Tag Archives: box checks

First dormouse at my new site

After last month’s disappointment (and the huge proportion of boxes that were being used by birds) I didn’t have high hopes for the dormouse box checks this month. But, once again, I was wrong. On my fourth monthly box check we finally found a dormouse!

Just the one, but a very cute one. It only weighed 12.5g, which is quite small for an adult. But weights tend to be low in June, as many won’t have been out of hibernation all that long.

It was the first dormouse I’ve seen this year, so I was quite relieved it was torpid and easy to handle. I think the warmth of my hand started to wake it up, as it clung to my fingers. But it seemed to go straight back to sleep when it was back in its nest, so will just have hazey memories of a weird dream.

Torpid dormouse found on my box check in June
Torpid dormouse found on my box check in June

I say its nest – in fact, he has just moved into a bird’s nest, so it’s not at all typical of a dormouse nest. Maybe, since it’s so small, it was preserving energy for feeding, and making do with a bird’s nest until it has put on a bit of weight. It’s not unusual for dormice to build a nest on top of a used bird’s nest, but this dormouse hasn’t got round to home improvements yet. All the bird’s nests in boxes were empty this month, so hopefully the dormice will start to recolonise them.

Dormice aren’t the only mice taking over from birds – one former bird’s nest had a couple of apodemus mice hunkering down. I didn’t manage to see their necks, so can’t tell if they were woodmice or yellow necked.

Seeing the dormouse made my day – they really are incredibly endearing. And hopefully it will be the first of many.

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Dormouse license!

After four years of volunteering at box checks, scrambling over and under fallen trees, battling holly and brambles, and being stung by nettles and bees, I now have my dormouse license! Dormice are a protected species in the UK (as there are so few of them), so to do anything that may disturb them you need a license from Natural England. To get the license you need to prove that you are capable of handling dormice safely, and have considerable experience of doing so under the supervision of license holders.

When I started volunteering at box checks I didn’t really have ambitions to be a license holder – it was just a pleasant way of spending a Saturday morning, and seeing adorable little animals. But I kinda got hooked, and Surrey Dormouse Group supported to pursue my interest further. At the time they were running an excellent training scheme, having clear requirements for what I needed to have experience of before putting in for my license. This included courses of dormice ecology, surveying and handling. I needed to know how to do a nut hunt, maintain nest boxes (a bit of DIY), set up a new site, record data, use a map to find boxes, give directions to volunteers, deal with other box occupants (like woodmice, birds, bees and shrews), and of course handle dormice at all stages of development.

Hazel dormouse

By Björn Schulz (= User Bjoernschulz on de.wikipedia) (selbst fotografiert von Björn Schulz) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s taken me a while to build up the necessary experience (mainly because the sites I usually volunteer at don’t have many dormice). As part of my training I’ve had the privilege of learning from many experienced license holders, as well as other volunteers with wide-ranging knowledge of nature.

Torpid dormouse
Dormouse found during regular monitoring by Surrey Dormouse Group

I’ve been on checks where it’s so cold my fingers have got too numb to undo the wire catches to the boxes, and others in the steaming heat of summer. I’ve had a few war wounds (bee stings, nettle stings, and been bitten by a dormouse – quite a rare occurance) and tripped over once or twice. I’ve seen many bluetit nests with chicks, and dormice from tiny pinkies to obese adults ready for hibernation. I’ve also witnessed a few tragedies – the dormouse who shed its tail (like lizards they can do that if they’re stressed), and nests of dead chicks or dormice. But overall the experience has been a joy –  even if we don’t find any dormice on a check, it’s a pleasant way of spending the morning. And having a torpid dormouse snuggle up to your thumb is just adorable…

So, now I’ve got my license, what does that mean? Sadly it doesn’t allow me to hibernate all winter (my employer would have something to say about that…). It does mean I can lead box checks. I’m hoping to get a site of my own to run next year, but if not I will help out when other site leaders in Surrey Dormouse Group can’t do a monthly check. It’s a big responsibility, looking after the wellbeing of those lovely little mice, but I think it will be rewarding.

 

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