This week I started a new job, which involved a temporary relocation to an old hunting castle. I spent 3 days working in offices located at the edge of one of Denmark’s national parks – Mols Bjerge. The offices of the Department of Biosciences (Aarhus University) are located in a group of old farm buildings which have been renovated, and guests stay in the attached hunting castle.
During the day I was busy with an EU cormorant survey project which is being coordinated from Denmark. I am responsibly for collecting information on breeding numbers and communicating this through a central website. It’s an exciting project and I’m really glad to be involved. In the evening, it was easy to escape from the office. Literally on the door step lies the edge of the national park. There are two large forests directly south, linked by excellent trails. I made the most out of the evenings and went exploring until my appetite urged me to come back to make dinner.
On the first evening, I took a trip to the local village of Rønde to pick up some groceries. Afterwards I decided to take my newly purchased goods for a wander through the woods. I followed my nose south-west towards the coast and reached a point with a lovely view out over the bay. I had forgotten how much I love to be by the sea. With my stomach grumbling I followed a trail along the edge of a field towards the forest. As I walked along I managed to disturb two roe deer feeding. I hunched down and watched for a moment. One of the deer was very unstable on his feet. He stood for a moment and I realised he was missing one of his front legs. Amazing. If you look closely, you can see the “stub”. There are two deer in the picture on the right hand side, at the top of the grass. It’s the deer on the left that is missing a leg (front left leg in this picture).
On my way through the forest I met quite a selection of natures wild and wonderful creatures. Firstly I was astounded by the number and colour of these large orange slugs. They were everywhere and beautiful!
I was also lucky enough to come across a red squirrel chowing down on some recently dropped hazel nuts. I attempted a photo, but it’s not worth showing! Also on mammals, I had a memorable encounter with a red backed vole (rødmus). I had stopped to take a picture of an interesting black and yellow beetle (below) and the vole popped out of the long grass at the edge of the path, calmly came over to have a look at me and wandered off again. Very enjoyable indeed!
The forests are complete with small natural ponds with a few dragon flies still buzzing about at this time of year. I was amazed at how still the forest was. I expected all the locals to be out enjoying the fantastic natural surrounds, and the wonderful late summer sunshine. But thankfully I had the place to myself, a real treat!
On my second evening I took a wander through the forest to the coast to the ruins of another castle (Kaløslot). The castle is located on a small narrow peninsula which extends out into the bay. Here the locals and tourists with strange accents gathered to make the most of the sunny evening. I sat on the wall of the castle for a few moments to gather my thoughts (and watch a group of cormorants drying out on some old fishing poles) and felt very much at home. Both in Denmark and with my new job.
With the sun setting it was back through the forest to the castle to rest my tired body and exhausted brain for the night. Not a bad start to a new job and a new chapter in my life.
I’ve been thinking about putting together a “wildlife diary” so to speak for a while. A collection of thoughts and experiences on my day-to-day experiences into the natural environment. It will hopefully help me organise my thoughts and focus my learning. There is so much to get my head around and maybe through telling others about what I find, I’ll learn a little more myself! I’ll try to keep it varied and informative, not all about dormice…
A wetland wander…
Yesterday evening I took a walk around the wetland reserve at Cardiff Bay. The reserve was created in 2002 when the barrage (effectively a large dam across the river estuary) was built. The area went from salty mudflats to freshwater marsh as the water levels rose. On the water’s edge there are footpaths and a board walk, ideal for a bit of twitching! It was a blustery evening so I imagined most wildlife would be sheltering from the weather. I brought along my new binoculars which I have been itching to use for weeks now (Thanks mam & Pat!) The first thing to catch my attention was a family of mute swans – 2 white adults and 5 dirty brown cygnets. Mute swans (Cygnus olor) are the more “domesticated” of swan species, but can be aggressive during breeding, raising wings and hissing loudly! They have a reddish-orange bill with a black facial patch. In the summer there are ~30,000 adult breeding mute swans in the UK and in the winter they are joined by European swans on holiday from the cold weather! Males (cobs) are larger than females (pens) and can weight up to 12kg (one of the heaviest flying birds!).
The family was grouped close to the boardwalk (in the water below) and I approached carefully. They didn’t seem to mind me being close, but the young did make a quiet chirping kind of sound – but it wasn’t aggressive, maybe they were just chatting! They were busy pruning and the juveniles seemed ready to shed their grey-brown plumage and show off some nice white feathers – no more ugly ducklings (according to HC Anderson)! The young also have a grey bill for the first year. Interestingly the mute swan is the national bird of Denmark – what a coincidence! On my wanders I kept an eye out for some swan feathers – I have read they make great quills (another project!). I did manage quiet a few other birds, including gulls (many many) coots, moorhens, great crested greebes, some ducks and cormorants – not a bad evening bird watching!
Slimey close up…
While out in the woodland last week, joined by my helper (Tracey) we came across a large slug making his way across the path. Yes- not the most exciting piece of wildlife, but something I have never stopped to investigate. Slugs are in the class gastropod coming from the latin – stomach foot. I think this maybe a European black slug (Arion ater) but can’t be certain. Slugs are identified by having an unsegmented soft body, a large foot and a well-developed head. I’ve never really looked closely at a slug, but they have some well-defined body parts. On the head they have 2 optical (light) and 2 sensory (smell) tentacles. Below this is the mouth which contains a toothed tongue (radula) with up to 27,000 teeth(dam think of the dentist bills) used to rasp food into the mouth. Further down is the mantle (smooth area) containing the breathing hole or pneumostone. The slug actually breathes through its entire body, but uses this breathing hole to increase air-skin contact during strenuous exercise. I tell you he was moving fast at this point trying to escape my evil little sister who was putting stones on his back! Behind the mantle the slug has ridges called tubercles which form the foot and are used to move. The edge of the foot has a fringe or skirt where it meets the sole (I LOVE the terms used!). Slugs are most active on wet days and at night as they need to remain moist. Slugs are hermaphrodites (have both sex organs) but still need to mate for breeding to be fruitful. Slugs feed on fungi and vegetation (both living and decaying). Although I’m not interested in this form of free food, slug is on the menu for many including badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, slow words and some birds.
Something for the weekend…
Finally I’d like to introduce you to Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) also known as True-lover’s Knot. It is a woodland plant preferring damp shady places on limestone. It’s looks really quiet weird, as it has a whorl of leaves with one solitary berry (looks like a blueberry) on the top. I was quiet curious its name so decided to do a bit of research. According to my sources, in large doses it’s quiet nasty – producing nausea, vomiting, vertigo etc while in small doses it can be used to treat bronchitis, coughs, rheumatism, cramp, colic, and palpitation of the heart. Interesting – but I won’t be trying it out any time soon! I did find out however, it has been used as an aphrodisiac..hmm…there’s an idea!
That’s all for now…I hope you’ve learned something – I know I have!