Although not widely know, the RSPB owns a small wood just outside Dolgellau. It's main claim to fame is a small population of dormice; just one of three populations in the whole of the Snowdonia National Park.
Although there are old records from the wood and more recently a few half chewed hazel nuts that may have been eaten by a dormouse have been found, the evidence of dormice being here has been scant to say the least. Although we have over 70 nest boxes especially put up for them successive visits have always found no sign of any dormice at all. It is fair to say that these dormice were fast becoming a thing of myth until today.
Kate Williamson of the National Park helped us visit all of our dormice boxes to see if any had been used, within five-minutes of checking we struck gold (well oak leaves to be precise). One of the boxes had an old wood mouse nest in it, however, underneath the tangle of oak leaves that the wood mouse had left, the nest became more intregately woven with slithers of honeysuckle bark. Clearly (to dormouse expert Kate at least) this was the work of a dormouse. Obviously the wood mouse had evicted the dormouse before adding it's own nest.
However, things were to get better as in an neighbouring box there was a fresh dormouse nest with green hazel leaves that must have been put there very recently.
Over the course of the next hour three more dormice nests were found but alas no dormice. Many of the boxes had been used by wood mice and some contained old bird nests, in some there were pygmy shrews, unbelievably small rodents about the size of a brazil nut!
We started to wonder if we would actually see a dormouse at all until Kate, on her sixth attempt parted a woven dormouse nest and there, to everyones delight, was a dormouse. Luckily Kate had taken the box down and was examining it in a clear plastic bag as the dormouse leapt from the nest and darted around the bag like a ginger blur, only stopping momentarily for us to admire it's bushy tail and bulging black eyes. After examining it the box was put back and the dormouse returned to it's home.
Hardly believing our luck we carried on and over the next hour our luck only improved with more dormice nests and even more dormice to go with them. Eventually we had nine confirmed nests containing six dormice.
Leaving the wood we could hardly believe what we had just seen, six dormice, more than had been seen than over the past twenty-years! Why had dormice been so hard to find before? Did we miss them? Had this year been especially good for them? Had we all had a mass hallucination? Perhaps we will never know.