I have been in partial hibernation this last couple of months, hence the lack of blog posts. But I have managed to do somethings, one of which is sift through my dormouse data from last year. I’ve made a little animation showing how dormice and other animals have used the boxes at my monitoring site over the last couple of years.
It’s great to see dormice making use of the boxes we put up in 2015. Hopefully it means this year they’ll start making use of the boxes we put up at the start of 2016.
After April’s soggy box check, it came as a relief to set out in the dry in May. The woods were decked out in their best – more species of wildflower than I can name, in all the colours of the rainbow. And the dormice were co-operating too.
The check got off to a good start – in one of the first boxes we checked one of the volunteers called my attention to a small pile of dead leaves at the bottom of the box. That immediately made me think that an apodemus mouse (wood mouse or yellow-necked mouse) had started to build a nest there. That’s not something to particularly get excited about – if an apodemus mouse is using a box, that means it’s one less box available for dormice. And, unlike dormice, they’re not house-proud. They happily urinate and defecate in their nests. And an apodemus mouse is much more likely to bite you than a dormouse is. (Having said that, I’ve never been bitten by an apodemus mouse, but have been bitten twice by dormice…)
So, when I came to have a look at the box, I wasn’t expecting much. There weren’t enough leaves for it to be a proper nest, and there was no structure to it. But I investigated it gently, and as one of the leaves from the top of the pile shifted, I caught a glimpse of gold – the gold of a dormouse, rather than the dull brown of an apodemus.
The dormouse was torpid, so it was an easy job to get the mouse out and weigh it. It was a 16g female, which is about usual for this time of year. We managed to weigh, sex and put the dormouse back in its unconventional nest without waking it, which is always satisfying.
Obviously it’s always a delight to find a dormouse. But this was particularly special, as it’s the first dormouse we’ve found in the new boxes we put up last year. It’s good to know that we work we put in then is now benefiting at least one little dormouse. And it’s also encouraging to know that dormice are active that side of the footpath.
Many of the boxes we checked had birds nests in – mostly bluetit nests, generally with eggs being incubated, although one nest had chicks. They seem to be a little behind compared to previous years. There are also more wren’s nests around this year. Wrens build lovely nests – loads of moss, with a big chamber, and they keep them clean (unlike bluetits). Dormice will quite often move in to these.
We found another dormouse somewhere we weren’t expecting to. At the last few checks a shrew has been using an old dormouse nest, which by now has broken down and got smelly. If it had been unoccupied this month, we’d have cleaned the box out. But a dormouse had moved back in – obviously too lazy to build its own nest. This was a 14g male, who was also torpid, but showed signs of waking, so we dealt with it as quickly as possible before returning it to the dilapidated nest. Hence the lack of photos of this dormouse.
Two of the nicer dormouse nests from previous checks had been taken over by bumblebees. As you probably know, bumblebees are having a tough time at the moment, so it’s hard to begrudge them a couple of nest boxes. But they do pose a hazard for whoever’s checking the nest box, as they are prepared to sting if disturbed. Luckily we escaped unscathed, and will tread cautiously round those boxes until the bees leave the nest (probably in a couple of months time – they go into hibernation even earlier than dormice!).
So, a successful box check this month. Further encouragement that dormice are using the whole box check area, and a reminder to never assume dormice aren’t present in an unlikely looking nest.
Sad news – the bluetits seem to have abandoned the nest they were building in the camera nest box. We haven’t seen a bluetit in the box for well over a week now.
It’s not the first time we’ve had bluetits build a nest, only to disappear before laying any eggs. I’m clinging onto the hope that they’re just having a break before getting down to laying eggs and incubating. But I think I may be deluding myself.
Maybe they’ve found somewhere more desirable to nest. Or maybe something untoward has happened to one of the pair. It’s a precarious life, being a bluetit, especially with the number of cats who are hanging round my garden these days.
Do you have any other theories to add to my list? Or have you seen examples where bluetits have avoided a built nest for a week or two, and then come back to use it?
This time last year the first brood of house sparrow chicks in our camera nest box were fledging. And the year before that, ill-fated bluetit chicks had just hatched. This year, for the first time since we put the box up, no birds have shown any inclination to nest in it.
I don’t know why. Our garden is still full of sparrows, emptying the feeders and chattering away. The box is well hidden by a rampant clematis, but it was last year as well. There’s no sign of nesting in our other bird boxes either. And I don’t think they are nesting in our gutter like they used to.
I miss watching them build the nest, brood the eggs, and wait expectantly for them to hatch. And I miss hearing the cheeps, and checking the camera footage to see the moment they fledge. (To cheer myself up, I’ve just rewatched the footage from last year).
Oh well, there’s always next year. And I should get to see plenty of bluetit chicks on my next dormouse box check.
Do you have any idea of why the sparrows aren’t nesting in the box this year?
Christmas really must almost be here. This week we had our first Christmas card (thanks Aunty M!). It was a sweet image of two little birds, snuggled up to each other on a snow-covered branch. You can picture it, can’t you?
Except you’re wrong – it’s not two little robins, it’s two bluetits instead. This is a bit unusual for Christmas cards – robins really seem to have cornered the festive bird market (if you exclude turkeys!). But there’s no reason why bluetits (or other birds) shouldn’t get in on the act.
We see robins most of the year in our garden, although I don’t know if the one we see in winter is the same as the one we see in summer. It’s rare for us to see more than one, as they are quite territorial. Quite a lot of Christmas card artists seem unaware of that, and paint idyllic scenes with two or more happily perched in a tree. If that happened in real life there would either be breeding or fighting involved, which is less appropriate for a Christmas card.
We also see bluetits throughout the year, and are more likely to see several at once, so perhaps this card is more realistic than some of the robin ones I’ve seen.
Generally we see most of our birds more frequently and numerously in winter, when fewer other food sources are available, so Christmas card designers have plenty to choose from.
If you asked me which of our garden birds I associate most exclusively with winter, it would have to be the pied wagtail. Wagtails only tend to visit our garden when it’s very cold, and usually snowy. They’re not as colourful as robins (or bluetits), so perhaps that’s why they don’t feature on many cards.
Have you had any unusual bird Christmas cards? Which garden bird do you think would be best for a Christmas card?
This is my diary of the wildlife where I live in Oxfordshire, and sometimes the places I visit. I am a 14 year old young naturalist with a passion for British wildlife, especially Badgers and Hares. I have been blogging since May 2013 and you can read my old blog posts at www.appletonwildlifediary.blogspot.co.uk