Well, here we are! The first month of a new decade, and a new blog. Will the next 10 years be much warmer than the last? There are people who profess to be able to predict such things, but do they really know what will happen with our British weather? How can you believe a society that recommended cigarettes to combat a cough? Wilden Marsh, though, is gaining in strength, which is a very good thing for the wildlife in the Wilden area. The ‘in thing’ these days seems to be conservation. British heavy industry has been failing for the last 50 years or more, and some of the derelict sites that bear witness to this industry’s decline, are being turned into reserves to protect and encourage flora and fauna. Wilden Marsh has been plagued by the ravages of industry for more than 500 hundred years, and now the marsh is being regenerated. I have seen the difference in the last year, with the water levels rising – I have had to buy a pair of wellies; my Gortex lined boots are no longer suitable marsh-wear.
January has been a quiet month for wildlife on Wilden Marsh, but it is there and visible to those who are prepared to spend a little more time looking. I have seen many herons, cormorants, magpies, crows, buzzards, kestrels, woodpeckers, tits, foxes, badgers, muntjac deer and various mice this month. The weather has not been as cold as in December, and it’s been pretty dry, but the ponds have been under ice for most of the month.
I particularly like cormorants. I like their behaviour. I like that they dive into the river with quite a wallop, and I like how they swim deep in the water with their head and neck out like a submarine periscope. I like the way they dive beneath the surface of the river when they are startled. They have beautiful iridescent wings, which are often spread to dry when the cormorant is perched on tree branches and pylons. Many times I have been looking through my camera’s viewfinder and have heard a cormorant dive into the River Stour, behind me.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers nest in Hoo Wood and Wilden Marsh every year; many of the oak trees are peppered with holes pecked by them. It amazes me how they manage to bore their nests into living oak trees; first horizontally and then straight down. I know the woodpecker has evolved a shock absorbing head, but pecking a nest in an oak tree is surely a mammoth task in anybody’s book. If they decide to nest in the same tree the following year, they will bore another nest, which takes the male and female 2 to 3 weeks to excavate. Their nesting holes are usually 10 to 12 feet above ground, but sometimes they are a great deal higher. 5 to 7 creamy white eggs are laid during the second half of May.
Both sexes drum; they start in January and continue until late June.
For the last couple of weeks I have photographed badgers at night, trying to find out how active they are at this time of year. I have photographed foxes and mice, too. Night photography at this time of year is a cold business. Since badgers are nocturnal, trying to photograph them during the day doesn’t bring the best results. Badgers will stay in their setts for days when the weather is cold. Anyway, the outcome of my endeavours is more than 30 infra-red photographs of badgers, foxes and mice.
February is the peak period for badger mating and they have litters of 1 to 5 cubs, but 2 to 3 cubs is most usual. 6 to 7 weeks is a badger’s normal gestation period. No matter when the eggs are fertilised, implantation nearly always occurs in late December. Cub births occur from late January to early March, but the majority will be born in the first half of February. Badgers can, in fact, mate at any time of year, but they have the ability to delay fertilised egg implantation. Badgers normally live for 5 to 8 years, but they have been known to live 15 years.
Foxes range all over the marsh and Hoo Wood and they are particularly interested in the badger sets, but soon disappear when the badger shows its face.
As well as the fox, mice/rats seem to find the badger set fascinating, which is surprising as they can end up as the badger’s dinner.
More on badgers in my February blog.
I have searched for fox dens on the marsh and in Hoo Wood, but, as yet, I have not had much luck. I am hoping that I will find a den before spring.
The undergrowth has probably died down as much as it is going to now, before spring erupts. At this time of year the minutiae of the countryside becomes visible; features that are completely hidden by brambles, fern and Himalayan balsam during summer, can now stick out like a sore thumb. I had heard of a long-term badger’s set on the marsh, but I was unable to find it until winter – then it was difficult to miss. So winter is a great time to have a good old poke around an area you might be interested in. If you are REALLY interested in looking at an area in-depth, a good idea would be to make a sketch map of the area in winter, identifying where all the animals live; you could do as I do: mark-up an aerial photograph on Google Earth – it’s more convenient and, more importantly, MORE FUN!
Yesterday morning (29th January): Animal tracks and trails were everywhere when I walked the marsh yesterday. There were more mallards on the River Stour than you could shake a stick at. Half a dozen herons were standing to attention in the fields, a few flying about; a dozen or more cormorants perched on pylons and a couple of kestrels were hunting in the lagoon field. It was minus 2 degrees when I set out and the temperature didn’t change much all morning. So the ground, ground water, and ponds all had a layer of ice over them – it was very crunchy underfoot, and a definite ‘feel good’ morning. I entered the marsh at the northern end of Wilden Lane; walked along-side of Brook for a while; climbed over badger set bank, at the point where a set of steps have been hacked into the bank and reinforced with sawn logs; past the old British Sugar settling ponds, with the two large sugar silos on our right-hand side; past North Pond, which runs parallel with the bank of the River Stour, and is sheltered by a small wood running along its entire length; past the new River Stour northern weir and on down to the new southern weir. Opposite the new weir, right down at the southern end of the marsh, where all the marsh improvement work is going, is a vehicle scrap yard, of all things, serviced by an entrance off Wilden Lane, which, it seems to me, is totally at odds with the ethos of a nature reserve. However, as I have mentioned before, the marsh is surrounded by industrial areas. It’s just the thought of fuel, oil and anti-freeze getting into the newly cleared ditches that is a worry.
The diverse flora and fauna found in Hoo Wood and on Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve, the latter being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), continue to thrive in spite of being surrounded by industrial estates, and despite the previous disinterest and neglect by those responsible for its upkeep, not to mention the possible interest of property developers. Both Hoo Wood and Wilden Marsh are ribbons of nature connecting Stourport on Severn with Kidderminster. The River Stour flows parallel to the western edge of the marsh, as does the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal; to the east, and running parallel with the marsh, is Wilden Lane. Hoo Brook borders the northern end of the marsh, slowly winding its way down to the River Stour.
There is a lot of work going on at the southern end of the marsh at the moment. Volunteers are thinning and pruning trees, clearing ditches, and installing weirs at the end of the ditches to maintain water levels. It looks like their work will prove to be a major improvement, particularly to access.
PLEASE NOTE! Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve is closed until further notice, to enable essential maintenance work to be carried out. Anyone requiring access to the north or south ends of the reserve will need a permit from The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.
Hoo Wood is approximately one mile long by 450 feet wide, steeply sloped and running parallel with the eastern side of the northern end of Wilden Lane. The wood is primarily populated with oak, intermingled with birch, a smattering of larch, sycamore and beech trees. Hazel, holly, broom, elder, gorse and many other varieties are well established – there are even a few varieties of apple tree. The plant life is also abundant and varied, but more about these later in the year. In summer, the mosquitoes are vicious; their bites produce swellings the size of hazel nuts. I certainly need to make sure I am well deeted when I am wandering in Hoo Wood during the summer months.
Wilden Village is situated 0.8 miles along the 2.2 miles long Wilden Lane, on the Stourport on Severn side, and is opposite Wilden Industrial Estate, formerly the site of Wilden Iron Works. At the centre of the village is the Wilden Shop and Post Office. There used to be a village pub opposite the entrance to the industrial estate: The Wilden Inn was demolished a few years ago to make way for residential housing.
During the 1970s the marsh began to deteriorate with the removal of the old weirs, but with the installation of two new 1.5 metre high stone weirs last year, placed 1.5 kilometres apart, the water levels in the marsh are now rising.
At the north end of Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve are the disused British Sugar settling lagoons, their water gradually evaporating after the closure of the sugar factory in 2002, further contributing to the drying out of the marsh. The nature reserve consists of 37.5 hectares of dry and marshy fields with small alder and willow woods, reed beds and many drainage ditches, all with different flora and fauna; there are also lots of uncommon plants such as marsh orchids, marsh cinquefoil and lesser water parsnip. A total of 192 bird species have been recorded here and about 70 species breed. The River Stour is less than half a mile from any point along Wilden Lane. The Widen Marsh Nature Reserve is managed by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.
For many years I have been interested in the fauna and flora of Hoo Woods and Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and I intend to document my seasonal impressions over a 12 month period, in this blogs.
I have watched buzzards nesting and fledging in Hoo Wood for a number of years and, last year, I photographed a buzzard chick’s progress from hatching to it leaving the nest (fledging). I have photographed foxes, badgers, mice, and the many birds that frequent this very local area.
These are a few photographs of last year’s Hoo Wood common buzzard (Buteo buteo). There was one chick hatched last year and 2 chicks the year before. Many hours were spent hiding under my camouflage net, in amongst the Himalayan Balsam, ferns, bracken and mozzies, waiting for the chick to perform for my camera, which was usually for a few minutes in 3 hours.
The common buzzard is easily distinguished from all other species of hawk by its size. The wingspan may vary between 48 to 60 inches, with a body length of around 20 inches. The ‘mewing’ of a buzzard is unmistakable. It’s a slow flyer and has little hope of catching prey that’s on the move. Its usual tactic is to perch motionless on a tree branch and wait for its prey to pass beneath it.
Buzzards start breeding in late March and can lay 2 to 5 eggs, which take 33 to 35 days to incubate and a further 50 to 55 days for the chicks to fledge.