Monday, 29 October 2018

Autumn Rut at Knole !

My wife loves a visit to a stately home, especially one looked after by the National Trust, I suggested Knole House in Sevenoaks, with an ulterior  motive in mind, a visit to this lovely stately home set in the grounds of one of Kent's last remaining deer parks, just so happens to coincide with the Fallow deer rut  which is in full swing at this time of the year, the opportunity to witness the Bucks "strutting there stuff" was too good to miss.

I have never witnessed this annual event, not for the want of trying, I have visited Richmond Park, home of  the more dramatic looking Red deer, I have heard the roar of the Red deer stag but that's as far as its gone, time to look at the Fallow deer.

So with the stately house visit out of the way, time to walk around the estate, we walked towards a wooded area where we could hear the roars and bellows of a Buck which sounded promising.

A short walk into the woodland and the Buck was there strutting around his hareem containing at least ten to fifteen does, another  buck appeared, a clash of antlers and the buck was on its way chased by the hareem owner. my first "rut action" was over in seconds and no camera to record the event.

 I decided to revisit the next day with my camera in the hope of capturing the event.

The weather was good, bright but chilly, I didn't arrive until midday and after making my way back to the woodland area we had visited the day before there didn't seem to be a lot happening, the buck was still guarding his hareem, but no other bucks decided to challenge him, all was very peaceful.

Fallow deer buck showing off his fine pair of palmated antlers.

I was surprised how well the spotted colouring of these fallow deer does, blends in well with the autumn leaf litter of the woodland floor.

I made my way back to the front of Knole house, and a rise at the back of the car park where I had seen a few Bucks resting under some Oak trees, unknown to me this rise is known as "Echo Mount" a notorious rutting stand, being one of the high points in the park.

I settled down on a fallen log under a nearby Oak tree, a good fifty yards away which I reckoned was a safe enough distance, I resigned myself to getting a few Buck portraits, there was a least four Bucks resting under the trees, with just one individual strutting around roaring and bellowing, the resting Bucks seemed content to let him get on with it.

Once again I thought I had missed the boat, that was until a female Doe appeared on the scene, probably attracted by the roars of the Buck, who proceeded to chase after her.

The resting Bucks sprung into action now that this Doe had arrived onto the scene, two of the Bucks started to parallel walk sizing each other up, it wasn't long before that inevitable clash occurred, what a sight, I couldn't believe it, right place, right time for a change.

Buck demonstating his "goosestep"

In the hour or so that I sat watching the "Stand" on Echo Mount I witnessed at least five clashes all initiated by the arrival of a female.

 This was the second clash.

The third Clash

The first three clashes all involved the same two Bucks, another Buck decided to take his chance.

The Fifth clash !

And to the victor goes the spoils !

One of my best wildlife experiences albeit in a deer park, the telephoto lens certainly came into its own today, and those that chose to ignore the warning signs and venture to close, take heed !

Sunday, 14 October 2018

" Thar she blows "

Contrary to the many reports of the Beluga Whale that conveniently turned up on our doorstep, its not been that easy to get a sighting. I have tried on three previous occasions all to no avail.

The River Thames as it passes through Gravesend gradually widens as it nears the estuary, there is a huge amount of river traffic, cruiser ships docking at Tilbury, container ships making there way up and down the river, Tug boats,  Port of London pilot boats, smaller pleasure craft, it appears a very unlikely setting to see a Beluga Whale, more at home in the arctic waters to the north, but here it is, making this little stretch of water at Gravesend its home for the last three weeks.

Another opportunity arose, and a chance to take my grandson on his first twitch, not sure if thats the correct term in this case, but that was the plan. The Beluga Whale has been frequenting the water front at Gravesend promenade, an easy place to access with a pushchair, hopes were high.

As we approached the waterfront I explained the enormity of the event, probably a once in a lifetime sighting which hopefully we could witness.

We took up position on the river wall first at the car park close to B&Q another one of the whales frequent haunts

I briefed  Ben my grandson once again on what we were looking for, in simple language, something large, something white, something in the water.

I'm not sure if he's grasped the seriousness of this "twitch"

The tide was low which was not helpful, no sign of the Beluga here, we moved on to the promenade where we took up position on a bench overlooking the river.

Still not a lot happening here in terms of whale watching, a few other people were checking out the river but no sign of the Beluga here.

Ben my grandson not the Beluga,  decided to leave the whale watching to me and decided to take a  nap.

I continued scanning the water front, not my favorite pastime, a little like sea watching, which I've never really enjoyed .

Fortunately there were a few birds probing the mud exposed by the low tide to keep me interested, all of which were Black Tailed Godwits, strangely feeding relatively close unconcerned by members of the public walking along the prom, a good sign of the cleanliness of the mud here, providing a feeding opportunity

Black-Tailed Godwits
Still nothing happening in the water, I took to a bit of people watching

"The Sad Man",  more on his mind than a Whale sighting.

"The Happy Man" more interested in the gulls

Back to the river and a bit of river traffic watching,  shows how busy the river is at this point

Another two hours, Ben still asleep, decided to call it a day.

  The following day and reports of the Beluga Whale feeding on the river again outside Poundland car park. couldn't resist it, once again hopeful of a sighting.

For some strange reason the Whale seems to be finding some food to its liking around the area surrounding a rusty looking buoy anchored  a short distance from the shore. 

Tide was high, and there it was a brief sighting as I moved into position. just breaching the water behind the buoy

It was quite hard to predict where the Beluga whale would surface, most of the sightings were of the slight hump on its back as it breached the surface.

 I must admit I had a strong urge to shout "thar she blows" each time the whale made an appearance, thankfully I kept it to myself.

I did manage to see quite a few sightings in the end, a bit of tail flapping,  and one occasion of clearing its blowhole which was great to see.

Its a shame my grandson missed it, maybe another chance in his lifetime.

 Hopefully this immature Beluga Whale will find its way out to the estuary and return to its rightful waters.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Araneus quadratus !

I always feel quite pleased with myself when I come across one of these, I don't know why, another relatively common and widespread species. Better known as the Four Spot Orb Weaver, these are at there most impressive as they reach full maturity as autumn approaches, especially the females.

Larger than the males, colouring reported as quite variable, most of my sightings are usally of the bright green variety, I believe they can change colour to match their surroundings, but this can take up to three or four days, this varies from dark brown to bright orange or yellowy-green, the legs are banded and quite spiky in appearance, the four white spots are unmistakable.

These are not usally found in the garden, you are more likely to be confronted by another member of the same family the Araneus diadematus  commonly called the European garden spider or Cross Spider.

 These four spot Orb weavers prefer longer undisturbed grassland, where it constructs its Orb web, sometimes with a funnel shaped retreat off to the side, always quite low down, where it feeds on jumping insects, grasshoppers and the like.

I managed to find at least three of these four spots along a untouched grass verge as I walked my grandson asleep in his pushchair towards the local park. Once again only my samsung phone to record my finds.

I've only ever come across two members of this family, this Four Spot Orb Weaver and the Cross spider, there are five other members of this family that can be found in British isles, most of which are quite scarce. so I probably won't see any of them.