It was a bit of a shock – even for a naturalist! The bird feeders needed filling up so I went to the shed where the seed is stored. It’s kept in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. I opened it and there – perched fatly on the heaps of plenty – was a mouse. The slippery sides of the bin were unscalable, the lid securely shut, so how did it get in and, more urgently, how should I get it out? I tried to catch it in a scoop, but it easily evaded me, scooting in circles over the shifting grain. Finally I captured it in an old ice-cream box, but, as I lifted the box with a view to releasing the intruder into the garden, it gave a mighty leap, landed on the floor and shot off into the tangle of tools at the back of the shed. I decided to leave it in peace: it had got in, doubtless it had its own way out.
My guest was a house mouse – smaller ears, heavier build and longer tail than the wood mouse, the rodent one might expect to move into sheds in the winter. A wood mouse would have also been a much more athletic challenge. They have long, strong back legs and big feet, and move in great leaps. I remember watching one gleaning beneath a friend’s bird table. It made sorties from the cover of a nearby bush, seizing a seed and retiring again like a miniature kangaroo.
Our British fauna contains a number of different small rodents – often quite difficult for the amateur to tell apart. One of the best ways for me has been attending Open Days at Otley Wetlands Reserve where the mice and vole population is monitored by humane trapping, a procedure governed by strict regulations to ensure least possible distress to the captive. As the traps are emptied you get a really good look at the catch. Most often this is a bank vole -small ears, a rounded chubby face and short tail. Sometimes it’s a common shrew – not a rodent at all but an insectivore, like moles and hedgehogs. Shrews are tiny, have long pointed snouts and live life in the fast lane. They dash around their territory, snapping up prey and attacking any rash intruder. Not surprisingly, they need a constant food supply to keep going