Sunrise: 05.04 Sunset: 09.09
Last night I dreamt I was back in the summer of 2010, on a warm evening bathed in golden sunlight.I sat in a large holly bush hide, on the eastern bank of the River Stour, overlooking North Pond. A long camouflaged lens poked through dense holly foliage. I was waiting for the north marsh vixen. I had excellent views of the far bank and connected areas around the pond. I spent many days and evening watching wildlife from this vantage point.
I realised two things, that balmy evening: North Pond area would respond well to sympathetic improvement and ongoing management, and that I had a burgeoning interest in the wildlife using it.
From my hide I watched and photographed actions, interactions and reactions of fauna and flora throughout the seasons, in daylight, and in darkness through my night vision scope. The ground around the pond was not then overgrown with the mass of small trees and saplings that are there now. Regular wildlife action ensured my continued interest and provided enough incentive and reward to help me endure those long hours inside an often drafty and wet natural hide. Not only did I see animal activity in and around the pond, I was also able to watch wildlife action on the river immediately behind my hide. In fact, I could have fished the river and watched the pond without leaving the holly bush. I regularly heard the dull thuds of cormorants diving for fish in the Stour. When I was not using the hide, the owls made good use of it.
It didn’t take me long to learn the animals’ routines, and I soon found myself predicting their movements. I knew when the marsh foxes might arrive, from which direction, and their likely hunting strategies. I am familiar with the swamp muntjac deer, their foraging routes, and location of their day beds. I can point out tawny owl perches, and trees frequented by great spotted and green woodpeckers. I am able to identify spore of badger, otter, mink, pheasant, deer, fox, and many small animals that lurk in dark places. I know which day to welcome mating toads to North Pond, and how long they will stay. All this knowledge has enabled me to build a detailed mental picture of life around the pond.
There is usually a good reason an owl might prefer a particular perch. Being a night hunter, it will be hungry by early evening. It might seem to be dozing on its perch in the fading evening light, but it is probably listening out for prey. I have watched owls in trees close to the pond, apparently asleep, suddenly flick their eyes open and with a practiced falling forward from the perch action, spread their wings to swoop noiselessly and gracefully on the prey.
I sat amongst trees near the pond on more than one occasion, eating my lunch, watching the ground around my feet erupt and spit out mice in all directions. They emerged from holes, half a dozen to a dozen at a time, one after another – little furry four-footed maniacs scampering for their lives. A weasel in their underground nest is probably the cause of them leaving in such a hurry. Suffice to say that there are plenty of mice on the north marsh, and many animals trying to catch and eat them. The kestrel perches are close to clear ground, so that it is able to see and attack prey emerging from thick vegetation.
The marsh is all about variety, balance, and sustainability. It’s not a good thing having too many mice and rats – or too much of anything else that walks, swims, crawls, talks, flies, barks, or grows – without enough water and food being available to sustain life, or prey animals to maintain a balance. The marsh cattle try their best to deal with the vegetation.
The lifeblood of the marsh is its water, and this needs constant management and maintenance; when left to its own devices, ditches will silt up and sluices will fall into disrepair or disappear all together, leaving specialised marsh plants to struggle or die. Even the River Stour has two rock weirs to control the water levels along the section flowing through the marsh. The south weir was installed in 2010 only to be destroyed by rubbish rafts rushing downstream when the river is in flood. A new and more robust weir, installed last year, has improved water levels.
The North Pond area is wildly overgrown with birch, willow and elder saplings; brambles and small trees. The owls, no longer being able to see their prey, have moved to more fruitful hunting grounds. It is because of the owls and a general reduction in wildlife activity around the pond, that I decided to do something to reverse the deterioration. It wasn’t until the end of last year that I was in able to get properly stuck in. I started a once-a-month Sunday work party to get the improvement plan underway. Overgrowth is a common problem all over the north marsh, but we now have many of the necessary resources in place to make a big difference within the very near future.
Ah well! Time to end this post; it’s already too long. I get carried away.