On Monday as I drove to Llandeilo the mist lifted in strands and feathers and the sun made the winter trees glow. The thermometer said 3 degrees, but the sun, oh the sun, how warm and welcome it was! When I arrived there was a group of new part-time recruits for the Information Centre and I offered to show them which gates to unlock each morning. We chatted as we walked and I told them the names of the so-familiar fields and woods, all fresh and wonderful to them. The millpond shone like a mirror and I waved them a cheerful goodbye as I went on to the Castle Woods hide and they walked back to the car park. The flood plain was still in flood – water, grass and rushes in a complex pattern – but too much water for the birds, and the duck count was low.
Up on Rookery Ridge (an old name; there are no rooks) I took up station on the shadow side of a tree and set the camera on the monopod. I was not expecting to see any deer – there were no recent tracks here – but after being still for a while the tits and nuthatches busied themselves around me, exploring tiny crevices in the trees, living and long dead.A Jay flew in. There are lots of them here – it’s a good place for acorns. A treecreeper crept up a tree, and as expected, a Red Kite flew out from the group of tall trees to my right. The kite watchers know that if you see them fly into the canopy in mid-March they are looking at nest sites, but no matter from what angle I gazed up into the bare branches, I couldn’t see any of the debris associated with kites nests – those bits of plastic and old rope they like as decoration. I would look again next week.
Suddenly, to my surprise, there were deer: a group of does and a pricket, maybe 10 of them, moving up from Browns Path towards the Fire Tanks; the first time I had seen deer up here this year. Their behaviour is changing. Sure enough, as I moved slowly northwards I could see part of what I call the Brown Path Group which, in winter includes all the bucks older than a year.
It’s not a large group, but difficult to count because it’s hard at a distance to tell which bucks are still with their mothers and which consider themselves one of the big boys. These are the mature bucks; they know exactly who they are and insist on maintaining their dignity even when one of us humans is present. This year there are eight of them and perhaps 20 younger adult bucks. Next month I will be watching to see when the first antler is cast, and in a few weeks they will have lost all their dignity and be hard to tell from the older does.
With a contented sigh I walk down past the Badger Hide and begin my tour of the boundary. As usual the old walls, held together by moss and ferns, have not changed. On the southern boundary the rickety, much repaired fence is still holding. I step over the barrier which Carol and I built last year to mark off the sanctuary area and walk down the steep path to the Kingfisher Hide. Here I have my sandwich and flask and gaze at the water. The lilies, dormant for so long under all that water, are reaching up to the light. Soon they will cover most of the open water.
Nothing happens for 40 minutes until suddenly a Kingfisher flashes past. It perches over to the left and I get ready to capture a stream of images of it on one of its favourite perches when suddenly it is flying past me again in the opposite direction. I am not prepared and the image is poor. Then I spot a heron making a pretty picture in the long grass and sedge; (see above) worth the wait.
In the early afternoon I trudge up the anthill-pocked slope of Caelan to the elegant copse of mature trees so artfully planted in the 18th century to enhance the view from Newton House. From here I can see the whole Brown Path group following the tractor which is laying a trail of feed beet for them. The big bucks push their way to the head of the queue, but the new staff recruits are here too, watching the feeding, and the does hang back in an anxious group. I watch as the tractor finishes its run and the people wander off. Back in the car park I find them packing up and we chat briefly – “See you next week”.
When I get home, happy after a good day in the sun, I check my pictures, do some jobs in the garden and enjoy my evening meal with Thelma. After the meal I check my email and there is a message from the Director General of the National Trust with the now familiar closure notice.
At first I think that because I work alone and in the open I will be able to continue, but it wasn’t long before I had an email from Amy saying that they must stick by national rules. For the time being, as for all the volunteers, my weekly nature fix is over.
We’ll be back sometime, and things will be different, but perhaps better? All National Trust grounds will be open and free as will those of the other big conservation organisations. Unless the virus gets personal I’ll still be out there taking pictures and writing about it. Please keep in touch.