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Mammal Report for 2006

by Michael Thompson

I have had another year of declining records, not only fewer species but also fewer of any one species. What significance can be read into such a finding is hard to say. Could it be that there are fewer mammals about or that the membership has not taken note, especially when one species, such as the mole, is so common that it does not seem worth recording its presence? Word for word, this introduction is similar to that of the 2005 report, when 21 species were recorded compared with 16 for this year.

Hedgehog records are mostly of ‘dead on the road’ with seven such sightings from Howkeld, Welburn, Sutton Bank, Thornton-le-Dale, Hutton-le-Hole, Bransdale at 250 metres elevation and the Surprise View, Gillamoor. Live hedgehogs were recorded regularly in a garden in Kirkbymoorside through the summer, including young, and adult hedgehogs were present in the gardens behind Railway Street, Slingsby. The Bransdale record was interesting for obviously there were adequate prey items for it in a moorland habitat. With milder weather conditions in November at Hutton-le-Hole, hedgehogs were still out and about on 14th (although they were found dead), when normally they would be in hibernation. Is this a phenomenon to be expected with climate change? 2006’s nine records compare with 17 for 2005; indicative of a declining species or lack of recording – or is the hedgehog more successful at crossing the road?

Mole records were mentioned by four members, in spite of this being Britain’s most common mammal. They were active around Gilling Pastures, especially after a cold spell in December. A dead mole was found along Swinherd Lane, Kirkbymoorside and they were described as being very common around Sykes House and Rudland Rigg. Moles inhabit the sheep walk overlooking Slingsby and it was there, early in the year, that the BBC TV presenter, Bill Oddie, filmed a sequence for the BBC programme Spring Watch on moles. Six common shrews were found dead in June, at regular intervals, along the road verge of Swinherd Lane, outside Kirkbymoorside. Just before that the recorder had been watching a stoat in the same area. The road verge was a good shrew habitat and the shrews had possibly been killed by the stoat, but rejected because they are unpleasant to eat. A dead shrew was found at a road verge at Gilling in June and along a woodland track in July and one was seen crossing a road at Castle Howard. Another 6 common shrews, along with a water shrew, were trapped alive at Norton Ings in August by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s children Norton Watch Group, with the help of members of the Yorkshire Mammal Group. There were no reports of any pygmy shrews.

The Natterer’s bat saga still rumbles on, the colony remains active at Ellerburn Church, much to the annoyance of the parishoners. In June a count of over 70 bats was recorded. Attempts to encourage the bats to used the cavity created by boarding up the lynch gate roof have, so far, failed. Permission from Natural England to remove the bats has not been successful. A single Natterer’s was seen at Muscoates. Common pipistrelles were recorded at Nunnington and Ellerburn. The annual Daubenton’s bat survey on the River Rye at Nunnington in August produced a lower count in‘bat passes’, down to 162 from 216 in 2005. It is too early to say if this finding is significant.

drawing of hareBrown hare records for 2006 have been more numerous; this mammal is well established in the Gilling area with many sightings from April to August. Often seen around Sykes House and the grass fields around Whitwell-on-the-Hill well into October. Reports received from Slingsby, Ganthorpe, Aislaby, Muscoates, Bulmer and between Normanby and Great Barugh. The rabbit, in spite of it being a common mammal, is grossly under recorded. It is described as being plentiful around Sykes House and present at Stonegrave and Kirkbymoorside.

Grey squirrels, again a common species, were under reported with records from Slingsby in February and Whitwell in June only. Two female bank voles were trapped at Norton Ings in August and a single one recorded along the disused railway track at Slingsby. Other Watch Group findings were two adult male wood mice and an adult harvest mouse. The Ings site is changing favourably in character, indicated by increased number and variety of small mammals, including the exciting find of the harvest mouse. The Helmsley site failed to produce any dormice in October 2006 in the boxes, although fresh nesting material was found in four boxes indicating that there were dormice in the vicinity; a single dormouse was found mid-July. The annual downward trend in numbers of this rodent locally has also occurred elsewhere in England, the decline being attributed to food shortages, fragmentation of habitat and adverse climate change. Although re- established in North Yorkshire, the dormouse’s future is not assured. Brown rats seem to be present in great numbers from general reports by the public, but only one record from Fryton was received.

A stoat in half ermine was sighted at Whitwell in February and one observed skating on ice at Sykes House. One recorder watched a stoat killing a rabbit on Rigg Ridge and another observed a stoat exploring the river at Kirkdale. Weasel were sighted at Easthorpe, Whitwell in June and September when one was sighted carrying young; also from Gilling fields and a dead specimen on the road near Hutton-le-Hole. Badgers were observed alive around Gilling and Riccal Moor Lane near Harome, but otherwise the remaining records were of road casualties from Coulton road, Brandrith and Great Barugh. There is evidence that otters are present on Ryedale’s rivers; one was found dead at Marton during the year. A juvenile red fox was seen in October near Hutton-le- Hole and also recorded from Gilling.

Roe deer seemed to be well established around Gilling with several records, including a young buck with small horns present in May. Others in small numbers from Slingsby, Brandrith Wood, Bulmer Hagg and Black Sike. They are described as common around Sykes House and reported from Harome and Pasture House near Nunnington.

Records received from Andrea Cooper, Marian Tierney, Tom and Janet Denney, Jim Pewtress, Gill Smith, Basil Rickatson, Gordon Woodroffe and Michael Thompson.

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