There's nothing like a walk in the woods and all my other walks in the woods were definitely nothing like today's.
No, it wasn't the teddy bears' picnic, it was a Dormouse and reptile survey on the Greensand Ridge, the chance to be there was courtesy of Greenie from 'Greenie in the Wild'. We were also joined by Terry Laws and Neil, who was quickly given the job of recording due to his neat hand writing and also because he was the youngest, so we pulled rank on him. Of course, it wasn't long before the rain came, lots of it and given that we were often wading through chest high bracken and brambles we soon became drenched, the rainwater reaching parts that are usually only reached by bathwater. But I wasn't going to let a bit of rain spoil things, i'd been looking forward to this for a few weeks, although I did wonder if it would put the mockers on finding any reptiles under the refugia.
It's illegal to handle or disturb Dormice in any way, but Greenie has a license, so we and the mice were in safe hands. However, it soon became clear that this wouldn't be a Dormouse fest, and after checking dozens of boxes before lunch, we hadn't found one, although we did find evidence in some of the boxes of temporary nests. It was also evident that the local Blue Tits had made good use of a lot of them, raising their broods and leaving the disused nests, which were removed to make way for the nesting activity of the Dormice in August. A couple of Wrens' nests were also found in the boxes, little works of art, one of which was a cosy, warm, feather lined home for some very new chicks, we speculated on the lateness but I think they do sometimes have a second brood.
Also of great interest during the morning was the surprise discovery of a Buzzard's nest, the first any of us had ever seen in Kent. As we watched the nest, we noticed what we thought could have been the head of a chick poking up above the edge of the nest, this was pretty much confirmed to be the case when the parents suddenly arrived and landed on a dead Oak tree nearby. Exciting stuff, what a great find and well worth every drop of soaking rain.
As I said before, we weren't hugely optimistic about finding reptiles today, but we were wrong. We soon started to find a few Slow Worms under the felt and corrugated iron refugia, including some very small ones not much bigger than worms and most likely born last year. A single Common Lizard and several Grass Snakes also put in an appearance, I think we found seven in total, including one very good sized specimen and again some smaller ones just a year old. But best of all was a female Adder who clearly wasn't bothered by the rain as she was spotted curled up close to one of the felts and only reluctantly slipped away a couple of feet and took shelter under a small tree stump but still remaining visible. It was only after watching her that I glanced down and spotted the little chap (or chapess) pictured below, how we hadn't stepped on it I don't know. We had time to take some quick photos and place one of Greenie's legendary 35mm film canisters along side it to give some perspective before it too, slowly departed into the wet undergrowth.
So what about the Dormice, well, I think I can safely say that with just a few more boxes to check towards the end of the afternoon session, we were resigned to the fact that it just wasn't going to happen. That is until we got to box number five. Inside was a very promising bundle of Hazel leaves, some old, and crucially some still green, mixed up with thin strips of Honeysuckle, all signs of possible Dormouse occupancy. The box was carefully lowered into a stout polythene bag, the lid was slipped off and out he popped, a fantastic, tiny bundle of ginger fur with a long furry tail and a pair of the most beguiling, big black eyes which winked and blinked in bewilderment, having been woken so suddenly from their slumber. He was quickly weighed and checked over by Greenie, before being gently returned to his box. This for me, was one of those wildlife moments that will never be forgotten and I feel priviliged to have been able to see one of these charming nocturnal tree dwellers. Thanks very much for a great day Greenie, i'm really looking forward to August!