We are fortunate here on the Isle of Purbeck to be able to see all six native species of reptiles and if you work hard and are a little lucky, you can see them all in one day (plus the introduced Wall Lizard).Yesterday the Sand Lizards were my preferred subject and they never disappoint. The colouring on these stunning animals is incredible and they really need to be looked at closely.
Our final morning dawned cold and clear but luckily not quite cold enough to freeze the zip on my tent this time. Getting up and out before sunrise is always special, regardless of how well you do with the camera, and this morning was no exception. The dawn chorus was incredible and it was this soundtrack that accompanied us as we made our way down the river bank for the last five hours of the Boar hunt. Once again we were in high spirits as the events of the previous day were dissected and examined in fine detail, giving us information and a direction in which to go. It was a strange feeling as, although we had succeeded in our goal of finding the Wild Boar, we still hadn’t come across the seeming even more elusive big males. Ridiculous as it sounds, we were disappointed and needed to tick this final box and so we went high! Up the steep valley walls, through the woods and the mist that now shrouded them, past the thickets that we knew were where the Wild Boar families preferred to be and on and on and up and up.
Both my brother and I were tired, neither of us were as fit as we could have been and the previous day’s efforts were certainly telling. The climb was hard and difficult, more difficult than we thought and we were walking farther and deeper into the forest than we had planned. Again, the evidence of Boar was everywhere but we saw little wildlife and there was certainly no sighting of the big males. A rush of action deep within the trees caused us to stop but a small group of Fallow Deer exited stage right and a sight that should have been wonderful was almost bitter and disappointing.
That sounds extreme and of course it was, we were there to see not just the Boar but to find as much of the native wildlife as we could and watching the Fallow is always special. After giving myself a quick talking to, we continued onwards and upwards.
The early morning Sun that we had enjoyed for the last couple of hours was slowly being covered by a layer of light grey cloud, we didn’t think rain was on the way but taking photographs in the gloom of the undergrowth without the help of bright sunshine would be difficult. This was something I was going to have to deal with as, without any warning a big sow, followed by piglets and two more slightly smaller females crossed directly in front of us.
We watched as they crossed, single file, fully aware of our presence but in complete control of the situation. The grunts from the sow as she calls her litter were known to us now and it was satisfying to see that we the snippets of information we were slowly putting together seemed to be correct. We were learning about these animals and that felt good.
As we moved on we stayed quiet, happy at what we had seen but conscious of any sound we made, making sure that we kept the wind in our faces for as much time as possible. It was obvious that sound and smell were more important senses to the Wild Boar than sight and quite frankly we needed all the help we could get.
To our left, deep within the undergrowth came the familiar grunt and we knew there were more sows nearby. Slowly, taking as much care as possible, we followed fresh tracks that formed a path by the side of a thicket. Perfect Wild Boar territory! Another grunt, another family perhaps? We got closer, bit by bit, inch by inch. My camera was suddenly getting heavier, my legs and arms were aching and although I could only see a few faint black shapes within the gloom of the bracken I knew the Boar were near.
At that point there was another noise. Not a grunt this time but a snort of the sort a bull makes before it charges. This was a sound that we had not heard before and the menace within it was obvious. I looked at my brother who was about twenty feet behind me and he was as unsure as I was about what to do next. I wanted a shot of the big males that must have been around but the atmosphere had changed and the thrill I always feel when I get close to wildlife was slowly being replaced by uncertainty. These animals can be extremely dangerous, especially when they are with their piglets (and who can blame them) we were deep within their world not ours.
And then there was a shape!
It was time to leave! Whether this was a male or a female, I do not know and to be honest I was in no mood to ask. Without any thought of silence, bravery or style I backed off to where my brother was, confident in the knowledge that if I could not outrun the Boar I could outrun my brother!
At this, with me feeling slightly cowardly but still buzzing with what I had seen we walked back towards our base. We had seen what we had wanted to see and learned at least a little about these animals. The weather had been kind to us at times but had thrown a proper tantrum at others and the Wild Boar had proved an impressive but elusive prey.
This had been an exhausting couple of days with us walking the best part of thirty miles and it something that I couldn’t have done without the help of my brother, even though I was willing to sacrifice him to a Boar, just to get that last ‘big’ picture!
The morning of day two was cold! The previous evening had been wet and then the temperature dropped rapidly giving me an unusual problem when I woke at 5 o’clock ready for an early start. I dressed in the gloom of the tent, feeling the chill of the early morning, and then crawled through to the flap at the front. The zip on the front flap of the tent was frozen! I have never seen this before but it was solid and I just could not budge it! My brother was stirring in the tent next to mine and, as we were the only two people stupid enough to camp out in temperatures below zero, I yelled at him to help me out.
Once free we got ready to leave, both cold and ever so slightly grumpy, but ready to track down the elusive Wild Boar. We had found a litter of piglets the day before and were confident of finding adult Boars, watching them and learning more about them and their behavior. It was a beautiful morning and, as the mist started rising from the river and trees, we headed out trying to rid ourselves of the night’s cold that refused to fully leave our bones.
For the next ten hours we walked! Evidence of the Boar was everywhere! Ground that had been ploughed and turned over could be seen in the forest, on verges and footpaths. Tracks were everywhere too. Both adult and piglet prints showed well in the mud and they were mixed with Fallow, Fox, Badger and of course the many dogs that are walked across the forest. As the day went on we changed where we wandered. We tried the river valleys, the hills, the forests and the fields. We went high and deep into the woods but also tried the villages and greens. Everywhere we went we found more evidence but we consistently failed to see any animals. The positivity we felt in the morning was leaving us and as clouds started to replace the blue skies, we were struggling to figure out where to go next. Time was running out and besides that we were starting to get concerned about the weather, neither of us had an appetite to get as wet as we did the day before and the skies really were starting to look dark.
It was then that our luck changed and on the otherside of a ravine my brother spotted a piglet! I still can’t get over how he saw it but there it was, and where there are piglets there will be adults!
It didn’t take long for us to spot, at first, a single big female looking black against the forest floor. We got closer, walking down the ravine to get a better view but without scaring the animals and losing the chance of a shot. The steep side of the ravine was wet and slippery, bracken hid fallen trees and rotten branches and it looked a lot deeper than it really was. As I edged further down, my brother keeping watch from the top, we saw two more adult females and the rest of the piglets. They were oblivious to us and as I was higher than they were and hidden by the trees. We had found what we were looking for and I had time to take a few photographs. The skies were darkening and the trees were keeping the boar in even more shade meaning the settings I needed were doing me no favours but as least I got the shots.
We had spent all day searching for these animals and both my brother and I were captivated as we watched them turn over the ground and create the marks that we had followed for so long. If you could have seen us, the smiles on our faces would have said so much more than any words could!
It was then that I fell.
Now, I could easily write that I dramatically fell, “movie-like”, into the ravine and heroically climbed out regardless of the pain! Unfortunately, I slipped on a log, dropped about six feet onto another log and was dumped very unceremoniously onto the grass. The noise of a 6’4” lump falling down a hill, along with arrival of a man walking his dogs sent the Boar running for the undergrowth and they disappeared.
The only other sound was that of my brother, obviously concerned for my safety, laughing like a drain!
We saw the Boar again, as we followed them through the forest, but time was moving on and we needed to start heading back.
The day finished better than we had hoped, even after such a slow start, and we were in far better spirits by the time we got back to The Saracen’s Head and dinner. Another 5 o’clock start the next morning meant an early night and the hope of a warmer one.