27th March 2012: I was on the marsh at 05:30 this evening, and this was my first fox stalking evening of this year. It was a beautifully sunny evening, too. I was in my full foxing kit: camouflage netting over my head, held in place with my wallaby hat; light green shirt of many pockets; light brown trouser; grey boots that the foxes think are rabbits; and netting gloves to stop my hands signalling like rabbit tails. Even my camera and lens were dressed in camouflage netting.
If this vixen hasn’t got a den full of cubs near by, I’ll eat my wallaby hat!
On the lagoon side of North Pond, big beefy rabbits were grazing and frolicking on Poncey’s parade ground, flashing their white backed tails for all to see. Preening their feathers on the grassy bank just below the rabbits, were three mallards. One or both of the marsh foxes couldn’t miss those large flashing rabbit tails, and the mallards seemed to be asking for a visit. It was the flashing rabbit tails that attracted my attention in the first place.
I stood very still and made like I was a bush, and waited. Within five minutes, I saw the vixen’s red coat in the grass. The rabbits scattered, and fox wandered towards the pond and the mallards. She just had to have a go, but it was no more than a half-hearted lunge; I think she just wanted to frighten them.
The vixen wandered about in the long grass for a while and appeared totally unaware that I was there, which is how it should be. Her ears twitched each time I pressed the shutter button, though, and once or twice she glanced in my direction. If she had sensed my presence, she would have bolted.
26th marsh 2012: Below are a few marsh bloom images from last weekend:
24th March 2012: My Saturday morning started early: walking in Hoo Wood with Spike through cold mist. I was hoping to make a sunny image of the lagoon field and North Pond for the header of this blog, but I couldn’t see the marsh let alone photograph it.
I took Spike through Dark Wood for the first time in months. A person really needs a good reason to enter this wood during mid and late summer: bramble bushes, stinging nettles and Himalayan balsam are all chest high. At the moment last year’s vegetation has died right back and the new growth is only a few inches high. I have always found Dark Wood an unexciting place for wildlife, and this morning was no exception. I didn’t see any wildlife, but I saw many animal signs. I didn’t pay too much attention, apart from recognising that something had been systematically scouring large areas of leaf litter: this is something new. I had more pressing things to do, so I made a mental note to investigate further as soon as possible. I trudged on through soft squidgy ground, emerging on a track that skirted the backend of the rocket factory.
After taking Spike home it was 11am before I managed to get onto the marsh. I was later than usual, so I wasn’t really expecting to see too much animal activity. The best time to see the wildlife is early morning and early evening. Anyway, the mist had lifted and the sun was quickly raising the air temperature. Fish were greedily feeding on a hatch of flying insects in the slack water of the River Stour. The fish were small and energetically plip-plopped as they jumped out of the water and dropped back into it again; there was the occasional splash from larger fish. I was surprised that the cormorants weren’t taking any notice of the fish action; they just sat on the overhead electricity cables sunning themselves. Cormorants are lazy, but very effective fish catchers; they hang around until their stomachs tell them to catch another fish.
North Pond is still playing host to the horde of mating toads. It seems to be the young male’s turn the practice and refine their pulling techniques on the remaining females that have not had the good sense to get out of the pond earlier, when they had the chance. The big fat females looked like they were being smothered by small male toads. The surface of the pond is shimmering under an oil-like film, and the bottom is littered with dead toads.
Three Canada geese waded in the shallow south end of North Pond. A fox approached them from the river side, making out that it wasn’t at all interested in a goose dinner. The fox nonchalantly sniffed and pawed the ground as though looking for roots to eat, slowly manoeuvring itself closer to the geese in the process. The geese appeared to pay little attention to the fox until it was getting too close for comfort. They turned to face the red dog threat, and began honking a warning. The fox turned its rump to the geese and became really interested in pawing the ground, and the urgency of the honking abated. Now the fox tried to approach the geese backwards, and the honking started again. The fox turned around and sat down in the water, as if weighing up the situation. The honking slowed. Suddenly, the fox launched itself at the closest goose, from its sitting position. The fox didn’t stand a chance of bagging a goose in broad daylight. I was standing behind a willow bush watching this, so I wasn’t able to photograph the action. I was desperately trying to get into a suitable position, but it was just impossible.
I spent quite a bit of time lying on grass and stinging nettles today. These baby nettles are powerful stingers: particularly noticeable through a thin cotton shirt. My forearms and elbows were repeatedly stung and are still feeling the effects close to midnight; it’s not too unpleasant, to be honest. As the growing season progresses, I get stung so often that the nettle cease to have an effect.
I had a plan to photograph the south marsh kingfisher. He always manages to see me and fly away before I can get a bead on him. I know where his perch is and most times when I am passing, he is on it. The plan was to approach the kingfisher from the south, draped in a camouflage net, and slowly inch towards him with my camera to my eye – simple!
When I arrived at the perch there were a couple of birders already there. I wouldn’t have minded, but they didn’t have an access permit and they weren’t WWT members. These were reasonable birders who left the site without giving me a load of verbal abuse for doing my job. I went through the usual routine of explaining why the reserve is closed to the public and if they really wanted access, they could apply for a permit. As I escorted the two birders to the Wilden Lane entrance, another one arrived: he was a WWT member and could pass unhindered. I checked out the otter holts while the new arrival did his thing. Half an hour later the visitor was on his way out of the reserve.
The coots were busy feeding on weed as I passed them on my way to steal the kingfisher’s image. I placed my camouflage netting over my head, pulled my hat tightly over it, and crept gingerly towards the bank. I knew exactly where the bird would be perched, so I ever so slowly edged my way to the river bank. As I closed in on my prey, more of the willow tree perch growing in the middle of the river became visible. I could see the bird’s head. He was perched in amongst the branches. I couldn’t get a clean shot. He escaped whilst I hesitated. Better luck next time!
23rd March 2012: On Monday of this week, in the early morning sunshine, I took a photograph of the marsh from high up in Hoo Wood. My camera looked across the lagoon field and focused on the North Pond. That photograph is the current header for this blog, and it can be seen that the overriding colours of the vista were pastel muddy browns. I looked down at the same scene and the same place this morning, and within the past five days the dominant colours have changed from browns to greens. The straw colours of the dead grasses at the start of this week have now been replaced by greens, and the willow tree buds have sprouted bright lime coloured leaves. This view is surely a scene to gladden anyone’s heart.
If it is sunny tomorrow morning, I will take a photograph of the new green marsh landscape.
British summertime starts on Saturday night, which means that sunset will be at 07:30pm on Sunday. BST marks the start of serious evening photography for me: time to track-down the marsh foxes.
Today the maximum temperature was eighteen degrees centigrade for the first time this year, and the forecast is sunny weather for at least the next ten days. Happy days!