Friday 22nd April 2011 – 18:50: It’s Good Friday! I have no real commitments today and I can please myself what I do. So, it’s 7:00 am, the sun is shining, the sky is clear, and I am walking alongside Hoo Brook on my way down to the Stour. Nothing much is moving apart from a few pigeons flying between trees, and the brook – whilst still low – is clearer than of late. A canal boat is approaching the canal lock and a couple of hyper children are calling out excited reports to their father, who is steering. Both children jumped off the boat whilst it was still in motion, as though they had been living on the boat most of their lives, and headed off, with a cranked handle in hand, to do the necessary with the lock gates.
I creep along the cast iron pipes hoping to get a glimpse of the muntjac, but no such luck; all is quiet in the swamp this morning. I judge how unobtrusively I am covering ground by the absence of bird alarm calls; if I am alarming the birds I am less likely to get decent wildlife subjects for my camera and less likely to get close wildlife observations. There is nothing like a breaking pheasant or mallard to frighten away all the wildlife in the immediate area. So my progress through the marsh does tend to be exceedingly slow. Approaching the North Pond I hear splashing and a muntjac emerges soaking wet, just had her bath I expect; she is probably on her way home and she hadn’t seen me. The vegetation is now quite high and it won’t be long before she will be able to wander about through complete cover. I manage to get a few shots of her gliding through the long grass. 100 metres, or so, further on I glimpse another muntjac in the wood along the east side of the pond, but I am not quick enough to capture an image. A couple of mallards see me and break from the pond, I manage to get a photograph of these, though, but they alarm the muntjac and it takes flight. Mallards are difficult to get past without alerting them into flight mode – unless I see them first, that is.
There is a coot part hidden amongst the reeds; it sees me, but I don’t think it’s sure what it’s looking at, so it moves silently out of sight. The mating groan of a heron rises from the island on the other side of the Stour, and I hear a curlew call from over there, also. I cross onto the east bank of the pond and wait in amongst the trees for wildlife to walk into view or fly overhead. I hear something large running through the pond, too large to be a muntjac; it turns out to be large, brown, wet German Pointer, but it runs straight past me, oblivious to my presence. A short time after, the dog’s owner wanders along the track towards me; he does see me and then so does the dog. We talk for a while and then go our separate ways.
I see three men walking across the pasture bordering the lagoon field, one of them has a clipboard and the others have binoculars – WWT people carrying out a survey, I expect.
I walk back along the west side of the reserve and photograph butterflies and some newly flowering plants. I cross the north pasture via the cast iron pipes and still no sign of a muntjac in the swamp. I pack away my camera as I am walking along Hoo Brook. I just about snapped the strap buckles shut when a heron lifts off the brook right in front of me. So it’s true what they say: “Don’t put your camera away until you really need to.”
Sunday 17th April 2011 – 20:30: The North Pond is now teeming with tadpoles. It’s been around 4 weeks since the mating toads left the pond and I can’t say that I’ve noticed an increase in bird activity on the pond; perhaps tadpoles are not very tasty.
I passed a 3 metre high oak cloaked in Green Longhorn (Adela reaumurella), a day-active lepidopteran from the moth family Adelidae, the fairy longhorn moths, with wingspans ranging from 14 to 18 millimeter. It seemed as if they were devouring the tree, but I guess they would be mating and egg laying.
The upper wings of both sexes are metallic green and the under wings are metallic bronze. The males have very long white antennas. They have rough black hair on their heads. The females have relatively short antennas with shorter and lighter hair on their heads.
The flight time ranges from April to June.
The caterpillars live on leaf remains.
Nettles, Himalayan Balsam, Hog Weed and Comfrey are amongst the most prolific plants growing on the marsh at the moment; they seem to be growing at a rate of two to three inches per week. Ransoms (wild garlic) are just beginning to flower and there is a hint of their unique aroma in the air already.
The plants that are flowering on the north marsh now include: Forget Me Nots, Lady’s Smock, Greater Stitchwort, Red Dead-Head Nettles, White Dead-Nettles, dandelions, Marsh Marigolds, Cow Parsley, Comfrey, Ground Ivy, Wild Garlic, wild Mustard and Red Campion.
These plants are edible: Crushed Red Campion seeds are used in snakebite cures and Greater Stitchwort is used as a treatment for stomach ache and is named after its medieval use in curing the stitch. Ground Ivy is used as an alternative medicine; it’s supposed make an excellent spring tonic and is said to be general cure-all. Red Dead-Nettles are not used medicinally, but White Dead-Nettles are: both Red and White Dead-Nettles do not have the ability to sting. Dandelions have many medicinal uses and is supposed to be very good for one’s internal organs. Comfrey is good for scratches and abrasions. Cow Parsley is used to treat kidney and bladder stones. I don’t think Lady’s Smock (aka Cuckoo Flower) has any medicinal significance. Wild Mustard is known for its seeds and as being a very good accompaniment for red meat. Wild Garlic (aka Ransoms) have similar, but weaker, health benefits to those of cultivated garlic. Marsh Marigolds are toxic and must not be ingested.
I managed to photograph the swamp muntjac today; I was walking along the large cast iron pipes and the muntjac was standing in the marsh looking directly at me. I was wearing my Wallaby skin wide-brimmed hat and I think this confused her for a while, but not for long. As I lifted and pointed my camera, she bolted silently into the undergrowth. I think she might be pregnant and she looks well-fed and in good condition.
A gull watched me walking along the cast iron pipes; it was sitting on one of the pipes, hiding behind a clump of vegetation at the point where the pipes cross the Stour. As I approached, the gull regularly popped its head up – keeping an eye on my progress. I was expecting it to fly away well before it was in range of my camera, but the gull stood its ground and, at the last possible moment, hopped from the pipe and skimmed the surface of the Stour for a few metres and, with a few flaps of those long wings, cranked itself over towards the high river bank and quickly climbed steeply away.
Below are a few Wilden Marsh images I made earlier today:
Saturday 9th April 2011 – 20:30: I was out on the dew-drenched marsh at dawn this morning. It was unusually quite along Hoo Brook – the traffic on Wilden Lane being very light at this early hour. The sunlight streaming through the trees gave the water in the brook a magical golden twinkling appearance in the faster flowing sections, which was completely spoiled by a pile of tree branches and a purple plastic dog basket straddling its banks – not the sort of place any self-respecting fairy would want to reside, I suspect.
The slack water in Hoo Brook and in the River Stour reflected light like a mirror, as can be seen in some of the gallery photographs below.
Two narrow boats were moored alongside the canal bank, on the west side of the north pasture and, even at this time of the day, the early morning cyclists and joggers were out doing their Saturday morning ‘thing along the towpath – just like I was doing my Saturday morning ‘thing’, except I was not being as energetic, nor was I on the towpath.
The morning chorus was well under way by the time I arrived at the North Pond and the warmth of the sun was starting to burn-off the veil of mist from the surface of the water. I surprised the mallards again and they flew off along the Stour.
Toadspawn usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to incubate, so I was expecting a pond full of writhing tadpoles: I didn’t see any. I am interested to find out if the tadpoles will encourage more birds to the pond, which won’t be the case if the water level keeps dropping. I have a feeling that this warm spell will bring the tadpoles out. Before they get their legs, tadpoles are vegetarians; when they have their legs they become carnivores. I have heard it said that it is often a good idea to float a ball of dog or cat meat on the surface of a pond to ensure that the tadpoles have enough to eat, but I am not sure that this is advisable, or necessary in a large pond – there should be plenty of insect larvae for them to eat and we don’t want to be overrun by toads.
My intention today was to take a few landscape photographs.
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.
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.
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: