This time of year is wonderful for finding bundles of baby birds, often just fledged. I came across a group of at least 6, probably 8, tiny, newly fledged Wrens, still sporting their yellow gapes, in Hay Wood on Wednesday. The light was terrible unfortunately so no decent photos. On Thursday, it was Nuthatches at the Brickworks. Again, there could have been up to 8 little ones, all together, moving noisily through the trees. The head markings on the young aren’t so well developed so they can look a bit scruffy but still very sweet.
On the flora front, I counted the Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) on Bovingdon Reach meadow. It’s not the easiest of tasks. One wrong move and you’ve crushed rather than counted the specimen! Anyway, I got up to 87 spikes, no casaulties, and there’s bound to be ones that I’ve missed, so, roughly 100 or so plants which is fantastic.
OK, to the Shrews!
From my limited experience, it’s not actually that easy to separate Common and Pygmy Shrews, especially if you happen to find a large Pygmy or small Common with a tail that is close to the tolerances of either species. However, the guideline features seem to be as follows and, considering the 'the sum of the parts', it is possible to tease out the correct ID:
Common Shrew (Sorex araneus)
Pygmy Shrew (Sorex minutus)
|Body length||48-80mm||40-65mm (but could be up to 72mm)*|
|Tail length relative to body length||usually 50%||usually 65-70+%|
|Teeth||Red tipped||Red tipped|
|Tail features||Young have furry tails, adults have a few stiff hairs underneath and bald on top||Proportionally longer, thicker and hairier than the other shrew species|
|Fur colour||Tri-coloured (dark brown back, paler sides and grey/white underside)||Two-tone (brown back, pale underside)|
|Active||Mainly nocturnal||Day and night|
[*A mammal expert on ISPOT provided some very helpful information, noting that the head-body range given for Pygmy Shrews in field guides is 4-6.5cm in one (UK) and 4-7.2cm in another (Europe and Middle East). Interestingly, the latter book noted that size increases from north to south and from east to west, and Britain is at the western end of this shrew's range.]
The two Pygmy Shrews (Sorex minutes) I found were actually identical in their measurements:
- Body = 65mm
- Tail = 40mm
- Tail relative to body = 61%
As with the Common Shrew in April, unless you have a license to trap and handle live mammals, it's rare you get to see these creatures up close, especially when they are in good condition. One of the two I picked was as fresh as the proverbial daisy (except for being dead, of course!).
|Two-tone coat, with fairly clear demarcation between brown upper and pale underside|
|Back foot (underside)|
|Back foot (side view)|
|Front foot (upperside)|
|Front foot (underside)|
|Red-tipped teeth and pointed nose|
For more info on Pygmy Shrews, see THIS great article. It includes such facts as individuals needing to eat 1.25x their body weight in food per day in order to survive. And, they can die of starvation if they’re not able to feed for a couple of hours. It’s not surprising it’s a species with a maximum lifespan of 13 months!