8th January 2011: I was out in Hoo Wood at dawn this morning under a cloudless, powder blue sky. I felt the increasing heat of the sun on my cheek, as it rose slowly above the horizon. Spike sniffed the air repeatedly whilst skipping 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 to from a distance. The honeysuckle is already in leaf and elder 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 machine gun beat, it is more of a half-hearted slow knock-knock-knock. I expect he is getting in a bit of practice in 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: often a productive activity, 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, I saw a small pile of leaves churn, and the occasional flash of white fur. I watched something running rapidly under the leaf carpet; the leaves washed over and completely hid the small animal, as it bulldozed its way along the floor of the hollow. Suddenly, all movements stopped, just for a few seconds. The cream head of a ferret poked through of the leaves, holding a mouse or vole in its mouth; it looked this way and that, before diving under the leaves again. The ferret must have been trying to get its bearings. It changed direction and scurried under the leaves towards a high bank. The ferret broke from the carpet of leaves and ran up the bank before diving down a hole. I now know where this 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 to the marsh before something happened to prevent it. I had the whole day to myself and was eager to find out what was happening down there. A Greater Spotted Woodpecker knock-knock-knocked high up in an tall oak tree, on the far bank of Hoo Brook. A small heron rose from the brook as I lifted my camera from its rucksack. The morning chorus had started again, or perhaps it’s just the first time I was have heard it this year. Most of the backing vocals were sung by tits and blackbirds, and a couple of rooks croaked the chorus.
I later sat on a stack of logs eating my lunch – a slab of Christmas cake – not far from the south weir. A man strode 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 was hovering 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. I am increasing Thinking that I should stop talking to cows. I became concerned that someone might see me! It eventually occurred, though, 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.
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.