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Mammal Report 1998

by Michael Thompson

For my first Mammal Report I have received a number of records from members but I hope over a period of time I will receive more. Unlike the Bird Report I have not reported what has been recorded month by month, but, instead, according to the mammal classification orders, starting with the Insectivores. Live hedgehogs frequented Slingsby’s gardens, but numerous dead ones were seen on Ryedale’s roads, especially the well-used roads. Moles are described as widespread and active, especially in the fields between Kirkbymoorside and Gillamoor. Common shrew was reported from the south part of the area covered by the Society. Of the bats, Daubenton’s bats were numerous at Nunnington, along with pipistrelle 45 khz bats. Both species were flying over the River Rye and were recorded as part of the National Daubenton’s bat survey carried out by Rob Caton and I, on behalf of the Bat Conservation Trust, on the evening of 20th August. Pipistrelle 45 khz were regularly recorded at Slingsby.

Rabbits are described as widespread, with large populations in Bransdale during the winter. Brown hare reports have come from the edges of Gilling Woods, south-west of Ampleforth, Byland Abbey, Kirkbymoorside, Gillamoor, Howardian Hills, Nunnington and Hovingham. I write elsewhere about my involvment in the national survey of the status of the brown hare. Other rodents have been recorded during 1998 such as grey squirrel and the brown rat, with numerous sightings of both species. Of the smaller rodents recorded, the most interesting was a harvest mouse brought in dead by Laura Winter’s cat at Norton, (outside the Society’s area, but still worth noting). When scything our meadow at Slingsby on 29th August we found numerous bank vole nests, some containing blind young, along with several field voles. It may be significant but I got no reports of water vole from our area from the membership, but I know that this species is in serious decline. If any member has any sighting or evidence of this vole, please do contact me. Of the carnivores, foxes were sighted at Sinnington, Kirkbymoorside, Nunnington, Rievaulx, Hutton-le-Hole and Slingsby. American mink footprints were found on the edge of Wath Beck on 27th January. According to Gordon Woodroffe otters are still to be found on the river systems in our area. There are several records of weasels and stoats: weasels from Gilling. Low Park. Kirkbymoorside,and Slingsby, and stoat records from Gilling, the golf course at Kirkbymoorside, Kirkdale, Sinnington, Harome and Bransdale. Several active badger sets were recorded, notably in Slingsby where one was found in a disused sand quarry which is now to be partially developed as an extension to a caravan site. The deer family records for 1998 are of roe deer only, with records from South Holme, Slingsby, Gilling Woods, Low Park, Sinnington, Farndale, Helmsley, Nunnington, Ampleforth, Wass, Old Byland, Cropton Forest, Hawnby, Kilburn and Lastingham. Of all the mammals this seems to be the best recorded. I received records from Gill Smith, Jim Pewtress, Gordon Woodroffe, John Farquhar, Michael Rowntree and others to supplement my own records.

It is now known that there are two species of pipistrelle, distinguished by the pitch of their echo-locating squeaks – one uses a frequency of 45 kilohertz, the other 55 kilohertz (khz), something which might never have been known in the absence of observers with recorders. Incidentally no member records reptiles, but Michael noted a viviparous lizard on the Cleveland Way near Boltby, and I found a slow worm in Gilling Woods. If any member has records of reptilesor amphibia let us have them for the newsletter. [Ed.]

Continuing the mammal story, Gordon Woodroffe confirms that otters are colonising the river systems of the Esk and Derwent – but it is sad that some of the evidence comes from road casualties. An otter found near Helmsley had been caught in a snare and had died of starvation: she was a lactating female, so her family presumably died too.

Gordon reaffirms the serious decline in the number of water voles to which we drew attention in a previous Newsletter – he and Michael would be very pleased to hear of any sightings. Equally worrying, though much less obvious, is the decline in the numbers of two small common mammals, the field vole and the common shrew. The evidence comes from the remains of over 50,000 small mammals in barn owl pellets by Mammal Society volunteers – but barn owls are not the only predators who depend on small mammals. Even if they are still ‘common’ their numbers may be inadequate to support polulations further up the food chain – one is reminded of the impact of sand-eel fishing on populations of puffins and guillemots. The Mammal Society is planning further research. The mention of puffins highlights the sharp contrast between the size and wealth of the RSPB and the Mammal Society. I suppose most of the readers of this Newsletter belong to RSPB. Why don’t we join the Mammal Society as well? Full membership is £20 a year, and £10 for pensioners and students. Families can join for £25 and the gift of membership to a young relative, which would only cost £6, might lead to a lifetime’s interest. Gordon and Michael have application forms.

Lorna and Gordon add that they are enjoying nightly visits from a badger to their garden in Sinnington. Peanut butter seems to satisfy him but he was beaten to it by a fox who came during the short spell of snow before Christmas.

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