8th January 2011: I was out in Hoo Wood at dawn this morning under a cloudless, powder blue sky. I could feel the increasing heat of the sun on my cheek, as it rose slowly above the horizon. Spike sniffed the air repeatedly whilst gambolling along the ridge track. It felt like a spring morning! The sun felt like a spring sun! I looked across to Dark Wood; the undergrowth was sprouting, or it appeared this way from a distance. The honeysuckle is already in leaf, and elder bush buds are cracking open. No, I’m not in bed dreaming; I know because I pinched myself … twice. At Fox Hollow, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker tries out the drumming tree. He isn’t drumming a fast rat-tat-tat beat; it is more of a half-hearted slow knock- knock- knock. I expect he is getting in a bit of practice before the start of the mating season. Surely, these things are happening too early in the year. I expect the honeysuckle leaves, and the elder buds will disappear with the next frost.
I scanned Fox Hollow with my binos. This is often a productive activity, if given enough time. It’s no good scanning the undergrowth once or twice; you need to allow at least fifteen minutes to adequately examine the ground in detail. It’s also important to listen whilst using your peripheral vision to pick up small movements. This is what I was doing when I noticed rustling in the leaf litter, right down in the middle of the hollow. Focusing my binoculars on the spot, I saw a small pile of leaves boiling, for want of a better term. In amongst the boiling leaves I saw an occasional flash of white fur. I watched as the animal ran rapidly under the leaf carpet; the leaves washed over and completely hid the animal as it bulldozed its way along the floor of the hollow. Then all movements stopped, just for a few seconds. The cream head of a ferret poked out of the leaves. With a mouse or vole in its mouth, it looked this way and that, before diving under the leaves again. The ferret must have poked its head above the leaves to get its bearings. It changed direction and was now travelling, still under the leaves, towards a high bank. The ferret broke out of the leaves, ran up the bank and dived down a hole. I now know where that particular ferret lives, so the wait and the small amount of effort has paid off.
I took Spike home, picked up my camera gear and made my escape before something happened to prevent it. I had the whole day to myself, and I was eager to find out what was happening on the marsh. Another Lesser Spotted Woodpecker knock-knock-knocked, high up in an oak tree, on the far bank of Hoo Brook. A small heron flew up from the brook as I lifted my camera out of its rucksack. The morning chorus had started up again, or perhaps it’s just the first time I was prepared to acknowledge it since last year. Most of the backing vocals were sung by tits and blackbirds; a couple of rooks croaked the chorus.
I was sitting on a stack of logs eating my lunch today – a slab of Christmas cake – not far from the south weir, when I saw a man striding towards me. I had just finished eating my cake, so I didn’t feel obliged to offer him a bite. I was dropping the empty foil cake wrapping in the rucksack when he popped up beside me. One second I was sitting quietly with my thoughts and the next, a man hovered in front of me … “Are you Mike585?” he asked.
I soon learned that ‘my man’ was a former Wilden Marsh Manager of some eight years ago, and he had turned up today to check the water levels. The conversation was enjoyable enough, better than talking to the marsh cattle anyway. At one time, I thought that I should stop talking to cows. I became concerned that someone might see me! It eventually occurred to me that if farmers are comfortable talking to their animals, then I am comfortable talking to the marsh cattle. They are good listeners, and appear to be interested in what I have to say to them.
Anyway, my guest was telling me about his continuing interest in the marsh and his willingness to get involved again: running a Saturday work party seemed an attractive idea, he told me. Obviously, a lot has changed within the Trust and on the marsh in eight years and old marsh knowledge is not current marsh practice, so a degree of retraining might be necessary.
I know the above person reads this blog, so this is what I suggest:
- Work days: if you are unable to attend the monthly Wilden Marsh Thursday work party, then Andy Harris is putting together a Saturday work party at the Devil’s Spittleful. This might be a good opportunity to update your skills and knowledge.
- A second monthly Wilden Marsh Saturday workday might be started in 2013.
- If access to Wilden Marsh is a required, a permit can be sort from Andy Harris on 01905754919.
The rest of the afternoon was quiet. When it began to get dark, I trudged home.