Country diary: a stoat sighting is a pleasant interruption

Rob Yarham
·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Robin Chittenden/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Robin Chittenden/Alamy

It’s quiet on the reserve this early in the morning. Only the cheerful songs of chiffchaff after chiffchaff accompany me in the cold as I walk down the hill. Lining the paths, the blackthorn trees are exploding with billowing clouds of delicate white blossoms.

I reach a gate overlooking a field and scan the hedges for any summer migrant birds that have recently arrived or are passing through. Somewhere in the dense trees beside me, a blackcap starts to sing. Every spring, I have to train my ears again and relearn the differences between the songs of the blackcap and garden warbler, but it’s still a little too early for garden warblers to have returned.

The blackcap’s pretty song is tuneful – long and measured, with rising and falling phrases – sounding like a high-pitched, miniature blackbird. The garden warbler has some richer, bubbling notes, but its song tends to be more monotonous, and usually hurried with less melody. Or so I remember – it will be easier to tell the difference again when the garden warblers start to arrive. I eventually find the male blackcap. I can just make out its silhouette through a gap in the branches. The feathers on top of its head lift slightly each time it opens its beak a little wider, with the effort of singing.

Along the hedges, rabbits are munching the grass and chasing each other, their round white tails bobbing up and down. As I look around, I glance at the ground, two metres to my right, and see a small, round, furry face looking up at me. It’s a stoat, and it’s obviously trying to decide what to do next – continue on its path towards me or run away. It suddenly leaps at my feet, then scampers around the toes of my boots, before bounding away down a run – a long, narrow depression in the grass on my left, which it must use frequently on its hunting forays.

I watch the stoat disappear into the undergrowth, its short, fluffy, black-tipped tail swinging behind it.

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