Our Patch: The Clues Are There!

By on Tuesday, October 15, 2013

our_patch_sj_jarmanWalking last week with a friend, I was given a sort of challenge. He said he doesn’t see much wildlife when out and about, perhaps due to not really knowing what to look for nor where to look. I thought it would be a great chance to share some of my methods of spotting wildlife.

I can’t imagine not seeing nature everywhere, partly due to my perception (I see Rhododendron as a far greater problem than dandelion), and partly due to my interest. It’s an easy hobby – a dip in a pond, a root in the grass, a shake in the foliage, and there are millions of organisms to be seen and discovered. It’s free, no special equipment is needed, and in my opinion, it’s vitally important that we know who we share our habitat with.

As dawn and dusk start to keep slightly less anti-social hours, we get a glimpse of some of our more elusive inhabitants. I still always experience a flutter in my stomach when I spot a rabbit, squirrel or fox, and on a few very rare occasions I have seen a stoat or weasel, but I’ve only ever come across dead examples of voles, mice and shrews. animal_path It may seem quite gruesome, but coming across a dead animal can be a great learning experience, as we can view them a lot closer than we could normally in the wild, and children are far less squeamish than adults! It also shows that these animals are here and there is a possibility to see them.

Through the day time, these recluses remain almost invisible; yet there is evidence of them if you know where to look. There are runs through grasses – just like us, our wildlife sticks to familiar and well-worn paths. Often alongside one of our own walkways is a well-trodden indentation in the grass. Sometimes the path is made clearer because our dogs, too, walk alongside us, but when walking through long grass, you can see “tunnels” worn through where animals have been weaving their way.

fox

They leave, well, their leavings. Again, often in places we tread ourselves, animals leave their droppings. There are “latrine” animals such as rabbits, who use the same places as both a territorial display and a method of communication – I was here, I am male/female, I am of breeding age, I am the dominant bunny – and animals like foxes, who use their scent primarily to mark their territory.

nibbled

(As an owner of a dog, I think of it as some sort of irresistible lure to entice our canine companions to spread their scent to our houses!) This gives a good indication where to look for the animals who produced it.

There may be “damage” to plants or, as I have noticed in our own garden, to fungi (Woodmice). In wooded locations, pine cones or nuts can be seen with evidence of nibbling, and gardeners often complain of damage to shoots in spring. This can point to squirrels, rabbits, birds or insects.

Once you start to see the evidence, you know where to start looking. Many animals are creatures of habit. There’s a path in Stadt Moers Park where I have seen stoats twice, and if I wanted to try to find them, that’s where I’d start. If I was hoping to see herons, I’d head to the lake there or off Wood Lane.

heron

Habitat is very important to different species, and we have so many habitats to choose from. There are manicured parklands, scrubby grasslands, water and wetland, woods and gardens. Observation and a little research can help to link the types of wildlife we’ll find in various places.

I know that chaffinches can be found in the tall trees opposite Milton Avenue shops, and a squirrel lives somewhere near Whiston Willis School. I have seen a weasel on Stoney Lane towards Rainhill, and there are frogs in our garden pond. This sort of basic observation can lead to better knowledge and understanding – the sight of a particular bird becomes lodged in the brain with the sound of their call – it’s then easier to find the bird in the future, because you hear the call first.

Some animals, particularly birds, can help you find predators (often considered the most glamorous, and usually rarer, as they are the top of the food chain). If I see a flock of birds lift up from the ground or hear a lot of alarm calls (most species have a loud, short repeating call just for danger), then I look around, not for the birds calling, but the reason for their fear. Very often a sparrowhawk, or buzzard is the reason for their distress, although admittedly, it’s sometimes just the neighbourhood moggy.

I hope these very basic pointers can help readers not only to find signs of nature, but to then find some memorable wildlife encounters for themselves, and help show children how to locate wildlife, too.

Photos: Fox, Heron, by Sue Holland

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SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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