February has, on the whole, been a cold month. North east winds for much of the month and some very hard frosts. It has been dry and cold in the first two weeks and very wet by the 20th of the month bringing the water in our stream up several feet and flooding some of our enclosures for a day or two.

Every animal however has got indoor nesting places well off of the floor. The mornings and evenings both became inexorably lighter through the month. After the 22nd it became warmer and in the main drier. We still however, suffered several hard frosts at night.

In February, we ordered twenty-one bird boxes from blue tit to tawny owl size. We actually received them before the end of February all hand made by a friend using his hobby of carpentry to ease lockdown.
Early in the month we acquired a female four year old female emu called Bruce. I hope she doesn’t have a physiological problem caused by her misnaming. We also received all the deer and wallabies. I write below as it happened.

On Saturday 11th February my very good friends Gary, his wife Rhianon, and Rab of Cornwall Nature Conservancy, led a group of young men to catch as many fallow deer as possible at the Otter Sanctuary nearby, which is closing down. Gary had bought a long catch net which was very successful. Cherry supplied a picnic for the fifteen or so members of the team.

At about 4.30pm they returned to Tredivett Mill, Rab towing the main trailer and one of the ‘posse’ pulling a smaller trailer with a couple more wallabies. This makes our current total four male and four female, two of which are currently holding Joeys obviously. The large trailer was unloaded. Out exploded two buck and three doe fallow deer.

The group had returned the following Saturday to mop up the last few deer and wallabies as the following week all the fencing is coming down in readiness for John and Mandy to prepare the whole of their acreage as a rather pleasant dog walk alongside their cream tea café which they have updated nicely. I am sure it will be a very pleasant attraction and of course the setting is second to none.

The fallow deer are a native of Europe but has been introduced throughout the world, and is especially attractive in parkland and the grounds of large country properties.
Adult bucks grow to just about three feet at the shoulder and can be as much as one hundred kilos.

Females are four or five inches shorter and half the weight of a buck. Their lifespan is about twelve to sixteen years and the five we received on Saturday are just eight months old, a rather honey coloured blond with ‘bambi’ like white blotches.

Only bucks have antlers which are palmated unlike the red deer. In the first two years the bucks grow single spikes and the full antler is grown in the third year. They are essentially grazing animals but like the security of woodland edges. We have a four acre enclosure for them and it consists of two open fields with brambles, trees and undergrowth either side of the division. We have also left substantial piles of brush and cut down branches to hide in and behind. Fallow deer can run up to thirty miles per hour and jump over five feet nine inches, so were not easy to catch.

The Romans and then the Normans are thought to have brought the fallow deer to England from mainland Europe and particularly the island of Sicily to amuse King William and his followers, particularly in the New Forest.

The rutting season tends to start in late October and can last up to four and a half months, the males might use ‘lecs’ like game birds and squeal in a high pitch at mating time.

Gestation lasts up to two hundred and forty five days and the fawns are born in summer time. They are suckled for some four months and occurs at four hourly intervals. Weaning is completed at seven months and after twelve months the fawn is independent.
As reported recently we were given a four year old female emu, which is already living happily with the wallabies as one would expect and will live equally happily with the deer.

The emu is a member of the flightless ratite family. It is the second largest living bird after the ostrich from Africa, the largest ratite. It is over five feet high and weighs up to forty five kilos.

It is endemic to Australia where it is the national emblem along with the kangaroo. Both male and female are brownish with a dark grey head and neck. Emus can run at thirty miles per hour and sometimes will run as if mad, probably to dissuade predators. They have heavily clawed three toed feet and their kick is very dangerous. Emus mate for life so we hope to attain a suitable ‘husband’ for our ‘Emmy’. Emus “boom” because they have an additional structure to their trachea that allows this loud noise. When first heard it can be a little disconcerting especially if the bird is hiding.

Emus graze and eat leaves but will happily take insects and small lizards.

On the following Saturday, Gary and his group returned. They not only caught all the mature fallow deer but also the last two wallabies and the six Reeves’ muntjac deer.
We now have in our new Deer Park, finished in December, nine fallow deer (including two young bucks) six muntjac (including two bucks) and nine wallabies, of which four are males and some of the females clearly have joeys.

We have never had muntjac before so I will describe them.

Also known as Reeves’ muntjac, this is the smallest deer found in the UK. It originates from South Eastern China, but is now found in the UK, Belgium, Holland, Ireland and Japan, originally from escapees of private collections (including Woburn Abbey in the nineteenth century).

The Reeves’ muntjac is only about twenty inches at the shoulder and thirty six inches long. It barks, hence its other name ‘barking deer’. Barking is usually around mating, and the bark turns into a scream when captured. It is quite unnerving. It tends to be solitary and very much crepuscular, although we often see all six eating out on the grassy areas together. The males have small antlers only about four inches long and two inch upper canine ‘tusks’ with which they fight one another.

Apparently, they breed throughout the year; gestation lasts up to two hundred and twenty days.

The young are tiny and spotted. Its parents are a rather attractive ginger brown above, creamy undersides with black markings on their faces.

As usual we noted many firsts of the year; the first bumble bee on 22nd February, first ‘no’ spotted ladybird on 23rd February, the peacocks started displaying on the 25th February, the first blackbird started singing on 26th February, the first February chaffinch was heard on the 18th February. Of course many other birds were singing before this; robins, collared doves and song thrushes all this month and before, nuthatch, great tit, jays screeching, jackdaws and rooks cawing and checking their nests sites. The list of all the birds is attached.

We moved on two tawny owls and one barn owl bred in captivity to other collectors and now both our pairs are ready to breed again.
I have now, from the 14th of the month, been walking Leo and Durrell, our Labradors, a two and a half mile walk everyday. They walk well together. On one such walk a couple of female blackbirds were fighting so aggressively that we managed to move within a metre before they panicked and flew off. Very territorial are female blackbirds.
Our young pumas and rusty spotted cats are growing fast and our female serval, Shakira is looking promisingly ‘fat’.

We have noticed an enormous number of mole hills and rabbit workings. It is lovely to see them warming themselves on sunny mornings after crisp frosts.

The frog spawn is beginning to grow tadpoles inspite of the cold although the frosts killed the eggs directly on the surface.

The only additional bird on the list this month is a green woodpecker which was heard ‘yaffling’ from above the house. The tawny owl continues his noisy vigil day and night.
We hope that by the time we write our next report lockdown will be easing slowly and we will all be able to enjoy wildlife and wild places soon.

Gallery of images

Sightings February 2021

Below are our sightings so far this year.

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