IT'S NOT JUST BIRDS

To steal an old joke, what's the difference between a WEASEL and a STOAT?
A weasel is weaselly identified. A stoat is stoatally different.

RSPB Old Moor isn't just a great place to walk, relax and see plenty of beautiful birds. If you're lucky enough you might also spot a mammal or two as you stroll around the reserve. The ones that you're most likely to see are of course GREY SQUIRRELS or RABBITS, but FOXES, HEDGEHOGS, BROWN HARES and VOLES all make their homes here as well. We've even, on a very few extra special occasions, had sightings of an otter, but don't bother coming looking for them, you'll just be wasting you're time. There have been maybe a handful of fleeting sightings in all the many years that the reserve has been operational. Just tell yourself that they don't live here. You'll be much happier, trust me.

There is much more chance of seeing the aforementioned weasel or stoat. There are quite a few of both these cute assassins about the site, sometimes right up to the entrance. The welcome volunteers frequently see a weasel running around the courtyard in front of our Welcome Shed, even several times a day recently. For some of us, and some of our visitors, it's the highlight of the day. Most people come to an RSPB site looking for their favourite birds with varying levels of success but seeing a weasel or stoat is always an unexpected surprise that never fails to leave the viewer with a smile on their face. As long as they're human. Some smaller animals prey species are less pleased to see one.

My favourite recent sighting was when a weasel sprinted across the entrance drive (because weasels never do anything slowly, do they?), stopped for a moment to eye-up the dunnocks pecking away beneath the birdfeeders, and pounced into our large fuchsia bush. After the briefest of tussles, it re-emerged, carrying its prize and dinner; a small vole, clenched tight in its needle set of teeth. I couldn't tell it if was a bank vole or a field vole but I could tell that it was very dead. And, apparently, very tasty.

And the Old Moor reserve is now gaining a great reputation as one of the RSPB's best sites for Odonata. If you're anything like me you'd think that word meant something relating to teeth, but no. It refers to flying insects such as dragonflies and damselflies, and at the right time of year the Dearne Valley is full of them. We're home to many different species including some exceptional regional rarities. Check out my colleague David Pritchard's 'Weird and Wonderful World of Dragonflies' blog for more details. Read, learn and prepare yourself for next year's Odonata-spotting season.

Grass snakes can be seen around the reserve too, although it's getting a bit too autumnal for them now. Being cold-blooded they tend to keep holed up in a warm nest at this time of year so we won't see them again until spring, but it wasn't so long ago that they were regularly slithering around the entrance to the site. In mid-October there were several sightings of baby snakes just a couple of inches long in the area around the Welcome Shed. That caused some impressive shrieks from people having their butties at the courtyard tables, I can tell you.

So back to my opening question; what is the difference between a weasel and a stoat? Well people who know their stuff will tell you that stoats are bigger than weasels, but that's not much use if you don't have the two standing beside each other and a ruler to hand. The line where the animal's white belly fur meets its brown back fur is a very cleanly defined in stoats but less so, and more messy or jagged, in weasels - but again, this is a comparison that can only really be learned through experience.

For me, the one absolute giveaway difference between these two mustelids is the tail. If the final couple of centimetres are bristly and black, it's a stoat. If it's tail is shortish and brown all the way to the end, then you've seen a weasel. Unless it's a poor stoat who's been the victim of some kind of awful tail-ectomy accident.

So that's mammals, Odonata and snakes covered, but what of the birds that have been seen recently on the reserve? As someone used to say, let's have a look at the old scoreboard... 

and the winners are,,,,,,,, Yellow-Legged Gull and Caspian Gull that weirdly visit the Mere around 3pm. And Redpoll in the reedbeds. Sadly the losers,,,,, Spotted Redshank and the Jack Snipe both haven't been seen for a while but still in the Dearne Valley. Nice to have a female Hen harrier fly over Bolton Ings, howz about that then!! 06/11/21

Sightings board - 10/11/21

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