This weekend we joined on a mammal quest in the South of the Netherlands.
Here you can see if we were successful 🙂
This weekend we joined on a mammal quest in the South of the Netherlands.
Here you can see if we were successful 🙂
We spent most of July and August in Southern Africa. We visited mainly Namibia and Botswana but we also spent a few days in South-Africa and one day in Zimbabwe. During our trip we spent time in many fantastic regions and national parcs: Kgalagadi national park, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Erongo, Okavango, Chobe, Etosha and Waterberg. We were lucky to see many fantastic animals and we enjoyed glorious landscapes. In total we spotted almost 70 mammal species with highlights such as aardwolf, aardvark, bushbaby, big cats, polecat, bushbok and six species of mongoose. A trip report will follow soon (if time permits) – but these pictures already give a basic idea of our adventure! And the photos made by Tim are not even included yet – so there is plenty more to follow soon 🙂
Some pics of our ongoing trip to Southern Africa
After a family visit to London, we decided to see what England has to offer mammal-wise. After receiving much helpful information on the mammalwatching forum, we decided to focus on Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. We had a very pleasant trip although we had obviously not picked the best season for watching mammals.
Traveling in England is easy, but sometimes a bit slow as there are not highways everywhere. Sleeping was pretty expensive (rates of up to 140£ for an average room were no exception!?!), unless you selected your hotels carefully. We were again surprised by the ridiculously bad mobile internet connections in Europe, especially compared to “less developed countries” (think again!) in for example South-East Asia.
The mammals were not too hard to find, especially thanks to the info we received. For people from “the continent” many of the most interesting species of the English mammal fauna are introduced/invasive species because we don’t have them around here. Next to these exotic creatures, we were lucky to enjoy some of the other great animals that the UK has to offer. We missed the water vole, but we had many other great wildlife encounters, some of which had seemed rather unrealistic at first. Highlights were the many muntjacs, two weasels, the seal colony at Horsey Gap and the small mammals caught by Mark Hows. Hopefully this trip report will be useful for future mammal watchers. We also included a lot of information on the species that are very easy to see, just to give those who are not so familiar with the region no excuse to miss them.
Al photographs were taken by Tim Lieben.
To see some moving images of the wildlife we encountered:
List of locations
List of sightings for each location
1. Minsmere RSPB
How to get there: Follow brown tourist signs from A12 at Yoxford (if coming from south) or Blythburgh (from north) to Westleton. From Westleton, take Dunwich road, then take first right, following brown tourist signs. Turn left at crossroads, then follow reserve entrance track, with speed bumps (20 mph limit). Turn left at Scotts Hall and car park is a further 1 km (half a mile).
Coordinates: 52.24746, 1.61705
Price: A ridiculously high charge of 8£pp for non-members was collected at the visitor center.
Extra info: This reserve has everything to accommodate tourist groups (shop, toilets, restaurant, huge car park…). The reserve closes at 5pm (there is a gate). We were provided with a map and a list of recent sightings. We spent the morning in the Bittern and Island Mere hides. We had just missed an otter at the Island Mere hide, which had shown at 9.40 and 10.15am. Muntjacs and grey squirrels were easily seen throughout the day. Especially the muntjacs were very approachable. We saw a bittern flying by at around 10.45am. Other birds of notice were a water pipit and two whooper swans. Shortly after lunchtime we walked a part of the woodland trail and we easily found two small herds of red deer between the trees. The best part of the afternoon was again spent in the Island Mere hide until we saw an otter swimming across the far end of the lake at 3pm. We quickly walked a part of the sea side trail. Just past the visitor center is a pond with a bridge that should be good for water vole, but we didn’t see any during two 15min stake outs. At dusk we spotted a couple of muntjacs and a few rabbits in the North Marsh.
Norfolk Coast Area
How to get there: The road from Cromer to Hunstanton is nice to follow.
Extra info: We needed a whole day for the route and we stopped here and there to watch birds or to try for mammals. The weather wasn’t too good and we had regular showers. The only mammal we saw was the European hare. The first ones were seen in a field south of Cley (approximately here: 52.942248, 1.056294). Four animals looked pretty exposed to the rain in the middle of a field. We also saw four animals in a field across from the Titchwell RSPB reserve. In the late afternoon, the weather improved and we saw about 10 animals more in the fields between Hunstanton and Cley.
Blakeney point is well known for its seal colony (both grey and common seals are present). To see the animals, you’d probably have to take a boat ride from the nearby town called Morston. A boat ride is about 10£ pp for an hour or so. The boats don’t sail every day (especially not on a rainy February day in the middle of the week). This trip may be especially interesting during the breeding season (grey seal: November-December; common seal: June-July). We hoped to see some marine mammals from the shore (seals, harbor porpoise) but we were not successful. The road from Cromer to Hunstanton is quite far from the sea. We walked up to the shore a couple of times, but without success.
We also stopped at Holkam beach in Holkham village for birdwatching (car par open from 6am-5 or 9pm, depending on the season; charges for parking are about 1£/hour). We saw lots of pink-footed geese and a barn owl was hunting in a field at about 4pm.
How to get there: Dirt road that starts from the main road between Sea Palling and Winterton-on-Sea. Horsey Gap is signposted form the main road.
Coordinates: 52.758605, 1.650484
Price: They charge you for parking your car (1£ per hour, you’ll need at least 2 hours).
Extra info: From the carpark it’s a 20min walk along the dunes to the colony (well signposted, can’t be missed). Seal pups may be present in November-December (main period seems to be at the end of November). The beach may be very crowded during that period. We visited the colony (50+ adults) during the best part of an hour and we saw 6 other people during that time. The seals can be easily approached, but any sensible seal watcher will of course keep his/her distance as to not disturb the seals. Apparently there is some level of surveillance of the colony by officials during the breeding period, to limit disturbance by not-so-sensible seal watchers.
Hickling Broad National Nature Reserve + Stubb Mill
How to get there: The reserve is close to the tiny villages of Hickling Heath, Hickling Green and Stubb. Sutton along the A149 is also nearby and is a bit larger.
Coordinates: 52.741953, 1.595599
Price: 4£ for an adult (non-member)
Extra info: The small visitor center is open from March/April until October. During the other months you’re asked to pay your entrance fee in a box provided. I don’t seem to remember a gate at the car park. The reserve has a few hiking trails, most of which are closed during winter due to floods. There are a couple of hides but bird activity was very low. There were lots of deer tracks on all the trails, suggesting that there may be lots of deer present in the reserve. We saw none as we visited in the early afternoon (2-3pm) but a short walk later on (4.30pm) did not produce anything either. Stubb Mill is a short hike away from the visitor center. It is not located within trail network of the rest of the nature reserve. You could either walk along the road (taking your car is not allowed, see map for more info) or you could walk along the reserve. Just before reaching the car park, there is a wide path on the left that leads towards the mill. We saw the reserve’s Konik poneys and a couple of rabbits while walking towards the mill. We also saw a first pair of cranes flying over. At the mill there was a lot of noise from some maintenance works. We were surprised to see a weasel along the path, in front of the mill just before reaching the tarred road. The weasel was very active and just minutes later, we spotted it on the other side of the small river. Hence, it had somehow managed to cross the bridge without us noticing it. From the viewing platform we saw a pair of cranes in the fields and another pair flew over. There were also some distant marsh harriers. At dusk we drove along the road between the visitor center and the village of Stubb and we spotted a few muntjac. Then we also decided to drive towards Stubb mill (there were no other cars anyway, so we wouldn’t cause any traffic jams or other problems). There were no animals of notice at the raptor viewing platform, but we spotted a Chinese water deer in one of the fields. Spotlighting in this general area may be interesting, but we didn’t have time or knowledge of drivable local roads to do so.
How to get there: Woodwalton Fen is at the end of Chapel Road in Ramsey Heights village (Sat Navs may list ‘Heights Drove Road’).
Price: No entrance fee
Extra info: It’s best to visit early, so make sure that no other visitors have already startled the deer, causing them to seek refuge in the extensive reed beds. The deer like to hang out by the Western Bank, which is where we saw our only Chinese water deer. The path is located on a dike. This allows for great visibility, which unfortunately works in two ways and the animals we saw quickly spotted us. Apparently, seeing only one deer is unusual. Judging by the huge number of tracks and fresh droppings, the densities must be very high. We visited at around 8.30am, which may have been too late (although we seemed to be the first ones there). It probably also didn’t help that it had been very cold the night before. The grass and earth on all the trails was completely frozen which caused a noise while walking that even a deaf deer would have heard from miles away. The one deer we saw was hurt pretty bad, although its ears seemed fine, and quickly limped away (we didn’t follow it, so its running effort was a bit exaggerated). The deer, and also the fox, that we saw on the Western bank knew very well where to run into the reserve. They rushed along the reed bed and then crossed the path on the dike at the exact spot where other trails ran into the reserve. We also heard a muntjac barking. The only bird of notice was a marsh harrier. There is no barrier at the car park.
How to get there: From the A10 (Cambridge to Royston) turn towards Fowlmere at the Fowlmere-Shepreth crossroads (no RSPB sign); after 1 mile (1.5 km), turn right by the cemetery (RSPB sign); after another 0.6 mile (1 km), turn left into the reserve (RSPB sign)
Coordinates: 52.09534, 0.05108
Price: No entry fee
Extra info: We saw muntjacs during the whole afternoon. They were incredibly abundant and easy to see. Most muntjac we saw were single animals, but we also saw a female with a large fawn from the boardwalk. At the far end of the reserve, in some woodland area, there was a large badger burrow but we didn’t stick around long enough to see the badgers. At around 4pm three fallow deer showed in the reedbed that can be overlooked from the reedbed hide. In the week before our visit, otters had been spotted from the reedbed hide and from the Drewer hide, but we didn’t get lucky. This reserve is also good for small mammals such as water shrew, stoats, weasels, …
We met up with fellow mammal enthusiastic Mark Hows. Mark had set some small mammal traps and we were treated to the “catch of the day”. We also tried a site for water voles. A waterrail tried his best impression of swimming water vole, but the voles themselves did not show. We did see their burrows.
Rainham Marshes RSPB
How to get there: The reserve is located off New Tank Hill Road (A1090) in Purfleet which is just off the A1306 between Rainham and Lakeside. This is accessible from the Aveley, Wennington and Purfleet junction off the A13 and J30/31 of the M25.
Coordinates: 51.49040, 0.23413
Price: Entrance fee applies to non-members, but we got a free “first visits”.
Extra info: A nice reserve that is located within a very urban area (highway, train, …). The marshes attract lots of ducks and waders. This reserve is also very good for water vole, which we unfortunately did not see. Weasels and stoats are also noteworthy. The reserve is quite exposed; hence a visit on cold windy days or hot sunny days may be rather unpleasant. The park closes at 5pm.
This new photo gallery illustrates our wildlife encounters.
Check it out!
The past four years, we’ve spent quite a bit of quality time searching for mammals in Belgium. It’s a small country with plenty of highways, so you can get around really easily and although Belgium is highly populated, there are interesting bits of nature here and there. We regularly encounter species such as red deer, wild boar and stone marten but also rarer species including badger, wildcat and beaver. Just for fun and also to try out a new approach, we decided to organize a “mammal big day” (MBD) over the long weekend (Monday 21st of July was the Belgian national holiday). During a MDB, you try to see as many mammal species within 24 hours. As far as we know, no one has ever gone on a MDB in Belgium or even in Europe. As you will read below, we had some great sightings, but unfortunately our total mammal list is rather (actually “very”) modest. Although our attempt is not really memorable for anyone else but us, we do want to share our experience with other mammalwatchers, if only to avoid “publication bias” of less successful mammal big days. To show that the mammal fauna of our region is really rich and to prove that we do manage many sightings (albeit not necessarily within 24 hours), we also add some illustrative photographs of other mammalwatching trips. We always indicate clearly whether a picture was taken on the present MBD or previously. Anyway, here’s the story for those who would like to try a new attempt in the future!
Mistake number 1: we started Friday evening after a working day. The weather forecast for the weekend wasn’t too good. From Saturday evening on it was going to rain. Hence, we decided to start on Friday so we would finish before the rain. This meant that we were already kind of tired of the work week before we started. However, we were very motivated and the sleepiness level was ok!
We drove to a nature reserve near Leuven, more or less in the center of the country. It is a known spot for beaver, and I’ve seen them there multiple times. Just three weeks before, I had seen a beaver swimming by – long before it got dark.
Hence, this seemed the perfect spot to score our first mammal before dusk. We arrived at around 8pm. We were entertained by the kingfishers (Alcedo atthis, ijsvogel), annoyed by the mosquitos and jumping fish kept our attention focused. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on our side and by 9.30pm the beavers had yet to show. By then we had to move on to get to our next mammal spot on time.
So we left empty handed, on route to the east of the country where garden dormice roam (albeit in relatively small numbers) in the fruit orchards. On route we saw our first mammal: a hare (Lepus europaeus, haas) in a field by the road. It was 10.10pm and we decided to make that time our official starting time (ok, a bit sneaky, but 24 hours is 24 hours – nobody tells you when to start, right?).
It was almost completely dark when we arrived at the garden dormice site. We heard a midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans, wroedmeesterpad) but didn’t bother to look for it, as they are sneaky little bastards that take quite some time to find. We at once started to look for the mice. We checked some of the nestboxes that are put up especially for garden dormice (No panic: we didn’t open the boxes. Although we really wanted to see a garden dormouse, we totally agree that it is not ethical to disturb these vulnerable mammals just for our own entertainment!). The boxes we saw didn’t seem occupied – no moss hanging from the entrance. Checking the trees was not successful either. The plum trees carried ripe fruit, but we saw no mice nibbling the ripe plums. We did see a common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus, dwergvleermuis) and some rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus, konijn). On the way back to the car, a fox (Vulpes vulpes, vos) crossed the path and dashed for cover. Again our main target eluded us: no garden dormouse. Mistake number 2: we tried for species and/or locations that we did not have experience with.
We had already visited the garden dormouse location once the year before, during the day. That time, we only saw an occupied nestbox (as indicated by the moss at the entrance – again we didn’t open the nestbox that time). We had never tried to look for garden dormice during the night. Clearly, it is less easy to find them while they are foraging (or at least it is for us). Maybe it is best to stick to the species and locations you know best, in order to increase your MBD success. By the time we left the location, it was 11.20pm, we were still very motivated and the sleepiness level was also still ok.
We made our way to a region called Voeren. On the way we saw some more rabbits along the highway. Upon our arrival in Voeren we saw a largish bat hunting around the street lights. It was clearly larger than a pipistrelle but smaller than a serotine and flying too fast and irregular to be a great-eared bat. It will remain a mystery what species it was. Mistake number 3: we didn’t bring a bat detector. Some “flrt flrt flrt” noises on a bat detector just aren’t the same as truly seeing a species. However, as we saw quite a few bats throughout the night – all of which remained unidentified – it seems necessary to get over it and bring in the auditory identification of bats that otherwise remain anonymous fast-moving shadows. A quick drive around did produce four roe deer (Capreolus capreolus, ree), two more hares, four extra red foxes and two badgers (Meles meles, das).
On the way back we also saw a very cooperative tawny owl (Strix aluco, bosuil). We decided to skip the hazel dormouse location. We already visited there several times (during the day) and we were never successful. By then we had realized we probably should first try to go with someone who knows what he/she is doing as to avoid mistake number 2.
This tawny owl was more cooperative!
We moved on to the south of Belgium, where most larger wildlife is concentrated. We made a quick stop at a site that is known for mouflon. We happily repeated mistake number 2 here. We had never been to the site and after our quick stop, we had to leave empty handed. There was not a lot of opportunity to see the mouflon (just a few fields) and probably, it’s easier to see the animals at dusk or dawn. By 2am we arrived at our favorite wildlife location.
Within two hours we spotted more hares, roe deer and (surprisingly only) two foxes. We also managed to catch sight of several small and medium sized groups of red deer (Cervus elaphus, edelhert).
It were mostly females with their young and we also saw a few young males.
No magnificent stags were spotted this time. It is also a bit early for the great sightings, as their antlers are still covered in velvet.
We also saw a cooperative wildcat (Felis silvestris, wilde kat) and a sounder of four wild boars (Sus scrofa, everzwijn).
In this area we regularly see badger, but not this night – luckily we had already seen them earlier in the evening!
We also missed stone marten, which we often spot in the villages and missed out on the species that are less commonly seen (by us) such as pine marten and raccoon.
We did not get lucky with the smaller critters as we saw no mice, voles or hedgehogs. We drove on to the next location and spotted more red deer and a cat that resembled a wildcat but was probably a feral cat or a hybrid at best.
By then it was 4.30-5am and it was getting light already! We spotted two more foxes along the road as we were making our way towards another location that is supposedly good for mouflon. Although we had not been here before either, we decided to risk another mistake number 2. It turned out to be the right decision. It was a nice area with a few public roads through the forest. We spotted two red deer in the morning light at 6am. They stood still, trusting on their camouflage, but raced off before we managed to get a decent picture.
A bit later we also got lucky with our target species: a nice herd of mouflon (Ovis orientalis, moeflon) ran into the forest. There were more than 10 animals, and one male with nice large horns among them. We got out of the car and started a short pursuit into the beech forest. The animals were surprisingly calm and they let us approach up to 30-50m. It was still pretty dark in the forest but we had some great sightings of the animals, hiding among the trees and shrubs. Mouflons were introduced here, and probably new introductions still happen. Apparently, they have been around since the 1950s. They are beloved hunting trophies because they are hard to shoot. Unlike deer, they stay in the cover – smart animals!
After this successful encounter, we drove on to a site known for coypu (and muskrat) under Charleroi. By then the sleepiness level was not so ok anymore. We had to switch drivers regularly in order to advance safely. The two-hour drive seemed endless and by the time we arrived it was getting pretty hot. We quickly found the coypu site. We spotted a hare but no other mammals showed.
The birds (kingfisher, buzzard, crested grebe) were only a minor second price and we left at 10.15am.
The trip to Brussels should have taken us one hour, but due to traffic (before 9am we hardly encountered a single car but everybody seemed awake and moving by now!) and road works we only arrived two hours later. We first had to grab lunch in order to keep our morale up. The great spaghetti and lasagna managed to achieve this goal perfectly. We spotted a ferret on the lap of a lady outside the diner. Less common than the dogs, feral cats, cows, horses, sheep, goats and donkeys we had already seen – but not really part of our mammal targets. After lunch we went to the Sonian Forest. We quickly spotted two of our targets. The bank vole (Myodes glareolus, rosse woelmuis) is doing pretty well this year and somehow they are especially easy to see in this forest. We spotted several ones.
The forests around Brussels are also home to another introduced species: the Siberian chipmunk (Eutamias sibiricus, siberische grondeekhoorn) which we spotted quickly. The heat was becoming very annoying. We should have spotted wood mouse and red squirrel here too but they were probably avoiding the heath.
First, we had thought about driving on to the coast to try for seals. However, during a nice sunny day, the whole Belgian population seems to jump straight into the car to spend the best part of the day in an immense traffic jam towards the beach. We decided to skip this wonderful driving experience, thereby diminishing our chances of seeing marine mammals. At around 2pm we drove back towards Antwerp where we know some good spots for more common animals. In the parks around Antwerp, shrews, wood mouse, brown rat and red squirrel are pretty much guaranteed. Not so today…
The heat probably kept all the animals out of sight, only some hungry rabbits were around. This year, the rabbit population around here is incredibly high – spotting 60 together on one patch of grass is not uncommon!
By 5pm we were supertired and slightly overheated, so we decided to call it a day. Mistake number 4: planning your mammal big day on the hottest day of the year. We would have certainly seen (at least) some of the small mammal species mentioned above if the temperature had been lower. We spot them almost daily, but obviously not on a mammal big day!! Actually, we saw most of them the day after without even trying (the irony!).
If we had been braver and if we had continued until 10pm, we might have seen some more rodents, probably even a hedgehog (quite common around Antwerp) or a bat species more. However, we only managed a bedazzling (ahum) 12 species – which is exactly one species more than our previous maximum in a day (for which we spent far less hours in the field).
In total we spent about 18 hours searching for mammals. We drove 730km and we walked about 8km. We saw 12 species of which 2 were introduced (and in addition we saw 8 domesticated mammal species (sheep, goat, cow, horse, donkey, cat, dog, ferret)).
European hare, common pipistrelle, rabbit, red fox, roe deer, badger, red deer, wildcat, wild boar, mouflon (introduced), bank vole, siberian chipmunk (introduced).
A final word on the concept of a MBD: it is exiting because it feels a bit like a competition (even if you’re only competing against yourself). It is also interesting to try a new approach on mammalwatching in a region where you’ve spent countless (or rather an uncounted number of) hours in the field. It is a pity that you’re moving from one place to the next without really taking the time to enjoy the fact that you’re in a specific region. Mammals may be less reliable than birds, and due to the strict time schedule you have to set deadlines, causing that you may have to move on without having seen a particular species, not knowing whether you would have seen it if you had just stayed a few minutes more.
Would we do it again? Tim is pretty sure he wouldn’t. I think I may have to because, well, 12 species is just too little!
*most photographs were taken by Tim Lieben except the first swimming beaver, the roe deer with fawn, the blurry red deer, the woodmouse, brown rat, rabbit and hedgehog.
For some moving images see: