Please excuse the excessive exclamation marks in the title of this post. I am just rather excited about the dormouse box check at my site this month. Having only found one dormouse at my site so far this year (and even that was months ago), this month we found a whole family of healthy, lively dormice.
I think word must have got round Surrey Dormouse Group that my site isn’t the best bet for seeing dormice, as my only ‘volunteer’ this month was the wonderful Dr C. I think he brings me good luck with dormice, as we found the previous dormouse on a check when he was my only helper. Anyway, hopefully now we’ve got a few more dormice at the site, we’ll have more regular success so volunteers can get some dormouse handling practice.
The occupied box had a lactating mother with three lively, eyes open young. It won’t be long before they will be able to leave the nest and live independently (hopefully in some of our nest boxes).
Dr C saw the mother’s nose peer out of the nest when he was checking the box. It’s the time of year when dormice are busy having babies, so we knew that there was a real possibility that there may be young in the nest. That was quickly confirmed – as soon as we had put the box in the rubble sack and taken off the lid, the bag was full of four dormice dashing round at incredible speed. Having so far only handled one, torpid, dormouse this year, trying to safely catch and bag each of them was an intimidating prospect at first. But, after taking a deep breath and picking a target, I got the first one, and it got easier from there.
Young dormice are harder to handle than adults – there’s less to get hold of, and their paws seem stickier, allowing them to climb arms more easily (something you have to keep an eye on when you’re dealing with several at once – you don’t want any escaping up your arm while you try to catch a different one).
After catching, weighing and sexing each mouse we put them carefully back into the nest. Not all of them seemed very keen on going back in, but once in they stayed there.
There’s plenty of food around, so they should have time to gain enough weight to hibernate through the winter. And they all looked in good condition.
Apart from delight at seeing lovely dormice, this new find is also really encouraging as the nest was in a different part of the wood to where we’ve found the other dormice nests. We also found another new (unoccupied) nest in another part of the site. At some sites you find most of the activity in a relatively small area, but, from this first year of monitoring, it looks like they’re present across most of the monitoring site. While four dormice (one family) isn’t a huge number compared to some other sites, it’s the highest we have had so far, and I am encouraged by it.