Sunrise: 06.39 am Sunset: 07.32
Well, autumn is fast approaching; I think it begins around 21st September. Leaves are dropping. Squirrels are throwing acorns at me, and the lovely warmth of late has given way to much cooler, wetter weather. Daylight is being lost at a rate of around 4 minutes each day, and the marsh vegetation is receding.
Preparations for the nature reality show “Night time on Wilden Marsh” are underway, with me as ‘the fly on the wall’ narrator.
It’s evening, an hour before sunset, and I am trudging onto the marsh with a rucksack full of animal watching and recording gear, and various associated paraphernalia. I have forgotten my high-power torch, and now have to return home to fetch it. I am often half way along the marsh before wondering if I have locked my front door – it’s an awful feeling.
My watching spot of choice this evening is close to a large concrete block (see the corridor image in this post), once the base of a wireless mast, to the west of the withy wood, halfway along the north corridor. The plan is to check and reacquaint myself with the equipment, contact my alter ego (The Wilden Marsh Animal Stalker) and, hopefully, get an inkling of what is happening here after dark before I really get stuck into the watching proper.
I have to ease myself into a night-watching mode; a completely different discipline to watching animals in daylight.
There’s a crescent moon, a few dark clouds, and a gathering breeze is bending the long spindly trees of withy wood – they make strange noises as closely packed trunks knock and grind together. I hear cars racing along Wilden Lane, metal bashing presses from the industrial estate on the west side of the canal, screeching alarms of green woodpeckers, and the croaking call of a heron flying overhead. An ambulance siren wails urgently from somewhere along Worcester road. Angry low whisperings argue deep within the wood, and rustling noises move through the dry, cracking vegetation around me. Sounds of splashing, a couple of sharp barks, and rapid quacking drift over from North Pond: a fox is scattering the ducks.
I’ve finished checking and testing the equipment, and am packing it all away before it gets too dark.
It’s now 8 o’clock, and darkness has fallen. The moonlight is strong enough for me to make out general tree and bush outlines, but any meaningful detail is impossible to see. The breeze has subsided to an eerie silence. as if the marsh is waiting to see what happens next. My infrared night scope is the one thing that makes this night watching malarkey possible. I’m sitting on my folding stool, scanning the corridor in the direction of Marsh Farm and the beach. Half a dozen rabbits graze 25 metres ahead. 75 metres away, a muntjac deer stands to attention, sniffing the air and listening for anything untoward. It just appeared in the viewer; whether it crawled under, or jumped over the fence, I have no idea.
Though dark, I am all netted-up. The large concrete block covers my back. Something is approaching from behind; it’s making a meal of pushing through the thick undergrowth – stopping and starting; maybe it senses me. There’s too much noise being made back there for it to be a fox. I hear snuffling! It sounds like it might be a badger; it’s very close to the concrete block. I am as still as a still thing, and holding my breath. It might be two animals working their way around the block. I’m certain now that there are two badgers. A dark shape passes to my right and another to my left. They are within two metres of me; I can smell them! It’s Mr and Mrs Badger out on a foraging trip. The large Brock has stopped and is looking at me, but he is not alarmed. Both badgers continue their meandering, snuffling way. My night scope has five times magnification, so I have to wait until they are at least 20 metres away before I can get a decent view of them.
Two bright eyes light up my view finder. It’s the north marsh dog fox sauntering down the corridor towards me. He is unconcerned, stopping now and again to rub his bum on the grass, and to sit and scratch. Lifting his nose he sifts the air for familiar and unfamiliar scents. Cool and unhurried, the fox follows a zigzag course. He jumps into the air, snapping at insects. He lies down for a few minutes rest before continuing on his way. It has taken him more than 10 minutes to cover half the original distance between us. Now his stance has lowered and stiffened. His neck is stretched right out, level with his shoulders, and he is looking directly at me. I haven’t moved a muscle, well hardly, and I am wearing beef extract odouriser. He is smarter than and not as accepting as the badgers. The low crouch and deeply penetrating stare tells me the game is up. He turns tail in an instant, and runs up and over the stock fence.
This is my cue to leave the marsh. My evening meal is waiting in the microwave oven, so I am out of here!
I counted five muntjac deer leaving the withy wood and crossing the corridor into the north pasture during the last hour. I didn’t need my torch after all.