Midsummer

As escapism, I am going to think about our lovely meadows which are soon to be no longer to be in the European Union, but you can sit in them and stare nostalgically out at the European Union across the Channel should you wish.

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Pyramidal Orchid

We have been away and a fortnights absence was never going to be a good idea at this time of year and what a difference they have made. Everything feels overgrown and teetering on the edge of being out of control. However, this lovely Pyramidal Orchid has appeared – very lovely but this seems to be the only orchid this year.

The trap cameras have been working hard:

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A pounce

Here is a little vignette of three photos of fledglings – my guess is that they are two baby blackbirds without their tail feathers yet. At 5.13am they are sitting over what is a major predator motorway – the trap camera catches a constant stream of foxes and badgers up and down this path:

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At 5.16, heartstoppingly, one appears to fall:

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But we have ourselves a happy ending because at 5.24am they were both sitting back on branches. They needed to get out of there though, so hopefully that what they then did.

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There is so much more to tell you. Very noticeably, there are currently so many six spot burnet moths around.

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Six spot burnet moths on Knapweed
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On Scabious

Their underwings are solid scarlet and so when they fly it looks like a black furry body and scarlet wings – very exotic.

In the pond, there are basking newtlets and large tadpoles with legs:

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Tadpoles growing legs
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Newtlets with gills

The quality of these photos are not great – we plan to get an underwater camera at some stage – but it is lovely to see that these baby amphibians are still surviving in there.

Under our reptile sampling squares we found a heavily pregnant lizard – viviparous young are born in July. I didn’t quite have my camera in position and so nearly missed her but here she is:

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Pregnant lizard

Finally for now, at Easter we put up a piece of equipment – an insect hotel but with test tubes so that you can take the front off and see what is using the tunnels:

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The Schwegler insect hotel
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Top row, second right hole has been glued up.
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The tube is now full of green caterpillars.

This is all new to us and we have no idea what these caterpillars could be. Surely a moth or a butterfly of a size to have such large caterpillars could not have fitted through the hole to lay the eggs? There is another wax plug at the far end of the tube so it did get in there. We will look again in a few days to see whats been going on.

So, thats all for now. We have rung the farmer today who we hope is going to come to cut the meadows this year. He was out with his cows and will ring us back. Getting the meadows cut and the arisings taken away is the most important thing we need to achieve this year here so all fingers are crossed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Legged

We have had two Red Legged Partridges living in the meadows for a number of weeks. The dog put them up whenever we went round:

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Red legged Partridges are an introduced species – brought in from France in the 1770s as a game bird. The English population is now important though, because the population in Mediterranean Europe has declined greatly.

However, now we seem to just have one bird left:

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I sort of want to call him Alan as in Alan Partridge but naming the wildlife doesn’t seem to be the right direction to head in. Anyway, Alan is getting very brave and these days is often out in the open and pecking around under the feeders.

I have searched the web to see if I can find a happy reason for there now to be just one partridge. It seems that the female often makes two nests (which are just scrapes in the ground) and lays eggs in both. Then the female looks after one nest and the male the other. This is very egalitarian of them and I applaud them for this and the fact that its such a good idea to spread out your options when you have an unprotected nest on the ground in a field full of foxes. So perhaps the other partridge is off looking after a nest somewhere.

But talking of foxes, I remember an image we got recently on the trap camera:

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Could this be an alternative explanation of what happened to the other one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spectacle

I got this moth in the trap which looks like it is wearing a tiny pair of glasses:

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A Spectacle

Although my daughter thinks it looks more like this:

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But all resemblance to Biggles or a supremely powerful ape really begins and ends there. Because its otherwise a common little moth of gardens, hedgerows, rough pasture whose caterpillars feed off nettles. Although when viewed sideways it also has  a rather surprising turret-like profile:

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A Spectacle’s profile

It generally manages two generations a year and so should be flying around in the meadows until early September.

 

 

Walmermeadows tree sparrow project

We have recently visited Vine House Farm, a farm in the fens of Lincolnshire where the farmer, Nicholas Watts, sets out to try to farm in a way that it is both profitable and kind to wildlife. His farm includes areas of wildflower meadow where he has scraped off the topsoil to discourage grasses, it has large wild margins round the fields, some of it is organic, many wet areas have been created, he has planted additional lengths of hedgerow and he has put up lots of nest boxes.

Of particular note is the work he has done with tree sparrows. Unlike house sparrows, tree sparrows do not closely associate with man. They eat seed mainly but also need insects to feed their young. And they like to nest in holes and do like these to be in colonies, like their cousins the house sparrows.

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A fully occupied sparrow nesting terrace. One hole at each end and a hole on the middle.
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A tree sparrow baby.
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Tree sparrow eggs

And, shockingly, their population has declined by 97% since the 1960s. Yes, thats 97%! Nicholas Watts has put up many, many tree sparrow nest boxes – there are not many trees on the fens and so there is a natural scarcity of nesting sites – and all but two of them are now occupied by nesting tree sparrows. Its such a success story and one that he attributes to providing the nesting sites, placing them near water that will have insects flying over and putting out feeders of red millet seed, a food that sparrows find irresistible.

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Three tree sparrows eating seeds on feeders at Rutland Water. Chestnut coloured tops of their heads and dark cheek spots set them apart from house sparrows.

In Kent, there are tree sparrows at Dungeness and in the Romney Marshes and thats it. There are no tree sparrows anywhere near our area of East Kent. But, apparently, tree sparrows fly around a lot. They are not like house sparrows who never go very far from where they grow up. Tree sparrows roam and so, if you create a good environment for them, there is a chance that they will find it.

And therefore we have decided that we will try to provide a habitat that meets all the criteria as listed above and just see what happens. Who knows, we could establish a new population of them and wouldn’t that be the most satisfying thing ever. We have already created a pond that should satisfy the water requirement and so we will now put up some nest boxes and some red millet feeders. And then we will wait – it may take years, it may never happen at all but it will certainly never ever happen for sure if we don’t try.

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The red millet feeder in position by the pond. The dog tells us by her stance that rodents are already being drawn to it.
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Interest being shown in the red millet, although not by the intended target.

The Vapourer

This little chap was munching his way through a leaf of the Holm Oak:

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Its the caterpillar of the Vapourer Moth (Orgyia antiqua).

What I didn’t realise or had forgotten with caterpillars is that they repeatedly shed their skin, possibly as many as five times before pupating, each time growing a slightly larger skin – each stage being called an ‘instar’. This caterpillar here is an early instar since the later ones have more tufts, up to four of the white tufts for instance by the end.

Here is another photo from the side. How peculiar is he?

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But the oddness of the Vapourer doesn’t stop there. Once the adults emerge from the pupae, the females are flightless and look like maggots with legs or maybe something from the woodlouse family. Its a moth but without proper wings. The males fly around and do come to light so maybe one day will turn up in the trap. Its a common moth found in broadleaved woodland, parks, gardens and is occasionally so numerous in towns that it defoliates small trees.

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Wingless female Vapourer Moth
Vapourer Moth (Orgyia antiqua) jitty near Bath House SP 4901 9363 (taken 8.9.2009)
Male Vapourer Moth

Looking the moth up in my field guide, it says that the larval food plants are a wide range of native and planted oaks although not recorded on Holm Oak – which is exactly the tree we found it on!