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Archive for the ‘Wildlife – land’ Category

He (or she – I never did try to find out) seemed quite content with the daily rhythm of feed, weigh and cage and there were no more unexpected (scary) episodes. Continuing to take advice from the Hare Preservation Trust and Susan McClure, I followed feeding instructions relating to age and weight and approached weaning with some trepidation.

I introduced a wide variety of the right grasses, herbs and a few treats (pea pods turned out to be a real favourite) and began to reduce his milk. Feeding time was twice a day, at about 7am and 6-7pm because those are likely the times that hares will naturally feed in the wild.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe objected strongly to the reduction in milk delivery – when I’d taken it down to about 25mls once a day, it disappeared so fast that his head was going backwards and forwards obviously wondering where the heck the rest was. When, within a day or two, I stopped the milk completely, he butted my hand as I took out the previous delivery of uneaten grass, clearly – even in a hare-y way – looking for his bottle. That only lasted a day or two and I assuaged his need (and my mild guilt) with a couple of pea pods treats on arrival.

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Releasing him was now high on the To Do list. He was completely weaned, in a very large cage with lumps of wood to gnaw on and pieces of turf that I’d dug up from the garden to give him the right environment to hunker down during the day. Hares position themselves in a scrape or ‘form’ in a field, ideally near a few tussocks of grass so that their profile is less visible. When I arrived in the evening, if I could sidle up without him hearing me – he’d be up immediately and in his ‘dining area’ waiting for room service if he did – he’d be tucked down between two of these tussocks. If he’d been in a field, he’d have been very difficult to spot.

He was a good size – I’d stopped weighing him as I didn’t want to handle him at all – and I was confident he was good to go… but where? Happily, a few years earlier we’d met a British guy who had a stable of heavy horses about 30 minutes away. He made hay once a year with these horses, no silage (silaging particularly kills leverets because it scalps the ground and the leverets don’t know to get out of the way) and left wild field margins which weren’t cut. He used no pesticides and didn’t allow hunting. Hunting (locals, out every week, with dogs and guns) was the main reason that release at La Fosse wasn’t ideal – I wanted to give Grunty the maximum chance of a long life. And there were already hares on the land thus indicating it was a good environment for them.

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So one sultry August afternoon, we popped Grunty with some of his bedding (to give him a sense – and scent – of familiarity) into a cat carrier. He seemed entirely unperturbed by the unusual activity or the car journey itself and we drove him over to Richard’s. We walked across a couple of fields and while Patrick and Richard chatted, I walked on a bit further into the uncut field margin and opened the cat carrier several metres from a hedge. Grunty came out himself – with no particular urgency but looked around with interest. I gave him a peapod or two, put the straw and hay from the cat carrier in a dip under some bracken and left him to it.

As I packed up the cat carrier and walked away, he ambled away from me, snatching a mouthful of leaves as he went. He didn’t look back. It was an entirely uneventful release and I do feel that we prepared him for a life under the open sky as well as we could.

It was a fascinating exercise – it was one thing reading up about what I needed to do but it turned out Grunty hadn’t always read the same websites so, particularly for the first few weeks when I was trying to figure out the best feeding regime, it was difficult to get right… to do things in a way that a hare’s instincts told him he needed. I second-guessed myself a lot. It would have been very tempting to try and turn him into a semi-wild pet… so many books we read as children encourage us to do that with rabbits, otters, birds… But I was sure that the best way to equip him for the future was not to take away or dull his instincts – in particular his instinctive wariness of humans so I handled him and was around him as little as possible.

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Oh, and apparently, a leveret doesn’t become a hare till its first birthday, regardless of how big it is. 😉

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I’d been warned that it would not be an easy task as hares are animals that are easily stressed and if stressed, won’t eat. And then their surprisingly delicate digestive system packs up and they die.

It seemed logical to me to provide the leveret with the same sort of environment as it would have with its mother when feeding – open air, open skies… but it wasn’t very successful and if even a bird flew over, he would stop feeding from the syringe, freeze, and I wouldn’t be able to encourage him to start again.

Then, analysing further – channelling my inner hare – I guessed that leverets would certainly be in the open air but probably had their heads stuck under Mama Hare’s furry underparts so they could reach the milk dispensers. In which case they wouldn’t be able to see anything and even their hearing would be dulled. So I started feeding him inside one of the downstairs rooms at La Fosse – which was still under construction but unsurprisingly, your average leveret doesn’t care about half-finished plasterboarding or droopy insulation… or even a lack of the now mandatory “pops of colour”. Result: the feeding routine began to work perfectly. So perfectly that, when he graduated from syringe to bottle, he was so focussed and fast that I had to pull him off the teat momentarily so he could swallow and breathe, before he latched on again and finished the bottle.

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Letting him guzzle too quickly risked him inhaling milk which would lead to a lung infection – a really bad thing – so it was a balance between him getting the occasional controlled breath but not pausing long enough for him to lose interest. I believe that the mother will only stay with the leverets long enough to feed them before she’s off again so perhaps a leveret instinctively believes feeding time is over if the milk source is removed for more than a few seconds. He then cannot be persuaded to start again.

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The process at feeding time was to collect him from his dog crate in a piece of towelling that he’d used from day 1 so had all the right, familiar scents, carry him indoors in towel in a basket, feed him, weigh him, and return him back to his nest. This eventually took a maximum of 3-4 minutes each time so adhering to my principle of keeping him as unhandled and unaccustomed to humans as possible. I was the only one who fed him – again in an attempt to prevent him assuming all humans were a food source.

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There were a few hiccups along the way – although we put additional wire mesh around the dog crate so that, when tiny, he couldn’t nip out through the wire, when he was about 3 weeks old, one night he tried climbing the wire and pushing through the bars. He got stuck. When I went out to him the following morning, he was just hanging, head through the bars, eyes closed. Aaaagh. I forced the bars apart, popped his head back through and held him while he woke up. He’d rubbed the fur off his hind legs – scrabbling with them to get through and then, when that didn’t work, to get free but he took his bottle with great enthusiasm and appeared not to be any the worse for his experience. The chicken wire was extended up the crate during his breakfast. On another occasion he managed to slip underneath the bottom of the tray and out into the undergrowth but fortunately Patrick was on hand to capture him and pop him back. Gaps were plugged immediately.

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He continued to grow and then it was time to wean him off milk and onto grasses and other herbage. He was not amused.

Part III to follow.

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Early autumn is usually gorgeous here… a little mist swirling in the valley in the mornings… sun appearing later on to burn off the swirls and the air being clear and crisp. The silence can be a little surprising, though. Summer harvest has more or less finished and the maize crop has another 4 – 6 weeks to stand so there are few combines and tractors working – mechanical sounds are at a minimum.

The birds are either migrating or in the middle of growing back their feathers after the end of breeding season moult. They’re not as territorial and any second broods have fledged and there’s no noisy defending of nesting areas or of partners.

So, walking up the road from the voie verte this morning and walking very softly on the verge so that I didn’t disturb the silence, I was mildly surprised to see a fox jump onto the road ahead of me. But then it moved and I could see it wasn’t a fox but a young deer… then another arrived and finally the doe came out onto the road.  The air was still, no breeze, so there was no chance of them picking up our scent, we stood still and made no sound and just watched.

They ambled towards Pepper and me for a minute of so, pulling at grass on the way, before jumping up into the maize field and melting into the crop.

We do see deer in the fields here occasionally. Not so much up here, close to the village, but often when I’m down in the valley I see them on the field margins alongside the woods. Hunting started last weekend – men with guns and dogs… with the dogs ranging up to half a kilometre from their owners who make no attempt to control them; these animals may well have been disturbed by the activity.

Seeing the deer like that was one of those magical moments that happen when you’re least expecting them. Heartwarming.

Of course, I had no camera with me…

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It hasn’t been a loooong winter… it’s really been a fairly mild winter… but the last month or so has been cold and unfortunately without the main benefit of cold weather: sunny days with bright blue skies. It has been all grey mist and / or cloud day after day with a light mizzle in the air that isn’t really rain – but makes my hair go frizzy just the same.

However, today was sunny. Not only sunny but warm. I had a sweatshirt on… along with the mandatory long-sleeved thermal vest. And this afternoon, glory be… I was too hot. Yay. Could this be byebye thermal vest?! Probably not.

This evening has been nice too. A long, slow twilight and the air is still dry – which is good, because I’ve been distracted by other things and haven’t finished getting my washing in. Line dried bed linen. It smells gorgeous. But, what really told me that small things are responding to the increasing day length and also the warmth: I heard a midwife toad for the first time this year.

I’ve written about the midwife toad previously so rather than repeat myself I will link (click below) but I wanted to share with everyone the fact that spring 2012 has arrived in this beautiful part of Normandy. I know this because The Peeper just told me so.

https://lafosse.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/the-peeper-is-back/

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I love my cats dearly but a while ago I came to the reluctant decision that when our resident felines go the way of all pets over the next 10 – 15 years, we will not have any more cats. They decimate the local wildlife and it’s no good being thrilled by the successful fledging of a clutch of beady-eyed baby swallows if they end up as feathery toys for the cats. Deceased feathery toys.

We have chickens, they’re pretty free-range and have a very nice life. But I’ve seen them legging down the terrace with a wildly wriggling slow worm in their beak. I’ve hoped that it was the discarded tail of a slow worm that had survived to heal and live another day but I wasn’t convinced.

Today I was treated to a very Tom and Jerry incident with two of the newbie chickens, one of whom had got herself a frog. I’m very fond of all our amphibians – many of whom use / have used the pond as a staging post at some point in their careers. Seeing a well-fed chicken doing the velociraptor thing is a bit… unfortunate. Not to say disconcerting!

Chicken run

The energy expended by Dilys and Vera fighting each other for the frog and fighting Hermès off along the way – as he tried to establish his rule by climbing on for a quick bonk while they were otherwise occupied – was remarkable… and went on for some time. The frog was long since dead.

It’s fine that I want to protect small mammals and birds from cats honing their hunting skills before they veg out for the afternoon on a comfy sofa but these free-range chickens are removing many beneficial insects from right around the house. Seeing Céline casually pluck a beautiful blue butterfly from the air as it fluttered past (I’d not seen a blue butterfly around here before and I was pursuing it myself with my camera) was disappointing, to say the least.

Wherever man (or woman) interferes with introduced beasts, something always suffers. Where’s the compromise between free-range chickens and the safety of wildlife around the house? Dunno, but I shall give it some thought.

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Walking the dog this evening, I suddenly realised that the crickets were back. Hot summer afternoons and evenings – not so much the mornings – it’s almost impossible not to feel relaxed and in need of a glass of chilled white – or rosé – wine as you sit and listen to the crickets and grasshoppers rubbing their song into the still, warm air.

Most years they arrive once there’s been some late spring warmth – so that’s May. But this year’s exceptionally warm spring has brought them out earlier and tonight, there they were. Invisible but loud. Definitely a sign that I should get that chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc out of the fridge, add a dollop of crème de Cassis… and wish the season good health.

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Regular visitors to this blog will be used to seeing the photo of the female glow worm, second from the right, at the top of the screen. You probably so used to it, you don’t even see it any more.

We’re lucky enough to see plenty of glow worms during their mating season. They glow at us at night as we walk along the drive and out onto the road verges, but I’ve never seen a glow worm larva before. It looks exactly like the adult but is about 1 cm in size – probably a quarter or less of the size of the adult. I found it in the chicken enclosure and only spotted it because I was harvesting quantities of grass, plantain and dandelion for la famille Lapin so I was staring down at the grass at the right moment.

Glow worm larva - Lampyris noctiluca

I relocated it outside the chicken enclosure in an area that I’m pretty sure that they rarely scratch over. I put it down near a stone under which there were several snails. For a Really Good Thing about glow worm larvae is that they eat snails. Small ones usually, not the big juicy ones that decimate my flowers and vegetables… but a gardener’s  life is rarely perfect.

Their snail attack MO is to latch on to a snail perhaps on it’s back, inject it with enzymes, disolve the snail and suck it dry in the process.  As they spend two summers in the larval form, that’s a lot of snails they can remove. A very worthwhile addition to any garden.

The second thing to say about glow worms is that they aren’t – they’re not worms, they’re beetles. The wingless female is the wormy looking version but the male is quite distinctly beetle like. He does fly on his quest to see the light, but not strongly – he flutters rather than flies, in a moth-like way.

It’s the female that lights up to attract the male. Other than hoping to mate, they lead a rather sad adult life… during the glowing and mating phase, the female shines her light for two to three weeks, mates, lays her eggs and then, exhausted through glowing and not eating, she dies. The adults don’t eat during this phase of their lifecycle hence their rather limited lifespan.

The larvae can emit light – though I’ve been out and looked and couldn’t see anything tonight – but oddly enough it’s recorded that the eggs can emit light too.

Link to a great site with information about the glow worm’s lifecycle:

http://members.fortunecity.com/glowworm1/life_cycle.htm#LARVAE

As an aside, it’s interesting how many creatures don’t last very long once they have reached their breeding stage. The dragonflies that I love to watch down at the pond in summer have an adult lifespan of about 2 – 3 months. They can spend as many as 7 years in their nymph / larva stage skulking at the bottom of the pond but once they’re adults, the end is in sight.

As it is with the little glow worm. Two years eating and growing… before a mating season of a few weeks on starvation rations. Maybe it’s an insect thing.

;

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