Dust Up

Some weeks ago at one of our all-too-infrequent [once a month] farmers market days, I bought a venison haunch from our favourite game butcher. I left it wrapped and put in the freezer until the time felt right.

On Friday we’d returned a day early from Norfolk due to the arrival of a caravan loaded with no less than six of Satan’s Little Disciples. No sooner had they pitched up than a neighbouring couple threw the towel in, wound up the stays and moved pitches. These truly were from hell. It was about 15:30 and, surrounded by constant screaming and running riot, it wasn’t long before we followed suit. Since we were originally to leave early in the morning and since the overcast had not disappeared, it made sense that our move of pitch should be to Guillaume’s storage field just two hours away.

On Sunday the time felt right so out came the venison haunch. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from “haunch” but it turned out to a back leg of a [small] deer, maybe a muntjac. Roasted for 50 minutes on the standard bed of vegetables, the meat was delicious and … I had bones left for a wandering fox so out went foxcam as well.

Fox meets CatI was disappointed to see our neighbourhood black-and-white-bastard cat sniffing around. Then I saw a couple of extra gleaming eyes enter stage right. Our most recent fox wandered in looking a bit wary but drawn to the smell of venison bones.

Given the frequent visits of both, I’d been waiting for a meeting like this for some time. This should prove to be interesting.

The close approach of both protagonists regrettably fell in the 5-second gap between two recording clips but the next clip showed the much of the confrontation. I’m a stills photographer through and through and really neither do nor, generally, appreciate video but this seemed to make the effort worthwhile.

Years ago I did see a cat versus fox encounter and, with a vicious set of swiping claws to avoid, the cat was top dog, if you see what I mean. Cats really are killing machines. I haven’t seen our little mouse for a while so I do hope it’s survived.

Posted in 2021 Fox Tales

Oxburgh Versus Oxborough

A National Truss – sorry, National Trust – day and a bit of a conundrum. Beside the village of Oxborough lies Oxburgh Hall. Why the different spelling, I wonder? Go figure, as Amerispeak would have it. Along with woodland walks, the property and grounds advertise a river running through it and a moat, so perhaps something for everyone.

We parked and a very cheerful NT lady scanned our cards to let us in, pointing us to a handy-dandy map of the grounds with the various walks available. She told us otters had been seen in the river so I toted my camera, just in case.

Naturally, no otter offered itself as a portrait subject. A small bridge crossed the river where some dragonflies were active but again, they didn’t seem intent on offering themselves up to be recorded on pixels. One of the problems is that I’m so familiar with most of our UK species that I now only press the shutter if I think the picture would be at least very good, or for species with which I’m less familiar like the Scarce Emerald Damselflies (Lestes dryas) of yesterday.

We stretched our leg around the extended version of the woodland walk and ended up back at Oxburgh Hall itself. The hall is absolutely clothed in scaffolding. [Perhaps then, National truss is closer to the mark.] This renovation must be costing an absolutely mint which, with an annual income [2020] of £680m, the National Trust can probably well afford.

Oxburgh HallRemember the moat. Clothing a large building surrounded by a wide moat in scaffolding is no easy task. Concrete support plinths had first to be installed to support said scaffolding beside the hall and its watery footings. Though it did, of course, rather ruin the appearance of the building , it made for an interesting sight. On balance it was slightly less bothersome than travelling all the way to Cambodia only to find Angkor Wat clad in scaffolding and tarpaulin.

There was quite a good collection of dragonflies calling the moat home; I think I counted five species but, once again, it really wasn’t worth using the camera as anything more than a telescope for identification.

We had a second failure at finding a decent pub. That is, we found a very appealing looking restaurant/bar with nicely shaded garden tables in the village of Oxborough but were met at the garden gate with, “do you have a booking with us?”. “No, do I need one?” Apparently I did – they were fully booked. Clearly this establishment had pretentions above that of bar.

All I wanted was a blasted pint. Whilst there are some real positives from our lockdown/pandemic situation, this is not one of them.

Posted in 2021-07 Norfolk

On the Trail of Pingos

This always makes me think of 101 Dalmatians; Pongo, if memory serves, was the father of said batch of painfully cute Disney Dalmatian puppies. Ya gotta love ‘em.

A pingo, on the other hand, is “a periglacial landform”. So there! To use another wonderful piece of gobbledegook, they are “intrapermafrost ice-cored hills”. Wow! No, I have little idea what that really means, either, tough, with a dictionary, I could probably work it out. In more simple English, a pingo is a depression in the soil, caused by some Ice Age action. Most are of modest size. Though it is a pond, pingo is apparently Eskimo-speak for hill. In short, and if I’ve understood this correctly: ice hill forms, gets covered in soil, warms up, ice melts and the soil collapses into a hollow which gets filled with water. Pingos can be found in many places including Siberia but those remaining in Norfolk – many fell victim to the plough – are important wildlife sanctuaries.

Thompson Common is a Norfolk Wildlife Trust site littered with pingos. The pingos, being excellent fresh water breeding habitat, are littered with dragonflies and damselflies. One of the damselflies is a bit of a rarity that likes the specific sort of habitat offered by some of these pingos and that I can’t see anywhere near home. Hence our British summer trip.

We are just a handful of miles from the village of Thompson where there is a waymarked 8-mile trek called the Pingo Trail.

In common with some other Wildlife trust sites, the NWT Thompson Common site is less than obvious – one might almost say hidden with no sign declaring its presence. First of all, it’s tucked behind a lay-by on the A1075. One has to drive through the lay-by onto a rough track whereupon it still isn’t obvious. Immediately right, surrounded by trees and bushes, is a secret car park for about 10 vehicles, if all the vehicles park considerately. From here, begins the waymarked Pingo Trail. The ardent dragonfly enthusiast, however, should ignore this and instead look for the almost concealed entrance, buried in vegetation, to the NWT Thompson Common reserve itself.

Scarce Emerald-212828After a hundred metres or so, you come across a few pingos in woodland. I have been here once before but I can’t remember for the life of me how I found it that first time. Access then seemed somewhat easier. Now I found myself searching for quarry whilst balancing on the rounded trunks of trees fallen beside a small pond, a pingo. I may have thought I had my balance sorted but when I put my eye to the viewfinder, all visual reference went and I wobbled alarmingly. Surprisingly for me, I managed to avoid taking a tumble into the pingo. Even more surprisingly, whilst wobbling, I did manage to get one or two keeper shots of my Scarce Emerald Damselfly/Robust Spreadwing (Lestes dryas) quarry. It must be said that I did better on my first visit.

Further along, the track opens out into heathland where there are more pingos. An end of term school outing was just having lunch after finishing an organized pond-dipping trip. They were no problem, happily. I searched a couple of these more open pingos but most of what I found were “regular” Emerald Damselflies/Common Spreadwings (Lestes sponsa), of which I have plenty at home. These two species are quite tricky to distinguish and having both in the one habitat makes life awkward.

We ended up chatting to two of the responsible adults who were clearing up after the kids exploits. Then we decided to go in search of an appealing pub for some refreshment. We found the refreshment but the pub, which was actually hidden from the road otherwise I’d have driven past, was less than appealing, offering nothing more than a gravel car park and brick wall as a view. Just the one drink, then.

Successful but not staggeringly so.

Posted in 2021-07 Norfolk

A Desert Rats Tale

We’re back in Nelson’s county, good ol’ Norfolk, but not anywhere near the Broads this time; we’ve come to Thetford Forest to enjoy the English summer which, this year, appears to be about a week between 15th and 23rd July. Let’s hope we may be treated to a bit more later.

The Caravan Club has a campsite situated in Forestry Commission land; an area that was, in 1944, the base camp of the 7th Armoured Division, better known as the Desert Rats. Following the division’s heroic exploits in the North Africa campaign against Rommel, the division was in England for only five months of its existence to prepare for the invasion of Hitler’s Europe. Most of their training seemed to be concerned with becoming familiar with the Cromwell tank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Cromwell tank named Little Audrey I, somewhat sadly a replica, now stands guard on a memorial plinth at the entrance to the approach road. It looks small, as if a German Panzer would’ve made mincemeat out of it. Driving in past the tank is just a little surreal. Today’s campsite is secluded being surrounded by trees but the approach road feels decidedly military – flat, straight, utilitarian concrete.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArriving just after midday, Guillaume found a very pleasant, tree-shaded pitch that didn’t stare at other units. In worse weather this would’ve been a very drippy pitch but given our forecast, we felt very lucky to find it vacant, shady as it was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 2-mile memorial walk has been created through the forest that now surrounds the modern campsite. After the business of getting installed, we went off for a leg stretch to follow the Desert Rat symbol; really a Jerboa (it says here). The jerboa itself left after that first signpost, the remainder of the walk being marked simply by arrows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’re a few information boards scattered along the early part of the route, though nothing terribly scintillating. What I found most interesting were the couple of earthworks remaining showing where the army’s favourite Nissen huts had been. It was fascinating to see an example of nature reclaiming territory after the disruption caused by the construction of an army base, or any other human activity, has gone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of Nissen huts remain to remind us what they were like. This is what remains of the NAAFI as was.

The remainder of the route was really just tracks, gravel roads and concrete paths that led us on a loop back through the surrounding forest to the campsite. A pleasant enough leg stretch, except maybe for the gravel road.

Posted in 2021-07 Norfolk

Skywatcher

I resorted to scattered peanuts again hoping that a badger might be tempted into our garden again. No such luck.

We did, however, attract a very attractive fox; it looks sleek and pristine and maybe a bit small so is perhaps quite young. It spent some time working its way around munching individual peanuts – quite a bit of munching for each peanut, which surprised me a little.

Skywatcher-1This fox had a couple of less than usual habits. First of all, it sat down a couple of times while it was snacking.

Skywatcher munching-2We ended up with about 70 video clips and the other little habit that I couldn’t help but notice was that it frequently looked up towards the sky while if happily munched away. This makes it look as though it’s howling but it’s just caught in mid-munch.

Skywatching-1Skywatching-1-2Skywatcher turned up again the following night and found nuts that it must’ve missed previously. It kept on staring up at the sky again.

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Posted in 2021 Fox Tales

At Last!

Lamb shoulder bones were on the menu again for Foxcam last night. We really are addicted to barbecued lamb shoulder.

Kinky againThe bones were gratefully cleaned up by our latest fox with the kink in its brush. It would be intriguing to know what caused the slight misshaping. I perhaps should say “is causing” because I had the feeling it looked a bit more pronounced than it originally did. That may be fanciful, though.

HedgehogMost exciting, though, from our point of view, is that our very first visitor – even before bloody Tampon the cat wandered through – was a Hedgehog. These little darlings have been in drastic decline in recent years. Clearly many of them fall victim to traffic. Last year we watched one snuffling around our front garden so it was great to catch one on camera in our back  garden.

It would be enjoyable to be able to put out some cat food for any passing Hedgehogs but with our neighbourhood wildlife extermination squad, what good would that do other than encourage the unwelcome cats?

Posted in 2019 Sri Lanka

New Guard?

Foxcam has been having a rest recently. Clearly we’ve been eating the wrong stuff and our wildlife has consequently suffered some neglect.

Back to the chickens and foxes. Foxcam has been out covering a couple of chicken carcasses for two nights. On both nights a relatively slightly built fox has benefitted from our offerings. I suppose the “relatively slight” bit may have something to do with summer plumage but it does look lithe and agile.

KinkyEnter Kinky; Kinky has a clear though not severe kink part way down its brush. I’ve been breaking up the chicken more and happily the blasted cats have sniffed but otherwise left it alone. This fox stuck around the garden for 15 minutes or so while it enjoyed its feasts.

Interestingly, we haven’t seen anything of our previously tagged five foxes.

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Posted in 2021 Fox Tales

Flopsy has a Feast

It looks as though we have another new fox around. Either that or it’s one of our older friends with something irritating its left ear.

I was being lazy and put out an entire chicken carcass. This may be good value for the fox, which tends to run away with it all, though one did stay in the garden to crunch up one carcass, but it isn’t great value for getting video footage.

Our diner on this occasion kept its left ear down a little and twitched it occasionally. Obviously something was causing it an irritation or itch. This is one of those features that can clear up and so makes for a poor identification pointer.

Whole chicken carcassThe ear issue didn’t seem to put it off its free dinner, though.

I really must chop up the carcass next time.

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Posted in 2021 Fox Tales

Peanut Party

I did try putting out some peanuts, quite a while ago now, in the hope that I might interest one of our local badgers. Unfortunately, I found out that foxes, who tend to pitch up earlier, also like peanuts. Since I’d put them out in a modest pile, the fox, I think, vacuumed up most of the peanuts.

This time we adopted the approach of scattering peanuts liberally all over what passes in our back garden for grass. We’re [that is Francine] trying to leave the grass in the hope of benefitting the smaller wildlife. The longer grass made searching for the peanuts necessary.

Fox and Badger-1The scattering approach seemed much more successful. We had both badger and fox, peacefully co-existing and snuffling around in the grass for tasty morsels.

Actually, it was in one respect a little too successful since it took quite a while to find all the peanuts and I ended up with over 40 video clips to work through. Still, better than having none, eh?

Posted in 2021 Fox Tales

Foxcam Repurposed

YUK! Maybe I could refer to myself as Foxcam Repurposing Solutions. Anyway, I forgot to write this one …

On one of our Foxcam nights, we’d noticed a small furry critter scurry across our central flower bed. So, much as I dislike having to reposition the tripod [I usually get it wrong and need to adjust], I decided to place it looking down at roughly the spot where we’d seen our little critter. I had to get in close.

Small CritterMy second night of trying was more successful and we did capture a typically poor quality shot of something small and cute. I wouldn’t put money on any identification made from this but, given the long tail and quite prominent ears, I think our critter is a Mouse rather than a Vole but I’ll go no further than that.

Now to put Foxcam back where it’s supposed to be.

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Posted in 2021 Fox Tales