Despite the sky being thick with cloud, the air is very hot today. In the office, I have a fan circulating but it still feels stuffy. I am often chained to the desk on weekends, with a variety of paperwork exercises that need to be completed before the mass populous return to their jobs on Monday morning, but I always find an excuse to sneak out.
Today, it was to set up the trail cam. I have it on loan from Cornwall Mammal Group, but so far my efforts haven’t produced the bountiful delights I had been hoping for. I have a lot of footage of mice, an amusing video of a close up robin who takes a fancy to the lens and a quick flash of a fox. I have baited the area a little, but my last few attempts have proved futile. Seeing the food all gone has always been exciting, but when viewing the footage back, local insect traffic has wasted the card memory before the main culprit has come to dine.
Today however, I am more hopeful – lesson learnt (I only had to be taught it about 5 times). I spent a long time moving footage around to ensure the card is free this time and I am already longing for first thing tomorrow morning when I can retrieve it…
But in the meantime, I have to suffice myself with the process of setting it up. It will go back to the place it has been going to sporadically over the last few weeks; next to the Helford River in Gweek, at the mouth of the Helford Estuary. The water is surrounded by woodlands, flanked by fields and it is a haven for all things nature. In the last 18 months that I have been returning to this spot, I have watched as the area has changed over time, blossoming in every season, whether it be from the bluebells in spring, to the fungi in autumn, there is always something to explore. Wildlife is abundant here too and I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some fantastic encounters; from the time I watched a buzzard take a magpie chick, oblivious to the desperate screams of it parents as they tried, in vain, to get their baby back out of the large talons that were wrapped around it; to the time I watched as a stoat headed casually along the bank of the river in my direction, before ruining the moment by letting out a squeal, which sent the poor creature scarpering in the opposite direction; or to the huge family of pygmy shrews I have observed frequently as they scuttle just beneath a canopy of leaves, squeaking to each other as they run up and down in lines, looking for food.
Today it is a welcome break to make my way down there, the closeness of the air is oppressive and I am not dressed for such warmth. The closer I get to the water, the cooler it is and I make a snap decision in my head that I will tarry a while; enjoying the moment when all I can hear is the movement of the water and the soft song of a nearby blackbird, punctuated by the occasional crow of a faraway pheasant. As I make my way from the thin, worn path down to the river, I know I will have alerted any nearby species immediately. The bank is deep with leaf litter from over the years, a crunchy layer topping a soft mulch underneath which my shoes sink in to with every step. I go as quietly as I can, but I know that any creatures would have hidden by now. I grip the trunk of a tree and swing myself down the steep slope, walking along the river side to my favourite tree. I have chosen it due to its size (perfect for diameter up the camera’s safety lock) and the direction it faces (downwards towards a small bank in front of the river). It is also the place where I have seen a stoat twice and, if I am honest, that is who I am after. I have never had the fortune to really observe one; only ever managing to catch momentary glimpse before they scuttle off to hide. I want to watch their movements, really study their behaviour, so I am hoping that I will manage to get a clip or two.
As I am bending down, focused on get the camera as secure to the trunk as possible, I hear a loud fluttering near my head. A blue male demoiselle is centimetres from my face, its wings flapping with that elegant grace that only members of the dragonfly family can achieve. It is exquisite, the iridescent blue bouncing off with every flutter, the way it switches from light to dark with every lift of its wings. It circles and stops just over the river on a plant and I leave what I am doing immediately to get a closer look, struggling with my camera as the lens focuses on the head, then the wings, then the body, but never all three at once. I take a lot of photos, too many, as it flutters from plant to plant. When I finally lower my camera and head back towards the tree, I notice a large yellow dragonfly is circling low over the water, just skimming the surface as it glides up and down the water channel. I don’t bother with my camera this time, choosing just watch instead. I am not a good enough photographer with the right equipment to catch such a species in flight. Unlike the demoiselle, it is only there for a brief period before zipping off further up the river, in search of something to eat.
I get back to the task at hand. I secure the equipment, check it is working and place out some bait. Afterwards I climb back up the bank and stand for a moment, overseeing the area. The water makes soothing sounds, moving slowly, peacefully. I watch it closely, in some areas it appears still and flat, with only soft ripples where the flow is being interrupted by a stray rock on the river’s bed. In other areas it flows, bending, moving with the rivers natural topography. The effect on me is instant; I feel calm and relaxed and for a moment, forget everything else.
Unfortunately, there is work to do. There is always work to do. And so I make my way back up to the office to get stuck back into it, but I know, from this brief encounter, I will be all the better for it…