Wildlife in Belstone May 2020

Nature Notes by Robin Hill

Chris Walpole spotted two red kites circling over the Great Green early yesterday morning and managed to get a distant (as he says “rather grainy”) photo. Several other residents have also let us know that they have also seen them. It is great that these lovely birds are now being seen down here in Devon.

I have been checking dormouse boxes in the Skaigh Valley. I found only one dormouse (not unusual at this time of year) but lots of blue tit nests. I usually work with Peter Radlett as we are both licenced dormouse handlers and monitor the 50 boxes in the Skaigh Valley but, obviously, we cannot work together at present. However, over the last few years, we have certainly helped the blue tit numbers in Belstone, as most years about half of our fifty boxes have blue tits in them – in a good year that can be something like 100 baby blue tits. The babies have usually fledged before the dormice move in and seem quite happy to build their nest on top of the blue tit one. (Ecologically friendly house sharing?)

Before opening a box, we listen out for buzzing noises which may indicate a colony of tree bumblebees. They have a liking for nesting in bird boxes and dormouse boxes and can be quite defensive if disturbed. As you can imagine, them flying out of the nest in some numbers is quite intimidating! I found two boxes with tree bumble bees in, both of which appeared to be in Dormouse nests. I think that it is possible that they will evict blue tits and maybe dormice from a suitable box. A tell-tale sign of bee activity is yellow splodges of bee faeces on the outside of the box.

The warm weather has brought out the grass snakes and most days we are finding one or two on our compost heap, a favourite breeding site. Eggs are laid in June/July with the compost heap providing a great incubator. They also like the garden pond, where they can sometimes be seen in the water waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting frog or newt.

Finally, a little word of warning – ticks seem very prolific this year and I have already removed about a dozen ticks from different parts of my body! Also we have had to regularly give the cats and dogs their flea/tick treatment.