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.

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.”

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