A forest triffid
It was one of those days when everything shows up. I haven't walked my favourite circuit from Abbots Well for over a week, and I am leading a picnic walk there tomorrow, so I thought I had better check it out, and see whether there was any wildlife. It was hot and humid, with low, muggy clouds, and yesterday's rain was still puddled across the path. As I walked under the eaves of Hasley wood, I scanned the opposite ridge for deer, but nothing. Then I caught a glimpse of a single fallow buck further down in the bog at Latchmore, so at least they were about. I stopped to watch a meadow pipit hunting insects in the heather, and looked up to see another distant deer - but this one was ushering a small, nervous brown bundle, running beneath her feet - a hind with a young fawn. On into the wood, where the mistle thrush was churring away, and siskins chattered in the pine tops. A female redstart shouted at me for getting close to a totally hidden offspring, so I went down to the side of the stream where last week I had photographed a Beautiful Demoiselle, the most glorious vivid, irridescent blue damselfly. It was still there, on virtually the same bracken frond. On route I had smelt something awful, and soon tracked down the stinkhorn mushroom which was sending out wafts of dead meat smell to attract the flies. As I walked up onto Hampton Ridge, I caught sight of another fallow hind and fawn, the mother was a pale form, her summer spots barely darker than mustard, against a white background. She quickly turned tail and led the young one into deep cover, and when I next looked another fallow hind had appeared, but this one almost ink black. There is a great variation in the colours of the fallow deer, and I often see white deer, but the dark, melanistic ones are rarer. Up on the Ridge I was just looking at the remains of the World War 2 bombing range, when I had a fly past from a Small Blue and Small Heath butterfly. I couldn't leave the heathland without getting a close up look at the sundew growing beside a swollen puddle leaching out of a mire. They are really tiny, but an awesome looking plant, which traps and digests small flies and insects. And at least I know that isn't going to hide when I bring the Picnic guests this way tomorrow!
Just as we started out on yesterday's picnic walk, we had a great view of a fallow deer buck. It was a large, bold and confident buck, checking us out from the stand of pine trees to the left of the path. The antlers were only partly grown, covered in the deep, rich burgundy of new velvet. It was alone, which is unusal for fallow deer, as most sightings are of a small herd, each pair of eyes following you, and all poised to race into deep cover at any movement.
And because we had just left Anderwood car park, I still had my camera tucked at the bottom of my rucksack, beneath my rain jacket. So, by the time I managed to turf out everything else, and unzip the camera bag, the deer was on its way. Hence the classic blurred image of the back end of a retreating deer - one of many in my collection.
At last, we have had a couple of days of warm, dry weather, with still evenings warm enough to get out into the Forest. So, Christine and I spent the first Saturday evening in June searching for nightjars, within walking distance of our home in Frogham. There were plenty of deer about, and we had great views of a spectacular sunset, but it wasn't until the light faded to that strange gloaming when everything turns monochrome, around twenty minutes later, that we heard what we were listening for. The eerie, constant drone of a churring nightjar, the pitch rising and falling as it moves. In the deep heather, by the edge of the wood, just where the moths were beginning to fly, the sound resonated, and was answered by another, then an third, more distant. One of the oddest of our summer migrants, the nightjar's nocturnal habits are so mysterious that it acquired the name "goat sucker", and was accused of souring cow's milk. Its carpet bag camouflage is so good that I have never seen one during the day, but we did have a brief glimpse of one flying quickly over the heather, like a giant moth itself. As we waited and listened, the churring was replaced by the drumming of snipe, invisible in the dark sky, but twirling stiff feathers near its tail to create another bizarre and haunting night noise. So - if you fancy joining us on one of these walks, get in touch, and see the Home Page for more details.