Wednesday, 4 April 2012


Alan and I parked at the Natural England Stodmarsh car park and walked along the wildlife trail before joining the main path. The marshy wooded area was alive with birdsong, led as usual at this time of the year by an abundance of Chiffchaffs. In support were the Blackcaps, whose mellifluous notes only served to highlight even more, the monotony of the somewhat vocally challenged Chiffys.

Great Tits like the one above, Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Robins, Wrens, Cetti's Warblers and not forgetting the humble Dunnocks (top picture), all sang and called in in the Spring sunshine. It would have been a real pleasure to have just stayed there.

But we moved on and out onto the path that runs alongside the main lake and before long we were watching and listening to another fine sight, the Marsh Harriers. There were four or five, plus a Buzzard, circling and rising and calling, high above our heads. Difficult to see against the deep blue sky, but easier when they passed as black, unmistakeable raptor shapes across the white clouds. The male above is the only picture I managed, later in the day, when the skies had darkened.

On the main lake itself were all the usual wildfowl species including lots of Shovelers. But the main residents were Mute Swans, hundreds of them. Swan Lake would have been an appropriate name for it and the swans above gave an appropriately balletic display. A split second before, they had struck a perfect heart shaped pose as they displayed to each other. As usual I was a bit too slow to capture the perfect moment.

Plenty of Lady's Smock flowers had sprung up along the lake and river side but we saw only one Orange Tip butterfly, a male who settled briefly but fluttered away in an orange and white flash before I could get a picture.

Just a couple of Comma's and Peacocks were all that we saw butterfly wise. Probably due to rapidly darkening skies and a subsequent fall in temperature.

I think the flower above is Lesser Celandine, it was glowing nicely, with others in the damp ground alongside the tidal stretch of the river Stour. It was here that we stumbled upon a mystery. While we admired the wild flowers, with our backs to the river, there was a loud rustling and a simultaneous splash as if something had broken through the thick reedbed on the far bank and hit the water. We turned, looked and saw a wave, ripples and what I can only describe as a circular area of bubbles which crossed the river diagonally to the near bank. I was convinced that something quite large had powered across the river beneath the surface and was about to surface, maybe an Otter or something. So I ran towards it camera ready, but nothing came up. We were absolutely astonished, and couldn't begin to think what had caused it. I had certainly never seen anything like it and i've spent a lot of time alongside rivers. We began to walk on and had gone about twenty feet when it happened again! This time from the near bank, right in front of us, to the far bank and more bizarrely, straight back to the spot where the first event had started. We were stunned. I still can't imagine what caused it, but i'd love to know. I know the Marsh Frogs grow big at Stodmarsh, but not that big.

We arrived at the flooded water meadow without further incident and saw Greylags, Kestrel, Teals, Mallrds, Lapwing, Reed Bunting a few Ruff and my first ever Water Vole at this site. No sign of the Garganeys though.

And so to lunch in the Feast hide which we had to ourselves for a while. That's inside and out. Just a couple of Teal, the male above who would only show his DA to the camera. Unlike his lady below who was happy to give us an emerald flash.

Last stop was the Marsh hide which has been transformed into a great piece of wet habitat. The Dozen or more Snipe, Green Sandpipers, Wigeon and Redshank all seemed to agree. It was from this hide that with a bit of help from a fellow birder we watched a Jack Snipe bob past a gap in the reeds and a bit later watched a drake Garganey fly low across the marsh in front of us. Forty species seen and a mystery unsolved.


Frank said...

A grand day at Stodmarsh and some super sightings. Been a long time since I've seen a Jack bobbing.

I trust you've reported the UFO splashdown Phil!

Steve Ashton said...

Phil your mystery could of been Mink, I have noticed increased numbers of these of late, noting 2 at Stodmarsh yesterday. (Tuesday)

Greenie said...

Phil ,
Great read , and a bit of drama too . Would confirm your Lesser Celandine ID .
Re. your possible Alligator sighting , did you take your tablets that morning ? Were you wearing your knotted hankie to shade you from the sun ?
Showing your age a bit with the DA .

Warren Baker said...

I'd agree with Steve Phil, your mystery sounds like a Mink, I gad one here on the river Bourne, it made a big splash when it hit the water.

Nice read again today mate :-)

Phil said...


Many thanks for your suggestion of Mink for the answer to my mystery. You may well be right, but i'm not convinced. Firstly, Mink tend to do most of their swimming on the surface I think. At least that's where I have always seen them. Secondly, they don't dive deep, usually no more than 12 inches and for not more than 10 seconds generally. Thirdly the water disturbance suggested something bigger, Mink are quite small.
Having said all that I can offer no probable alternatives, except maybe Otter, which although not out of the question,is a bit unlikely I think.

Steve Ashton said...

Hello Phil, regarding Otter, I bumped into the warden at Stodmarsh this morning (Thursday) who told me a chap had taken photographs of an Otter from the Feast hide recently. Obviously an Otter sighting would as you say seem unlikely although not impossible, but if they are on camera then one at least must be present. I must stress that the Warden never told me that he had actually seen the photos and neither have I, so who knows? It would be nice to see them on the reserve.

Phil said...

That's very interesting, trouble is, it's very easy to confuse Mink with Otter when seen at a fair distance, i've done it myself on the Isle of Mull.
Having said that, there are now Otters in every county and I understand that at least two rivers in Kent hold a population. I can feel a few early visits to Stodmarsh coming on!

Redgannet said...

Your description sounds very similar to my experiences with Otters. As you observed, Mink dive and return quickly to the surface when feeding. Perhaps the creature was reacting to a perceived threat and stayed down longer and deeper than when feeding normally.