Having been tipped off about some potentially suitable harvest mouse habitat in the lovely grounds of the National Trust’s Croome Court, who wouldn’t want to follow this up? Okay, so it may not be the prime time for surveying, but with cattle rapidly munching their way through the tussocky grass, it was an opportunity that I couldn’t let slip by, especially as I was eager to try out my newly acquired set of harvest mouse surveying skills!
The National Trust were contacted and were more than happy for a visit to be made and even suggested some other possible areas to look at. So, without further ado, I contacted a few budding harvest mouse friends (friends of mine that is rather than the harvest mice!) which resulted in a merry band of six volunteers.
On Saturday 30th January, which was a lovely sunny afternoon with a refreshing wind to blow the cobwebs away, we all met up at Croome Court. We strolled down to an area known as South Park towards Croome River. With our posterior’s elegantly pointing towards the blue sky, we began our search – we would have been on our hands and knees crawling but we all would have ended up with very soggy knees! The tussucky grass seemed to cling to the rushes which were scattered across the damp terrain. Many field vole nests were found right at the base of these tussocks which were characterised by neatly chomped grasses forming a cosy ball of warmth at ground level. We continued our search towards the water’s edge where a couple of possible harvest mouse nests were found. After a few group musings, prods and pokes we felt reasonably confident that they could indeed be harvest mouse nests! Strands of woven grasses still attached to the grass stems themselves, elevated at ankle/shin level gave a good indication that our evidence base and verdict were probably correct.
Time flies when you’re having fun so we didn’t get to see the other areas but we did notice a few other wildlife sightings which made the afternoon even better. A flock of around 20+ pied wagtails were enjoying a feast of insects thanks to the resident cattle. Circling round with finesse and with wonderful synchronisation a mini-murmuration, if you can call it that, made up of around 100 starlings gave us a small but delightful display before settling in an old oak tree. A male stonechat was also seen with its black head and orange-red breast which seemed so much brighter under the sun’s influence. A heron was also spotted flying overhead with its unmistakable curved neck. As we sauntered back to the cars discussing cold noses and sniffles (!), we spotted a flock of around 20+ redwings and were then surprised to see a kestrel perched in a tree looking at us as we looked at it. It didn’t seem too bothered and was probably relieved that we were finally leaving so it could resume its search for a tasty field vole or two!
A very pleasant afternoon was had by all topped off by a much needed cup of tea at Croome tearooms. I’m sure this will be a great place to revisit later in the year so we can survey the other areas and hopefully find some more harvest mouse nests.
Thanks should go to the National Trust for kindly giving us permission to survey for harvest mice and thanks to Gary, Nicki, Jean, Sandra and Andy for joining me in the Croome crawl!