Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The Tail End of Autumn

The surprise of the morning was a gift from one of our two cats! On our doorstep was the tail end, so to speak, of a rat-like animal, later identified as a Garden Dormouse. Evidently, they are rare, vulnerable and endangered. Ours lost it's life!!! The Little Footed One showing signs of sickness and indigestion was identified as the killer cat. The Garden Dormouse, Eliomys quercinus, is a rodent about 10 to 15 cm long with a tail adding another 8 to 14 cm. The coat is grey or brown with a white belly. It has black eye markings , like a bandit, relatively large ears, short hair and a white tassel at the end of it's tail. It is nocturnal, sleeping in s a spherical nest durng the day. It eats large insects such as grasshoppppers , beetles , snails, and also eggs , baby birds, mice, spiders, berries, fruits, acorns and beechnuts. They mate between April to June and have three to seven in the litter. After two months they are independent but are not mature for one year and can live for 5 years. They are also cannibals and sometimes eat their mate!!! They are to be found in woodland or fruit growing regions, the Alps and are common in Southern Europe.
The previous evening we listened again to an unusual bird, which a few days earlier David and a friend had seen flying near the house and barns. For some reason, after several days of thought, the name, nightjar, occurred to me, because the sound is a jarring cry! To the internet again, and the RSPB site became immediately very useful, because in one click of the mouse, one can hear and identify the recorded song. Yes we have a nightjar near our house! The night jar, Caprimulgus europaeus, is nocturnal and can be seen hawking for food at dusk and dawn. The male nightjar's churring song, rises and falls with a ventriloquial quality.With pointed wings and a long tail the shape is similar to a kestrel or cuckoo. The cryptic, grey-brown, mottled, streaked and barred plumage provides ideal camouflage in the daytime.It lives on the ground of heathlands, moorlands, open woodland with clearings, and in recently felled conifer plantations. It has an almost supernatural reputation with silent flight and a mythical ability to steal milk from goats.
They are numerous in southern England and at Thetford forest, Minsmere and North Warren in Suffolk. They are also found in parts of Wales, northern England and SW Scotland.
Nightjars arrive in UK between late April to mid-May and are best looked and listened for at dusk on warm, still, summer evenings. They mainly leave in August and September.

Last night, too, in the house, we found a European centipede, a Mole cricket and a huge black spider with eyes on stalks. They were all removed to the outdoor world!

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