David Beeson, 15 /12 /20
- It was in my early days of wildlife watching and I had a brand-new telephoto-lens. And I needed mammal photographs for a lecture course I was about to teach.
So, I drove out to a stream just outside Salisbury – near Odstock, where watervoles had been spotted.
Now, my system was to settle down opposite some watervole holes and the ‘lawns’ produced by their grazing. Once comfortable, I would peel an apple, throwing the small peel pieces onto the opposite bank, just a metre away, and wait. The animals just cannot resist apple and they would soon emerge. Meanwhile, I munched the apple and popped the core just beneath the long 400mm lens.
It worked. The vole could not resist the apple. There was just one snag. It was sleeping on my side of the stream, and was soon munching the apple core beneath my hands. I needed not a telephoto but a macro-lens for close images!
2. It was 1998, and I had been given lots of money to search for otters in Kenya.
I had been ‘into’ otters for many years, and had spotted signs of them in Malawi in 1976, so why not try Kenya? Aonyx campensis, Cape clawless otters, were said to be there – so let us investigate.
But, researching otter distribution in the UK is rather safer than in Kenya. The thought of hippo, crocodiles and snakes was intimidating, so I resorted to using a boat to approach the edges of lakes to seek out otter prints and droppings. That gave more security … but not total.
Hippos hide – both underwater and on land. I could mostly avoid the former by observing their behaviour, the latter should be no issue as they come onto land at night … or so I thought.
I was wandering Crescent Island in Lake Naivasha, at that stage looking for a huge snake said to live there, when a day-wandering hippo decided I was in its territory and made hast in my direction. Now, they may look slow, but that is not true. They have a good turn of speed … and I was fleeing. I guess I was fortunate. It was less keen on running than me. I won the race.
Since that encounter, I was in St Lucia National Park in South Africa, on a night drive, when some hippos overtook us, running alongside – they are indeed fast.
3. Elsamere, is a conservation lodge and restaurant, that fronts onto Lake Naivasha. Its boats were festooned with otter droppings, however, a meal in the restaurant was that evening’s entertainment. The snag being the gap between the car park and the building – their lawn was the current venue to a dozen hippos. It took quite some while before a dash across was attempted.
4. Then there was the day when I was accused of going wildlife watching and bringing home ‘nasties’ on my boots. Why? There was a nasty smell in the boot cupboard. Naturally, I defended myself, and my boots proved to be clean. Yet, there was an animal smell there.
It took some while, eventually I removed an electrical control panel in the cupboard to see what was inside … surely, that could not be an issue. But, might some wiring or some electronic module be burning out? Not so. What I did discover was a wood mouse with one foreleg on a live terminal and another on the return / neutral – frizzled to death and now slowly drying out.
5. Joan Root. Joan lived on the edge of Lake Naivasha in an old, colonial-style bungalow surrounded by, what appeared, pristine woodland and scrub. And she had a pet female porcupine, complete with 30cm-long quills. It was cute and she and I enjoyed a healthy stroke and cuddle – quite unexpected.
The lady was later killed, in her bungalow, by locals who objected to her attempting to stop them poaching on her land.
6. There was a small pond outside of our patio window of our former home, and it was raining. A movement by the curtains / drapes and in wandered a palmate newt. Several followed over the next few months. How they entered we never worked out.
7. I had agreed to share a pair of edible dormice with a photographer friend. Graham Dangerfield sold them to me. He was supposedly knowledgeable about these rodents … but, not enough. The pair were sent in a carboard box by train. They ate their way out in Andover station’s parcel’s office, and ran riot until, blooded, the clerk captured the two and deposited them in a metal box.
8. Putorius, our polecat-ferret, escaped and followed his usual walk north and into a wood. Here the local gamekeeper grabbed him. When I arrived to reclaim the small, but feisty carnivore, the keeper said, “Ow do I nowse he yorz?” I picked him up, put him to my nose … he licked it … he might well have bitten anyone else, he did bite dogs and cows … “He’s yorz.”
9. I needed a rabbit for some photography. I stalked along some hay bails and dived. I had caught one. Woops, a rat and not a rabbit. I let it go!
10 Having kept the mice in a big glass tank for photography, I was semi-used to them escaping. They went into live traps readily, and so back to their tank. Not this one, it shunned the trap – I eventually caught it climbing the floor to ceiling curtains – it had one pair of legs on each curtain, and they split, and it couldn’t move. Got you!
11. Shrews. These are minute insectivores – small enough to squeeze between wire designed to keep out slightly larger creatures. At one time, we had an open wood fire, with a tube to the outside to draw in air. The local shrews used this to enter our sitting room, run off to the kitchen to find (hard to believe, I know) discarded scraps on the floor … and to return minutes later. Happily, they ignored us and we them.
12. Then there was the time we were camping in Samburu National Park. On our tour we saw a huge owl and beneath it sat a couple of lions. We retired to our new campsite, and between us and the loo was a wild patch of countryside, alongside which sat our owl. No loo trips that night.
13. My hut was basic, but it was alongside an ottery Kenyan lake. I woke, itching. No, being bitten! I was covered in thousands of flesh-eating safari ants. Not a great way to awake – but a towel removed most, and I slept the night in the car.
African dormice lived in the double-skinned cabin with me. They came out at night and stole biscuits (Left to allow easy photography) and my pencil (into a hole in the wall. Why?) – the latter was not appreciated. Mr and Mrs Dormice were not getting on well. I suspect divorce happened soon, as they squeaked and complained all night. However, they looked cute.
14. I was sure, if I just went another step into the marsh I would obtain just the right angle for the photograph. Woops, my Wellington boot rapidly went down. I followed, and I had to crawl away on my stomach … with just one boot … and slightly muddy.
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