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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December workday.

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1st December 2011:  At 09.45, I stood at the river side of the orchid field gate, gazing into the south end of the middle wood. It was cold, and I was waiting for the working party to arrive. Five or six willow tree trunks are marked with red dots, denoting that they would be felled later today. I heard rustling and movement seconds before the sleek, muscular shape of a young muntjac deer emerged from between the trees. This doe was the epitome of sheer pent-up animal power as it sped, terrified, into the open. The work-party made its way noisily through the wood, carrying the various items of equipment it would need to complete the day’s work schedule. The muntjac passed so close to me, in a desperate attempt to escape the hullabaloo, that I could have jumped on top of it.

I heard the chatting and calling of the work party before I could see the individuals walking through the tree line. As well as their own personal rucksacks containing food, drink and spare clothes, they carried the Trust’s large yellow lopping saw, bow saws and long-handled secateurs.

Today’s tasks are to fit twenty bird boxes seven feet up on various tree trunks, fell the trees marked with the red dots, cut the trunks and branches to manageable lengths with a chain saw, and stack them in tidy piles. The wood piles will provide homes for small mammals and insects, until they rot down. The work is to be carried by fifteen of us, varying in ages from late teens up to, I guess, early seventies.

It is a very pleasant experience working with people who genuinely have an interest in and a love of nature, who are willing to give their time freely, benefiting the marsh, in particular, and the environment in general. It really is an experience not to be missed. Furthermore, it is a very healthy social as well as work activity. There is no pressure during these work-days; it’s an easy-going atmosphere. People work as fast as they are able, or as slow as they wish. It doesn’t matter whether you carry one branch or a large arm full to the wood stacks. There is plenty of time to chat. So if there are people out in the blogosphere who would like to spice-up their leisure time, meet interesting people and learn about the nature in their area, then volunteering with your local Wildlife Trust might be the way to go.

We finished the workday by mid-afternoon.


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5th August 2011: The marsh flora is in the process of shutting-down for the winter, and it’s showing all the signs of running rapidly out of steam. It’s as if the high-energy demands made on the marsh by the vegetation during the growing season, have sucked nearly all the water from the soil. The once wet and spongy ground is now dry, hard and dusty. The millions of different shapes and sizes of seeds are sitting tightly packed on their seed heads at the top of erect and brittle stems, waiting for the best time to allow the wind to play its part. These seed heads and pods have replaced the colourful blooms of a weeks or two ago: the most obvious and striking of these being hogweed. When the conditions are right a strong wind will carry some of these seeds across the marsh to a fertile place, and a new generation of plants might grow.


Watching the seasons change is both exciting and rewarding.

Whilst many of the marsh blooms have died leaving dried-out, brown seed pods and brittle stalks, a few hangers-on are still adding a bit of colour to the landscape; these won’t last long: a few days, maybe. There are plenty of berries and apples on the marsh, though. The blackberries, in particular, are ripe enough to eat, and they taste lovely – they are a real favourite of mine.

Pigeon hiding in the grass.

On my way home this evening, I came across a pigeon sitting motionless in a patch of comparatively short grass. It remained immobile until I reached down to touch it, and then it flew away. I have come across this pigeon behaviour on several occasions, and I don’t know whether they are ill, having a rest, or if this is a survival strategy. If the latter is the case, then they would soon be a fox’s dinner. Maybe, this is how the fox catches the pigeons; perhaps foxes existence on the marsh depends on a steady supply of stupid pigeons being available. I have seen rabbits exhibiting similar behaviour: they wait until the last-minute before fleeing. Pheasants hide in the undergrowth and trust in luck, too. I have watched foxes take advantage of this behaviour. They grab the immobile pheasant and kill it: foxes are experts at killing – it’s their nature. Foxes seem to kill more pigeons on the marsh than anything else, but I guess there are more than a few rabbits on their menu, too.

North Pond.

Reeds and pond weed have almost taken over the North Pond, and the water level continues to fall. I stood on the east bank this evening listening to a loud clicking sound coming from the reeds on the west side. I wasn’t able to decide what was responsible for making the single click at ten to fifteen-second intervals.

Last weekend I had spotted otter tracks on a small mud beach along the River Stour. I immediately set up a camera trap there. The camera trap had monitored the small mud beach for five days, so I was hopeful of a few otter photographs today. However, in spite of the camera indicating fifteen new images, a broken tree branch had found its way in front of the lens and all the images were useless. That’s another big disappointment, then!


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Grubbing about in the undergrowth.


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31st July 2011: Grubbing about in the undergrowth yesterday, flat on my stomach, searching for grasshoppers, reminded me of my childhood:

My first meaningful encounter with nature could have been in my father’s garden, or in his allotment. My father grew vegetables and fruit. From a very early age, I was obsessed with digging tunnels. I dug them in my father’s garden, in his allotment; in fact, anywhere I was able of sink my shovel. I was a human mole! It drove my father mad, but I don’t remember him stopping my excavations. I think my parents looked on my obsession as a short-term fad that I would soon grow out of; after all, digging can be very hard work! They probably felt it would keep me out of trouble, and at least they knew where I was. The fact that any of my tunnels could easily collapse and smother me seemed to have escaped them.

My digging activities might have kick-started my interest in nature. Had I found an object of interest: a gun, knife, or buried treasure, I could have developed a love of archaeology. I don’t recall my tunnelling revealing any ancient artefacts. I did dig up many interesting creepy-crawlies, though.


I progressed from turning my father’s garden into something resembling a First World War trench system, to proper excavation projects in a field over the road from my dad’s allotment; maybe with more than a little encouragement from my parents. I say a field, but I mean a “HUGE” field. I could lose myself in that field for days at a time, if it wasn’t for the fact that my parents expected me to go home to bed each evening. This field became the domain of “Nature Boy!”

I don’t remember there being crops, cattle, or sheep in the field. It was a very wild and overgrown place. A few years later the County Council built a large school on my field.


My mother never knew what she would find when she returned home from work. On one occasion she found amphibians and fish swimming in the bath. I would keep buckets of tadpoles, frogs and newts in various places around our house. Sometimes there would be an injured rabbit, pigeon, or something really horrible recovering in a box in the front room. My mother has a bird phobia and was afraid to look into any boxes that I had left about the place.

I would catch eels by filling a net bag with worms and wrapping nylon fishing line around it. The eels would bite into the ball to get at a tasty meal’ and their backward facing teeth would get snagged in the nylon line. I have an enduring memory of my mother trying to  fry a large  eel that I had caught, and desperately trying to stop it from wriggling out of the hot pan. The eel’s nervous system is capable of keeping it wriggling for hours after death.

Soldier Beetles.

I kept rabbits, ferrets and polecats in cages at the rear of the house. I used ferrets for rabbiting and a polecat for ratting. I roamed the countryside on foot and by bicycle, in search of interesting specimens. I kept horrible insects in match boxes to frighten little girls. Most of all, I was then, and am now, fascinated by grasshoppers and their ability to jump long distances in comparison to their size.

Ice creams were bigger in the 1950s, too.

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A walk in the woods.

Rowan Berries.

30th July 2011: I had to accept as I walked through Hoo Wood this morning, that autumn is just around the corner. I’m not trying to wish summer away, but I can’t ignore the fact that we are over the best of it now. Many of the plants are wilting and dying-back.

Some of the bright green colours are turning to browns and dirty yellows. Most of the blooms have gone. The remaining Himalayan balsam flowers are no longer pink, but a lack-lustre white. I am surprised to see a few new honeysuckle blooms. The flowers on the broom bushes add a welcome bright yellow colour to an otherwise sea of green. The pink flowers of the Herb Robert plants are hanging on until the bitter end at the south end of the wood, together with yarrow, and the last couple of ragwort blooms that are sheltering and wilting under a willow tree.

Marmalade Hoverfly.

The brightest colour in the wood today is the orange-red of the Rowan berries. The elder berries are mostly green, but they are starting to ripen. The blackberries are mostly green, but a small number of black berries that are not fully ripe – these are too bitter to eat now.

The hawthorn’s plum red berries look plentiful this year, and the rose hips are almost fully ripe. In fact, all the berries in the wood are abundant.

From my favourite vantage point in Hoo Wood I could see that the marsh lagoon fields were also lacking last week’s colourful blooms.

Some of the images from this morning’s Hoo Wood walk are shown in the slide-show below.

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