Winter is a quiet period for dormousers. The dormice are hibernating, so we wash our dusters, enter our data onto the national database, and put our feet up. Here in Surrey we’ve not quite been hibernating – 30 of us met up at the British Wildlife Centre for a meeting to celebrate our achievements from last year, and discuss plans for 2016. And, of course, to see the wonderful collection of animals they have there.
It’s always good to have an excuse to visit the British Wildlife Centre. The runaway show stealers for me were the otters (as always). It wasn’t great weather for photography (very little light), but here are a few of the more acceptable snaps I took.
This weekend I took a plunge (or, rather, dipped my toe) in the world of commerce. I have thousands of photos on my hard drive, a tiny fraction of which are (I think) quite presentable, but I rarely do anything with them. So when I heard that my church was organising a craft fair, it seemed like a chance to be brave and show them to the world, and see if the world liked them enough to buy them.
The first step was to find some photos good enough to sell. This meant trawling through my archives, which was a time consuming but pleasant occupation. I narrowed it down to 25 photos, mainly of British wildlife. But I had no idea which of these people might buy.
I thought Wild South would do as a name for my enterprise, and I knocked up a logo, incorporating oak leaves, as oaks are my favourite trees. What do you think of it?
In the end I got 4 of each of the 25 photos printed as cards. I also got a set of business cards printed, with a different photo on the back of each. I found a couple of bird images that would work as bookmarks, and got 50 double-sided bookmarks printed. I also picked 8 of my favourite photos to print out large, and mounted them. My plan was, if they didn’t sell I’d put them up at home (I’ve been meaning to do this for a while). I made up some themed packs of 3-5 cards.
Having never done this before, pricing was a bit of a stab in the dark. I knew what my costs were, but wasn’t sure how much mark-up to add – I wanted to make a decent profit for the charity, but didn’t want to be left with 100 cards at the end of the day.
After a dry run of setting up my stall at home, I was ready for the fair. I was relieved when I made my first sale of the day, and it was encouraging that it was a good one. I got lots of compliments on my photos. By the end of the day I had sold about half of my cards, and 4 mounted prints, but only 8 bookmarks. Some of the photos completely sold out. Owls, British mammals and pretty flowers all sold well, while some of my more exotic photos barely sold at all.
My business cards were very popular – people liked being able to choose which photo was on the back. And I did have more blog visits than usual this weekend, although I don’t know whether that’s connected. The other stallholders were very kind and encouraging, and Dr C helped out a lot. It was also a great opportunity to talk to people about wildlife.
It was a hard day’s work, but not unpleasant or dull. I’m not in a hurry to do another craft fair, and it’s not time to give up the day job quite yet. But I ‘d do it again to raise money for charity.
Anyway, here are the top selling images from the fair.
I’m a planner. I like making detailed plans, based on thorough research. This works for seeing some animals: working out where to go and when, and what to do when you’re there. Others you can’t really plan for – you need to be lucky.
So far in my British Animal Challenge I have focused on animals I can more or less plan to see. I have done my research, and gone to likely places, (as with water voles) or, even better, joined in surveys to find them (as with newts). Of course, even going to places you know the animal frequents doesn’t guarantee you a sighting (see my water shrew and otter attempts).
But there’s a whole host of creatures who can’t really be pinned down like that. Take, for example, the mole. I can’t plan an expedition to see a mole. It’s going to take luck for me to ever see one. I can look out for molehills, and spend time in likely habitat at the most likely time of year (when youngsters are dispersing), but ultimately it will be down to luck. (I was very jealous when I read FoDrambler’s post about seeing a mole, thanks to a dog – maybe I should get one. Fat Cat would never forgive me!)
When I was looking through my British Animal Challenge list, working out how to see every type of British animal, there were some where my conclusion was I’d just have to spend enough time in the right sort of habitat to eventually see one.
Stoats were like this. They are not particularly rare, and quite widespread, but going out deliberately to see one may be tricky. So I was delighted to get a glimpse of one as it dashed across the road as we drove in Dorset. Stoats, like otters, badgers and weasels, are members of the mustelid family. They have long, thin bodies, and move with the flowing gait that seems unique to mustelids.
My glimpse of stoat reminded me of the value of just spending time in wild places, even if I’m not on a particular mission to see something. You never know what will cross your path.
When Dr C Senior showed me a photo of an otter, taken in broad daylight a few miles from his house, I couldn’t resist a visit. From what I’ve read about otters, if you want to see them in daylight your best bet is to head to a Scottish island. But Hampshire is a lot more convenient for me, and apparently a family of otters is regularly seen in a nature reserve next to the noisy A303.
So, I booked a day off work, and headed to the in-laws’. Dr C Senior kindly guided me to the reserve and showed me around, pointing out the fishing pier where otters are regularly seen playing.
It was a cold but dry March morning, and there were few other people around, although apparently the otters aren’t that bothered by the presence of dogs and walkers.
Dr C Senior stuck it out for quite a while, before the lure of lunch became too pressing. I stayed on, buoyed by the possibility of seeing my favourite British animal in the wild for the first time. I also had hopes of seeing a water shrew or some amphibians, or even catch a second glimpse of a water vole. But, aside from a hurrying vole (bank or field, I am not sure which) and a few birds, animals were staying hidden that morning.
A helpful fisherman suggested that I try another nearby nature reserve, that otters and water voles frequent. So I took his advice.
This reserve looked much more promising, being quieter and wilder looking. I found some watercress beds in my initial lap of the reserve, so I was hopeful of seeing a water shrew. I also managed to spot some possible otter and water vole signs.
But luck was not on my side that day. After two hours of patient waiting, seeing nothing more exciting than a squirrel and some blackbirds I was chilled to the bone, and decided to call it a day.
It’s not very surprising that I didn’t see an otter. They have large territories, and you can’t predict which bit of their territory they’ll use on a given day.
I was a bit disappointed not to see water shrews. It looked like ideal habitat for them, based on my limited knowledge.
But it wasn’t an unpleasant way of spending the day. It made a change from the office, and all that we walking was good for me.
So you’ll have to make do with a picture of the only otter I did see that day.
Spring is definitely here now, and lots of animals seem to be busy. I’ve also had quite a busy month too, with both wildlife and music.
The good news is that I’ve managed to see one of the rarer mammals on my British Animal Challenge list: the water vole.
I’ve had less luck with reptiles and amphibians. The reptile walk I was planning on doing has been rescheduled to May. I have looked for frogs and toads, but only managed to see a dead one. I’m not sure if my lack of success is down to looking in the wrong place (there were lots of big fish in the pond I looked in, which isn’t great for breeding amphibians) or wrong time (day time instead of night) or a combination of both.
Since I’ve seen lots of pictures of mating frogs on Twitter, I’m going to give it another try, hopefully somewhere more suitable.
My other targets for April are Exmoor ponies and, if I’m really lucky, an otter.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
Several newspapers were today featuring articles based on a survey of 2000 people on what wildlife they had seen. The survey was carried out for a new David Attenborough series, called Natural Curiosities. I haven’t been able to find a full report of the survey results, so am having to go from the press coverage. The results are a mixture of surprising and expected.
The focus of a lot of the coverage has been the ‘top ten most seldom seen creatures’:
Nightjar, seen by only 4% of respondents
Pine marten – 5%
Golden eagle – 9%
Stoats and weasels – 16%
Otters – 17%
Cuckoo – 22%
Slow worm – 25%
Adder – 29%
Raven – 30%
Kingfisher – 34%
Some of these I’m not at all surprised by. The top three are all rare, restricted in range to only a small part of the country, and in the case of pine martens and nightjars, hard to spot.
Others are a bit more puzzling. Take stoats and weasels. (I find it quite endearing that they’ve chosen to count this as a kind of composite species, like in Wind in the Willows). These are not rare in Britain, with several hundred thousand of each species, and they can be found all over mainland Britain. They are nocturnal, but certainly not unusual. My glimpses of them have so far been mustelid shapes darting across country lanes.
What’s also interesting is the species that aren’t in the top ten. I find it very hard to believe that more people (34% apparently) have seen dormice than slow worms or adders. The two reptile species are spread much more widely across the country than the hazel dormouse, which is now almost exclusively found in the south. Both reptiles can be (almost literally) stumbled across when walking in the countryside or pottering in the garden. Whereas dormice are nocturnal creatures who live in trees – unless you’re actively looking for them, you’re unlikely ever to see one, even if you live in a wood (unless your cat is good at jumping). I can’t help suspecting that maybe some of the people who reported having seen dormice had actually seen other rodents, and didn’t really know what a dormouse looked like.
I’m a bit surprised wildcat isn’t somewhere near the top, although perhaps they didn’t ask about that.
More generally, some of our more common species had been seen by relatively few people. Only 39% had seen badgers, for example. Perhaps we, as a nation, just don’t spend much time in places where we’re likely to see wild animals.
I’ve seen 6 of the 10 on the list. In terms of my British Animal Challenge, it confirms that pine martens and otters are going to be a challenge. Luckily I’ve seen the other animals that come in the top ten.
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