Friday, 27 August 2010

Seal in river

Not only bigcats stand their ground.My dogs were sniffing by the river and this seal showed up.I thought it was just being curious at first but it came over,hissed,paddled the water and generally asserted it,s presence,i then realised it had been beached up there and seemed to be defending it,s spot because as we left it didn,t follow us up river and act like that anywhere else.It,s been hanging around the river for at least a year living on mullet and bass going up and down with the tides but usually only the wake is seen when it,s hunting....
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Seal in river

The seal comes over.....
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Seal in river

The seal gets very close while the dog is sniffing it,s beaching spot....
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Seal in river

The seal hisses and splashes water...
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Seal in river

Seal chases Mist the dog....
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Seal in river

Victory swim!
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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Bigcat stands its ground

No,not this one but another far bigger.Had a call earlier from a lady in West Lavington,who stated that her son was shutting up their chickens at dusk last thursday and saw(i,m awaiting full details) a large,black,labrador sized cat with a very long tail in the hedge .When it saw that he had seen it,the cat stood its ground and growled at him.What is remarkable about this is that whilst bigcats when seen often look back from cover thinking that they haven,t been seen,it,s unusual ,almost unheard of(forgive the pun)for them to growl like this.I have 100% confidence in the sighting,the lady sounded very sincere and there have been multiple sightings in the area of a cat this size,shape and colour,in fact i have been monitoring the cats around here for many years and searching through my memory banks remember one just down the road.What,s more i have a theory that these lab sized cats around here are the females as much larger ones have been spotted at the same time but not with them as such.As i say it,s just a theory but if this cat that was seen by the chickens was a female perhaps she may of had a cub or two with her and so was being protective and warning the chap off so to speak.Cubs born in march would be travelling quite well with their mothers by now and it is nearly the time of year when we usually get sightings of larger cats (not the massive ones)with 1 or 2 much smaller ones with them but of the same type.Indeed it,s not unusual for bigcats to go for chickens,late last year a lady on the Goodwood estate found a very large cat on her chicken house roof and that,s not very far from West Lavington at all.I even have photos ,that i,ll blog at some point, where a chicken house roof in north Sussex was scratched ferociously,a sheep was killed in a cat-like way,scat and large cat pawprints were found and so like foxes,bigcats would find chicken coops very enticing at times and i can,t see what else that West Lavington cat would of been doing there or why else it growled........
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Monday, 23 August 2010

Sheep kill/19.8.10

So often at this time of year i visit a place that earlier on in the year was a hive of activity to find no signs at all of the cat that was once there.Not so today,i arrived at the farm to be told that a cat had been seen only last week,big,black and leapt across the 10 ft wide track with ease.What,s more the local foxes had been noticeable by their absence the past fortnight and the farm dogs in the yard had been acting strangely.I was asked to have a look round and also could i keep an eye out for a missing ewe?Some walkers had left the gates of the sheep field open the week before last and a few ewes had wandered off into the cornfields,not yet cut because of the recent rain,they got them all back bar one.Well being a small place with a tiny wood it wasn,t long before i,d covered all the ground and ended up in one of next doors fields which were lush and had greened up nicely from the rain and so would of been tempting pasture seeing as they run no stock on it.After a while i,d found the sheep in the corner near the fence sadly laid out and what was left could of filled a bucket.If the cat had killed it and i can,t see what else could of,it looks like it,s taste for mutton has returned,lambs had been taken in the spring and last winter ewes also but none in years previously.It would seem that not all bigcats take sheep,in fact only a minority do so,they may have formed the habit early on in life or only take them when hard pressed for food but i,ve an inkling(and if it,s the same cat it,s been around here since 04 and would be at least 7 by now)that it,s often something they do when they either slow up a bit or are injured and so resort to the easiest pickings available.The location and names have been witheld at the request of the farmer concerned........
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Woodpigeon/trailcam

videoThis woodpigeon has been collecting nesting material for a while now,i,ve found nests in late november so this isn,t unusual at this time of year.They were moulting earlier in the month becoming almost flightless and so were easy pickings for foxes and also, i presume,bigcats.......

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Never how far away from a rat?

videoNever how far away from a rat? 10 feet,20 feet,i can,t remember who said it and where but i,d thought i,d blog this little blighter seeing as it keeps cropping up on the trailcam.They too can travel a lot,up to 2 miles,i know this because some naturalist friends live trapped quite a few,put vegetable dye on their backs,let them go,then found a couple eating food left out a few nights later.They had travelled nigh on 2 miles but then it was winter so i suppose they look around a lot for food then and there was none where they were let go on the top of the downs.All in the interests of science of course.........

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Here today,still there tomorrow


I had leafleted an area recently known as Barlavington Heath,a place privately owned but kindly open to the public and is very pretty at this time of year with it,s purple heather.A local lady then called me with a very valuable sighting she had last year just outside the village of Sutton,south of Petworth,which is one of those peaceful downland villages tucked away from the main drag of the buzy main roads.It was an extremely important sighting and seemed perfectly genuine and also goes to prove that just because we haven,t been getting info coming in from that part of the world doesn,t mean that cats don,t pass through.I asked why she hadn,t reported it sooner and her reply was that not being on the web or knowing even if anyone deals with this sort of thing,she hadn,t.I know the feeling,in the days before the internet countless research has been lost,like my own photos of pawprints from that area ,which is one of the reasons i,m doing this blog.Well some years ago that whole stretch of country was host to multiple sightings,so much so that talk in the local pub when i visited back then was of little else.It makes me wonder why some areas account for far more sightings year on year and then go mysteriously quiet only for other places to take over the baton and feature their bigcats in the sightings news.It may be because certain cats make themselves more visible,another is that more people have seen paticular cats,word spreads and so the local populace have kept their eyes more peeled.Other reasons could be that the weather which affects all wildlife like the big bouts of snow we had last winter which forced cats to look for food more openly and so more reports come in.However i think it,s generally more to do with people are still seeing the animals in these "quiet"places but we are just not getting the reports in.Currently,the most active cats are the Bexhill,Midhurst and Offham ones with the Balcombe cat only getting mentions in the Crawley news.The Eastbourne cat decided to stalk geese in front of a packed train but apart from that little else.The Horsham cat i,ve had to investigate with barely any sightings but can report that it,s alive,kicking and stopped killing foxes for now,with it,s neighbour on the downs ,the brown one,only popping up now and then.The areas that are very quiet but previously been very buzy are the Ashdown forest and the Surrey borders but we are just not getting the sightings in from these at the moment.The Sutton sighting of a very large black cat only just disapearing into a july cornfield just goes to show that there are people out there who have very interesting information about bigcat movements but they just haven,t been reached yet.Thus the importance of comprehensive files,i have a compilation from my own sources,Big Cats in Britain,also other researchers like Bryan Hale and just because an area has gone quiet this evidence tells me that a place that was once kind to cats,could still be now....

Fox scratching/video

video

Fox jumping up tree

videoNow that the trailcam is set on video i,ll try and post anything of interest.The quality is not as good as stills as it,s not really designed for it but it does show animal movements and personally i prefer it.There is also a better chance of capturing a bigcat on the video setting.....

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Close encounter of the stripy kind

One of my greatest pleasures is to walk near dusk somewhere quiet,pausing now and then to look around with the monoculars at an interesting creature but i,ve found the best results for seeing things come from getting to a vantage point,being careful not to be skylined,and sitting down still and not moving.That way any wildlife about will come to me if i let it,if it was passing that way.In woods it takes about 10 minutes for the birds to start up again from me disturbing them and sometimes a deer or fox will wander by if i wait long enough.A couple of nights ago though,i was on the downs amongst the gorse and thorn scrub looking across at the opposite hillside and had found a nice,comfortable grassy piece to sit on.I like to crouch here regularly when i pass as i,ve always fancied the spot for seeing a bigcat since finding a fox carcase eaten in a catlike way some years ago.The slope was sheltered from the wind,the clouds were racing each other above me and the pigeons were starting to come in to the hawthorn trees when i was alerted by the pig-like snuffling of a badger coming towards me.My dogs were watching and pointing with their bodies(they are trained to "mark"certain animals)the badger kept shuffling this way as if we weren,t there,it nuzzled my boot,i didn,t realise they were that short sighted,while i managed to get off a couple of pics with the compact camera.It certainly wasn,t stopping for noone until i realised i was sat on the badgers run!Well,getting up out of the way to give it room certainly made it realise it had company and it shot off along the run.Presumably it was hungry as i rarely see them in daylight,unless they,ve been run over,i have heard they put a lot of hours in feeding when it rains after a drought .....
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Monday, 9 August 2010

Sounds of the night

The windy weather of the weekend promises no work so it,s off to the west of the county where i haven,t been for a while.While there i had an interesting chat with a farmworker P. from Long Furlong way who mentioned why bigcats are rarely heard calling (at night) for mates and suchlike.I,ve often wondered that too,having heard what i thought was one only once,the evening after a sighting i had back in october 2000.An unearthly,screeching sound,i,d never heard anything quite like it,similar to a tame cats in length but a bit more of a screech than a wail and deeper still.It was definitely no other animal that i,d heard of before in the countryside and at one time used to spend a heck of a lot of nights out and about and so got used to the usual nocturnal sounds of dogfoxes barking,vixens yelling,tawny owls hooting and barn owls screeching,caught rabbits screaming and badgers tearing down maize crops(i heard this last night and with the long drought we,ve been having they must be starving)and with the myriad of other sounds going on the nightime can be a noisy place at times.Strangely enough on those very black,moonless and cloudy nights we have in winter there can be no sounds going on whatsover,it,s as if a veil has draped itself over the whole place muffling and stifling every living thing.The cat i saw gave the appearance of being brash,bold,young and foolish,unused to the world,i,m guessing maybe 6 months old and probably not long left on it,s own to fend for itself .Being late october i don,t think it was calling for a mate but just maybe it was calling for it,s dam like the way i,ve seen cheetahs do on the telly.I believe bigcats in Britain have their cubs mostly in march but it seems from sightings they could have them at least a month either side of this.These days few people are creeping about at night,maybe the odd lamper out with with his dog,the occasional keeper and farmer doing a check on things but they won,t hear much with that landrover or quadbike engine running.Of course there are other people about at night in their gardens and whatnot but there may be another reason that cats are not often heard in that they just don,t generally need to sound off,the breeding males might have well established territorys with their 2 or 3 females,they know where they are if they if they want them and they don,t have to go about calling for mates and the same with females.However there have been reports,not many, of people hearing roaring sounds in the darkness and sometimes when they,ve been unsure of what they,ve heard,have checked it out on the web and came back with the answer of leopard.Proper bigcats like leopards and lions roar whilst,strangely,pumas aren,t by definition described as bigcats because they don,t roar but scream,it,s something to do with the vocal chords.That,s one of the bizarre things about natural science,describing different cats by mass using the difference in sounds they make.I wonder if tame cats actually roared whether they would be described as big cats,the mind boggles.Anyway,the subject of cat noises is a very interesting one and i,m sure as more research comes to light we,ll know more but for now i think the answer to that chaps question is the old naturalist,s answer to anything that couldn,t be explained is that "in nature,if there,s no need there,s no way but if there,s a vacuum there,s a gap to be filled".In other words while your thinking about what the hell was meant,the subject,s already been changed to something else that can be explained more easily.....The picture above is believed to be a bigcat watching from cover, taken by fellow bigcat researcher Bryan Hale while investigating a deer kill and he saw something very large and dark creep into the undergrowth,my personal experience is that cats do this very thing,sometimes,when disturbed....
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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Pinch point

A week or so ago i headed off to Lewes to try and reach a couple of contacts who farm in the river valley known as the Offham marshes,not really a marsh since the river was banked and ditched in the 1700,s,however sporadic sightings of bigcats here going back to at least 1989,particularly in 1995 and a lot in 07,point to a possible pinch point in a travelling territory.As the wide river Ouse has only bridges at Barcombe mills 3 miles to the north,a precarious pipe a mile further down,a bridge at the tiny hamlet of Hamsey and a big road bridge in Lewes town to the south,it,s probable that a cat moving through it,s ground would choose not to swim a cold river but use one of these bridges.Regular sightings to the west at Offham downs,on the Offham marshes then east of the river at Malling and Glyndebourne would suggest that cats have been using the Lewes bridge.Hold on a minute,would a bigcat really go through a town and not use the quiet country bridge a mile to the north,brazingly and without fear?The route it would have to take is a meander along the riverside then after the town bridge would mean only crossing a couple of gardens then the road to get to the downs.27.12.07 The Observer(Lewes) reported a large wild cat seen by a South Cliff resident running through her garden at breakneck speed "it was very fast,much bigger than a fox with a long tail and long body"she said,whats more she saw at the end of november doing the same thing.The fact that it was running very fast points to it either having been seen or ,more likely ,crossing an open bit of ground.Also in 07 there were multiple sightings on Mount Caburn on the northern slopes of the Ringmer and Lewes escarpments,i went there the other day and it was easy to see how this place links up the downs from the east and west ,there was a sighting there only last november.All this points to travelling cats cutting through towns on a regular basis,not avoiding them,to get to areas and not just at night but unafraidely in daylight too......The picture shows the Offham marshes,horses standing by a wartime pillbox,with the wooded Offham downs at the back.In the near top right hand corner is the bridge of the Lewes to Seaford railway line,again the scene of multiple sightings especially in 07......
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Deer scratched/dead fox eaten

I had an interesting chat with a friend of a friend recently,here,s the account of what happened at his place last winter...In the last bit of snow we had,a farm worker Graham at T.farm in the north of the county was checking his arable fields,his stock were all barned up and saw a fallow deer in a very bad way.It,s neck was bleeding profusely and it had long,deep parallel scratches over it,s flanks and it,s back end looked like it had been chewed at,he raced back home ,got his rifle,found the poor beast in the same place and put it out of it,s misery.It hadn,t gone far.It was a mystery to him how the deer got to be like that.Offering no explanation he then went on to say,a few weeks later at lambing time there was a lambkilling fox that was shot in the act and while the carcase was in his yard waiting disposal,it disapeared.He found it in the bushes nearby and saw that it had been half eaten,again a mystery.I asked him if he had ever seen a bigcat on the 1000 acres there and he said not in the 10 years he had been there but another chap had,twice.It,s these bizarre things that go to adding to the big picture,strange occurences that don,t fit the normal cycle of life on a place.No British animal eats foxes for some reason,perhaps the flesh stinks,badgers don,t.A carcase left somewhere always rots down where it lies,in winter,with no maggots they seem mummified.Even wolves,who go out of their way to kill foxes in their area especially when they have cubs,just leave them where they were pulled down.But bigcats have been known to kill and eat foxes a lot in places like Africa,especially leopards.......

Did a bigcat set the trailcam off?

We had a sighting that,s just come in(amongst all the others).A bigcat has been spotted literally 100yards from where the trailcam is placed but still no (big)cat pictures however every morning just about the cam is setoff but nothing in the picture.There,s a slight delay in all trailcams and if an animal is fast moving it won,t get snapped,all the settings are spot on so for instance a rabbit will set the cam off but a moving branch won,t and all the other pictures have animals in them.It,s maddening,we are so close to getting that vital photographic evidence but a miss is as good as a mile in this game, they don,t stay around an area for long so time is of the essence.Predictably, the foxes have dissappeared which is a golden sign that a bigcat is active in the area and the dogs marked a nearby bush(their tails wag and they have a certain posture when they smell signs of a cat)i don,t think it has been round here for about 2 months so judging from it,s previous exploits i,ve got another week to get the pictures.Iv,e now set the cam on video to see if that will pick up the beast.Time will tell..........
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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

West pier/Ross boat trips


This is a different perspective of the West pier,Brighton taken while on a trip with Ross boat trips.......
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Badger skull

Last week,while checking out a sighting,one of the dogs came back with this badger skull.It,s teeth were very worn,one had actually broken off in use,and judging by the size came from an adult.It needs to be looked at by an expert to judge cause of death if that,s possible,but i,m guessing old age.I,ve heard of badgers being observed dragging out their dead relatives and apparently burying them in nearby rabbit burys,only to be dug up by foxes.So i,m very pleased with this find as i,ve never found an oldage badger skull before.Is it possible that bigcats could prey on these formidable beasts occasionally?They are very palatible,they were eaten with relish in medieavel times, the legs preserved like gammon is today.It,s just a thought that maybe a powerful animal like some of the larger bigcats would do this but to find a badger skull or any other bones is pretty rare so finding any evidence of this happening would be rarer still............
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Sunday, 1 August 2010

Bigcats-prey and other food sources

Generally,british bigcats are oppurtunist hunters.Their diet changes as the seasons unfold.From late febuary it,s likely young rabbits feature almost exclusively in their diet.At this time of year every doe rabbit is popping out youngsters and she will even conceive again while lactating having 3 to 4 litters a year.Sussex is famous for holding huge numbers of rabbits,something which may explain why the county also supports a thriving bigcat population.It can,t be understated the importance of rabbits to predators like buzzards,stoats,foxes etc and its just as likely they are to cats as well.Rabbits,or the lack of them, could explain why bigcat sightings were minimal in the late "50,s to "70,s only increasing in the mid "80,s and "90,s.1953 saw the man-introduced,dreadful disease,myxymotosis arrive into this country and rabbits were devastated to less than 0.1% of their previous numbers.Even in the 1970,s there were,nt that many about and it wasn,t until the mid 1980,s that decent numbers could be seen again.I think it,s no coincidence that bigcat sightings have increased in step with the recovery of other rabbit predators like stoats and buzzards with the 1990,s seeing a real sightings boom.As spring progresses bird chicks take on an increasing role,as the grass and crops grow rabbits are that little bit harder to catch and as their numbers increase so it,s harder to surprise individuals.Once may arrives,rookerys drop numbers of fledgings onto the ground and annual sightings of bigcats at rookeries support this theory.Late. may and june are roe deer fawn birthing times and i,ve noticed fawnless does in bigcat areas,of course they take adults as well but they are not as easy to catch .Incidentely,the Great Storm of 1987 benefited roe deer by opening up woods leading to a spurt of secondary growth which roe feed on and their numbers have also multiplied since then. July sees a spurt of cat sightings in places not seen at other times of year and it,s thought they,re on the move to fresh hunting grounds,some could be on their way to meet the mass influx of gamebird poults arriving at shoots around now.Sussex woodlands support nigh on a million pheasants with at least 200,000 partridges and such easy targets wouldn,t be missed by such an oppurtunist hunter as a bigcat however it,s doubtful they would be such wasteful killers as foxes.Autumn and although cats would be picking off what they can find,expanding field vole numbers in a dry year year with plenty of seed,a good field can hold many 100,s, and sightings of bigcats bouncing in vole fields seem to point them targeting these.Winter and the coldest months will thin out the chaff in cat numbers as availability of prey diminishes and it,s now,especially with snow on the ground ,that losses of sheep really hit the fan however the share of deer in the diet seems also to increase as does foxes,ive found fox carcases only in the winter/early spring period.Of course bigcats have other food sources and there have been numerous sightings around refuse tips but they are not necessarily scavenging but after the scavengers themselves like rats and foxes.Unbelieveably they have spotted scavenging off bird tables in peoples gardens and off the scrap plates left out for foxes,we had a sighting only this year of this happening.So in fact i could be generalising when i say cats are oppurtunist hunters when they are also pre-determined feeders as well,having learnt what,where and when could become available to them.The picture above shows a field where a recent sighting took place and the rabbit numbers are estimated to be in excess of 200 in this one field.......
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