Wildside: Nature is full of surprises

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Driving home about 10 pm the other eventing I saw what I first assumed was a fox crossing our lane from the gardens, across into the wood.

But to my surprise instead of the lazy, loping gait of the local fox, which generally pauses having crossed the road to look over its shoulder before drifting off into the undergrowth, it was a muntjac deer.

Rather than the easy style of the fox, this was a rapid almost scuttling dash across the lane with the distinctively arched back and small head of a female.

By the time I got to the point where the deer had disappeared into the wood, there was nothing to be seen; like a fleeting ghost the animal had vanished into the night.

The muntjac, or ‘barking deer’, is a non-native mammal introduced into Britain as a captive animal and escaping from the Woburn estate in the 1920s.

They are now widespread and establishing across large tracts of lowland England.

Other species, especially birds, have made their own way here, many aided by climate change or habitat restoration projects.

One such example is the little egret, a small, brilliant white heron. This was the subject of a message from Mick Fairest with an observation from the rural Moss Valley just south of Sheffield: ‘Hello Ian, I thought you might want to know of a sighting of a little egret landing in Cook Spring Wood, Moss Valley. The record has been passed to me by members of Dronfield Footpaths Society who are also members of Dronfield Wildlife Group.’ 

This is indeed an interesting record of a species now colonising rapidly across much of Britain.

However, even today, this is largely restricted to coastal zones and larger inland water bodies such as big reservoirs. I would guess the bird was roosting in the woodland having flown in from nearby Rother Valley Country Park or somewhere similar.

Migrating birds also tend to use the east-west aligned river valley of the Moss Brook as a navigational route on their travels.

Expect more of these delightful birds.

Last week I wrote about another exotic mammal, the grey squirrel, and several readers confirmed how abundant and active they are at the moment.

With mild weather and plenty of food, the squirrels are decidedly frisky. Breeding behaviour is triggered by this combination.

Generally during warm conditions for the season, and a little while after a good feed to get his strength up, the male squirrel chases the female. He then entices his chosen mate by leapfrogging over her repeatedly with backflips, somersaults and other feats of athleticism. Generally it works well!

n Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.org

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