Today is my first day of spring.
25th February 2012: I was out walking through Hoo Wood before the Fox Hollow cockerel had crowed this morning. The sun had yet to rise, and my finger tips were feeling the nip of the cold air. By the time I had reached Dark Wood, the morning chorus filled the air with chirps, warbles, squarks, coos, and the hammering of at least four woodpeckers. I stood looking down into Fox Hollow as the cockerel began his normal morning ritual of announcing the arrival of a new dawn. I turned to see the golden light of the early sun light up the trees along the Hoo Wood ridge, a good half an hour before its warming rays reached the marsh. I watched as the orange glow crept slowly down the white concrete walls of the sugar silos. Soon, the air above the marsh warmed enough to cause a thin layer of mist to form above the North Pond and the River Stour.
The British Sugar factory site is to be redeveloped; in its place will be a combined industrial and residential estate. I can’t remember if I have mentioned it before, but the north end of the marsh is spanned by a large brick built viaduct, the Falling Sands Viaduct, carrying the Severn Valley Steam Railway. To the right of the northern end of the marsh is the Hoo Brook Viaduct carrying the main Oxford to Birmingham railway. The brick constructed Hoo Brook Viaduct replaced an earlier wooden structure that was built between 1851 and 1852.
I noticed a week ago that the marsh ground cover had a green tinge to it. This week the ground cover is very definitely green. New grass shoots are very obvious. Hundreds of comfrey plants have pushed their way through carpets of last year’s flattened, dead and bleached Himalayan balsam stalks. Dead-head nettles are at least 50mm high, and cow parsley fronds are very visible and probably the most vigorously growing plant on the marsh at the moment.
I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that during the winter, I have had to content myself with cattle, buzzards, cormorants and herons for company as I wandered through the marsh. Today, there was plenty of visible wildlife. Birds were the most numerous of the more readily seen animals, particularly blue tits that were busily chasing one another around tree trunks. Every clump of brambles seemed to have an animal or two making rustling noises within it.
A great many trees were felled and pruned this week. The standing water levels have fallen; whether this is due to lack of rain, rising sap, or to the low levels of Hoo Brook and the River Stour, I am not sure.
There was plenty of ground disturbance caused by animal scratching about for something to eat. An animal had even dug a sizable hole whilst I was down at the south end of the marsh this morning – a fox, I expect.
Dense clouds of hungry gnats floated annoyingly on a light breeze, making progress uncomfortable. From now on I will be carrying insect repellent.
In the copse where Poncey lives, I came across a squirrel building a nest. It was collecting branches with dead leaves attached and weaving them into a structure in between three splayed branches, at the top of a young oak tree, and it wasn’t hanging about either – it paid scant attention to me or my camera. The squirrel ran up and down various trees, along the ground in search of materials, and even made trips down to the river.