I made a last minute trip down to Devon this week. I say it was last minute, but actually I'd known that it might be on the cards for a while since water voles had to be picked up from Derek Gow ready to be released at Warcop... the trouble with working with animals and people on busy schedules, is that nothing is definite until the last minute and then everything happens at once!
Unfortunately, everything happening at once came just when I was going down with a horrid cold (tonsilitis, chest infection, dizziness, congestion, you know the type of thing :o( ) and on Wednesday afternoon I was feeling pretty done in by the time I got level with Somerset. Luckily I have some very good friends in that area so I stopped off to visit the Sperrings and beg a cup of tea.
To further complicate matters, Derek's partner Kathy had gone into labour and things were not going terribly smoothly. We decided that it would be best for me to stay put for the night and see how the situation was for getting to Devon in the morning.
Staying with Chris Sperring and his family however doesn't mean that you get to sit down. Cold or no cold we had an owl nest to visit before dinner and so I jumped in the pick up and we were off through the leafy Somerset lanes to find some remote farm; something Chris and I realised we have been doing together for over 5 years now.
There was only one owlet at this site, but she looked very healthy indeed. There were plenty of admirers present to see her get her ring fitted, but she was very relaxed about the whole thing. The owl nest box was in a typical west country style barn piled high with freshly cut hay. Not a bad spot to be!
The owners were very proud of their owls and watched as Chris examined her condition and put her ring on.
Chris and I are both licensed Barn Owl Ringers. The rings are the comparative weight of a person wearing a wrist watch and bear an individual identification number which allows a bird to be recognised if it is found by another ringer or member of the public. More info on the BTO website.
I managed to sneak away from the owl talk for a few minutes to get some photos of some lovely Poll Dorset sheep in the next field. I've never seen one in Cumbria!
Next morning I was far from feeling better and Kathy still hadn't given birth, however, Derek's staff would be there to assist me with the voles and, as Derek said, I know my way around and how to sort the animals out for transporting. The only thing to do was to dose up on Lemsip and get on with it!
Now there is a distinct lack of photos from the trip I'm afraid since, on arriving in Devon, I learned that it was Monsoon season and I, and Derek's poor staff, all got completely soaked to the bone while sorting through voles. We found around 60 animals big enough for release in the Cumbrian vole pens, so I was happy with that despite the fact that by now I had almost completely lost my voice.
I spent the evening quietly since Derek was quite rightly looking after Kathy, although I did get roped into helping deal with fly strike on a few of Derek's Lleyn ewes. Nothing too serious luckily. The next moring I was woken at 5.15 by a cockerel on the roof of my caravan. I got up and wondered whether Derek would notice one cockerel less, but then found a very good reason to forgive the wake up call... Derek's pair of Beaver were out feeding on the pond just across the field and I was treated to some very special views. It will be so exciting when they are returned to the British countryside!
I got the voles packed up in the car and was on the road by 6.30. Now we just need a gap in the weather to release them.