Christmas should be a time of joy, but that principle is not always observed by nature. Or indeed by those who interfere with nature. In respect of two of the casualties I count myself in the latter group. I have tunnel traps set for rats near my duck shed and compost bins, and check them every morning regardless of darkness, rain, or even Christmas Day. On Christmas morning one had caught one of the largest rats I have seen in the garden. I was aware of the rat two days earlier, though not of its gigantic proportions as I’d never seen it. It had been scraping trying to get in to one of the compost bins; a source of food and heat and the ultimate in real estate for a rat. I expected to catch it in the trap that was set beside the bins, but it had missed that one – or recognised its danger, as rats are by no means stupid. It was trapped by the one beside the duck shed, typically caught across the body with its back broken, killing it instantly. It had an exceedingly bad Christmas, but I just can’t afford to let rat numbers build up and have them breeding.
Next for checking was the mouse trap in the garage. It has been remarkably quiet this winter, having caught only half a dozen or so long-tailed field mice, less in fact than I’ve caught in the kitchen (see The fecundity of mice). This time it had caught what I at first thought was a house mouse, but on closer inspection as I took it out of the trap, I had been wrong. A house mouse has a much shorter tail than a field mouse, but it has a pointed nose. This wee mouse had a short tail and a snub nose and was clearly a short-tailed field vole. It was as out of place in the garage as a house mouse (the differences between a house mouse and a long-tailed field mouse making me think of the children’s tale, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. I wouldn’t have been surprised seeing the vole in the fields at the back of the house or even in the wood, but this was a first in the garage. I’d no gripe with the field vole and I was sorry I had caught it, but the trap unfortunately can’t distinguish between mice and voles. I regretted spoiling its Christmas.
The last casualty was a blackbird. I check the wood every morning for eggs the ducks may have laid after I let them out. This morning’s route took me past a pile of black feathers that were not there yesterday. Seven or eight blackbirds have been coming every morning to several half apples I put out. There will now be one less thanks to one of the visiting sparrowhawk pair. It must be two months since I have seen the raptors but they are often there and gone in a flash, especially if they miss their intended prey as they often do. Sometimes they perch and survey the scene, invariably devoid of any small birdlife as they scatter and hide incredibly quickly. Yesterday one of the blackbirds must have been a millisecond too slow in getting off its mark. All that remained this morning was the feathers where the sparrowhawk had plucked and eaten it. The blackbird had a real lousy Christmas but the sparrowhawk enjoyed its day. A bit like our day compared with the turkey we were eating.