Thistling Month.

Sunrise: 04.52 Sunset: 09.34

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Shetland cow eating Himalayan balsam in Hoo Wood Pasture, on Wilden Marsh.

It is said that cattle are not selective grazers; they are on the marsh where Himalayan balsam is concerned, to the exclusion of all other vegetation until the balsam is eaten – which I have to say I’m pleased about. I would like the balsam eaten as soon as possible.

The Riverside Pasture is free of balsam for the time being, but is now chockablock with thistles and nettles; although these are preferable to balsam, they spread like wildfire. The saying goes: “Cut the thistle in June and it’s a month too soon. Cut the thistle in July and it will surely die.”  So July should be thistling month, but it is a matter of having sufficient resources to get the job done. Anyway, it will take a few years to get this prickly weed under control. It is too late for the cattle to sort out the thistle problem in the RS pasture this year, and they might not even eat the thistle unless it is cut first. If this is true, we will have to train them to eat it uncut.

We could mow the Riverside Pasture and the Northern Corridor, but it is more beneficial to use cattle: their footfall is so much smaller, lighter, and far better for the ground and flora, and they are less disruptive. Give me cattle instead of the flail any day; they also trample seeds well into the topsoil. However, we don’t want to overgraze and it is not likely that we will ever find a perfect grazing solution for Wilden Marsh. Fortunately, perfection is not the name of the game here: keeping things turning over whilst improvements are being made is about the best that can be achieved in the short term. I’m not saying, either, that we will be able to do without flailing, but we will try to minimise it.

This is the first year the cattle have grazed the far northern end of the marsh, so it is wrong to expect miracles at such an early stage.

We’ll see how things progress.

When the cattle have finished in Hoo Brook Pasture, hopefully by the end of next week, they can take on the shoulder high long grass and thistles in the Northern Corral and Corridor. Drinking water is short here so rain and a few puddles would be useful, unless we allow them access to North Pond.

Who is the Culprit?

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Apple Blossom.

Our weather has been marvellous over the last few weeks; it has encouraged nature to get a move on. According to the weather forecasters, changes will occur tomorrow: clouds  and rain will predominate. It will be cooler, too. I guess life can’t be good all the time.

The marsh and Hoo Wood are leafing-up nicely. Birds are nesting; vixens are tending their cubs; cattle are happily chewing new grass, and wild plant blooms are appearing all over the place. Himalayan balsam is gearing-up to deny our native plants their fair share of sunlight and nutrients. I have great hopes of the cattle solving this problem before the tear is out. We have done our best to give them easy access to affected areas; success now depends on them finding balsam tastier than sweet new grass.

Evenings on the marsh are best at this time of year. The biting insects are not yet active, but they are in Hoo Wood. I feel excitement in the air. Unfortunately, two colds in a row have robbed me of my sense of smell; I am not able to  smell spring, or foxes. I pass the north marsh vixen’s den regularly, during early and late evenings, and have caught sight of the dog fox doing his duty delivering takeaways to the vixen. I’m glad to report that the red dog is delivering proper wholesome food to his lady-love, and not burgers.

Late Tuesday evening I disturbed an otter mooching about in the shallow south end of the North Pond Chain. I could have kicked myself for my carelessness; it raced off through the fence and dived into the river. For all I know it was on its way to my living otter holt, but it might just as well  have been returning from it; I will never know now. It’s about the right time for an otter bitch to be on the lookout for a decent holt. I’m trying my best to keep well away so as not to leave my scent anywhere near it. Any otter in the vicinity will easily pick up my scent around the pond, which won’t bother her unduly, but she is unlikely to take up residence if the holt is even faintly tinged with eau de Wilden Marsh Mike.

Some unthinking person has cut the northern corridor stock fence from top to bottom. Why would someone do this? A grudge action, perhaps, or is it that they just don’t have sufficient brain cells to appreciate the potential consequences of cattle roaming a busy road? A gap large enough to drive a horse and cart through has been cut in the main perimeter fence along Wilden Lane also. The culprit might be using the marsh as a shortcut to the canal towpath.

Come to think of it, I was told by a disgruntled “nature lover/birder” I came across on the marsh last year, with his unleashed pack of dogs racing about everywhere, that if a hole in the Wilden Lane perimeter fence was ever repaired, he would cut it again. So the birder might be responsible – he didn’t seem too smart to me.

Blind. 

Sunrise: 06.58   Sunset: 05.45

Last summer, at the northern end of the marsh, before the mass tree felling, I selected a small willow thicket to use as living scaffolding for a blind (hide). I cleared the area around it during August and September, and piled the brash close by in preparation for the construction work to be completed before spring of this year.

Using long slender willow, alder and birch saplings cut last year, I wove a shoulder-high blind yesterday in amongst the thick willow poles of the thicket. I piled dried brambles and various rotting vegetation against the outer woven walls to help mask my scent when I am in residence. It surprises me that I actually managed to compete the structure before spring takes hold; I’m usually short of time for this type of activity. The north marsh animals have lived with contractors working in their territories since November last year, so I don’t think they will give my blind a second thought.

I now have a commanding view of the area around the North Pond Chain, and am able to appreciate it from the comfort of a purpose-built hide, albeit a basic ground level design.

The River Stour flows south a few metres from the west bank of the pond, and the blind is on the eastern bank. I can watch and photograph animals without them being aware of me, as well as stow my photographic gear out of sight. Also, there is often a stiff cold breeze blowing down the river, so the hide will offer some degree of protection against that. There are still a few things that have to be  done, like installing the fittings from which to hang my hammock seat in a willow alcove I have created. The blind is functional, though, and I will be able to use it as the evenings get lighter.

Toads hoping to mate  will start arriving at the pond in just over a week, and March is the peak fox cubbing month. The dog fox will be hard pressed hunting for himself and his vixen, so I expect I will see him often around the pond, and his vixen in six weeks time. I haven’t found the North marsh vixen’s den yet, but I guess there will be one nearby.

At the moment, the ground along the eastern bank of the pond chain, the northern corridor, and the Hoo Brook Pasture is churned soil, but it will all green-up shortly.

I should have taken a few photographs, but I didn’t expect to writing a post about the blind. The next time I’m down there, I will take a few photographs and post them.

This image is from four years ago.

North Marsh Nursing Vixen.

North Marsh Nursing Vixen.

Buzzards Building a Nest.

Sunrise: 06.58   Sunset: 05.45

I saw a couple of buzzards building a nest in Dark Wood this morning. They were dropping branches on the top of a broken standing tree trunk covered in Ivy. If the female does nest here, it is in an ideal position for filming and photographing the development of the chicks. It is the first time I have found a nest this early in the breeding season, so I will be keeping a close eye on it.

These images are from a few years ago.