Harvest Mice discovered at Yew View!!!!

It is always extremely exciting when we discover a new species at Yew View… especially if it is a mammal, as it gets increasingly difficult to add new species to a mammal list. When David contacted me in the week to say he had spotted something interesting in our HD Mammal box, I could not wait to get there this week to check it out…. I didn’t dare believe his suspicions were true, until I had seen the footage with my own eyes!

One of the first things I did when I got on site was to go up to the office to check the cameras. We have an HD camera inside a mammal box that is placed down by the wildlife pond. We had had to move it due to rising water levels so it was slightly less ‘hidden’ than it usually is as I tend to try to place them where the mammals don’t have to come into the open to get into them. The ground was so waterlogged though that, before Christmas, I had moved the box back a bit onto higher and drier ground.

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As you can see by the picture, it is close to the wildlife pond, which is surrounded by long grass and reeds; some a couple of metres deep. This box has been here a few months now and we have had the ‘normal’ visitors coming; voles and wood mice and the occasional common shrew. We also had water shrew visiting earlier in the Autumn but had not seen them for a while.

What I saw on the cameras, when I hit playback, was amazing….. we had HARVEST MICE coming inside this box!  I would doubt that anyone else has ever filmed wild harvest mice visiting a feeding station like this and, understandably, we were very excited! These tiny mice look very different to the other species that were visiting. For a start, harvest mice are tiny… in fact our smallest rodent, weighing not much more than a 20p and the only ones to have a prehensile tail. They are a beautiful golden brown, with a pale under belly. This screen capture with a wood mouse and a vole, shows how different they look and how much smaller they are…

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As I looked back through the footage, I discovered that these tiny mice had started visiting the box at the beginning of January and then were visiting every day, sometimes, 5 or 6 times, usually during daylight hours. During the winter, harvest mice are active more during daylight, yet in the Spring and summer, much of their activity can be at dawn and dusk.

Funnily enough, during the Christmas break, I had been on a Staffordshire Mammal Group walk, where I had learnt loads about harvest mice, found some of their nests and discovered that my conception of them only really living in arable fields, was wrong. You can take a look at that blog post HERE. In fact, due to many changes in farming practices, harvest mice are now found in hedgerows and areas where there are long grass and reeds… just like we have at Yew View.

Their priority status places them on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, under the category of near threatened. They are not a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species but are included in some Local Biodiversity Action plans. I am in the process of contacting Worcestershire Wildlife Trust regarding their presence here at Yew View. I am sure we will be doing  as much as we can to ensure that we can both protect these stunning little mammals and ensure that the habitat is maintained and improved so that their numbers will continue to build.

With a regular food source within the Mammal box, these mice have taken advantage of it, as have the other species. At one point, there were three individuals in there. Sadly, the camera had slipped slightly during the Christmas break, meaning the focus was out slightly, but it was still clear enough for us to be captivated by these gorgeous new little visitors….

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This clip shows the size difference between this harvest mouse and the vole who also popped in for a snack!

Heading outside, I was now keen to see if I could find evidence of these mice around the pond area. Harvest mice are the only species to build spherical nests, within grass and reeds. They build a loosely woven ‘day’ nest that is not designed to last too long  and they build a more densely woven breeding nest. After being on the Mammal walk over Christmas, I knew what I was looking for, but they are incredible difficult to locate.  It took me about 20 minutes to find my first one; near the front of the reed bed, less than a metre from the ground, rather dislodged and flattened by the reeds having been blown over in high winds. Parting the reeds, I found this tiny, loosely woven nest, dislodged from its original position when the reeds had been upright…

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It is an incredible feat to create this, in just a matter of hours! I was totally fascinated by it and couldn’t help but imagine the mouse curled up inside this wonderfully woven grass sphere. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to have found one, yet keen to see if I could see any more… possibly one that could have been a breeding nest. These tend to be up a little higher and they use more substantial reeds, rather than the very thin grasses.

I waded out in my wellies into the reeds that were further in and carefully parted reeds, looking carefully for any signs of nests…

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Suddenly, I saw something…. another nest! This time, much more securely attached to the reeds and about a metre above the water, right on the edge of the pond! Perfectly camouflaged and well protected from potential predators, this nest was a lot more substantial than the previous. Could this have been a breeding nest from last season? I did not want to disturb it… just in case it was still being used…

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With the biggest smile ever on my face, my mind went into ‘hyper-drive’, thinking about all the possibilities we have now of trying to capture footage of these great little mammals. With the camera re-focused and the mammal box re-set, I hope they re-appear over the coming week. With a regular food supply in there, I cannot imagine why they would not visit every day. I set a couple of trail cams outside the box, hoping to capture some footage of them coming in and out.

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I also have some plans for some mini feeding platforms in the reeds, (with cameras of course!) to see if we can film these mice over the coming months.

We were also treated to the water shrew returning as well! Maybe the floods have meant it has been harder to hunt. They love the suet pellets…

The rising waters gave us one more treat this week…. a water rail up by the badger sett. Sadly, the floods have meant we have not seen much of our badger visitors. We hope they have moved to higher ground and will return as the water levels drop. All our setts are above the flood water, thank goodness!

This wonderful site never ceases to amaze… it’s incredible the amount of wildlife there is here and out network of cameras have helped us to realise this!