Communing with Deer

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(There’s a big map in reception showing the path through the park)

I woke up early this morning to birdsong. The rain had stopped and I had an idea. Before I could change my mind I had popped on some shoes, my furry fleece and was standing outside the van recording the sound. We’re still parked at the Parque Biológico de Gaia so imagine a lot of birds. I walked for a few paces to position myself where I thought the loudest birds were and turned on the recording app on my phone… Before long I was mesmerised but then I noticed something move in the park behind the trees.

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(Look closely)

It was when Fernando was taking me on the tour of the park that I realised the motorhome parking overlooks the deer enclosure. There’s a line of trees between us but at certain points the trees thin out and you can see part of the enclosure. Their area is quite big so the deer were off in another section most of the time we’ve been here but this morning as I listened to the birds I realised the deer were less than a 100m from me.

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(The lighter coloured deer by the fence was very cute, from time to time she used to put her head through the fence and nibble on the green plants and then wriggle her head left and right to get it back inside the fence)

There were no one around just me and the deer and it was awesome… There are lots of signs around the park telling you that the animals don’t like noise so visitors should be quiet and respectful. Well I just love rules and boundaries, I see them as guidelines for a happy life. So I was more than happy to stay quiet and this morning I was rewarded by the company of deer. They are so calm and gentle and slow and focused and standing with them I felt calm and focused too.

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(I promise you that fuzzy bit behind the branch in the middle of this photo is a red squirrel, you can just see his little ear)

My phone was still recording sound when I noticed something moving in the tree above me. It was a red squirrel, he mustn’t have noticed me because he squirreled (you can’t call it running, can you?) towards me and then stopped to shake his tail and squirrel away again out to the edge of the tree’s expanse on the tiniest of branches. Until he jumped to the next tree and was gone from my sight.

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(I know its hard to make out but…that one in the middle, that’s a stag!)

When I looked around again, there was a stag in with the deer. With huge antlers. Walking around. Just over there, over the fence, across the path, over the other fence. A stag!

I love this lovely life, Mairead.

It’s not a Zoo!

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(He’s in a bit of a hurry)

Turns out the Zoo I thought we were staying at is more a nature reserve with botanical park, called Parque Biológico de Gaia. There are no elephants but there is a dinosaur…

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(There are little birds…)

I went to check it out this morning thinking I’d be done in 10 minutes or sooner if the rain returned. It’s quite big… it covers 35 hectares with a 2.8km path running through it. Two and a half hours later I arrived back to the camper with my camera battery exhausted from taking pictures!

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(…and big birds – storks)

I had met Fernando who has worked at the park for 18 years. We walked every path and he pointed out loads of interesting things. Despite no common language we got on really well! He told me about the cork trees which grow for 25 years before their bark is first cut to produce cork and then they are cut every 9 years.

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(The Cork tree)

He pointed out camouflaged birds in the enclosures that I missed. He knew how to bring the deer up close to get the best pictures…

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And he knew where the teen tiny wild boar baby would be…

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(Ok it’s not a great picture but… that’s the mammy wild boar on the right with the little boar – he’s fawn coloured – walking out from under her. Can you see him?)

But the most amazing animals were the Ibis, they looked like statues, they were standing so still and so proud, then the younger ones moved. As well as all the animals and the natural setting there are farm buildings which I think are original. One has a water-mill and five pairs of millstones. Another is called the Brazilian farm, when locals returned with their fortune from Brazil they built bigger farm houses… at least I think that’s the story?

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(The Ibis. Can you see the one in the cave?)

I’m going back again tomorrow. I’ll bring food and water and Denis, Mairead.

Ps Thank you so much to all the people who sent me pictures of the snow in Ireland. Below is the one I got from my mother-in-law…

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Cats, one mouse, a fox and two hens – it all ends well… oh, not for the mouse.

(Our favourite position on the sofa)

I was sitting on the sofa this morning writing when I heard one of the cats meowing. It was a plaintive meow. As both the garden door and the secret cat window were open I ignored him, but he increased the volume and the other two cats who had been asleep beside me on the sofa shot out through the door. As this is a little odd I put down my laptop and followed. There standing on the threshold was the third cat with a mouthful of mouse. I have no idea how he managed to meow with his mouth full but fair dues to him. I had been warned that there might be a few gifts brought into the house so I reacted fast and shut the door (and closed the secret window too.) I like my gifts covered in chocolate or made from inanimate materials.

(Isn’t she beautiful?)

When the coast was clear (of cats and mice) I went outside to consider the weather. I like to walk when it’s dry but I’ll also give it a go in a slight drizzle. There was no rain and it was a little warmer outside than in so, decision made. But first…. I checked on the hens. We are developing quite a close relationship, me and the hens, it’s mainly one-sided but I have patience and hope to win them over before I leave. The only reason I was checking was that I saw what I thought was a fox yesterday afternoon in the garden. Don’t foxes only come out at dusk? He ran off through the fence and I found the hens happily pecking in another part of the garden. After that I went out to check them more often and even locked them in early last night… just in case.

(A little treasure)

Then when I got up this morning I considered leaving them in their pen but because I had locked them up early and I could see them waiting, looking in the direction of the house anticipating their freedom – I chickened out…. and opened the pen. It seemed cruel to keep them in when I wasn’t completely sure there was danger. So there I was checking them again… but I couldn’t find them. I searched every bit of the garden, no hens. Panic started to set in and I searched again for signs of a crime scene (feathers and fluids). Fortunately, nothing. Before yesterday I had no fear for the hens and never stopped to notice where they went during the day. I tried to remember where I used to see them but it was always in different places coming into view just as I rounded a corner. Not today.

(I didn’t get a picture of the fox but this is a deer I saw later… that orange colour, that’s the deer)

How was I going to tell their humans? How was I going to cope with the emotional fallout – mine, I mean. Then I remembered my goto person with hen experience and I called Denis. He was very reassuring, mentioned hiding places in the garden and fence-hoping for possible juicy worms outside the property. He suggested garden search first followed by road to neighbour’s house search, followed by boundary search while wearing wellingtons, rain coat and employing a special hen call – CHuck, chuck, chuck, chuck. So, I got dressed up and had hardly reached the greenhouse when I met the girls rounding a corner. Oh the joy! I cheered and ran towards them hoping for a hug… they stopped in mid step, one leg raised…  I stopped. They stared…. with a look I interpreted as Wait right there, we’re only here because you called, what have you got for us?


So I ran back to the kitchen and gathered what I thought would be treats for hens and laid them out in the grass in front of the girls. Not sure if my obvious loving demonstrations are causing stress in our relationship or possibly they don’t like sunflower seeds, carrots and porridge because they didn’t eat my offering, they just kept staring at me.

I am so happy but I think I’ll keep them locked up, Mairead.