Recording mammals can be quite hard work; we have a very impoverished mammalian fauna in the UK, and the majority of them are small, dull brown and nocturnal. It’s hardly surprising then that no systematic observation has been carried out, and that the Hambrook list is rather short. Records are very much ad hoc, none more so than the other day when a tiny, but very dead lump on the ground proved to be a pygmy shrew – our smallest mammal. Although superficially resembling a mouse or vole, it isn’t a rodent with gnawing teeth to cope with a vegetarian diet, but an insectivore with pointed teeth for eating insects, and is more closely related to bats.
A flock of 29 Canada geese (pictured) flew over on September 14th, one more than the previous record. The same day I was pleased to see a spotted flycatcher, a rapidly declining summer visitor that would have been heading south for a winter in Africa.
Daylength in late September is the same as in late March, a time when birdsong is reaching a peak. I have a theory that the minor resurgence in song at this time of year is due to some birds being fooled into believing it is early spring. So, is that why I am occasionally hearing brief bursts of wren, great tit and tree creeper song at the moment? Stock dove and wood pigeon singing may have more to do with the fact that some of these birds continue breeding well into autumn, while male and female robins set up separate territories in winter, and use belligerent song to stake out and defend their boundaries. The fact that the days are shortening is enough to prevent most birds from bursting into song, along with a reduction in testosterone in male birds, suppressing any breeding-related activity.
A single siskin flew over on September 14th; this small finch is mainly a winter visitor to Kent, and especially noticeable in early spring and autumn when it is migrating to and from breeding areas further north in Britain or on the continent. It looks as though this is turning into a bumper autumn for these charming little birds, with flocks already recorded at a number of sites locally, so some of us may well be lucky enough to have our bird feeders enlivened by twittering groups of these greenish-yellow birds.
We usually see sizeable post-breeding flocks made up of young and adult starlings in May, but then sometimes a second surge occurs around now. This month up to 57 have been seen perching on the electricity cables above the path beside Tonford field.