nature watch

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Bird and animal droppings, though superficially unattractive, are a rewarding subject for study, because they betray the presence of creatures rarely on view. White splashes on a stile or gatepost, for instance, are probably those of a tawny owl or a little owl, the whiteness being dissolved calcium from the bones of rodents which the nocturnal predators have caught and eaten.

Foxes often leave their calling-cards on molehills or stumps, and at this time of year the droppings are often dark red or purple - not a sign that Reynard has intestinal problems, but a reflection of his liking for fruit. Blackberries and elderberries go down well.

Experts can tell those of bucks and does apart, and some people claim that in dense forests dung-counts are the most accurate means of assessing the deer population.