Our Patch: On Safari

By on Monday, August 5, 2013

our_patch_sj_jarmanIn our patch lies Knowsley Safari Park, designed to house the unusual, but also a fantastic place to observe some superb British wildlife which has made a home in the grounds.

As the visitors are car-bound, many of the species you’d normally glimpse from a distance are fairly ‘tame,’ and the unfortunate habit that many people have of feeding from the windows means that some of them will come very close indeed.

As season ticket holders, we are regular attendees, and our last two visits were great opportunities for wildlife-spotting, so with a picnic to keep the monkeys in the car happy, we set off. My eldest daughter is becoming a fine amateur naturalist herself, and so I was delighted when she rattled off some of the indigenous species tucked in amongst the exotics.

In the first enclosure, amongst cattle and deer we spotted a Shelduck with a clutch of ducklings on the water. They were just little fluffy balls scooting around on the surface; the poor buffalo invisible to our eyes.

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Also here were a gaggle of Barnacle Geese with their chicks, not a species commonly found in our area, but carving out a rather nice living here at the park. Their striking pied plumage is superficially similar to that of Canada Geese, but as the children observed, they are smaller, their feathers are black and white with no brown and grey, and they have a predominantly white head.

Wading at the edge of the pools were Lapwings, known traditionally as pee-wits due to their loud calls. These birds also appear black and white, but when get the stunningly close view here, they have iridescent backs and wear a plume to the back of their head. Their long legs keep their feathers from the water whilst they bury their bill into the mud looking for invertebrates and when along the shore crustaceans.

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Funnily enough, other than some pretty brazen magpies, there was little to be seen in the lion enclosure but lions, and in fairness it would have to be something pretty spectacular to outshine these guys. So moving onto some woodland where the Bongos are housed we were delighted to see a grey squirrel.

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She scurried as bold as brass to the edge of the path and chattered at us. As she stood on her hind legs, the back seats erupted into peals of laughter at her fat tummy and the rows of visible nipples down her front. Clearly there was to be the pitter-patter of bushy-tailed feet and this mum-to-be was demanding a meal. We were unable to acquiesce; not only as responsible parents would we not allow feeding from the window, but our picnic had been demolished!

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Just a few metres up the road a female pheasant also stood expectantly at the edge of the road. We are all familiar with the jewel like plumage of the male pheasant but the subtlety of the female’s buff brown black and white feathers are actually incredibly beautiful too. She too remained hungry as we passed by and soon returned to the bracken where she was almost instantly undetectable due to her wonderful camouflage.

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As we were parked up outside the baboon enclosure (well we can’t afford new windscreen washer jets every time), the baboons were staring up and making alarm calls. Wondering if a bird of prey was being flown by the display team, we followed their gaze to see a Buzzard lazily circling overhead. Even though we see them very regularly, there is something spectacular in beholding a bird with a wingspan of over a meter remaining in the air effortlessly.

As the time came for an ice cream we were in a queue of traffic for several minutes. We wondered what the hold-up was and as the cars started to move again, we saw several families of Greylag geese moving from one side of the road to the other. Whilst we had negotiated the large and “dangerous” without an issue, we were held to ransom for some time by a few goslings and their protective parents.

Whilst eating our ice creams, my younger daughter asked what all the big white birds around the car park were. We were able to identify five different species of gull (Herring, Greater and Lesser Black Backed, Black Headed and Common), and three species of corvid (Carrion Crow, Rook and Magpie).

Whether you enjoy or disapprove of this animal attraction, it is a haven for British fauna. The number of people through the gates does not have an impact on the accessibility to the wildlife, because the animals and birds have learned that the people stay in the cars, and therefore have no real reason to fear. It’s a great situation for us because we can have animal encounters, and for the wildlife too, because it has a safe place to survive.

Photos: Sue Holland

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SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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