What's going on Our blog Nature news - 31st Aug Header photo Barry Mason Insects and animals Our volunteers run small mammal traps throughout the year (unless it’s too hot/cold) to monitor what small mammals we have in the Park - it’s totally harmless, they just have to sit in a box for a few hours with a snack, until we let them out (you’ll see from the photos below). We find lots of common shrews in the Park (they’re one of the most common mammals in the UK) - they’re very small as it is, and only grow up to 14g, but amazingly they actually shrink in winter. They lose an incredible 10-20% of their body mass to conserve energy, shrinking their brain and skull in the process. You’ll find them in woodlands, hedgerows and grasslands though they tend to get snapped up by owls pretty quickly and don’t have a particularly long life span (a year, on average). They do have one trick up their sleeve however - they produce a liquid from glands on their skin which tastes awful, so many predators end up leaving them. The water shrew looks similar, albeit darker in colour, but it’s actually the biggest shrew in the UK. They generally live off aquatic food like freshwater shrimps, water skaters and caddis larvae (they have thick fur, so can dive even in mid-winter) but they can also feed on land, on worms and snails (which they pounce on from their burrows). Try not to get bitten by one - they are actually venomous and although it isn’t hugely dangerous, it would give you a nasty rash. Not many mammals can produce venom to stun their prey - they’re not quite as cute and fluffy as they look! Shrew and water shrew in mammal trapping boxes We’ve spotted hares and a little owl (the species, not just a small owl!) over at our Wilstead Community Woodland (if you visit, we don’t have surfaced paths there yet, so make sure you wear appropriate footwear as it’s a bit bumpy under foot). Our rangers also spotted a weasel over at Shocott Spring - they eat a third of their own body weight daily (which I can seriously relate to after lockdown…) and generally hang out in woodlands, grassland and farmland. They can easily be confused for stoats but weasels tend to be smaller, with no black, bushy tip on their tails. We won’t have butterflies for much longer, so make the most of any sightings that you get in this last few weeks of summer weather. We’ve seen small coppers out and about in the Millennium Country Park, which isn’t uncommon generally, but we don’t tend to see many there. We have a guided Butterfly Walk coming up on Thurs 10th Sept if you want to find out a bit more - spaces are limited, and you must book in advance, but it is free. Click here for more info. Small copper and weasel (Credit to Don Morris) Birds Stonechats are potentially still breeding (some get up to three broods a year) - we saw these ones perching in the Wetlands recently. Their name comes from their sharp, loud call (which is described as similar to two stones being tapped together) - they look similar to whinchats, but they are slightly darker, without pale patches. Although this video is rather autumnal, you can normally spot siskins a mile off due to their bright yellow feathers. They’re fairly common - you’ll see them more in conifer woodlands - where they like to nest - but they like mixed woodlands too. In winter you’ll spot them ganging up and feeding with other birds, like lesser redpolls and goldfinches. They love nyger seed, so stock up on that for winter, and you’ll probably spot some in your garden. This is a great video of a shoveler diving and feeding on the Pillinge - they have huge bills (not difficult to see where they get the name…) and feed on plants and insects in the water (as seen below). You’ll see more of them in winter and interestingly once breeding season is over, the males shed their colourful green feathers and turn mottled brown, like females, to better camouflage with their surroundings. This footage from 2017 shows little gulls flying over the Pillinge - they’re the smallest type of gull and generally go up north at this time year, but you might still spot them hunting for fish and insects over bodies of water. Ranger Jane recently spotted a red kite over at Shocott Spring and although she didn’t get a video - we dug out this footage from a few years ago, so you know what to look for: Forest news Sadly we had some horrific vandalism at the Millennium Country Park last week as some idiots on quad bikes thought it was a great idea to smash through four gates (which will probably cost us about £2k to fix). If you ever see something like this happening, report it straight to the police - you can imagine, it’s very frustrating for us (and other Park users) when this kind of thing happens, so we hope there’s a solution! With Storm Francis on top of that, our ranger team have been picking up fallen branches all over our sites all week. It’s not all doom and gloom however - the Volunteers have been out with our rangers, pruning wild star cherry trees over at Shocott Spring - unlike pretty much all other trees, this is best done in summer to avoid infections, as they’re highly susceptible. The idea of pruning side branches is that it helps the wood grow taller and straighter, so if the grain is good enough the timber can be used for veneers when the tree is eventually cut down. As we’ve said before - you can’t just plant trees and leave them there; they need pruning and thinning. Ultimately, a cyclical woodland economy where you sell timber/firewood and use the money to invest in more tree planting, makes the most sense. Our newly surfaced path on the Callow Mounds (by Stewartby Lake) is now finished! If you’ve ever clambered over there in wet or icy weather, you’ll appreciate this all-weather path even more. It has been very nearly done for the last year but has now had the granite fines put on top to make it smooth and accessible. We’ve also altered the permissive bridleway over at Folly Wood, so it’s a longer, safer route (with the stunning view from the top!) View from Folly Wood, Lidlington Sign up for the latest news Make sure you sign up to our newsletter to hear about what we're spotting on our sites and get some hand picked inspiration for things to do during lockdown, and keep letting us know what you've seen (click here to show us) either on our sites on your daily walk, or in your gardens!