Thursday, 21 May 2015

Nature? It's like bloody Countryfile around here...

Where we used to live, the term 'wildlife' used to comprise the occasional urban fox, guerrilla gangs of starlings, the odd bounding grey squirrel and scrap men with their flatbeds and loudhailers. 
I'd always had a soft spot for the animal kingdom but hadn't really been exposed to much on a day-to-day basis. 

But now, on the edge of the woods, it has hit a whole new level entirely. Like a five-year-old at Christmas I'm finding myself constantly fascinated by all the shiny new things to discover. 

Voles. You don't see many of them around under normal circumstances - in fact you're more likely to see mice scampering up the garden wall once in a blue moon, but SausageTheCat seems to have an eye for them. Or at least he did before he decimated the population in the immediate area. After six merciless kills that we know of he hasn't brought a tiny twitching corpse back for about two weeks now. That's not such a bad thing, considering, but still. 

So it's possible that the local owl population is going a bit hungry. We've heard from a few people that barn owls are nesting a short walk away through the trees but we're yet to see or hear any. What we have heard, however, are tawny owls, a pair of which seem to be nesting very close to the house.
Most nights we hear them calling to one another over a short distance, which in the dead silence of night can be surprisingly loud. In fact 10 minutes before typing this there appears to have been an extremely vociferous argument in the owl community between at least four of them, spread over a small area, although it seems to have gone quiet now. Maybe they're in the huff with each other. One genuinely sounded a little bit breathy and hoarse - I'll keep an ear open for him again.
A week or two ago I stood mesmerised outside just listening to one of their more regular chats and staring at the darkening sky when one swooped from across the road and passed about 10ft straight over my head to land in a nearby tree. Seriously, I almost cried. It was amazing.

With The Lodge being a former gamekeeper's residence it's not surprising to learn that there are quite a lot of pheasants kicking around too. They can usually be heard shouting in the trees in a harsh voice that sounds like metal scraping against metal, but we often see them wandering around right outside the house, looking for the nearest road so they can hurl themselves at the passing traffic, such is their habit. Stupid, stupid birds. They're the Joey Essex of the animal kingdom. 
Incidentally - and here's a confession - I had to shoot one in the head the other day. Dawn and I were on the way home from a friend's house and I just happened to have my air rifle in the car. A few cars in front a female pheasant who was passing the time of day by casually pacing the Tarmac got clipped and spun off in to the grass, obviously badly injured but very much still alive. So I pulled over, got the rifle out and... well, it wasn't my cheeriest moment ever but it was necessary under the circumstances. And no, I didn't take it home for tea. I've got no idea what to do with one. 

Still on the subject of birds, of which there are hundreds of varieties around the property, we have a couple of swallows nesting in the eaves of the house. Cute little things, they're often causing a tweety commotion somewhere within immediate earshot and can usually be seen zipping around over the house or sitting on the roof, eyeing us with curiosity before one nips in to the nest then straight back out again while the other keeps watch.
We've named them Nemo and Dory. Nemo has one pointy streamer missing off his tail.

One bird that people we've spoken to seem to be totally giddy about is a local cuckoo. "He's back, have you heard him?" is the question we've been asked a few times now and there'd been no sign of him until a week or so ago when he started yelling at the shed. 
A quick Googlage tells me that cuckoos are on the endangered Red List, so it's no surprise that folks are excited by it. I'm looking forward to seeing his missus kicking the eggs out of other birds' nests so she can lay her own. Nature, eh? Delightful. 

I don't know much about bats, but they're pretty bold around The Lodge. Last night I was reheating left-over curry in the microwave (Dawn was at a work do and I'm a bloke, so it's mandatory) and was stood in the courtyard waiting for the ping while watching the bats swoop down to eye level right around me. It was fascinating. They were so close that I could hear their tiny little wings slapping about. Again, I almost cried.
I've used a photo of a Common Pipistrelle here because... well, they're common, but to be honest they could be cricket bats for all I know about them.

Finally for now, although we're yet to see foxes or badgers (plenty of grey squirrels, though), we'd heard what we'd considered to be a local urban myth about Muntjac deer in the area. Nobody we've spoken to has seen one and they'd only heard unconfirmed rumours about their possible-but-unlikely presence, and there are no warning signs on the road outside, so we weren't expecting much on that front. 
Until, a few nights ago, one started barking its head off very close to where we were sleeping in the shed. For a good 10 minutes at that. So long in fact that I had the presence of mind to find my phone and record it - listen below.
Let me tell you that when you're not expecting it and there's nothing but silence at 11.30pm under a clear starry sky, a deer having a sudden sing-song at the top of its lungs doesn't do a lot for the heart, especially when you don't know what it is. 
But now that we've Googled and listened again it's the most exciting bit of wildlife news we've had so far and we can't wait to hear it again. We might even nip out with a torch, but the chances of us seeing it are slim at best. One thing we could do is ask the fella who owns the shooting rights on the estate but we're worried he'll dig out his bazooka and blow it to bits. 

Oh, and spiders. I don't do spiders. They're so big here that they've probably eaten most of the deer. And moose. There's a suspicious lack of those too.

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