Photo special: Isles of Scilly

Every September my thoughts return to the Isles of Scilly, where Dr C and I spent our honeymoon (and several happy holidays since). Through my work I’ve travelled a lot of the world, but I still think the Scillies are the most beautiful place I’ve been. They’re also havens for seabirds and other marine wildlife. Here are a few of my favourite photos from the Scillies.

Bay on the Isles of Scilly

Oyster catcher
Oyster catcher
Grey seals
Grey seals
Swallow skimming the beach
Swallow skimming the beach on St Martin’s

The Isles of Scilly

Puffins landing gracefully(!)
Puffins landing gracefully(!)

Isles of Scilly11 07 05 Scillies 091_edited-3

Looking from St Agnes to the Gugh
Looking from St Agnes to the Gugh

birds and boat Song thrush

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Hedgehog pawprints

A while ago I shared the results of using a black plastic tunnel, inkpads, paper and some tasty mealworms to find out who visits my garden at night. Researchers using this method on a rather larger scale have recently shared results for the UK as a whole.

It turns out that my garden is the exception, rather than the rule. While hedgehogs are regular visitors to my patch, they were found in only 39% of sites surveyed. This is a lower proportion than expected, and is further evidence of the decline in hedgehogs.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species are now running an even bigger survey using this method, and are looking for volunteers. It’s quick and simple to set up, and can provide some fascinating insights into your nocturnal visitors – why not sign up? Evidence from this larger study may help us to understand why hedgehog numbers are declining, and how we can help them. Go on, give a hog a hand!

One year in the Wild South

This blog is now a year old, and this is my 100th post. I think that’s a good excuse to have a look back through the last year of posts, and pick out some of the most popular, and some of my personal favourites.

Most popular posts (highest views per month):

The ferry departing from the small harbour on Lundy
The ferry departing from the small harbour on Lundy

Lundy Island photo special – it seems I’m not the only person who thinks Lundy is a special place. I’m glad people seem to enjoy my photography.

Hedgehog and mouse pawprints
Pawprints from the mammal tunnel

Whose pawprints are these?  This post shares the results of my mammal tunnel, which allowed me to capture the pawprints of hedgehogs and mice. It also includes some footage of the nocturnal visitors to my garden.

14 05 25_2808_edited-2In which I search for otters and water shrews, and end up finding something even rarer – my account of seeing water voles in Hampshire. They’re lovely creatures…

Inquisitive seal
Inquisitive seal

Snorkelling with seals – an account of snorkelling with seals in the Isles of Scilly. Lots of photos of one of my most memorable wildlife encounters.

Deer print
Fallow(?) deer print

12 ways to find mammals – A short summary of a talk by Professor Pat Morris on how to find mammals. Not for squeamish – some of the methods involved are rather grim, but some helpful tips.

My favourite posts:

BadgerThe badger cull: an ‘evidence to policy’ perspective: This post explores the case for and against the badger cull, using the principles I apply in my day job working in health research (spoiler alert: the cull is not a good idea).

The mini pond
The mini pond

How to build a mini pond: This post describes how we created a mini pond from a wine barrel. I’ve chosen this one as garden ponds (even tiny ones) are soooo good for wildlife, and ours is continuing to thrive. Hopefully this will inspire you to create one, if you don’t already have a pond.

Harvest mouse on seedheadPhoto special: British wildlife: Some of my favourite photos – hope you enjoy them as well!

Water vole
Water vole

In search of water voles: This describes my first adventure in the British Animal Challenge, and shows some of the signs to look out for with these very rare animals.

House sparrow about to fledgeHouse sparrow chicks have fledged: It’s a pleasure getting to watch nesting birds in the intimacy of their nest boxes, and these were the first chicks to fledge from our camera nest box.

I’ve learnt a lot through both having to research my posts, and from the comments people leave. I’ve really enjoyed working on the blog – thanks to everyone who has read, liked and / or commented on my posts.  I hope you will continue to keep me company on my adventures in the Wild South.

Scottish Independence and the British Wildlife Challenge

If you live in Britain it can’t have escaped your attention that on Thursday the Scots vote on whether to stay part of the Union, or go it alone.  There’s been a lot written about the implications of a Yes vote, but, til now, one potential consequence has been ignored: what will it mean for the British Animal Challenge?

Scotland contains some of the wildest areas of Britain, including the Highlands and remote islands. It’s home to several species that are not found elsewhere in Britain, and is the best place to see even more. So which species will disappear from my list?

grumpy looking wildcat
Wildcat

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish Wildcat will be crossed off. I love cats of all sorts, but, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t be too disappointed about this. They are very rare and very secretive, making them extremely hard to see. They also look permanently grumpy, so I’m a bit scared of them.

The Cairngorms are the only place in Britain where you can see Reindeer wondering free(ish) (except on Christmas Eve, when you can spot them anywhere in the country, if you’re lucky and you’ve been good).

Highland ponies will also need to come off the list. On a smaller scale, the Orkney Vole will also no longer count as British.

Then there are a whole host of creatures where, although they also live elsewhere in the UK, Scotland is the best place to try and see them. This includes Mountain Hares, Pine Martens, and a lot of different types of whales that can (with luck) be seen from ferries to the remoter islands. While Scottish independence wouldn’t be an excuse to remove them from the list, my task will get trickier.

torpid dormouse
Torpid dormouse

Conversely, there are lots of animals who live in England and / or Wales who can’t be found in the chillier climate of Scotland – dormice, harvest mice, rare reptiles and many types of bats for example.

So, a Yes vote will make my list shorter. Despite that, I hope our Scottish Brethren choose to stay part of Britain. Please don’t abandon us! (Or at least let me set up a small satellite area of Scotland here in southern England, so I can escape the coalition government as well!)

Fascinating wildlife fact #10: Moles have more blood than other animals

The amount of oxygen in mole tunnels is only around a third as at the surface. To cope with this, moles have a greater volume of blood and twice as much haemoglobin (which transports oxygen in the blood) as other animals of a similar size.

Fascinating wildlife fact #9: Collared doves fly a long way from the nest

Collared doves are regular visitors to my garden. I’ve always thought of them as local birds, so I was surprised to discover that the ones visiting my garden may have come from mainland Europe. Collared doves have been known to disperse up to 600 miles from where they they hatch, and they’re gradually spreading north west. ‘My’ doves may well be cooing in French or German.

Fascinating wildlife fact #8: Corvids use ants to get rid of parasites

Wood ants protect themselves and their colonies by spraying threatening creatures with formic acid. Corvids (birds of the crow family) sometimes take advantage of this by stretching out on or near an ant nest and letting ants climb all over them and spray them with acid. This gets rid of any pesky parasites that are bothering the birds.

The Shrew Hunter: part 2

As my dormousing took me back to the site where I had unsuccessfully tried to see a water shrew, it was a good opportunity to try again.

I was heartened to learn that in the week since my previous visit, the water shrew had been heard by the pond by several people.

Being more organised this time, I had lunch before starting my vigil. I also came prepared with a hat to keep the sun off, so that was another improvement over last time.

I settled myself in the same spot, and kept watch. There seemed to be fewer buzzards around, which was a good sign for my chances of seeing a small mammal. There were, however, several butterfly surveyors. It was nice to have a chat with them, and learn a bit about the butterflies found in the wood. It also made quite a pleasant change to talk to people who didn’t seem to think what I was doing (standing by a pond for hours) was very eccentric. I think there must be some kind of special bond between wildlife enthusiasts, even if we are interested in different sorts of wildlife.

My old tormentor, the dragonfly, had another go at driving me crazy, but I wasn’t falling for it this time.

Sadly I still didn’t get sight of a water shrew, although I think I may have heard it. I have struggled to find a recording of water shrew noises online, and I am rubbish at interpreting the descriptions of sounds that books give, so I can’t be sure. But it definitely wasn’t a frog!

So, the quest to see a water shrew continues. I may focus on another species for a while…