As we get into October and the temperature begins to drop, many mammals start making preparations for the winter.
Some species sleep through it by hibernating whilst others just spend more time underground.
In fact, most of the mammals that call RSPB Lakenheath Fen home don’t actually hibernate. The only family of mammals that do are bats. During the summer, they feed on and around the reserve, spending their nights (or days) tucked under a bit of bark, in a hole in a tree, or in a nestbox. In the winter months, they hibernate in old buildings in nearby villages like Lakenheath and Hockwold.
In the case of some species, like the elusive otter, they actually become slightly easier to see in the winter and most sightings on the reserve come between October and December. Dawn and dusk are usually the best times of day to see these amazing animals. The most reliable spots to see them are the Washland viewpoint near the visitor centre or New Fen viewpoint, which is around half a mile away from the visitor centre.
The badgers that call the reserve home however, are difficult to see all year round. Although they don’t hibernate, they spend a lot more time underground in their setts during the winter months. In order to do this, they must make sure that they stock up on as much food as possible so they have fat reserves to get themselves through the cold weather.
The mammal that amazes me the most though is the harvest mouse. This species is the smallest species of rodent found in Europe. To give you an impression of how small this species is, the photograph that accompanies this article shows a harvest mouse in its nest. That nest was around the size of a tennis ball and there were three harvest mice living in it!
This species spends the summer trying to be Tarzan. It uses its long tail to swing on reed stems like a little monkey! In the winter, it retreats to holes underground, where it can find the plant matter and small invertebrates that it eats. It is therefore able to survive through cold weather as it spends its time feeding below the ice and snow (if we get any)!
Whenever I see a species of mammal in October, I always wonder what kind of winter we are going to have and hope that its preparations are enough to get it through the winter. Unlike us it doesn’t have a centrally heated home to go to!
If you come and visit in October, you may see roe or muntjac deer, or even stoat scampering by. If you are lucky, you may even see one of the rare otters or water voles that call the reserve home. Why not come and look for them yourself?