Yesterday while soaking up the afternoon sun at the back of the house an exciting natural drama unfolded before my eyes. It began when I spotted a hooded crow (Corvus cornix) behaving a little odd. It appeared to be hovering over the adjacent field which is filled with knee high rapeseed plants. As I sipped my tea, I became a little confused as crows don’t generally hover, a behaviour I associate with birds of prey like kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and common buzzards (Buteo buteo).
I kept watching closely and suddenly the crow dived into the field and disappeared out of view. When it reappeared in the air, something was dangling in it’s grip. Straight away I knew it wasn’t a small mammal, like a mouse or a vole, it has seized, it was far too big! And it was making a strange noise, something I can only describe as a cross between a squeal and a grunt.
The crow began to fly with it’s catch across the open fields above the house (where the horses and sheep are grazing), and right behind it in hot pursuit was an adult hare (Lepus europaeus)! Suddenly what I was seeing made sense! The crow had spotted a young hare (leveret) hiding in the rapeseed field, swooped down and snatched it and one of the parents was, of course, not happy!
The baby hare was a fighter and was struggling in the crows grip. As I watched in amazement it managed to wiggle free, and landed on the ground in the open field. However by this time, the adult hare had vanished. I took this as my cue to intervene. I jumped into my wellies and ran to rescue the tiny hare. Yesterday I stood firmly on the side of adorable baby mammals, as opposed to hungry foraging birds, that must be said.
The tiny leveret sat motionless on the grass, breathing rapidly, stressed from it’s ordeal. It was now a very easy target for the hungry crow, that was still hanging around, hoping for some lunch. I carefully picked it up and placed it in a box. As it recovered, I realised it was not as defenceless as I had first imagined. It began to “attack” everything and nothing by launching itself across the box and making a strange barking noise. Tiny but fierce! (We took this rare opportunity to take a few photos and two short videos before releasing it – see videos here and here.)
Not exactly sure what to do, we decided to return it to the place it had been taken from, as there maybe a sibling in the area that the parents would return to. From my later investigations, I learned that hares don’t use dens or burrows like rabbits. To avoid attracting predators (like foxes) the young are left alone most of the day in “forms” (depressions in a sheltered location) close to where they were born. The mother returns once a day at sunset to feed her young. We released the leveret into the knee high rapeseed plants. Fingers crossed it found a good hiding place, and was reunited with it’s mother again at sunset.
From the doorstep of the house we witnessed this amazing drama, first hand. Not on a television screen, in a zoo or even a nature reserve. Just outside the back door (granted we do live on a farm). Yesterdays “nature in action” drama reminded me of how much we can experience and connect with nature if we simply spend more time outside. Here’s my message: turn off the screens and get outside – you never know what you will see!
I went out today to refresh my memory on bird calls and songs but was treated to somthing quite different! As I stood listening for bird calls near a hedge at the edge of the forest out of no where a small black squirrel popped out and sprung across the path into the woods.
The black squirrel is native to the island of Funen but red squirrels live here also. There is concern that the black squirrel is hybridizing with the more abundant red squirrel and eventually the true black squirrels will disappear. A project has recently started to capture a population of black squirrels and release them on an island south of Funen (called Langeland) where there is currently no squirrels. For more info see here. I did manage to get two videos of the elusive black furry animal which I’ve uploaded here.
After arriving in Odense, I met Hans, a local bird enthusiast who is involved in bird ringing on Funen. During my time as a volunteer in England I had assisted Andy (ranger with AONB service) with some ringing and was interested in learning more. Hans kindly offered to be my “mentor” and after this I registered with the local bird ringing group (read their blog here). Bird ringing is carefully regulated and requires a special permit or license issued by the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen. Catching and ringing birds adds greatly to the scientific knowledge on bird anatomy, movement patterns, migration routes, life cycle, habitat choices etc.
Hans is particularly interested in ringing the elusive fieldfare (sjagger), a member of the thrush family. Over the last few weeks the temperature in Denmark has dropped significanly presenting us with an excellent opportunity to ring some hungry birds. The low temperatures force the birds to find alternative food sources, including apples from a local orchard!
Unfortunately birds are early risers so we start just after first light at the orchard . First we open the 10 large mist nets (~2.5m high with varying lengths) that are spread between the trees in the orchard. The nets remain in the orchard at night but are closed so the birds can not be trapped. The nets are made from fine mesh with specific size holes.
Once the nets are open we wait patiently and try to stay warm. When a bird flies into the net it becomes trapped and can not escape. The nets are checked very regularly (especially when it’s cold) and once we’ve caught something the fun begins. Some birds are quite “active” in the net and get very tangled, others seem to relax and sit quietly until you free them (robins for example). Carefully we remove the trapped bird, freeing the legs, then the body, depending on how it has entered the net.
The first thing we do is identify the species and the gender. In some birds this can be quite tricky and colouring must be carefully examined!
After this we determine the birds age by examining the wing feathers (specifically which ones it has molted) and take some measurements (eg. wing length).
Then a small metal ring is placed on the birds leg with a unique serial number. All the information is written down and within minutes the bird is released with his new piece of jewelry. Some birds will fly into a nearby tree and they can be seen examining their new “bling” with curiosity!
Contributing to science and conservation are main reasons for ringing birds, but on a personal level, getting the opportunity to see such beautiful creatures up close is truly an amazing experience.