Where are the marsh cattle?
20th August 2012: I walked to the River Stour alongside Hoo Brook this morning, and onto the large cast iron water pipes that run past the swamp. I hadn’t been this way for a couple of weeks. My earlier tracks were completely overgrown with six-foot high Himalayan balsam and nettles. Without thorn-proof trousers, it would have been a painful experience, not that it was a bed of roses today. Actually, it was exactly that: a bed of dog-roses! Clearing their thorny tendrils from the pipes at the end of last year was a worthwhile task, though; this years growth is not as thick as last year’s. So, taking the dog-roses into account, together with the large thistles, the tall stinging nettles, the hawthorn bushes, and the long bramble stringers, I was soon wishing I had taken an easier route. An easier route, though, wouldn’t have served my purpose today. I came this way for a reason. I was looking for Old One-eye, the battle-scarred badger, or at least signs that he had passed this way recently. As it happens, I didn’t see him or any indications that he had been anywhere near. I couldn’t see the cast iron pipes, let alone badger runs. I know he spends a lot of time in and around the swamp during winter, but there is probably too much vegetation at the moment, even for this grizzled old marsh veteran: the badger I am mean, not me! 🙂
Actually, I am not too surprised that he hasn’t been foraging in the swamp area lately. Most, if not all the marsh badgers spend the summer months at another location off-marsh; they still forage in the lagoon field from time to time, though. I am expecting them to start drifting back to their marsh setts at anytime now, just as the Himalayan balsam is beginning to thin out.
I am not saying it was hard work making my way to North Pond, but progress was slow, even by my standards. The tall grass seemed to attract and hold on to the hot humid air. I was wet from head to toe, and I hadn’t been through any water yet. The sweat was flowing down the bridge to the tip of my nose, where it dripped at a constant one drip per second. The problem was that I was wearing the wrong clothes for such warm and sticky conditions. Lighter clothes would have meant my being cut to pieces by thorns, bitten by insects and probably stung by bees and hornets. I would rather be soaking wet. Also, I am not keen on spending my evening picking thistle needles from my legs and arms.There were faint tracks through the swamp, made by foxes and a muntjac or two, but I think the larger animals are avoiding this area until the undergrowth dies back a bit.
The foxes are spending most of their time hunting in the lagoon field, the withy wood and in the shorter grass around North Pond. This is no surprise, because this is where most of marsh rabbits live. I expect there are a few muntjac fawns there, too.
The phantom sign robber has been up to his tricks, and the south pool gate was open again. I carry spare notices in my rucksack, so replacing them in not so much of a problem, but leaving the gate open is naughty. If I think of the sign robber as an animal, maybe I will catch him. One day I will come across someone on the marsh complaining that he/she didn’t see any signs. That person might be the phantom!
There is water in the south pool again, a couple inches, not much.
I followed the south fence through the orchid field, to check on the cattle in a field close to Wilden Lane and Hilary Road. The cows weren’t there! I checked the wood, they weren’t in there either. My mind flashed back to the open gate at the south pool, but there are two more locked gates beyond this and I checked those earlier. The graziers usually inform me of cattle movements on or off the marsh. There is a corral in the field I was expecting to find the cows, and both gates were open, when they would normally be closed. There is an access gate leading onto Wilden Lane, too: this was locked. So either the graziers had removed the cows without telling me, or they were hiding somewhere else in the the orchid field, or the middle wood. Failing this, they must have been stolen.
I forgot to mention that the orchid field is very boggy, less so now that the south pool is empty, but it’s still pretty much water logged. One of the cows must have sunk into the mud, because my wellie booted leg went straight down the hole, right up to my knee. I don’t normally fall into water filled holes. On the whole, I am reasonably sure footed. So my left boot was full of mud and water. I had planned on emptying it when I reached drier ground; then I realised the cows weren’t where they were supposed to be.
Anyway, I emptied my boot of smelly, muddy water and:
Going on a cow hunt
Gonna catch a big one
I’m not afraid!
What’s that up ahead?
Oh no! Tall grass
Can’t go over it
Can’t go under it
Gotta go through it
Swish, swish swish
What a beautiful day. . . .
The cows were hiding at the edge of the middle wood.
Walking along the beach, I saw a reddy-brown animal running from the the north pasture into the withy wood. I thought it was a fox at first, but it was another big rabbit, bigger than the one dicing with the fox earlier this month. Where are they coming from? It wasn’t a hare, it was a rabbit, with a proper flashing white tail and floppy ears. Hares have longer back legs and more angular facial features. Actually, the more I think about it now, perhaps it was a hare. . . .