Yesterday evening I went down to the marsh. I walked across the Lagoon Field, through the North Corral and down the ramp. The cattle were stretch out in Hoo Brook Corridor, taking it easy, seemingly without a care in the world, they are on an extended holiday, pleasing themselves what they eat and do. Everything they need is within easy reach: water, shade, soft swamp grass to sleep on, and me to check that they are ok. It was a hot evening with butterflies flitting away from underfoot and chasing each other all over the place. The cattle have access to the Swamp, North Riverside Pasture, Hoo Brook Pasture and Corridor, Northern Corridor, the Corral and North Pond. The herd have no need to hurry and no need to stress, and why should they? It’s not as if I am asking them to subsist on a diet of thistle and bramble. It’s the growing season, and this year the marsh is actually allowed to grow and seed, and believe me there is a massive amount of seed on the marsh at the moment.
When I’m out and about on the Reserve during the growing season, I wear wellies, thick trousers, long-sleeved shirt, a hat, gloves, and am liberally sprayed with insect repellent. If I don’t dress appropriately, the insects think I am a meal. When the Rangers visit they wear tee shirts and shorts and I don’t know how they get away with it. Some people just don’t attract biting insects, or they are bitten so often that they no longer care.
Anyway, from the bottom of the ramp I looked into Hoo Brook Pasture, at a cluster of creeping thistles growing on the brook bank behind the stock fence. The creeping thistles were releasing their seeds into a light breeze. A flock of goldfinches chatted excitedly and feasted feverously on thistle seed heads. I had my Canon 750d with me, fitted with a 60mm macro lens. I tried to get close enough for a photograph the colourful finches, but they all flew away into the trees well before I was able to get anywhere near enough to use my camera.
This evening I took my 7d fitted with a 150 to 500mm lens to the marsh with me; there was not a single goldfinch close enough to be seen or photographed – I could hear them chattering in the treetops. I saw two torts on the ground in front of me: a youngster and a beat-up, well-worn, female. I felt like I had something in common with that female. I felt that I understood what it must be like to be continually fighting against the odds. I guess we all feel like this sometimes. With the marsh vegetation now at hip to shoulder height, the hot weather, and brambles crisscrossing in all directions, it’s a struggle to make headway through it all, but it is a beautiful sight.
I set off to find the cattle. They weren’t in North Riverside Pasture, they weren’t anywhere around North Pond and they weren’t in North Pasture. I walked down the Northern Corridor, and the weren’t there. I went back to Hoo Brook Pasture and the cattle weren’t there either, and the goldfinches weren’t dining on creeping thistle seeds tonight – at least not when I was anywhere near. I thought of the female tort, and battled on.
I walked back along the Northern Corridor and stood on the bank, looking down into Swamp. Everything was quiet, I caught a whiff of burning, which really sent my senses reeling. Was the burning smell from the marsh, or was it drifting down from the industrial or residential estates? I couldn’t find or see any evidence of a fire, but I did spy Wayne and Waynetta B. Galloway sailing calmly through the tall swamp grass. I thought of the beat-up female tort again, and battled on. I waited and sniffed the air. The burning smell had disappeared and there wasn’t any sign of smoke. I went home!
An hour later I took my dog, Spike, out for his evening walk along Hoo Wood Ridge. I looked down onto the marsh and all seemed to be well there. I could see the cattle in the Swamp. Time for a couple of cold beers, and life isn’t so hard after all.