Fur and Fangs reasonably than Feathers and Beaks

Memorable encounters with Mammals: Half I

Most birdwatchers take pleasure in seeing mammals, however the bother with mammals is that they are usually way more difficult to see than birds. Solely in Africa is it very easy to see a wide selection. I bear in mind the information on my first Kenyan birding safari remarking that “birding teams all the time see much more mammals than those that come simply to see animals. They invariably spend longer within the bush, and have a look at every thing that strikes, so it’s hardly shocking that they see extra.” On my 21-day Kenyan safaris we reckoned to seek out round 600 species of birds and round 60 mammals, each spectacular totals. Certainly one of my most memorable outings was a night-time sport drive in Kenya after we noticed an aardvark and a zorilla, so we ticked off each the primary mammal within the area information’s index, and the final. We additionally noticed a leopard, but it surely was the A to Z that sticks within the thoughts. By the way, encounters with each aardvarks and zorillas are uncommon – it’s a lot simpler to see lions and leopards.

Lion – a lot simpler to see than an Aardvark

In distinction to East Africa, encounters with mammals whereas out birding in Europe are comparatively few. In 2023 I tried to maintain a yr checklist of mammal encounters: the checklist barely exceeded 20 species, whereas it turned difficult by seeing bats and voles that I used to be unable to call particularly. As somebody who likes to call every thing I see, I discovered this irritating.

Over time, although, I’ve loved quite a few memorable mammal sightings in Europe. One of the crucial thrilling was an encounter with an Iberian lynx whereas strolling in Spain’s Coto Doñana. On the time (1968) sightings of lynx within the Doñana had been extraordinarily uncommon because the animals had been so shy: I used to be extraordinarily lucky to have this encounter. (I recall seeing my first-ever Little Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse on the identical stroll on the sting of the Marismas.) It was greater than 50 years earlier than I used to be to see one other lynx, not within the Doñana, however within the Sierra Morena mountains to the north, which is now the very best place to see these good-looking cats within the wild. 

A Greek Wild Cat, photographed close to Lake Kerkini

I’ve had just a few encounters with wild cats, too, in each France and Greece. These cats are fairly quite a few round Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece, and I’ve encountered them there a number of occasions, together with the person above that allowed itself to be photographed. Lately golden jackals have turn into properly established across the lake, however they’re shy and largely nocturnal, and I’ve solely had one daytime encounter. Keep out after darkish, although, and there’s a very good probability that you’ll hear them, for they’re noisy creatures. I ponder how they get on with the wild cats?

Not a fantastic shot, however it is a Bulgarian Golden Jackal

Golden jackals are on the rise all through Japanese Europe, and spreading steadily west. Some years in the past I used to be shocked to see one whereas birding in Matsalu Nationwide Park in Estonia. It should have been one of many first to achieve Estonia, however I collect that they’re now properly established there.

I’ve by no means been fortunate sufficient to have seen a wolf wherever in Northern Europe, although final yr I did discover contemporary tracks in Estonia – their prints are impressively massive. My solely wolf sightings have been in Spain, in December, and at nice vary. I considered them at nightfall, by means of a telescope, from a ridge overlooking the realm they had been looking. It was an thrilling expertise, although a remarkably chilly one, as winters in Castile and León could be very chilly. On one other journey, this time to Slovakia, I heard wolves howling, a splendidly spine-tingling sound. On the time we had been wanting, with out success, for White-backed Woodpeckers.

No, not an Arctic Fox, however a Pink Fox in Arctic Finland

I’ll not have seen many wolves, however I’ve seen a number of foxes (or what I ought to maybe name crimson foxes). They’re widespread and widespread right here within the UK, although comparatively scarce the place I stay as numbers are managed by taking pictures. (Retaining fox numbers down definitely advantages our native ground-nesting birds, particularly Stone Curlews and Gray Partridges.) I’ve additionally seen foxes in lots of different nations. The Finnish fox proven right here was photographed late on an October afternoon, north of the Arctic Circle. My shutter velocity was gradual, so it’s not the sharpest of pictures. This northern fox actually does look crimson, not like the pale, sandy-coloured animals I noticed in Georgia in 2019 (beneath).

A Pink Fox in Georgia, not wanting very crimson

I’ve by no means been to Svalbard, so I haven’t ticked off polar bear, however I’ve seen brown bears on quite a few events in each Romania and Bulgaria. My first sightings had been on a garbage tip not removed from the city of Brasov in Transylvania. The mountains right here have a robust inhabitants of those spectacular carnivores, and so they discover garbage suggestions irresistible. Nonetheless, watching bears on suggestions isn’t actually a lot enjoyable, and I’ve had way more passable sightings from devoted bear hides, each in Transylvania and Bulgaria.

There are some bear hides the place sightings are just about assured, as the realm in entrance of the cover is closely baited to make sure the bears (above) come each night time. (They notably like chocolate!) I’ve additionally sat for hours in unabated hides in Bulgaria the place it’s a matter of luck whether or not you see a bear or not. On one event we settled into the cover at 6.30 within the night. We had been advised we needed to be silent, so no one stated a phrase for over three hours – the one bear we noticed appeared at 9.30, simply because it was getting darkish. Nonetheless, we did see some attention-grabbing birds, together with a Nutcracker (beneath), a lifer for one in every of my companions. 

Otters could also be widespread in Europe, however they’re often elusive and tough to see. They disappeared from most English waterways 50 years in the past because of poisoning from persistent organochlorine chemical compounds, however lately they’ve staged a exceptional comeback, and they’re now widespread. The place they aren’t persecuted they will turn into daring, and could be seen throughout the day. The person (beneath) was photographed on the Little Ouse river, the border between the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, at 10.30 within the morning. It gave the impression to be unconcerned at me and my spaniel watching it from a footpath by the river. 

A Suffolk Otter swimming within the Little Ouse river
Not all Otters need to be photographed
However this one emerged, although solely briefly

The otter is, in fact, a member of the weasel household. (Why the weasel needs to be the top of the household doesn’t actually make sense. Why not the stoat household or the badger household?) I see each weasels and stoats often, however by no means commonly, and have but to {photograph} both of them satisfactorily. The identical goes for the badger, an animal that has turn into way more quite a few and widespread in Britain within the final 50 years. Sightings of squashed badgers by the facet of the highway are way more widespread than seeing stay people, except you take some time to observe a sett.

Stoat, fast paced and a problem to {photograph}

The North American mink is one other member of the weasel household, and an unwelcome invasive species right here in Britain. Mink are voracious predators, and chargeable for the large decline in water voles within the UK. They will even kill any water birds they will seize, from Kingfishers to Mallard. I’m happy to say that it’s a very long time since I final noticed one: there was a decided effort to eradicate them from East Anglia, the a part of England the place I stay, and it’s been largely profitable. Some years in the past I watched a mink and an otter feeding shut to one another on the Scottish island of Mull. Curiously, they completely ignored one another. 

Pine martens are making one thing of a comeback within the UK, helped by reintroductions, and at the moment are established within the New Forest, within the southern county of Hampshire. I’ve but to see an English pine marten, however I as soon as watched one looking crimson squirrels within the Bialowieza Forest in Poland. The hunted squirrel ended up climbing to an outer department of a pine tree, the place it was comparatively secure because the department wasn’t stout sufficient to assist the burden of the marten. 

We don’t have stone martens in Britain, and my sightings on the Continent have been few. Probably the most memorable was one strolling by the facet of a French nation highway early on a February morning. There had been a tough frost and the temperature was a number of levels beneath zero: the marten didn’t look completely happy, and I can’t say I blamed him. 

Subsequent week David appears to be like at additional mammal encounters, however herbivores reasonably than carnivores.

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