Friday 8th April 2011 – 20:30: Another wonderfully  warm and sunny spring day and, best of all, it’s Friday. By 5 o’clock the marsh was calling me, so I grabbed my camera and made my way down there. I hadn’t been down to the marsh for over a week and the ground had turned green in the meantime. There is too much green. I like green for a relatively short time after the browns of winter and then I start craving a bit of colour: there was not much colour down the marsh tonight. The only blooms to break the monotony were lesser celandine, red and white dead-head nettle, forget-me-not and bird cherry flowers and there weren’t many of these.

The water levels in Hoo Brook, the Stour and the north pond were quite low. The water level in the north pond must have dropped a good foot since the beginning of the year.

As I crept along the twin large diameter cast iron pipes that cross the north pasture, a munjac broke cover in the tangled undergrowth of the swamp – again too quickly for me get my camera onto it. This muntjac was a tan colour and not the dark brown muntjac I normally see.

I saw my first mallard chick of the year on the north pond; it swam under dead tree branches and appeared to be all on its own – there were two mallards on the pond, but they flew off when the saw me, so they were probably mum and dad.

There were quite a few butterflies about – mainly small tortoiseshell’s – and bumble bees.

I stood in my holly tree hide for a while, watching the pond, when a tawny owl flew out of it; it had been perched above me until I started clearing the dead leaves from the floor.

All in all, it was a very pleasant and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours on a warm spring evening; the only other thing I could think of that might come close is a large barbecue, half a dozen cold beers and a whiskey or two – a single beer in my fridge will have to do me tonight.

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2001_04_07 Starling.

Thursday 7th April 2011 – 20:14: I walked through Hoo Wood twice today and the morning chorus was vigorous to say the least; the birds really did sound as though they were glad to be alive. Mind you, it was a bright, clear and sunny morning, with just a touch of sharpness in the air. It was a morning to dawdle and watch nature doing her thing, and I did just that.

A few more new plants had flowered since last night and most of the broom flowers had dropped from the bushes during the night. Although flowering throughout the year, the broom flowers don’t seem to last very long – I might be mistaken, but the flowers seem to last longer in winter.

2011_04_07 Bumble Bee sleeping in a dead leaf.

No sign of the buzzard this morning, or this evening. I scoured the trees for any sign of a nest, but found nothing; there were plenty of other birds collecting nesting materials, though. The green woodpecker was conspicuous by its absence – probably trying its luck down on the marsh, and the pheasants were as noisy tonight as they were last night.

There wasn’t a colourful sunset like there was last night,  in spite of the Sahara dust that is supposed to be giving us sunsets to die for.

Below are a few images I made today:

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Wednesday 6th April 2011 – 20:15:  This week has seen a noticeable increase in bird activity in Hoo Wood. Tonight I watched two cock pheasants fighting at the southern end of the wood, close to fox Hollow; they were rising three or four feet off the ground and totally oblivious to me and my dog. All sorts of eager bird calls and an energetic rustling sounds drifted from deep within Dark Wood. I was too busy watching the Pheasants fighting to take much notice. Hoo Wood pheasants have been perching on tree branches calling for mates this week. I guess this gives them increased vocal projection, greater visual distance, and protection from dogs and foxes.

It is good to see the wild plants flowering again. I saw the first bluebells of the year above Fox Hollow this morning. They bloom in exactly the same place every year. I checked last night and didn’t see a single bluebell; this morning there were half a dozen. Last year I saw the first Hoo Wood bluebell flower on 17th April, 6th April in 2009, 4th April in 2008 and 10th April in 2007.

Buzzards are flying through the trees along the ridge early mornings and evenings now. They might be trying to decide on suitable trees to build nests, or they are trying to entice me away from a nest. I haven’t found a buzzard nest yet this year.

The green woodpecker has been very vocal, flying frantically from one tree to another and calling at each stop; I have not heard him drumming on the local dead wood as much lately.

Below are some of the photographs I have taken in Hoo Wood this week:

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I am often asked if I know who is responsible for removing the various rubbish rafts floating behind tangled masses of fallen tree branches on the River Stour and in Hoo Brook. As far as I am aware, this is the Environmental Agency’s responsibility. I suppose there is a shortage of resources at the moment.

Rubbish in the River Stour at the north end of the marsh.

I am amazed at the size, variety and sheer quantity of rubbish floating down the Stour and Hoo Brook, on its way down to the River Severn. I have seen a lorry wheel, a fridge, all manner of camping gear; sport items such as footballs, tennis and golf balls, cricket and tennis bats, dog baskets and cat carriers, footwear of all makes and styles, metal oil drums of various sizes plastic containers, every kind of bottle and food packaging you could possibly imagine. I could go on, but I guess you get the message.

Rubbish in the River Stour.

Rubbish in the River Stour.

The floating rubbish problem is caused by unwanted items being dumped upstream; it then gets trapped behind fallen tree branches, where it stays until the waterways flood. The force of a flood breaks through the log-jams and the rubbish is free to surge downstream, to be held back by the next log-jam. It can take months for a large item, such as a fridge, to move a few hundred metres downstream. I suppose, if the fallen tree branches were cleared from the river banks, the rubbish rafts would have a clear run down the Stour to the weir at Lincomb Lock, just over a mile from Stourport, down the River Severn.

Wilden Marsh Reserve is, thankfully, free of litter and fly tipped rubbish. There is a small amount of rubbish, including a fridge and, I think, a washing machine, together with a few children’s toys in a single pile in the lagoon field, close to the gated entrance at the north end of Wilden Lane. The marsh reserve is clear of rubbish because access is restricted to authorised vehicles, the access gates are padlocked. The reserve is closed to the general public. There is a little rubbish in the wood alongside Hoo Brook, close to Wilden Lane, and this is mainly Mc Donald’s food and drink containers. A bright spark dragged  a wheelie bin alongside the brook a couple of weeks ago and left it there – I don’t know if this was intended as a gentle reminder to place rubbish in the bin, or whether children were the culprits.

An anonymous notice seen in Hoo Wood, presumably, with the ‘cat missing’ flyers in mind.

The situation is not so rosy in Hoo Wood either. WFDC post fly tipping notices in an attempt to prevent some of the residents, who live along the edge of the wood, from dumping their garden waste and tree prunings in the wood, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference, they do it anyway. During the spring and summer months I come across large piles of branches and leaves in various places in the wood – usually directly behind the house of the person who has done the pruning. I must admit that I don’t understand the mentality of these people; you would think that the threat of a £2500.00 fine for fly tipping would stop them – they must feel that WFDC are not likely to take legal action against them.

If a cat goes missing – and lets face it, cats are well-known for wandering off – notices are posted on trees, fences, lampposts, in Hoo Wood, the surrounding streets, and in areas around Spennells. It’s not so much the notices that annoy people, it’s the fact that they are left in place until someone gets fed-up enough to rip them down.

At the north end of Hoo Wood is a path to the Hoo Farm Industrial Estate; this attracts its fair share of empty bottles and cans, discarded cigarette packets, hypodermic syringes, pill foils and the ubiquitous McDonald’s food and drink containers. These are cleared periodically by local people who appreciate the wood.

SUNDAY 20th March 2011 – 20:15:

Blue Tit 27-03-2011

I disturbed the Hoo Brook kingfisher this afternoon. It flew like a dart down the brook to the Stour; if I hadn’t disturbed it, it’s unlikely that I would have seen it let alone photographed it.

The toads, having had their fun, have left the north pond. The pond is now toadless. Not a single toad did I see this afternoon; the pond is eerily silent without their constant squeaking, plopping, squishing and squashing, and there is now an oily bloom covering most of the water surface – I have no idea whether the oily bloom is anything to do with the toads. The water level has fallen steadily since the beginning of the year: rainfall has been quite low. I can’t help wondering where the toads have wandered off to; did they all leave the pond together? Perhaps the head toad gave a signal and they moved out en-mass –  and did they leave by day or by night? I have  a mental video playing in my head featuring a million toads crawling out of the pond and hopping away in all directions, only to disappear into the distance leaving a mystery to be solved by an eagerly awaited sequel.  Perhaps, in the real world, they have just moved off into the swamp.

Dunnock 27-03-2011.

Nature, like time, keeps moving along and if you blink your eyes, or turn you head at a sudden noise, you stand a good chance of missing an important event. A sudden noise might indicate an important event, so I often feel obliged to turn my head towards the noise and that will be when the otter swims out of the river, does an Irish jig on the bank with its paws on its hips, whilst also juggling a couple or three fish with its mouth. No matter how important the event, there is only a finite amount of free time a person can muster for leisure projects,  and it’s impossible to see every thing that might be of interest. Prioritisation, did I hear someone say? Wherever I go and whatever I do, this word is not far behind me. I had a dream once in which a huge black, slimy, slug named ‘Prioritised’ made it its business to track me down. No matter how far I travelled, nor how fast I travelled, nor in which direction I travelled, I knew that if I stayed still long enough the inevitable would happen:I would find myself under prioritised. Being under prioritised is a bit like being under insured – if you are under insured and something nasty happens, you struggle to know what the next important thing is that you should be doing. So I admit that I prioritise, but I am not really convinced that this gives me an advantage where nature is concerned. Let me put it another way: If I wander around with my camera at the ready will I see more and photograph more interesting wildlife than I would if, say, I sat in a hide with my camera on a tripod? I am bound to say that I usually find wandering more productive than standing still. If I decide that I’m going to spend an hour in the hide, an hour on the river bank, and an hour wandering aimlessly about, then this is a plan. If I then schedule these activities in terms of importance, then I am prioritising my work or leisure time. Now having mentioned  planning…I think I had better quit here before I slip into rant mode.

I saw 16 bumble bees today: four in Hoo Wood and the rest on the north marsh.

Buds are just breaking out on the Hoo Wood silver birch trees; hawthorn, elder and honeysuckle are quite well leafed and the beech trees are heavy with catkins. I think Hoo Wood is around one or two weeks ahead of the marsh in the growing stakes.

More to come when I get a minute or two…


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