Hazel dormice are not common in the UK, but they are slowly being reintroduced, with some success. My area is a comparative ‘hot spot’ for the species and I have found live animals and nests in the past. The nearest nests have been within 1Km, but species-specific nest boxes and searching for opened hazel nuts and nests have been unproductive for 32 years in or near my garden.
Until today! My autumnal revamp of the garden was progressing alongside our car garage, and, in a shrub I found two nests! One probably a breeding nest, the other a much smaller version possibly for a youngster.
The site is within 10m of out front door and just one from the garage. To occupy the site the animals must have progressed along a conifer hedge of large proportions.
The garden is rich in small mammals – we have long and short-tailed voles, pygmy and common shrews, wood and yellow-necked mice, plus the inevitable (non-scary!) rats. The dormice are a major addition and the hedge will be further enhance to provide as near ideal habitat as possible.
My wildlife camera was stolen a while back despite being padlocked to my forest gate, so this represents a reason to obtain a new version. Then I can attempt to film the dormice.
I said ‘non-scary’ rats. I first encountered Rattus norvegicus at university – a Skinner Box study during post-grad. ‘Sally’ came home with me after the experiment was completed and lived with Annette and myself for about two years. She adored hot (drinking) chocolate and once dived into a mug filled with it – soon to be shampooed and dried. She had a habit of running around our flat and seeking peel in our open fire. One day she failed to notice it had been set alight! She survived that too. Her main snag being her habit of nibbling woollen clothes when being lap-cuddled. Perhaps we treated her too well.
Rat two was Suzie. She was pure white, albino. Sally was black and white. Suzie had two claims to fame.
Once, we had some new friends visiting our house after a theatre visit. We arrived first and, as ever, opened Suzie’s cage so she could explore. One of her favourite locations was halfway up a white wooden bookcase. She could scale this with ease. Friends arrived, settled and looked around as coffee was prepared. SCREEM! A white fluffy ornament on the bookcase had just started to clean its whiskers. They never came again.
Episode two. We had an open-plan house and open stairs. Suzie regularly went up and down the wooden treads … but one day slipped and fell, breaking a leg. Annette placed her in her handbag and caught a bus to take her to the vets … the rest you can guess. Suzie recovered and enjoyed a contented life with us.
Other ‘pets’? Putorius the polecat. Poo, he did have a distinctive odour, was his pet name. We took him for walks on a cat’s / small dog harness. He was fearless of cattle and dogs. He bit the former on the nose once and dogs just were scared stiff. On one occasions he was running loose on the Salisbury water meadows when he encountered a grass (water) snake eating a toad – he attacked the snake … so we had the perfect food chain. Polecat > snake > toad. All three survived the encounter. Poo loved to go down rabbit burrows – bringing out the babies (unharmed) so we could see their development. They went back after, but Poo was always very reluctant to let us have the last animal he brought out.
Why a polecat? I was doing otter distribution work at the time, and gave plenty of lectures. A polecat was as close an animal as I could get to demonstrate was an otter was like. Otters were almost extinct at that time in the UK.
Poo lived half in the house and half in a garden run. He escaped three times. The second time he has caught by a gamekeeper. When I went to claim him, I was asked, “Ow do I no he’s yourrss?” I put Poo to my nose – he licked me. Otherwise he would bite! “Hees yourrz.” The third time he escaped he vanished.
One last Poo story. He would never walk the second half of a walk. Always needing carrying.