Ben Waddams' Nature Diary - Salmon and Stags
PUBLISHED: 16:38 19 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:00 20 February 2013
I stamped my feet and flexed my fingers. Blowing into my hands, the condensation fogged my vision for a second as I struggled to keep warm.<br/><br/>I had started early; a slice of toast and mug of tea at 0430 and past Telford on the M54 by 0500 ...
I stamped my feet and flexed my fingers. Blowing into my hands, the condensation fogged my vision for a second as I struggled to keep warm.
I had started early; a slice of toast and mug of tea at 0430 and past Telford on the M54 by 0500. My destination was Cannock Chase, just out-of-county. Aside from the occasional lorry, there was silence on the motorways. Entering the Chase I slowed to a crawl and opened the windows, watching, listening for the sound I was searching for.
After 10 minutes I found a small car park and pulled in; lights off and silence again. I cupped my ears intently, hanging on every noise. A vole rustled in the bracken in front of me; a dunnock fluttered into the gorse to my left. The dawn sky became pricked and slit with pink, and still I waited, my fingers numb with cold. I couldnt risk turning on the radiator fan.
Then it came, emanating out of the mist like some ghostly presence. A primeval resonance shattering the stillness of night.
I crept ever so slowly from my car and barely closed the door. Low to the ground I slinked into the undergrowth, cautious step by cautious step. The grunts got louder as I approached. Every so often, the beast forewent his short sharp groans for an all-encompassing reverberating bellow that shook your insides and made your heart thump harder. There was movement in the short firs ahead, but even allowing for the vague wisp of light now available to me, I could still not make out the perpetrator.
As a wildlife artist, I cast my mind back to the thick African bush of Botswana and remembered the bizarre feeling of knowing with absolute certainty that there was a colossal bull elephant standing in the thorn thickets and ivory palms not 20 feet from where I stood, and not seeing so much as a wrinkle of the largest land animal on Earth.
On Cannock Chase it was not the largest land animal on Earth that supposedly stood before me, but the largest in Britain; a Red Deer stag. I knew I should not approach further and cursed the Stag and his hinds for choosing the thickest patch of firs and ferns available to them on the day I wanted to see them. As I waited to see what would happen next, the cracking and snapping of branches seemed to get closer. Now, presumably unaware of my presence, the deer were advancing upon me. I began to back off slowly. Still the roaring accompanied the movement of large bodies through bush.
Then at last, as I cleared the copse, out stepped the stag onto my path. We both stopped to stare at each other. Evidently it was me who was far more impressed with him, as within a second or two he was away, crashing through the mist strewn bracken and gorse, his harem of hinds hot on his heels.
I might be accused of cheating slightly for including Cannock Chase in a diary of Shropshire wildlife, but seeing as its on our doorstep, it would be criminal not to recommend a short trip to this Eden of dramatic natural history to see the current Red and Fallow Deer rut. However if youre a purist, even more spectacular wildlife can be found in the heart of the county in October.
To see another example of nature at its best simply make a visit to your local river weir. We are lucky enough here in Shropshire to play host to the annual migration of salmon on most of our rivers and their tributaries. At the peak of the Salmon Run you will be privy to dozens of fish leaping every minute or so as they battle their way upstream to their spawning grounds high up in the Welsh hills.
My first experience of this famous fish was standing alongside the Shrewsbury weir on the Severn. One can drive down to the waters edge, pull up next to the weir and sit and watch the spectacle with a drink and the radio on, if you so desire. But to get a taste of the real thing, get out and feel the power of the rushing water and the splashes of spray as the huge fish fling themselves against the torrent. Try and appreciate the monumental challenge these fish are facing, whilst bearing in mind that your weir is just one of the many obstacles they will have to overcome to make it back home.
For those of you in the South of the county, why not visit the River Teme as it winds its way picturesquely through Ludlow? Under the shadow of the castle, you have a choice of weirs where you can get very close to the action.
So whether its rutting Red Deer or springing Salmon, spend some time in October visiting the wonders of the natural world, right on your doorstep.
Ben Waddams is a Shropshire-based wildlife artist. Join him at Animal Earth in Tarporley for an exhibition of wildlife art 22nd 30th October. Visit www.waddams.webs.com for more information.