2017 Review

So much has happened this year, but if I were to try to summarise, the headlines would look like this:

21 SPECIES OF BUTTERFLIES

Yes! 21 species of butterflies were spotted in our meadows this year. If you put that into the context of there only being 59 species of butterflies in the UK and some of those are super rare or specialists of habitats other than ours, then you might find yourself getting more impressed by this number. The 21 species included many that we had never seen before and, most excitingly of all, a colony of Small Blue Butterflies.

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A Small Blue – it is very small

These butterflies are rare and are specialists of Kidney Vetch – the eggs are laid on the vetch and the caterpillars eat the flowers before pupating and over-wintering on the ground below. We do have some Kidney Vetch and I did find a Small Blue Caterpillar in a flower, but perhaps if we had more, our colony can become less fragile? With this in mind, I planted a dozen Kidney Vetch plugs this autumn in the area of the colony and have some seeds to sow in the Spring. It will be interesting to see if this helps.

The other noteworthy butterfly happening is that we planted 200 bare rooted trees in the Spring, 25 of which were Alder Buckthorn which is the only plant that Brimstone butterflies will lay their eggs on. They will travel miles and miles to find one. Its lovely when plans work out as you had hoped, because in no time at all, every Alder Buckthorn tree had a Brimstone caterpillar on it.

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Actually, the plan worked far too well because the trees hadn’t really had a chance to establish themselves and many became stripped of all leaves before the caterpillar had completed its growth, leading to a daily task of moving the caterpillars around from tree to tree so that they all had enough foliage to complete that phase of their lives

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BIRD RINGING

A local bird ringer used our meadows to trap and ring birds over the autumn migration. This did our bird list no end of good since he trapped several birds we hadn’t seen here before: Lesser Whitethroat, Treecreeper, Firecrest, Garden Warbler and the most wonderful of all – a Yellow Browed Warbler

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Yellow Browed Warbler
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Firecrest
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The ringer with his bags of birds.

Off our own backs we also spotted several new species over the course of the year: Redstart, Reed Warbler and another star species, a Snow Bunting.

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Snow Bunting

Whilst on the subject of birds, we have seen Short Eared Owls hunting over the long grass a few times and, having put up a couple of raptor perches, we realised that we also had regular Tawny Owl visits.

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Tawny Owl sitting nicely on our perch

Also, we had a successful fledging of a Skylark from a nest somewhere in the middle of the second meadow:

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Juvenile Skylark from a ground nest in the second meadow

DRAGONFLIES

Three years ago I knew absolutely nothing about dragonflies. Now I am fascinated and obsessed. 2017 was the first year for our new pond and we saw four different species of dragonfly laying eggs in it, each species having its own style of laying. The female Emperors sat quietly at the edge leaving their abdomens in the water. Here is one trying to go about her business while being repeatedly bombarded by a Broad Bodied Chaser

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The Common Darters joined into pairs to fly over the pond and the female was repeatedly dabbed down into the water

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We also had Red Veined Darters laying eggs into the pond- a reasonably scarce migrant  dragonfly.

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Red Veined Darter

At the end of May, in our other, older pond we had an emergence of about 70 dragonflies. We couldn’t work out why we kept on missing these emergences happening until we realised it all happens at dusk- probably to avoid being picked off by birds as they harden off?

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Emperor dragonflies hardening off.

BABY BADGER

On April 9th, a baby badger came out above ground. It was adorably wobbly on its feet and had constant supervision by one or both of its parents for the first couple of weeks. We had a camera on the sett and so were privileged to see our lovely family each night as they taught the baby how to be a badger and started to take it out foraging with them.

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Our first sight of the baby badger with mother in close attendance (the camera says May, but it was April)

And this playful baby badger has continued to delight us throughout the year.

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This years cub on the right in December

Unfortunately the father badger became thin and ill and disappeared when the cub was a couple of months old but a new male has arrived on the scene and has been accepted in as a step father and he is on the left in the photo above.

We also had fox cubs but they were very elusive and we only got occasional glimpses on the cameras

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A fox cub venturing above the badger sett on 22nd April (not May)

I hear that badgers have been known to eat small fox cubs and so this might be the explanation for their wariness.

NEW CUTTING MACHINE

The farmer who cut and baled the meadows last year has now retired and we failed to interest anyone else to come and cut and bale and take away our hay. At the end of the summer, having worried about it for quite a time, we bought a powerful sit-on mower with a large capacity collector on the back. We are now going to take control of this on-going problem ourselves, doing a section at a time over several months.

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ORCHIDS

It wasn’t a great year for Orchids here but we did have a White Helleborine in an area of dense tree cover in the left hand copse between the meadows. The County Plant Recorder lives nearby and she told us that this is the only record for a White Helleborine in East Kent and so we were quite pleased with that.

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SOLITARY BEES

We got terribly interested in solitary bees this year, especially as we started noticing them and realising that there was a complicated interplay with insects parasitising them and all their hard work. The solitary bees collect a mound of pollen to lay their eggs on which acts as a food source for the subsequent larva as it develops. This pollen mound proves irresistible to many insects who cannot be bothered to collect their own pollen and want to use what the bees have for their own eggs and larvae.

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Inside a Red Mason Bee’s nest with its pollen gathered between walls of mud with one egg laid per compartment

As well as the Mason Bees who use wet mud to form compartments, we were also watching Leaf Cutter Bees who use leaves instead of mud and Miner Bees and Ivy Bees who dig deep tunnels straight down into the ground. Its quite difficult to summarise this because there are lots of different solitary bees and their predators all of who do things differently. I have posted so many solitary bee blogs over the course of this year and, no doubt, there will be many more to come in 2018 since there is so much more to learn!

And finally:

MOTHS

Lots of lovely moths turned up in my moth trap over the course of the year, such as this one below:

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The Eyed Hawkmoth

What a beauty. We also had a bit of an influx of a rare migrant, the Jersey Tiger. At least 10 individuals were fluttering around the meadows at one point in August

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It’s been a very busy but rewarding year. We had such a small amount of rain for months and those 200 bare-rooted trees we planted at the beginning of the year needed to be watered many times over the summer, a process that took 4 hours each time and required the stringing together of 7 hose pipes to reach the furthest ones. But most of them have survived the drought and seeing them all coming back into leaf next Spring is one of the things we are looking forward to in 2018.

There are many plans afoot and we cannot wait to see what next year brings here in WalmerMeadows. Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

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