Wilden Marsh Scavengers

I Like sitting in trees during March, April and May. I don’t perch high-up on lofty boughs, and I’m not mad or in any way deranged. Trees are great places from which to observe nature in comfort. Eavesdropping on marsh animal activity with camera traps is useful, but it’s far more exciting being there to watch the action in real-time.

Keeping still for long periods is not always comfortable, but I can manage well enough when I am watching nature with a definite target in mind. I prefer sitting in trees on warm evenings: 6pm to 9pm is my favourite time slot. My tree sitting forays are restricted to Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest so you won’t come across me sitting or swinging amongst the birds on another local nature reserve.

Sitting in trees during spring is an excellent way of observing the marsh breeding season build-up. Wildlife goes about its evening activities entirely oblivious for my ogling presence because my scent is wafted through the canopy rather than along the ground.

A swing chair securely tied to a suitably stout branch adds significantly to comfort, stealth, and range of movement. When light is good enough, a camera and a long lens accompany me. When the evening light fades, I use my infra-red night-scope to scan the area.

Tree choice is of great importance. Tall trees with single trunks and high canopies are not for me; my ageing body is incapable of hauling itself to anything remotely like a great height. No, my preference is for hefty, multi-trunked, coppiced trees that are easily climbed. Lots of leaf cover and sufficient branches from which to hang a camouflage net is also good. Once ensconced in a tree, I am usually comfortable for the duration – honestly!

Anyway, the purpose of this long-winded preamble is to set the scene for a fantastic sight I witnessed one dark evening in Hoo Wood Pasture.

So, I’m watching the world go by from a comfortable swing chair. Do you have that image in your mind?

I remember it was a cold, dark and still evening. Wailing ambulance sirens and honking car horns disturbed the quiet of the night. Headlight beams from cars turning onto Wilden Lane swept across the pasture. Roaming deer, badgers and the occasional fox took no notice of the pervading human cacophony. As far as the marsh animals are concerned, the boundary fences are there to keep the human animals out. Shouts, excited voices, and the usual urban evening noises are muted as they roll down the steep bank from McDonald’s and are dissipated around the pasture.

My scanning night scope revealed a long line of blinking pairs of tiny eyes moving quickly in single file from Hoo Brook to a badger sett twenty-five metres from my tree. There was also an extended and almost parallel line of tiny eyes moving in the opposite direction towards Hoo Brook. I knew immediately that the eyes belonged to rats!

A badger died in its sett, and this rat horde is the official dead body disposal team! The corpse is quickly and wholly disposed of by the rats. Dismembered bones appear at the sett entrance when the rats have finished their grizzly task. I’m assuming rats were responsible for removing the bones from the sett. If the culprit were a fox, it would have eaten the bones. The bones did disappear eventually, and I put this down to a fox, but another badger might well have eaten them.

I kept the badger’s skull in memory of the poor creature. A couple of badger’s skull images are featured at the start of the video.

Two days later, I placed a camera trap close to the sett. How long it takes a well-organised rat horde to dispose of a dead badger’s carcass, I am not sure, but I suspect it is a pretty quick process. By the time I had set up a camera trap close to the sett a couple of days later, only a few rats were left mopping up.

When I watched from the tree, the rats were streaming in and out of the sett. Below is the video from two days later:

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