WILDEN MARSH: February in Hoo Wood and Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve – PART 1.
MONDAY EVENING – 31st JANUARY: Tomorrow is the 1st day of February and I would like an early ‘first of the month’ photograph of a muntjac deer. I noticed an area in North Pond wood last Saturd where muntjac deer had been active, so I set off with my camera into a dark, freezing night. I navigated by feeling my way along the sides of the track with the soles of my boots, which is not too difficult: the tracks across the marsh are quite deep. As far as possible, I try not to use my torch; it warns the animals that I’m out and about. Anyway, I set up my camera at the intended spot, and covered it with a camo-blanket.
TUESDAY EVENING –1st FEBRUARY: Out with my infra-red camera again. I’m not after muntjac deer tonight. I’ve pointed the camera at a potential fox den inside a wood pile. The entrance is most certainly large enough for a fox to get through, and it looks as if it’s used regularly. Maybe the camera will reveal something tomorrow morning.
After setting up the camera, I moved from the area and did as I often do on cold, clear, starlit nights … I leaned against a wooden fence and stared at Orion’s Belt. I listened to the night sounds drifting in from Kidderminster. The night-time silence of the marsh is not like the silence one might experience in a street, or in a back garden, or in a house, it has an indefinable depth. The sounds of the marsh at night are almost spectral; they drift in softly, pass overhead, and then just fade gently away. There is the occasional hum of industry in the distance, that wafts and wanes as other more strident sounds drift by as the breeze changes direction.
I listened as a car whooshed along Wilden Lane. Something had disturbed the ducks on North Pond. An owl screeched in the distance. An ambulance wailed its way urgently along Worcester Road. Silence reigned for a while, before a car alarm warbled in and out of hearing. A muntjac deer barked from somewhere along the Stour. This experience with sound reminds me that it’s a privilege to have such a vibrant marsh on my doorstep.
WEDNESDAY MORNING – 2nd FEBRUARY: I was out before first light this morning. The sky was clear and the temperature one or two degrees below freezing. I retrieved my camera. There were three images, but no animals – failure! Maybe I need a new strategy.
The sunrise was good, though: orange sky through wisps of light cloud. A flight of geese honked overhead as I made my way home.
SATURDAY MORNING – 5th FEBRUARY (07:30): Last night had been very windy. The ground alongside Hoo Brook is littered with newly broken branches, and a few fallen trees.
A kingfisher darting up and down the brook for 3 to 4 minutes, before disappearing along the River Stour.
My infra-red cameratrap was on sentinel dity last night. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, I positioned it overlooking the North Pond. I was hoping to get an image or two of a heron, or at least a few mallards, but it didn’t happen.
The ponds have overflowed into the Stour for over a month now, and we haven’t has much rain; is this due to the new weirs, I wonder?
When I am out on the marsh with my DSLR camera it takes me ages to get anywhere; I walk along with a weird, slow motion stalking gait.So it took me a while to get to my IR camera.
I plugged the monitor into the camera and 27 images flashed-up on the screen. I get very excited when this happens, particularly after a couple of nights without a result. I clicked through the images, and it was that darn fox again. I am beginning to wonder who is stalking whom! Still, it’s far better than no images at all.
A rural fox can have a territory in the region of 200 to 600 hectares. The territory size might depend on the extent of food resources available. So the fox in the northern marsh might be the same fox I photograph in Hoo Wood. A dog fox will usually live above ground; it might make a den under a pile of wood. Generally, foxes are lazy and will use an old badger’s set, or a pipe as a den. They can live for 10 years; many die from illness or accident, and are often run-over by cars.
I was poking about amongst the trees on the side of Nort Pond this afternoon and found a few animal droppings in a hole at the foot of an old oak tree. The droppings were quite old, they were hard with white mould on them, and they were lying on top of wood chippings.
Foxes are not the only animals that take advantage of other animal’s vacated holes. I was under the old dead oak tree, which is a favourite perch for a number of the local birds, when a squirrel ran up the trunk and disappeared into an old woodpecker’s hole.
I came across another well-used muntjac deer track this morning, so this will be a future target for my cameratrap. The problem is that I have a growing list of work for my IR cameras. Still, there’s no rush, the marsh and animals will be here for a while yet.
On my way home this afternoon, as I walked along Hoo Brook, young swan came swam up from the River Stour. There are various piles of branches and other debris blocking the progress of anything swimming up the brook, but the swan bravely climbed over these. It was three-quarters of the way to Wilden Lane when it came up against a large pile of tree branches and twigs blocking it’s way. The swan stopped in front of the blockage, seemed to weigh-up the possibilities, must have decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and swam back down to the Stour.
SUNDAY MORNING – 6th FEBRUARY: The new growing season has started in Hoo Wood. Hazel catkins are in abundance. Honeysuckle buds have opened and new leaves have sprung forth; the same applies to Elder. Herb Robert foliage is spreading, too. Bluebell shoots are around 75 mm high and nettles around 50 mm high.
It was not as windy today, as it has been for the last couple of days, but the sky has been overcast for most of the morning. There have been times when the clouds have parted, letting in bright, warm sunshine. Clouds of flies rose up, making a real nuisance of themselves. It will soon be time to apply ‘Jungle Formula’ insect repellent. Today was the day I realised that spring is not far way.
The young swan is still bottom feeding in Hoo Brook. There was not much wildlife to photograph today, apart from the swan and a few small birds: tits, mainly. I saw a black muntjac deer in the swamp, but it made off faster than my camera’s auto-focus could lock on to the bobbing white flash on its tail. I followed a fresh muntjac trail from the swamp to the field gate mid-way along the reserve, but the trail turned into the quagmire of the middle wood. My half-length wellies are a bit short for quagmires , so I didn’t bother following the tracks any further.
I went in search of the muntjac I had seen earlier, back at the swamp. No luck, though! I was soon in danger of being sucked into the mire. God only knows what greusome fate awaites the unsuspecting unfortunate who wander too far into that swamp. All saw were the remains of the wily old fox’s last night’s pheasant supper – nothing left but feathers. If I were a fisherman, I would value these pheasant feathers for making artificial flies.
MONDAY MORNING 7th FEBRUARY – 07:45: Heavily overcast this morning,: cold and windy, too.
Spotted the black muntjac in the swamp again, and got a good look at it this time – didn’t have my DSLR camera with me though.
My IR camera had taken seven images of a piece of vegetation that had fallen in front of it.
I set up the camera trap in another location, in the hope that it might pick up a daytime image or two. I will check it this evening.
TUESDAY MORNING 8th FEBRUARY – 07:00 : Bright, clear and cold this morning (0 degree C). The vegetation was dusted with frost, and mist had settled above the Stour.
I was out for an hour and saw only four moorhens on North Pond, and a few mallards in Hoo Brook and on the Stour.
Moorhens nest in late March; egg incubation takes around 20 days and fledging around 45 days. Newly hatched chicks are swimming with their parents within a couple of days.
There were a few images of a Labrador on the camera trap, nothing else, so I have put the it on sentry duty in different location for a few days. I am still trying to get an image of the black muntjac.