Was that really summer?

The heatwave two weeks ago was the hottest weather we have had on Exmoor for over 20 years, but it already seems a distant memory as we return to the more usual grey skies and drizzle. During the midday heat much of the wildlife was forced to take shelter from the blazing sun, with the deer tucked up in the shade of the Baronsdown beech hedges, rabbits retreating underground and even the horseflies taking a couple of hours siesta in the middle of the day, which gave us all a break from their constant biting. In contrast, Ringlet and Meadow Brown butterflies suddenly appeared in large numbers on the fields and I was treated to a Humming-bird Hawk-moth feeding on nectar-rich flowers.

Covert cameras positioned around the League’s wildlife sanctuaries continue to turn up surprises. One camera picked up a Roe buck, doe and kid walking the same path separately, but within days of each other. The same camera also caught a fox carrying a large rabbit along the path; presumably taking it to feed its cubs that were secreted away somewhere. These are quite possibly the same fox cubs that I caught a brief glimpse of early one morning, before they slipped off quietly into the bracken. According to the latest British Trust for Ornithology survey, fox numbers have fallen by 34% across the country since 1995, so it is great to know some are surviving on the League’s wildlife sanctuaries and it is always a privilege to get even a fleeting sight of them.

Fox cub in Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary

Most of this year’s cohort of Red Deer calves on Baronsdown has been born and many have already joined the herd. It is lovely to see the calves interacting together in their crèche, whilst being watched over by one or two experienced hinds. Although Red Deer have no real predators in the England, it still pays to be vigilant. Occasionally stags will make a foray onto the fields to check out the herd of hinds and calves. It is, after all, only 3 months or so before breeding season starts again. The more mature more stags are currently sporting fine antler re-growth, though still covered in velvet, which makes them look a bit comical.

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