The marsh foxes are getting the better of me!

12th February 2012: The marsh foxes are getting the better of me. I watched the dog fox early this morning, from Hoo Wood, through binoculars, mooching about in the north pasture. He paid no attention to the cattle. He sniffed around a small brash pile that had, or has something living under it; maybe it’s one of his old above ground dens. I have looked down so many holes lately that I am imagining him watching me from somewhere nearby, sniggered knowingly under his breath. There’s more to these foxes than I give them credit for. They are not called wily old foxes for nothing! You only have to watch them collaborate to trap and kill pheasants to know that they are a lot smarter than your average pooch.

My remote cameras snapped a fox, a household cat and a muntjac, scratching about outside the badger setts last night. What do these animals find so attractive about badgers…?

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An opportunity!

Pheasant tracks.

5th February 2012: It snowed last evening and overnight. This morning I thought the snow cover offered an excellent opportunity to see how much animal activity occurred on the marsh since 4 pm yesterday.

Entering the marsh at the Hoo Brook end, early this afternoon, I saw a pair of boot prints stretching out ahead of me and another, the same boot print, coming back along the track and out onto Wilden Lane. Fifty meters down the track, the person must have had second thoughts about continuing his morning walk on the marsh.

Fox tracks,

Almost immediately I saw fox and badger tracks in the snow. There was a dozen small yellow urine marks in amongst a particularly dense concentration of badger, fox and rabbit paw prints. A little further along the brook was the unmistakable foot prints of a pheasant; fox prints ran along either side. It quickly became clear that there were animal tracks all over the place. I took a look at a badger’s set, the one I suspect being a fox earth, there were fox prints leading up to the entrance and others leading away from it. A track made by a single pheasant also climbed right up to the sett entrance, stopping at the very edge of its rim. Possibly, the pheasant fell down the hole – I think not; perhaps it flew away, or maybe the fox had grabbed it. My brain now complained of information overload. Nothing is ever clear cut on the marsh!

Badger paw print.

I checked out Hoo Brook wood; the un-grazed pasture between the River Stour and the swamp; all around the North Pond, and the north pasture. The story was the same in each case: where there were animal tracks, the foxes had stalked them; they even followed the muntjac tracks. A single pheasant track ran from the North Pond all the way to Hoo Brook; a distance of around 400 meters. A fox had picked up the pheasant track about fifty meters from the pond and followed it all the way to the brook.

Otter paw print.

Rabbit tracks were everywhere. The foxes have not eaten all the marsh rabbits; they just prefer to stay at home on cold winter days. I think it is fair to say that there is a lot of animal activity on the marsh during the night, as borne out by my remote cameras.

I found what could be a fox den entrance under a brash pile; the entrance is the right size, and it is freshly dug. This might be the den I have been searching for….

Wilden Marsh February workday.

2nd February 2012: Today is the first Thursday of the month and a Wilden Marsh workday. I find it surprising just how quickly the months are ticking by! I don’t want to blink and suddenly find that I’ve missed the photographic delights of spring and summer. The pressure of modern living can soon eat into one’s free time. I will need to make a real effort to stay focused this year. The weather was, as usual, mixed. It was sunny, but cold, to start with. At midday, it looked like it might snow, it didn’t snow; it wasn’t windy, and it didn’t rain: perfect weather for an  active workday, in fact.

Our task for the day was coppicing trees in the north pasture. If left unmanaged, the pasture would soon revert to woodland and grazing would be impractical. Red dots on branches marked the trees to be removed. Ten long-handled pruning secateurs and ten bow saws quickly found their way into eager hands. We rushed off to claim the easiest trees to work on; well … some of us did. Unfortunately, there were precious few of these. Most of  the trees had a dozen or more branches as thick as a man’s calf sprouting from short trunks that were as thick as a man’s thigh. Even though it was a cold day, those of us equipped with a bow saw were soon unbuttoning jackets and loosening scarves. There is nothing like vigorous bow sawing to activate one’s personal central heating system. Coppicing is a very healthy activity that gives a whole-body work out; satisfying quantities of endorphins are released into the blood system … can’t beat it for that “feel good” feeling.

I must admit that I went for one of the smaller easy trees to start with. I feel it is so important to warm up slowly on these jobs – ha! It wasn’t long before I’d removed all the branches and had moved on to a larger tree with thicker branches. I saw one of the lads opposite me on his knees, hard at it bow sawing a thick branch. I felt a twinge of guilt about having selected a small tree to start with, but my second tree was far larger so my guilt didn’t linger for long.

Andy was the team leader and the ‘red dot man’. He used a can of red spray paint to mark the trees to be worked on. I noticed him photographing ‘things.’ I think Andy is a man with a plan; maybe he intends hijacking the volunteer’s blog again, or maybe he’s planning something for the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s new website. We’ll have to wait and see what transpires.

Anna was on brash fire duty, together with a few other pyromaniacs, and I could hear Layton telling one of his incredible stories. Layton is a good storyteller, and he’s very keen on experimenting with recipes. I believe his tomato, his fruit pastel, and his baked bean vodka creations are quite exceptional.

It would not be possible to carry out the necessary ground maintenance and land improvement work on the reserves without the valuable and very enthusiastic help of the TRUST’s volunteers. We were fortunate today: three new volunteers joined the group. “Dave the Saw” was not with us; we missed him and his chain saw.