August is firmly into dormouse breeding season, so it’s always an exciting month to check boxes. Added to the usual suspense of will there be a sweet dormouse in this box, is the added possibility of even sweeter baby dormice. So, on a sunny morning trekking through the woods in search of dormice is a rather pleasant occupation.
The woods are much quieter in August – the birds have finished breeding, and are quietly focused on food rather than defending territory or attracting mates with their song. And, while we saw deer prints, we didn’t see or hear any actual deer.
It was a lovely warm morning – a good one to be scrambling about the woods. This was the 6th box check I’ve led at this site, so I’m getting better at knowing where all the boxes are (except the elusive box 27, which is hidden in a hazel under a fallen yew).
For this month’s check I was assisted by Dr C, a couple of volunteers plus a 10 year old girl. So what did we find? Well, the birds have long ago finished nesting, so there were plenty of smelly old nests to be cleaned out. There were no signs of wood mice or yellow necked mice, but there were signs of dormice. In addition to the adapted bird nest we found a dormouse in back in June, there was a new nest, made with very fresh, green hazel leaves on top of an old bird nest. It was in the last box we checked – I’ve done so many box checks where we find dormice in the final box, I was very hopeful when found this.
I’m confident that it’s a dormouse nest – apodemus mice tend to use brown leaves, and don’t weave it together neatly like this one was. But it didn’t use any honeysuckle bark, which dormice in Surrey often do. We explored the nest carefully, especially since it’s so fresh – the leaves looked like they’d only just been picked off the trees. But sadly the dormouse who made it wasn’t at home.
Dormousing isn’t the ideal wildlife activity for a child – most of the boxes were too high for her to see into, but at least she got a chance to have a look at a couple of dormice nests when we took the boxes off the tree and into the bag for exploration. Plus there were deer prints to spot, wood sorrel to taste and old birds nests to remove. So hopefully there was enough of interest not to put her off. And she was good at looking for the boxes (which reminds me a bit of letterboxing on Dartmoor).
So, I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see any dormice, but pleased that there are signs of fresh dormouse activities. Hopefully September will bring us better luck.