WILDEN MARSH: February in Hoo Wood and Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve – PART 2.
WEDNESDAY MORNING 9th FEBRUARY – 07:20: Overcast this morning (8 degrees C) and just a hint of rain.
Pheasants nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around ten eggs over a two-three week period in April to June. The incubation period is about 23–26 days. The chicks stay near the hen for several weeks after hatching and they grow quickly, resembling adults by only 15 weeks of age.
Had a few images of the swamp on the camera trap, this morning, but no wildlife, so I moved to the next place on my list and set the camera to the side of a muntjac track.
I checked the camera trap later in the evening and, again, no images of wildlife. I think it’s a matter of: ‘The harder I try, the less successful I am.’
On the way home, I heard and caught a brief glimpse of a screech-owl.
THURSDAY MORNING 10th FEBRUARY – 07:30:Overcast this morning (8 degrees C) and light rain.
Went out this morning to set up my camera trap. I will check on it tomorrow morning.
FRIDAY EVENING 11th FEBRUARY 19:15 : I heard and saw a tawny owl flying over Hoo Brook.
Tawny owls breed in March, laying up to 7 eggs that take 25 to 30 days to incubate and around 30 days to fledge. Tawny owls nest in holes in trees, often in old squirrel or woodpecker holes. The juveniles disperse in August and by early winter they will either have a territory, or they will be dead.
SATURDAY MORNING 12th FEBRUARY: The weekend is here again – hooray! Like most people, I look forward to the weekend. It’s a time when I can afford a more relaxed attitude toward watching and photographing wildlife, thereby thereby adding to the enjoyment. It’s no good my being too relaxed, though, Saturday can easily be taken-up with the weekend chores if I’m not careful. This weekend I am going to put my passions first and the chores second. I like to get out as early as possible and linger in my chosen area for a few hours; to get the feel of the place? I like to take my time investigating the lay of the land, the trees, the bushes, the plants and the animals. I like to get an accurate impression of the extent of wildlife in a particular area.
I like to be in position, camera at the ready, before it gets light, so that I can watch the sun rise and the countryside come to life.
The wood alongside Hoo Brook, down on the marsh, was head high in Himalayan Balsam during last summer. The wood floor is pretty much devoid of green and littered with decaying brown leaves and creamy coloured dead balsam stalks. This debris from last year’s growing season hardly covered my boots this morning. However, time never stands still and new stinging nettles are just beginning to push their leaves above ground – the start of this year’s growing season is upon us.
Life on the marsh is beginning to wake-up again. The animals are getting ready to mate and it’s an exciting time to watch them. I feel fortunate that I am able to witness and record the events as they occur.
The sun is shining. The sky is bright blue, and there is an abundance of wildlife on the marsh. I saw a heron paddling in Hoo brook again; a kestrel perched on the power lines that cross the swamp – waiting for its breakfast to pass beneath I expect. Magpies flew this way and that. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed on the dead oak tree, close to the bank of the Northern Pond. I almost stood on a woodcock, and the urgent ‘peent-peent’ call of a snipe rose from the withy wood at the southern end of the old British Sugar settling lagoon field. Herons, ducks, geese, crows, magpies and cormorants flew overhead. My camera trap caught a badger leaving its set in the early hours. It sounded to me as if the animals have a lot to do; I’ll try to keep out of their way and view what I can through binoculars.
The nesting season runs from March to July. I try not to be intrusive during this period. There is the plenty of potential of frightening-off nesting birds, which defeats the ethos of a nature reserve. Unfortunately, the north marsh foxes doesn’t give a fig about my views; in his/her mind, birds and eggs taste good. From what I have seen, the marsh foxes regularly dine on pigeons and pheasant. The thing with the foxes, though, is that they will kill by restricting their prey’s breathing. The fox catches its prey and throttles it whilst taking it to a safe area to eat. Generally, the fox’s prey can’t make much noise when it is being throttled. However, I have heard ducks, pheasants and chickens make a terrible fuss when the fox grabs them; their cries doesn’t last long, though. What’s more important is that the fox has the right to disturb and kill animals on the marsh: we don’t. The fox lives to kill. If a fox gets into a chicken coup, it will most likel kill all the birds, usually by biting their heads off. Without doubt, the fox is a killing machine, but that’s nature for you: nature isn’t sympathetic.
SUNDAY EVENING 20th FEBRUARY 21:43:
Strange things are afoot at the north end of the marsh this week! Cardboard crow cut-outs, painted black, pegged out amongst the mole hills; unidentified bait pellets; a basic wooden branch hide, and a pile of foam rubber chips placed in the middle of an animal track (the muntjac uses this track). These things have occurred along-side the North Pond. Tonight I saw someone sweeping the swamp with a powerful lantern. I wonder if that person is a nature lover trying to catch a glimpse of the muntjac? I would like to think so, or is he thinking of having the muntjac for his dinner; either way, he shouldn’t be there. The one to two-second sweeps of the lamp suggests to me that someone might have put out pheasant snares and is checking them. Obviously, this sort of activity on the marsh is illegal.
One section of the lagoon field fence, along-side the Wilden Lane lay-by, has been cut top-to-bottom, allowing unauthorised access to the lagoon fields and the marsh. It is all too easy to park-up in this lay-by and avoid suspicion.
I caught a glimpse of the black muntjac in the swamp earlier today, and I must say that he seems to be in top condition and very alert. He has done a very good job of avoiding me and my cameras. My worry is, though, that he might not do so well with drugged bait and a cross-bow bolt.
The male muntjac deer is short and stocky with a hunched appearance, weighing between 10 and 18 kg, standing 45 to 50 cm at the shoulder, and can live for up to 19 years. One day I hope to post a photograph of our swamp muntjac, but to do so I will need to be just a little smarter than him.
I spotted a large buzzard on the south reserve this afternoon, perched in a tree, and four Canada geese walking across one of the southern fields. I also spotted a sort of hybrid Robin in a tree on the Stour side of the swamp.
I stumbled upon another hide/shooting position, when walking through Hoo Wood this afternoon. It is very close to the Wilden Lane lay-by, and it is possible that children/teenagers use it for their action games. I have seen teenagers playing in the wood with very realistic toy assault rifles that fire small plastic pellets and make all the right noises, but this was back last summer and in a different area of the wood. As seen in the photograph, the hide has a commanding view of an area of reasonably flat open ground, and three or four pheasants broke cover as I walked across it. I wasn’t able to tell if the hide had been used lately. The leaves had been disturbed on the floor of the hide, but the fox could be the culprit.
Common sense dictates that now is the best time to be using a hide like this, when the cover is really low. In the growing season, the Himalayan Balsam and ferns would be too thick and too high to see through.