8th March 2012: It was a beautiful moonlit night yesterday, but this evening the full moon was hidden by clouds. I should have visited the marsh last night, but I didn’t – I went tonight. I had three things on my mind: toads, otters and foxes.
At 7 pm, I was walking alongside Hoo Brook. The wood was lit up by the amber lights of Hoo Brook Industrial Estate, and the two powerful halogen floodlights sited at the water works. I hate those halogen floods; they are far too bright, and their harsh white light illuminates the swamp all through the night.
The plan was to call at North Pond to find out what the toad mating situation was. Next to the north pasture to see the marsh fox, and then along the river bank in the hope of seeing an otter – the latter being a long shot.
Walking along the pipes, the swamp on my left and the River Stour and canal on my right, would be the darkest part of the marsh if it wasn’t for the waterworks floodlights. The pipes are not the easiest things to negotiate during the day; at night, I have to be especially careful not to lose my footing and end up spread-eagled in the brambles. It is not so bad at the moment, because I have cut and removed all the brambles, hawthorn bushes, dog roses and the myriad of growing things that strive to trip me up. It won’t be long before all these things begin to grow vigorously again, and I am battling my way through eight feet high Himalayan balsam once more.
At the North Pond, I scanned the water depths with my million candlepower lantern, but I didn’t see a single toad. To see the toads, I have to spend time getting my eye in. I gave up and carried on to the north pasture where I spent twenty minutes scanning for the dog fox with my night-vision scope. I didn’t see a fox, so I gave up and walked down to the tenant farmer’s field. The Tenant farmer’s field is 230 yards long by 80 yards wide, and my night scope is excellent for scanning this field and there is usually something in there using the darkness as cover, and tonight was no exception. The dog fox was in there hunting moles. As I watch the master working the field, I couldn’t help admire his attention to detail. Like me, he worked very slowly and methodically. He scoured a yard of width of the complete length of the field, before working his way back along another yard wide section.
With its five times magnification, my night scope is really good for spotting wildlife in dark fields. It has an IR spotlight attached to it. I find the best procedure is to scan the field with the spotlight switched off. I can’t see much detail, but animal eyes show up like car headlights. When I see the animal’s eyes, I switch the spotlight on to illuminate the animal. The view through the scope is in black and white, so it falls short of the detail that can be seen in daylight through binoculars. The main benefit is that the animal can’t me when I am using it. If I were to scan the field with my lamp, the fox would do a runner straight away. Anyway, I watched the fox for twenty minutes or so and then left him to his hunting. A few times it looked like he had caught a mole and was eating it. I guess the fox finds the moles a lifesaver at this time of year. I am beginning to see more rabbits aboveground.
I went back to North Pond, toad hunting. This time I approached the hunt more methodically, and it paid off. I saw a few male toads waiting for the females to arrive, so it looks like I have started looking at the right time. I will check the pond every two days from now on.
I photographed the toads using my lantern to provide the necessary light.