Yummy! I likes a nice dollop of fresh gooey dung I do.
24th March 2012: My Saturday morning started early: walking in Hoo Wood with Spike through cold mist. I was hoping to make a sunny image of the lagoon field and North Pond for the header of this blog, but I couldn’t see the marsh let alone photograph it.
I took Spike through Dark Wood for the first time in months. A person really needs a good reason to enter this wood during mid and late summer: bramble bushes, stinging nettles and Himalayan balsam are all chest high. At the moment last year’s vegetation has died right back and the new growth is only a few inches high. I have always found Dark Wood an unexciting place for wildlife, and this morning was no exception. I didn’t see any wildlife, but I saw many animal signs. I didn’t pay too much attention, apart from recognising that something had been systematically scouring large areas of leaf litter: this is something new. I had more pressing things to do, so I made a mental note to investigate further as soon as possible. I trudged on through soft squidgy ground, emerging on a track that skirted the backend of the rocket factory.
After taking Spike home it was 11am before I managed to get onto the marsh. I was later than usual, so I wasn’t really expecting to see too much animal activity. The best time to see the wildlife is early morning and early evening. Anyway, the mist had lifted and the sun was quickly raising the air temperature. Fish were greedily feeding on a hatch of flying insects in the slack water of the River Stour. The fish were small and energetically plip-plopped as they jumped out of the water and dropped back into it again; there was the occasional splash from larger fish. I was surprised that the cormorants weren’t taking any notice of the fish action; they just sat on the overhead electricity cables sunning themselves. Cormorants are lazy, but very effective fish catchers; they hang around until their stomachs tell them to catch another fish.
North Pond is still playing host to the horde of mating toads. It seems to be the young male’s turn the practice and refine their pulling techniques on the remaining females that have not had the good sense to get out of the pond earlier, when they had the chance. The big fat females looked like they were being smothered by small male toads. The surface of the pond is shimmering under an oil-like film, and the bottom is littered with dead toads.
Three Canada geese waded in the shallow south end of North Pond. A fox approached them from the river side, making out that it wasn’t at all interested in a goose dinner. The fox nonchalantly sniffed and pawed the ground as though looking for roots to eat, slowly manoeuvring itself closer to the geese in the process. The geese appeared to pay little attention to the fox until it was getting too close for comfort. They turned to face the red dog threat, and began honking a warning. The fox turned its rump to the geese and became really interested in pawing the ground, and the urgency of the honking abated. Now the fox tried to approach the geese backwards, and the honking started again. The fox turned around and sat down in the water, as if weighing up the situation. The honking slowed. Suddenly, the fox launched itself at the closest goose, from its sitting position. The fox didn’t stand a chance of bagging a goose in broad daylight. I was standing behind a willow bush watching this, so I wasn’t able to photograph the action. I was desperately trying to get into a suitable position, but it was just impossible.
I spent quite a bit of time lying on grass and stinging nettles today. These baby nettles are powerful stingers: particularly noticeable through a thin cotton shirt. My forearms and elbows were repeatedly stung and are still feeling the effects close to midnight; it’s not too unpleasant, to be honest. As the growing season progresses, I get stung so often that the nettle cease to have an effect.
I had a plan to photograph the south marsh kingfisher. He always manages to see me and fly away before I can get a bead on him. I know where his perch is and most times when I am passing, he is on it. The plan was to approach the kingfisher from the south, draped in a camouflage net, and slowly inch towards him with my camera to my eye – simple!
When I arrived at the perch there were a couple of birders already there. I wouldn’t have minded, but they didn’t have an access permit and they weren’t WWT members. These were reasonable birders who left the site without giving me a load of verbal abuse for doing my job. I went through the usual routine of explaining why the reserve is closed to the public and if they really wanted access, they could apply for a permit. As I escorted the two birders to the Wilden Lane entrance, another one arrived: he was a WWT member and could pass unhindered. I checked out the otter holts while the new arrival did his thing. Half an hour later the visitor was on his way out of the reserve.
The coots were busy feeding on weed as I passed them on my way to steal the kingfisher’s image. I placed my camouflage netting over my head, pulled my hat tightly over it, and crept gingerly towards the bank. I knew exactly where the bird would be perched, so I ever so slowly edged my way to the river bank. As I closed in on my prey, more of the willow tree perch growing in the middle of the river became visible. I could see the bird’s head. He was perched in amongst the branches. I couldn’t get a clean shot. He escaped whilst I hesitated. Better luck next time!