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  • Writer's pictureMike Curtis

Muntjacs, Heron and a Polecat

This stunning male Muntjac visited twice provided an image I'd hoped to capture

I've just come back from Bawdsey Hall where I spent 12 hours overnight in a photographic hide hoping to see a range of nocturnal and not so nocturnal animals. Bawdsey Hall is a relatively small, privately owned 'wildlife reserve' that's been carefully nurtured to attract a wide range of wildlife to photographic/viewing hides. The hide I visited is relatively new, having been constructed during lockdown, and sits opposite a purpose-built reflection pond. The site is illuminated throughout the hours of darkness by powerful LED lights and has been appropriately dressed to create natural-looking surroundings and perches for birds. Bawdsey Hall has quickly acquired a reputation as one of the best places to see and photograph wild polecats, who are ably supported by tawny owls, badgers, deer and foxes. While the surroundings have been carefully stage-managed, the animals are completely wild, so there's no guarantee that any particular species will show up. Visits are governed by the season, weather, availability of food in the local area, and finally the vagaries of individual behaviour.

My visit, at the end of January, coincided with a mild night (5°C), with conditions otherwise almost perfect. Despite a gusty wind, the reflection pond was often like a mirror. Unfortunately, nobody told the animals. It was an unusually quiet night. We had a number of visits from some muntjac deer, one of whom posed beautifully with a perfect reflection, but the badgers chose not to visit, while the tawny owls swooped through the scene several times without perching.

We had to wait until nearly 5 am for a new subject to arrive in the form of a grey heron. It was well habituated to the pond, taking advantage of the artificial light to fish and collecting the remaining bait placed for the owls. It posed beautifully.

A small gallery of the wonderful heron that brightened up a dark, quiet night

With the night sky turning from black to inky blue, our time in the hide was coming to an end. After eleven and half hours I'd given up hope of seeing the star attraction, the polecat, when out of nowhere one appeared. It was only visible for a minute before disappearing, not to return. It was thrilling to see and an appetite whetter.

It was a very late show from this male polecat, but what a beautiful creature.

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