Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Night Journeys

At 1am this morning, I listened intently to the strange sounds of the Bedfordshire countryside: a rich assortment of grunts, snorts, yaps, howls…and a regular rumbling groan that I could only liken to a Hippopotamus with indigestion!

I admit that it wasn’t typical for this part of the world because I happened to be sitting in the middle of the Chiltern Way alongside the perimeter fence of Whipsnade Zoo but, closing my eyes and letting my imagination run riot, I could have been in the middle of the rolling plains of the savannah, or else sat up a tree in a tropical rainforest: a surreal experience that I’d recommend as the 502nd thing to do before you die!

I decided yesterday morning that I wouldn't be going to bed last night and so, whilst visiting our local shops first thing, I was delighted to find a homeless giant Teddy Bear in the local charity shop. We both got on really well and I couldn’t resist purchasing it so that Carole wouldn’t be on her own in my absence!

John O’Sullivan and I had spent the day conducting a hoverfly survey around the pretty village of Studham on the south-western boundary of the County, and it was to Studham that I returned soon after 10pm, hoping to encounter an Edible Dormouse or two in the local woods. These are very common and active in parts of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns at this time, so I thought it would be worth having a look-see locally, too.

On the way into the wood I’d watched a Brown Hare in the night-vision scope as it weaved its way through a herd of cattle but, over the next hour or so, I couldn’t find sight nor sound of anything within the wood itself….apart from a Hornet that made me jump as it suddenly buzzed loudly right past my ear in the darkness (I confess that night-flying Hornets being attracted to the light is the thing that makes me more nervous than anything else when wandering alone through pitch-black woods in the middle of the night!).

A female Muntjac grazed next to the road as I drove to Whipsnade, and another sauntered nonchalantly out of my way as I walked down the Icknield Path and, thence, onto the Chiltern Way and around the Whipsnade Zoo perimeter. In a small copse I came across a young squeaking Tawny Owl which sat gazing quizzically at me from its perch just a few metres away. A further ramble brought me to the section of fence where I sat listening to the strange cacophony of sound emanating from the Zoo. In the midst of this kaleidoscope of sound, I was pretty sure that I heard an Edible Dormouse chattering & chuntering in the depths of the thick Oak tree canopy above my head, too, though mainly by a process of elimination because I couldn't think what other creature it might have been apart from a Grey Squirrel dreaming!

After a further hour here, I made my way back to the car and thence, via the M1 (and a cup of strong coffee at Toddington Services), to the Barton Bypass in the hope of seeing a Polecat. No luck here, despite several ‘passes’ between the Streatley & Barton roundabouts, though I watched a Hedgehog scuttling around by Harlington Station, and another in Flitwick.

And so, at about 3.45am, with a beautiful bright moon right ahead of me, I found myself parked once again in my favourite spot on the road out of Steppingley (see below), listening to a lecture by Tom Wright, outgoing Bishop of Durham, and sipping an orange & mango juice purchased from the 24-hour Tescos in Flitwick. No Polecats again….not even a Red Fox, in fact, but fascinating as always with browsing Rabbits, canoodling Grey Squirrels and a beautiful female Muntjac. A massive brown bird flew low right over the top of the car just after 5am. There are a family of Buzzards around, but everything about the ‘jizz’ shouted out “female Goshawk”. Later, I saw it fly down the edge of the wood – stunning!


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