Saturday, 19 March 2016

I saw some deer prints and thought about fun things to do this Easter up the Welcombe

I've had a few conversations recently whilst walking up the Welcombe Hills. Usually they start with the weather: 'isn't it cold?', 'isn't it lovely?', 'what's the forecast for tomorrow?' Sometimes  it's topical subjects that start with, 'when will the cattle arrive?'.

Some of us have been discussing the absence of rabbits up the Welcombe. This time of year usually sees the little bunnies out and the older ones venturing further from cover to get to  the best new growth. At first light and at dusk there are usually dozens of rabbits grazing.

Not this year it seems. Elsewhere the rabbit population seems to be good so we are wondering what has caused the fall in this one area. 

There do seem to be lots of deer about though. One friend saw fallow deer around the badger sets in the woods a couple of weeks ago and I've see the solitary muntjac breaking cover several times. Further proof is the hoof prints left by the deer. These are easy to spot, even amongst the many dog paw prints.

Here's a fun thing to do if you are up the Welcombe over the coming weeks. Try out your tracking skills. This is easy and good fun for children. Firstly help them to find deer prints so they know what they look like and then follow them and see how far they can be tracked. 

Places to look are in the woods down from the reservoir area and along paths. The pictures below that I took the other day should be enough to get you started.

 As you can see the deer leaves a distinctive print from its hooves. The smallest ones are likely to be muntjac and the larger ones probably fallow deer.

Children should find this fun especially a the prints often go around in circles and get lost on harder ground and more difficult to trace in the grass.

There are a lot of dog paw prints which you can see in the picture to the right. Note the 4 pads and marks left by the nails.

For more advanced trackers why not look out for badger prints? They are there to be found in the woods. One good place to look is in Clopton Field side by the two large oak trees. There is a track going down from the badger set past the oaks and down to the pond. Look carefully and you might get lucky.

Badger prints are distinguished by 5 pads of the toes and claw marks. Here's one I took the other day. More information is easy to get from the internet i.e. here. My pic seems to show just 4 toes but there is another (pinky?) lost in the slushy mud.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

I saw a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly in Clopton Field

The weather pendulum tends to swing widely back and forth between extremes at this time of year. When it's overcast, wet or the northerly wind snaps at your ears and nose it's head down on the walks up the Welcombe Hills for some spoon carving, looking up only to check for obstacles. It seemed as if these days would never end. 

Yesterday the pendulum swung the other way and in the shelter of the Clopton Park side of the hills the heat from the sun encouraged many a walker to unzip top and remove hat.  As I ambled along the very top of the field parallel to the bridle path I looked up from my whittling to enjoy the bright, warm light. That very same light and warmth brought a beautiful Small Tortoiseshell butterfly to life and it lay on the bare soil, wings extended absorbing the heat. This butterfly would have been from the second brood of last year. These are the first to reappear having hibernated all winter. You may have found these in your shed or greenhouse. It may be this one had found a sheltered place in a hollow tree.

When I prepared to go out yesterday I toyed with the idea of bringing the camera with me in anticipation of what the seasonal change might bring. Below is a picture of a Small Tortoiseshell from last year and I will be with camera from now on.