I’d been waiting nearly a week on the wind to drop to get out for a decent walk; I find that windy days are not conducive to seeing wildlife. The wind had dropped considerably yesterday and it was just about border line for my walk. I parked a couple of miles from my house and made for a large area of permanent grass peppered with banks of canary yellow-topped whin bushes. A carrion crow flew quietly away from an ash tree where it appeared to be building a nest, at least I don’t remember that nest being there last year. I was pleased to see that there were some signs of rabbits: scrapes on the ground, rabbit toilets and obvious runs under the fence where the young grass had been flattened into a series of pads. One adult rabbit obligingly sat for a photo beside a large rock, its eye half closed against the morning sun’s strong rays.
Half a mile away a flock of geese came in to land in a cereal field. As I got closer I could see that there were several thousand pink-footed geese in the field. It looked like this could be a short rest (and a feed on what I could now see was winter barley) before continuing their migration back to their breeding grounds in Iceland. This was 9th April and when I checked back some photographs I found that I had photographed an identical scene in the same field on 10th April 2019.
I walked away from the geese so as not to disturb them and continued westwards through a damp field with patches of rushes and grassy tussocks. A roe buck ran off from the whin bushes at the fence side and three snipe rose from a wet area. Two brown hares slipped away quietly ahead of me. There was some good cover here for hiding leverets and I’ve no doubt I would have passed some by without seeing them hidden below tussocks. I was disappointed at not seeing or hearing any curlews as this is ideal habitat for them and is a place that I normally encounter these increasingly rare waders.
At the far end of this field I had a look in the ditch that forms the boundary of this estate and the neighbouring farm. It is a ditch much used by otters and I hoped to see some tracks in the mud. The water in the ditch was slightly higher than usual so no muddy edges available but two mallard drakes had been taking advantage of the deeper water and flew off without making a sound; fairly typical of mallard drakes.
I returned to the large area of permanent grass and whins to check on a badger sett that seems to be used only periodically. I passed a rabbit burrow that had been dug out by a badger. This was one of the short maternity burrows dug by a doe rabbit. The young are born into a nest of dry grass and fur at the end of the short burrow, the nest chamber seldom more than a foot below the surface. A badger, getting the scent of rabbis in the burrow, digs right down on top of the nest, making short work of the dig with his strong front legs and claws. Depending on the age of the young rabbits they might just be a snack or a decent meal for a hungry badger.
The badger sett, when I located it, showed signs of fresh digging by a badger. There is only one entrance in the open, but at least one other deep in the whin bushes. When I first found this sett a few years ago it showed signs of human interference, with a clear mark of a spade having sheared off a chunk of turf at the entrance. I noticed now that there were smooth cuts where a couple of branches of whin had been cut by a saw. It was hard to determine the reason for this interference; it wasn’t an attempt to dig out the badgers and is maybe more likely to be linked to an attempt to control foxes, albeit several years ago.
The walk back to the car through the area of whins where I normally see many different species of small birds was disappointing, with only a few meadow pipits and a male chaffinch. A return visit in a week or two might prove more fruitful.
On my homeward journey I drove up the track that leads through several fields on the estate, noting that two new hawthorn hedges had been planted. My route was then through two farm steadings where I hoped to see that swallows had arrived. No swallows as yet, just pigeons and jackdaws. Hopefully warmer weather in a couple of weeks might bring about sightings of many more birds.