Wonderful Summer

31st July 2014

What a wonderful summer we’re having. We could certainly do with some rain but it’s so nice to see all this sun. Exmoor is looking great and most of the wildlife seems to having a good breeding season.

There have been lots of Exmoor pony foals born and all the ponies are looking well. The mild Winter has certainly helped them. I’ve spent some time filming them for the new TV series which I so enjoyed.

I’m also pleased to be able to tell you that I’ve seen the white boar I first spotted three years ago. It’s got five cute little piglets. The black boar has also been about and has five piglets too. I know that quite a few of the wild boar have been shot this year so it’s good to know there are still some around.

There’s good news for the tawny owls as well as they’ve bred successfully this year. I was out looking for them to do some filming, also for the TV programme, and found two chicks down near the pond on our land. I then tracked down three more about half a mile away on the edge of the wood.

Tawny owls aren’t as shy as barn owls so you can get up quite close. When they first come out of the nest they are still covered in fluffy down. You can hear their high pitched squeaking as they call to their parents.

I also managed to get some very good shots of barn owls by setting up a camera in a barn where they were nesting. I was lucky enough to capture the four chicks and two adult birds all together. That was really special. There was plenty of light for filming as part of the barn’s roof blew off in last Winter’s gales. I’m quite surprised the parents nested in it at all. Hopefully you will see these shots on ITV next year. I’m pleased to say that all the chicks were raised successfully. That’s really encouraging as it is reckoned that last year only 50% of chicks survived.

Up on the moor there are lots of red deer calves to be seen; always a lovely sight. I had hoped to be able to film some roe deer calves back at the end of Spring when the does calve but wasn’t lucky this year. They are so hard to find as they are tiny, their legs no thicker than my little finger.  A roe deer normally has twins and hides them in cover a few metres apart.

I did, however, manage to get a shot of a roe buck as he strolled across our land. You can see it at the bottom of this blog. Down in the Barle Valley I filmed a massive red deer stag with some hinds and four calves.

The other animal I’ve spent some time searching for recently is the hare and what success I’ve had. Over the three nights I was out, I found four one night and seven another night. The best thing was seeing two hares boxing which you have to be very lucky to see. They must have covered about a hundred metres before the confrontation was over.

I also spotted a pure white rabbit with pink eyes one day when I was out looking for kestrels. I know that a farmer in that area let some pet rabbits go a few years back so it’s likely the white rabbit was the result of interbreeding.

The kestrels were nesting on the outside of an old tumbled down barn. Another farmer told me about them so I went to check it out and to see if I could film them. I was delighted to find there were five chicks in the nest. You aren’t allowed to go up close to a kestrel’s nest so I set up my gear a good distance away and filmed them regularly over the next two and a half weeks. Then one evening I noticed some jackdaws hanging around the area. The next night the jackdaws made an attack on the parent kestrels, chasing them away. While this was going on another jackdaw swooped down on the nest and took every single one of those chick. It broke my heart but there was nothing I could do. It’s the way of nature.

I’ve not seen many kingfishers about this Summer. There was one on the pond last month but by the time I’d set up to photograph it, it had gone and I haven’t seen it since. Must be camera shy. More encouraging are the four or five pairs of bullfinches that are around, as well as quite a few linnets.

Something else I must tell you was told to me by a chap I met cutting down trees in Knowstone Wood. I warned him that there were buzzards nesting in a tree up ahead and he assured me he’d keep away from them. He then said that last year he found a tawny owl chick on the ground. He went off and found an old metal drum, cut a square hole in it with an angle grinder, fixed it up in a tree and put the chick inside. Believe it or not, the parents actually came and fed it. Isn’t that a great story?

I also heard about two chaps who’d moved a pheasant pen to find a blackbird’s nest with four eggs in behind it. They put the nest in the fork of a tree six or seven metres away and when they returned later to check on it, the parent blackbird was sitting on the eggs. So nature can be pretty resilient at times.

At the moment I’m out filming the red deer. The week before last I found a herd with 27 stags in, four of them big Autumn stags with their new antlers almost grown and still in velvet. I really want to get some goods shots of them before their velvet rubs off. It was such a wonderful sight to see. Local people have been really worried as they know lots of big stags were shot last October so it’s good to know there are still some of the old boys left.

House martin numbers seem to be down this year around here but there are plenty of swifts. I counted at least 50 flying around the other day when I was out with a bird watching friend.

My final good news story is the red kites. I’ve been told there are now at least two breeding pairs in North Devon but the locations are being kept secret for their protection.

I’ve got lots coming up over the next few weeks. I’ve put together a new calendar for 2015 (£7.99 including VAT) which will be out in the next week or so. I’ll put details in my shop on the website and I’ll also have them with me to sell at the various events I’ll be attending.

I’m still in Barnstaple Pannier Market every Tuesday, except for Tuesday 12th August when I’ll be at Exmoor Zoo. Wednesdays is my normal day at Exmoor Zoo. I’m there throughout the Summer holidays, apart from Wednesday 13th when I’m there on the Tuesday instead as just mentioned. On Wednesday 13th you will find me at Exford Show.

On Wednesday 6th August I’ll be at North Devon Show in the morning on the Exmoor Zoo stand. My wife Julie will take over in the afternoon as I will be in Dulverton Town Hall on a judging team as we choose a flag for Exmoor. This is really exciting and I’m so looking forward to it. It will be great to have a flag of our own.

That’s quite a few changes to my normal schedule. Let’s hope I manage to be at the right place on the right day!

Then on Thursday 14th August I’m off to Rutland Water Birdfair where I’ll be right through the weekend. I’ll be on the Swarovski stand for about an hour each day and I’ll also be giving a talk and doing some pond dipping as usual.

Please come and say hello if you spot me at these events. I do love meeting you lovely people. If I don’t see you out and about, I’ll catch up with you again next month.