To get your eye in for the sizes of things here are screenshots from videos taken over the last couple of nights with the same camera in the same position. Here’s a Badger:
Here is a fine figure of a Fox
And so what on earth is this animal we caught on camera in the early hours of this morning?
Unfortunately the video started at this point and so this is the most we saw of it disappearing under the fence. I have racked my brain as to what this can be and really have no idea. It looks like a fox cub but I cannot find references anywhere to foxes being born in the UK other than in the spring.
The camera is back in place tonight and I am hoping that it will make another appearance.
The bird ringer has been back in action this morning. As the migration gathers pace, he is getting some fantastic birds.
What a privilege to see these birds like this. By the end of the morning he had caught and ringed 52 birds: 25 Chiffchaffs, 13 Blackcaps, 5 Goldcrests, 4 Bluetits, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Firecrest, 1 Wren, 1 Great Tit and 1 Robin. They have been sent on their way, now wearing their lovely silver bracelets and I wonder if we will hear of some of them again in some far and distant place.
This weekend the air space above the meadows is filled with House Martins and Swallows as they gather ready to start their journey across the channel to Africa. The dog is being driven crazy as she tries to chase every swooping one of them.
The hedgerows are harbouring ChiffChaffs, Willow Warblers and other migrating birds. Here is a male Redstart that was here today:
Interestingly it was chased off by a Robin who then immediately took possession of the same perch:
Did the Robin mistake the Redstart for another Robin? I think it must have, they are very territorial towards other Robins.
The feeders are being much visited:
I didn’t have the right lens on my camera unfortunately, but a Kestrel flew low past us as we were working on the pond:
Always a delight to see a bird of prey here.
But its not been all about the birds. The reptile sampling square that has been turning up a lot of slow worms and lizards recently, also had this little fellow this morning:
Its a juvenile Smooth Newt. This square is right up at the top of the second meadow, a good 200m from the pond.
There are also a few butterflies still about such as this Small Copper:
And also this Common Blue:
We also found this yellow flower growing that we have never seen before:
Despite trawling through all our Wildflower books, we cannot find out what this is and so have asked an expert who lives locally and are now awaiting an answer.
We have had such a dry summer here but it has now started raining on and off and so there is plenty of scope to get muddy should you be so inclined:
There are a whole lot of jobs to be done in the autumn..
This pond has become so overgrown that there was little open water anymore:
Now is the time to get in and clear ponds when the summer activity is over but animals have not yet hibernated. Also – the water is not too cold..
I used to dive in UK waters and so have some equipment mouldering away in the attic which has been brought back into action:
So that’s done.
What is not yet done, however, is getting the meadows cut, baled and taken away which is the biggest and most important job of the year. Having failed to find anywhere for the bales to go, we have decided to take control of this job ourselves and tomorrow we are going to buy this beast:
This machine will cut and collect the long meadow grass and we will cut in sections through the winter and early spring. We’ll also get a trailer to go on the back of the Landrover to empty the collector onto and make some large compost heaps for some of it, take some of it down to the dump in hippo bags and put the rest out for the fortnightly green waste collection. Using a mosaic approach like this, we won’t be swamped by an enormous amount of hay all in a one go and we can manage one section at a time.
This is the latest solution for dealing with the continuing problem of how to effectively cut and remove the arisings from these meadows. This removal is necessary so that over the years they become more nutritionally depleted which discourages bullying grasses and enables wildflowers to thrive.
We have got about 15 squares of roofing felt placed in strategic parts around the meadows which act as reptile viewing galleries for us. Last summer we could be reasonably assured that we would see several lizards under the squares as we did our rounds in the morning but this year we have scarcely seen any lizards at all – its so peculiar and we have no idea whats going on. We have, however, had a really good haul of Slow Worms. This was what we found under a square yesterday that faces south:
Elsewhere in the meadows, though, small mammals have been safely spending time under these squares, often making their nests and raising their families there. We have seen Shrews, Voles and Mice.
We have disturbed a little Field Vole several times under one particular square that is by a wild plum tree.
I decided to try a little experiment on this vole. I placed four different nuts under the square to see which one it would like the best:
The next morning, the almond had gone:
So that was a surprise because I had been expecting the native British nuts to go first, either the walnut or the hazelnut.
A couple of days later, the walnut had gone as well:
Will look again in a few days and see if these two remaining nuts are still there. What fun! Personally, I’d have eaten the pecan first.
Under another square, there is a little Wood mouse and her nest. She has got quite a few ticks on her:
This shocking image prompted me to research ticks and their lifecycles. There are many different types of ticks in the UK, many of them specialising on specific animals. For instance, there is a hedgehog tick, a fox/badger tick, a deer tick and many more. There is also a small mammal tick (Ixodes trianguliceps) that feeds on small mammals in its adult phase which looks very much like these ticks. But many ticks such as the Sheeps tick (Ixodes ricinus) look very similar and I don’t really know for sure.
Ticks have four life stages – egg, larva, nymph and adult. The larva, nymph and adult stages each need a blood meal and many ticks larval and nymph stages use small mammals for their blood meal, even if the adult stage is going to feed on something else such as a badger.
The thought is that small mammals act as a reservoir for Lyme Disease. The eggs of the tick are never infected with the disease. If the larva or nymph tick uses an infected small mammal for its blood meal, the tick is then infected itself and passes that infection on to anything else it bites over its life time.
So that is all very interesting and worrying. The dog is protected against ticks since her monthly flea treatment also includes ticks these days and so we don’t need to worry about her. We need to worry about ourselves, although we have never found a tick on us. I read that many people who get Lyme disease haven’t been bitten by an adult tick because these are large and easy to spot and remove before the disease passes across (24 hours). No, they are bitten by a larval or nymph stage tick which, at the size of a poppy seed is much less likely to be noticed.
Yuck. Anyway, it helps to be informed and aware. I will check back on that little mouse in a few days and see how she is getting on.
When we took on these meadows nearly three years ago there were so few small birds. Plenty of Magpies, Jays, Crows, Wood Pigeon and Seagulls but really short of anything smaller. Today the hedgerows are alive with little birds and that is because of a combination of reasons. Not routinely cutting the hedgerows but leaving them to grow wild and untidy with plenty of fruit is a big factor along with not cutting the meadows either so that there are seeds and insects there as well. Digging the ponds and planting more mixed native trees has also helped along with providing a range of food types in the feeders.
The improvement is really noticeable and is so pleasing as evidence that all our efforts are making a difference. However, we are not the only ones who have noticed these birds:
Sparrowhawks are regular here along with the sorry little piles of feathers that result from their visits:
But thats all part of how it all works and if the Sparrowhawks find it worthwhile to hunt here then thats evidence of a healthy ecosystem.
As we walk near the feeders these days, a billow of birds go up. Here is a trap camera photo that we have on a set of feeders:
The hide looks out over these feeders and the new pond and here are some photos I took from there yesterday:
A damp day here yesterday and several of these out and about:
I don’t know much about slugs and so I did a quick bit of research. There are 40 species in the UK of which only a small handful are considered pests. The rest quietly go about their business in the food chain – they are a vital food source for badgers, birds especially thrushes, hedgehogs and slow worms. This Large Red Slug above was a very large thing indeed and would, I’m sure, be a very substantial snack. However, apparently the mucous is not very tasty and thrushes are often seen to wipe the slug on the grass before eating it.
Slugs have evolved from snails and several species of slug still have a piece shell within their body. They produce this mucous so that their tender body can slide over things without getting damaged but also it acts as a navigational system for them so that they can follow old slime trails to return to places they want to go.
They like days such as yesterday when was warm and wet but when its hot and dry they hide out in crevices and holes during the day because they don’t have protection against drying out, having lost their shells as they evolved. If it is a prolonged spell of lovely weather, they can form a hard shell around themselves and wait it out.
We were also looking at some of their main predators yesterday:
A small colony of slow worms has developed under one of the reptile sampling squares that we have placed around the margins of the fields. They live down the holes at the bottom of the photo and reverse down these holes if disturbed for too long. These are legless lizards rather than snakes and its a female nearest the holes with a stripe down her back and more greyish males behind her. Love seeing them all there.
I will be making a point of trying to spot different species of slug here now – I have a field guide to them (..of course I do. My natural history library is getting rather cumbersome). So you can look forward to interesting slug blog posts to come!
We have been away from here for three weeks and so it was nice to get this photo last night to reassure us that all was well with our little badger family:
And all before 9pm!
Additionally yesterday we found a dragonfly that had fallen into the pond. Once it was fished out, it needed to stay still in the sunshine to dry out its wings which gave us a good opportunity to get some photos of it to identify it by:
Dragonfly ID is quite complicated, but the blue lower half of the eyes and the yellow veins in the wings amongst other things are good indications that this is a Red Veined Darter which is a scarce Summer migrant to the UK. I posted the photos on a site called ispotnature which is run by the Open University and I did get positive confirmation that this is a female Red Veined Darter, which is exciting.
So we might have been away for three weeks during which we will have no doubt missed lots of stuff but now we are back up and ready for Nature Action, binoculars and cameras to hand! Looking forward to the coming Autumn – my favourite season in these meadows.