All posts by mike

Otter male looking from weedy river early morning. May Suffolk. Lutra lutra

Otter Suffolk spring

Brown hare leaping midsummer dawn. June Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Brown hares Suffolk spring early summer

Otter pair play on bank in morning sun. April Suffolk. Lutra lutra

Otters on the Little ouse

Otter looking forward alert in tree hole. April Norfolk. Lutra lutra

Otter mother and cub, Norfolk spring

Barn owl Hunting in a Suffolk meadow December morning. Tyto alba

Barn owls living through a Suffolk winter

Brown hare leveret wet with dawn dew. June Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Brown hares living on a wildlife field in Suffolk

This field of two hectares is is set between woodland and an arable field this growing oil seed rape. It is cut back and reseeded every year and used by wildlife. Bees, butterflies and other insects feed on the flowers, birds and animals find food and cover through the autumn and winter. The hares photos in this post were taken from early spring to summer.

Brown hare sitting and turning sideways in snow. February Suffolk. Lepus europaeus

Hares living through a long winter

Ned on south tip of Baleshare Benbecular behind

Lost

Ned playing with bottle on Baleshare beach

Ned playing with bottle on Baleshare beach

 

It probably still only remains because of the crumbling ribs of rock in it’s centre that jut out into the force of the Atlantic. Baleshare is a chaotic blend of sand, shingle, dunes, kelp and pounding Atlantic energy. During the autumn and winter the beach morphs daily, white sand, the following day thousands of tones of heaped brown kelp torn from the seabed. In the face of frequent storms and high tides the sand and kelp are ripped from the beach revealing a rough shingle base and huge sheets of fragile machair soil torn away from the retreating Baleshare crofts.

Storm driven kelp round old boat on Baleshare beach

Storm driven kelp round old boat on Baleshare beach

The beach is about 4 miles long and square on to the south west Atlantic storms, to the north it ends with a channel that turns Balehare into a tidal island twice a day. The southern tip marks the start of the ever shifting treacherous sand banks and inlets that separate North Uist from Benbecular. Looking west the wild low Monach islands can just be seen, the north is marked by white round spheres of a radar station high inland, the control towers of Benbecular military airport distantly frame the southern tip.

looking west from dunes south Baleshare

looking west from dunes south Baleshare

In the summer Baleshare appears to be a benign white sand and tropical sea blue beach. People park above the beach at the end of a rough track close to where the crumbling rock ribs form the natural groins that protect the beach. Though never busy it’s a popular place to walk. In winter Baleshare is different and very few people come to walk.

 

My first November walk on the beach was to the north and at low tide far out the west close to the waves breaking on white sand, a rare day with an easterly wind. Without any warning Ned, a spaniel tore of at full speed deaf to my calls towards the dunes and a low grey speck at their base. Over the dunes there are often sheep, I ran after the dog concerned he might go over the dunes. However, the grey speck was a dead seal, Ned had picked up the smell of the ripped open body on the east wind. Walks over the next couple of weeks revealed that Golden and White tailed eagles were feeding on the dead seals. I stopped and sat with Ned at the base of the dunes at the north end of the beach, sea water was still draining from the low sands that surround Baleshare west down the channel to the sea. Repeated and persistent sweeps with binoculars finally revealed the otter I had been looking for fishing in the channel. I knew I would be back next winter.

Seal eaten by birds on Baleshare beach

Seal eaten by birds on Baleshare beach

The top end of Baleshare is farmed, fenced fields feed sheep and cattle, stacks of round black silage bales wait for winter. But, to the south Baleshare is less tameable the ever shifting dunes and blowing sand not so easily managed.

 

The weekend had seen back to back storms with winds of 80mph and gusting more. Monday morning was cloudless and the wind, just wind, I decided to walk south down the beach early as the winter sun came up over the dunes. The tide was high with only a short strip of rounded stones forming a narrow beach at the base of the dunes, I set of with Ned along the top of the dunes. The Atlantic was still boiling, white and angry from the weekend and sounded like a distant jet engine. For the first few hundred metres sheep rough graze the flatter part of the dunes. The track we were walking quickly becomes rougher. The ridge of the dunes facing the sea is like walking a rollercoaster, further slowed by marram grass whose roots defend the dunes from being blown away.

Foam after the storm on Baleshare beach

Foam after the storm on Baleshare beach

The first morning after the storm, the birds are hungry. To the west groups of waders chase the retreating tide line. To the east over the wild dunes ravens reel and roll, a hen harrier diligently followed the undulations, my binoculars turned two black dashes into a couple white tailed eagles playing in the turbulent air. Looking down in the marram grass Ned nudged a chocolate brown lump that became a woodcock whirring away on tired hungry wings to find a new hiding place. Near the southern tip of the beach the gales had blasted a hole in the dunes, we half walked and slid down the steep sand to the beach where the tide was starting to retreat. Movement over my shoulder, a golden eagle low, at dune height it glanced at me and flew up the beach searching for food exposed by the tide, with binoculars I followed it north. I turned looked and called, Ned had gone, the beach was empty, the first flash of concern.

Storm breach in the dune Baleshare beach

Storm breach in the dune Baleshare beach

Climbing up the dune breach was much harder and slower than coming down. From the top nothing. But, the grass is tall and dunes deeply folded riddled with rabbit holes that all have to be checked by any self respecting spaniel. I stood and called while scanning with binoculars. More than a mile north the sheep were bunched and then I saw the fast moving black dot close enough to concern the sheep and of more concern to me, their owner. Ned has learnt to ignore sheep, he walks by even when they are trapped on the road between field fencing and they bolt past in panic but I can’t explain this to a farmer a mile away. When he has chased after a hare or rabbit before he has always come back to where he last saw me, don’t move and wait he always comes back. But, this time I can’t, I have to move, I can see a pickup driving down the track to the beach.

Southern tip of Baleshare beach looking east

Southern tip of Baleshare beach looking east

I move as fast as I can calling in case Ned has doubled back and passes me back south where he left me, I don’t see him again. The pickup moves away, the sheep are relaxed and grazing, has he been picked up, has he gone back, what to do? I get to the car, no dog. I decide to drive after the pickup, the farmer is in her kitchen and comes to the door. No, she has not seen him, learning he is a spaniel says she is not concerned for the sheep and says she has to feed other stock and will come as soon as she can to help me look. I drive back to the beach and start to walk south again.

Many emotions and thoughts compete in my head for attention, deciding what to do next becomes confusing. Last seen near the sheep but, he left me nearly two miles south down the beach much more than an hour ago, what would he do? Decision. Walk down the crest of the dunes so I can see the beach and over the dunes. Try to balance walking fast with looking hard, I go back to the hope that he always goes back to where he last saw me but this time I am not there.

Then, stopping to use the binoculars again, a black dot at the far south point of the beach much more than a mile away. Is it an otter? No, the dots’ legs are too long and it is moving randomly, otters have better sense of purpose. Hope? I slide down the dune to the beach to walk faster. Certain now it is a black dog, the roar of the still angry surf must be muting my calls and whistle. Despite moving fast I don’t seem to be getting closer, Ned is following the tide as it rushes out over the low sand bank towards Benbecular. Then he walks into the sea and starts swimming south.

Hope is exchanged for something much more negative. Unlike many spaniels Ned is not a fan of water, he won’t jump in to retrieve a ball or stick, he just looks at me as if to say you get it. To walk into cold rough sea water he must be desperate. The small black head appears and disappears getting smaller to the south. Should I follow? Even though upset I still have enough sense not to. Think. If he drowns is there anything I could have done to stop it? 999, what service? I don’t know, I am given the Coastgaurd. Local, she knows where I am, are there any boats visible? No. Very sympathetic she says she will send a unit to me down the beach but I know there is not time.

The call has taken minutes, I had to squat down so the wind did not block out my voice. Standing I look again, the binoculars can’t find him, is he gone? Then, to the west and closer I see his head, he has turned and started to come back but is being washed out to sea and has no strength. I take of my boots and thick waterproof trousers and walk out into the sea and soft sand. At thigh height I clench his collar and pull him back to the beach. Ned is shaking violently and can’t stand, I wrap him in my coat and keep him still by heaping kelp over him. Call 999 again, she is genuinely relieved, I assure her I don’t need help and need to get the dog back up the beach as fast as I can.

Feet dry, boots and trousers on the shakes are no longer violent, Ned even eats a little of the dried dog food I always carry. I put the wet coat on and stand Ned up, his legs are starting to work again, the lead goes on, walking will start to warm him again.

Approaching the car a well used Massey tractor comes out of the dunes with a sheep dog running round it. She steps out of the tractor, a still shivering Ned goes to greet her and I describe briefly what had happened at the point. She had as promised been out in the dunes looking for Ned. She knows it is easy for a dog to get stuck in the many rabbit burrows. Thanking her, she smiles and returns to the cab to drive back to the farm.

The memory will become less sharp, however like the others it will remain, something to learn from and possibly improve?

Ned on south tip of Baleshare Benbecular behind

Ned on south tip of Baleshare Benbecular behind

 

 

Images of Baleshare in November

 

Short eared owl in flight over sunny meadow. November Suffolk Asio flammeus

Short eared owl winter Suffolk farm

Short eared owls fly south in winter from Scotland and Northern Europe, some of them overwinter in East Anglia. These photos were taken in November at Halls farm, Norton, Suffolk where to Short eared owls stayed for more than a week hunting in the old orchard and meadows round the farm.

 

Roe deer buck head low in grassy woodland. May Suffolk Capreolus

Roe deer May Suffolk