Archive for the ‘That’s not a badger!’ Category

As I drove to work this morning a stoat dashed across the road in front of my car (know a stoat by its black-tipped tail).  This was just over the road from the field behind my house, so it was close to home.

Stoats are, of course, members of the Mustelid family, along with badgers, weasels, pine martens, otters and polecats.  The name ‘Mustelid’ comes from the latin mustela, meaning weasel.  This name in turn comes from two words: mus – mouse, and telum – spear.  In other words, mouse-like-a-spear.

It’s a great name.  When you see one of these long, slim, lithe creatures running along, it’s a surprisingly good description.


As I drove home after work on Friday I had another stoat cross the road in front of me, on the main road about 100 yards away from the first.  I drive to and from work each day for ages without seeing a stoat, and then there’s two in two days.  It’s obviously stoat-time…

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This is the last of the tortoises, I promise.  I finally got round to downloading some photos off my phone today, including one of this little chap – a tiny little baby tortoise.

Wild Baby Tortoise in Turkey

I came across him (or her – it’s very difficult to tell with tortoises) during a mountain bike ride.  He’s being shy, but I promise that he had the full complement of head and legs.  I’m no expert, but he can’t be more than a year or two old.  It’s a good sign that the population of tortoises in Turkey is a healthy one.

And yes, he is in the palm of my hand.  I did pick it up.  I know this goes against my earlier advice, but I did it because the little fella was making his way across the road when I found him.  I think I was justified in moving him away from the traffic in the interests of safety.

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Yesterday I decided to escape the hurly-burly for a little while and wander off on my own – something I do from time to time.  I like to get off the beaten track.  Yesterday was a new experience for me though, as I went out with the objective of tracking down and finding wild tortoises in the scrub on a nearby hill.

Now, since tortoises are not native to Bedfordshire (not even the 11th Duke of Bedford, who was responsible for introducing so many alien species, managed to introduce tortoises) it’s reasonable to assume that I’m not at home.  In fact, we’re on holiday in Turkey this week.
The coastline at Teos, Turkey
I’m no expert on tortoises, but I came across one a few years ago in a similar environment and at the back of my mind I’ve wanted to find another.  When we arrived at our hotel I noticed the undeveloped countryside in the vicinity and decided to have a look.  The land here in Turkey is arid and dry and the ecosystem is characterised by water saving species.  The vegetation is scrubby and thorny, designed to resist being eaten by the few animal and bird species. Tortoises fit in well here, being able to conserve water and go without drinking for long periods, getting most of the fluid they need from the plants on which they feed.

Wild tortoise in Turkey

Anyhow, I decided to take a walk and look for tortoises. I’m used to having odd ideas like this.  Most of the time they come to nothing.  Sometimes, just sometimes, they’re successful.  After a couple of hours of hopping over limestone outcrops and thrashing through thorn bushes I’d managed to find a couple of splendid tortoises.  They’re funny things to see in the wild – I think I’m used to seeing them as pets and they seem somehow out of place in the countryside.  I was jolly pleased to have found them because they’re a new species that I deliberately set out to find (based on a minimum of knowledge) and I actually managed to do so.

Wild tortoise in Turkey

The only thing I can remember about wild tortoises is that you shouldn’t pick them up.  Apparently they’re quite sensitive to stress.  One of their defensive behaviours is to urinate when attacked.  Not only does this mean you could get covered in tortoise pee, it means that the tortoise loses vital liquid that it may have difficulty replacing.  So, if you come across a tortoise in the wild please leave it where it is, unless it is in obvious danger (like in the middle of the road or something).

Wild tortoise in Turkey

This post is nothing to do with badgers, I’m afraid, but it was an interesting diversion nonetheless.  As I always say, wherever you are, there’s always wildlife to be found…

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Well, I got out of work on time, and the dead polecat was still there, so I stopped the car on my way home and had a look.  The genteel folks of Bedfordshire were probably surprised to see a smartly-dressed chap in a pinstripe suit and trilby hat walking down the verge, gingerly carrying a manky dead polecat by its back leg.  Well, that was me.

Unfortunately, it had suffered under the wheels of cars.  The head area – which is key to identifying polecats – was pretty messed up.  However, there was enough to show the dark fur around the eyes and the pale fur around the muzzle – both polecat features.

On this basis I’m calling it a polecat rather than a ferret.  And why not?  My last dead polecat, only a mile away, was positively identified by the County Mammal Recorder.  There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be one too.  It looks like polecats have re-colonised this part of Bedfordshire.

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Newt I.D.

Not being a newt expert, the identity of the little chap in the last post has got me consulting the reference books.  It seems that newts are complicated.  Males and females can look quite different, and they change colouring for the breeding season.  Our three species of native newts can therefore have twelve different appearances!  But by some detective work I think I can identify this one.

I can rule out the Great Crested Newt, which is bigger with knobbly skin, and the male has a distinct jagged crest at this time of year.  Plus they’re quite rare.  That leaves the Smooth Newt and Palmate Newts.  The males of both of these develop spots in the breeding season, so it could be either of them.  The Smooth Newt has spots on its underside, whilst the Palmate Newt does not, but unfortunately I didn’t pick this one up and have a look.  The Palmate Newt has a tail filament (a short thread on the end of the tail) while the Smooth Newt doesn’t, but again, I didn’t know about this feature or look for it.

There is one clinching feature though.  Apparently the male Palmate Newt has webbed rear feet in the breeding season.  My newt did not.  This means it isn’t a Palmate and must be a Smooth Newt.  It makes sense, they are our most common newt and known for living in small ponds.

So there you have it – a Smooth Newt. and a new species for me here in Bedfordshire.  I told you that newts were complicated…

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Beautiful warm night tonight, which is fitting for the spring equinox, I suppose.  I happened to take a visit to the vegetable garden tonight (I’ve been hard at work there lately, digging and planting) when I heard a commotion from the pond in our neighbour’s garden.  Shining the torch, I could see that there were dozens of toads sitting on the damp grass and splashing in the water.

Common toad - Bufo bufo

It is obviously toad mating time again – there was no doubt what some of the toads were doing.

The fascinating thing was the noise they were making.  I’ve never heard toads sing like this before, but they really did make quite a noise.  Here is a recording I made (turn your volume up) that captures the sound:

I’ve seen toads mating here in previous years, but the sheer number this year made it quite a spectacle.  For a species in decline it was good to see them obviously thriving here.  Hats off to my neighbour for having such a good wildlife pond in his garden.

Mrs BWM made the find of the evening when she came across a small newt on the edge of the pond.  I’m not a newt expert by any means, so I’m not sure what species it is.  I’ll look it up in the guidebooks when I get a chance.

NewtI remember reading somewhere that newts will eat frog- and toad-spawn, so perhaps it wasn’t as innocent as it looked.

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It’s been a quiet weekend because the whole family has been poorly with another cold.  I haven’t ventured far out at all, despite the nice weather, opting instead to sit inside under a blanket and feel sorry for myself.   We used to be so fit and healthy, but as soon as young Scarlett started going to nursery we’ve succumbed to every single bug and virus that’s gone around.  ‘Scarlett fever’ – ha ha!

As a result of my moping, the only little snippet I can add to the body of naturalist knowledge this week is a picture of the droppings of a Chinese Water Deer from the garden.  It isn’t much, but they’re not a common deer species so it’s useful to have a record.

Chinese Water Deer Droppings

Chinese Water Deer Droppings - scale in cm

The Handbook says this of the scat of Chinese Water Deer: ‘Usually1.0-1.5cm long x 0.5-1.0cm wide; not normally aggregated, black or dark brown, cylindrical, pointed at one end, rounded at other.

So now you know, should you ever come across any…

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