Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Ranger's Ramblings.

I was out on patrol on Monday afternoon. It was quite a dreary day, but at least I was outside in the fresh air.  It was a remarkably still day and there wasn't much noise from traffic, trains, or even wildlife.

In the big "prairie" area behind the old Lafarge site, I came across two ladies who were dog walking. I just caught a snatch of conversation as they passed me and they were talking about narwhals - at Paxton Pits! I stopped in my tracks, and jumped straight into a discussion about narwhal tusks. Do they always have one? Is it central to their head or on one side?

It just so happens that I am quite interested in whales and have a blog about them called www.whale-spot.blogspot.com so you can see why they peaked my curiosity. 

"What brought on this sudden interest in narwhals?" I asked.

"Antiques Roadshow" they replied in unison. Apparently, the show featured those spiral "unicorn" horns that so many stately homes had on the wall.

"Well if you see one in the River Ouse, please let me know" I joked as we parted, after suggesting that they make a visit to the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge. The Zoology Museum would be better, but it is currently closed until the Attenborough Building is finished.

Wildebeest and topi in the Masai Mara Reserve

Left in a surreal frame of mind, I found myself in a patch of grassland that reminded me of my days in East Africa when I worked with Birdlife International there. Even if you haven't been on safari, you will know the sort of place I'm talking about; tawny, dry grassland, grazed to the ground with a few mangled shrubs dotted about. The only trees are umbrella trees - thorny acacias that keep their heads well out of reach of everything except giraffes.

This part of the Reserve was once part of the gravel works so there is virtually no soil. It's as dry as Africa. In fact the dominant plant is spotted medick (Medicago arabica) which is common in the Middle East where it can tolerate drought and heavy grazing, which is just as well, because even brambles and hawthorns struggle to get a start here.

Slight overgrazing? Note the umbrella tree.
In the last few summers we have had enough rain to give our scrub a boost but the bushes are under constant attack from rabbits and muntjac deer. I spotted one bush that had that typical African browsed-out look, as though a thousand wildebeests had brushed against it and taken a mouthful as they passed.

Rather than just take a photo, I thought I would have a go at making my own safari video, just like on the telly, and here it is!

Some friends flatteringly say that I might be the next David Attenborough, but my wife says I look more like Seasick Steve. Judge for yourselves.

video