Saturday, 20 June 2015

Muscardinus avellanarius

Better known to you and me as the Hazel Dormouse, or, simply, the Dormouse.

One of Britain's most seldom seen creatures, dormice are present only in central and southern England and in Wales (populations existing elsewhere have been introduced). Their numbers have plummeted due to habitat loss, the removal of hedgerows and copses which once acted as corridors connecting larger areas of woodland, and the cessation of traditional coppice management in woodlands. As a result they are protected under the 1981 Wildlife Act and are a priority species for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, as well as having protection under the EU Habitats Directive and the Bern Convention. You need a licence to even breathe near a Hazel Dormouse and it is illegal to handle them or indeed to look for them without one.

Dormice like hazel coppice where there is plenty of honeysuckle and bramble. They feed off the flowers and fruits and nuts and make their nests from stripped honeysuckle bark woven into a smooth ball which is then covered in hazel leaves. 
Nests are made in tree holes, hazel woodlands, hedgerows, scrub and at the base of coppiced trees. Finding a nest of hazel leaves, some brown, some green which has honeysuckle bark in it is indicative of a hazel dormouse. The females weave the young into the woven edges of the central round chamber section of the nest to keep them safe and protected while they are tiny wee. Bachelor nests are notably less neat and tidy than female ones (I kid you not).

Dormice are mainly nocturnal and sleep during the day. They also hibernate longer than any other British mammal, tucking up sometime in October and not waking fully till the following May. They will enter a torpid state if the weather is poor or their foodstuff not readily available, this gives them a better chance of survival. They are largely arboreal, meaning they live their lives in trees, and rarely touch the ground (an adaptation that keeps them safe from predators).

All of this makes them very hard to survey accurately and indeed to find.

As you know, I went out on a Dormouse Survey at a local site earlier this week and despite checking 50 nest boxes over a two hour period, we found not a single Dormouse, or in fact any evidence of one. I am very lucky that I have a friend who now has her Dormouse licence from Natural England, so I am able to join her on these surveys and, because I'm under her tuition and expertise, I'm not breaking any laws by doing so. What I can't do yet is check the boxes on my own.

The terms of the licence are rigorous, with many training sessions and lots of experience of surveying, handling and knowledge of every aspect of Dormouse ecology being required before the licence is issued. This week I have ticked off two or three of the many boxes needed and got them signed, so I am on my way towards getting my licence but I still expect it to be next year at the very earliest before I've done everything I need to in order to be given a licence of my own.

This morning, we all met up again at a different site in the North East of the county bright and breezy (in the drizzle) ready to check another fifty or so boxes. This is a site that has Dormice on it so we were all Quietly Hopeful. Three were found there last month and as I've never seen a Hazel Dormouse in real life before I was very excited that I might finally manage to see one. So excited in fact that I'm not sure I was convincing in keeping it under wraps!

We'd checked most of the boxes with no luck (lots of old bird nests with some dead fledglings in sadly) and seen carpets of beautiful Orchids, grasses and wild flowers on the way when we came to a fenced off area in which four boxes were located. Four of us climbed over the barbed wire to check the boxes while the other two (me included) waited to see whether anything would appear. I think we'd all got used to the boxes being empty by then, so it came as quite a surprise when the plastic bag that's used to put the entire next box in if there's even a hint of a Dormouse present (so you don't lose it) was brought out and one of the boxes was gently removed from the tree. Guess what was inside?

These pictures carry a Cuteness Factor Warning of about a Zillion Trillion, so you have been warned!

 

This is MY HAND! With a sleepy dormouse asleep on it! Me! My very own hand!






He was VERY sleepy and didn't really wake up the whole time we were weighing him and checking him over. If you have very warm hands when handling a torpid dormouse it does bring them out of their sleep quicker, but this little fellow was so reluctant to wake up that when we moved him he just curled tighter round the leaves he was holding and tucked his tail between his paws for extra comfort.

To weigh a dormouse you pop him in a bag and hold him up on the special scales like so.... 


This little chap weighed 13 grams, so we think he was one of last year's babies. Adults usually weigh between 17-20 grams, depending on how close they are to hibernation. The also get more gingery as they get older- the babies can have quite a lot of grey hair on them.

Once we'd weighed him we returned him to his nest and replaced the box securely in the tree. He barely blinked :o)

Here's a picture of a second (empty) nest that we also found, complete with the woven honeysuckle ball in the middle so you can see what they look like...




Aren't they amazingly clever at making these wonderful beautiful homes?

I'll leave you with a beautiful beech tree deep in the woods who blessed our endeavours. A King Tree if ever I saw one....



 
And a final piccy of the Dormouse, because I can't get enough of him to be honest...



They really are the MOST ADORABLE little things and I am just so pleased not only to have seen one at long last, but to actually have been able to hold one as well. It made my entire week :o)

Hope you're all well and having a lovely weekend,

CT :o)

 


42 comments:

  1. Aaaaaaaooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhh! I want to hold one as well! AND he is green! That's my kind of undemanding pet.

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    1. They really are every bit as cute as you'd imagine.

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  2. Dark thought... the Romans used to eat them as delicacies... how could they?

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    1. I know. There can't have been much to eat, can there?

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  3. What fun. They look like they are from the squirrel family instead of mice. So glad your country protects creatures great and small.

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    1. They're a rodent so they do ultimately belong to the same family as squirrels, just with a finer division into mice :o) Lovely little things. Thank you for the comment, Donna :o)

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  4. He really is the cutest fellow in the world isn't he!!! Don't tell T or P I said that!!! What an amazing experience!!! I love that the girls are tidier than the boys! xx

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    1. Mum's the word, Aunty Amy :o) It really was soooo exciting to finally get to see one and to hold one xx

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  5. Oh My Goodness. You are so luck. To holsthe sleepy wee one in your hand I would be blubbing trying to keep quiet.
    The second You started your post all I could think of was the Brambly Hedge Books.
    The cuteness is so wonderful. I love the little blanket leaf he is holding.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. My face has been aching from the grin that's been stuck to it ever since, Parsnip :o) He didn't let go of that leaf the entire time, even when he snuggled up to his tale.
      I LOVE Brambly Hedge- we've got the books, the dvds and some china. Such a beautiful representation of hedgerow life.

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  6. Ahh! And 13 grams is tiny. It's a wonder they survive. Good luck with getting the licence for handling, It's clearly not awarded lightly. I'm going glow worm surveying next week, and if the GW aren't apparent there should be nightjars and bats to listen to and look out for.

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    1. Funny you should mention glow worms- I've been out two nights this week on different surveys and found them at both locations, one on the Chalk the other on acid Heath, so hopefully you'll get to see some. The books tell you the females climb to the top of vegetation to glow but this is not the case in my experience, and they can also be quite well hidden inside things like ferns so you have to walk very slowly and check things from all angles while keeping an eye out for the tell-tell green glow. Nightjars and bats were also out at the site we surveyed last night- I've got a video of them calling which I'll post later. Good luck- it's a super experience. I'll also post the glow worm survey website details so you can record anything you find.

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  7. OK, I agree - that dormouse is pretty darned cute!

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    1. Hard to beat in Cuteness Factor I reckon :o)

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  8. I just. Died. Of. The. Cute.
    Also, a Dormouse Licence! Incredible!!

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    1. :o) It was very special indeed seeing and holding one.

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  9. This is just the most beautiful little creature. The fact that the other boxes were empty - is that a sign that there are never dormice there or were they just 'out' when you called? Are they nocturnal?

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    1. They do move between boxes and of course may also just prefer to be in the trees instead, so it's not an absolutely precise method of counting them. Nut searches in the autumn are also used to give an indication of presence/ numbers. Wonderful little creatures. And yes, primarily they are nocturnal.

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  10. Gosh I have never seen a Dormouse. Yes he is ADORABLE and I love every shotof him. You were so priveledged to have held one of these fabulous little animals.

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    1. I was indeed. Still smiling today.... :o)

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  11. Just a truly magnificent find and post. I adore the photos and am amazed he didn't wake the whole time. He is adorable and cute. I am most happy for you to have had this experience and then share it with us as well. Thank you for that. Good luck with your license.

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    1. The torpor they go into is deeper than a normal sleep- all their systems slow down to conserve energy. It's like a half-hibernation, so it can take quite a lot to wake them. It was a magical experience and I am still grinning about it today xx

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  12. oh. my. gawd. i'm DYING! i can't possibly stand how adorably cute he is!! truly. it's almost not to be allowed.

    and you lucky, lucky, lucky thing to have held such a treasure in your very own hand! *sigh* so happy for you!! it's a bit magic, isn't it?

    i'm so glad they're being protected -- and that getting a license is a very hard thing because only the most devoted people ought to be allowed to help these lovely creatures...so precious they are and it needs to be a Very Serious Business.

    thank you ever so much for sharing them -- what a marvelous gift!

    xoxo

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    1. The friend I was with (who has her licence) expressed similar sentiments and threatened to burst with the cuteness of it all several times :o) I've just been smiling to myself ever since. Nature is wonderful, isn't she? Such treasures xx

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  13. Lovely post... I think I'm a little in love with that dormouse.. ok I'm a lot in love with that dormouse.. cute is an understatement! :o) xx

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    1. They are very hard to resist aren't they? xx

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  14. Hey CT,
    Oh you lucky girl. I'll probably never get to see one in real life, but just knowing that there are people such as yourselves looking out for them is enough.
    Leanne xx

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    1. Thanks my dear. It was a wildlife highlight for sure xx

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  15. Oh TOO CUTE. He is utterly adorable with his little pink hands and his little pink feet and his very own leaf clutched to himself in his sleep. You have put me in mind of Alice in Wonderland. I'm so glad you found him and got to hold him. A precious little chap. CJ xx

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    1. Any hope of remaining unaffected by a Hazel Dormouse goes totally up in smoke when you see that leaf (and the tail) being clutched in his sleep. So sweet xx

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  16. Ahhhhhh. Isn't he lovely and holding on to the leaves. Very interesting to read all about them. Thanks

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    1. They just make you smile, don't they? Sweet little things. Thanks for the comment :o)

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  17. I so love the way he is clutching the leaf like a comfort blanket. I suppose it is a snack in case he wakes up hungry?
    SO cute!

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    1. I think it probably just got in the way when he curled up in the leaves to go to sleep, but it is soooo cute :o) x

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  18. I love this post, that dormouse is so cute! Great photos.

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    1. They are lovely little things aren't they?

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  19. Ho my.... so cute. such a shame they are not doing to well, so pleased you got to see one. Lovely photo.
    Amanda xx

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    1. I'm made up to have seen him. Hoping to see more in due course (without wishing to sound greedy!)- I need the handling experience of all ages to get my licence xx

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  20. I can't tell you how much I loved this post. The dormouse is just too lovely for words. How thrilling to have found one and to have held one. That is just so very special! I hope you get your licence soon and can carry out useful checks to help these endangered animals. Lily xxx

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    1. Just looking at the photos is enough to make me feel sleepy- he looks so peaceful curled up. Perhaps watching a dormouse sleep could be a cure for insomnia? Glad you enjoyed xx

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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