Winter Mode.

(Click on image to enlarge)

SQUIRREL

SQUIRREL

9th October 2011: I am definitely a winter person, and I am now eager to switch to my winter mode, but it’s too warm at the moment. This doesn’t mean to say that I won’t be looking forward to spring when the time arrives. I look forward to all the seasons. The marsh squirrels seem a little confused by the current warm weather, too. Walking along the large pipes from the water works this afternoon, I was surprised at the number of squirrels busily harvesting acorns and berries. There were dozens of them; the bushes and trees were alive with squirrels – quite spooky! I would describe the squirrel activity as frantic. I wonder if they know something that I don’t. The media are predicting snow and -20 0C temperatures for the end of the month: maybe the squirrels are expecting it too. They were aggressively screeching and running at me, daring me to cross an imaginary line. It was only a few weeks ago that I was wondering why there were so few squirrels about. Perhaps they were taking things easy in our Indian summer conditions, and now it has suddenly dawned on them just how late in the year it really is.

SQUIRREL

I have removed my remote cameras from the marsh for their twice yearly maintenance: new batteries and a clean-up. Leaving them in their summer positions for too long could result in my finding them submerged as the water table rises.

I heard muntjac barking from the swamp, and the green woodpecker has taken to following me again. He waits in the trees on the east side of North Pond and then chases me down to the tenant farmer’s field gate. I walked further down the river to the south weir. The sun was setting as I made my way back through the field alongside the tenant farmer’s field, and the green woodpecker was waiting; he screamed at me all the way through the corridor.

SQUIRREL

A gang of eight magpies were pecking at mushrooms, as I walked across the north pasture, and there were quite a few mallards on the river. If you want to see animals on the marsh, you need to be able to read the signs. If you hear a pheasant panicking and magpies fussing, and if you see the flashing white tails of rabbits in the distance, there is a good chance that a fox is somewhere over in that direction. If you stand still and watch the general area where the rabbits had been, there is a fair chance that you will see the fox before too long. If you don’t understand the marsh sounds, or are not prepared to wait and watch, the chances are that you will see very little wildlife.

SQUIRREL

At 7 pm, the marsh was cooler and more comfortable. Most of the light had gone. Critters were moving about in the thick undergrowth on the island side of the river, probably a munjac or badger wanting to get a drink. I had seen a couple of owls on the south marsh this afternoon, and others were hooting in the wood behind me. I like being on the marsh in the darkness, particularly when the owls are hooting; a large bright moon and a clear sky are a real bonus, too.It is really peaceful sitting on a low branch, by the river, listening to the marsh sounds. I remember sitting in this same place when we had that really cold weather earlier in the year. I remember a large bright moon and a sky full of stars and the frozen grass and leaves crackling under foot; yes, this takes some beating.

To get sufficient benefit from this night-time nature watching malarkey, a decent night scope is a necessary gadget. I have a digital scope. Animal and human eyes show up like car head lights. With its five times magnification and +1000 feet range, it’s ideal for scanning large areas of total darkness; it has an infra-red light source for short distance work and a built-in IR spotlight for long distance spotting.

I have a favourite spot at the north end of the corridor, under a small patch of trees, where I like can sit on frosty moon lit nights. This position allows me to watch the river and the corridor without spooking the animals. I have seen a lot of wildlife from this spot, and it is far enough from the roads to give a feeling of isolation.

Earlier this week, when walking through Hoo Wood, I heard a pheasant panicking down in the lagoon field. I located him through my binoculars almost immediately. I scanned the area to his front and saw a fox standing quietly staring at the pheasant, but there was nothing threatening in its stance. The pheasant was obviously not at all happy to have the beady eyes of a fox bearing down on him, and he was vigorously voicing his discomfort. The fox was far enough away to allow the bird to feel confident about holding his ground until forced to flee. I scanned the area to the rear of the pheasant and saw a second fox creeping slowly forward, low to the ground. The pheasant’s attention was so fixated on the first fox, and he was making such a row, that the second fox was able to quickly close in on him without being noticed. As if to maintain the pheasant’s full attention, first fox began to move to its left. The bird reacted by making even more noise and shifting its weight from one leg to another – getting ready to make a break for it, I expect. The second fox’s pace quickened, and before I could mutter ‘He’s behind you,’ the pheasant was safely in foxy’s mouth. The only place I could have witnessed this event developing, was from high-up in Hoo Wood. I was in the right place, at the right time, but this is what happens. I have seen a lot of action on the marsh from my vantage point in Hoo Wood.

At a party last night. I spent some time talking to my cousin, who is a pest controller. He was making a case for exterminating foxes, pigeons and squirrels, because they are ‘vermin.’ I don’t need to say which side I batted for.

2 Comments on “Winter Mode.

  1. I really enjoyed hearing about the animals & birds in your woods. You make them come alive in your description (and I love the squirrel photos). I understand OVER-population of certain critters needing controlled extermination as the balance in nature tips over, but I can’t condone killing just because officialdom considers them ‘vermin’.

    In Australia, licenced hunters need to ‘thin out’ the kangaroo population in certain areas as there is not enough food & they fall prey to disease and starvation. I see this as necessary for the preservation of the healthy, wild population – but killing in general, I abhor.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Victoria.

    My cousin, the exterminator, did admit to me that he has trouble killing things. Where possible he captures the vermin and releases them well away from human habitation. Even exterminators can tolerate animals, but I guess their attitude can harden a little towards certain rodents: rats, for instance.

    The marsh has its own exterminators who pick-off the weak, stupid and the less able inhabitants. It’s the rats, pigeons and pheasants that keep them there. If the marsh lost its rodents and game birds, the predators would go somewhere else.

    You might like my next post: One-eye.

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