After such a beautifully warm and sunny day there seemed no other way to end it than by taking a drive up and over the moor in the early evening, as the sun was preparing to say goodnight. I love trips out at this time of day. It’s a chance to see the moor in a different light and there’s a chance you’ll see far more than you bargained for. Coat, camera and binoculars in the car, a body warmer and gloves at the ready (it can become pretty chilly, quite quickly), a steaming hot coffee safely in the cup holder and I’m set to go. I have no idea what I’ll see but I’ve walked out on the washing up, so it had better be something good!
I knew that a short-eared owl had been attracting photographers and enthusiasts alike, so I know where I’m headed. I was lucky enough to see one this time last year, in the same spot and would love to see it again, before it sets off to its nesting destination. It feels good to be out and about, doing what I love and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that I have congealed dinner plates waiting me on my return.
The Exmoor ponies have foals at the moment and some are older than others. However, to the right of me, on the roadside there is the smallest specimen I have ever seen – it took my breath away! With the car stopped, I watched as this tiny, ginger coated, foal went to suckle. Its patient mother standing whilst the foal had its fill. The other ponies bunched around the mother and looked for all the world as if they were her circle of protection, whilst she fed her baby. Once the baby was content, they all wandered off in a group together, across the moor and into the last of the evening sun.
Yellow gorse bushes line the road here and you have to be on your guard constantly. Not only do ponies graze and wander hereabouts but cattle, sheep and deer do too. Any one of these animals could appear from where road meets moor, so you must have your eyes peeled and your wits about you. Expect the unexpected is always a good motto. Even more so at this time of the evening. I love the colours that the moor throws up at different times of the day. Everything seems to have a glow about it whilst the sun is doing its thing in settling down for the night and the sky is no exception.
As I near my destination the sky before me is turning a lilac blue with tinges of burnt ochre on the horizon. Standing atop a ridge there are three red deer stags and maybe a fourth, minus its antlers. They are silhouetted against the evening sky and it’s moments like this that make my heart sing. They appear majestic in their stance, proud to be what they are, even though they are probably near to losing their most precious asset…their antlers. But it doesn’t prevent them from standing for a while, proving they’re a cracking good subject for the camera! I’m parked up at the end of a lane. The mood is quiet, there is a peacefulness up here that stills the heart and calms the soul.
A pair of buzzards glide about the sky against the setting sun, several crows swoop from post to post, their blackness eerie against the early evening backdrop, their cawing loud in the stillness. From out of the corner of my eye, I catch a movement on the common land to the left of me. Black ear tips are a treasure that I’m always on the lookout for, because they show me that a hare is in view…and there it was! My most favourite of all animals. A hare of great proportion facing away from me and ready for the off. But that doesn’t matter, I’ve caught sight of it. Whether it’s off like a shot from a gun, or stays awhile for me to take a photo, is neither here nor there – it’s yet another memory to put in the box. As it happens, it was off…bounding away across the earth, zig-zagging as it made its way to cover at the side of the field where it went from sight. That angular, sometimes gaunt looking face, the ranging gait and those ears! Amazing…absolutely amazing! I love them!
So, I’m off to see if I can find the short-eared owl, which holds an amber status and well worth a sighting. It’s mottled brown in colour, has a pretty face and is full of character. As I walk towards a junction in the lane, looking for a good waiting post, said owl comes flying towards me, flying low over the grassy moorland. That was unexpected! Although my camera is at the ready, I miss my moment as I’m too busy looking and am caught off guard. Fine photographer I am! But it’s lithe in its movement, silent and very, very beautiful. The owl flew right at me. I was stood in the corner, behind a bush and because of the bush I lost sight of it. The owl came to a halt on a post, resting and out of my view, just the other side of the hedge. The situation was totally frustrating but that’s wildlife for you. However, I’d seen it and was happy to take that home with me. I did wait for another hour or so, with some very good company (out with the same aim as me) before deciding it was getting chilly. But I was fully entertained by a herd of red deer, about fifty of them, over the moor, grazing in a field. They bunched together, spread out, bunched up again, moving as they fed. It doesn’t matter where you are on Exmoor, there will always be something to delight you. It may not be what you set out to see but go with an open mind and you’ll never be disappointed.
Back in the warmth of the car, I pop a liquorice all-sort in my mouth (one of those jelly ones covered with bobbly bits – not my favourite at all but it will suffice until I arrive home). My camera is out and at the ready and, as the evening is turning into dusk now, I know my camera will struggle with the lack of light very soon but I’ll take my chances. As I move slowly back along the lane, I spot a kestrel flying up from a grassy field. At first glance and side on I thought it was the owl, but no. Onwards then I go, homeward bound to my cottage and the promise of a hot cup of Earl Grey and a slice of home made Victoria sponge in front of the TV, before bed and a good book. The sun has just disappeared in a blaze of glory – the sky is calming down from its fiery appearance to more gentler, softer tones now the sun has gone from us. I’ve witnessed yet another Exmoor sunset and I know that I’ll never tire of them. A couple more photos for the album are taken – it’s hard to resist such beauty. A chance look to the left of me and there the short-eared owl sits, on a round fence post. I thought it had gone for the evening but, no, it hung around to wish me goodnight. Distance wasn’t a problem for my camera but the fading light was. I managed some shots but they’re not up to much. Never mind, I’d seen it…it was there in all its glory and I’ll take that as a successful evening.
Return journey here I come and as I travel the lanes home, a myriad of creatures keep me company. The rural fox, out for the evening on the hunt for its dinner. Large, rusty coloured with a superb brush and white tip, it trots gently along the lane in front of me, nose down on the ground. He finds a gap in the beech hedge, where he can move out of the way. A buzzard swooping low up and over a hedge, a dark outline in the now twilight sky, off to who knows where…and the red deer, out on the great expanse of moorland where they are happily grazing. In this light it’s hard to distinguish between gorse bushes and deer, if they have their heads down, although that might just be me. But their heads are up, they’re dark against the skyline and number around fifteen of them. I slow to watch them but am loathe to spook them, so drive on towards my cottage.
Home is in sight now, the outside light guides me in. I stand in the semi-darkness beside the beech hedge, the lambs are bleating and the tawny owls are calling out to each other across the lane. I’ll be able to lay and listen to them as I fall asleep.
What a perfect end to a perfect day.