I moved to Rye in March this year, having been living with my parents after my separation in 2016. It was a tough time for me, and I found myself spending more and more time Rye Harbour Nature Reserve to walk, relax and unwind. It was the one place more than any other I found I could switch off my thoughts and just focus on what was around me. I can honestly say my visits to the reserve were, apart from the support from family and friends, the biggest help in my recovery.
When I found my flat up to let at the start of the year, it just felt like fate. I now have the reserve almost on my doorstep, and throughout the summer with the long, warm evenings, I was getting out as much as possible. I have enjoyed many memorable moments watching foxes, cuckoos, hobbies, marsh harriers and barn owls. Now the days are shorter I only have my days off from work to enjoy the wonders and wildlife of the reserve, so on Monday I took myself out to a part of the reserve known as Castle Water.
This area is not as accessible as the rest of the reserve and therefore I very rarely meet more than half a dozen other people out walking. It's also one of the best parts of the entire 1100 acre site for bird watching, with the habitat suited to a number of species which aren't seen an often on the beach reserve. With its reed beds, birds like bearded tits, bittern and marsh harrier are regular here (though finding them isn't always as easy). While I have a special place in my heart for birds, sometimes another animal steals the show...
I spotted the stoat in a place I fondly call 'rabbit corner'. My past sightings of these magnificent mammals have been brief, a quick view as it darts down a burrow or in to the undergrowth. So I was quick to pick up my camera and grab a photo before it disappeared.
As you can see, it was very aware of my presence, but none-the-less darted out further in to the open. I took to my knees to get a better angle and kept still.
It's quite obvious at this point it was somewhat intrigued by me, but I still expected it at any moment to turn back and run the other way, but that wasn't to be the case.
By now I was somewhat baffled by what was going on. Why was this typically shy animal running towards me and not away? How much closer would it come? The only thing to do was to keep still and keep taking photos.
Having come so close, I was having a hard time keeping up with its movements and certainly struggling to fit it all in the frame. If I haven't made it clear I am completely out in the open, on the footpath which runs adjacent to the fence line separating the field from the reserve boundary. Up to this point, the stoat had been running towards me on the very footpath I was on, but decided to cross through the wire fence to my left.
Still watching me, as some on social media have suggested, possibly wondering whether it could take me down. Stoats belong to the family Mustelidae, which includes weasels, mink and wolverines, all with a reputation for punching well above their weight in the animal kingdom. I prefer to think this little stoat saw me as a friend rather than foe. Whatever it thought of me, I was completely awe struck by this fantastic beast, and it decided to come closer still, in fact as close as my lens could possibly focus.
Less than 4m away, this photo hasn't been edited or cropped at all, just resized for the blog. A little look around and it finally turned back, coming back through the fence and taking one last look back at me before taking off.
After watching it disappear down a burrow, I carried on with my walk, feeling somewhat emotional at this wonderful experience.
I recommend a visit Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, but if you can't get there, I encourage you to find a place near you where you can reconnect with nature. I hope you have a stoatally amazing experience like I did.