April Showers bring May Flowers

It’s April and the apple trees in the orchard are in full flower with the most exquisite pink tinged blossom that it is impossible not to try to capture on film.

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But it has not rained here in East Kent for two months – maybe a bit of minor splatting but nothing that would contribute towards watering a plant. Or a newly planted bare rooted tree ..and we have 193 of these along the cliff line – some of which are 300 metres from the nearest tap.

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The 111 new trees in the first meadow
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Standing at the junction of the meadows looking into the second one. 82 trees along the cliff line in this meadow including two large pines at the very end.

We were gambling on there being a wet Spring because we didn’t know how we could keep this number watered properly. But it was a gamble that we have lost and last weekend was the second time I gave in and watered them.  On both occasions it has taken about four hours, or maybe it was shorter and just felt like four hours but it certainly is a huge deal. I strung seven hose pipes together which is a lot of junctions that have the possibility of exploding apart once the water is running and, yes, that happened a lot. And even then I was 50 metres short of the two new pine trees planted at the extreme edge of the second meadow involving a last section of hauling watering cans.

But the two May Bank Holiday weekends are coming up, so we must be due some rain! It cannot come soon enough for us although admittedly everyone might not hold that view.

A suggestion I read on a blog for watering newly planted but inaccessible trees was to change the state of the water to make it easier to transport – wheelbarrow down a load on ice and lie it around the roots. Might try that if there has to be a next time.

While I am at it, I wanted to post picture of two lovely butterflies that were around in the meadows this weekend

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Small Copper
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Green Hairstreak. Just look at its eye!

 

Another Baby Appears

Trail camera

This is ever such a small little fox cub, seen for the first time last night. This camera is the one pointing at the badger sett (ignore the date – must correct that)  and to give you some scale, below is a photo of the badger baby and its mother taken in more or less the same spot

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Hopefully we will now see some more of this sweet cub (..and possible siblings?) over the next few nights.

 

 

 

Hide!

Having been a bit distracted of late with the baby badger and other things, we haven’t been spending any time in the hide seeing how things have been developing.

The main view out of the hide is of the new pond

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This is the second pond we have dug in the meadow. The first one we lined with soil and planted up with native British water plants and it instantly looked fantastic. But this second pond we have registered with the Freshwater Habitats Trust as part of their Million Ponds Project – ponds in this project need to have a clean, unpolluted water source, be left to colonise naturally with no plants or animals added and left to thrive without undue disturbance (…no dog swimming allowed almost certainly). As such, we are having to be patient and wait for this pond to mature in its own good time. We have done what we can by making loads of crevices and creating shallow areas for things to easily come and go, but it remains looking a bit stark and new and the water has gone green because it is not yet in balance. The Freshwater Habitats Trust say that this way there is more time to enjoy each stage of colonisation and that we should embrace that.

Today we spent an hour in  the hide seeing how things were getting along and the answer is: well, not too badly really. In that time we saw 12 species of bird:

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Great Tit checking out one of the boxes
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And checking out the inside as well
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Female Blackbird taking a drink
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Wonderful Blue
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Massive beak on the Crow
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Male Chaffinch drinking
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The weird eye of the Wood pigeon

At the other end of the pond, we have a bird feeder and Peanut Cam – a trap camera set up to take pictures of the patch of grass where we put peanuts down each evening.

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The tripod of the camera is weighted down with wood because of the winds here

Each night we get several badger visits and we are trying to work out what time they come so that we can be in the hide but currently their timing is very erratic. There are also up to three foxes who arrive and spend an awfully long time munching – the badger visits are always much more fleeting.

If there are peanuts still down when it is light, we also get photos of birds enjoying the nuts:

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Inside the hide, we have been making it more comfortable. It is now fully insulated with opening windows:

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And we have installed some solar power

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Small solar panels facing south
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The box of tricks
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Enough power is generated to run several little bars of lights like this

It feels like this project is still at an early stage. The vegetation needs to grow up around the pond and also in the pond as a base upon which a whole ecosystem will balance itself – but today was a very encouraging start and it is already a very relaxing way to spend an hour quietly observing.

 

Green Hairstreak

Saw this beautiful butterfly in the meadows yesterday

Green Hairstreak

On landing, it holds its wings firming shut and the undersides of its wings are this most wonderful iridescent green and blue. The topside of its wings as it flutters away are brown.

This is the Green Hairstreak butterfly. There are five different Hairstreak butterflies in this country and this Green one and the Purple Hairstreak are doing alright. The other three, the Brown, Black and White Letter Hairstreaks are not. They all have white lines on the underside of their wings (…the hairstreak) but on the butterfly in my photo, this white line has broken into a series of white dots.

What a beauty. Its the 14th butterfly species for the meadows.

New Arrival

The long anticipated happy event has arrived. A couple of nights ago a baby badger has emerged above ground (it will be 9 to 10 weeks old) and we have been enjoying wonderful video footage of the three of them together.

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This little badger is adorably wobbly on its feet and is being carefully watched over by its very attentive parents.

Last night, the two parents climbed up the hill towards the camera and eventually the baby came up to join them, although it had a lot of trouble getting back down again.

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There is a band of white around the neck of the young one that looks awfully like its wearing a collar. Is it alright? Is there something caught round its neck?

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The baby looks like its wearing a collar
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Another photo showing the white band round the neck

There is so much to worry about – what are the chances of this little one becoming an adult badger? If it does, then what happens next? It will have to leave at some point. Reading up on badger dispersal and it seems that there is a swapping of adult badgers between adjoining setts to ensure a mixing up of the gene pool which doesn’t sound too bad, but these are all worries for the future.

For now, this baby badger is being completely fed on mothers milk. From about 12 weeks old, the mother starts to withdraw the milk and takes the baby out and about with her to show it how to forage for food.

We can look forward to these outings being captured on the other cameras that we have set up over the next few weeks.

 

The Hedgerows Today

The hedgerows now are billowing and buzzing

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The hedgerow at the end of the second meadow, facing south

This hedgerow at the far end of the meadows faces south and is noticeably warmer than elsewhere. The lime green plants at the base are Alexanders – brought into the country by the Romans who ate it as a vegetable and it tastes of a mixture of parsley and celery. It only grows right at the coast but when it does grow, it grows very vigorously indeed. There is loads of it here this year. The white blossom above is Blackthorn – the bushes which will have sloes on them by September.

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Buff-tailed bumble bee on Blackthorn blossom.

All down this bank and also along the cliff line there are mining bees flying at this early  time of year, presumably digging their mines into the warm banks of the hedgerows.

We have been particularly seeing this little lady, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva). She just flies March to May and is such an intensely coloured, beautiful bee:

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Tawny mining bee female

Tawny Mining Bee

She is digging mines, and they are really deep – a vertical shaft, about 10 to 12 inches down with several brood cells branching off with one egg and a bit of food in each.

She’s a solitary but communal bee which sounds contradictary but means that there is one bee per nest but several bees build their nests in the same area.

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Internet photo of a mine entrance

We have also seen another species of mining bee down this bank, the Ashy mining bee:

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Ashy mining bee female (Andrena cineraria)

I apologise that the photo is not in focus – its difficult when there is lots of vegetation around, the camera thinks I might be wanting a photo of that instead. But the photo is good enough to see that this is another striking looking bee because there is not a hint of yellow on her, just black and white.

In addition to these mining bees, there are also their predators, the Bee-flys. They are everywhere down these banks, looking for the entrances to the mining bees’ mines so that they can flick their eggs at it. Their eggs will hatch at the entrance and then their larvae will crawl down the mine, living off the mining bee eggs and larvae as they go. Horrible but part of the delicate balance of nature, I suppose.

As well as the common Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major), I now discover we also have its much rarer cousin, the Dotted Bee-fly (Bombylius discolour)

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The Dark-edged Bee-fly
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The spotted wings and darker body of the rare Dotted Bee-fly

A tense life and death struggle being played out under our noses as we stroll along these banks.

Elsewhere in the meadows, the dandelions are covered in pollen beetles, which is a general term for little things like this that love pollen, but these are Meligethes aeneus which is an important pest of oil seed rape and so these have probably come from a field of rape nearby

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We also had this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on the dandelions. These fly from May and so any appearing this early must have hibernated and now woken. Wherever this one chose to spend the winter must have been a good spot because it has emerged in remarkably fine fettle

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Finally for now, these seedlings have been popping up all along the hedgerows.

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I trawled through the flower books trying to work out what on earth it was – its so peculiar – until I saw one with its second leaves coming through and realised that they are Beech tree seedlings. Well, I live and learn.

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