Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow hinders just about all

The picture shows a badger sett entrance but it,s not only an entrance.Setts,especially vintage ones and some go back to the Middle ages and beyond,are complex affairs of tunnels,passing places,sleeping chambers,brooding places and entrances and vents.Some holes let air in and some vent it out depending on the wind direction.This sett faces just off westerly and so this hole is venting (as well as an entrance though little used)hot,stale air from the badger family beneath and can be seen quite clearly to have melted the snow around it.The same is true of rabbit burys to a certain extent.Badgers and rabbits also both spend most of a very cold spell under ground,indeed this sett is local to me and in the last bit of snow we had that lasted nigh on a week they never came out till the thaw was well and truly under way.They live off their fat as do rabbits who may come out a little more but they don,t seem to like it much and can eat tree bark at this time as do the lovely hares.So where does this leave our bigcats i wonder.Well reports on BBC Snow watch last winter mentioned foxes targeting the floor below bird roosts as some of the smaller species were literally falling off their perches dead and i would assume a bigcat would take up this kind of oppurtunity if it arises around them but frozen ground and snow makes hunting that little bit much harder.For a start frozen ground is noisier and being usually,though not always,windless sound from the hunter travels very well and all over the place and so would scent tipping the balance in favour of the prey like deer and rabbits.Good hunting requires a steady wind coming from 1 direction and in gales the prey have a hopeless task trying to fathom what,s coming their way.Hoofed and furry footed animals like deer,rabbits and hares skate over frosty ground quite easily whereas soft padded creatures like their predators the bigcats find it harder going than non-frosty conditions.When snow has fallen camoflaging in the cover becomes almost meaningless and even at night with no moon the light levels(nearby)are very high ,snow reflects light like a mirror and i,ve found deer especially to be extra vigilant and they do seem to have enough light to see by whereas usually they rely on hearing,smell and sound as in twilight light levels and beyond they cannot see at all,seeing as bigcats are mostly very low light level hunters ie.twilight,nocturnal again these conditions favour the prey.Of course bigcats use their other senses as well at night but they have trouble homing in on the small holding point of a deer,the neck,without using their eyes.The back up meals of rabbits are spending most of their time in their buries as they are having trouble feeding as well.There is a school of thought that suggests that heavy falling snow dulls the senses of prey just like heavy rain does so then the tables are turned in favour of the cats,also,different depths of snow inhibit the gait.1" to 2"of snow drastically reduces a rabbit or hares speed whereas a bigcat would have little trouble in it speed wise,6" or more and they are easy meat,deer too once the depths increase over a foot find they are sinking down to virtually soil level as they have small,hard,sharp hooves but a bigcat with their soft,splayed out paws sink in it far slower so can move better but they still have to find their quarry and in snowtime this is very difficult.Daytime hunting in the snow is another subject but again chances are more limited.It has been pointed out to me that going back through this blog it would appear that bigcats target sheep all year round and this just isn,t so.In fact very few of them do so it,s just that a dead sheep in a field will always be noticed,besides, it makes for good,exciting copy in the papers whether it actually happened or not and actually all the suspected bigcat kills that i have investigated this year in Sussex bar 1(the Bexhill bigcat sheep kills reported in the press were completly unsubstantuated and were just as likely to have been dog attacks) have come from 1 suspect which,according to 1 witness who saw it close up chasing their chickens and is an experienced veterinary nurse,has the appearance of being elderly.The other 1 was the Tillington sheep kills(blogged here) which was going on at the beginning of the year when we last had a lot of snow and it was as cold then,nearly,as it was in the "60,s.Thus it,s my humble opinion that, generally speaking, the odd bigcat may take farm stock when they have either got as far enough in life to grow too old to catch their natural prey or long spells of hard weather have hindered them somewhat in catching their natural food.Luckily for the wildlife this snow has effectively come in autumn which means that the animals are still in peak condition fat-wise and so should be able to weather it better,although bigcats prey mostly on lean game like deer and rabbits they should have, like their prey has , sufficient fat reserves to last them through at least a week or so and they would have far less of this fat if the snow came in febuary like it usually does........

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