An Omnivorous Shrew

Many thanks to Alan Waterman for his observations from his Clearwell garden.

Clearwell is where I live. You may well have heard of it because despite being quite a small village it does punch above its weight a bit because of Clearwell Caves and Clearwell Castle which both put the village on the map. I live almost equidistant between the two. For those of you who do not know where it is, it is close to Coleford, on the western edge of the Forest of Dean and only 5 miles from the River Wye and Wales.

My garden is quite small and very steep. It has been terraced and there are five levels. These are held in place by old stone walls, some of which are supported by concrete and others by gravity! Either way they provide homes for a wide array of life including lichens, mosses, ferns and various flowering plants along with a range of invertebrates and vertebrates. We often see Field mice who regularly pop out to pick up material from under the bird feeders. I also sometimes put a little handful of bird food in odd spots which attracts the mice and also Bank voles.

During the lockdown I sometimes took to sitting at the top level of my garden with my camera and telephoto lens just to see what came along. I got various shots of birds, butterflies, bees and others. On one occasion I caught a flash of something darting from one hole in the wall to another, some sort of small mammal so I put a little handful of bird seed close by. Nothing visited but the next day, as expected, it was gone. It could have been the mammal or maybe the birds. In any case I replaced it and did the same for several days running. Then I set myself up where I had first seen the little chap having first placed another little handful of bird seed and sure enough after a short time it appeared. It was a vole and I believe it was a Bank vole, Clethrionomys glareolus. It did not hang around for long, just darted out picked up a seed and returned to the safety of the wall. I suspect it was not eating what it had collected as it soon returned and gathered another seed and this went on for some time so he was probably laying in a bit of a store. I did get some photographs but had to be quick.

A few days later I repeated the operation and sure enough Mr Vole quickly made an appearance, but then from a different hole in the wall another snout appeared, a rather longer, tapering and twitchy snout. It also took a seed and disappeared. At first it only had to emerge a short distance to gain access to the food and was not fully visible, but I knew it was a Shrew. Bit by bit it collected the food that was closest and gradually had to venture further and further out and more into view so I could get better photographs showing it to be a Common Shrew, Sorex araneus. I always thought that Shrews were insectivores and that is why using small mammal traps is as they harmful to them as they cannot survive without insects. This one was definitely collecting the seeds and sometimes even eating them whilst in view.

Introducing Gloucestershire’s Robberflies

Adult robberflies (Order: Diptera, Family: Asilidae) are effective daytime hunters, relying on sight to target moving insect prey which they then seem able to immobilise by injecting posion through their mouthparts. Martin Matthews has prepared a basic introduction to the adults of the 16 species of robberflies (12 of them illustrated) that have been recorded in Gloucestershire at least once since 1950. The guide can be downloaded from the invertebrates section of our publications pages.

An Unlikely Provider

Thanks to Mike Boyes for his account of this unusual behaviour witnessed in his garden in Little Rissington…

I noticed a male Great Spotted Woodpecker on our peanut bird feeder, so I grabbed my camera + telephoto lens to photograph it because I had only seen a female visiting for the past couple of weeks, and I wanted a picture of the male. What happened next surprised me

The GSW, after pecking repeatedly at the nuts for a minute or two at the base of the feeder, climbed to the top where a recently fledged Great Tit was waiting. The GSW then proceeded to try and feed pieces of peanut to the young Great Tit, while an adult Great Tit watched from another feeder close by. This process continued for perhaps a little less than a minute before being interrupted by the arrival of our postman, at which point both birds flew away. 

Later during the day the adult male GSW returned to the feeder many times, as did an adult female GSW (possibly from a different pair as both birds always approach and fly away from the feeder in opposite directions). The unusual behaviour pattern I witnessed earlier in the day was not repeated.

Background info: we have a garden of just under half an acre, with plenty of small to medium trees for cover, and we have four hanging feeders – fat balls, peanuts, niger seeds and sunflower hearts, plus a tray feeder enclosed in a cage to keep out pigeons. We regularly see goldfinches, greenfinches, GSWs, robins, house sparrows, great tits, blue tits, starlings, blackbirds, chaffinches, a couple of nuthatches, dunnock, collared doves, pigeons, jackdaws, and less often a wren, coal tit, long-tailed tits, and thrushes. In winter, regularly visitors include redwings and fieldfares that feed on our cotoneaster berries, and the occasional bullfinch and blackcap. I have pictures of many of these garden birds too.

This page from the BTO offers a few suggestions as to what might be happening here.

A Newent Garden

Mervyn Greening has submitted this illustrated account of the goings on in his small Newent garden during the month of April 2020. Featuring observations on the weather, the activity that centres around his damson tree, the 15 species of bee he’s been able to identify, the butterflies, moths, birds, mammals and plants it’s an eye-opening account of the diversity that can be found in the small patches of ground that are our gardens. Download the full document below.

Solitary Bees & Satellite Flies

An interesting observation from the garden of Kate Kibble.

“Having spent some time observing the various solitary bees in my garden I realised that they were often accompanied by one or more unremarkable-looking flies. These closely followed the bees down to their nests and then were either seen to ‘stand watch’ by the entrance or to follow the bees down. I asked GNS recorder Tony Taylor to help with identification of some of the species I’d found and he informed me that the flies are sometimes known as satellite flies because of this behaviour. He considered they are most likely the species Leucophora obtusa and are kleptoparasitic on the mining bees, trying to lay their own egg on the food stored by the bee. Within my records for the afternoon were two other parasites of solitary bees – nothing in nature is ever as idyllic as it seems. The photo shows one of the flies waiting patiently outside an ashy mining bee burrow.”

Upcoming GNS events

Due to the country’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, and our efforts to minimise the spread, GNS obviously cancelled all our scheduled events that were due to take place during the ‘lockdown’. We will continue to schedule events in accordance with government advice, and have therefore cancelled events up to and including 10th May. The government plans to announce the way forward as far as restrictions are concerned this coming Sunday, and we will of course comply with any rules or guidelines set out in that announcement. Therefore it’s quite likely that further cancellations will have to occur. If and when lockdown restrictions are relaxed, some leaders of field meetings may feel that they would still prefer that their respective meetings do not go ahead, so even at this point we will review each meeting individually. Please keep an eye on this website for up to date information.

UPDATE 14th May – In light of the recently revised guidelines from the government which still forbid meeting with more than one person from another household at a time, we have cancelled all meetings that were scheduled to take place during May.

UPDATE 29th May – We have cancelled all meetings that were scheduled to take place during June.

GNS Garden Challenge

All members are invited to take up the challenge of sharing their garden observations of wildlife.

What can be included?
Just about any original observations made in your garden or from the windows of your residence.

What form might these observations take?
• An account or accounts of a memorable wildlife sighting or sightings.
• A report of a study made of wildlife in your garden.
• A diary of what you have observed.
• Annotated list of organisms encountered in your garden.
• Original artwork illustrating an observation or study.
• Anything you think worth sharing about wildlife from your garden

Some guidelines:
• A maximum of one account per month to be submitted. Diary entries and lists should be submitted monthly
• Pictures can be included. E.g. photographs or original artwork.
• All submissions should have a clear title and name of author.
• Your first submission should include a brief introduction about your garden.

How to take up the challenge:
Each submission should be sent to our website manager for posting on our website. Some pieces may be used in the “News”.
If you do not use the internet, you may still enter, and we will try to include some of your material in the “News”. Post your submission to M. Greening who will get it digitised for the website. Best to send a copy of your work if you can, but if you send original work and want it returned, please include an SAE.

Award:
This is not a competition; it is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts about the wildlife we encounter in our gardens.
We want to recognise the efforts made by entrants by awarding an annual prize to the entrant we feel has made the most inspirational contribution each year. The award is a vase, bequeathed to the society by the late Mornee Button, and will be given out each year at the AGM. The decision about the recipient of the award will be made by a committee nominated by the executive committee.

Contact details:
For entries via e-mail please send to our website manager : [email protected]
For paper entries please send to: Mervyn Greening, 23, Lakeside, Newent, Glos. GL18 1SZ.

Head over to the Garden Challenge page to view the latest submissions.

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