Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010 - a special mammal year!

2010 was the year in which I finally got to do something that I’ve been planning for some time – to attempt to see as many of Bedfordshire’s mammals as possible over the 12 month period. Here's a brief overview of just how it went.

The first mammal was never in doubt and, as expected, a number of Rabbits (1) were picked up in the car’s headlights on the way back from the Bedford Blues RFC’s New Year’s Eve party!

Later, another New Year's Day species was added when I came across Chinese Water Deer (2) in the fields adjoining Flying Horse Farm near Ridgmont. A walk over nearby Millbrook Plantation on the second day of the year added Grey Squirrel (3) and Muntjac (4) to the list. This was followed a few days later by a hungry Red Fox (5) walking on top of the ice at Brogborough Lake. Earlier, two starving Bitterns had also been wandering around, and what happened next was one of those events that will remain forever in my memory. As I watched one of the Bitterns in the scope, another one flew over the top of it and, at that moment, was hit by a Peregrine Falcon, resulting in a 'featherburst'. The Bittern dropped into some reeds below and I wondered whether it had survived. The answer came 20 minutes later when the Red Fox stuck its nose where the Bittern had disappeared, which was followed by the Bittern flying into the air and eventually landing in a quieter patch of reeds! Amazing!!

Brown Hares (6) were seen in their regular haunts to the north of Ampthill Park before what turned out to be another red-letter day: the 13th January. I joined members of the Bedfordshire Bat Group in a Hibernation check of several ice houses and another premier Bedfordshire site. Four species of Bats were seen throughout the day: Brown Long-eared (7); Natterer’s (8); Barbastelle (9) – the one I’d really been hoping for (see photo above); and Daubenton’s (10).

Two days of small mammal trapping at Westminster Pond, Ampthill Park in mid-February added Common Shrew (11), a diminutive Pygmy Shrew (12) and Wood Mouse (13) to the growing list. Ampthill Park has given me some amazing Stoat sightings over the years so, as dusk began to fall on 24th February, I made my way down to the epicentre of their activity: The Rezzy. Within 20 minutes a Stoat (14) suddenly ran out from under a bramble and down the path. Incredibly, it turned out to be the only Stoat I saw throughout the year!

As March arrived, my attention turned to Stewartby Lake. Early in the month I lifted a piece of strategically-placed tin to reveal a confiding Bank Vole (15), the first of many through the year. There had been reports of an American Mink frequenting the lake shore close to the gull watchpoint so, early one morning, I got into position and soon spotted the Mink (16) swimming right in front of the watchpoint. It didn’t re-emerge further down the shore and, searching the bank, I’m fairly confident that I found its den under a large fallen log. When it comes to Water Shrews the RSPB HQ at The Lodge in Sandy never disappoints. At Jack’s Pond my patience was rewarded when a Water Shrew (17) appeared and spent some time swimming and diving, at one point consuming its prey right beneath my gaze! I thought I’d got some stunning video footage…until I discovered I hadn’t switched the recorder on!

The 24th March was another red-letter day. In the morning I followed a Water Vole (18) making its way some hundred metres along a brook. Then, as dusk was falling I made my way along to Warren Villas Nature Reserve and sat on the path some 20m away from the point where Otters crossed from the lake into the River Ivel. I thought I was too late but, less than 10 minutes later I looked up to find an Otter (19) staring at me at that very spot….Wow! Before this I had spent many early mornings fruitlessly searching for the Stewartby Lake Otter!

It was to be another month before I was able to add to the list with an inquisitive Weasel (20) spotted crossing the main ride at Chicksands Wood. A night taking part in a bat survey in another wood resulted in a Common Pipistrelle (21) being examined in the hand. But even better was a big Serotine Bat (22) that hawked for insects right around me as I stood at the woodland edge.

A visit to Priory Country Park on the way back from watching the Bedford Blues train on 10th June gave the opportunity to catch up with a large number of Soprano Pipistrelles (23) and, on the way back to the car, I came across a Hedgehog (24) snuffling in the grass.I thought it was about time I added Badger to the list and, the following evening, I had some great views of two growing Badger cubs (25). On 28th June I joined a bat survey at Stockgrove Country Park and we managed to net a big Noctule (26). The evening got even better when a Roe Deer (27) was spotted in the verge alongside Kingshoe Wood on the way home, a species that is only just starting to colonise Bedfordshire and remains fairly scarce.The next day I finally caught up with Brown Rat after searching in various places. Following a tip-off, I visited Wardown Park in Luton. I walked from the car to the lake shore….and looked down to see a Brown Rat (28) only a metre or so away from me. Within 10 minutes I had two feeding on the seeds I was throwing to them!

Field Voles seem to have been at just about the lowest point of their population cycle these last few years, so I was really pleased to find a Field Vole (29) in the Longworth Trap set in grassland just north of Redbourne School in Ampthill on 1st July. And a fortnight later I made my way up the ladder and into the permanent stand at Potton Wood to be rewarded with great views of a Fallow Deer (30) and her accompanying fawn.

I knew that it was going to be a real challenge to add any further species to the list from here on in, which made every one really special. My surveying group had missed Hazel Dormouse during the Maulden Wood box-checks, so I was really grateful to the Studham group for allowing me to join them. It wasn’t without incident though – I got into the car to find that I wasn’t going anywhere because the brake-shoe was jammed onto the drum. 3 cheers for Liam of Tavistock Motors who came out and sorted it for me (with the help of a massive hammer!). I got to Studham just in time to see the Hazel Dormouse (31) above. She was in rude health but, sadly, the House Mouse (32) died soon after I had left Sue’s house, probably as a result of imbibing poison elsewhere.

I can’t do justice here to the Edible Dormouse (33) encounter that David Anderson and I had on 17th September. You’ll have to look it up below but, suffice to say, the young animal not only mistook David for a tree, but found what it thought was a cosy nook, too! I still can’t believe that David didn’t have a heart attack! On 30th September my night-time forays turned up a Polecat/Polecat-hybrid (34) in the verge at Kingshoe Wood in the early hours but, unfortunately, it was only a view of the shoulders down as it leapt into the longer grass.

But November brought some great views of two mammals that could so easily have been missed. After Dave Parsons’ turned up at Richard Lawrence’s office with a dead Yellow-necked Mouse caught in his garage in Haynes, I set a number of Longworth Traps. Sure enough, a few days later on 11th November, two traps in the roof space contained big, bouncy mice with attitude: Yellow-necked Mice (35). And, two days later, having put down a number of traps in the vicinity of empty Harvest Mouse nests on Flitton Moor, I came up trumps when, in the last trap on the last day, there emerged a beautiful Harvest Mouse (36).

It was the first one I have ever seen and it was the cherry on the cake at the end of a brilliant year. I was really pleased with 36 species. There were 2 ‘that got away’. While I was in Israel in May, Bob Cornes caught a Brandt’s Bat in a wood where they have occurred before. And, believe it or not, I never did see a Mole! Oh yes, I saw plenty of molehills appearing and moving, and I spent some time during the final week of the year gazing at lumps of brown earth at Duck End Nature Reserve, but it wasn’t to be. Richard Lawrence also found a dead Red Deer close to the Cambridgeshire border, but a live one would always be very much a chance sighting. I did search for signs of Sika Deer, and listened for their singular screams during the rutting season in the Briar Stockings area, but found no evidence. It’s been a number of years since a small herd was last reported in the County.

I’d love to do this again now that I’m armed with more knowledge as to where a number of these species occur and the best opportunities of seeing them. But maybe I will concentrate on studying a few of these mammals more closely this year. Now I know where there are Harvest Mice, I’m pretty sure I can rig up something so that I can watch them….and then there’s that Otter – I’ve got a feeling that I’ll be spending a few late nights and early mornings at Warren Villas this year!!


  1. Wow! I never thought there were that many species of anything in Bedfordshire!

  2. Hi Rachel,

    .....and a few years ago we had a Grey Seal on the Ouse, too!

    It's amazing, really, and all of this in little ol' Bedfordshyer!

  3. Congratulations Steve - it's a very impressive list indeed! It really does show what you can find on a local patch when you look.

    Very interesting about the Sika Deer in the Briar Stockings area. I hadn't heard about that. Sounds like a goal for 2011...

    All the best


  4. Hi there, BWM,
    Thanks for your encouragement.
    The following report is found in the BNHS Journal for 2003:

    Sika - Two records for this species, the first in September when a single animal was shot in the Tingrith area by a deer stalker. The second involved a small herd seen at Kingshoe Wood near Eversholt in late December.

    I think that this was the last record. Are you planning to attend the Aspley Woods Badger Group survey next weekend??

    Best wishes,

  5. Very interesting indeed about the Sika (although ironic that one of them was shot). I had no idea.

    And yes, I hope to be at the Badger Group meeting, but it depends on the weather. I'll have young Scarlett with me (Mrs BWM is working) and if it's too cold or too wet I can't take her out for too long. Hopefully it'll be dry and mild.

  6. Actually, on the subject of badgers, did you hear about the badger cubs reported behind the old council offices in Ampthill before Christmas? I have a feeling you may have been consulted by a mutual acquaintance?

    I only heard the bare bones of the story (and it sounded odd that cubs were reported in December) so I wondered if you'd heard any more details.

    All the best


  7. Hi there BWM,

    I'll e-mail you off-blog about this one! :-)