New Bedding

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Last Autumn, after clearing out the pond a bit, we stacked some reeds neatly on the side. But couldn’t fail to notice that somebody had been making a right mess of it!

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The badgers had been dragging it in for bedding:

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Will it be comfortable?

Interestingly, it was both the mother badger and last year’s cub doing the work – the two animals made several trips from the reed pile back to their sett, dragging the load backwards.  Some sort of communication must have gone on between them about the decision to use the reeds – they have only ever gathered grass before. How did that happen?

At some point, the dry reeds on the surface of the pile must have been used up leaving just the wetter stuff below and they switched to gathering grass, which I am sure is much softer, albeit more trouble to collect:

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It’s such a privilege to get this glimpse into the every day life of this little band of three badgers. I am hoping that there are now cubs born below ground which will make an appearance in April. Last year it was the 9th of April that the cub appeared above ground for the first time and so it is not long now to wait……

 

Oilseed Rape Seeds

We have been putting out a tray of Oilseed Rape seeds recently in the hope that it will cater for some farmland birds that we haven’t been able to attract to the feeders as yet.

The good news is that it doesn’t seem to interest the Magpies and Crows. Its hopeless trying to put out food that they want – they swamp it and devour everything as soon as you walk away.

What has been visiting are Blackbirds, Dunnocks and the occasional Wood pigeon. However it is two species of Dove that we have seen the most. I wonder if there is any chance of Turtle Dove once the return to this country? Not sure if they would ever visit a feeder like this.

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Stock Dove
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Stock Dove
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Collared Dove
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Collared Dove

Oh, and there was this as well…..

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Comedy feet.

Another Perch Success

 

On our morning perambulate around the meadows today, we saw a Kestrel perched on top of of one of the new Corsican Pines:

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She flew down into the ditch of the new Butterfly Bank for a while and then leisurely flew along to our perch and posed nicely for the camera:

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The Kestrel and the trail camera

I watched and held my breath – I knew that this camera was running low on batteries – had they lasted until this moment?

And then she was off:

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We collected the camera and uploaded the photos with great anticipation. Yes, it still had battery power but unfortunately there was dew on the lens. What a shame:

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Meanwhile, on another camera that is trained on the Oilseed Rape seeds to see what is eating them, it is continuing to be Collared Doves, Blackbirds and Dunnocks that are coming:

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But at night, this camera is getting triggered by all sorts of other animals :

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Which is really rather wonderful.

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Trail Camera Magic

For over a year now we have had a movement-activated trail camera taking videos along the top of the cliff, just where there is a hole through to the meadows.

This camera has provided a window for us onto the secret lives of the many users of the track. This morning there was this:

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A weasel carrying prey – a young rat.

This is a screenshot from a video and so the quality is not great. However, to get some idea of scale, here is a shot of a Blackbird followed by the Weasel shot before zooming in:

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The Weasel is smaller than a Blackbird.

Two minutes later, the next video taken was of the Weasel bounding back along the track away from the camera – not enough time to have eaten the rodent and so presumably it has been cached.

Fantastic stuff.

Also from last night, the young badger, that was born last year and has been delighting us ever since, seems to be particularly luxuriously furred. This shot of it last night sums it all up:

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Is this not ridiculous?

 

Photo Round Up

Here are some photos taken on the trail cameras in the last fortnight:

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Last night at the peanuts. This badger is last year’s cub.
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Last night on the perch
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We had to put the peanuts out early one day. Ten minutes after this photo, all the peanuts had gone. Never before been visited by Seagulls in numbers like this. Even the Magpie is daunted, although the Crow is not.
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A Pheasant stretching his wings.
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Time to change the sheets in the badger sett. This is the female badger.
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Always a shock to see the badgers in the daylight. This is the male badger aka Scarface. He was out and about until 8.30am.

A lovely assortment of February stuff going on here!

Resident Starlings in decline

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Recently we went to RSPB Ham Wall to watch the Starlings come in to roost. Tens of thousands or maybe even hundreds of thousands of Starlings streamed past us heading for the reeds to roost. So many Starlings that its hard to believe that our UK resident Starlings are Red Listed and in serious decline.

Most of the Starlings here at the moment are just spending the winter here, escaping from the more extreme conditions in Continental Europe. These birds will be returning back across the Channel to their breeding grounds in March.

In fact, on March 10th last year, we had a large group gathered here waiting to set off on their migration back:

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Part of these large Winter flocks such as we saw at Ham Wall, and looking identical to the other birds, are our UK resident Starlings. These birds stay here and breed in this country. They peel off from the rest of the group in February, pair up and try to find somewhere to set up house. These are the Starlings whose numbers have declined dramatically in recent years causing much worry.

So we are very pleased that one pair look like they have decided to nest in a Woodpecker box we have set up. Although I’m not sure what they are doing because they were tremendously busy this morning bringing stuff out of the box which is the opposite of what you might have been expecting. We thought we had cleaned out all the nest boxes – did we forget this one? Great Tits nested in it last year.

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While we were watching, a Blue Tit also checked out the box:

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We haven’t seen a Starling here before in the Summer and so this pair looking like they might hang around and bring up their young here is a first for us.

 

 

The Linnet

There are arable fields bordering the meadows and we do get farmland birds here. One of these is the Linnet. Here are some photos I took of these beautiful birds last Autumn:

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A male 

 

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A female bathing in the pond
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Gathering, waiting to come down to bathe en masse.

Although we get lots of Linnets in the Summer and Autumn, we don’t get them in the Winter – presumably because we do not have a supply of seeds for them then and they have to go elsewhere.

Even when they are around, we have never seen a Linnet at our feeders although they come to drink and bathe in the ponds.  They are seed eaters, but nothing that we offer on the feeders is of any interest to them.

In the recent series of Winterwatch, they did a piece on farmland birds. A selection of different seeds was put in trays in a field and they recorded which birds ate which seeds. Linnets very strongly favoured Oilseed Rape which is something that we have never before tried putting out. It was time to give it a go:

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We have been putting it out for a few days now. Its early days but it has been going down and so I put a camera on it to see what is eating it:

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Collared Dove
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Blackbird

When the Linnets return to the meadows this year, it will be interesting to see if they will  be tempted by our new, improved menu and if other farmland birds such as Yellowhammer will be also.

Tower Hide

Slimbridge, Minsmere, Wicken Fen, Shapwick Heath and Kent’s very own Stodmarsh – all wonderful reserves that have tower hides to get far reaching views over the landscape.

We decided that we needed a tower hide since the second meadow is difficult to view. And here it is being carried up to its new home which is the left hand copse of trees in the photo.

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It is a deer shooting seat that cost less than £100 but nonetheless appears to be very sturdy. It arrived flat packed but didn’t seem to be much trouble to assemble….mind you, it wasn’t me that did it.

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It is designed to lean against a tree trunk and the seat sits 3.5m above the ground. Here it is in position:

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Although I am assured it is perfectly safe, the ladder was a bit wobbly for my tastes and I have requested a few extra safety precautions and ladder props be put in place. However, I did go up it and have this photo to show you of the view over the second meadow from the seat:

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Nice view of the new Turtle Dove strip that was dug yesterday.

Actually, last night we put cameras on the newly dug ground because we thought that it would be checked out by the creatures of the night:

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We had lots of photos of foxes rooting around in the earth. Also, at the butterfly bank:

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Just the other side of the hedgerow along which we have dug this butterfly bank is a World War II ruin that has become a rabbit warren and we do get a few rabbits venturing in along this edge:

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(notice that -4 temperature last night!)

I didn’t realise that rabbits were nocturnal – a search of the internet seems to suggest that they are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk. But this one was out and about at 1am.

As a child, I always wanted a treehouse. Maybe I still do. But what we have for now is this shooting seat (..camera shooting only) and there is something wonderful about being up there, hidden in the canopy, surrounded by nature. I am sure it will be much used in the coming few months.

 

 

Call in the Big Guns

Last weekend we hired a heavy duty rotivator to churn up the grass to create a bare earth strip for Turtle Doves. This proved singularly unsuccessful – the machine simply wasn’t big and heavy enough for the job.

Today we called in the big guns – a digger and a skilled operator who made short work of it. It was a completely miserable morning, cold and wet and I think he too became cold and wet but somehow managed to remain cheerful.

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The strip is 3-4m wide and we reckon about 60m long

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There are quite a few big clods still and we are not yet sure what the final surface finish ideally needs to be, but if it needs to be finer, we could work along the strip breaking it up a bit with a spade.

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Once that job was done, we took the opportunity to create another landscape feature we had been thinking of doing – a Butterfly Bank.

We saw 21 species of butterfly in the meadows last year. However, there are other species that we didn’t see but can maybe persuade to come here because we already have the food plant that their caterpillars need. Grayling, Grizzled Skipper, Dingy Skipper and Wall. All these species could potentially be here in Kent but require bare earth. The Turtle Dove strip may therefore help, but Butterfly Conservation suggest that a butterfly bank is dug: dig a trench and invert the soil behind to form a bank with the nutritionally poor, deeper soil now on the surface. Grass will not do well on the poor soil, allowing pioneer weeds to flourish – this will be a new habitat mosaic for us.

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This butterfly bank was dug along the furthest boundary. Here, the underlying chalk is not far below the surface and so the resulting bank is south-facing and very chalky which I think is ideal.

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It will be really interesting to see what uses these new landscape featured over the coming few months.

 

 

What a Hoot

Of the five species of owl to be found in the UK, the Tawny Owl is by some distance the most common with an estimated 50,000 breeding pairs. But for the first 50 years of my life, I have had no exposure to them –  I hadn’t heard them or seen them. So their regular presence here in the meadows is tremendously exciting for me and to hear them calling over the meadows at dusk is the most fantastic spine-chilling thing. I think I am now a little bit obsessed.

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They are primarily a bird of woodland, but they seem to like it here and that must be something to do with our rodent population which is, in turn, something to do with how we are managing the grassland.

A pair of birds will remain  in the same territory for the whole of their lives if they can. Their young, however, will be required to leave that territory each autumn although they never go far. With that in mind, we have today put up a Tawny Owl box. Maybe there are owls that fledged locally last year that are looking for somewhere to set up home this spring to raise their own young.

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We have put the box high up in a pine tree with a branch nearby for any owlets to jump out onto to stretch their legs and wings.

The advice for siting a box is that there should be a clear flight path in. Here is the view from the box – not sure whether this is clear enough but we will give it a go for this year:

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So that is that job done and now we wait to see.

Another project we have on this Spring is to rotivate a strip of ground to produce a bare soil habitat to attract Turtle Doves when they return to the UK this Spring. This afternoon an equipment hire company in Broadstairs delivered a heavy duty rotivator so that we could get to work over the weekend. Here we are being shown how to use it:

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However, unfortunately all did not go to plan. The machine was just not big and heavy enough to break up the grass sward and so it went back on the lorry to return to Broadstairs.

We now need to think what to try next. The hire company man deals with a lot of landscape contractors and he is kindly going to ask around next week for ideas from them as to what we can do and so hopefully something will come of that. We also know a local landscape gardener who has done a lot of work around here who we will speak to.

So that’s an on-going thing that we hope to get sorted in the next couple of weeks. And in the meantime, I hope those Tawny Owls get busy checking out the new luxury living accommodation that has just come onto the market and find it to their liking.