Sunday, 7 October 2012

Of mice and women

Yesterday the redwings came, fizzing through the sharp autumn sky in waves. The larks came too, with quiet purrs and a quiver of migrant wings. But my eyes looked down. Three pairs of wellies squelched and sucked through a Norfolk fen: mine, Trine's and Hayley's. These friends from the Hawk and Owl Trust are live-trapping small mammals here, to assist the site's owners in the development of a management plan.

The night before had been the traps' first on a new plot, so the catch was expected to be small. The mammals thought otherwise. The night had been cold and clear - with a star-speckled sky to guide the redwings south - and mouse, vole and shrew had been tempted into the traps by their generous supply of grain, fly pupae and clean hay. Many a trap had been sprung and many a mammal was gently measured and released. The wood mice, largely young females, when freed bounced across the cut sedge, a sparkle in their eyes. Most of them sat at a safe distance to wash; in Trine's words: I'm gonna wash that girl right outta my hair.

The common shrews, youngsters too to Hayley's expert eyes, scrunched up their velvety snouts and plunged their red, spider-crunching teeth into Trine's fleece. Released they dived into the litter at our feet and were lost, resentful squeaks tracking their path away from us. Both species of vole brought more muscle to their squirming. In the hand they are far less different from one another, in colour and size, than the popular books make out. But their tails and ears are subtly different, the field vole's tail a sturdy rudder and his ears better hidden by the fur of his head.

A siskin bounded by, giving his muted melancholy note and a ruddy shelduck, from who knows where, flew east into the rising sun. A common darter rose with it, and a red admiral, crisp with the promise of another spring, turned his wings to the last autumn warmth before his hibernation. Our warmth came from steaming tea made in the back of a happy red Land Rover, from the easy company of friends and the knowledge of a small job done for conservation.

From live traps in a fen


wood mouse
Apodemus sylvaticus
field vole
Microtus agrestis
common shrew
Sorex araneus

2012 Totals
Mammals: 85
Birds: 855
Reptiles: 20
Amphibians: 8
Fish: 11

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