Friday, 30 January 2015

Secrets Tales From The Hazel Woods: Catkins, Dormice, Voles and Wood Mice

Shhh, don't tell anyone but I am sneaking off from my essay on Wildlife Law to write a blog post :o)


Spring seemed to be in the air this morning. It was bright and sunny when the dogs and I walked through the woods to the Hazel Coppice. I've been keeping an eye out for female Hazel catkins over the past week. They can be hard to spot as they're much smaller than their male counterpart. The males are evident now they are unraveling and turning yellow, although they've actually been present on the trees since last autumn. 

Hazel (Corylus avellana) is monoecious, meaning it bears both male and female flowers on the same tree. It's also unusual among British nut trees in that it does it's pollinating very early in the year. It is the female flower that produces the nuts. Female catkins are very small but very distinctive, so it's worth keeping an eye out for them if you're out and about this weekend. You'll be able to see what they look like in the pic below which I took this morning. The male is the long yellow one, the female the small round one above it with the bright red spiky hair :o) Sorry it's not the clearest photo as I only had the phone with me. I'll try and pop back with the decent camera tomorrow and replace the pic.

The catkins can't pollinate each other so they rely on pollen coming from another tree. Did you know that wind born pollen is constructed differently from pollen that relies on animals to spread it? It isn't sticky in the same way and this means that bees, for example, can't get much benefit from Hazel pollen.



The other thing I was on the look out for this morning was Hazel Dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius). These tiny and rare mammals are all tucked up in their nests fast asleep at this time of year, and in any case they have such heavy protection in law that you can't handle or disturb them without a special licence from Natural England, but what you can do is try and find signs of them, and the simplest way to do that is to examine the gnawing patterns on fallen hazelnuts.

Small rodents, birds and squirrels all eat hazel nuts, but luckily each leaves a unique pattern on the nut itself. So if you know what to look for you can read the woods and they will tell you who is living in them.

This pic below is a hazel nut I found this morning in the coppice. You can tell from the teeth pattern that has been nibbled by a Vole. They leave a very neat, small circle with even teeth marks all round the inner rim of the hole, but the outer edge is left unmarked....




The next nut has been eaten by a Wood Mouse. You can see that they make a similar sized hole to the Vole and similar incisions on the inner edge but they also leave tooth marks on the outside of the nut....




The third nut has been eaten by a bird or squirrel. Being bigger and stronger than rodents they don't bother with gnawing a small hole; they simply crack the nut in half or prise it open. The resulting hole is large and jagged and it has no tooth marks on it at all.....




Here are all the nuts I found this morning together, so you can compare and see the differences:



 Unfortunately, I didn't find a single hazel nut that showed evidence of Hazel Dormice, but this doesn't mean they aren't there. The hazel area of the wood is perfect habitat for them and they are notoriously shy creatures, most active at night so the likelihood is that they are there, just very adept at keeping out of peoples way (and who can blame them?).




If you do fancy having a look in a local hazel wood for signs this weekend, the Dormouse makes a similar sized hole to the vole and wood mouse, although it can resemble a clog in terms of the shape, and they leave the rim of the hole smooth and tooth-free, while tooth marks run perpendicular around the hole.

This is an excellent guide to the different types of tooth and gnaw pattern different species leave and Here is the place to send your results if you do find any you think might have been made by Dormice.

I'll leave you with a couple of shots I took last night of the Moon, which was all shimmery and haloed in the cold (and we had a teeny weeny bit of snow too!) 




And of course the Obligatory pics of T and P who are tired after helping me hunt for hazel nuts :o)




Hope you all have a lovely weekend. We are Eagerly Anticipating a beautiful portrait Em over at Dartmoor Ramblings has done for us of Poppy. I will of course give it a Blog Post Of Honour when it arrives (hopefully this weekend). She is Very Clever Indeed.

CT x



 


30 comments:

  1. Well now, that was very interesting post - it would be so thrilling to spot one of those beautiful little creature or even it's wee teeth marks. You do live in a beautiful place and I really enjoy how you write about all the small but fascinating parts of it! Best of luck with your essay, I'm taking an extended break from my essay, the civilian experience of WW2 and how to condense that into 2000 words. Have a great weekend!

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    1. Thanks Shauna, glad you enjoyed it. My essay has to be squashed into 1000 words, which is pants but there you go :o) Good luck with yours, sounds like an interesting subject x

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  2. Thank you for the teefmarks ID on nuts. I shall make sure I look for the ones discarded in the hedgerows on my next walk.

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  3. Thank you so much for an interesting and informative post, I've so enjoyed reading it. The two little Doormice are just adorable, I think I could happly sleep until Spring.

    luv
    irene
    xxxx

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    1. I'm so pleased you enjoyed it, Irene. I think Dormice win the prize for out and out cutie pie ness! Have a lovely weekend x

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  4. Great post CT :) Have you done any dormouse surveys checking boxes? They are the most adorable things aren't they! I look forward to seeing Em's drawing of Pops! x p.s Bracken says woof to Ted and Pops :)

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    1. I haven't Lou but am hoping to this year. I think I remember you doing them and posting some pics on your blog? I would LOVE to see them for real :o) How is the lovely Bracken doing? You should put some new pics of him on your blog then T and P can leave him a message in reply :o) xx

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    2. Yes, been accompanying a licensed person for a while. Although it wasn't a good year last summer...perhaps they just decided to not use the boxes and were in fact breeding perfectly well on their own. Bracken is okay, although had a bit of ear trouble and allergy trouble which has meant one more trip to the vets than he appreciates :/ I shall endeavour to write post soon and include Bracken :) xx

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    3. Did you hear they were found nesting in Rhododendron? I think they are probably more widespread than we think, just good at hiding and not using pre-prepared nesting boxes :o) Poor Bracken- T hates going to the V.E.T too! xx

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  5. Love the Dormice hibernating pictures. Do you ever see Corncrakes CT? I saw one about 5 years ago. I think it's the harvesting of early silage (April sometimes) instead of growing hay. Which destroys ground nesting birds nests. I have read that bees are also dying out because the fields aren't left to flower like hay fields use too?

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    1. I've never seen a Corncrake but would love to, Dave. Modern farming practice has had a massive impact on wildlife, there are big efforts underway to try and manage things better for wildlife and farmer alike. Hopefully both needs can be met.

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  6. I've never taken the time to look closely at nut shells, and see what's been nibbling on them. Very interesting post!

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    1. It's worth having a rummage around to see what you can find- quite enlightening.

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  7. What a fascinating post again, I loved learning about all the different tooth marks on hazel nuts. I'd never even heard of a hazel dormouse, shamefully. I do hope there are some hiding away in your copse. A most enjoyable post. I hope you have a good weekend. CJ xx

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    1. Thank you, CJ :o) It's a nice search to do with children. Sadly, ours are all far too old and sophisticated these days to look at teeth marks on hazel nuts :o) Have a lovely weekend too xx

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  8. Only been away from the computer a few days, gosh you have been busy, so just catching up ..Well done in bird count some lovely photos, I have just been reading about Dormice and after reading Ragged Robins blog I have found some female Hazel flowers too..so sweet and bright red, photo coming up in scavenger hunt post.There is a ancient Hazel wood in the Yorkshire dales I visit every spring, it's high up though. In 2008 they released 35 mice in a wood near Hawes, but have not been able to find out any information about how they are doing.
    Amanda xx

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    1. I love the female catkins- that shock of colour at the top is so unexpected :o) Your ancient hazel wood sounds lovely- any chance of a post on it at some point? Would love to see it. xx

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  9. I had never realised that the differences were so clear! thank you. That was a really useful post about things i didn't know I didn't know!

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    1. Thank you Elizabeth- glad it was useful. Do you have hazel at your place? Worth checking for signs of Dormice if so.

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  10. How wonderfully informative, thankyou - I do love checking for signs of wildlife when out on walks, the nibble marks, foot prints, diggings - it is almost as exciting as seeing the creature. I can usually tell who has been in my workshop by the footprints left in the stone dust!

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    1. You're very welcome :o) I love the thought of you tracking small things through the stone dust- perhaps a subject for a future blog post or two?

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  11. Fascinating stuff CT! I've never bothered to look but I will now. The Hazel in our hedge hasn't produced catkins yet but I do remember it took some years on one I planted at a previous house. Hope Poppy arrives today....xx

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    1. Would love to know what you find Em. We're all v excited about Poppy arriving xx

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  12. Fascinating!! Who knew! Well, you, obviously, but I mean the rest of us!! I never would have guessed it would be possible to tell which visitors had been dining on the nuts by the way that they chewed them. You really do have so much amazing knowledge. David Attenborough better watch out, because I can see you hot on his footsteps in the wildlife stakes! xx

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    1. Oh you are a dear :o) Mr Attenborough is a God-like being in my mind :o) Glad you found it interesting- you'll catch yourself staring at hazel nuts when out on walks now examining the bite marks and impressing friends and family with your knowledge of who's made them! xx

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  13. Nice story! I heart hazel dormice big time Em. Best - ME

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x