Louthonians, if we can be called that, you help is needed, and rather urgently! The National Biodiversity Data Centre, the organisation that collects information about plants & animals in Ireland, are putting together a Mammal Atlas, a map of all the wild mammals in Ireland. To do that, they need records from people living in every county in Ireland (that’s you!). To date, very few records have been received from county Louth. We are almost at the bottom of the leader board, with only around 150 records submitted!
To lift us from the bottom, I am asking all Louth residents who have spotted a badger, hare, fox, squirrel (both red and grey) or any other wild mammal to send this information to the NBDC. You can also report sightings of road kill and cetaceans (whales, dolphins etc.). It only takes a minute via this link, and it will literally put Louth on the map!
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!
Today I spent a few special moments with one of the most adorable creatures I have come across in a while (excluding my boyfriend!). As part of a project I am working on, I get to come up close with a variety of small mammals (mice, voles and shrews). Some species are more “cute and cuddly” than others, and this guy tops the list!
This photo (not my best!) was taken on the side of a hill on the edge of a woodland, where one of the survey sites in. Over the past week and a half, I have been close to many harvest mice (dværgmus), bank voles (rødmus), field voles (markmus), yellow necked mice (hålsbåndsmus), a small number of house mice (husmus) and two species of shrew (spidsmus). The (Eurasian) harvest mouse Micromys minutus is the smallest rodent in Europe. They range in color from a dark grayish brown to a pale hazelnut brown (from what I have seen at this time of year anyway!). The are very small, weighing from 4 to 11g and have a fantastic prehensile tail. This means their tail is specially designed to grasp or hold on to things, which makes them very agile climbers! It is wonderful to watch, in those rare short moments where I get to observe the mouse before it darts undercover.
If you would like to see some more amazing photos, check out this link, which I stumbled upon. Two photographers spent a year capturing the life of harvest mice, sitting very still and waiting! Stunning shots!
I guess field work has it’s benefits after all!