Saturday, 15 May 2010

From Hero to Zero

0.3 of a second. That's how long it takes to go from hero to zero. Last night was the fourth and last chance we were going to give ourselves to get the adult foxes for this den. It's a hell of a place- a vast area of peat hags and runners, over 3 miles from the nearest landrover track.
In the good ol' days we would walk out, carrying rifles, spotlights, batteries, waterproofs, sleeping bags,etc etc. Nowadays we have an argocat. It's still an hour and 20 minutes of noise, bumping and jolting but it's pure luxury in my book. Even so, we still have a 10 minute yomp with all the gear to get right to the place after that. Ah, the memories.....
So we get out there and it's a beautiful night. There's a slight breeze and hardly a cloud in the sky. Once there, the 3 of us spread out over an area of a mile or so and spend the 2 hours before dark silently lying in wait in the hope we'll intercept the vixen on her way into the area. Fat chance!
After that it's back to the den site and cover the approaches with a shine of the spotlight at 15 minute intervals.
We eventually get a flash of eyes at 3am and, to cut a long story short, I am eventually left with a dilemma familiar to all 'keepers :- go for the long shot or wait. You might get a better chance. Or you might NEVER get another chance.
I weighed it all up and, knowing there was less than an hour of darkness left, went for the shot.
0.3 of a second, that's how long it took for the bullet to get to the fox, standing with his head and chest sticking up out of a hag 220 yards distant. And harmlessly pass it by.
If you haven't been there, you'll never know how it feels but I can tell you it's a major bummer. Every hour since, I've given myself a good kick in the arse! I try to console myself that this area gets a lot of attention when we do early morning spying and there's a good chance we'll get one or both of them before the season is out. But it's cold comfort.
And, talking of cold (but not comfort!), yes that is frost in the pictures of base camp.

Friday, 14 May 2010

'S no the Weather to be Sleeping Out.

As you can probably tell from the pics, it's been a mixed bag workwise. Apart from the weather. The cold northerlies continue to bring low temperatures, cloud, sleet and snow. As the hatching time for grouse chicks is nigh-on upon us, we desperately need that to change.
The weather girl informed us that Tuesday night was the coldest May night for 16 years- and 2 of my colleagues were out at a fox den in it. Not that it did them a lot of good. They had a night of freezing fog and snow, followed by clear skies and hard frost on daylight. And them just in bivvy bags......
It was my turn to lend a hand last night and again we were completely stymied by mist and rain for the duration of the night. As I type, all my gear is festooned over sundry garden fixtures in an attempt to get it dry for tonight.
It's a laugh a minute.....
The other pics (other than the obligatory snow-scenes) include one of a barely-discernible pair of Slow-worms. It's not unusual to see one, but I've rarely seen a pair together. It also shows us sorting a bridge that was blown off it's footings during the winter. If you'd been there trying to help us shift it back into position, you'd realise what a phenomenon that must have been.
There's also a pic of one of the many grouse nests I've come across this week.
That's what it's all about!!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Bad Day at the Orifice

Last weekend brought us 3 things:- a public holiday (whatever that is); snow; and the last of our summer migrants, the cuckoo. The poor creature must have thought it had taken a wrong turning some place.
And it must now be seriously considering retracing its wingbeats as the winds have remained in the North every day since and it has been decidedly cool.
Thus far the unseasonal weather hasn't really affected us but we're now starting to find grouse nests which means the first chicks could be hatching within the next fortnight or so. And they need a bit of warmth to do well.
However, on the plus side, these temperatures are great for what we've been up to, namely walking ground. Basically, this involves a number of us walking in line roughly 80m apart, letting our terriers work as we go. This way we check out any sand holes, peat runners, cairns, ledges and any other places a fox may be lying up or have cubbed in.
One of Foxys' favoured type of terrain is really steep, rocky faces- and we've walked a few of them this week. Y'know, the sort of ground that you need one leg longer than the other and an extra hand to hold on with. Or, better still, wings!
Yesterday was one such day. It started off badly when we discovered not 1, not 2, but 3 punctures on assorted vehicles. And went downhill from there!
We walked the steep, right out one side of a glen and were about to stop for lunch when a dislodged stone rolled down and hit a terrier. Initially, its owner thought it had been killed but it came round. From there it was carefully carried 3 miles back to a rover, and taken to the vets. (Apparently she's got off with shock and bruising. Phew.)
The rest of us started working the other side of the glen homewards and, at around 2pm, we came to a cairn with a fox in it. We surrounded it and covered all the exits with our shotguns as the terriers went in.
By 4pm only my Maisie and the fox remained in the cairn and it was becoming apparent we had a stalemate. I let my colleagues go, took up position atop a large rock in the middle of the cairn, and started my lonely vigil.
At 5pm I heard barking and reckoned Maisie was still at the fox. This stalemate was turning positively mouldy!
Then, at 7pm, I heard her howling mournfully somewhere in the bowels of the cairn. She'd lost the fox and lost her way out. I stayed put, still hoping the fox would bolt.
I stood- and sat- and stood -and sat on my rock until, at 10pm, it was too dark to have seen the fox if it had bolted. Some you win.......
But often when a terrier sticks in a cairn it's because it can see daylight and wont go back the way it came. In such a situation it'll often find its way out on darkness. And that is what I was praying that Maisie would do.
As soon as I left my post and started picking my way- very gingerly- through the cairn I could hear her rumbling about. She was out within a minute or two, wagging her tail so hard she was losing traction at the rear.
All that then remained was to walk the hour back to my rover in the pitch dark. Once there I checked Maisie out by the light of the headlamps and found her unscathed by her ordeal.
Which is just as well as by now I was so hungry I could have eaten a scabby dug!