Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ampthill Park

In my endeavours to record as many Bedfordshire mammal species as possible this year, I've been really frustrated so far by the lack of Mustelid records, despite the number of hours accumulated in the field. I've spent many an early morning over Stewartby Lake and Marston Vale Country Park over the last few weeks hoping for Otter and American Mink, but to no avail. And my walks over Ampthill Park have so far failed to produce the Stoat sightings that I would have expected.

But I know the Stoats are there so, at dusk this evening, I decided to make my way down to The Rezzy, where I have had most of my sightings over the years, and wait...

....and half an hour later, a Stoat appeared out of the bottom of a Bramble bush just a few metres away from where I was standing, bounded along the path, and then disappeared back into the Bramble, much to the consternation of a local Wren who churred away in alarm!

If only it was that easy with Otters!

I've had some really exciting experiences with Stoats over the years. They really are my favourite animals, alongside Otters. Here's an account of an encounter at The Rezzy from June 2008:

'Nature red in tooth and claw' wrote Tennyson. And I had a vivid demonstration of it this afternoon when I took my friend, Ian, for a walk over Ampthill Park. Whilst walking along the footpath around The Rezzy (a small lake), a wren started churring frantically, and a young rabbit ran down the path straight towards us. My immediate reaction was, "stoat!" and, sure enough, a stoat appeared, bouncing down the path in pursuit of the the rabbit. The rabbit turned into a gap in the scrub right by where we were standing, now closely followed by the stoat. Moments later there was a pitiful scream and we saw the stoat holding the back of the rabbit's neck in its death-grip jaws. Suddenly noticing us, the stoat dropped the rabbit and retreated, but returned moments later and dragged it through the large mesh fence and into the long grass.

Fifteen minutes later, and a few hundred metres to the west of The Rezzy, we heard more frantic squeals and looked up to see another stoat chasing after a rabbit. Amazingly, it brought it down less than 5 metres from us. We moved closer and the stoat bounded several metres away, characteristically sitting up on its haunches to size us up. It then moved closer...and then further away, continuing to regard us quizzically, giving us cracking views. After a few minutes we moved further back, allowing the stoat to bound up to the rabbit, grasp it, and carry it away with ease.

Incredible. I've never actually seen a stoat catch a rabbit before, and today I saw 2 kills within the space of a quarter of an hour almost at my feet. What is it that they say about buses....?!

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