Walking in the footsteps of Gilbert White, the Ranscombe Farm Wildlife Study Group set forth to observe living animals and plants in their natural habitat.
Unlike the famous, eighteenth century naturalist - the first to formally describe the Harvest Mouse - we knew that we had little chance of seeing one. In winter their ‘grand rendezvous’, according to Gilbert White, were corn ricks or perhaps ‘warm beds of grass’ in underground burrows. The scarcity of the former habitat in modern-day farming and perhaps the inaccuracy of the latter report means that we are not entirely sure where Harvest Mice go in the winter in the 21st century!
However, on our November field trip we hoped to see where Harvest Mice had spent some of their summer at Ranscombe Farm by finding their nests, which White called ‘most artificially platted’. And how delightful to find three nests in the tall grasses, thistle and bramble margins of Cobham Field.
Amazingly crafted spherical structures, about the size of a tennis ball, intricately woven from blades of grass with the tell-tale split ends to the leaf blades, but no door! Gilbert White described rolling a nest - ‘a wonderful procreant cradle’ - across a table. And despite the nest containing eight little naked and blind mice, the nest rolled ‘without being discomposed’!
By spending time crouched over, prodding at vegetation with our sticks to reveal the nests we even begin to start thinking like Harvest Mice. Where would be a desirable location for my nest?
We began to spot likely areas of larger, sturdy grasses growing amongst brambles, with a rigid scaffolding of vertical and horizontal stems on which to secure our home. We’re not just going to build on a single, flimsy upright stem which will crash around in the wind and rain!
And our third nest found was amazing, a delightful conversion, an upgraded whitethroat nest. The Harvest Mouse nest forming the acorn to the acorn cup of the whitethroat’s one. Gilbert White would have liked it I’m sure, he being the first to describe the Harvest Mouse and well known for his work on distinguishing warblers.
Keep your eyes peeled in the arable margins…
Harvest Mouse lover and Ranscombe Farm Wildlife Study Group member - Colour in the Margins.
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