Sat 31st December 2011

Tawny owl (copy 127px x 180px)Well we’ve come to the end of another year. It’s been nice to have time with my family over Christmas but I’ve not taken too long off as there’s always plenty to do out and about.

If you go out after dark at this time of year you’ll hear the tawny owls calling. They certainly are around here. This tells me that they are pairing up ready for nesting. That familiar ‘twit twoo’ isn’t made by a single bird, it’s a combination of the male and female call. The ‘twit’ is the female telling the male what she thinks of him, and the ‘twoo’ is his response.

The earliest birds to nest are the beautiful black ravens and they’ll start in January. The owls won’t be far behind so now is a good time to be putting up owl boxes if you’ve not already done so. And that’s just what I’ve been doing. It’s a big job so be sure to ask for help. I’ve had two people helping me; Billy my granddaughter Roxy’s boyfriend and my friend Rupert who’s a great wildlife photographer and film maker.

Rupert’s helping me set up a camera in our box. We’ve put in seven infra-red lights and set the camera inside under the top cover. From this position we should see the owl’s head coming to the entrance of the box, maybe carrying a mouse if he’s had a successful hunt. I’m really hoping for some good shots.

If you want to put up a box yourself, there is lots of information on the website of The Barn Owl Trust www.barnowltrust.org.uk.

I’m putting my new box next to my newest hide, from where I film the wild boar. I’m doing this because the food I put down for the wild boars will be attracting other animals such as mice, a primary food source for owls.

The other thing I’m working on at the moment is a new DVD about our land. People keep asking me how it’s developing, especially if the pond is well established now, so I thought I’d make a film to show you. I’m aiming for it to be finished by the Spring. The night time filming is going better now and I’m getting some good footage of the wild boar.

There’s a different sort of filming I want to tell you about this week. I have quite a problem keeping food down at times and the doctors decided to put a camera down inside me. What an experience that was.

I was down in the Gemini Suite of North Devon District Hospital just before Christmas with five other patients. They all decided to have a general anaesthetic but I didn’t want that. Instead they sprayed in my throat to deaden the feeling before poking the camera down.

Dr Davis and his crew did a wonderful job. They were so kind to me and I really want to thank them. What a sensation though. I’m telling you, I could feel this thing going all the way down inside me. Dr Davis was talking to me all the time, telling me where he was and what he could see. Down it went into my stomach and my guts. At one point I thought it was going to come out the other end.

The good thing was that Dr Davis was able to tell me straight away what was going on in there. There’d been a fear it might be cancer but he said it’s all looking good and healthy. That was the best Christmas present I could have had.

I share this with you in case any of you are facing something similar. Maybe you’re afraid to get a complaint checked out or nervous about going through something like I did. I can’t say it was pleasant bit I had it done and I’m glad I did. I’m just grateful that we have the health care we do and lovely people like Dr Davis and his team to look after us.

Just two last things before I sign off for 2011. Firstly, the quiz I’ve been running over the past few weeks for my online customers. Thank you so much to everyone who entered. I hope you had a bit of fun doing it. The winner is Diane Simmons. Well done Diane.

Secondly, in my last blog I told you about the wonderful grave stone Carol and Allan at Timeless Memorials sent Julie and me. We think so much of it. Well I thought you might like to see a photo of it so I’ve included one below.

And now, finally, I’d like to wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year. Here’s to 2012.

 
 

Tues 20th Dec 2011

Antlers 1 (copy 135px x 180px)I heard a story about a big old stag this week. Geoff, a chap I know who loves the deer and goes out looking for them every weekend, came across something unusual. He was walking by a local river when he spotted a shape protruding out of the waters edge. He thought at first it was a decomposed seal but on further investigation found it to be a large decomposed stag. He couldn’t be sure of its full size as the tops of the antlers were but stuck in the silt and mud. It had obviously been there for some time.

Geoff got hold of his son and asked him to come down with a saw to remove the antlers. They did this, pulled them out of the mud and what a huge weighty pair of antlers they were. From the photos his wife Judy sent me I’d say they were bigger than the largest pair I’ve got.

It must have been some sized stag. Thank you Geoff and Judy for letting me know about this exciting find and I hope to see those antlers sometime.

An extra bit of interest about Geoff and Judy is that their four year old Springer Spaniel is a brother to our Springer Megan.

It’s always a bit sad to hear about the death of an old stag but of course they all have to go sometime. I wonder how he died. Maybe it was just old age. I reckon he must have been at least 12 or 13 years old. Perhaps he drowned for some reason. Had he been shot and wounded? We’ll never know.

I’ve been told another story about a red deer stag, one of the four really big stags on Exmoor. Apparently he’s got some wire caught around his antler and trailing three or four yards behind him. He must have got tangled up in a farmer’s fence. If he can’t shake it off there’s a chance he could get hanged up on something and break his neck. That would be a tragedy.

If he can’t free himself let’s hope he gets through the winter ok because in the second or third week in March he’ll shed his antlers and be rid of the wire.

I’m still trying to get the new camera right for my night time filming. It’s been so cold out this last week that I’ve not been able to make as much progress as I’d hope. I’ll keep trying though.

I had a lovely present this week, a gravestone. It arrived by post. No don’t laugh, this is something rather special. It was sent to Julie and me by Carol and Allan at Timeless Memorials up in Hull. It’s a bit bigger than A4 size, about 1½ inches thick and made of slate, so you can imagine how heavy it is. On the front it’s beautifully engraved with a picture of Bambi and me. It’s to go on her grave. Julie and I are over the moon with it and so grateful. Carol and Allan have done a wonderful job and we can’t thank them enough.

Well we are pretty busy this week with all our preparations for the coming weekend. I’ll be in Barnstaple Pannier market on Christmas Eve so come and say hello if you happen to be in the area. That just leaves Julie and me to wish you all a Very Happy and Peaceful Christmas. God bless you.

 
 

Tues 13th Dec 2011

Badger (copy 180px x 127px)I’m going to write about badgers this week but first I want to tell you about the new camera I’ve been trying out for night time filming. It’s a Vickers Bushell Trophy camera, a high definition security model that I’ve been given on loan to test out. It’s a nice camera but I can’t quite get the quality right as yet. I think I may need to use some infra-red lighting as well. But that’s what filming wildlife is all about, trial and error and lots of patience. I’ll give it another go tonight.

The first night I put it up I filmed lots of animals. Just before dark a squirrel came along. A bit later it picked up four wild boar and then five deer. An hour or so after that a fox appeared, then two badgers and finally the four wild boar again. It just shows what’s out there running around in the night. I do have a feeding station to encourage them and bring them to the camera but it’s lovely to see so much night time activity.

On to badgers now. Did you know that badgers and foxes will live in the same place? The badger sett may be on one side of the area and the fox den on the other but the underground tunnels will all join up. Do the two animals ever meet up underground I wonder?

If you want to see or film badgers around their sett you need to learn how to approach them. The most important thing to bear in mind is wind direction. Badgers have poor eyesight but a very strong sense of smell. So, approach the sett from down wind so that your scent is blown away from the sett not towards it. And don’t go walking all around the sett or the badgers won’t come out until you’re gone.

When badgers move away from the sett they tend to follow the same tracks time after time. If you can identify their main route, this is a good place to set up a camera as they are bound to pass by.

I like to encourage them to come to me, often to one of my permanent hides. I do this by feeding them. I usually use peanuts but they will also eat scraps and they love dog food. Don’t ever put out bread and milk as badgers are lactose intolerant and it will only do them harm. Once Julie and I were camping at Widecombe Fair and we were woken by a terrible clattering in the night. I looked out and a badger was eating the fat out of a frying pan someone had left out. He was really enjoying it I’d say.

When you start your feeding programme put the food a good way away from you at first. Give the badgers a fortnight to get used to things then gradually start to bring the food a bit closer to you. Over time the badgers will get used to you, even though they will be able to smell you, and they won’t mind coming quite close. You’ll have a great time watching them and get some good shots if that’s your aim.

Some people say badgers will feed out of their hand. I don’t recommend this. They are wild animals remember and could bite unexpectedly. The shape of a badgers jaw means that his teeth lock together when he bites so once he has a grip on you he won’t easily let go.

If you fancy building your own hide you might find that the farmer whose land the sett is on will be happy to let you. It’s certainly worth asking. Otherwise you might want to invest in a portable hide like I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

At this time of year the badgers are busy cleaning out their sett ready for their babies to be born in the New Year. It tends to be January down here in the South West. They drag all their bedding out to dry and air and then put it all back again. I don’t know how they are managing to do it with all this rain we’ve been having. Badgers are actually very clean animals and even have their toilet area away from the sett.

If you see a badger out in daylight or around buildings a lot, especially farm buildings, it’s likely it is old or ill and struggling to find food. It’s best to keep away as they can be vicious animals when they feel threatened, even more so when if they are not in good health.

Well, that’s about it for this week. I want to get out and set up this camera before it gets dark. I’ll let you know how I get on next week.

 
 

Tues 6th Dec 2011

From the weather we’ve been having over the past few days there’s a real feeling that Autumn is now passing into Winter. Most of the leaves have disappeared from the trees and it’s feeling a lot colder here on Exmoor. We even had a frost a couple of days last week.

This seasonal change is also bringing in some Winter visitors from the bird kingdom. I’ve spotted a few woodcock, a beautiful but shy woodland bird that flits about the trees, and there are some fieldfares about. These are small thrushes that come down from Northern Europe as the weather gets colder.

There seem to be more starlings about than in recent years, which is encouraging. Do you remember when the skies seemed to be full of them and their deafening chatter?

Another bird I’m seeing around where I live is the peewit. They normally like to live on the coast and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them this far inland. They nest on stony ground and with all the ploughing that goes on here I guess there’s few good nesting sites for them. Why they’ve chosen to visit us now I’m not really sure.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately and the rivers are running high. There might be a late salmon run which we haven’t had for a couple of years. Three lots of salmon come up the river. First there’s the old, stale salmon which live in pools in the valleys in summer. We call these ‘dirty salmon’. Next come the very shiny salmon straight from the sea. They are often infested with sea lice which clear when the salmon enter the fresh water of the rivers. Finally, the green back salmon arrive. My dad used to call them Christmas salmon. I’ll leave you to ponder why!

None of these salmon have been seen in the smaller rivers for a while as waters have been running low. Maybe we’ll see them now. I do hope so.

I mentioned the other week that many birds are feasting on berries at the moment. Well I must tell you about the sloes we’ve had this year. It’s the most I’ve ever seen. The bushes on our land have been black with them. Quite a sight to see.

I was out and about over the weekend as I told you I would be. ‘Dunster by Candlelight’ was one of the best shows they’ve put on. My wife Julie and I had a great time and would like to thank everyone who came and supported us. I’ve no idea how many people we talked to but it was a huge number.

There is one lovely lady who brings me goodies every year and she was there again. She made me the most delicious lemon curd tarts, jam tarts and mince pies. What a treat. I get given lots of present from all sorts of people and would like to say thank you to each and every one of you.

I also met a man who’d come all the way from Cyprus to see me. I could hardly believe it. He says my films are very popular over there. Something else rather special was a picture a chap called Michael Punter drew of me, with a stag in one corner. It is very good.

Sadly I didn’t make it to Dulverton on Sunday so I’d like to say sorry to anyone who was looking out for me there. Hopefully I’ll be there next year.

Oh, I nearly forgot. Thank you to those of you who came up with an answer for my question in last weeks’ blog. I asked what happens to a stag to enable him to make the amazing roaring sound that can be heard during the Autumn rut. Well, here’s the answer. In September his throat swells up like a balloon and it is this swelling that enables him to produce the distinctive roaring. Towards the end of the rut the swelling goes down and he can’t roar any more. He may keep trying however, especially if some of the hinds are late coming into season as seems to have happened this year. So now you know.

Next week I’ll probably talk about badgers. I’m looking forward to it as I love these wonderful animals. See you in a week.