Tues 29th Nov 2011
I want to begin this week’s blog by mentioning the red deer rut again. Although it’s pretty much come to an end there is still some late activity as I thought there might be. Just a few days ago two friends of mine up on Exmoor, Jackie and Sheila, heard two stags having a massive fight. I reckon one of those hinds with a late calf had come into season in the area. They also heard the stags trying to roar. It’s the only time of the year that you’ll hear this.
Now here’s a question for you. What happens to a stag to enable him to make the amazing roaring sound that can be heard during the autumn rut? I’d love to hear from you if you know. If you do, then drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll tell you the answer next week.
A few people have asked me about my hides recently so I thought that’s what I’d focus on this week. Well I’ve put up lots of hides in my time and still have eight or nine up on Exmoor. Many of them I’ve built myself. The oldest one still standing has been there for 26 years and has a tawny owl nesting in it. It’s about 30 feet up in the air. I’ll tell you how it came about.
Many years ago a load of old iron pylons were taken down and replaced by newer, bigger ones. They were left lying on the farmers’ land where they fell. A chap I knew, Dr Chesterfield, let me have his and I got a gang of about 20 men to come and help me move them. A great friend of mine, Michael Warren, welded them together. We made a concrete base, hoisted the pylons up and set to building a hide on top, way up in the air.
The hide itself measured 8 x 10 feet and there was a wonderful view from up top. I went up there again just last year when I was filming with UK TV. It’s a bit rickety now after all those years so I was careful not to tread on any rotten old floorboard. The tawny owl flew out as I climbed up which is how I know he’s still nesting there.
The way I do my filming I like the animals to come to me, so I choose where I build my hides very carefully. I’ve got several in woodlands and my latest I’ve built for filming the wild boar. A lot of the footage for my DVD ‘Wild Boar Excitement!’ was taken from it.
I also have a portable one man hide made by Deben. It’s one of the best hides I’ve ever had. It is ever so quick and easy to put up and has lots of pockets and zips. What’s more, it even converts into a chair. I’ve found it particularly useful when filming birds down by the pond. It’s so easy to move that I can simply pick it up from inside and creep slowly forward without disturbing the birds. It really is brilliant.
Another of my hides that a lot of North Devon people would recognise is made from my old chariot that I used to take around the markets to sell my DVD’s from. It’s now up on our land and I use it for badger watching.
There’s one last thing I want to tell you about this week. It’s something I was asked to do for the local community at the secondary school in South Molton. I was very pleased to do it because I was one of the very first pupils to go to the school when it opened years ago. And what did I do? Well, I was asked to make a little speech at the official opening of a zebra crossing.
What’s so special about this particular zebra crossing is that the children have been fighting for eight years to get it built. It was a lovely event. We had tea and biscuits and cakes that the kids had made themselves. They even stopped cars and lorries passing by and handed out biscuits and cakes to the drivers. One of the boys had dressed up in a zebra crossing costume. I think the children should be very proud of themselves for what they’ve achieved and I want to say a big well done to them all.
This weekend is going to be a busy one as I’ll be at the ‘Dunster by Candlelight’ event on Friday and Saturday. If you’re going along do come and say hello to me on my stall in the tithe barn. Then on Sunday I’m off to Dulverton for ‘Dulverton by Starlight’. I’ll just be strolling around that day so I hope I bump into a few of you.
Whatever you’re doing next weekend, have a great time and I’ll talk to you again next week.
Mon 21st Oct 2011
I was at the South West Digital Camera and Optics show down the road in Barnstaple yesterday and what a lot of people turned up. Far more than was expected but it was a great day. I talked to one man who told me he saw a newborn red deer calf up on Exmoor on 30th September. Now that’s very unusual as you expect to see them in June. He was a bit concerned as there was no mother with it. He’s been back to check on it and has filmed it four times in all.
Last time he saw the calf it was still quite small and covered in the familiar spots of a youngster but he was please to see that it was no longer alone. With it was a pricket, that’s a two year old stag. It’s good to know it’s got company now. I do hope that little calf survives the winter. If we have a mild one it may stand a chance.
With November three parts gone and colder weather surely not far off, it’s a good time to be cleaning out your bird boxes. Just take out any old nesting material as most birds like to make a fresh start in the Spring.
It’s also a good time to be putting up new boxes. I have the best result when I face them south-west-west or north-west. It’s very important that they aren’t in full sun or the babies will die from the heat. If there is shelter over them then it’s ok so long as the sun doesn’t shine on the hole. Also be sure that they are not next to a bush or tree that a cat can climb up.
I’d recommend boxes with a metal rim around the hole, especially if you have great spotted woodpeckers and squirrels in your garden. They cost a bit more but may make the difference between life and death for your little fledgling family, for these two garden visitors are well know for pecking or gnawing at birds box holes so that they can get inside and carry off the helpless babies.
I’m often asked about where to get little cameras to set up in bird boxes. If you live here in North Devon you can get them at Eggesford Garden Centre. Other than that I would ask around locally or look on the internet.
You may be finding that there aren’t many birds on your feeders at the moment. That’s because there are lots of berries about. I’m pleased to say that I’ve recently seen three pairs of bullfinches within three miles of each other. This is a really good sign.
I’ve been hearing that there are lots of house sparrows about which is also good news. It’s not so long ago that there was concern about them becoming scarce. Another bird I’ve seen this week is the beautiful goldfinch. I’ve started putting out shelled sunflower seed again up on our land and there’s been half a dozen goldfinches at a time on the ground under the feeders.
Do you remember the cormorant I told you about on the pond a week or so ago? I got a lovely photo of him that you can see below. Well he’s gone now, with a full belly I’m sure.
However, the heron is back so the fish still aren’t safe. There’s also an otter around. I’ve not seen him but there’s a clear track where he slides into the pond so I know he’s about. He always goes in at the same place.
We’ve still got a few water lilies out, which you wouldn’t expect in November, but the bulrushes have all gone to seed now. They’ll stay quite downy until next Spring when the birds will be pecking at them for the soft lining of their nests.
Last week I mentioned I was working on a new DVD. Well I’ve really cracked on and got it finish. It’s called ‘Johnny Kingdom’s Red Deer Watch’ and I’m really pleased with it. It includes film of an amazing stag fight and some stunning white deer. I also spend time explaining how I film the red deer. I hope you like it. If you’d like to know more, have a look on my DVD’s page.
I’ve lots more to tell you but it will have to wait until next week now. Do keep your photos coming for the ‘Friends of Johnny’ page. I do so love seeing them. Have a great week.
Wed 16th Nov 2011
Well, my safaris have come to an end for another year, although I’m already getting bookings for 2012. I do love taking people up on Exmoor to see the red deer and other wildlife. We always have such a great time and I make so many new friends.
There were only three people on my last trip as I did an extra one for a couple who’d sadly had a bereavement and had to postpone their booking. One other chap joined us so we were a cosy little group. We had a wonderful day and saw red deer at almost every place we stopped, over two hundred deer in all I reckon. I’m so pleased that the last safari of the year was a really good one.
We also saw a group of a dozen ravens together up at Five Barrows, the highest point in North Devon, near to where I was born. The raven is the first bird in the UK to nest and lay, beginning their nest building in the cold, winter month of January. They were lovely to watch. However, the local farmers won’t be pleased to see such a large group. This bird is not a farmer’s best friend as they will attack young lambs.
The red deer rut is coming to an end now and many of the really big stags are making their way home. The biggest of them all this year was an impressive brow, tray, five and six atop (I’ll explain the brow points on a stag’s antlers in a future blog). Some would say that a stag of that age and size had come to the end of his usefulness and should maybe be culled for the sake of the herd. He was a wonderful beast and I’d like to see him stay around. One big, old stag on the moor won’t hurt.
He was certainly popular amongst us wildlife photographers. An old friend of mine, Paul Kingdon, told me where to find him. We all keep in touch like that, telling each other where to find the best animals. Paul’s not well at the moment so I hope he gets better soon.
I left home at 6 a.m. one morning to film this particular stag. I got some good shots and have put them in my new DVD, ‘Johnny Kingdom’s Red Deer Watch’, which should be out in about two weeks.
I’ve seen a lot of our native Exmoor ponies recently. I’m pleased to say that they are looking really fine this year. It wasn’t so many years ago that they weren’t doing so well. Fortunately they’re better looked after now and are rounded up each year and given a check up. There’s been a lot of good work done for the ponies by the Moorland Mousie Trust, a charity I’m pleased to be involved with. Go to my ‘links’ page if you’d like to know more.
On a less happy subject, I’ve been concerned to see some very small fox cubs killed on the roads over the past week or so. They’ve only been about 15 inches in length so can’t have been above ground for more than a few weeks. What are such small cubs doing around at this time of year I’m wondering? I’ve also seen a few small badger cubs knocked down. I don’t expect to see such young badgers around in November. It’s a bit strange.
On a more cheerful note, I had some lovely photos sent to me this week by a 14 year old lad called Liam. They are so good that I have included two in this blog. It’s really encouraging to see young people taking an interest in our wildlife. Thank you Liam and well done.
Wed 9th November 2011
I promised to tell you about the red deer rut and I have to say that this years rut hasn’t been as good as last years. It seems like some of the big stags aren’t around any more. I don’t know where they’ve gone. Maybe they’ve been shot. I hear stories from various people but don’t know anything for sure. If that’s the case they’ll have been shot for their heads, not even for their meat, which is very sad.
There’s been more fighting between the stags this year. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe with some of the dominant stags gone the competition has opened up a bit.
However, I’m pleased to say that there are still some nice stags out there. At the beginning of the rut I saw a stag with a lot of the points on one his antlers broken off. There was another stag with his antlers broken clean in half. That must have been some fight. It just shows how dangerous stags can be at this time of year. I hope you have the chance to get out and see some before the rut is over. Even if you only hear them roaring you’ll be in for a treat. Just don’t be getting too close.
I think it’s going to be a long rut this year. It started back in September but stopped for a bit when we had that hot weather at the end of September. It soon got going again and isn’t finished yet. There are still some small calves around which means many of the hinds won’t be ready to mate yet. My guess is that the rut will run on through November and maybe even into December. I’ll let you know.
I’ve managed to do some good filming and am putting together on a new DVD. I let you know how it’s going next week.
Something funny happened the other night that I must tell you about. It was the evening after bonfire night and I went out to film the deer using infra-red. I set myself up in my hide and waited for the deer to come. Sure enough they soon showed up. Then, blow me, some fireworks started up and frightened them off.
Deciding to call it a night I climbed back down the ladder of the hide. The moon was just coming up and as I turned around I saw a figure looking at me from slope to my right. It gave me quite a fright.
I only had a small torch with me but I turned it on and walked toward this person. As I did so they started coming towards me all glimmering like in the moonlight. I said, “What are you doing here on my land?” I didn’t get an answer and as I got closer I realised why. The figure was a big balloon shaped like a witch. Just imagine seeing that coming towards you in the moonlight. What a fright. It must have flown there on Halloween night.
I told my friend Fred about it and he said if it had been him he’d have runned like hell. I went back in daylight and took a photo of it which you can see below. So if you’ve lost a witch balloon and recognise it, let me know.