Life at Mouse-Height

Every field is a jungle when you stand two inches tall.

Short tailed field vole 23 Oct 2017

Short-tailed field voles are more common than people in the UK, but far harder to spot because they spend their lives within dense grass. They are placid, peaceable, incomparably scruffy little creatures. They are also a crucial component of the UK’s ecosystems and support foxes, owls and many other wild carnivores.

When the vole is hiding, its grass-tunnels remain.

Small mammal run 111013

It’s often a question of looking for fieldsign when you’re trying to study rodents. I’ve been using ink tunnels in various projects over the last year – tubes designed to capture tiny footprints.

Ink tunnel tracks

These footprints belong to a mouse, probably a yellow-necked mouse. They’re a larger species than the familiar wood mouse and can be distinguished by a yellow band on their throat.

They are also obsessively fond of birdfood!

YN mouse 150406

But sometimes – just sometimes – the ink tunnels strike gold.

Tracks from Tunnel5 220916

Three upside-down triangles equals a hazel dormouse!

Dormouse photo2

I’ve recorded dormice in three sites within my parish and consider us extremely fortunate to still have them. There’s no doubt that their UK population is in real trouble, mostly due to habitat loss. They are one of our most tree-dependent mammals, as well as the sleepiest; they can easily spend six months snoozing.

This is a dormouse nest. Unlike the chaotic nest of a yellow-necked mouse, dormice will weave honeysuckle bark into a very tight ball with a cozy chamber at the centre.

DSCN1728

They hibernate at ground level, however. The temperatures have dropped steeply in the last few days and I expect most of my local dormice are now dozing. I hope they have a peaceful winter.

8 thoughts on “Life at Mouse-Height

    1. LOL, even at my youthful age I have some doubts about crawling along the ground in cold November mud…but it does produce interesting sightings.

      Curiously, not of dormice, however. Unlike true mice, they deplore being at ground level and will make every effort to avoid crossing open spaces. Their ideal road is one with long branches arching across it. I put the nest boxes in hedgerows and dense woodland.

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