The last time this year.

This weekend saw what was almost certainly the last outside cooking event and the last mothing session of the year.

For our outside cooking, we set the tripod up near the pond and it was completely delicious in a way that the same food would have tasted very ordinary if cooked and eaten inside. It really was pretty cold though and its really very difficult to eat with gloves on.

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I was in two minds whether or not to set up the moth trap for one last hurrah but, having decided it was not worth it, had a last minute change of heart and set it up in the orchard just as it started to drizzle. By the morning, though, we had collected a few moths, and also a green lacewing and a couple of the same type of parasitic wasp so it had all been worthwhile.

Setting up in the orchard area
Setting up in the orchard area
Recording the catch the next morning
Recording the catch the next morning
A Silver Y. Apparently this moth has been caught in moth traps in every month of the year
A Silver Y. Apparently this moth has been caught in moth traps in every month of the year
An Autumn Rustic
An Autumn Rustic

I have never caught a lacewing in a moth trap before which actually is surprising since I remember often seeing them as a child drawn to a lighted window. I did some basic research on them and discovered that there are 14 species of green lacewing and about 29 species of brown lacewing in the UK but they don’t seem to have the lovely field guides to distinguish them like you can get for butterflies and moths. They are a bit of a specialist area. However, I have now ordered a book that might help – Insects of Britain and Western Europe third edition (field guide) by Michael Chinery. Hopefully this will include some of the more obscure insects like lacewings and parasitic wasps as well as butterflies and moths. It said it did anyway. I will report back when it arrives.

A green Lacewing. Hopefully will be able to identify with more clarity once my new book comes
A green Lacewing. Hopefully will be able to identify with more clarity once my new book comes

One thing everyone seems to agree on though is that the lacewing is the gardeners friend with their appetite for aphids and there was much talk of being able to buy lacewing eggs to hatch in your greenhouse as a biological control.

Autumn arrangement

We have a friend coming to stay this weekend – he’s a knowledgeable birder as well so maybe there will be a chance to progress our 36 species of bird we have spotted from the meadows.

(Incidentally and by way of a conversational cul de sac, we have also spotted things other than birds:

seal (through binoculars on the sea – didn’t find one in the pond!))

Fox

Rabbit

Rat

Vole

Bats (no more detailed identification than that)

Common lizard

Broad bodied, Southern Hawker, Ruddy Darter dragon flies

Red eyed damselflies

One squirrel once spotted fleetingly down by the pond but thats it

Badger

So very scarce on squirrels and absolutely not a sign of a hedgehog.)

With this friend visiting this weekend, we toured the meadows this morning with secateurs and collected some autumn-themed foliage to make a couple of arrangements for his room.

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They look really good although I felt a bit guilty for removing some of the birds winter food source purely for aesthetic reasons.

Skyscraper casts

During the hay cutting weekend, we seeded an area of the first meadow with a wild flower mix. In order to encourage the germination and establishment of the new wild flowers, the turf was almost shaved with enthusiastic raking to expose patches of bare earth thus reducing competition with the bullying grasses. Cannot now remember what the desirable percentage of bare earth was that we were aiming to be exposed – it was weeks ago and I’m old – but probably about 30% to 50% of bare earth was exposed.

What is really noticeable now is that this area is covered with numerous and exuberant worm casts. And when I say exuberant, take a look at these:

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We are not expecting any of the seeds to germinate until next spring – but the mix includes yellow rattle so we will be boiling over with impatience to see whats going to come up and how different this area looks compared to the rest of the meadow. The idea is that we cut the hay from this area towards the end of next summer and lay it on other areas of the meadow and the seeds fall out and reseed these new areas without having to buy any more seed. The seed was expensive – or most certainly would be if you tried to do a large area with it

We bought the seeds from Emorsgate Seeds as recommended by Kent Wildlife Trust because its native seed. We bought 0.3kg of EM5F which is a wildflower mix for loamy soils which should take the meadow a step further towards the MG5 community of plants that we are striving to take it to. This is a plant community classification from the NVQ survey and I’m not sure that I currently understand it sufficiently myself to explain to you, but hopefully I will in the future if you can wait until then. Anyway, this 0.3kg cost in the region of £60 to £80 and so, as I said, you wouldn’t want to buy too much of it.

So its a wait until Spring to see what outcome there is to our new seeding, but for now the worms seem to be thoroughly enjoying having this area of earth as a playground.

Roosting Seagulls

Why we were walking in the meadows shortly before dusk this evening kitted up with binoculars and camera when we saw the owl was because we wanted to catch the phenomenon of hundreds and hundreds of noisy seagulls flying over the meadows in great waves out to sea every evening.

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It usually starts half an hour or so before darkness and goes on for 15 minutes. We presume that what we are seeing are seagulls that have been working the fields by day, following the plough or paddling for worms, returning to roost at the coast. Or maybe they actually overnight on the water?

And there is probably a return inland at dawn but we have not noticed this, or maybe it is not done en masse. We will continue to watch what they are doing to see if any more information is forthcoming…….

Well, Owl Be Darned

This is a really cheesy headline and right now I can’t think of a less embarrassing one – but we have just seen a short eared owl land not far away from us in the top corner of the second meadow and thats thoroughly exciting. We had binoculars and a camera with us and got lovely views of it through the binoculars but failed to get a photo. However, here is one from Google images that is pretty much exactly as we saw it:

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That takes our meadow list to 36 species.

The Foxes Have a Field Day

I set the trap camera up looking over the paddock area that was now newly exposed following the hay removal yesterday.

It was set up at at 5.30pm and within an hour, the first fox had arrived. There then followed numerous shots of foxes hunting the ground all through the night, right up until 5am:

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The Big Day Dawns for a Second Time

So, just to recap, last month shortly after the hay was all cut and dragged up into a big pile in the paddock, we arranged for a waste management contractor based in Richborough in Thanet to come with a grab lorry to take it all away to a green composting facility somewhere in the Midlands. However, there was a hiccup involving a railway bridge and the lorry never arrived. Now, three weeks later, was the rearranged day for it to try again..

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The job to be done

A cold northeasterly was blowing with gusts of rain, not at all the lovely autumn we had dared to become used to.

I am not sure either of us had realised what a large and heavyweight machine it was going to be- it looked completely wrong to see it driving on the meadows. However, it just fitted through the gates into the paddock which was a relief.

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Straight away it got down to the job in hand which probably took it just about two hours to pick up the hay, drop it into the lorry and compact it down before going for another mouthful.

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We were worried that the length of time that had passed would have given time for animals to crawl in and so were standing by to see if there was any rescuing to be done (….there is a small chance that the grab lorry driver found this a bit ridiculous) – we saw a couple voles get out safely but we did have to rescue a vole nest with tiny voles inside. We did what we could for them, placing it in a corner of the paddock with a covering of hay in the hope that the mother would find them again – who’d have thought that babies would still be being raised at this time of year?

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In the end, it wasn’t possible to quite fit in all the hay from the paddock- he drove away to offload initially at the depot at Richborough leaving a little bit in the paddock and the whole great pile by the gate into the second meadow.

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Driving off past the area that we seeded up with a meadow flower mix and had remembered to rope off to protect.
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It was a really heavy lorry
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Having a pile of hay on this area for several weeks has taken its toll

We will now gradually dispose of whats left by loading it into Hippo bags and taking down to the dump in dribs and drabs. In fact, after the lorry had gone, we straight away took one load down which felt like we’d got started, although many, many more trips to go.

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The dog trying in vain to load herself in as well

Goldfinches

Although we intended to cut both meadows this year, we underestimated the amount of effort involved and the second, far larger, meadow remains uncut other than a band round the perimeter. This leaves most of the meadow in a state rather ressembling African Savannah with wispy yellow grasses and sporadic skeletons of meadow flowers out of which by now all nutrients have been sucked back down. I have never been to the African Savannah but this is how it is in my imagination but without the giraffes.

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However, these skeletons – particularly knapweed – are delighting us by attracting flocks of goldfinches to feed off the seeds.

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In fact, we should make a point of always leaving a section of the meadows uncut into the late autumn/winter to provide food for these birds. I have just done a quick bit of research – Goldfinches are resident in the UK although the summer breeding population is 313,000 and a lot of those migrate as far south as southern Spain in the winter, leaving a UK winter population from October to March of 100,000. So not sure whether these birds in our meadow today are migrating or hanging around, but we are very happy to provide some food for them either way.

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Highs and Lows

This project is going to have its high points and and slump points- in fact there have been a good few of both of these already.

But here’s something to celebrate…The making of Sloe Gin. Never done this before but it is now set to become a ritualised annual event.

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I have always found it too sweet but the lady who used to own the land has made it from the sloes for years and she kindly dropped round one of her last years bottles to try and gave us her recipe – its ever so simple:

Wash and dry the sloes and freeze them in a single layer in the freezer. This causes the skins to split once they have defrosted again and is an alternative to the more long winded process of pricking each berry.

Fill a Kilner jar one third full of sloes and one third full of sugar and fill to the top with Gin. Then, over the next few days, shake it up until the sugar all dissolves.

And then leave it. Apparently its that simple but its best if left for a year.

She picked the sloes this time last year and then froze them until about February and made the Sloe Gin then – but it is still pretty delicious even after 6 months or so. I find keeping it in the fridge and drinking it ice cold makes the sweetness more acceptable.

We are making our own this year using the proportions she has given us – but maybe in future years we will try reducing the quantity of sugar? We have used whatever Gin was on a special offer since we felt that the quality of the gin is unimportant when you are doing this to it. However, one of our daughters is very sensitive to Gin brands and will not be pleased to see Gordons going in. Hopefully, though, she will be able to overcome her misgivings enough to have a little test snifter of this come Christmas….

The Autumn Migration

There has been a most amazing Autumn Migration going on here in Kent this year. I subscribe to Bird Guides who send me email alerts of local sightings of  interesting birds and so I know that fantastic birds such as Goldcrests, Firecrests, Yellow Browed Warblers and Ring Ouzels are currently dotted around all over this little area of East Kent. So there has to be quite a likelihood that we have some unusual birds right here on the meadows or in the hedgerows right now if only we sit quietly armed with our identification books and spot them and work out what they are.

With this thought in mind, we have been a little bit more observant of whats flitting around at the moment and have been going out to do yet more raking of the meadows but now with binoculars strung round our necks.

To date, we haven’t seen anything that we should be thinking of alerting Bird Guides to. But we were sitting having a cup of tea in the orchard this afternoon and a lovely yellow Willow warbler was poking about in the hedges right by us.

This is not a good photo but this Willow Warbler would just not stay still nicely to have its picture taken. However, it does show its lovely yellow colour

The fields are alive with swooping swallows and martins at the moment and some of the swallows brush the surface of the pond to take a drink. Presumably they are all gathering awaiting a north wind to carry them southwards away from us until next summer.

This weekend we have flocks of rising and falling goldfinches (gangs of 40+ birds) in the second meadow. Most of this meadow has not been cut and the birds are congregating on the knapweed stalks to eat the seeds – an unexpected benefit of not having got round to cutting this meadow yet.