Tag Archives: stoat

British Animal Challenge: look back at 2014

At the start of 2014 I began a huge challenge: trying to see every different type of British animal in the wild. The list has changed a little bit over the year, but here’s the latest version. It includes mammals, amphibians and reptiles. In all, there are 107 species.

I’d seen a reasonable number before I started the challenge, but many of the ones remaining are, for one reason or another, tricky. Some are very rare, some restricted to small parts of the UK (including tiny islands), and others are hard to see because they’re nocturnal, or live at sea.

So, what progress have I made this year? I’ve visited different corners of Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Cornwall and Surrey on my quest, and spent quite a few hours trying to see some of our elusive animals.

New species seen:

And species I haven’t seen, despite several attempts:

In all, I’ve seen 45 species, and still have 62 to go. It’s going to be a busy year next year!

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British Animal Challenge: September and October update

It’s been a while since I wrote the last British Animal Challenge update – back in the long, hot days of August. Now the clocks are about to change, and there’s been a lot of rain, so spending time outdoors is less attractive.

I had hoped to see some new bats and cetaceans in September. Sadly I wasn’t able to identify any new bats, and didn’t see any dolphins or whales. My second attempt at seeing water shrews was unsuccessful. But I did see a stoat.

As the Scots voted ‘no’ to independence, my list hasn’t reduced, but the Jersey Toad has been a small addition.

Other animals I have seen in September and October:

In November I’m hoping to see some harvest mice, and maybe some other small mammals.

There are some things you can’t plan…

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.

Britain’s most elusive creatures

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.otter

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.