An opportunity!

Pheasant tracks.

5th February 2012: It snowed last evening and overnight. This morning I thought the snow cover offered an excellent opportunity to see how much animal activity occurred on the marsh since 4 pm yesterday.

Entering the marsh at the Hoo Brook end, early this afternoon, I saw a pair of boot prints stretching out ahead of me and another, the same boot print, coming back along the track and out onto Wilden Lane. Fifty meters down the track, the person must have had second thoughts about continuing his morning walk on the marsh.

Fox tracks,

Almost immediately I saw fox and badger tracks in the snow. There was a dozen small yellow urine marks in amongst a particularly dense concentration of badger, fox and rabbit paw prints. A little further along the brook was the unmistakable foot prints of a pheasant; fox prints ran along either side. It quickly became clear that there were animal tracks all over the place. I took a look at a badger’s set, the one I suspect being a fox earth, there were fox prints leading up to the entrance and others leading away from it. A track made by a single pheasant also climbed right up to the sett entrance, stopping at the very edge of its rim. Possibly, the pheasant fell down the hole – I think not; perhaps it flew away, or maybe the fox had grabbed it. My brain now complained of information overload. Nothing is ever clear cut on the marsh!

Badger paw print.

I checked out Hoo Brook wood; the un-grazed pasture between the River Stour and the swamp; all around the North Pond, and the north pasture. The story was the same in each case: where there were animal tracks, the foxes had stalked them; they even followed the muntjac tracks. A single pheasant track ran from the North Pond all the way to Hoo Brook; a distance of around 400 meters. A fox had picked up the pheasant track about fifty meters from the pond and followed it all the way to the brook.

Otter paw print.

Rabbit tracks were everywhere. The foxes have not eaten all the marsh rabbits; they just prefer to stay at home on cold winter days. I think it is fair to say that there is a lot of animal activity on the marsh during the night, as borne out by my remote cameras.

I found what could be a fox den entrance under a brash pile; the entrance is the right size, and it is freshly dug. This might be the den I have been searching for….

24 thoughts on “An opportunity!

  1. Must be fascinating trying to work out which animal left what track (and who was the predator and who was the victim). Looks like a great pastime to me.


    • The marsh is an outlet for my obsessiveness.

      I am the Marsh Warden, so I need to keep an eye on who is seeing whom, who is eating whom, who is mating with whom, who is causing problems and who is passing through.

      The more I get involved with the marsh ecology, the further it sucks me in.

      A reasonable covering of snow does provide an ideal opportunity to see who and what is about on the marsh when I am not there and, yes, I do find it exciting 🙂


  2. you manage to share your Marsh so beautifully with us …i can skip from summer beach-side here in australia to snowy Wilden Marsh with animals tracks and stalking foxes …fascinating 🙂


  3. Thanks for the track lesson. I used to have many many rabbits in the field, but the fox has moved closer and closer and now I have many fox in the field instead of rabbits. – DogDaz


  4. So, we have at last had a dusting..well in some areas more than a dusting of snow then Mike!
    I enjoyed reading of the tracks you found and identified, I have Woodpigeon tracks in my garden and plenty of them!!


  5. Hi Mike,

    I’m running a bird survey on the lagoons area of the marsh and was there yesterday. After I completed my survey route, I went down by the river and saw what I’m pretty sure to be otter tracks. The tracks started on the bank of the river – the mud was covered in prints so I guess it’s used often – and continued in the snow right down to the weir, before going into the water again. I thought it could only be badger or otter, but I didn’t think a badger would be entering or coming out of the water, so I was wondering if you’ve seen or heard of otters before on the marsh? I know they’ve been sighted on the River Stour and in Kidderminster. Thanks! Dom


    • Glad to hear that you are keeping a general wildlife eye open when you are down on the marsh, Dom.

      I have seen an otter in the Stour ( I wonder why an otter would move overland to get to the north weir, when it could more easily swim down the river. The marsh badgers regularly visit the Stour and Hoo Brook to drink and to find worms and other food in the soft ground and mud.

      Tracks in snow can be indistinct be confusing.

      Sometimes when looking at badger tracks in the snow, the front paw prints show only four toes and the hind paw prints of an otter only three toes. Otter toes are more widely spaced than those of a badger. Both the otter and the badger have paws with five clawed toes. A badger’s front claws are longer than those of the otter. I have seen quite a few otter paw prints in the mud beaches on both sides of the river, at the south end of the swamp and along the section passing the North Pond.

      A badger can weigh up to 30 pounds and up to 36” in length. River otters can weigh up to 30 pounds and can be up to 48” in length; most otters do not exceed 20 pounds in weight.

      I would like to think there is an otter Holt on the marsh, and I have been searching for it. I wouldn’t hold your breath: I can’t even find the marsh foxes’ den. 🙂


  6. Yeah, I was wondering why it would leave the river – maybe the slower running parts of the river were frozen? The prints were leading in one direction and there was only a single track.

    Thank you for all the information! It’s great to get out and learn from looking at the environment rather than just reading books.

    I’ve sent a picture of one of the prints to your email address in case you’re interested in having a look. Yeah I’ve read about your difficulty in finding the den – I’ll have a look round on the lagoons side of the marsh, but haven’t seen anything so far. Keep looking, it must be around somewhere!


  7. Well I don’t know this part of the marsh very well. I park at the farmhouse then walk across the field, over the gate, walk parallel to the woods and fence until you go round a bend and you’re next to the river, then the river curves and straightens and the weir is downstream next to another gate – is this the north weir? If it is, the otter came out of the water about 150 meters upstream.


    • This is both interesting and exciting, Dom. I saw an otter playing in the river approximately 150 meters upstream of the north weir. Otters are very playful animals and, maybe, it came out of the river to play in the snow.

      It might also be that this otter has a Holt nearby, or at least it might be looking for a suitable location. I will investigate and let you know. 🙂


  8. I guess I was there at the right place, right time! It would be great if there was a Holt on the marsh, I will keep my eyes open for any more signs when I next go down. Thanks!


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