Winter Mode.

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9th October 2011: I am definitely a winter person, and I am now eager to switch to my winter mode, but it’s too warm at the moment. This doesn’t mean to say that I won’t be looking forward to spring when the time arrives. I look forward to all the seasons. The marsh squirrels seem a little confused by the current warm weather, too. Walking along the large pipes from the water works this afternoon, I was surprised at the number of squirrels busily harvesting acorns and berries. There were dozens of them; the bushes and trees were alive with squirrels – quite spooky! I would describe the squirrel activity as frantic. I wonder if they know something that I don’t. The media are predicting snow and -20 0C temperatures for the end of the month: maybe the squirrels are expecting it too. They were aggressively screeching and running at me, daring me to cross an imaginary line. It was only a few weeks ago that I was wondering why there were so few squirrels about. Perhaps they were taking things easy in our Indian summer conditions, and now it has suddenly dawned on them just how late in the year it really is.


I have removed my remote cameras from the marsh for their twice yearly maintenance: new batteries and a clean-up. Leaving them in their summer positions for too long could result in my finding them submerged as the water table rises.

I heard muntjac barking from the swamp, and the green woodpecker has taken to following me again. He waits in the trees on the east side of North Pond and then chases me down to the tenant farmer’s field gate. I walked further down the river to the south weir. The sun was setting as I made my way back through the field alongside the tenant farmer’s field, and the green woodpecker was waiting; he screamed at me all the way through the corridor.


A gang of eight magpies were pecking at mushrooms, as I walked across the north pasture, and there were quite a few mallards on the river. If you want to see animals on the marsh, you need to be able to read the signs. If you hear a pheasant panicking and magpies fussing, and if you see the flashing white tails of rabbits in the distance, there is a good chance that a fox is somewhere over in that direction. If you stand still and watch the general area where the rabbits had been, there is a fair chance that you will see the fox before too long. If you don’t understand the marsh sounds, or are not prepared to wait and watch, the chances are that you will see very little wildlife.


At 7 pm, the marsh was cooler and more comfortable. Most of the light had gone. Critters were moving about in the thick undergrowth on the island side of the river, probably a munjac or badger wanting to get a drink. I had seen a couple of owls on the south marsh this afternoon, and others were hooting in the wood behind me. I like being on the marsh in the darkness, particularly when the owls are hooting; a large bright moon and a clear sky are a real bonus, too.It is really peaceful sitting on a low branch, by the river, listening to the marsh sounds. I remember sitting in this same place when we had that really cold weather earlier in the year. I remember a large bright moon and a sky full of stars and the frozen grass and leaves crackling under foot; yes, this takes some beating.

To get sufficient benefit from this night-time nature watching malarkey, a decent night scope is a necessary gadget. I have a digital scope. Animal and human eyes show up like car head lights. With its five times magnification and +1000 feet range, it’s ideal for scanning large areas of total darkness; it has an infra-red light source for short distance work and a built-in IR spotlight for long distance spotting.

I have a favourite spot at the north end of the corridor, under a small patch of trees, where I like can sit on frosty moon lit nights. This position allows me to watch the river and the corridor without spooking the animals. I have seen a lot of wildlife from this spot, and it is far enough from the roads to give a feeling of isolation.

Earlier this week, when walking through Hoo Wood, I heard a pheasant panicking down in the lagoon field. I located him through my binoculars almost immediately. I scanned the area to his front and saw a fox standing quietly staring at the pheasant, but there was nothing threatening in its stance. The pheasant was obviously not at all happy to have the beady eyes of a fox bearing down on him, and he was vigorously voicing his discomfort. The fox was far enough away to allow the bird to feel confident about holding his ground until forced to flee. I scanned the area to the rear of the pheasant and saw a second fox creeping slowly forward, low to the ground. The pheasant’s attention was so fixated on the first fox, and he was making such a row, that the second fox was able to quickly close in on him without being noticed. As if to maintain the pheasant’s full attention, first fox began to move to its left. The bird reacted by making even more noise and shifting its weight from one leg to another – getting ready to make a break for it, I expect. The second fox’s pace quickened, and before I could mutter ‘He’s behind you,’ the pheasant was safely in foxy’s mouth. The only place I could have witnessed this event developing, was from high-up in Hoo Wood. I was in the right place, at the right time, but this is what happens. I have seen a lot of action on the marsh from my vantage point in Hoo Wood.

At a party last night. I spent some time talking to my cousin, who is a pest controller. He was making a case for exterminating foxes, pigeons and squirrels, because they are ‘vermin.’ I don’t need to say which side I batted for.

Herons, a Marsh Bunting and a Woodpecker …

2011-04_24 Dandelion.

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Saturday April 23rd 2011: 07:00 finds me out on the pipes again. It’s sunny, warm and the sky is bright blue, as has been the norm of late. There was a different feel to the marsh today – not something I can easily explain: vibrancy seemed very much subdued. Even the pigeons were few and far between, the mallards were not at their usual places and there was no sign of any cormorants. There was bird song, but nowhere as much as there had been yesterday and what there was seemed half-hearted. The air was full of flying insects, blossom petals and floating seeds.

When I eventually arrived at the southern end of the North Pond, I hadn’t taken a single photograph. I sat under a tree for half an hour waiting for the marsh to wake-up, but it didn’t and nothing came along that was worth photographing. A few birds flew here and there, mainly pigeons, and the ever-present tits chirped away in the trees and bushes, but there was a definite lack of urgency about the morning – I could almost hear the birds yawning. I walked up and down the pond bank a few times looking into the depth of the pond, which becomes more clearly visible in places as the water level continues to drop. All I can remember seeing was a duck flying overhead. I can honestly say that time was beginning to drag.

2011_04_24 heron on the nest.

I moved in amongst the trees on the eastern bank of the pond and waited some more, but it was just not happening. I thought about going home and coming back later, but if it is quiet and slow now it is likely to be quiet and slow later, too.

The call of a distant heron spurred me forward to a decision: I would visit the heronry. Trying to get decent photographs at the heronry requires camouflage netting and a lot of patience. I didn’t have a decent sized camouflage net with me and my patience was already wearing a bit thin, but it would be an opportunity to check on the herons and find out if anyone has been around disturbing them. There should be chicks on the nests by now, and the adults would be vigilant.

2011_04_24 Heron Sentry

I worked my way to the one place I could get a reasonably decent view of the heronry, without being too intrusive. Last year’s carpet of white, dry, and  brittle Himalayan Balsam stalks made stealthy progress almost impossible. No matter how careful I was, loud crackling and crunching noises echoed through the trees with every falling footstep; progress was, necessarily, very slow.

The herons really are VERY vigilant and  a couple of sentries will be on duty at all times, until the chicks have fledged. If the sentries see an unusual movement, or hear an unfamiliar noise, the scouts will fly out on a reconnaissance  mission.

2011_04_24 Marsh Bunting.

I searched through my camera bag for any items of camouflaged clothing that might be hidden beneath all my photography paraphernalia. I found: a camo-net balaclava to wear under my wide-brimmed wallaby skin hat; a small camo-scrim cape to put over my shoulders for shape disruption, and fingerless gloves to prevent my white hands flashing like beacons. I approached the heronry wearing every piece of camouflage clothing I had liberated from my bag, plus a few leafy branches pushed into my scrim cloak for good measure. At the heronry I crawled to a tree and pressed myself tightly up against its trunk. The sentry immediately heard me, or saw a branch move, and despatched a scouting patrol to fly a few search patterns. I was reasonably sure that the scouts didn’t spot me, because they returned to the heronry and the birds settled down. If the scouts had seem me, they would be flying in circles above me until I moved away. The two sentries remained vigilant, standing smartly to attention and scanning the ground around them. I could hear chicks chattering in their nests. It wasn’t just my movements and noise I need to worry about, I also had to avoid alarming the many tweety birds in the trees all around me.

The Marsh Bunting on the right was extremely interested in what I was up to. He watched me for ages, flying from one tree to another. I thought he was going to spill the beans at one point, but he eventually gave up and went on his way without having uttered a tweet.

2011_04_24 heron on the nest.

The photographs in the slide-show below show a sentry on the nest and the scouts over-flying my hiding place. I stayed only long enough to take a few photographs and to check the area for evidence of intrusion by other interested parties. I found footprints and a marked trail to the heronry. If there is either a perceived or actual danger, the herons will fly off to a safe distance and the chicks will huddle down in the nests until the danger has passed. Great care is to be taken when approaching a heronry; if sufficiently frightened, the herons might abandon their nests and chicks.

I went home for dinner before moving on to Hoo Wood, where I hoped to get a shot or two of a green woodpecker; he seems to avoid me when I have my camera with me, and drums like mad thing when I leave my camera at home. There have been many times over the last couple of days, when I have been out walking on the marsh, when I have heard the woodpecker drumming in Hoo Wood. Anyway, I walked past an old woodpecker’s hole, 1.8 metres up the trunk of a young oak tree, without consciously noticing it – it was last year’s excavation. My daydreaming trance broke when it suddenly dawned on me that there were feathers sticking out of the side of that oak tree! I turned around, walked back and, sure enough, there were green woodpecker feathers sticking out of the hole – I could hear the little fella pecking away inside. So I stood back and waited with my camera pointing at his nether regions until he decided it was time to back out of the hole. I then let fly with a camera burst as he wriggled out (see the slide-show below).