Sunday, 19 September 2021

Scottish wildlife galore

IN the bird reserve I spot a roe deer ahead on the path.

He moves off quietly as I approach and I find him hiding in the dark space under the bracken but he panics and blunders into a fallen tree that has been left to rot and nourish a wonderful variety of insects and fungi.

He was a young buck with tiny, one-point horns that will soon be shed and new ones grown for the autumn rut.

He reminds me to tuck my trousers into my socks for where there are deer there are ticks and these are tiresome to remove, even with a tick card, once they have crawled up you to a tender spot and fixed their jaws to start sucking your blood.

Ticks will hop off the deer on to bracken as it grows profusely over paths, where they will soon find another host brushing by.

Normally a tick bite will just leave a small red itchy patch but occasionally it will infect the host with Lyme disease, which is hard to diagnose as it has flu-like effects similar to chronic fatigue syndrome.

The tick card has a slot to slide under the tiny insect to lever it out without pulling or twisting, which may stress it to regurgitate infective saliva into the wound.

Do not handle or squash the tick but flush away if possible, disinfect the wound and wash your hands.

The local population of roe deer — usually a pair of mothers and last year’s young (if there is a fawn it is still well hidden) — ignore passing cars as they graze in the woodland glades but they are alert to new noises, such as the creak of an ancient bicycle being pedalled uphill by a panting pensioner.

At the edge of the marsh, just a few yards from the road and below our local ruin where there are always curious visitors, I observe a summer behaviour I have seen before — the chase.

This is a circular dash in and out of grass tufts or bushes, the buck chasing the doe.

Hedgehogs perform a similar circular courtship but much more slowly and carefully.

It is far too early for mating as the does have only just given birth but it must be a pre-mating courting ritual, perhaps of young females.

The chasers are always oblivious to their surroundings but I have never been able to observe how it ends as they disappear into the junipers.

Red deer are increasingly seen lower down the hills, where they are safer from the cull, even grazing on the marsh.

The real aim of the nature reserve is to protect the habitat, and hopefully the nest, of the hen harrier which we see through binoculars dropping down into the reeds at dusk.

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