WEDNESDAY  16 MARCH – 18:12: On Sunday I noticed four wild bee nests: one in Hoo Wood, one further along at the rear of the Roxel site and two at the lagoon side of the north marsh pond. The nest at the rear of the Roxel site is in an old European Larch tree, which is on the edge of a new residential housing building site and I think it might soon be felled. The nest in Hoo wood is also in an old European larch tree and is at the rear of a company involved in crushing old hardcore and building rubble. The nests alongside the north marsh pond are in old woodpecker nest holes in oak trees, 25 metres apart.

THURSDAY 17th March 2011 – 19:50: I spent today at the southern end of the marsh with a Worcestershire Wildlife Trust Volunteers working party, on a ‘clean-up day’. It was perfect weather for pulling up old tree roots and collecting and stacking pruned tree branches. It must have been the hottest day of this year, so far. It was an invigorating and very satisfying way to spend a day. We arrived on-site at 09:30, with lots of pruned tree branch littering a sizeable area of the southern marsh, and by the end of the day the branches and a load of once buried and now redundant tree roots were stacked in tidy piles.

After a day of strenuous activity, I wandered across the reserve though the late afternoon sunshine. I saw the first marsh bloom of this year, a Lesser Celandine, at the side of the Stour, just above the north weir. The first wild flower is a turning point of the year for me. I’m in spring mode now.

The north pond is teeming with frogs and toads at the moment.

Cormorant - 06/03/2011 (Click image to enlarge)

TUESDAY  2nd MARCH – 18:12: I scanning the north marsh pond with my night scope. I noticed a number of small flickering coloured flares in amongst the trees on the other side of the pond. I couldn’t see with any clarity, what was over there. It  looked like half a dozen fireflies were hovering above the ground. With my naked eye, I could see, very faintly, orange and blue flickering. I stood for a while trying to work out what it could be. I alternated between my naked eye and the scope, I was still unable to get a definitive view. Through the scope, I could see a lot of bright white infrared light bouncing from the surrounding tree branches and half a dozen small flares flitting between them. I don’t believe in fairies, gnomes, or in any other supernatural entities that might crawl about at night, and I had not yet seen fireflies on the marsh. There is a rational explanation for what was happening on the other side of the pond.

Rockin' Robin.

Rockin' Robin - 05-03-2011.

It crossed my mind that I had been caught-out before, by those Chinese paper hot-air balloons that are becoming increasingly popular. One dark night earlier in the year I saw a bright orange globe  descending slowly in the distance, whilst out walking in Hoo Wood. It was only when I found a spent Chinese paper lantern on the marsh, that it dawned on me: the orange globe I had seen descending into Hoo Wood was not a UFO, after all …

Anyway, what to do now was the question! I had three options as I saw it: continue south around the pond, over the gate, through the bog and work my way down the other side of the pond– this would be a noisy option, and the breeze might carry my scent towards the ghoulish thing that might be slithering on the other side of the pond. I could wade across the pond, but this was little better than the first option. I could walk north along the Stour to Hoo brook and follow the swamp fence to the lagoon side of the pond, where I might be able to get a better look at whatever was there. The night was already as dark as ol’ Nick’s coal hole, so I decided on the latter option and crept back the way I had come.

Robin2 06-03-201

Having made it around the swamp without falling in any of the stagnant pools that are dotted around the lagoon field, I was now inching my way along the swamp fence and was within spitting distance of the pond. I scanned the wood with my scope, but couldn’t see any dancing lights; however, I could smell wood smoke and cooking. With my mind on recent peculiar happenings on this side of the pool, I worked my way further along the fence to where I was roughly opposite the basic tree branch shooting hide I stumbled across and pulled-down a few weeks ago. I scanned the wood with my night scope again. What I saw made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The shooting hide had been re-erected and was now covered with fabric sheeting. I worked my way to where I could get a look at what was at the front of the hide. As I focused my scope, the outline of a man in a wide-brimmed hat began to form; he had a very large bushy beard too. He was sitting crouched over what looked like a hobo cooking stove, and he was sitting on what turned out to be a very large ex-army kit bag. It was obvious to me now that I had stumbled upon a ‘gentleman of the road’ – otherwise known as a tramp.

Herons at Wilden Marsh.

Herons sleeping on Wilden Marsh.

I slowly stood up and shouted – not too loudly: “Hello there! Can I enter your camp?” I think I gave him a bit of a fright, because he jumped up pretty smartish. “What the…?” he spluttered. “Who am ya and what are ya wanting from me?” “Are ya trying ta give an old man a heart attack?” “Ah, away wit ya already!” “I prefer me own company.” At a guess, I would put his origins somewhere between the Irish and Jewish quarters of Dudley – ha! .  ”Well…I was passing, smelt your cooking and wondered if you might be up for a chat,” I offered.  There was a pause and a bit of scuffling. I didn’t have as good a view of him now as I had through my scope.  “If ya must. I ain’t got much snap mind,” he said nervously.

I walked into his camp and chatted with this gentleman of the road for a while.

North Marsh Landscape - 13/03/2011.

North Marsh Landscape - 13/03/2011.

He looked like the archetypal tramp, and I sensed he was not very happy at having me invade his privacy, or at having his dinner rudely interrupted. He was wearing a great-coat and probably a few sets of old clothes under this. His camp was remarkably tidy – setup for a quick exit I thought. The hide was his shelter, and he had covered it in a lightweight waterproof sheet. His hobo cooking system intrigued me. It consisted of two tins: a billy can and a stove; the former probably made from an old paint tin. The billy was slightly smaller in diameter and would fit inside the stove to minimised carrying bulk. The billy, a large coffee tin with a press-in lid and a wire carrying handle, is for boiling. The fireflies I had seen from the other side of the pond were flames licking out of the stove air holes. He had a two-wheeled trolley; the kind used to carrying large suit cases to the check-in desk at airports, except this one was sturdier. He uses the trolley to transport his very large kit bag – which is almost as tall as he is. Strapped to the trolley was another tin, large enough to put the bottom 400 mm of his kit bag in.

North Weir - 13-03-2011.

Anyway, it turns out that he travels river bank and canal tow paths and when he passes this way, perhaps once or twice a month, he camps on or around the marsh. He catches his food, as and when the opportunity presents itself, on or close to the rivers and canals along which he travels. He was cooking a fish and meat stew, using charcoal as his fuel.  I asked him how he caught his food. He said he used a hook and line for fish, snares for rabbits – pheasants as well, I suspected – and a catapult firing buckshot to bring-down birds on the ground. He told me he makes his charcoal by tightly packing his large can with dry wood, with some burning wood at its center, with soil being used to seal it. A small amount of air finds its way into the can through small nail holes punched in the base of the can. He does his charcoal manufacture overnight, and the tin can double as a hobo hot-water bottle on cold nights – I suppose he cuddled it.

North Pond- 13-03-2011.

This man is a real country traveller, very experienced and obviously well able to live successfully off the land, whatever the weather. I guessed his age at mid 60s. I was sensing his nervousness and decided I had over stayed my welcome – he might be a mad axe murderer for all I knew. I thanked him for his time, advised him that the land he was camping was a private nature reserve and suggested that it would not be a good idea for him to camp here again. I left him contemplating his billy. I felt privileged to have met this man, and I walked away with all my important bits still attached (he didn’t murder me).

Anyone seeing this man walking along a canal tow path or a river bank, would see a fisherman pulling his trolley, they wouldn’t see a tramp at all. This man is a tramp in disguise – brilliant!

This morning I took a walk down to the pond and needless to say, the tramp had departed leaving not a trace of his presence, not even a foot print. The man is a real professional. Good luck to him, I say. However, I hope he leaves the marsh wildlife alone. I have a feeling that I might not have seen the last of this man.

Old and new reeds. 06-03-2011

SUNDAY 6th March – 18:10: Well, the new nesting season officially begins this month (March to July) and as much as possible needs be done to avoid scaring off ground-nesting birds from the marsh. Although the reserve is officially closed to the public, there are still people wandering about the marsh with their dogs on and off their lead, which is definitely not a good idea. New growth has started, in earnest: new grass and reeds are now very obvious. Having had a gentle word with the tramp who was camping alongside the north ponds, last Monday night, I feel I have made a start just before the nesting season, too.

GREY WAGTAIL 06-03-2011

I met two fishermen walking along-side Hoo Brook yesterday afternoon, at the extreme north end of the reserve – they weren’t planning on do any fishing; they were just out for a walk. I chatted with them for a while and one of them claimed he was a water bailiff, the other just a fisherman – the water bailiff was accompanied by his dog, on its lead as it happens, and he was a RSPB member – the bailiff, not the dog. These angler’s main concerns were the cormorants, heron and otters eating the fish, and they felt that cormorants, in particular, ought to be culled; in fact, they told me that a new law had recently been passed, and the Environment Agency are actively culling cormorants at this very moment. When I pointed out that even cormorants need to eat, they agreed, but after thinking about it for a moment the water bailiff said, “Ah, but there are too many of them.” It could be said, and often is to me, that there are too many fishermen. Anyway, every sportsman will try to protect his own sport and there are some pretty hard-core activists in the fishing community in this area and throughout the country. I was a very ardent fresh water angler in my youth and handy with a shotgun too.

Green Woodpecker 27-02-2011

I spotted a grey wagtail on a branch sticking out of Hoo Brook. The cormorants were perched on their favourite pylon. A couple of herons flew over the marsh on the canal side of the Stour, and magpies were making a terrible racket over there too. A green woodpecker was at his drumming post, and a buzzard circled and mewed high above.

FRIDAY 11th March 2011 – 21:30: This week I have taken advantage of the very low ground cover in Hoo Wood, and I have spent hours systematically checking for signs of muntjac and evidence of above-ground fox dens. I haven’t found any fox dens, but I did manage to get a photograph of a muntjac and I found a muntjac lie-up – it’s not a very good photograph, but a photograph all the same. Tonight I have a camera trap out in an area where there are many signs of muntjac activity – foot prints and digging – so I have great hopes for better muntjac photographs tomorrow morning.

Muntjac in Hoo Wood - 13-03-2011.

As I was setting up my camera tonight, I could see the wooden shooting position through the trees and couldn’t help wondering how many pheasants had been shot on the ground my camera will be covering tonight.

Every morning this week, the green woodpecker has been at his drumming post, hammering out his messages to any female within hearing distance, and replies came drifting over from the depth of Dark Wood.

Muntjac lie-up.

Monday  14th March 2011 – 21:21: Saturday morning did not result in better photographs of a muntjac. Saturday morning resulted in photograph of that darn marsh fox.

My Sunday afternoon stroll down to the north weir turned up nothing unusual, everything seemed in its proper place. The clear blue sky and warmth of the sun were a real bonus; the new growth of green reeds and grass was really striking. The woodpecker watched me creep past its tree. Pigeons were grazing on the north pasture; cormorants were soaking-up the sun at their usual places on the pylon and along the power lines. Mallards were everywhere there was water. A heron waded in the North Pond and flew silently across the Stour as soon as it saw me, magpies squabbled. Angry grey squirrels shrieked at one another across the Stour, and a buzzard was circling and mewing high overhead (this is a recurring theme around the north pond). Yes, everything was as it should be. When things are not quite right, the birds are the first to notice. It’s hard to put into words the small changes that occur in bird behaviour when they feel that something is not quite right. I suppose it’s an initial transfer of warning chatter, from one bird species to another, that grows in intensity and then dies away, only to erupt again into full-blown alert calls when danger is identified. Often, when I walk the marsh, the bird warning calls are almost casual. If someone or something unusual is about, there is urgency in their calls that alerts even me that another person or a predator is close by.

Fox in Hoo Wood. 14-03-2011

The mallards are usually the first to vocalise an urgent intruder alert; they take to flight at the slightest noise or shadow. The pheasants tend to hang on until the last few seconds before braking cover and screaming their unmistakable alert call. Then the pigeons take to the sky en-mass, followed by   with their rasping alarm call.

SUNDAY  27th FEBRUARY: It’s been a quiet week in Hoo Wood and on the marsh. I haven’t seen anything unusual. Yesterday on the marsh there were the usual tits, wrens, blackbirds, crows, magpies, a few heron landing the canal side of the Stour, and the ever-present mallards, but nothing to get over-excited about; it was raining heavily most of the time, too. Didn’t see the muntjac in the swamp; come to think of it, I didn’t see any muntjac tracks either – it’s probably moved to another area for a while.

JELLY EAR FUNGUS 26-02-2011

There was a decent spread of fresh young jelly ear fungus on a small oak tree alongside the north pond yesterday. This was close to the large dead oak tree that’s a frequent perch for many of the local birds. Today, though, this same jelly ear fungus had shriveled to almost nothing.

Hoo Wood is carpeted in bluebell and Himalayan balsam shoots. The bluebell shoots are taller than the Himalayan balsam, which won’t be the case for long. There will be plenty of time for the bluebells to flower before the balsam takes over the wood. Last year I saw the first bluebell flower on 17th April, 6th April in 2009, 4th April in 2008 and 10th April in 2007. The first daffodils flowered today and 19th April last year.

Foxglove  27/02/3011

Comfrey plants are popping-up at various places in the wood, and great care should be taken not to confuse them with foxgloves. Foxgloves look very similar to comfrey prior to flowering. There are a many foxglove plants in Hoo Wood. The way to tell them apart is: the edges of the foxglove leaf are finely toothed, whilst the edges of a comfrey leaf are smooth. The reason it is important to be able to tell the difference between the two plants is that comfrey is edible and can be used in salads, and all parts of the foxglove plant are poisonous.

WEDNESDAY MORNING 9th FEBRUARY – 07:20: Overcast this morning (8 degrees C) and just a hint of rain.

SWAN ON HOO BROOK 2011_02_05

Pheasants nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around ten eggs over a two-three week period in April to June. The incubation period is about 23–26 days. The chicks stay near the hen for several weeks after hatching and they grow quickly, resembling adults by only 15 weeks of age.

Had a few images of the swamp on the camera trap, this morning, but no wildlife, so I moved to the next place on my list and set the camera to the side of a muntjac track.

I checked the camera trap later in the evening and, again, no images of wildlife. I think it’s a matter of: ‘The harder I try, the less successful I am.’

On the way home, I heard and caught a brief glimpse of a screech-owl.

THURSDAY MORNING 10th FEBRUARY – 07:30:Overcast this morning (8 degrees C) and light rain.

Went out this morning to set up my camera trap. I will check on it tomorrow morning.

Pheasant escaping from the swamp. 12/02/2011.

FRIDAY EVENING 11th FEBRUARY  19:15  : I heard and saw a tawny owl flying over Hoo Brook.

Tawny owls breed in March, laying up to 7 eggs that take 25 to 30 days to incubate and around 30 days to fledge. Tawny owls nest in holes in trees, often in old squirrel or woodpecker holes. The juveniles disperse in August and by early winter they will either have a territory, or they will be dead.

 

COOT 12-02-2011

SATURDAY MORNING 12th FEBRUARY: The weekend is here again – hooray! Like most people, I look forward to the weekend. It’s a time when I can afford a more relaxed attitude toward watching and photographing wildlife, thereby thereby adding to the enjoyment. It’s no good my being too relaxed, though, Saturday can easily be taken-up with the weekend chores if I’m not careful. This weekend I am going to put my passions first and the chores second. I like to get out as early as possible and linger in my chosen area for a few hours; to get the feel of the place? I like to take my time investigating the lay of the land, the trees, the bushes, the plants and the animals. I like to get an accurate impression of the extent of wildlife in a particular area.

I like to be in position, camera at the ready, before it gets light, so that I can watch the sun rise and the countryside come to life.

Heron flying from the dead oak tree.

The wood alongside Hoo Brook, down on the marsh, was head high in Himalayan Balsam during last summer. The wood floor is pretty much devoid of green and littered with decaying brown leaves and creamy coloured dead balsam stalks. This debris from last year’s growing season hardly covered my boots this morning. However, time never stands still and new stinging nettles are just beginning to push their leaves above ground – the start of this year’s growing season is upon us.

Life on the marsh is beginning to wake-up again. The animals are getting ready to mate and it’s an exciting time to watch them. I feel fortunate that I am able to witness and record the events as they occur.

Common Gull.

The sun is shining. The sky is bright blue, and there is an abundance of wildlife on the marsh. I saw a heron paddling in Hoo brook again; a kestrel perched on the power lines that cross the swamp – waiting for its breakfast to pass beneath I expect. Magpies flew this way and that. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed on the dead oak tree, close to the bank of the Northern Pond. I almost stood on a woodcock, and the urgent ‘peent-peent’ call of a snipe rose from the withy wood at the southern end of the old British Sugar settling lagoon field. Herons, ducks, geese, crows, magpies and cormorants flew overhead. My camera trap caught a badger leaving its set in the early hours. It sounded to me as if the animals have a lot to do; I’ll try to keep out of their way and view what I can through  binoculars.

Great Crested Grebe.

The nesting season runs from March to July. I try not to be intrusive during this period. There is the plenty of potential of frightening-off nesting birds, which defeats the ethos of a nature reserve. Unfortunately, the north marsh foxes doesn’t give a fig about my views; in his/her mind, birds and eggs taste good. From what I have seen, the marsh foxes regularly dine on pigeons and pheasant.  The thing with the foxes, though, is that they will kill by restricting their prey’s breathing. The fox catches its prey and throttles it whilst taking it to a safe area to eat. Generally, the fox’s prey can’t make much noise when it is being throttled. However, I have heard ducks, pheasants and chickens make a terrible fuss when the fox grabs them; their cries doesn’t last long, though. What’s more important is that the fox has the right to disturb and kill animals on the marsh: we don’t. The fox lives to kill. If a fox gets into a chicken coup, it will most likel kill all the birds, usually by biting their heads off. Without doubt, the fox is a killing machine, but that’s nature for you: nature isn’t sympathetic.

 

Basic hide alongside the north pond.

SUNDAY EVENING 20th FEBRUARY 21:43: 

Strange things are afoot at the north end of the marsh this week! Cardboard crow cut-outs, painted black, pegged out amongst the mole hills; unidentified bait pellets; a basic wooden branch hide, and a pile of foam rubber chips placed in the middle of an animal track (the muntjac uses this track). These things have occurred along-side the North Pond. Tonight I saw someone sweeping the swamp with a powerful lantern. I wonder if that person is a nature lover trying to catch a glimpse of the muntjac? I would like to think so, or is he thinking of having the muntjac for his dinner; either way, he shouldn’t be there. The one to two-second sweeps of the lamp suggests to me that someone might have put out pheasant snares and is checking them. Obviously, this sort of activity on the marsh is illegal.

Foam rubber chips on animal track.

One section of the lagoon field fence, along-side the Wilden Lane lay-by, has been cut top-to-bottom, allowing unauthorised access to the lagoon fields and the marsh. It is all too easy to park-up in this lay-by and avoid suspicion.

I caught a glimpse of the black muntjac in the swamp earlier today, and I must say that he seems to be in top condition and very alert. He has done a very good job of avoiding me and my cameras. My worry is, though, that he might not do so well with drugged bait and a cross-bow bolt.

Ragged Robin.

Ragged Robin.

The male muntjac deer is short and stocky with a hunched appearance, weighing between 10 and 18 kg, standing 45 to 50 cm at the shoulder, and can live for up to 19 years. One day I hope to post a photograph of our swamp muntjac, but to do so I will need to be just a little smarter than him.

I spotted a large buzzard on the south reserve this afternoon, perched in a tree, and four Canada geese walking across one of the southern fields. I also spotted a sort of hybrid Robin in a tree on the Stour side of the swamp.

SHOOTING POSITION IN HOO WOOD.

I stumbled upon another hide/shooting position, when walking through Hoo Wood this afternoon. It is very close to the Wilden Lane lay-by, and it is possible that children/teenagers use it for their action games. I have seen teenagers playing in the wood with very realistic toy assault rifles that fire small plastic pellets and make all the right noises, but this was back last summer and in a different area of the wood. As seen in the photograph, the hide has a commanding view of an area of reasonably flat open ground, and three or four pheasants broke cover as I walked across it. I wasn’t able to tell if the hide had been used lately. The leaves had been disturbed on the floor of the hide, but the fox could be the culprit.

BADGER 21-02-2011.

Common sense dictates that now is the best time to be using a hide like this, when the cover is really low. In the growing season, the Himalayan Balsam  and ferns would be too thick and too high to see through.

 

Northern pond at dawn. (Click image to zoom-in.)

MONDAY EVENING – 31st JANUARY: Tomorrow is the 1st day of February and I would like an early ‘first of the month’ photograph of a muntjac deer. I noticed an area in North Pond wood last Saturd where muntjac deer had been active, so I set off with my camera into a dark, freezing night. I navigated by feeling my way along the sides of the track with the soles of my boots, which is not too difficult: the tracks across the marsh are quite deep. As far as possible, I try not to use my torch; it warns the animals that I’m out and about. Anyway, I set up my camera at the intended spot, and covered it with a camo-blanket. 

 

Mallard on the north pond.

TUESDAY EVENING –1st FEBRUARY:  Out with my infra-red camera again. I’m not after muntjac deer tonight. I’ve pointed the camera at a potential fox den inside a wood pile. The entrance is most certainly large enough for a fox to get through, and it looks as if it’s used regularly. Maybe the camera will reveal something tomorrow morning.

After setting up the camera, I moved from the area and did as I often do on cold, clear, starlit nights … I leaned against a wooden fence and stared at Orion’s Belt. I listened to the night sounds drifting in from Kidderminster. The night-time silence of the marsh is not like the silence one might experience in a street, or in a back garden, or in a house, it has an indefinable depth. The sounds of the marsh at night are almost spectral; they drift in softly, pass overhead, and then just fade gently away. There is the occasional hum of industry in the distance, that wafts and wanes as other more strident sounds drift by as the breeze changes direction.

Mallard. (Click image to enlarge.)

I listened as a car whooshed along Wilden Lane. Something had disturbed the ducks on North Pond. An owl screeched in the distance. An ambulance wailed its way urgently along Worcester Road. Silence reigned for a while, before a car alarm warbled in and out of hearing. A muntjac deer barked from somewhere along the Stour. This experience with sound reminds me that it’s a privilege to have such a vibrant marsh on my doorstep.

WEDNESDAY MORNING – 2nd FEBRUARY: I was out before first light this morning. The sky was clear and the temperature one or two degrees below freezing. I retrieved my camera. There were three images, but no animals – failure! Maybe I need a new strategy.

The sunrise was good, though: orange sky through wisps of light cloud. A flight of geese honked overhead as I made my way home.

SATURDAY MORNING – 5th FEBRUARY (07:30):  Last night had been very windy. The ground alongside Hoo Brook is littered with newly broken branches, and a few fallen trees.

A kingfisher darting up and down the brook for 3 to 4 minutes, before disappearing along the River Stour.

BADGER AT HOO BROOK.

My infra-red cameratrap was on sentinel dity last night. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, I positioned it overlooking the North Pond. I was hoping to get an image or two of a heron, or at least a few mallards, but it didn’t happen.

The ponds have overflowed into the Stour for over a month now, and we haven’t has much rain; is this due to the new weirs, I wonder?

When I am out on the marsh with my DSLR camera it takes me ages to get anywhere; I walk along with a weird, slow motion stalking gait.So it took me a while to get to my IR camera.

Fox at pond wood.

I plugged the monitor into the camera and 27 images flashed-up on the screen. I get very excited when this happens, particularly after a couple of nights without a result. I clicked through the images, and it was that darn fox again. I am beginning to wonder who is stalking whom! Still, it’s far better than no images at all.

A rural fox can have a territory in the region of 200 to 600 hectares. The territory size might depend on the extent of food resources available. So the fox in the northern marsh might be the same fox I photograph in Hoo Wood. A dog fox will usually live above ground; it might make a den under a pile of wood. Generally, foxes are lazy and will use an old badger’s set, or a pipe as a den. They can live for 10 years; many die from illness or accident, and are often run-over by cars.

Animal Droppings.

Animal Droppings.

I was poking about amongst the trees on the side of Nort Pond this afternoon and found a few animal droppings in a hole at the foot of an old oak tree. The droppings were quite old, they were hard with white mould on them, and they were  lying on top of wood chippings.

Foxes are not the only animals that take advantage of other animal’s vacated holes. I was under the old dead oak tree, which is a favourite perch for a number of the local birds, when a squirrel ran up the trunk and disappeared into an old woodpecker’s hole.

I came across another well-used muntjac deer track this morning, so this will be a future target for my cameratrap. The problem is that I have a growing list of work for my IR cameras. Still, there’s no rush, the marsh and animals will be here for a while yet.

Hoo Brook swan. (Click on image to enlarge.)

On my way home this afternoon, as I walked along Hoo Brook, young swan came swam up from the River Stour. There are various piles of branches and other debris blocking the progress of anything swimming up the brook, but the swan bravely climbed over these. It was three-quarters of the way to Wilden Lane when it came up against a large pile of tree branches and twigs blocking it’s way. The swan stopped in front of the blockage, seemed to weigh-up the possibilities, must have decided it wasn’t worth the effort, and swam back down to the Stour.

SUNDAY MORNING – 6th FEBRUARY: The new growing season has started in Hoo Wood. Hazel catkins are in abundance. Honeysuckle buds have opened and new leaves have sprung forth; the same applies to Elder. Herb Robert foliage is spreading, too. Bluebell shoots are around 75 mm high and nettles around 50 mm high.

Fresh fox droppings.

It was not as windy today, as it has been for the last couple of days, but the sky has been overcast for most of the morning. There have been times when the clouds have parted, letting in bright, warm sunshine. Clouds of flies rose up, making a real nuisance of themselves. It will soon be time to apply ‘Jungle Formula’ insect repellent. Today was the day I realised that spring is not far way.

The young swan is still bottom feeding in Hoo Brook. There was not much wildlife to photograph today, apart from the swan and a few small birds: tits, mainly. I saw a black muntjac deer in the swamp, but it made off faster than my camera’s auto-focus could lock on to the bobbing white flash on its tail. I followed a fresh muntjac trail from the swamp to the field gate mid-way along the reserve, but the trail turned into the quagmire of the middle wood. My half-length wellies are a bit short for quagmires , so I didn’t bother following the tracks any further.

Muntjac tracks.

I went in search of the muntjac I had seen earlier, back at the swamp. No luck, though! I was soon in danger of being sucked into the mire. God only knows what greusome fate awaites the unsuspecting unfortunate who wander too far into that swamp. All saw were the remains of the wily old fox’s last night’s pheasant supper – nothing left but feathers. If I were a fisherman, I would value these pheasant feathers for making artificial flies.

MONDAY MORNING 7th FEBRUARY – 07:45: Heavily overcast this morning,: cold and windy, too.

Spotted the black muntjac in the swamp again, and got a good look at it this time – didn’t have my DSLR camera with me though.

Hazel catkins at Hoo Wood.

My IR camera had taken seven images of a piece of vegetation that had fallen in front of it.

I set up the camera trap in another location, in the hope that it might pick up a daytime image or two. I will check it this evening.

TUESDAY MORNING 8th FEBRUARY – 07:00 : Bright, clear and cold this morning (0 degree C). The vegetation was dusted with frost, and mist had settled above the Stour.

I was out for an hour and saw only four moorhens on North Pond, and a few mallards in Hoo Brook and on the Stour.

Mallard. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Moorhens nest in late March; egg incubation takes around 20 days and fledging around 45 days. Newly hatched chicks are swimming with their parents within a couple of days.

There were a few images of a Labrador on the camera trap,  nothing else, so I have put the it on sentry duty in different location for a few days. I am still trying to get an image of the black muntjac.


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