Big Garden Birdwatching

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The Violets are starting to come out in the meadows and, as we can see above, Magpies are building their nests. Tentative signs that the season is starting to change.

It was time to do the Big Garden Birdwatch. This year we set ourselves up in a mobile hide down overlooking the feeders by the wild pond which seemed to be seeing the most action recently.

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We saw the selection of birds that we were expecting such as Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Green Finch, Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbird, Wood pigeon.

However, we also had this bird fly in to have a bath in the pond:

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Its a Meadow Pipit and is the 58th species of bird that we have seen here.

In the afternoon, spurred on by the photo of the magpie carrying the twig, we finally got round to the job of putting up some new nest boxes.

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I think we found good spots for them – thats about 35 boxes we have got up now. Its going to be so exciting in the Spring to see which ones get lodgers in.

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A new Wren box nestling in the ivy

We are getting frequent Tawny Owl visits. Here is the perch from a couple of nights ago:

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On the strength of this, I have ordered a Tawny Owl nest box which should be arriving in the next couple of days. We have earmarked a good position for it, about 5m up a ivy-encrusted pine tree, with a branch for owlets to sit on and with a clear view out over the second meadow.

I read that Tawnys start prospecting potential nest sites in January and so we are probably too late for 2018 but you never do know.

Finally, I just want to mention the one eyed fox that comes to the peanuts every night:

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A weekend in January

This weekend we had hired a heavy duty rotivator to cut through and turn the tough grass sward to create a 5m by 80m bare earth strip that might appeal to passing Turtle Doves.

It was being delivered this morning and, while we waited, we ran the metal detector over the land to be worked.

We found this button:

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This is a button from the uniform of a member of the Royal Artillery Regiment, dating from Napoleonic times – in fact, it can be dated at 1795 to 1802. This is what the uniforms would have looked like:

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One of these Napoleonic-era soldiers was here in our meadows 200 years ago and lost one of his buttons. Finding the button is like a time machine for the imagination, swirling us back in time.

I was distracted by something else as well. On Thursday evening, we went to a lecture on the Biology of the Rocky Seashore (…which was very interesting but definitely outside the scope of this post…). As we drove along the road that runs below our cliffs at 7pm, there was a badger standing in the middle of the road lit up in the headlights.

I had convinced myself that the badgers didn’t come down onto the road because beyond the road is just shingle beach which surely doesn’t offer much to them. In all the years we have been driving along that road, we have never before seen a badger. I was in equal parts anxious for them now I know that they are coming down to the road and bowled over by how impressive it was. To see one there, floodlit in front of us was spellbinding stuff.

However, it appears that my anxiety was not unfounded since this morning, 36 hours later, there was a report of a dead badger by the side of the road 500m further along than our meadows. Desperately sad. But even more so for us if this is one of the badgers that we have been following daily and have come to know so well. Actually, I am just not sure. I only recognise them in UV light at night and have never seen them in daylight.

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The chances are that there are several setts along the cliff but I will be carefully checking my camera footage tomorrow to ensure that all three badgers have made an appearance and can be confirmed as safe.

In the event, the Rotivator never arrived. It was coming down from Broadstairs and, en route, the delivery lorry had got a puncture. But never mind, we can do it all again next weekend.

 

 

 

 

Species in a tailspin

Turtle Dove numbers in the UK have declined by 93% since 1994. This is a heartbreaking statistic. Its an emergency and many nature organisations are working hard to try to understand whats going on and support the species however they can.

These birds are migratory and only in the UK for a third of the year but this is where they breed. Although there is the problem of shooting as they migrate and loss of habitat in their winter ground in sub-Saharan Africa, it is thought that the recent tailspin in population numbers is because of whats going on here in the UK. In the 1960s, these birds were having several broods over the time they are in the UK. These days they are struggling to have a single brood and that is thought to be because they take a long time to get into breeding condition after arriving here because of a lack of available food.

The RSPB have appointed a Turtle Dove Conservation Officer and she came to see our meadows last week to advise on what we could do to create habitat that might suit some breeding Turtle Doves.

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We already have the thorny dense thickety areas to nest in, available freshwater nearby since the young do not fly far and an abundance of some of the weed plants that they like such as Common Vetch and Clover.

What we are missing is bare earth. Apparently an ideal area for Turtle Doves would have 30-60% bare earth. Therefore, as a new nature project for 2018, we are going to hire a rotivator and plough up a 5m by 100m strip of ground to mimic an agricultural field edge which is where you would have traditionally seen these birds before it became the norm to kill off all the weeds at the sides of the fields with herbicides.

Additionally, the RSPB is going to provide us with a supply of seed, specially mixed with Turtle Doves in mind, to put out which would enable the birds to come into breeding condition more quickly and therefore have more time to maybe have more than one brood.

Turtle Doves are expected back in the UK in April. So by then we need to be all set up and ready. It may be that this just doesn’t work and no Doves eyes are caught by what we are offering as they fly over. But it has to be worth a try and creating an area of bare earth will benefit other species as well such as Yellowhammers and many butterflies and bees require the higher temperatures that bare earth reaches.

So the next job is to work out how to hire and operate a rotivator……