:
50-70mm.

Weight:
4-6 g.

Diet:
They eat a mixture of seeds, berries and insects, although moss, roots and fungi may also be taken. Harvest mice sometimes take grain from cereal heads, leaving characteristic sickle-shaped remains. Noticeable damage to cereal crops is extremely rare.

Lifespan:
18 months on average.

Origin & Distribution:
Native. The harvest mouse is mainly found from central Yorkshire southwards. Isolated records from Scotland and Wales probably result from the release of captive animals. Areas of tall grass provide favourable habitats, such as cereals, road side verges, hedgerows, reed beds, dykes and salt marshes where nests can be built.

Habitat:
    Grassland
    Arable land

Behaviour:
Harvest mice are extremely active climbers and feed in the stalk zone of long grasses and reeds, particularly around dusk and dawn. Their hearing is acute and they will react sharply; they either freeze or drop into cover in response to rustling sounds up to 7m away. Harvest mice have high energy requirements; the cost of being warm blooded and coping with a high surface to volume ratio.

Breeding nests are the most obvious sign indicating the presence of harvest mice. The harvest mouse is the only British mammal to build nests of woven grass well above ground. Nests tend to be found in dense vegetation such as grasses, rushes, cereals, grassy hedgerows, ditches and brambles. They are generally located on the stalk zone of 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.

Harvest mice have many predators: weasels, stoats, foxes, cats, owls, hawks, crows, even pheasants.

Breeding:
Harvest mice usually have two or three litters a year in the wild, between late May and October, but even into December if the weather is mild. Most litters are born in August. Cold wet weather is a major cause of mortality. There are usually around six young in a litter. The young are born blind and hairless but grow extremely quickly and start to explore outside the nest by the 11th day. The young are abandoned after about 16 days, but continue using the nest which may at then start to look rather dilapidated. A fresh nest is built for each litter.

Conservation Status:
Harvest mice are listed as a BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) Species because they are thought to have become much scarcer in recent years and they require conservation plans to reverse the decline. Changes in habitat management and agricultural methods are thought to be the main cause for the loss of populations from certain areas, although there have been no reliable studies to quantify this change.

____________________________________________________________

From ARKive::::


Harvest mouse biology
Harvest mice have bouts of activity throughout the 24-hour period, but they tend to be more active during the evening and night.
In summer they become increasingly nocturnal, whereas during the winter they are more active in the day.
They are adept climbers, and typically feed up in the stalk-zone of long reeds and grasses.
Depending on the time of year, harvest mice feed on grass seeds, cereals, berries, insects, fruits and the young shoots of grasses.

The nests of harvest mice are the most complex structures made by any British mammal.
These spherical nests, constructed by pregnant females, are made of woven grasses and may measure up to 10cm in diameter.
They are located up to 1 metre above ground in grasses or reeds.
Breeding takes place between May and October, and when the weather conditions are suitable, they may even continue to breed until December.
Between 3 and 7 litters are produced a year, each consisting of 1-8 young.
Births usually occur at night.
The female suckles the young until they reach around 9 days of age, at which time they are given their first solid food in the form of chewed seeds.
When the young reach around 18 days of age, the female may become aggressive towards them, ejecting them from the nest.
Upon reaching 6 weeks of age, the young will be able to breed.
Very few harvest mice live beyond 6 months, although the maximum recorded lifespan is 18 months.
Main causes of mortality are cold or wet weather, sudden frosts, and predation by weasels, stoats, foxes, cats, owls and crows.

Harvest mouse habitat
This species seems to prefer dry areas, and so its distribution may be affected by summer rainfall.
They inhabit dry reedbeds, patches of bramble, hay meadows, and some crop fields, particularly where there are winter refuges such as grassy banks.
They may also occur in hedgerows, field edges and other linear habitats, as well as wasteland in urban sites.


Harvest mouse threats
The harvest mouse is susceptible to changes in land use;
combine harvesting, burning of stubbles, ploughing, hedge trimming or removal and the use of pesticides all impact on this species.
Climate change and flooding are also likely to pose a threat.

Harvest mouse conservation
This species is not currently legally protected in the UK.
Chester Zoo is coordinating a captive breeding and reintroduction programme in the county of Cheshire, in order to reinforce populations in that area.
This well-managed captive population provides a safety net for Britain's wild harvest mice, and has enabled successful husbandry and captive breeding methods to be devised.
Should the species become threatened in the future, these techniques will be essential in maintaining the species, and the captive population will provide a source of reintroductions to the wild.

Full slideshow on ARKive.

____________________________________________________________

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia::::

Eurasian harvest mouse
The harvest mouse, Micromys minutus, is a small rodent native to Europe and Asia. It is typically found in fields of cereal crops such as wheat and oats, in reed beds and in other tall ground vegetation, such as long grass and hedgerows. It has reddish-brown fur with white underparts and a naked, highly prehensile tail which it uses for climbing. It is the smallest European rodent; an adult may weigh as little as 4 grams (0.14 oz). It eats chiefly seeds and insects, but also nectar and fruit. Breeding nests are spherical constructions carefully woven from grass and attached to stems well above the ground.

History
Before the harvest mouse had been formally described, Gilbert White believed they were an undescribed species, and reported their nests in Selborne, Hampshire:
"They never enter into houses; are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves; abound in harvest; and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles. They breed as many as eight at a litter, in a little round nest composed of the blades or grass or wheat.They are 8cm long. One of these nests I procured this autumn, most artificially platted, and composed of the blades of wheat; perfectly round, and about the size of a cricket-ball. It was so compact and well-filled, that it would roll across the table without being discomposed, though it contained eight little mice that were naked and blind."

Conservation efforts have taken place in Britain since 2001.
Tennis balls used in play at Wimbledon have been recycled to create artificial nests for harvest mice in an attempt to help the species avoid predation and recover from near-threatened status.
Look at the cute photo!!

Description
The harvest mouse ranges from 55 to 75 mm (2.2 to 3.0 in) long, and its tail from 50 to 75 mm (2.0 to 3.0 in) long; it weighs from 4 to 11 g (0.14 to 0.39 oz),[3][4] or about half the weight of the house mouse (Mus musculus). Its eyes and ears are relatively large. It has a small nose, with short, stubble-like whiskers, and thick, soft fur, somewhat thicker in winter than in summer.

The upper part of the body is brown, sometimes with a yellow or red tinge, and the under-parts range from white to cream coloured. It has a prehensile tail which is usually bicoloured and furless at the tip. The mouse's rather broad feet are adapted specifically for climbing, with a somewhat opposable, large outermost toe, allowing it to grip stems with each hindfoot and its tail, thus freeing the mouse's forepaws for food collection. Its tail is also used for balance.
____________________________________________________________

Lovely info in a PDF about captive breeding by Wildwood at Chester Zoo (for release into carefully selected sites) at.... http://www.wildwoodtrust.org/files/harvest-mouse-captive-breeding.pdf
____________________________________________________________

Red List - Least Concern::

Geographic Range
Range Description:    
The harvest mouse has a large range in the Palaearctic and Indomalayan regions, where it occurs from northern Spain and Great Britain through Europe, eastern Fennoscandia, and Russia to northern Mongolia, China, the Korean peninsula, northeast India, Myanmar and Viet Nam (Corbet 1978, Panteleyev 1998, Spitzenberger 1999); also Japan and Taiwan. It is present on the border between southern Sweden and south-east Norway, where it is regarded as possibly introduced (van der Kooij et al. 2001, Wilson and Reeder 2005, van der Kooij et al. in litt. 2006).

In Europe, it is largely absent from Iberia, southern part of Italy, the Alps, and it occurs only sporadically in the Balkans. It is typically a lowland species, although it occurs at altitudes of up to 1,700 m asl in Europe (Spitzenberger 1999).

It is restricted to the northern parts of Mongolia, including Mongol Altai, Hövsgöl, Hentii and Ikh Hyangan mountain ranges, Mongol Daguur Steppe and Eastern Mongolia.

In Japan, the species is found on Honshu (Miyagi and Niigata Prefectures southwards), Shikoku, Kyushu, as well as the Oki Islands (Dogo, Nishinoshima, and Nakanoshima), Awaji, Teshima, Innoshima, Osaki-kamishima, Tsushima, Shimoshima (Amakusa Islands), Fukue (Goto Islands), and Kuchinoerabu (Osumi Islands) (Abe, et al., 2005). The species is likely found more widely on small islands in the vicinity of the known distribution in Japan (Abe, et al., 2005). The species is found from sea level up to 1,200 m asl in Japan.

Countries:    
Native to...
Armenia (Armenia); Austria; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; China; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Hungary; India; Italy; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Netherlands; Poland; Romania; Russian Federation; Serbia (Serbia); Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Switzerland; Taiwan, Province of China; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; Viet Nam

Population:    
Population declines have been noted in many parts of Europe. However, populations of this species fluctuate drastically, and some reported declines may in fact have been part of a natural fluctuation (Trout 1978, Haberl and Kryštufek 2003). The species is hard to trap and is often not recorded even when it is present (Haberl and Kryštufek 2003). However, nests may be found quite easily by experienced observers (R. Juškaitis pers. comm. 2006).
It is considered to be common in South Asia.
Population Trend:     Stable

Habitat and Ecology:
Present in a wide variety of habitats, including alpine grasslands, tall grass fields, bamboo stands, wetlands, reedbeds, and clearings and edges of humid forest. It has also adapted to a variety of anthropogenic habitats, including gardens and arable land (in the wetter north-western parts of its range), drainage ditches, and grain or rice paddies (Spitzenberger 1999). It has a high tolerance of disturbed habitats (Haberl and Kryštufek 2003). Their diet includes seeds, green vegetation, insects, and bird's eggs.

Systems:     Terrestrial

Major Threat(s):    
There are no major threats throughout its range. In Europe the species is common in wetlands (e.g. rice fields) and other habitats (e.g. abandoned agricultural land). There are no serious threats to the survival of the species, although local population declines have occurred in some areas as a result of loss and degradation of wetland habitats (Spitzenberger 1999).
____________________________________________________________

This is the text that is with the pictures if you follow Susan's link:
[it is a bit difficult to follow as picture changes to picture...]

Photographers Jean-Louis Klein and Marie-Luce Hubert spent one year photographing the adorable little creatures in a project that saw them released from captivity into the wild.
Waiting patiently in meadows and reed beds close to their home in Alsace, France, the pair were able to capture some extremely cute moments.
From the studio - where the pair documented tiny newborns and their first few weeks of life - to the great outdoors where all of the 30 mice were eventually released, the pictures take viewers through a variety of events faced by the mice.
Jean-Louis said: "All of the harvest mice came originally from captivity and we eventually released them into a field where we continued to photograph them, always carefully choosing a suitable habitat where we knew they could survive.
"We also wanted to show the behaviour of the animals during maternity, but we wouldn't have been able to get this in the wild without disturbing the mother and there was a danger a wild mother might have abandoned them. Instead we shot the maternal behaviour in a studio before releasing the mice once the babies were mature enough for the wild.
To demonstrate how mice often take to the water in the wet meadows they inhabit, Jean-Louis and Marie-Luce gave one of their subjects a dip in a mouse-sized aquarium before releasing it into the wild.
The harvest mouse is the smallest European rodent. An adult can weigh as little as four grams (0.14 ounces).
"When shooting in the wild, we didn't need a hide. You just had to find a good spot, lay very still for a long time, and wait for the mice".

OK! I'll have a go at that next year!!


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

It's not all about Myrtle...

The first of a few picture-posts about some of the other wildlife that we've seen here....
over the past couple of months...

No, honestly, it isn't that we are preoccupied by moorhen activity....
although Myrtle has taken up quite a lot of our blog space over the past few months.

It is also about seeing...

....a Grizzled Skipper backlit by the morning sun...
 when you had seen it....

....on the same plant the previous evening!!
It's also about seeing...

a Kingfisher through the kitchen window...
and it stayed put until you'd rushed upstairs to get a clearer view...

"This is my left profile....
...and this? My right!!"

It's about being out of an evening and meeting...

...Mrs.Toad going about her business.
or seeing a....

...a Glow-worm halfway up the longère wall....
using the white to double her glow.
Or seeing....

...a male Beautiful Demoiselle delicately perched on a leaf, near Myrtle's platform...
the metallic blue and green sparkling in the sunlight...
or seeing...
... a Leaf Cutter Bee in the act of taking a large chunk out of...
the Cut-leaf Maple that we'd raised from seed!! What a cheek!!!
It's about trying to photograph Orioles....

...as they fly towards the house...
(it is the yellow blob)...
...and actually getting something recognisable...
it is a male... it is black and bright yellow...
hold it... I can see the eyes!!


It is all about SEEING...
seeing the world a hundred different ways....

through a hundred little lenses!!



Hope you enjoyed this...
there will be more!!




Wednesday, 6 August 2014

A most distinguished visitor

On Wednesday the Kingfisher Trap came into its own again. Perched on the tip was a large black-and-yellow dragonfly. A box-like projection on the end of his body suggested a Pincertail. Two species of Pincertail are found in this part of France: the Small Pincertail Onychogomphus forcipatus Onychogomphe à pinces (Green-eyed Hooktail) and the Large Pincertail Onychogomphus uncatus Onychogomphe à crochets (Blue-eyed Hooktail). Both species are at the northern limit of their range and rare; uncatus very rare. This individual was a male, in beautiful condition. He stayed for at least a couple of hours, taking short aggressive flights whenever another dragonfly of any species came too close.

The "Kingfisher trap" comes into its own again

Tim took a good look through binoculars and dashed for "the bible" of European dragonflies:
the aptly named Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe
(Klaas-Douwe B Dijkstra and Richard Lewington. BWP 2006).
Yes, it was a Large Pincertail. Everything we could see checked with Dijkstra:
  • grey/blue eyes, grey indicating recently emerged,
  • extensive broad parallel black lines on side of abdomen, rather than broken, narrow black lines, 
  • yellow stripes on back connected dorsally, 
  • four cells in the anal triangle of the wing rather than three,
  • lower cercoid ("pincer") on tail smoothly rounded rather than square and boxy, and outside the upper "pincer" rather than inside.

The following day the pincertail was there again, chasing away potential rivals, i.e. any other large dragonfly.

Wikipedia describes the distinguishing features of the Large Pincertail thus:
The eyes of Onychogomphus uncatus are widely separated and bright-blue or gray-blue eyes, never green. The front black line on the side of the thorax does not touch the midline. The yellow collar at the front of the thorax is interrupted by a black bar. It has four cells on the anal triangle of the rear wing, but no yellow line on the 'vertex'. 'Cercoids' are always yellow.

This is what we saw
Identifying features clockwise from top left: cercoids, cercoids again,
anal triangle (veining of the wing next to the body, in the centre of the picture), parallel lines on abdomen

On 21st July 2013 last year, we were visited by a member of the same species. It first came to our attention because this large dragonfly was sitting on the frame of the front door. It had trapped itself in the house and worn itself out beating at the window glass.

The identification points are clearer to see in these photos because the beastie was cooperative and sitting quite still and close by...
not halfway across a millstream!!
He is actually sitting on the path outside the front door. After a few minutes rest he flew away.




These two visits are the first and second confirmed reports of the species in Faune Touraine. The dragonflies section of the site has only been operating for a short while, so it's not that difficult to get a "first", but this animal is genuinely rare.

We haven't seen him since, so the second half of July seems to be the time to visit us if you are a lover of libellules.

Monday, 4 August 2014

About moorhens

The moorhen's nest is a wonderful construction. Given a stubby beak and two enormous feet, she has built out of iris leaves, sticks and lengths of hop bine a platform nearly 50cm high, roofed, with separate entrance and exit. She and her chicks roost here, safe from predators.


The iris got quite a hammering this year!

The chicks are growing well and remarkably cute.

Was that my cue?
And ... preen
Right, I'm ready. Chorus line and beginners, please!

Last week the mother bird performed an act of startling bravery. The chicks were peeping in alarm, she was shrilling as loud as a moorhen can. Something long, low and reddish-grey was moving under the opposite bank, partially screened by overhanging vegetation. I'm still not sure what it was - my first thought was that it was a young fox, then that it was some kind of mustelid, a stone martin or a stoat. Clearly moorhen chick was to be the main course. The adult suddenly rushed up the bank at the creature, and the next thing I saw was the predator retreating backwards up the bank with the moorhen's wings in its jaws. I gave an involuntary yell and shot downstairs. I know you're not meant to interfere with nature, but this was Myrtle. From the bridge, there was no sign of either of them and all was calm.

Whether those raking claws and sharp beak were too much for the predator, or my intervention scared it, it must have let go. Myrtle is still chugging to and fro with reinforcement for the nest, seemingly unharmed.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Have You Seen This Butterfly?

Birdguides received news early this week that an unprecedented invasion of Scarce Tortoiseshell (also known as Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell) nymphalis xanthomelas La Vanesse du saule or Tortue à pattes jaunes  was taking place in the Netherlands — a country which had never previously recorded this eastern European species. There was until this week only one British record of this species, in 1953. Already a handful of new records has been confirmed in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

They're coming - are they on their way here? They are unknown in France too. My pocket guide describes them as preferring valley bottoms and willows - we've got plenty of those! All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Scarce Tortoiseshell by J.M.Garg, taken at Kullu Distt., Himachal, India


Scarce Tortoiseshell by Alpsdake, Mount Gozaisho, Japan
The Scarce Tortoiseshell is sometimes referred to as the Large Tortoiseshell. The latter name now belongs to Nymphalis Polychloros, which looks very similar, but has brown legs, hence its other name Black-Legged Tortoiseshell (er...). This species is native to Western Europe and we occasionally see them here.

As you see, they look very similar!

By Algirdas
By Algirdas. Image rotated through 90 degrees
Here's a comparison:

Scarce
Large















Scarce

Large

Monday, 14 July 2014

Only its mother ...

... could think a moorhen chick was beautiful. They are bald, beaky balls of black fluff. These two little chaps (taken 25th June) have a certain cuteness about them, I suppose. They usually go to the edge of the millstream under the overhanging vegetation to be fed.

Wot? Eh wot? Anyone there?

These two were scrambling around in the iris leaves. They used their stubby wings like grapples to climb over the stems.

Boo!

Myrtle is always in charge, of feeding, of cleaning up afterwards, of construction work.

Removing a faecal sac

But how many chicks are there? And - how many Myrtles? This bird seems at some point to have injured a wing, and never gets it quite flat against its body.

Count the fuzzy black blobs. Are they chicks or shadows?

Three chicks. And the one at the back is bigger. Hang on, is that another leg?

How many chicks?

Yes, it's another leg. And where did the other one at the front come from? Five chicks.

Brooding

On Saturday (6th July) it rained heavily. Myrtle swung into action to reinforce her brood platform. On Sunday (7th July) she continued, while the second adult led the chicks upstream out of the way. Myrtle worried at the iris stems around the platform area, her activity highlighted by the sudden onset of vigorous shaking of a small group of leaves that could not be attributed to the water flow. Only occasional glimpses of her could be seen, which is her purpose in selecting that nest site and winning it against all odds. When a leaf finally broke off, she immediately took it to the platform and got weaving. At one point she came in with a poplar leaf, and that went in too. She worked at this for over an hour, while yours truly watched, fascinated.

Myrtle only stopped when a small flotilla of mallards barged through the middle of the iris bed. This was an adult female (cane) with three well grown youngsters (canetons) at least as big as she was. La cane could easily have been "our" duck whose progress we observed over so many weeks. If so, she did well to raise three ducklings to the point where they will soon be independent. Myrtle's crew has a long way to go before that stage.

She had to reinforce the platform again today (14th July). The second adult seemed rather dithery, swimming up and down aimlessly most of the time, although she may have been guarding the chicks again. One chick insists on staying with Myrtle, and was treated to a sharp peck for getting out of hand. In one furious burst of activity the adults were working together, Myrtle (the dominant bird, generally the female in any kind of pair) was working on the platform while her helper carried materials in from the bank.

The helper is probably a daughter, a younger sibling or even an aunt. This kind of cooperation outside the pair bond is found normally between birds that are related. She has a small platform of her own, under the far bank. And some day she may become Myrtle and take over the iris bed.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The kingfisher trap

According to Tim, Bill Oddie described the "Kingfisher Trap" on one of his wildlife TV programs, but short of buying the DVD boxed sets and playing them all, I couldn't say which one. I have a small side bet on "How to Watch Wildlife", a series first broadcast on BBC2 in early 2005.

The reasoning behind the Kingfisher Trap goes like this:
  • birds never sit still
  • when they sit still, you can't see them properly
  • when you can see them properly, you haven't got your camera with you
  • so you provide them with a perch positioned where you can see it, and you sit there with your camera and take pictures when the bird turns up.
It works.

My first ever picture of a kingfisher - an adult male

All you do is fix a pole over the water where the electric blue bullet whizzes to and fro, making that piercing "Hweet" call. This one is over the millstream, visible (after a little judicious gardening) from the bedroom window. You still have to find a way of persuading your kingfisher to stay long enough to focus the camera, but that's down to the likely prey in the chosen stretch of water. No prey, no stay.

Other birds like to use the kingfisher trap, too. It provides a convenient spot for an incoming bird with food for chicks to check that all is well and no predators are watching before going to the nest.

Female blackcap with breakfast

This pair of blackcaps has a second brood, having successfully raised about four from the first. They have relocated to the side of the tree nursery area, in a space previously occupied by a wren. She used the perch too, and is also on a second brood, somewhere.

Other species, such as grey wagtails, use the perch as a survey point to catch insects over the water. Last Friday a family group of at least four birds, adults and young, landed on the pole in great excitement. Unfortunately the evening sunlight was coming straight down the pole and all I got in the picture was a reflection of the camera.