In a week that has seen the TV BAFTA winners come and go with the usual high drama, our eyes have instead been fixed on the mammals, grassy knolls, rock piles and branches surrounding our hide – far easier on the senses and with infinitely more potential for beauty and drama than anything on the box!
But, if we had to give awards at the hide – who would the winning mammals be? Amidst the excited anticipation of possible Badger and Pine Marten sightings, it would be easy to ignore the wildlife that features here in a perhaps less starring role.
Woodcock are frequently seen at dusk, roding over the trees around the hide, flying very low in wide circles and making their unique call of a muted “Quark Quark Squizzit”, sounding (rather unfortunately) like a toad being sat on. Easy to miss and a joy to see and hear, Woodcock are shy birds, seldom seen when not in flight and preferring damp, leafy woodland to bright light – definitely a winner in the best support act category.
Another contender for a cameo role award has to be the Wood Mouse. Several of these characterful creatures live around the hide and are usually first on the scene when the lights go on in the evening, scuttling for nuts and taking refuge between the rocks at the slightest movement, eminently aware a Tawny Owl may also be watching the show. The Wood Mouse – sometimes known as the Long-tailed Field Mouse – is the UK’s most common and widespread rodent – and relatively easy to identify with it’s large shiny eyes, slightly over-sized ears and of course, fairly long tail. Like Badgers, Wood Mice will often inhabit the same burrow for many years, adding to it as the family grows and adapting it as required – some might say like the producers of EastEnders.
There is without doubt, a range of other support acts that we might mention here – the wonderful Red Deer we pass on our walk up to the hide, the fantastic Pipistrelles who duck and dive around us in the gloaming and of course, the Tawny Owl, and we may return to these in the coming weeks. But for many of those visiting the hide they have come in hope of seeing the big names, the star acts – the Badger and the Pine Marten. These animals are without doubt, a joy to behold. Recently, after a lengthy wait, a group visiting the hide were suddenly confronted by a female Pine Marten on a branch in front of them. This group of adults, all experienced wildlife watchers, couldn’t fail to gasp audibly at the sight. Their excited raised whispers of “Oh, yes! Oh yes! “and “ I can’t believe it!” were testament to the charismatic nature and poise of this illusive animal. The reactions were almost child-like, and inhibitions between strangers disappeared as together we experienced those magical minutes. Sleek, focussed and relaxed, the Pine Marten fed and climbed and foraged in front of us, doing what she does, oblivious to the audience and indifferent to the Badgers on the ground.
As they say, there can only be one winner…