19 July 2012

Adorable Mouse

I like to do some research before I start (and during) camera trapping in a new area. As a result I usually end up forming a "wish list" for the area. I tend to group species into some "loose" categories:
  • Done deals
    • Known to be present, common and easy to photograph.
  • Good bets
    • Not known to be present or difficult to photograph, but common and should be around if you know what or where to look for.
  • I'll have a shot
    • Known to be present, but uncommon or rare.
  • If I'm lucky
    • Not known to be present or was historically present and uncommon or rare now.
  • Yeah right
    • Myths and legends, either believed to be present and most likely not, or vice versa.
The Woodland Dormouse was on my "Good bets" list: They should be fairly common in the forests and thickets, but might be tricky to photograph and identify.

Woodland Dormouse (Boswaaierstertmuis - Graphiurus murinus) in the Woody Cape forest near the towns of Alexandria and Cannon Rocks

When I first got to this location I had a Cuddeback with me. Since I wasn't in the mood for mice, but instead had Blue Duiker on my mind I decided to strap the camera around the tree and point it towards the clearing. In the end I only photographed a couple of Bushbuck. (I've posted some of the pictures before over here, see the 3rd and 4th photographs.) When I went to collect the camera I noticed a big hole on the other side of the tree.

The hole in the back of the tree that caught my eye

It looked promising and since I had a Bushnell with me, which is much better at photographing small critters than a Cuddeback, I decided to strap it to an adjacent tree and see whether anything uses the hole or climbs up and down the tree. I wasn't disappointed. The tree was crawling with Dormice!

If this was a staring contest then the Dormouse won...

There was only one problem: Which species of Dormouse is this? Although the infrared Bushnell Trophy Cams are great at capturing anything, big or small, passing by the camera the grainy grey night time photos aren't pretty and makes identifying most rodent species very difficult. Luckily, back home, it was around this time that I took the plunge and bought my first Birdcam. This was going to be it's first field test. I pointed it to the tree and hoped for the best.

The Birdcam in action

I still don't know what to make of this camera. It seems to have a very good flash (for a commercial camera trap) that doesn't need to be dimmed even for very close shots. The strange thing is that it only has a manual focus. This allows it to take photographs of creatures very close to the camera. The problem is that if you have the setting wrong, or the animal isn't in the "sweet spot" then the animal will be out of focus. Thus the Birdcam can be set to focus much closer than normal commercial cameras. I'll keep you posted about this camera as I try it out in different situations, but my initial impression is that it is decent choice for some specialised camera setups.

On the hunt

I'm reasonably pleased with these initial results. Unfortunately all of the Woodland Dormouse images are slightly out of focus, but it is partly my own fault. I measured the focus point to be higher up on the tree, but almost all of the images has these little gray ninjas much lower and closer to the camera. I should have used a closer focus setting...

The camera had only one empty photograph, but in general it trigger far less often than the Bushnell did. But then again the Bushnell covered a larger part of the tree and has an excellent detection circuit.

Enough about the cameras, more about the animals!

Is he practicing his ninja-chop?

Woodland Dormice are rodents, however unlike most mice and rats they have very furry tails. They nocturnal and very good climbers. They are often found in houses and can become fairly tame. They eat insects, fruit and seeds. They are known to hibernate during winter and go into torpor during food shortage or cold spells.

Dormice live alone or in family groups that may share a nest. Nests are built in trees or amongst rocks from grass, lichen, etc. Family groups defend their territory fiercely from other Dormouse intruders and will even kill and eat the intruder! These sweet looking little mice are more like fierce ninjas that will take over another families home, eating any family members that get in their way.

I actually put some peanut butter and sunflower seeds on the tree in the hope that they will stick around longer, but they seemed to have ignored it completely

What predator would be brave enough to prey on such a fierce little rodent? Well, I'd put my money on this guy: The Large-Spotted Genet.

A wet Large-Spotted Genet (Grootkolmuskeljaatkat - Genetta tigrina), a wet tree and a wet camera

The Large-Spotted Genet payed a couple of visits to this Dormouse-highway.

"Mmmm, I think I'm going to jump onto that box-like-thing. I'm sure nobody will mind..."

A more curious visitor was this Small Grey Mongoose that dropped by one day.

Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond - Galerella pulverulenta) checking things out

The tree saw very little action during the day, so I have to wonder what this guy was thinking. Maybe, like me, he just wanted to have a look in the hole (you never know what might be down there). Maybe it was looking for some sleeping Dormouse to snack on?
All in all this has been a fun location and I might revisit it some time in the future. And with that it is the end my the tail.

Dormouse sending a clear message that it doesn't appreciate this intrusion on it's privacy


  1. Henri, you have a fascinating blog. This post was particularly interesting. I really love that first Genet photo.

  2. Thanks John.
    In fact, thanks for all of the comments you've left me over the years :) I always enjoy hearing from you, especially about your African adventures.

    Wow, I can't believe the blog has been around that long! My goal has always been to post about things that interest me and what I'd like to read about, and I'm just happy that other folks can enjoy it as well :)

    I also enjoy dropping by your blog. I actually have quite a few of your paintings saved on my computer, for wallpapers or just because I liked it ;)

  3. Hey Henry. Very cool post!
    I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts on the Birdcam. I've not been very happy (in fact distinctly unhappy) with my recent experiences with Cuddeback and Scoutguard incandscent flash cameras. So I'm in the market for an alternative that can do decent colour close-ups of small mammals.

  4. What a terrific mouse. And a great job telling their story, Henri.

    As I think you've seen in my posts, I've found that nests like these can often be more interesting to set on than game trails, because they're focal points of activity by birds and mammals looking for the occupants, dropped seeds and fruits, or the insects and herps that also live inside. I.e., they're like a corner market.

    Also looking forward to hearing about and seeing your results from the Birdcam. I've recommended them a couple of times to people who want to do small mammals, but don't want to hack a homebrew.

  5. Thanks for the comments guys :) I'll keep you posted on how the BridCam turns out.

    I had some very pleasant surprises from the BirdCam recently. I'll try and get a post out soon :)

  6. Hi
    I have a holiday home in North West province, i found a nest of this hairy tail mouse in my kitchen draws. Havent been there for a wile. When i caught them they all shed there tails. Is that normal? Is that the same as the pofstert mouses

  7. I really enjoyed the photos of your woodland dormouse which I discovered when I found one in my bath. So adorable!
    The family are nesting in my roof and have just seen another running up the wall to its nest. They are very noisy and sound quite different from the rats normally inhabiting my roof.
    I live in the Bush near the Umgeni valley. Thank you for all the information .

  8. Thank you for this information. Earlier this week we went to go and fetch some linen from the bush camp. All of a sudden something ran across the bed... all I could make out was a mouse with a fluffy squirrel like tail. We also found a little open nest between the two heaps of linen. Then a few days later we went back and saw the nest distroyed. . It did not like our visit and has sadly moved out. A few days later we went back and there was a little closed nest in the one corner of a woven basket. We watched and waited becaused it seemed like something was inside... the next minute this little mouse face popped out. It climbed out of its nest and we could clearly see its fluffy squirrel like tail. He did ran off and we decided to leave quietly as we came not disturbing anything, hoping he will return. Place: Schotia Safaris EC.