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Focusing on our mammal marvels
THERE are some differences between bird watching and mammal watching.
To see most mammals at their best, you have to be out and about not only at dawn, but also at night. The older I get, the easier it is for me to watch mammals because all I have to do is sit still!
I was told the other day of a friend travelling to work early in the morning and, on the road towards Barrowford, she saw a family of four badgers crossing the road.
This set me thinking of mammal watching over the years and I began searching in my diary.
In May 1985, I was lucky enough to photograph a wildcat with her kitten while teaching on a field course in Perthshire.
In 1989, I was doing something similar in the North West of Scotland and photographed a water vole, but it was not a ‘normal’ animal, but was jet black. Such animals are called melanistic and they rarely occur in other species. There are, for example, black rabbits to be seen in the Clitheroe area. The advantage of watching rabbits is that they can be seen in the daytime. The same can also be said of some deer and the brown hare.
It is the latter which I think is the most graceful and fleet- footed of all mammals. Because they are so wary, I have found it difficult to get good photographs of the brown hare, but did have some success in June 1997. All people who take photographs of wildlife should have one firm rule – the welfare of the animal should come first!
There are two mammals common enough to be seen often. One is welcome, and the other is certainly not to be encouraged.
The pipistrelle bat is our commonest flying mammal and can be seen at dawn and dusk using its radar-like system to catch insects.
Following the heavy rain of last week, I was able to sit on my patio and watch bats, as well as swallows, swifts, and martins, flying low because the weather was so ‘heavy’, and the insects were also flying at low levels. Whenever you see swallows flying high, it is a sign that the weather is set fair.
People often refer to the water vole as the water rat. It is not a rat, but is a vole with a flat hamster-like face, in contrast to rats and mice which have long noses and look much more threatening.
If the vole can be called a ‘nice rat’, then the brown rat is very much a rotten rat. It lives in sewers, spreads diseases, gets into buildings and eats electrical wires, and there have been instances of rats causing disastrous fires.
Originally introduced from Asia, the brown rat is now one of our most common mammals. There are expensive efforts to control them, but they will be with us for ever.
The same cannot be said of some of our mammals, and the wildcat and water vole are very much under threat.
The wildcat is more like a small tiger than a domestic pussy cat, but it was once common in England as place names on our maps prove.
There is a hill called Catbells, near Keswick, in the Lake District, and in East Lancashire, we have Catlow Bottoms, near Burnley.
oarsome sightings from boat
RIVERS and the wildlife in, and around, them have always been an interest of mine.
Last Sunday I got the chance to take a trip in a rowing boat along the River Nidd, in Knaresborough, and under the arches of the railway bridge.
Somebody else was rowing, so I was able to watch the wildlife float by. The chance to travel on a slow boat in our countryside should not be missed as the boat is usually ignored by the wildlife and it is as good as sitting in a hide.
I thought, at first, I saw an otter swimming towards the bank which I was pleased about. I soon realised, however, the animal was too small to be an otter and it was a mink.
I was less pleased to see this bloodthirsty little monster, which is a real menace to birdlife. Soon, however, I was watching a grey wagtail, a family of mallard ducklings and then, the best sighting of the day, the colourful flash of lightning, better known as the kingfisher, flying low upstream.
The boat trip was so interesting we returned to the starting point when our time was up and paid for another session. We were rewarded by sightings of a family of goosanders, a heron, and a common sandpiper. As the weather started to close in, swallows were sweeping over the river, and above there were swifts producing their typical screams.
An old naturalist told me years ago “Get the self t’river lad there’s nowt like walking round watter”.
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