Easy As Falling Off a Bike pt 3169

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The Daily Dormouse.
(aka Bike, est. 2007)
Part 3169
by Angharad

Copyright© 2017 Angharad


This is a work of fiction any mention of real people, places or institutions is purely coincidental and does not imply that they are as suggested in the story.

I explained to Dan that we had some rookies amongst our checkers and that before we went much further, we’d need to run through the procedure for doing so. He was fine with that as was Tim.

It’s simple and designed to minimise the risk to the dormouse at the same time prevent escape of said muscardine. The hole is blocked, the lid loosened of its fixing wire and slid across slightly to enable the checker to see if there is any nesting material or a mouse in the box. If there is, the box is taken down and placed in a large clear bag on the ground and the lid removed. It has to be on the ground because dormice can come flying out of the box and babies can easily get crushed if they come out—think turbo charged cocktail sausages. The boxes can be quite heavy and could also hurt or even kill an adult mouse as well.

Next, the sleeve of the checker is rolled up, as dormice are nifty climbers and will run up clothing as easily as they do a tree branch. Then the nesting material is checked, this happens even if a dormouse has come out of the box as they sometimes occur in pairs or even more than that. The checking is done by feeling down the corners and then in the centre. If it’s a dormouse nest they usually have a central chamber and an entrance from the side.

If all inhabitants are out of the box, it is removed from the bag and the dormice are chased to a corner and caught individually, examined briefly, sexed and then weighed. They are then usually checked with a tag reader and if chipped the number recorded as well as the weight and box number. Non chipped ones may then be clipped or chipped if someone is licensed to do these procedures. Clipping is done with scissors and a patch of hair is removed and the site recorded. It was the way we marked dormice before pit tags were available, which are similar to the ones they put in dogs and cats to identify them. As the hair regrows, the tags are really the only permanent way of identifying individual animals over any period of time.

Once everything has been recorded, the dormice are replaced in the box after the lid has been replaced and the bung replaced. The box is then replaced on the tree and the bung removed. It usually only takes a few minutes and the dormice aren’t too traumatised by it. In the case of clipping or tagging, that takes longer and can cause some trauma to the animal but a good operator can do that as well as the other things in a few minutes.

We ran through the procedure for each of the newbies and then started the check, some fifty boxes. The first few I spent watching the checkers more than the boxes and it has to be admitted that even experienced checkers can drop the mouse or have it hop out of their hands at any stage. If that happens, everyone stands still until it runs up a tree and isn’t stepped on.

Apart from dormice, there are other things which can turn up in the boxes. Wood mice are regular squatters, sometimes taking over an old dormouse nest or making their own, if the mess of dead leaves and other debris can be considered a nest. Blue tits, great tits and wrens have all been known to use dormouse boxes for their nests and so have some of the hymenoptera—that’s bees and wasps to you. If one of these nests in the box, close the lid quickly and get away fast, then from a safe distance note the number of the box to warn future checkers. Actually you should make records of every box, even the empty ones, especially if doing a site on the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. You also have to record times of the survey, dates and people participating and who was leading. The paperwork can take longer than the survey.

By box number thirty, we were well into the routine, even the new checkers were getting the hang of it and we’d found a couple of nests in boxes but no inhabitants. That was about to change. Connor, one of the new ones volunteered to check the next box which had nest material in it. We got the box off the tree and the lid was removed. Nothing came out of the box so he rolled up his sleeve and started to poke around the periphery of the nest then we all jumped but not as much as he did, pulling out his hand with a yellow necked mouse firmly embedded by its teeth in his finger, which was also bleeding. Dan videoed it so I expect it’s on You tube by now. Boy, did he swear, no not Dan, he was too busy laughing, but Connor certainly did.

I removed said yellow necked mouse from his finger by grabbing it at the scruff, which also protected my fingers from the bitey bit in the front of the mouse and showed the yellowish band around the front of the neck of the animal and from which they get their name. Once everyone had seen our little ‘carnivore’ including Connor, who now thought it was funny and had wrapped a clean tissue round his wound. The mouse was then shoved back in his nest and the box was re-secured to the tree and the bung taken out I then dressed Connor’s finger after washing it with clean water from my drinking bottle.

We eventually had two dormice but the new people declined to poke the nests after Connor’s injury—wimps. A mouse bite does hurt a bit but skin pricks or rips from bramble thorns or those on blackthorn are much more likely dangers or stings from nettles than man-eating rodents; especially when the hedges or under-storey grows from May onwards. Both the dormice had previously been chipped by me a year or two ago, so I didn’t need to do that and it gave evidence of the most basic sort that dormice live longer than a year—if they don’t die before hand. Two thirds die in hibernation either from insufficient fat stores or predation. During the active part of the year, tawny owls are possibly the biggest danger, being primarily a woodland bird.

Mission accomplished we returned to the visitor centre, the one named after Billie, and had coffees and chocolate biscuits. Connor now just laughed when he held up his damaged finger and said he was up for more. Of the other newbies, one decided it wasn’t for him and the other said she’d come out with us again. I did mention my daughters have helped me in the past aged ten and thirteen and they weren’t worried about mouse bites. Our dissenter blushed and said he’d made his mind up so that was that.


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