Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wardown Park, Luton

Recently, a few people have suggested that I’d have a good chance of catching up with my first Brown Rat of the year at Wardown Park in Luton, so I decided to give it a go. I arrived soon after midday and, upon reaching the lake shore, straightaway saw a Brown Rat that scurried into the emergent vegetation.

Within 10 minutes it had gained enough confidence in my presence to come out and take various items of rabbit food that I threw in its general direction, sometimes coming within a metre or so of where I was standing.

I watched it coming and going for the next half-hour or so, after which it was joined by a second individual which you can just about see in this photo. It’s a shame that I only had a basic lens because I could have got some great shots with a telephoto lens!

It’s my 28th Bedfordshire mammal species of the year, coming hard on the heels of two other firsts' yesterday evening. I joined members of the Bedfordshire Bat Group in a regular survey of a local wood where we quickly found a Noctule roost in an oak tree. We caught one of the 36 individuals that emerged – a lively male. This was species no.26, but the real bonus was on the way home when, next to a wood close to the M1, we drove past a Roe Deer browsing on the verge: species no.27. With Roe Deer only just beginning to colonise Bedfordshire, I thought that this was going to be a really tough one to find. It just goes to show that you just don’t know what you’re going to encounter, and a real encouragement to get out there and do some encountering!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chandos Road, Ampthill

I found this beauty in the moth trap this morning. It’s the Leopard Moth (Zeuzera pyrina). When I first got two in the trap last year, I was surprised to learn that such an exotic-looking species is actually quite common, and attracted to bright lights, so I’ve been expecting to come across a few again this season.

If you make your living from orchard produce and came across it, you wouldn’t be quite as excited because these are renowned pests of fruit trees such as apple, pear and plum, though the larvae utilise all kinds of shrubs. They bore under the bark and spend the next few years making their way through the wood, which can cause serious damage.

Although the adults don’t feed and, consequently, only live for 8-10 days, the female can lay about a 1000 eggs, giving her a pretty good chance of keeping the family going!

Have a look at those incredible eyes!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


We're off to Canterbury for the weekend. I haven't got time to comment, but here are a few images from the last few days.

Last night I joined several other members of the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire Bat Groups to survey an area straddling the county. The main objective was to count the bats emerging from a Brown Long-eared Bat maternity roost that has recently been discovered. They emerged intermittently, but our final count of 54 bats surprised and excited everyone! The presence of a lot of Barbastelle activity was another unexpected surprise. On the way, I found a hybrid Polecat corpse on the side of the road...driving home just before midnight I encountered a Red Fox in exactly the same place, presumably investigating the corpse too, or else eating it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Duck End Nature Reserve

It’s been quite an emotional day – the Father’s Day card and present from my three boys; visiting Ampthill Baptist Church’s Eco-Festival and catching up with so many special friends again, and being proud as punch with what they’ve achieved today (I’m officially on Sabbatical at the moment); dinner with my own Father….

….and then this evening, when the things I encountered gave me goosebumps and – quite literally – tears of joy. I’d gone down to Duck End Nature Reserve just before 9pm to check up on a few areas that I have been baiting. The first encounter was with a Common Shrew under one of the corrugated tins which gave great views before disappearing down a convenient hole.

(Photo credit: Northlincs.com)

As I walked around Pond 3, I heard the familiar reptilian-like squeak of one of the two Tawny Owl fledglings that I’d discovered here earlier in the week. I slowly walked around the pond until I got some great views of the bird perched in the top of a silver birch tree. By now, the second fledgling was also calling in the scrub to my left. Then, one of the adults gave several gentle calls from the tree behind me and the fledgling I was watching got quite excited and flew almost over my head. The other fledgling also flew across the top of the scrub and the adult then flew right over the pond…wonderful!! Most of the Tawny Owl activity I have experienced over the years has been in woodland without the wide stretches of clear sky where I could watch these three big birds so clearly.

(Photo credit: home.clara.net)

But the piece de resistance was the bat extravaganza that followed. When I got back to the car, I had already spent some time watching a couple of Pipistrelle Bats hawking over one of the ponds, but what happened next is so hard to describe in words. Just past the entrance to the reserve there is a tall hedge running down the side of a field. As I looked down the hedge I noticed three Pipistrelle Bats flying to and fro. As I watched through the binoculars they would fly straight towards me, increasing in size, until they suddenly banked away at the last moment and whizzed past my face or over my head, now and again making hairpin turns right in front of me before flying away from me back down the hedgeline.

Sometimes, I watched two bats fast approaching one another in a head-on collision course before, at the very last moment, banking away from each other and then banking again to resume the same flight path, one heading away from me, and the other straight towards me. It reminded me of the manoeuvres of the Red Arrows and I found myself humming the theme tune of 633 Squadron! A short while later, I suddenly found 4 bats in the binoculars at the same time…then 5….then 6, an incredible spectacle. And then, to top it all, as I watched the 6 bats, a Little Owl suddenly flew up onto the gatepost right behind them…

…goosebumps and tears of joy. I’m still buzzing!

Friday, June 18, 2010


A few people have been asking how I’ve been getting on in my quest to record as many Bedfordshire mammals as possible this year. Well, I’m really pleased to have seen 25 separate species…but it could so easily have been more...4 more:

1) On Wednesday I was a second or so away from seeing my first Field Vole of the year. Alan Outen, walking behind me, saw what was almost certainly a Field Vole disappearing into some scrub.

2) Yesterday at 5am I was watching a deer in the distance on the eastern side of Chicksands Wood. All the jizz was crying out ‘Roe Deer’ a species which has only recently started to colonise Bedfordshire, but it was just too far away to make a definite i.d.!

3) I spent yesterday morning with Ian Woiwod, walking his butterfly transect at Potton Wood. Ian had offered to show me the wood in anticipation of a future visit for Fallow Deer. At one point we disturbed a large animal in thick scrub on our right that could be heard heading away with heavy footfalls…it could only have been Fallow Deer, but we couldn’t make it out!

4) And, making my way home, I stopped at the bridge over the River Ivel at New Road, Sandy, hoping for Brown Rat. I approached the rail and just caught something large and brown scurry into the ditch. I know it was a Brown Rat….but can’t count it on that view alone!!

So, 4 probable sightings missed over 2 days….but I have enjoyed some wonderful views of Brown Hare and Red Fox, and my first Grass Snake of the year in the aforementioned ditch. And I went to a local wood last night and got this photo:

It was quite dark, and the shutter seemed to take an age to work, hence the blurry image, but this was one of two delightful and maturing Badger cubs.

Excursus: The grave of Long John Silver & Wendy Darling

Yesterday afternoon, Ian and I walked down to the fascinating 13th century church of St John the Baptist at Cockayne. The interior is amazing with its Flemish monastic woodwork described as the finest in the country (I gather that it was the finest elsewhere but was 'liberated' following the Napoleonic Wars!), but the graveyard had some real interest, too:

This is the grave of W.E. Henley, the author of the famous poem, Invictus. Nelson Mandela had it by his bedside during his 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island, and it gave its name to the recent blockbuster film charting Mandela’s early years following his release. What I found fascinating was the fact that W.E. Henley, who had one of his legs amputated, became Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for Long John Silver in Treasure Island. And Henley’s young daughter, Margaret Emma – who is also buried in the same plot – was also the inspiration for a literary character. Henley was a friend of the author J.M. Barrie. As one source explains it, Henley used to refer to Barrie as ‘Friend’, a word which Margaret ‘mispronounced as 'fwend' and changed in a childish way to 'fwendy-wendy'. The latter part of this familiar name gave the name of 'Wendy Darling' which later became the Wendy of Peter Pan!’

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chandos Road, Ampthill

This is my Hedgehog banqueting table. It's situated on the narrow eastern side of our house and I finished it off yesterday. After a number of late night walks trying to catch up with my first Hedgehog of the year, I decided that I at least ought to try to tempt one to the garden. Notice the steps up to the 'table' lovingly constructed from some spare bricks lying about. Then there's a woodpile with an area of piled dead vegetation at the far end for daytime naps. The woodpile will attract lots of slugs, but there's several heaps of expensive commercial 'Hedgehog Food' too. I was really proud of it when I finished.

Last night I attended the AGM of the Supporters/Followers of the Bedford Blues Rugby Club. On the way home I stopped off at a known roost for Soprano Pipistrelle bats and, between 10pm and 10.07pm, counted out 71 bats before walking back to the car.

And guess what I came across in some grassland just before I reached it.....??

....you've guessed it - a Hedgehog...my 24th species of mammal for Bedfordshire this year (the Soprano Pipistrelles were the 23rd).

But I'm not rueing the time and effort that went into creating my Hedgehog des res here in Ampthill, because it would be great to get these wonderful animals visiting our home, too!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Noctule Bat

A few months ago, a female Noctule Bat was taken into care by members of the Bedfordshire Bat Group, having broken its wing. Ten days ago it gave birth to this beautiful crawling baby! I'm happy to announce that it's doing fine and currently weighs a very healthy 15g!

An interesting rear view of this fascinating creature. Noctules are usually born in June or July after a gestation period of about 70 days. If this little beauty continues to grow well, it should be weaned in the usual month of August.

And here is Batmum. Although the Noctule looks really large in flight, I was surprised at how much smaller it seems in the hand. The Bedfordshire Bat Group have now started a blog where you can follow the progress of these fascinating animals. You can find the blog here.