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16th May 2012: We have wild carrots, turnips, garlic, mustard and a surfeit of Canada geese on the marsh at the moment. If potatoes grew here too, I would have all the ingredients for a decent marsh Sunday dinner. Stuffing one of the five good-sized puffballs that are growing at the edge of the swamp, with something tasty – pheasant, rabbit and duck, perhaps – would make an excellent mouth-watering snack.
In the days before Wilden Village shop, I imagine the local peasants who scraped a living by taking advantage of the natural things around them, might tell their better halves that they were off down the marsh to gather the Sunday dinner.
A lot of rain has fallen on the marsh during the past eight weeks; not that I am complaining. I am happy enough as long as it’s sunny and dry when I am on holiday. It’s noticeable that the thick mass of four feet high vegetation is pulling more water from the ground than the rain can replace. The marsh water levels have dropped by around 100mm in seven days. In May of last year, we were praying for rain. If the wet weather continues, the Himalayan balsam, and giant hog weed, will reach a height of seven or eight feet in a few weeks. It’s not easy photographing animals in eight feet high vegetation.
The Shetland cattle have been moved from the marsh to return when the Himalayan balsam needs to eaten. I must find out why the cattle are not allowed to eat the balsam when it’s young and succulent. I remember the cattle eating the all of the balsam along the corridor to the tenant farmer’s field during the second week of September last year.
I photographed the heron chicks during the second week in June last year. I must make sure that I don’t leave it too late this year. Nature wise, things seem to be happening a couple of weeks later this year. My signal to brave the swampy conditions around the heronry is the clacking noise made by hungry begging chicks, and I haven’t heard any heron chick calls so far this year.
The animals have been busy in the long grass over-night at the south end of the swamp. I counted six newly dug badger latrines; some of the badgers had taken the trouble to cover their droppings, whilst others couldn’t be bothered. I gave up counting the flattened grass beds. It looked like the badgers and muntjacs had a tremendous time. As well as digging latrines, the badgers have been aggressively digging for worms. There was definitely something out of the ordinary happening on the marsh last night; an associated event that I am not aware of must have triggered the increase in activity.
I disturbed an otter as it rooted about in bare soil close the lightning tree, on the east bank of North Pond. I have seen otter paw prints on this site before and an otter in the pond, but not on the bank. There are a few holes here too, which I have assumed belong to rabbits. I have placed a camera trap pointing at these holes on several occasions, but it revealed nothing of interest. I’ve even toyed with the idea of sitting out one night in the hope of seeing something, but I haven’t tried this as yet.
I counted six juvenile tawny owls on branches around the lightning tree, late evenings last week. I posted an owl chick image earlier in the week https://mike585.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/img_4069-13th-may-2012-b.jpg.
On the 6th May, I heard my first cuckoo of this year. I saw a cuckoo, it might have been the same one, in a tree at the north end of North Pond last Monday night.
This afternoon I was at the far south end of the marsh, among the ancient pollarded black poplar trees. I had just finished photographing the blue tits. I was on my hands and knees looking deep into one of many brash piles that we build purposely as wildlife habitats. Earlier, as I waited for the tits to arrive back at their nest, I thought I saw movement in this brash pile; it was very close to where I found the dead weasel recently. https://mike585.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/img_6401-13th-may-2012-b.jpg
Anyway, as I crouched low on the ground, peering into to darkness of the wood pile, I felt vibrations travelling through my fingertips. These grew in intensity to the point where my attention was solely concentrated on the effect and in trying to find its source. I looked around as I felt the vibration through my knee-pads. Seconds passed as I remained puzzled. I was thinking that the source might be underground, when the air around me roared as a big RAF search and rescue helicopter flew directly over me. Needless to say, I didn’t see any wildlife under the brash pile.