The temperature is dropping and broad leaves are falling, winter is creeping in at Fingle Woods. Now the cold air is starting to bite, woodland animals are making preparations to get through the coming months when food will be scarce. The dormice themselves have had a busy year. In between being filmed for a TV programme and being tracked for a scientific study they have reared at least four young families and the last few weeks have been spent in a flurry of activity to put on that essential body weight for hibernation. It appears that they have all gone from their summer lodgings and will now be curled up in nests among the brash piles built for them by Tom’s team of National Trust volunteers (see Dylan’s blog from 13th October).
The final check of the dormouse nest boxes tells a typically seasonal story after the clues are pieced together. The vacated boxes are far from empty and tell-tale signs of other small mammals have appeared. Wood mice don’t hibernate during the winter so need to build up a cache of food to keep them going; holly seeds and acorns have been safely hidden away in the dry for hard times ahead.
Migrant birds have settled into Fingle and the woodcock is at home, perfectly camouflaged nestling in the leaf litter. Though some of the over-wintering woodland birds like goldcrests and coal tits are ever present at this time of year, other Fingle residents are slowing down. During the spring and summer the ants’ nest mounds were teeming with life but now they, and other invertebrates have gone very quiet. Butterflies and moths have stopped flying and the hornets’ nest in a tree near one of the dormouse boxes shows no sign of life.
The beauty of our seasons is often based in the anticipation of the fascinating changes to come so let’s hope for a magical winter and, all being well, we’ll see the dormice again in the spring – once the blue tits have had first use of the boxes to raise their chicks!
words and pictures by Matt Parkins