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Deer, Owls and Leaves

October 12th

When the only noise you can hear is the bellow of a red stag deer, you know you’re somewhere different.

We didn’t know what it was at first. In the light of day, it is a faintly humorous noise - a louder version of the sort of noise an excited labrador might make, waiting to be thrown a ball. But in the half-light at dawn or dusk, it takes on a more haunting quality.

Autumn is rut time. So, the male stags live alongside groups of females and young deer, bellowing to proclaim their territory and warn off rivals. What we didn’t know before we moved to this beautiful valley on the edge of Exmoor is that one of these groups - there must be at least thirty-five deer - lives in the fields around our land and uses our woodland for shelter.

Another thing we didn’t realise was how big these animals are. Britain’s largest land mammals, the tin says. But even that description does not do them justice until you see them up close. They are huge. Which explains why the stag’s guttural bellowing has a more sinister edge than the aforementioned labrador’s excited, yet slightly pained, roar.

We have three cats. And they produce a lot of excrement. So, we keep a dustbin outside the back door to empty their litter trays into and this enviable activity is part of my morning routine.

It was on one of our first mornings here that I opened the back door soon after 7am and it was the stag bellow that greeted me … and sent a few shivers through me!

But there is some competition here for wildlife sounds in the early evenings and early mornings. The tawny owls do their best to vie with the stags for command of the airwaves. And where they would have the edge - if this did become an event in the Animal Olympics - is in persistence and constancy. They start before it gets dark and continue through the night into the early morning, again marking out their territory with sound.

So, red deer and tawny owls have populated our attention in the early weeks at Nutsford House. And leaves, of course!

There are a lot of trees. And, so, there are a lot of leaves. And it’s Autumn. Which means that the shades of colour are magnificent, a fact you notice as you are raking another load of them into the wheelbarrow.

Nature gives, but not without making you work for it.

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