Fri 28th Feb 2014
Well, I’ve had a busy month filming for the new TV series. At the end of January I was out on the moor with the film crew looking for Exmoor ponies. We want to show people just how tough it is in Winter for these beautiful animals and we certainly picked a good day for it.
We found some ponies near Winsford after a bit of a search in terrible weather. The wind was howling and the rain lashing. Awful it was. They were standing with their backs to the wind, as they do in such weather, for there is little shelter or protection from the elements up on the open moor.
If that wasn’t bad enough, it started to snow, with three inches falling in about 20 minutes. What a day. By the time we finished filming at around 4 pm my video camera was wet through and hasn’t worked since. I’ve sent the circuit board away in the hope it can be replaced but have had to get a new camera so I can still film.
I’ve also been out searching for stags and one day found a lovely herd of 12 youngsters. A few days later I saw 32 stags in four groups within a five mile radius of each other. Wonderful. Again it was mostly youngsters, with only two big stags amongst them. This isn’t good news and seems to confirm our fears that many of the old boys have been shot. But at least there are still lots of young stags about, as well as plenty of hinds.
Another month and the stags will begin to lose their antlers so it was nice to see them in all their finery. With this in mind I decided to stalk the last group and try to film them.
I got out of my truck, gathered up all my gear and set off across the common. Finding a good spot not too far away from the group of 14 stags I lay down to wait in the hope they would walk towards me. I lay there for an hour in the chilly wind. It also hailed and I got very cold. You need good clothing to do this. I wear Jack Pyke gear. They’re one of my sponsors, as you know. I’m very grateful to them, especially when out filming in such bad weather. But that’s what you have to do to get the good shots and I did get some that day.
I’ve also seen some rather special birds since my last blog, marsh harriers up near Simonsbath. They do come around this way occasionally but you don’t see them very often. They’re big birds, larger than a buzzard, with a massive wingspan. Unlike buzzards, which circle high up on the thermal, marsh harriers glide close to the ground, diving down on their prey from three or four feet up. This makes them very difficult to film. It was great to see them though.
After I mentioned sparrow hawks last month, several people have mentioned to me that they are having trouble with them in their gardens. I’ve got the same problem up on the land with a pair that target my feeders. Recently I saw one catch a bird and carry it off into a holly tree to eat. Still, they do have to eat just like the other wildlife. It just happens that their food is other birds.
You can see a photo of a sparrow hawk at the bottom of this blog, sent to me by a friend who lives near Barnstaple.
I’ve been up on the land all day today filming the birds. There are still getting on for a hundred on the feeders at any one time. It’s a wonderful sight to see.
I headed to the coast recently to try and film some wading birds. Near Fremington there’s a spot where you can always see egrets, beautiful little white birds of the heron family. I saw seven roosting together in a tree, the first time I’ve ever seen that. I shall go there again and see what else I can find.
It’s only a week before my Exmoor safaris start again. I’m really looking forward to them and know we’re going to have some great days out on the moor. There are still spaces left so do go to the ‘Safari’ page of the website and book up if you’d like to join me this year. Don’t forget to bring along your binoculars, although I always carry spares for anyone who need them. I recommend binoculars with a strength of 10 x 50. If they are too strong, the image shakes.
That reminds me to tell you about my Swarovski scope. It’s an amazing piece of equipment and perfect for spotting deer at a distance. It does need a tripod though. You can attach a camera to mine for some amazing shots. I’m very grateful to Swarovski for giving me one as I know they are expensive. I am so fortunate to have great sponsors.
I hope you are enjoying the first signs of Spring as much as I am. The snowdrops are turning over now but there are already daffodils out in the garden. I’ve never seen the fields so green at this time as year as they are now. It must be the mild weather and all that rain.
The other thing I must tell you about is the badger project I’ve been working on since early December. I know I’ve mentioned it before but I’ve had a bit more success this month.
The two mice I told you about last month have been replaced by two badgers, and a lot of rats unfortunately, probably attracted by the food I put out. Then I was up there the other night for a few hours and five badgers came into the dome we’ve constructed. I have several cameras set up at different angles to film what’s going on and the badgers were sniffing at the lenses then jumping back in fright when their noses touched them. It was really special to watch and very funny.
Before I go I must mention my membership website ‘Johnny Kingdom’s World’ (www.johnnykingdomsworld.com). With my filming commitments it has had to be put on hold for 12 months so please don’t try to join up just yet. Thank you to everyone who has supported it up to now.
I must also thank everyone who sent me birthday cards on my 75th birthday last weekend. In the same week, my great granddaughter celebrated her first birthday. We had a big family get together which was really nice.
Well I think that’s me done for this month. I hope you have plenty of opportunity to get out and about over the next few weeks and enjoy all that early Spring has to offer. The wildlife will certainly be busy and so will I. God bless for now.