Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Our Second Open Sunday or
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Furball XL5

It was lovely to welcome both new and familiar faces to our second open Sunday and a big thank you to those that enrolled as new members or supported us with you kind purchases of refreshments, books, gifts and of course FoHESC calendars.

The weather was much kinder than on our first open Sunday and the majority of visitors enjoyed a decent amount of sunshine and blue skies, which contrasted beautifully with the dazzling white of eighty plus mute swans amassed on the main lake.

Substantial numbers of redwings are currently present on the reserve and were inhabiting the trees and bushes along many of the pathways – I fear that our bumper crop of berries will soon be diminishing if these guys hang around for long. Spot of the day, was probably a Goldcrest, close to the woodland hide, which brought a note of joy to a certain Lyrical Lady.

For the observers looking out from the centre viewing gallery and windows a Sparrowhawk was kind enough to perform an aerial duet with a feisty crow and first a fox and then a muntjac promenaded along the rear pathways in full view of the appreciative audience.

The morning session was quiet, but from lunch time onwards visitors started to arrive in earnest. Thanks to his superior deductive powers, our venerable secretary also timed his appearance to coincide with this busier period. Within moments of his arrival Hon Sec had spotted what at first looked like UFOs (Unidentified Faecal Objects) just outside one of the large observation windows. After combined peering through binoculars, the assembled throng concluded they could well be pellets coughed up by an owl or raptor.

The urge to investigate further was irresistible for our super-sleuth and armed with only a small plastic bag, the plucky committee man declared “I’m just going outside – I may be sometime”.
“Best go round from the left” I helpfully advised, “it’s much drier that way”.
As the crowd gathered to watch our hero make his assault on the north face of the centre someone asked, “Do you think it will be much easier and safer if he approaches from the left?”
“No”, I replied, “but there are a lot more stinging nettles that side, so we should have more fun”.
Soon our diminutive detective appeared moving through the nettles and tall grasses in what appeared to be “Supermarionation” – for those of more tender years (or who had better things to do with their lives) this was the technique used by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson in their famous puppet based shows such as Stingray,Thunderbirds etc. Anyway, there he was, gingerly moving towards his target in a series of high knee and elbow motions as if controlled by invisible strings. Guiding hand or not, our very own Chris Packham tribute act, was soon gathering up samples of the mystery substance for analysis back at the mothership.
The North Face
Safely returned, Sherlock deposited the small dark grey pellets into a tray of warm water and started stirring with a plastic spoon. As the highly unappetising pot noodle started to dissolve we discovered that the pellets consisted of about 95% fur with the odd tiny tooth, claw or indistinguishable piece of bone.

“It’s not an owl pellet”, was the first conclusion, I offered the possibility that it was from a Kestrel (having seen one perched above the spot where the pellets were found on several occasions), but my fellow researchers were not convinced. “Why are there so few bones?” was one of the main questions.

“Perhaps Kestrels and raptors are more efficient at digesting their prey and dissolve more of the bones before they produce the pellets” I offered. Having no takers on this theory, I wandered off to talk to some newcomers.

“Hey Tony, guess what” I heard, “these are Kestrel pellets and they contain mostly hair and not much bone, because Kestrels have stronger digestive juices than owls, which dissolves most of the bone before the pellet is produced”. Our state of the art CSI man (Chewed and Spat out Items), had a couple of things at his disposal that poor old Mr Holmes was sadly lacking – his iPhone and an internet connection to Google. Did I get any credit for my previously inspired guess work? - of course not.

Sorry no wildlife pictures this week - but it’s a bit difficult to fit in with our open day duties – but why not come down next month and see them for yourself. It’s a very friendly environment, we try to have fun and there’s nearly always something interesting to see on the wildlife front.

Best wishes


The Next Open Sunday is November 18th and the next Sunday morning working party is November 4th.


  1. Ah, the troubled path that is scientific research. You spend ages scraping together equipment for the project; risk life, limb and other vital extremities gathering the data; carry out the experiment under the intense glare of a media spotlight; and all for what? We could co-author the inaugural article for the FoHESC Journal!

  2. Journal article? Don't they normally require an element of truth, fact or science? How am I going to cope with that?

    1. OK, Fortean FoHESC Journal. We ought to be able to manage that!

  3. i dunno what you two are talking about - fortean? I only counted one, and that's not a journal, it's a blog :)

    And whilst you lot were watching the fox, I was, coincidentally, talking about fox-hunting with our newest permit-holder. Which is when I spotted the goldcrest! (My first ever - and very pretty little bird it was, too.)