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Showing posts from January, 2015

Dissecting an Owl Pellet

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I had a wander around Allerthorpe Common nature reserve yesterday, on a recce for our work day next Sunday. Under the tree with the barn owl box in it, I was delighted to find a large number of owl pellets and lots of droppings. I brought one of the pellets home and soaked it in a bowl of water to produce a sort of mouse soup.

Pellets and droppings
Bones extracted from one pellet
Most of it was fur, but I was able to remove a lot of bones from it. There were two skulls (1), with matching pairs of lower jaws (2), which I think are from field voles. Another two jaw bones are slightly smaller and could be from a wood mouse (3). Some parts of the rear of the skulls fell apart, but were easily identifiable, as were the vertebrae. I’ve also found a shoulder blade (4), hip bones (5) and shins (6). Then there are thighs, upper arms and lots of tiny ribs.

Staveley Mammal Walk

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Yesterday I went on a mammal walk with the Yorkshire Mammal Group. We met in Staveley village, near Boroughbridge, and started off in the nearby Staveley Nature Reserve. We immediately found mole hills, rabbit holes and a fox scat. On the banks of the river on the north side of the reserve, we found an otter spraint, containing lots of fish bones and scales.

Otter spraint containing fish bones and scales
We followed a footpath across the fields, where we disturbed four roe deer and a brown hare, eventually reaching some woodland where we saw a grey squirrel drey. On the woodland margins there were holes and feeding sites of field voles.

Grey squirrel drey
Field vole hole and droppings
Further on, we came down to a stream where we found the laying up hole of an otter. In rough grassland around a pond we found lots of field vole holes and runs. We crossed more fields, finding clear badger prints along a field edge. Crossing the stream again we found the prints of a mink and some more otter s…

Heathland conservation and badger activity

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On Sunday I led a conservation volunteer group at the private nature reserve we’ve been maintaining for a year now. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust were asked to carry out some heathland maintenance and as it’s near to the Allerthorpe Common reserve, our volunteer group got the job. The heathland looked fantastic with a covering of frost. Our task for the day was to remove the birch seedlings and brambles growing around one of the ponds and pollard the willows, allowing them to produce bushy growth which will suit the birds.

The reserve on a frosty morning
Frosted grasses
It snowed here on Sunday evening, so I went down to Badger Wood on Monday morning, to see if the badgers had been out. They are supposed to be less active in cold weather, but not this lot. They’d had a busy night, with tracks everywhere and well compacted, muddy snow around some of the sett entrances. I’ve noticed before that latrines appear within the area of the sett during the winter. For most of the year, their latrines m…

Making nest boxes part 2 – small mammal boxes

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Having made 10 nest boxes for small birds, I decided to alter the design slightly to produce boxes suitable for small mammals. If we’re going to encourage barn owls at Allerthorpe Common, it makes sense to encourage their food supply as well! I’ve made four boxes for mice that can be put on the ground, hidden away in the undergrowth. Apparently, this type of box is often taken over by bumblebees when the mice have finished nesting – it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Dormouse and ‘other mouse' boxes
Mouse box in the undergrowth
I’ve also produced one dormouse box. These are very like the small bird boxes, but have the entrance hole at the back and spacers to maintain a gap between the back of the box and the tree it’s attached to. I’ve put this in an area of hazel woodland which is not known to be occupied by dormice, but I don’t think anyone has ever had a serious look for them. I’ve searched the area for nibbled hazel nuts, but so far have only found ones that have been crac…

Making nest boxes

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Happy New Year! Having a break from conservation volunteering for two weeks over Christmas seemed like a good opportunity to make some nest boxes. They can be bought fairly cheaply, but some of the bought ones are fiddly to put up and difficult to clean out. The designs shown on the BTO and RSPB websites are easy to make and have none of the problems.

Ten boxes ready to go
I bought a pack of floorboards which was enough timber to make ten boxes, some metal plates to protect the entrance holes and special ‘tree friendly’ aluminium nails to fix the boxes to trees. The timber is untreated, which may not last very long, but at least the birds won’t be poisoned by preservatives. I used roofing felt to protect the box lids and provide a hinge so the lids can be opened for inspection and cleaning. The lids are secured with a single screw, to prevent predators lifting them up.

There are three ‘standard’ holes sizes and three heights for open-fronted boxes, to suit different bird species. To keep…