Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Field Studies Council

Common shrew jawbones. The enamel at the very tips of the teeth is red.

Badger hair: white at the tip, ridged when you roll it between your fingers.

Weighing one of the mammals we trapped. 

The Longworth traps are opened inside a bag so the animal doesn't leap away and escape.

Shrew in motion.

I think, going by tail length, we decided this was a pygmy shrew.

Bank vole.

Wood mouse. Scruffing small rodents is the best way to hold them; picking up a wood mouse by its tail can cause the skin to shear away painfully and permanently.

I was lucky enough to attend a Field Studies Centre course this autumn on mammal identification. The FSC run training courses for both amateur and professional ecologists, and cover a wide range of wildlife topics across their various schools: My course was at Preston Montford in Shropshire.

We were taught to prepare and set small-mammal traps, the correct way to check them and the proper way to handle and record the wild rodents we caught. We were also shown how to clean the traps after use. We looked at animal prints, nests, skin markings, scat, skulls and feeding signs, and listened to some common mammal calls. We looked at recording and reporting methods; we dissected owl pellets. At the end of the three-day residential course, students were invited to take an exam in Mammal Identification.

I'm delighted to say my certificate came this week and I got a Distinction, with 60 marks out of a maximum 64. So I'm very pleased because I enjoyed the course so much. Now I'm off to join the Mammal Society!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Foster Hedgehog

Wildlife rescue centres around the country are currently inundated with juvenile hedgehogs who need carers to feed them up to 600g, a safe weight for hibernation. I took myself down to the West Midlands centre and brought back two small hogs, one for myself and one for Lorcan from the Whitchurch Water Vole group.

We've been told to keep our hedgehogs warm and to feed them meaty (not fishy) cat food (in jelly, not gravy). A saucer of cat biscuits also goes down a treat, and they need plenty of fresh water to drink (never milk).We're weighing them every day or two, handling as little as possible, and when they attain their ideal mass we can put them in an outdoor sheltered place, like a shed or a garage, with a box or hutch from which they can come and go, plus food and fresh water. The hope is that the cold temperatures then will trigger hibernation, though the animals will still need to be checked every day and supplies renewed. Come the spring they can then be released into the wild.

Lorcan's blog charts our progress here: My hog had a poor start as he had to be taken to the vet and wormed, but since then he's picked up strongly. Lorcan's female hog goes from strength to strength.

If you have a spare room and an unused hutch and think you could foster a small hedgehog, do google your local wildlife rescue centre because I know they'd appreciate any help they can get!