My employer has a friend who is a well-known artist, he and his family visit annually for either shooting or fishing. This past weekend he has been down for some Mayfly fishing. He has been keeping a couple of Adders in a snake pit, because he likes snakes and needs to observe animals so that he can best portray them on canvas. Last week he looked in on his adders to find a hen pheasant in the snake pit, she had already battered one 26inch adult to death, and was in the process of finishing off its partner. Whether it was a maternal instinct to protect her brood, or just an inbuilt desire to “take out the trash” it was a remarkable display by what is normally one of nature’s more timid creatures. Snakes abound in this particular part of Hampshire every summer I come across Grass Snakes sunning themselves on the river bank, although harmless, I am always stopped in my tracks by their size, a three feet grass snake not uncommon. Occasionally I have seen Adders that are easily distinguished by their distinctive pattern and defined head. We have even had grass snakes munching frogs in our garden pond that is not more than four feet across, a reptile hot tub with snacks!
The David and Goliath theme is not that uncommon in the bird world in early summer when broods must be protected. Crows and Rooks will often risk life and limb mobbing birds of prey three times their size in order to protect their progeny. Swallows and Martins behave the same when faced with our gormless cat; his cross-eyed stare oblivious to their seventy mile an hour death dives across his nose. Other birds opt for diversionary tactics, spook a mallard mum with chicks and she will act the injured bird, flapping and crashing across the water away from her brood, drawing you away from her off spring before taking off circling once and landing back down with her brood. Lapwings, ground-nesting birds when faced with an oncoming mower will try and draw you away from the nest with some scatty running.
A few years ago I was mowing the rides through the wood on the tractor mower when I saw a Woodcock get up around ten yards in front of me, as I made my noisy and sedate progress down the path she circled my head a few times at a distance of about six feet before dropping to the ground in front of the mower. I stopped the mower and she sprung from the undergrowth with a chick between her knees, flying about eight feet before dropping to the ground dropping off number one son to return twice more for her other two chicks. She only flew a distance of eight feet and at a height of six feet, the flight was particularly laboured, but she picked her three to four week old chicks up by clasping them with her legs. Some years we have Woodcock with broods some years we don’t, one sure sign that they are about are the holes they make with their beaks in the muddy patches in the wood around the spring holes.
The Carp and coarse fish in the pond are very active, the Carp spawning vigorously on the tree roots, the Roach, Rudd and Bream getting the act over very quickly, one Bream that I picked out with my hands from the tree roots having skin like coarse sand paper, spawning tubercles transforming this normally slimy creature to an emery board. Grass cutting for most of the week, stand still and you can see the grass growing at the moment.