Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Grass Snake

The photographs below show a clutch of 18 hatched Grass Snake eggs, plus the skin from the female who layed them.
Going by the size of the skin she was a very big snake. I have sloughed skins from 120cm snakes and this skin was considerably bigger!

As the young snakes hatch, they use a small egg tooth to cut through the leathery egg casing. They lose this tooth not long after they have hatched.

Hole where young snake has broken through.

Close up of mature female skin. Top scales - Mid body section.


Sloughed skin complete with eye scales.

Top scales.

Close up of belly scales.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Fallow Deer Rut - Ward's Wildlife

Below is a link to my most recent wildlife column article, in colour with photographs. Page 33.
This will be available until 27/10/2010.
I have also pasted the text below if you want to read it after this date.

Ward's Wildlife

Forest Lords in Battle!

Standing at an impressive 200cm in full antler, the fallow buck is our largest mammal in the Forest of Dean and during the month of October, it is the best time to hear and witness the rut, where they battle each other for the right to mate!
They will parallel walk before engaging each other – This involves walking next to each other until one turns to face the other. When this happens, the other buck will quickly turn and with all their strength, they lock antlers.
It is then down to strength and stamina as they force each other backwards into submission.
However, strength and stamina is not the only way of winning a fight! A well placed antler or a slip from the other buck can cause serious injury and even death!
If you are out walking in the forest you may hear the bucks calling from their stands. A deer stand can be identified by the severe thrashing of the nearby trees and also bare ground where they have scraped away the grass. The stands are also the buck’s territorial markers and as they patrol their territory, they call from each stand to herd and protect they’re doe’s.
The doe’s give birth in June after a gestation period of nearly 8 months, so they don’t get much of a break!
This is a time of year, rain or shine when I love getting out there before sunrise. The call of a fallow buck sounds like a mixture of a lion’s roar and a loud belch. Walking into the dark forest with these noises all around can be a bit spooky, but I get a buzz from the anticipation of what I might capture!
Once in the middle of the forest, I find a good location with clear views all around, not forgetting to select a location with a good solid tree that I can rest against.
I quickly erect a makeshift hide from dead branches and cammo netting to conceal myself and sit perfectly still and quiet.
You can sit there for hours without a decent view of a single deer, but a lot of patience and persistence is required if you want to get a decent photograph without disturbing them.
You cannot predict where a fight will happen and even though I have been photographing the rut for many years now, I have not managed to get a decent photograph of one. Maybe this will be my year!

Please remember – our forest is home to our wildlife and as we are supposedly intelligent human beings, we must put all the wildlife first and not disturb it, especially when they are mating.

Note: Please take extra care when driving the forests roads. The deer are more active at this time of year, especially during the early morning and late evening when the light is poor.
Road conditions can make it harder to stop and there are too many incidents on our roads involving our wildlife.
Take it easy and look after yourself as well as our wildlife!


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Urban Wildlife? - Forest of Dean

Bit of a stink being kicked up in the local press (again) regarding the rootings and mess left behind from the boars, pictured below at an Industrial Estate in Cinderford.

So, a bit of grass has been turned over and then the screams start for the blood of the wild boar!

I was kneeling down in between these animals to get some of my pics and one even gave me a nudge to say get out of the way and off my worm.
1. If it isn't the Rooting its the....
2. "What if I were a child!"
3. Then we have the "I was charged for nearly a mile!" Yeah OK!
4. And not forgetting the "They are going to cause a serious accident on our roads!"

I haven't finished yet!

1. I will now ask everyone who reads this and drives around the forest over the next 4 months to look at the road verges for litter and rubbish, after the vegetation dies back.
Litter everywhere, fly tipped tyres etc, yet some are more concerned about some grass being turned over, which "will" grow back!
But then, the wild boar don't talk back and can't defend themselves, can they?

2. Scaremongering is and always will be the lowest form of persecution as it can turn a nation, even the majority of the worlds population against a species. We only have to look at the snake and shark to see what can happen!
It has always been present and always will be. There is an animal in our forest, which has the capability of killing a child within minuets and we take it there ourselves! Woof woof!

3. Wild boar can reach speeds of 20 mph, if not more in a very short distance. How fast can a average human run? If these were indeed charges with intent to attack like it has been claimed, then I'm afraid these people would not have outrun a wild boar. Now here we have a different type of pig - A Porkie, or maybe just a few that do not understand the wild boar, or wildlife in general!

4. We have always had free roaming sheep in the forest, some of which, during the winter months lick the salt from the middle of the road and don't even move when you blast your horn!
We have roe, fallow and muntjac deer all over the forest and these animals can be seen frequently on the road verges in the evening, early morning and through the night.
So, why is it acceptable to target and persecute the wild boar when they pose no more a threat than the sheep and the deer?

PS: And why do people keep referring to wildlife enthusiasts as animal lovers! Yes, I love all animals, but when someone uses this term as a means of trying to belittle their passion while slating wildlife, then it becomes offensive.
Unless there is someone who can stand up and say that they hate all animals and wildlife, then we are all animal lovers!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Slow Down for Wild Boar and Deer

The leaves are changing colour, the fungi is looking magnificent, snakes are heading for hibernation and the fallow deer are rutting!
It may be cold and wet out there, but who can say this time of year is boring?

However, there a few things to be aware of! - During the months of October and November the fallow deer mate. This is called the rut and the bucks will patrol their territory, herding and protecting their doe's.
While walking you can hear them calling from their stands and if you are lucky, you can sometimes hear the clash of antlers as they engage in battle!

There has been some recent reports of dog and boar incidents in the forest and although none have been fatal, its still not nice to see a dog injured and the owners shook up.
The rut could be forcing the boars from the deeper parts, to the edges of the forest, and this is where they will come into contact with humans (and dogs) more frequently.
Please be alert at all times when walking in the forest and if you feel uneasy, keep your dog on a lead and close to you until you are in an area where you are sure you will not come across any boars.
Prevention is better than the cure!
Some boars get alarmed by the presence of dogs, especially if they have young nearby, and/or if the dog is barking. You can't stop your dog barking, but common sense "should" tell you to go another way if you spot them. Why take the risk?

Dogs should always be under control in our forest and only the other day, after someone told me that they were supposedly charged by a wild boar, I was faced with a comment from them saying "what if I was a child?"
My answer to this is simple - Forget the boars, I would be more concerned with all the dogs running around off lead. They pose a greater risk to children than any of our wildlife critters!

This time of year also poses a greater risk of collision with a deer (and now boar) while driving.
Poor light during the early morning and late evening is when you must be extra vigilant as both the boar and the deer move around considerably at this time.
Hitting one of these animals in your car, or on your motorbike can be devastating for all concerned!
The animal will almost certainly die, probably after a very long and excruciating time, but your car will also sustain untold damage and imagine a mature fallow deer buck smashing into your windscreen!
I don't have to explain what would happen if a motorcycle hit one of these animals...

There are too many incidents on our roads at this time of year, involving our wildlife, so please take it easy and look after yourself as well as our wildlife!