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.

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