Springtime is a tenuous thing. Hard to judge, if you’re a dormouse. Today there are blue skies and misty lanes; this time last year, we were being freeze-dried by bitter snow. To sleep or to wake? My guess is that some of our dormice are awake.
Hazel dormice have a message about the British countryside: about woods and hedgerows, flowers and fruits. Do we want to hear what these exquisite little creatures are telling us?
Perhaps not. For all their gold-plated national and international legal protection, dormice continue to slide towards extinction in Britain. We’ve pulled the rug away by wrecking the hedgerows that support them, and isolating and ruining woodland. Flaying, over-cutting and removing hedgerows where dormice are present is dangerously close to a criminal offence – and there is no legal defence for killing a dormouse of ‘incidental result of a lawful operation’. To my local district council and everyone else who manages Surrey’s surviving hedges: please note.
But there is a ray of hope.
Dormice can survive us. My village proves it. We thought we were preserving our historic landscape by turning our wooded lanes into a conservation area, but we accidentally saved our dormice too. This road is home to dormice – and people.
Thick, wide hedgerows, trees with branches that provide bridges over roads, ancient woodland with a jumbled understorey of hazel and bramble – they’re all things that dormice need.
I’ll be looking for them again in the spring. For nests like this, bound with hazel leaves and honeysuckle.
And maybe – just maybe – some of these.
Let’s keep hold of the hope. Surrey must always remain good enough for dormice.
All dormice in this post handled under licence. It is against the law to disturb, handle or harm dormice without a licence in the UK.
Cold: the frost is as thick as grease. Windows feathered into impossible patterns. Soil like iron. As the winter stars slide into the west, a red eye blinks.
The Earth is unique in the solar system for having such a moon of such proportions. Others are bigger, like Jupiter’s Ganymede, but their parent planet dwarfs them. Not our moon, which is about a quarter the diameter of the Earth. Cold, airless and silent, it circles us, amazing us, and just occasionally falling into Earth’s shadow. We had a full lunar eclipse last night, and it was well worth a very early vigil with the camera.
Luna chased the stars into the west, and left us; daylight began with frozen fog. By afternoon, it had burned through, and roe deer were wandering.
This is the only deer species that is frequently encountered in my part of England, and much less social than its bigger relatives.
I saw the male fox from the ‘courting couple’ of the sheep pasture, but he was in a rush and there was little chance for a photo. Slightly more of a view yesterday, when he trotted through the mist.
I haven’t seen the vixen, but no doubt she’s around.
I wonder if they saw Luna last night.
Could we ever spend a hour looking through the eyes of a coyote? I think it would overwhelm us. We see the wild in passing, usually from a car these days. The coyote hears it, smells it, lives it. The stories that they could tell!
It’s the last evening in the park for me. And I could ask for nothing more: a family of coyotes in the fescue prairie west of Riding Mountain, resting and watching, as coyotes do.
And wandering a little.
Coyotes are omnivorous, just like foxes and bears. Berries are on the menu tonight!
Four coyotes? Perhaps more. Certainly three adults and a pup.
They’re waiting for winter. I’m waiting to travel again. Hard to believe, just eight days and so much wildness. Now we’re bound for Toronto and the long journey home.
I had some concerns about returning here after my long absence, afraid that the old essence had become diluted by relentless over-development and over-tourism. And there are problems, it is true; not on the scale of what Jasper and Banff are enduring, but even the prairie hasn’t escaped commercialism. I was especially concerned at the new road being built in East Block of Grasslands, a highly questionable action that seems to have gone unnoticed by Canadian NGOs. And Canada’s federal and provincial biodiversity protection laws could be tightened up. That is not news. Nor is the bubbling friction between people and large wildlife in some rural districts.
But there is still so much life in the Great Lone Land. Taste of the air or the glow of a lynx’s eyes? Hear it in the coyote’s song and the catch the shadow of an owl on a forgotten farmstead. It is something, intangible and free. Coyote, bears, moose, prairie dogs – they’re still here.
Long may they remain so.
It just goes on, forever.
Crossed by wary wild things.
And some smaller but bolder. This bundle of frenetic energy is a mink, a small, water-loving member of the weasel family.
It is so intent on its quest that it almost ignores me.
Spruce grouse keep watch on their own stretch of highway.
If there are any bats in the batbox, they are certainly asleep.
And the road – it just continues, rolling out of the park gate and into the rural provinces beyond.
You can never really know a path like this. As soon as you reach one end, the beginning has reinvented itself with the seasons and you have to start all over again.
Constant travelling. Constant learning. Life on the Canadian roads.
In cities, humans often try to kill Night. But in the wild, there are no lampposts or floodlit landmarks. Just the sky, painting the land as it will.
There are animals in these forests that seldom appear except in starlight. I have ambitions to find them – but in the meantime, the impossible colours steal the show.
And there is a king in waiting amongst the trees. This moose is a lot younger than the giant who showed up yesterday.
When night does fall, lights glow in the grass.
A lynx! Ghost cat of the forest. Even before we drew close, I recognised it – nothing else on earth produces such brilliant eyeshine. Eighteen years ago, I saw another Canadian lynx in the car headlights in British Columbia, and you never forget that glow.
This one is resting on the forest edge. I take a short movie – the photo is a still from it – and leave him be.
Days are not complete without Night. And no forest is complete without its cats.
September 2018 – Canada is riddled with water. Rivers, waterfalls, mountain lakes – frequent material for tourist advertisements, yet quiet corners remain where wild creatures swim.
Beaver: ecosystem engineer. They’re a hot topic in the UK at the moment because the reintroduction of the closely-related European species has shown a lot of promise, not only for biodiversity but also in reducing flooding of towns. Beavers change the environment, more than any wild animal except perhaps elephants. They slow rivers, create pools, fell trees – creating microhabitats, in other words, which other species eagerly use.
And the beaver’s fans don’t get much bigger than moose! These fabulous ungulates often browse in the marshy habitat created by beavers.
This one is clearly ready for the rut. A moose’s antlers can weigh close to 80lb, one of the heaviest crowns in the animal kingdom.
The weather’s still turning.
But a woodchuck is still awake. Hibernation hasn’t called him to a winter burrow yet.
There are days that you remember for the smallest possible reasons. I honestly thought it was a beetle, scootling across a forest road, but, no. It’s a mammal. The smallest mammal that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
It’s about the size of a £2 coin. Definitely a shrew, possibly an American pygmy shrew Sorex hoyi, the second smallest mammal on Earth. There are hummingbirds that would dwarf this bundle of whiskers and fur. Uncaring of the two-legged giants and their cameras, it predates invertebrates amongst pebbles that must seem like monoliths.
It’s easy to see a forest in only the big pieces – clouds, trees, lakes. But this wonderland at the autumn-winter boundary continues to enchant with surprises.
I used to watch belted kingfishers when I lived on Vancouver Island. This one cuts a fine figure against Manitoba trees sprinkled with white.
And it is still full of seasonal boundary lines out there.
Afternoon brings something of a thaw. And with it, a welcome face.
Not a particularly large bear, but I wouldn’t even like to guess how many shrews would equal the weight of just his head.