Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Underground And Overground.

We’ve had a few dreary mornings and I’d waited days for a bright, clear morning to drive into the hills with camera at the ready. Tuesday looked promising so I was up early and then drove north and east with fingers crossed as I left the coast behind. This was probably the last chance of the year as upland birds have already started their return journeys to coastal locations. "Click the pics" for close-ups. 

To The Coast 

There are not many Lapwing around now and I was counting ones and twos only, with little sign of late breeders. In my experience, Lapwings tend to give up rather than try again if their early breeding fails with small flocks appearing as early as mid-June. I found a good number of Curlew, some with large “running” chicks but also a good sized one learning the ropes of calling from a drystone wall. 




There were still good numbers of Oystercatchers but all seemed to be adults lounging around and content to watch the world go by. Even Snipe proved elusive today with plenty of “chipping” from the fields where they have youngsters in tow but none posing along the lines of fence or wall; but I did find one close to a roadside pool that took off as soon as a vehicle came by. 




Tower Lodge is a gateway to the country estate beyond but it is no longer inhabited by employees that safeguard the gentry and the grouse. 

Tower Lodge - Bowland 

A farmer had been trapping moles quite recently. 


This part of Lancashire is meat rearing country; beef and sheep. Sheep that eat dirt from molehills can die from listeriosis, while winter feed for dairy cattle can become foul-tasting or toxic if contaminated by soil bacteria. So there’s a long tradition of mole trapping - showing the moles who’s boss and proving to neighbours that your farming is “reet”. 

The word “mole” is thought to derive from the old English word mouldwarp, which literally means earth-thrower. The animals’ forelimbs are large, pink and practically hairless, and, apart from an extra digit, have the appearance of a doll’s hands. So prized were moles’ hands that farmers once kept them in silk bags as talismans for good luck and to ward off toothache, epilepsy and scrofula. 


Moles dig their tunnel systems to catch earthworms, shoving the excavated earth out of vertical passageways to produce molehills. In a 1976 study, researchers counted 7,380 molehills on a single hectare of English pasture, estimating their total weight to be 64,500kg. 

Mole Hill 

Mole control became a national policy in 1566, when a bitter cold period known as the Little Ice Age threatened England’s food supply. Queen Elizabeth passed “An Acte for the Preservation of Grayne”, which would remain in force for the next three centuries. The law prescribed bounties paid for the destruction of a long and dubious list of agricultural vermin, including everything from hedgehogs to kingfishers. Some parishes paid out a half-penny per mole, others appointed mole-catchers with contracts lasting up to 21 years. In addition to their salaries, mole-catchers sold the silky mole skins, which were prized for the tailoring of waistcoats. 

In the early 20th century worms dipped in strychnine became the preferred method for controlling moles on farms. Because strychnine doesn't break down in animal tissue, it can also work through the food chain when a bird of prey or even a domestic dog consumes a poisoned mouse or mole. 

In 1963, when the House of Commons debated a bill to ban the poison, David Renton, the minister of state for the Home Office, testified that moles “strangely enough” failed to show “the same symptoms of pain” as other animals. In the end the law banned strychnine for mice and rats, but exempted moles because no ready substitute existed. 

In the following decades, British farmers purchased more than 50kg of strychnine each year – enough, in theory to kill half a billion moles. The poison was eventually phased out with new pesticide regulations in 2006. 

Summer moves on with as Swallows and Grey Wagtails feed young plus countless Meadow Pipits both young and old along the walls and fences. While there are insects Meadow Pipits tend to stay around but come late August/early September there is a mass movement of the species south and west. 



Meadow Pipit 

Grey Wagtail 

Other birds today: Redshank, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Red Grouse, Pied Wagtail, Tawny Owl, Common Sandpiper, Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Redpoll.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and World Bird Wednesday.


Jenn Jilks said...

This is such a great season for birders, even people, rank amateurs like me!
That's interesting about the moles. We have quite a few rodents around here. The owls love them, as do our coyotes!

Wally Jones said...

Good Morning, Phil!
Great post to read with my coffee today.

I really enjoyed hearing about the early summer bird families going about the business of taking care of the youngsters. Similar activities in our local bird world.

Very interesting to learn about the moles and the history of attempts to control them.

Your photographs are inspiring! How DO you get them to pose so nicely??

We hope the rest of your week has good days with plenty of birding opportunities. I'm sending off my "big lens" to the factory as it has decided to stop autofocusing in near to mid-ranges. Perhaps it's just tired.

All the best.

David Gascoigne said...

Good afternoon. Phil: Interesting information about the moles. Do the farmers string them up like that as a supposed deterrent of some kind, or is a bit of a fetish, or a trophy? As for the birding, it seems to me that Lapwings, Curlews, Oystercatchers and Snipe make for a pretty special assortment, apart from the other species. And you got to traverse some beautiful country too. All in all not a bad outing! Many of us would be willing to sign up to accompany you......and I would even bring lunch.

Rhodesia said...

Love all the photos, but I was particularly fascinated by the story of the moles. I have noticed here in France, that wherever there is a field of sheep there are generally molehills!!! Our immediate neighbour has sheep and there are masses of molehills there. Occasionally they seem to go under the road and popup in our garden but thankfully it is rare. I wonder if listeriosis exists here, I somehow doubt it or I am sure something would be done to get rid of the moles. Interesting.
Just looked it up, and yes it exists in France about 300 cases a year are recorded in a mixture of animals and humans. Thaks for educating me. Have a good week Diane

Stuart Price said...

Nice selection of summer species there Phil. Don't think i've ever seen a live mole............

Betty Crow said...

Impressive shots. Love the oystercatcher, but really enjoyed seeing the mole. My lawn in Illinois was riddled with mole trails. Not a fan, but they are cute.

A Colorful World said...

Beautiful photos! Loved the information on "mole control!" Sometimes we just have to do that with pests, as unfortunate as it is!

Lowcarb team member said...

Interesting to read the information about the moles. You've given us a good selection of birds, and I enjoyed your first scenic shot, lovely countryside.

Enjoy your weekend.

All the best Jan

Angie said...

Phil - have you ever seen the movie "Up"? The curmudgeonly homeowner sends a Boy Scout snipe hunting - part of me always thought it was a wild goose chase - but apparently there are snipe, and what a lovely bird it is!

I understand moles can be a health issue for other animals, but it still makes me sad to see them massacred!!

eileeninmd said...

Hello, looks like a great outing Phil! You saw some of my favorite birds like the Lapwing, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Snipe. The Swallows are adorable. The moles are a problem in my yard, I can feel the soft ground when I walk over their tunnels. Great collection of photos. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend!

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