Old One-eye might have left me a sign!

22nd August 2012: Badgers dig latrines that are around 75 mm deep by 100 – 150 mm square. Some are larger, and others are smaller. It depends on the size of the badger I suppose.

Yesterday afternoon I continued my search for signs of Old One-eye by inspecting the animal runs across the lagoon field, around the withy wood and along the boundary fence that borders the east side of the swamp. I found three fresh latrines in separate areas of the field. One of them was definitely dug and used by a large badger. I mapped the route as best I could, but it led onto a wide vehicular access track from which there were quite a few animal runs leading off on both sides into the undergrowth. I wasn’t able to tell which one the badger might have taken. Not to worry, at least I have something to work with.

I am carrying out my search well away from the marsh setts. For one thing, the badgers might not be in residence and if this is so, I don’t want to delay their return by blatantly leaving my calling card on their door steps. The largest latrine is on a run at least half a mile from the setts, so I will use a camera trap to help identify the animals that pass along it. From experience, foxes, badgers and muntjac use each other’s runs, so camera trapping is only one tool in the chest. I already know that a badger has used the track; I just want to know if it’s One-eye.

I’m not sure if a badger latrine in the middle of a run will deter other animals from using the track, or whether the badger will use it again.

When a pheasant uses a badger’s run, for instance, a fox might soon pick up the scent and trot along after it. Even if the scent is fifteen minutes old, the fox will reason that the familiar smell will eventually lead to a welcome meal. This fox behaviour is most apparent after a snowfall. The pheasant’s arrow-like footprints will stretch out into the distance, and alongside them will be the unmistakable paw prints of a fox. The fox knows the pheasant will most likely dawdle, pecking at this and that. All the fox has to do is get its jaws within striking distance. If and when the fox lays eyes on the pheasant, it will size-up the situation and decide upon a strategy. It might move around the bird in a large circle in order to ambush it, as I have witnessed happening often enough on the marsh. It depends on how good a stalker the fox believes itself to be.

An animal picking up my fresh scent might decide not to venture onto a track down which I had recently walked.

The procedure I will follow when placing a camera trap on any animal run, is as follows:

1. To hide my scent I will smear my camera trap with fresh mud, or rub it in the undergrowth.

2. I will approach the run/track diagonally, placing the camera in position as I’m crossing it, without stopping.

I find this technique is particularly useful when placing a camera trap at the start of the day, to be retrieved later when on the way home. If the camera and the local area are smelling strongly of me, I’m not going to get any images.

An animal is less likely to be alerted by human smells if it lives among us; the urban fox being a good example. In an area where human are not so common, a fox or other animal will be alerted by our unfamiliar scent – as a petrol smell in a bedroom might alert us.

Most animals can be conditioned to loose their fear of people.

There were plenty of dragonflies on North Pond today.

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Munjac Deer.

14th April 2012: I have hoped to get a glimpse of the swam muntjac deer for a while now. I see their fresh tracks every time I am on the marsh. They can walk on last year’s brittle Himalayan balsam stalks without making a noise. They are very difficult to see, unless stumbled upon.

I set up a remote camera on Friday evening, at a point where two tracks crossed, in an attempt to see which animals used them. I expected images of a fox or a badger, but got an image of a muntjac deer.

When on my way home yesterday evening, I stumbled upon a couple of munjac deer walking along the water pipes. I know these are not  good images, but beggars can’t be choosers!

R.I.P. Poncey.

Poncey and the Rabbit.

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15th September 2011: I am hiding amongst trees at the north end of North Pond, settling down to a bit of watching and waiting – a fun thing to do, if you have the time. The evening light is beginning to fade. Something has spooked a cock pheasant at the far end of the line of trees that extend to the electricity pylon. This is where Poncey lives; he spends a lot of time close to that pylon, roosting in an oak tree. The pheasant’s squawking is getting louder as he closes in on my hiding place. He is flying low over the pond. He is turning towards an open area of ground to the east of the pond, close to the five-bar access gate to the lagoon field. This is one of Poncey’s favourite places. I watched him doing his courting there earlier in the year, and I have kept a close eye on him ever since. He could be found perched in his oak tree most evenings. He always made a hasty and noisy exit when he saw me approaching, though. Over time, I have managed to creep increasingly closer to his tree before he sees me.

Anyway, the pheasant, most likely it is Poncey, has landed in the area next to the five-bar-gate. I could see his head bobbing above the grass a few seconds ago, but I can’t see him at all now! I can hear him making a terrible noise, though. A noise I have heard many times on the marsh. Now everything is quiet. I quickly climb up the tree I was leaning against, to get a better view. I already have an inkling of what might be happening, and it’s just as I thought! Two marsh foxes are running off towards the lagoon field fence, one of them with the pheasant firmly clamped in its jaws. Poncey’s head is flopping about all over the place. The fox carrying Poncey is scrabbling under the fence. The second fox is already on the lagoon side and quickly snatches the bird from the other fox’s mouth. They are now running to Withy Wood, where they will eat poor old Poncey. The marsh foxes obviously find that hunting as a pair works well for them. The foxes carry large prey to the privacy of Withy Wood to eat it.

Poncey was a large pheasant, and I considered him a smart pheasant. Any bird has to be very careful where it lands, particularly at this time of year. Hiding-out in an oak tree was one of Poncey’s better ideas, but landing in any area close the North Pond, without checking it out first, is very definitely not recommended. The North Pond is a favourite hunting place for the marsh foxes.

I have checked Poncey’s tree on a couple of occasions since, and his absence is proof enough for me: he is dead!

This episode proves that getting too involved with a wild animal is not a good idea: it will end in disappointment. It also shows the folly of investing a lot of time studying a single wild animal: it will either drop dead, or another animal will eat it.

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Foxes, Marsh Cattle and Muntjacs.

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Hoverfly.

11th September 2011: The marsh cattle have done a marvellous job of removing the Himalayan balsam from the bank of the River Stour, that runs along the edge of the corridor to the tenant farmer’s field. The balsam has blocked my view of the river for many months and the cattle have eaten it all, plus they have reduced the height of the grass and other vegetation to around 75mm, in only a few days. They have not eaten the stinging nettle stalks, but they have eaten its leaves.

The foxes have been busy: four pigeons, one buzzard and a heron have fallen foul of the foxes’ jaws. I found a few heron tail feathers on the edge North Pond. I thought that the fox had surprised the heron and managed to bite its bum, but ended-up with a mouth full of tail feathers for its trouble. My assumption proved  incorrect when I found the heron’s wings and feathers further on along the marsh.  The wings with a few strands of flesh and gristle attached were all that remained of the buzzard, and a cloud of flies gorged on the juicy bits.

The trees overhanging the river on the bank opposite the corridor to the tenant farmer’s field where alive with tits, mostly great tits, and they were surprisingly hyper-active and vocal. They flitted from branch to branch and tree to tree in a very excited way. I wondered if this might be a feeding frenzy, but after watching them for a while, I doubted that this was the case.

I changed the memory card in my fox-cam this afternoon. I have posted a few of the images taken on Friday and Saturday night in the slide show below, and these include foxes, muntjacs and a naughty badger.

The pesky camera fiddling badger has been a nuisance again. I can’t see what  he finds so interesting about my remote camera.

Although my fox-cam is on duty to continuously monitor foxes, I think that every animal on the marsh has passed its lens at one time or another.

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Pete’s question: “How much of the wildlife on Wilden Marsh actually lives there continuously?”

This is a good question, but I don’t know that I have a definitive answer.

I think it is safe to say that many of the animals seen on Wilden Marsh are transient.

Marsh fox.

Marsh Vixen.

Take the fox as an example of typical marsh resident. I started photographing the marsh foxes at the beginning of April. Now April is usually the time when the cubs begin to venture above ground. The vixen is supposed to be weaning her cubs at the end of April, and the dog fox is supposed to be protecting them from marauding cats attracted to the cubs’ squeaking.  The dog fox and vixen, whom I photographed with my phone camera, were definitely lounging about and treating themselves to a bit of good old-fashioned relaxation therapy ( http://atomic-temporary-19456464.wpcomstaging.com/2011/04/27/foxes-around-the-north-pond/_). So these adult foxes must have left their cubs alone in their earth, whilst they were now out enjoying an adult foxes’ jolly.

Damselfly.

In October, the family ties begin to break down, and the foxes start to disperse in preparation for the new breeding season. So foxes are welcome all  and year marsh residents that make their living by hunting and killing rabbits, pigeon, and pheasants, mostly, but they will eat any small animal that they are able to catch. Dog foxes will have to be prepared to  fight to keep control of their territory ( http://atomic-temporary-19456464.wpcomstaging.com/2011/05/04/foxes-foxes-and-more-foxes/).

Buzzards, magpies, herons, pigeons, the green woodpecker, blackbirds and tits seem to be on the marsh throughout the year, as are rabbits and badgers. The cormorants have disappeared completely. Pheasants are few and far between now, although I did see a cock pheasant roosting in a tree last night, and I haven’t seen a mallard for over a month. I haven’t seen a great spotted woodpecker for a while, either.

Muntjac deer.

Muntjac deer.

The muntjac deer are difficult to see at the best of times. In the winter, when the ground cover is low, there is a better chance of catching a glimpsing of them; they move very quietly through the long grass at this time of the year. I see these small deer on the marsh throughout the year, but this doesn’t mean that I am seeing the same individuals. I think that when the they find their surroundings quiet and comfortable, they are likely to stay-put for longer. The continued presence of unleashed dogs on the marsh will drive some of the more timid muntjacs from the reserve. The bucks might move to different local areas more readily than the does.

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is trying to encourage wading birds to nest on the southern end of the marsh. They have carried out a lot of work to make an area suitable for this purpose. Wading birds that are successfully attracted to the marsh will fly somewhere else at the end of the nesting season. This is the way it goes: you have your resident animals and you have those that come to the marsh to breed, and also those that come for their holidays.

During the November, December, January and February, a lot of different bird calls emanate from the withy wood in the lagoon field. During the winter evening when I am walking my dog through Hoo Wood, I hear coots, various owls, snipe, woodcock, mallards and teal. During the summer, when the wooded area has dried out, all these birds move out.

I hope this goes some way to answering your question, Pete. Please let me know if you require further clarification.

Most of the photographs in the side-show below were taken with a remote camera on 11th and 12th July.

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