None of Your Business?

‘It’s finally happened, you’ve both lost your minds!’

There I was, staring at my boyfriends phone, gazing intently at a message from his mother, with a rather unpleasant photo attached to it. A photo, to be blunt, of some poo. Had she gone mad? Or was she so angry with her son that this is the way she chose to reflect her distain for him? Now, don’t worry, we’re not total savages, this wasn’t hers (phew), but someone else’s. No, not his dad’s either. So, who did it belong to then? Well, therein lied the mystery. These droppings had been found all around her garden and, as a chicken keeper, they were of great interest. They were also of great interest to me, I felt like this was a challenge! An identification test! To my boyfriend however, this was more than just bizarre. Who cared who they belonged to? Was this scenario real or was this some weird dream where both his mother and girlfriend had become poo enthusiasts? Why was his mother so obsessed, comparing her wellies to it for size, and why was his girlfriend looking up animal poo on the internet whilst drinking her hot chocolate in a cafe?!

I’m now picturing that moment in ‘Jurassic Park’, when Laura Dern asks to see the dinosaur’s droppings and Jeff Goldblum looks slightly horrified, an expression that seemed similar to the one my boyfriend was wearing. I admit, it does sound a little odd. Just a tad. I also admit that poo identification does not sound like the most glamorous of jobs. But, my boyfriends mum had her own motivations and to a wildlife enthusiast like me it can be a very interesting way to start a little bit of investigation! Droppings are after all, if nothing else, evidence! Evidence that that animal has visited that very spot, proof that that elusive creature you are so desperate to see may in fact, be somewhere near you!

‘Dino…droppings?’ From the film ‘Jurassic Park.’

As a wildlife lover and photographer, sometimes when go out into the world, go for a walk, or simply set into the garden, at first, all wildlife can seem somewhat scarce. The birds are quite and your appearance has driven all former residents into hiding. It’s disappointing, a little frustrating, but our investigations do not have to stop there! There is evidence of wildlife everywhere, from footprints to droppings, there is always something to be found to prove that our furry, prickly or feathered friends have been here already, and therefore, may return! These signs are also sometimes the easiest way to spot nocturnal animals and can be there to tell us that maybe it’s worth setting up that camera to see who is visiting your garden in the depths of the night. Perhaps a fox or badger is a regular visitor, and so far, you’ve not even known about him or her.

Fox Poo

But it isn’t just poo. Animal tracks, calls, pellets, fur, burrows and leftover meals are all important and useful indicators of the presence of species such as badgers, foxes, otters, rabbits, deer, bats and hedgehogs! Ecologists and conservationists can also use these signs to not only detect animals, but to understand their behaviours, their populations and their movements. Of course these signs, especially poo and pellets are not to be touched, as the bacteria they contain can be harmful, so what can we do? Take note. Take note of the size, shape, length and even what you might be able to see within the droppings, for example bone and fur. The only thing not to get confused with concerns our species of Owl. Owl pellets, regurgitated food which they find too difficult to digest, and poo can look very similar, but remember, pellets do not smell, when fresh they are black and once dried out, they turn grey.

Barn Owl Pellet

Still not convinced? Understandable. Poo is not the most pleasant thing to investigate and my spaniels remind me of this often, not least because when there is a fox about they are very good at telling me, as, should the opportunity arise, they go and roll in it’s poo! Several baths later and they still smell a little musty….

What does this tell us then? It tells me, that even in the absence of living, breathing wildlife standing right in front of us, signs of nature and our wildlife are all around us. Although seeing these creatures in the flesh is of course the ultimate goal, it is not altogether disheartening when we are able to spot signs that they are present and that all we need is a little patience and planning and we may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse. Or, our cameras might be.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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