Thurs 27th March 2014
Spring is with us again and lovely it is too, with some nice weather, trees beginning to bud and masses of daffodils and primrose brightening up gardens and hedgerows. The birds are busy building their nests and I even saw a swallow this morning, the first of the year. It’s pretty early to see one of those around before the end of March. I also heard on the radio that someone has heard the first cuckoo down on Dartmoor.
My Exmoor safaris have started well. The first one was on the 8th of this month and we had a great day. The weather was kind to us with just a bit of fog around so we headed up to the north coast. During the day we saw around 70 red deer so we were chuffed to bits.
Some friends of mine recently did a count up around the moor to get an idea of how many there are about and they recorded over 100 stags. That’s wonderful news even though there weren’t many big stags amongst them. My mate Mike Foot picked up a big set of antlers not long ago, an old pair probably dropped last Spring. I always reckon the first and second weeks in April are the best time to find newly dropped antlers. There’s a group of chaps up on the moor who have a competition each year to see who can find the best pair. They watch the stags as much as they can to get an idea where to look once the antlers have dropped off.
Last week I saw some beautiful roe deer on the moor, a buck in velvet and three does. I also spotted a red kite. I’ve only seen six on the moor in my whole life but I’ve heard of a pair in the area. I believe there is a good population in Wales and that they’re gradually spreading down through the country.
I was filming out near Filleigh the other day and had a lovely time watching a dibchick, the name I’ve always called a moorhen, building a nest. They usually build right on the water where a few stick have caught up to give them a small platform. This one was about three feet up the bank and I could see it running up and down. The chicks normally hop out of the nest straight into the water when the time comes to venture out. I think the chicks from this nest are going to have a bit of a roll down that bank before they hit the water. I would be great to see so I shall be keeping an eye on them in the hope I can be there at the right time.
Yesterday I was out with the film crew getting shots for the Spring episode of the TV series. We went lambing and I pulled off two lambs. It’s always a special thing to be involved in. One local farmer was telling me he’s recently had two new born lambs have their eyes pecked out by ravens. It’s not uncommon for this to happen, and is the way of nature, but I always hate to hear about it.
About three years ago one of my sons brought up an old tree stump from the woods on the land. It had a hole at each end and a hollow in the middle, ideal for making into a sort of nesting box. I put it up on the BBQ for the time being but before I had time to do anything with it a grey wagtail decided to nest in it much to my delight. Well, the old stump is still where I left it and the wagtail is back nesting again this year.
Something else I’ve been filming is adders, over at Torrington which is well known for them. They like the steep slope down towards Taddiport and the other side of the hill around the golf course. I was up there two weeks ago and got some shots I’m really pleased with, one of an adder a good 18 inches long.
I’ve got some friends over there who tell me what’s going on with the wildlife and they say the adders were about early this year, near the beginning of February. They are quite docile in Spring as the ground is cold and the sun still quite weak so they find it hard to get warm. In April they will shed their skins, find a partner and mate. They do a twisting dance when they’re pairing up which I managed to film once. The female is bigger than the male and a browny colour whereas the male is darker. Come October they hibernate, always going back to the same place as the year before.
If you come across an adder it will usually just slither away but they will strike and bite you if you get too close so do keep your distance. They aren’t usually fatal to humans but many dogs die every year as a result of adder bites.
I took my wife Julie up over the moor the other day and we saw seventeen buzzards all in one place. They do come together at this time of year but that is a particularly large number. It was up at Five Barrows. Buzzards eat a lot of earthworms and it’s so comical to see them swoop to the ground then bounce along stamping their feet trying to get the worms to pop up. They are very good at it and no sooner does the worm show itself than it’s gobbled up.
I’m off to Scotland at the end of the month for my annual trip to Aigas so I shall have lots to tell you about that when I get back. See you at the end of April.