Time to take account!

(Click on images to enlarge)

Puffballs

Puffball

16th May 2012: We have wild carrots, turnips, garlic, mustard and a surfeit of Canada geese on the marsh at the moment. If potatoes grew here too, I would have all the ingredients for a decent marsh Sunday dinner. Stuffing one of the five good-sized puffballs that are growing at the edge of the swamp, with something tasty – pheasant, rabbit and duck, perhaps – would make an excellent mouth-watering snack.

In the days before Wilden Village shop, I imagine the local peasants who scraped a living by taking advantage of the natural things around them, might tell their better halves that they were off down the marsh to gather the Sunday dinner.

View across a shallow section of North Pond.

View across the narrowest part of the marsh nesting area.

A lot of rain has fallen on the marsh during the past eight weeks; not that I am complaining. I am happy enough as long as it’s sunny and dry when I am on holiday. It’s noticeable that the thick mass of four feet high vegetation is pulling more water from the ground than the rain can replace. The marsh water levels have dropped by around 100mm in seven days. In May of last year, we were praying for rain. If the wet weather continues, the Himalayan balsam, and giant hog weed, will reach a height of seven or eight feet in a few weeks. It’s not easy photographing animals in eight feet high vegetation.

The Shetland cattle have been moved from the marsh to return when the Himalayan balsam needs to eaten. I must find out why the cattle are not allowed to eat the balsam when it’s young and succulent. I remember the cattle eating the all of the balsam along the corridor to the tenant farmer’s field during the second week of September last year.

Red Comfrey.

White comfrey.

I photographed the heron chicks during the second week in June last year. I must make sure that I don’t leave it too late this year. Nature wise, things seem to be happening a couple of weeks later this year. My signal to brave the swampy conditions around the heronry is the clacking noise made by hungry begging chicks, and I haven’t heard any heron chick calls so far this year.

The animals have been busy in the long grass over-night at the south end of the swamp. I counted six newly dug badger latrines; some of the badgers had taken the trouble to cover their droppings, whilst others couldn’t be bothered. I gave up counting the flattened grass beds. It looked like the badgers and muntjacs had a tremendous time. As well as digging latrines, the badgers have been aggressively digging for worms. There was definitely something out of the ordinary happening on the marsh last night; an associated event that I am not aware of must have triggered the increase in activity.

Wild garlic and  mustard and garlic plants.

Wild turnip.

I disturbed an otter as it rooted about in bare soil close the lightning tree, on the east bank of North Pond. I have seen otter paw prints on this site before and an otter in the pond, but not on the bank. There are a few holes here too, which I have assumed belong to rabbits. I have placed a camera trap pointing at these holes on several occasions, but it revealed nothing of interest. I’ve even toyed with the idea of sitting out one night in the hope of seeing something, but I haven’t tried this as yet.

I counted six juvenile tawny owls on branches around the lightning tree, late evenings last week. I posted an owl chick image earlier in the week https://mike585.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/img_4069-13th-may-2012-b.jpg.

On the 6th May, I heard my first cuckoo of this year. I saw a cuckoo, it might have been the same one, in a tree at the north end of North Pond last Monday night.

This afternoon I was at the far south end of the marsh, among the ancient pollarded black poplar trees. I had just finished photographing the blue tits. I was on my hands and knees looking deep into one of many brash piles that we build purposely as wildlife habitats. Earlier, as I waited for the tits to arrive back at their nest, I thought I saw movement in this brash pile; it was very close to where I found the dead weasel recently. https://mike585.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/img_6401-13th-may-2012-b.jpg

RAF search and rescue helicopter flying low over the marsh.

Anyway, as I crouched low on the ground, peering into to darkness of the wood pile, I felt vibrations travelling through my fingertips. These grew in intensity to the point where my attention was solely concentrated on the effect and in trying to find its source. I looked around as I felt the vibration through my knee-pads. Seconds passed as I remained puzzled. I was thinking that the source might be underground, when the air around me roared as a big RAF search and rescue helicopter flew directly over me. Needless to say, I didn’t see any wildlife under the brash pile.

Otter spraint.

(Click on image to enlarge)

14th April 2012: A few people have asked me lately, what otter spraint looks like. Well, this is what otter spraint looks like. If you are not sure, break the spraint up in the palm of your hand. If it smells sweet, perhaps a like lavender, it is otter spraint. If it smells awful, it is mink spraint.

Otter spraint.

What the otter had for dinner.

5th April 2012: It was a Wilden Marsh workday today, and this was found on the riverbank, by Mike Averill, the Worcestershire Dragonfly Recorder. After much discussion and consultation, we decided that the unfortunate fish was a pike, but we were not absolutely sure. Is it, a pike or a salmon? Someone will confirm, either way, in due course.

Having now looked at the photographs, I think it is a pike.

The fish was quite smelly, so it had been on the bank for a while.

I know these images are a little gory, but this is what happens in nature.

I would have liked to have seen the otter grapple with this carnivore. At a guess, I would estimate the pike’s length at around 600mm (2 feet).

Otters, mink, frogs and kingfishers.

Frog and toad spawn.

10th March 2012: … I found frog spawn in various standing waters around the marsh this morning, but toad spawn only in North Pond. Some of the toad spawn is overlaid with frog spawn. There isn’t much spawn about at the moment, it’s the very beginning of the frog and toad breeding season, but the amount will increase daily over the next week.

Otter Holt.

Most of the river bank vegetation having now died right back, enabled me to see what had been hidden behind it. An opportunity to look for otter holts, and it is possible that I have found two. However, one of the holes might belong to a mink, and will need further investigation. The probable otter holt is newly dug, near the top of a high secluded river bank, and right next to a tree trunk. There is a feint track running down to the river from holt. Since the holt is in the opposite river bank,  I wasn’t able to see otter footprints, even with the aid of my binoculars, the foreground was strewn with dead leaves.

Possible Mink Burrow.

The possible mink hole is in the side of a lower river bank, and the entrance is a little smaller than that of the otter holt. Both holes might require some night-time watching.

I think there are two kingfisher territories along the marsh section of the River Stour and one along Hoo Brook. I have found two kingfisher burrows in the banks of the Stour, but I haven’t found any along Hoo Brook.


Otters on the marsh! So what’s next?

These might be the beginnings of the first blooms on the marsh this year.

19th February 2012:  Having established that at least one otter is active along the marsh section of the River Stour, and because of its protected status, it is sensible to minimise disturbance close to the river during marsh workdays. I think, though, we would need to be cutting trees down along the river bank, or at the edge of the wood bordering the corridor to the tenant farmer’s field, or interfering with brash piles in the area of the corridor, before there would be any risk of disturbing otters that “might” be in residence close by.

View into the swamp.

Otters will set up home in a quiet, secluded place close to water; in a pipe or hole, perhaps; under a brash pile, maybe; or along the banks of rivers and streams, and close to a lake or pond. Often, the holt is screened by tree roots, or something else that will help obscure the entrance. An otter does not always live below ground; it will sometimes rest above ground on a “couch.” A “couch” can be flattened vegetation, or a lie-up under a brash pile or under fallen logs.

View into the swamp.

75% to 95% of a freshwater otter’s diet is fish – any fish, I don’t think it has a preference. Otters will, if necessary, eat frogs, ground-nesting birds, beetles and ducks, as part of its 1.5 kilo daily food requirement. Small fish are eaten in the water, and large prey is dragged onto dry ground and eaten. Otters are mainly nocturnal animals. In quiet and undisturbed areas, they are active during the day.

The recent otter activity on the marsh could all be down to a transient, or a succession of transients, but it might signify the presence of breeding bitch. It could be that the marsh is a small part of a dog otter’s home range, which might encompass 40 kilometres of waterway, and he could have a number of holts and couches within his territory. Females have smaller home ranges.

Middle section of North Pond.

Male and female otters usually only come together to mate. One of the signs that mating might be occurring within an area, is the discovery of spraints in prominent places like on rocks, logs and fallen branches, and on grassy mounds. These spraints mark the otter’s territory. Otter spraints are black when fresh and sweet smelling – a little like lavender. Mink spraints smell horrible. I regularly find otter and mink spraints along the large water pipes, and around North Pond.

South end of the withy wood.

The male otter plays no part in rearing of cubs and is driven from the holt, by the female, before the young are born.

Otters breed all year round. With a gestation period of 63 days, the bitch will give birth to two or three toothless and blind cubs. These will remain helpless for up to six weeks and will not be allowed in the water before they are three to four months old. They will stay with their mother for up to a year.

So, the possible presence of breeding pair of otters on the marsh is added to my list of things to look out for and to confirm, if possible.