A Mammal Walk in Allerthorpe Woods

Yesterday I went on a Mammal Walk with the Yorkshire Mammal Group around Allerthorpe Woods, which is very much my ‘local patch’. Going round a familiar area with a group of experts is rewarding. They showed me things I’d have missed otherwise and with my local knowledge I was able to show them a few things too.

Mammals were distinctly thin on the ground, but we look for tracks and signs rather than the animals themselves. The woods are full of little piles of chewed pine cones, produced by the grey squirrels. Most of the animal tracks are of domestic dogs, of many varieties, but here and there we could pick out the slots of roe deer. The deer come into the woods overnight and disappear to quieter corners as soon as the dog walkers arrive in the morning. We found frog spawn in a muddy puddle and saw my first adder of the year, basking in the weak sunshine on the side of a ditch.

I took the group into the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve, to the tree with the barn owl box, as I knew one member was particularly interested in owl pellets. He picked up a good collection which will be meticulously analysed to determine which species of mouse, vole or shrew the owls have been eating.

After lunch in the reserve, we took a footpath across the fields towards Allerthorpe village. We’d hoped to see hares in the fields here, but they had all been newly cultivated for turf growing, which is carried out on an industrial scale in this area. We found only vast areas of bare soil, with not a blade of grass for any hare to eat. A flock of yellowhammers were finding seeds in the soil and a couple of buzzards circled overhead. A gruesome find was a collection of dead rooks lying at the side of one field. One had a curiously deformed beak, which it had evidently managed to live with.

A murder of rooks (and a jackdaw)

Survival against the odds, for a while

After coffee in the village, we returned along another footpath through Allerthorpe Woods, passing a deserted badger sett. A few years ago, I was monitoring activity at two setts in these woods. The Forestry Commission have been clearing some areas of the plantation and thinning out other areas, using heavy machinery. Both badger setts were in areas that have been thinned out and in each case, although the sett itself did not appear to have been damaged, the disturbance in the immediate vicinity was too much for the badgers to cope with and they deserted the sett. I don’t know where they went to, but I hope they’ve found another site, far from human disturbance.

Badger at a now deserted sett

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