Oxwich Marsh is still, just a few tips of reeds move in the afternoon air. Along the boardwalk leading to the hide, a common darter gleans what heat there is from the wooden structure. Apart from a clump of red campion hanging on in a hollow, there are just greens, fading yellows and browns. A singing wren greets me near the entrance, and an even louder Cetti’s warbler seems to respond deep inside the reeds. The lake is motionless, only the ripples of water boatmen skating across the surface disturb the peace. Juvenile and adult little grebes break the tranquillity, they’re noisy, aggressive little creatures, seemingly unable to decide who owns what part of the lake. For me, the trilling of little grebes is the signature call of this wonderful place; it’s always present.
The sun breaks through, casting a golden yellow glow across the marsh and willows beyond. It lights up the reed seed-heads, now turning from green to browns and silver. Close up, each one is a marvel, like a miniature tree and usually containing the odd insect. Small day-flying moths are about, dancing over the tops of the reeds, and migrant hawker dragonflies dart about, some coupled and depositing eggs on the surface of the water.
Patience is the key to watching wildlife, so I sit and wait. Ever so slowly ducks begin to emerge from the reeds. What looks like a family party of mallards, with males sporting resplendent head-colours, a single teal and two very smart looking male gadwalls brave the open water. Moorhens appear, and soon outdo the grebes for fighting spirit - they must be one of the most aggressive of birds.
After the nation’s rivers were cleaned up during that last part of the 20th century, otters made a great comeback. They’ve even reached this rather isolated part of the world, and are back on the marsh after decades of absence. They’re seen from this hide, mostly in early morning, but I’ve never been lucky. On quiet winter days, they’ve even been photographed hunting on the seashore in the bay.
The winter tit flock makes its way through the willows as I leave the hide. Not yet large, it consists mainly of blue tits, but there are other species there too. Years ago I plotted its route, finding a definite pattern, and could often predict its whereabouts during the day. These winter flocks can be very interesting, and contain many species ranging from tiny goldcrests, to great-spotted woodpeckers, and can sometimes drag with them the odd overwintering chiffchaff.