Wildlife at Wollaton

11 Oct

On one of those sunlit days with an autumnal bite of the kind October in Britain specialises in, I walked with Jasper in Wollaton Park. Passing through the heavy wooden side gate set into the old brick wall on the northern perimeter – a few yards west of main gate, and drive with cattle grid to keep deer from murderous roads – I had coffee at the cafe by the adventure playground, passing the woofer a treat or two as I sipped..

It’s a beautiful cafe, a modernist affair of wood and glass fit for a beautiful park. At each inside table a glass vase held one bright dahlia, while outside tables on raised decking look directly on the swings, wooden climbs and go-apes, that parents may sip flat whites and shoot the breeze without losing sight of their charges. But with that nip in the air, dog friendly staff and so much glass to let in the light and warmth, we sat inside.

We left to walk southwards, on the level at first but soon ascending a wide grassy corridor, with avenues of mature oak and chestnut on either side, towards Wollaton Hall.

Crows gorged on windfall horse chestnuts. Fatting up for the rigours ahead, their flight distance – how close they’ll allow man and dog before taking to the air or hopping a step or three – was lower than usual. You’ll see squirrels doing the same at this time of year, the risk from predation outvoted by the need to feast or hoard.

A few times I saw a crow extract a whole conker where its shell had split open on impact. More often they drilled into the fallen but intact casings, then into the nuts, to extract in morsels the sweetness therein. That there were many crows doing the same, despite all having functioning wings, led me to surmise that conkers, even whole ones, are best dealt with on the ground. The methodical action of those formidable beaks – first by repeatedly raising the spiky envelope to smash it down, then through stabbing extractions – are most effective on a nut held in place by gravity and terra firma.

Skirting the Hall, housing a natural history museum I’ve yet to visit – dogs into museums don’t go – we descended toward the lake forming part of the estate’s southern boundary.

Halfway down the elegant slope a trio of ageing walkers stopped me. I guess the heavy camera and heavier lens spoke to them of vast expertise.

Is that a real deer or fake?

Well maybe they were joshing me for having walked so obliviously past the article in question. Northerners, a descriptor applicable at a push as far south as Nottingham, are famed for poker humour. But I think they really did need third party confirmation. Following the line of pointing pinkies I saw seventy metres away a huge red deer stag taking the sun and, on this expanse of green, about as inconspicuous – to borrow Raymond Chandler’s depiction of the aptly named Moose Molloy – as a tarantula on a slice of angel cake.

How could I have missed an animal the size of a cow, but with antlers a metre apiece?

With my powerful kit I could fill the frame while keeping a wide berth. There are signs here and there that red deer at this time of year can be extremely dangerous. Their containment in five hundred acres of parkland does not make them pets. The recommended safe distance, during autumn rutting when stags are highly protective of the does, is fifty metres but the warnings are routinely ignored. The next picture isn’t mine. It appears on a BBC web page under the heading, Warning over stag selfies with Wollaton Park deer.

Man taking selfie with stag at Wollaton Park

I think the words on that t-shirt say Grade-A Pillock, but at this resolution can’t be sure.

Meanwhile down at the lake, an adult member of my favourite bird species was taking junior on a fishing trip …

… but I couldn’t stay to see how they got on …

… since (a) I was on midday pup minding duty …

… and (b) the sands of time were for me running out.

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