Late night dramas of the animal world. The nocturnal adventures of the Polecat

A lot of our native wildlife, especially mammalian, is rarely seen during daylight hours, but in the wee, small hours of the night there is a mass of activity with dramas being played out all over the place. Most of us are tucked up in bed at night and it takes a fair bit of enthusiasm and effort to venture outside on a cold wet autumn night, but it can be well worth it as Tony, our engineering head honcho discovered recently. While wandering round the back lanes late at night (I didn’t like to ask) he came across a Polecat (Mustela putorius) out on a nocturnal hunting expedition.

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Despite Wales being a stronghold for this member of the Mustiladae family, Polecats are rarely seen due to their nocturnal and rather solitary habits, although sadly they are often to be found dead at the roadside as they regularly fall victim to night-time traffic. An old name for the polecat was Foulmart or Foulmarten, which refers to the pungent smell they produce from scent glands which is used to mark out territories and also to deter larger predators which might prey on them. Probably other polecats find it very attractive as well — a sort of eau’de polecat. If you do spot one they are pretty much unmistakeable, with their dark face mask which always reminds me irresistibly of a typical, cartoon burglar (which fits in with their nocturnal prowlings). At one time they were pretty much wiped out in England due to relentless persecution by man, but they are now making a comeback although there has always been a healthy population in Wales, particularly around this area of mid- Wales. The main reason for man’s typically irrational dislike of the Polecat is that ‘it is a bloodthirsty animal which kills for the sake of killing’, which is of course our usual woolly headed, anthropomorphic, thinking. It is after all a predator and has to kill to live and if it finds itself in a chicken run with lots of plump easy to kill prey it will of course do just that, and if it had the time would drag them all off one at a time and store them up– rather like us doing a monthly shop for our groceries. Incidentally Grace discovered an injured Polecat on site a couple of years ago, which unfortunately expired overnight – so all you midnight ramblers keep your eyes open

Nature Corner

Christine was fortunate enough, a few days ago, to see close up outside her house in Corris one of the most iconic birds of the British countryside –the wonderful Barn Owl (Tyto alba). Also known as the Screech Owl due to its blood curdling shriek, (which can be enough to necessitate a change of underwear if encountered unexpectedly on a dark night) this is arguably one of the most beautiful of all British birds. Barn owls are essentially birds of the open countryside where they quarter the fields and meadows on silent wings hunting their main prey of voles, mice, rats and shrews.

Andy Vernon
Andy Vernon

They have specially adapted soft-toothed feather edges which makes their flight practically inaudible and their unsuspecting victims are taken completely unawares and usually killed outright by the strong razor sharp talons. Although Barn owls have excellent night time vision, they are also able to home in and catch their prey using only their phenomenal hearing — they have sort of lop-sided or off-set ears and the fractional difference in picking up the faint noise of a vole scurrying through the grass enables them to pinpoint its position with incredible accuracy. Their name is pretty apt as they really do like to nest in old barns, derelict houses and church towers, but they are becoming increasingly uncommon now due to intensive farming methods and the lack of suitable nesting sites. That said I have seen quite a few since I have been in Wales –usually as a ghostly white shape in car headlights late at night. If you ever get a chance to visit a bird of prey rescue centre you will often have the chance to see one of these beautiful birds close up (they are often injured if not killed by cars due to their habit of hunting on roadside verges) — I well remember holding one on my arm down in Somerset and being blown away by the experience. The lovely heart shaped white face has a black edging and the expressive round eyes look for all the world as if the bird has carefully applied mascara before setting out for a night on the voles.

Randy von Liski
Randy von Liski

Rennie’s 100th Nature Corner!

I’ve been laid up with a full on bout of flu and rather like a batsman stuck on 99, I wondered at times if I was ever going to make the century, but here I am fighting fit and looking forward to all the wildlife goings on which are in front of us over autumn and the coming winter. If you happen to be hanging around the station in town in the early evening just before dusk watch out for one of Britain’s most under-rated spectacles –the wonderful tumbling, aerial display of the Rooks as they prepare to roost for the night in the trees just by the railway bridge. We are all familiar with the incredible precision, Red Arrow type, communal displays of starlings where changes of direction are performed with seemingly no possible chance of collision, but the rooks’ performance is much more chaotic and improvised.

Gill Poole

From a distance they look like a collection of black leaves being blown around haphazardly in the wind but if you watch for a while you will see that they are just shamelessly showing off to each other. One will suddenly shoot up vertically into the sky and with a sort of ‘Look at this guys!’ air of bravado tumble earthwards in a flurry of flapping wings which seems totally out of control but is in fact perfectly co-ordinated and judged. This then spurs all the others to show what they can do –‘That’s nothing, look at this then’— ‘Watch me do this then’. Miraculously, although violent collisions seem imminent at any time and near misses appear to happen regularly, they are of course in complete control at all times –it just looks splendidly chaotic.
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The Rook (Corvus frugilegus) is called Ydfran in Welsh which means Corn Crow and they certainly do enthusiastically feed on farm crops–in fact the scarecrows which used to be a common feature of corn fields were put up as a deterrent to flocks of rooks rather than the more solitary Carrion Crow, so strictly speaking they should be called scarerooks.

(photo by Gill Poole)

Schumacher Conference

On the 16th October, CAT and the Schumacher society teamed up to present Zero Carbon Britain 2030 at Schumachers’s 33rd annual conference.

Paul Allen introduced the report after which CAT’s Peter Harper gave a presentation about the team’s extensive research process. The afternoon saw a host of worskops including CAT’s Tobi Kellner leading a successful workshop about feed in Tarrifs.
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‘All in all a fantastic day, full of energy, full of positive thinking about positive actions.’- The Schumacher Society.

Half Term at CAT

Rhaglen Gwyliau Ysgol Hanner Tymor
Half Term School Holidays Programme

Saturday 23rd:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig /Guided tour

Sunday 24th:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
11.30 to 3.00 Diwrnod Agored Cymunedol ar y Safle / Site Community Open Day
2.00 to 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour

Monday 25th:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
12.00 -1.00 Taith Dywysedig WISE / WISE Guided tour
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour
3.00 – 4.00 Cwestiynau i Arddwyr / Gardeners’ Question Time

Tuesday 26th:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
12.00 to 12.45 Cyfle i ddysgu am doiled compost y Ganolfan Dechnoleg Amgen / Learn about CAT’s compost toilet
1.30 – 2.00 Cwestiynau ac Atebion am y Bwyler Pelenni Pren / Wood Pellet Boiler Q & A
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour

Wednesday 27th:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
11.30 – 2.30 Cwrdd â thîm cyhoeddiadau‚r Ganolfan / Meet with CAT’s publication team
12.30 – 1.10 Sut allwn ni wneud gwahaniaeth? Sesiwn i’r teulu / How can we make a difference? Family session
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour

Thursday 28th:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
11.30 – 2.30 Cyfrifiaduron, rhyngrwyd, dyfeisiau: i ble mae’r ynni’n mynd? / Computers, internet, gadgets: where does the energy go?

12.00 – 12.40 Sut allwn ni wneud gwahaniaeth? Sesiwn i’r teu lu gydag Anita,
ein swyddog addysg / How can we make a difference? Family session with Anita, our Education Officer
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour

Friday 29th:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
12.00. 1.00 Taith Dywysedig WISE / WISE guided tour
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour
3.00 – 3.40 Beth yw Prydain Di-garbon? / What is Zero Carbon Britain?

Saturday 30th:
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
11.30 – 3.00 Diwrnod Agored Cymunedol ar y Safle / Site Community Open Day
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour

Sunday 31th :
10.30 – 4.30 Gweithgareddau plant / Children’s Activities
2.00 – 3.00 Taith Dywysedig / Guided tour

Nature Corner

I spotted a Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) hanging in the air over the fields by the cycle bridge outside town last week. Next to the Buzzard it is probably our most easily seen birds of prey and is widespread all over the country, often seen hovering over the grassed edges of motorways and major roads. Actually it does not really hover and its vernacular name of Windhover is a bit of a misnomer — if you watch it through binoculars carefully you will notice that is flying slowly into the wind but remaining constant in relation to the ground. It is continually making slight adjustments to its tail and wings to adapt to the wind but all the time keeping its head immobile as if clamped into position with ferocious concentrated intensity. Then a seemingly effortless turn and selects a new position, all of which requires incredible co-ordination– true mastery of the air. Its Welsh name is Cudyll Coch–Red Falcon.

Nick Ford
Nick Ford

Nature Corner

The poor old House Mouse is of course in human eyes ‘a pest’, a term that is applied to any creature that looks as if it is getting the better of us, but it is nothing of the sort, it’s just a species doing it’s best to survive and using our dwellings and food supplies to do just that.It will eat just about anything it can find in an average house including the tasty covering of electrical cables and a particular favourite –soap, with it’s nutritious supply of modified fats. Modern hermetically sealed and ultra clean houses are not their favourites, they prefer older buildings with lots of nooks and crannies and gaps so they can get access to food cupboards and the like

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The Mus domesticus can squeeze through the most amazingly narrow apertures, flattening their bodies to seemingly cardboard thin measurements and of course if you put down traps and catch a couple it makes little difference to the numbers as in favourable conditions they can breed throughout the year with litters of 5 to 8 young which take only three weeks to become independant leaving the female to breed again. Unfortunately unlike most of our other rodents which are actually quite clean, the House mouse has a rather greasy skin and smells a bit, but lets not hold that against it. Yes , you’re right I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for them (like most animals in fact) and yes I share my house with a few of them in the winter.

A New Buzz About CAT

CAT’s visitor centre has been a hive of activity recently. We are presently putting the final touches to an Introductory Film about CAT and meanwhile…

The buzz is all about our stunning new bee hut, opening at 10am, Saturday 16th October: containing carved bees of different species and paintings of a variety of flowers that bees pollinate, it is impossible not to wax lyrical.

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Installation experts Pippa Bailey and Jony Easterby and friends have combed the local libraries and utilised their 20 years of artistic and beekeeping experience to provide CAT with a whole new permanent exhibition, full of fascinating facts and about our flower-fertilising friends – BEES.

Bruce Heagerty said “A huge thanks to Powys County Council Tourism Section’s ‘Community Welcome Scheme’ for sponsoring this, the new film and a number of the new signs being erected around CAT.
Without their help and the artistry of everyone who has contributed, CAT’s site would look a lot poorer. This is a great day for CAT and particularly our hardworking Displays Group.”

How many foraging trips to flowers does it take a Honey Bee to produce a pound of white clover honey? What do drones do? Come and find out…

This project is part-funded through the Rural Development Plan for 2007-2013 which is financed by the European Union and the Welsh Assembly Government.

Community at CAT celebrates the Global Day of Positive Action on Climate Change

Residents and friends of the site community at CAT took part in the Global Day of Positive Action on climate change organised by the 350 and 10:10 networks. Willing workers tramped the clay to be used for the render on the wall of the  new straw bale kitchen and cut wood to help stockpile the wood store. A low carbon lunch from locally grown leeks, potatoes, nettles and salad made a warming soup, Bryn provided salad from the garden and Lyn cooked a fantastic ‘low carbon crumble’ scrummy.  Many thanks to all that took part…

Tomos and Neru preparing the clayCelebrating the day or work