There is a very marked hierarchy and social positioning amongst the foxes that I don’t really know much about, but I do know that it involves a lot of rolling about on the ground because we capture a lot of it on camera:
This submissive fox is clearly feeding cubs at the moment and so I hope that we can look forward to some fox cubs appearing shortly.
Other noteworthy happenings over the last couple of days is that our 64th bird species made an appearance down at the wild pond yesterday:
And today the Kestrel came down for a drink:
Peering at this birds tail, I see that it is barred, rather than slate-grey and plain and that means that this is a female Kestrel and so I hope she notices the TWO Kestrel nest boxes we have about the place. However, it may well be that she nests on the nearby high chalk cliffs and that sounds like a good option for her actually.
Last night the Tawny Owl swung by, although the lens had dew on it resulting in this ghostly image:
And how can I finish without posting yet another photo of the lovely fluff-ball yearling badger whose fur seems to be much more luxuriant than the others. I have such a soft spot for this badger.
These are the cocoons of Red Mason Bees – solitary bees that are fantastic pollinators. In fact, one Red Mason Bee has the same effectiveness in the pollination department as 120 Honey Bees. This is because they don’t have pollen baskets on their legs like Honey Bees do. They gather the pollen on the underside of their body which is less efficient – lots of pollen falls off, thus pollinating plants.
The idea of the bee guardianship scheme is that you allow the bees to hatch out, you give them a great environment to forage for pollen and build their nests and, by the Autumn, you have many more cocoons to send back to be cleared of parasites and safely stored over the winter. In these uncertain times for bees, this produces an ever growing bee bank.
Here is a Red Mason Bee from the meadows last year:
And here is a view of its nest. The bee flies from late March to June and it brings in a pile of pollen, lays an egg on the pile and then builds a mud wall to seal it all up.
The egg hatches and the grub feasts on the pollen before turning into a cocoon in the Autumn.
We have set the equipment up. The cocoons are in the wooden box with the hole for the bees to fly out from once they have hatched.
The hope is that they will use the tubes above the box to make their nests.
Anyway, maybe that will all work and I have some filled tubes to send back at the end of the season. There is not a huge amount of blossom about at the moment but it won’t be long, especially if it ever gets a bit warmer.
Our bird list has now reached 63 species, with a Redwing appearing on the perch:
We also had a pair of Mallards circling above and coming down on the pond today – not very exciting news perhaps but its quite a rare event for here. We have only had ducks once before when the pond was very new and had a lot of open water to catch their eye as they flew over. A poor photo but was taken from a very long way away.
My goodness I hope they don’t decide to linger and nest here, there are just too many predators around for ground nesting birds. My nerves couldn’t take it. Also very foolhardy is this sweet rabbit, appearing in the gateway into the meadows from the cliff on the fox and badger super highway. It needs to get itself away from there and fast.
The camera that we set up to look under the feeders in the bad weather in case unusual birds turned up has captured something unexpected.
So, perhaps the feeder needs lifting up.
Another camera looking along the cliff edge has captured more badger mating. Its all really rather aggressive and the male has a firm hold with his teeth on the scruff of the females neck throughout which surely has to be uncomfortable.
All this is leading to the end result of cubs to be born next January – any fertilised egg will not implant until the Autumn.
Meanwhile, the female already has this years cubs yet make an appearance above ground. But evidence of their existence is shown by her obvious teats as she fed on the peanuts last night:
More frogspawn has hatched in the pond:
Masses and masses of tadpoles of which a very small percentage will make it through to frogs. The rest make up an important part of the food chain of the pond.
The weather has been mild and calm here today. We have still not yet seen a butterfly, but the Skylarks are singing on high, the bumblebees are buzzing and British Summertime has now commenced.
In the last couple of weeks we have had some great visitors to the perch:
Meanwhile, the frogspawn has started hatching into tadpoles.
When I was crouching down looking at it, I noticed something I thought was a newt right in the middle of the spawn and munching it:
However I then thought that, whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t a newt – the eyes and arm were all wrong. Then I realised that it was stuck – the jelly had closed behind it trapping it there – and so I carried out a rescue mission and discovered it was an Emperor dragonfly larva.
So that was returned back to the pond where it skulked off into the depths.
Over the last few nights there has been a tremendous amount of new bedding being dragged back to the badger sett. They continue to use the stacked reed pile that we had cleared from the pond last Autumn and so much has been carried back. Here is the young yearling badger on a couple of the many trips it made bringing ridiculous stuff back:
This badger continues to be so entertaining.
Last weekends bad weather is forgotten now and long may that continue so. I am looking forward to the birds recommencing nesting operations and here is a photo of a magpie gathering mud for its nest from the margins of the pond to get us going:
The cliff below the meadows is horribly steep and covered with impenetrable vegetation. We believe it to be dotted with several setts that our small family of three badgers move between through the year. For most of these setts, it would be completely infeasible to attempt to get a camera on them and we didn’t know where the badgers were currently sleeping. However, yesterday we decided to put a camera on the sett they used last year to give birth in which is one of the few in a position that we can reach:
This turned out to be a good move because it seems that they have returned to the same sett to give birth this year as well – the new camera position caught the male badger dragging bedding underground there last night.
So our hope now is that when the young first appear above ground in early April, this camera will record the momentous occasion.
However, the weather will have to get a bit better first. Today it snowed like it has not snowed since we bought these meadows, accompanied by ferocious, bitter easterly winds.
The Butterfly Bank which stood out shockingly white against the field when it was dug last month….
…now no longer seems quite so white:
And the first Blackthorn to come into flower now looks foolhardy rather than brave:
We have these strong winds forecast for the next two days and then perhaps it may be finally time for Spring to properly start.
The camera set up to see if foxes are going to eat the frogspawn captured this Kestrel having a bath this morning:
That wasn’t the only raptor action today because we also got this Sparrowhawk on the perch cam at dawn:
The Brambling that arrived a few days ago is still here and it turns out he is super tame. He was just feet away from me when I took this photo:
He is either a naive country boy who is not aware of how dangerous humans can be, or he is not well – his left eye is perhaps partly closed and his crop looks a bit oddly prominent.
But the main bird action of the day came from 130 starlings who gathered on the meadows all day, rising and falling from the grass, probing for leatherjackets to fuel them for their journey back to continental Europe.
We have these strong easterly winds forecast, starting at 2am tonight and going on until 11am Sunday. If these birds set off tonight, they will fly straight into the teeth of this approaching gale mid channel. There is so much to worry about once you start noticing whats going on with wildlife.
Finally, a quick mention of mammals, I was pleased to see this image of the female badger with a noticeable teat – a sign, I hope, that she is feeding young down there underground, somewhere snug and warm. I don’t need to worry about them at the moment.
Last weekend was all about the amphibians. The ponds were heaving with frogs and we were counting newts by torchlight.
Now they are all gone and peace and calm is restored to the ponds. However, we see that our reptiles have now woken up:
Being cold blooded, they need external heat to rise the temperature of their blood before they can get moving. So here they are, curled under the reptile sampling square, trying to warm up.
Its lovely to see them again but I’m wondering if they have seen the weather forecast because its not at all good for this weekend. We have two days coming of constant 40-50 mph winds and temperatures that are mostly below freezing. Even snow is being predicted.
I hope that these reptiles will be able to crawl back into wherever they have been for the last few months until this is over and we can start again on Monday.
Because of the recent excitement with frogs, we are focusing cameras and attention on the ponds at the moment. The picture above was taken by the trail camera waiting to see if foxes were going to eat the frogspawn. But look at this wonderful Green Woodpecker. I didn’t know its tail feathers were yellow and black like that.
The camera also took this Stock Dove drinking:
And this fox drinking but not eating the spawn.
And frogs frolicking. We came down to the ponds with torches at 10pm last night. The whole pond was churring and churning and we counted at least 50 frogs.
I also spotted a newt eating the frogspawn. This led to us counting Smooth Newts – got to 10 in this wild pond and 6 in the new pond up by the hide. These newts were very sensitive to having the torch on them and they quickly shot off, making them very difficult to photograph in the dark and these photos were the best we could do:
However, we had no such problems with the frogs. Having been extremely jittery and wary by day, they didn’t mind torch light on them at all, resulting in these really rather wonderful images below:
Taken by shining a torch on them so that I could focus the camera and then using the flash on the camera when I took the picture.
But it wasn’t all about amphibians. The Brambling was still around this morning and we wanted to get a good picture of him because we have only ever seen one Brambling before and that was in Norfolk. So we carried the mobile hide down to the feeders by the wild pond where he has been hanging out and waited for him. Before he turned up, though, we saw a Coal Tit which was actually another new species for the meadows, so that was a bonus.
And then the Brambling arrived and here are the best of the many photos we took of him:
He’s a male and his head is in the process of turning black which is his breeding plumage, although he will be returning to his breeding grounds in Scandinavia for that.
Of all the things I had to do this morning, using my poor fieldcraft skills to sneak up on frogs wasn’t necessarily top of the list. However, this frog bonanza only happens once a year and I have a new grown-up camera that I wanted to start to get to know and so this was a good opportunity.
The whole pond was purring rather than croaking and it was a spectacle for the ears as well as the eyes. But these guys are food for so many things, they need to be extremely wary and their bulbous eyes give them a fantastic field of view. Meaning that when they spot an amateur naturalist advancing upon them, they are gone under in a shot.
However, here are my best shots:
Additional excitement today was provided by a new species being spotted feeding under the bird table. Its the 60th species that has been seen in or from the meadows – a Brambling.
A very distinctive bird that will be returning soon to Scandinavia. It tends to hang around with Chaffinches but could never be mistaken for one. All the above photos were taken by a trail camera but tomorrow I will set up the mobile hide and lurk within to see if it is back so that I can give my new camera another whirl.
Our cameras were tested to their very limits trying to get good shots of the Pheasant and his wives who were contentedly pecking around the hedgerows this afternoon:
Yesterday evening, some frogspawn had appeared in the wild pond:
We hurriedly put some cameras on it before it got dark..
One camera on a normal tripod and one on a little-legged travelling tripod.
In the morning, the camera on the normal tripod had captured nothing at all. However, the camera closer to the water had taken the most wonderful photos all through the night:
This pond is only three years old and it is most satisfying to see it being such a hub like this in such a short space of time.
They are all there again today, partying as the sun goes down and so there may be more spawn by tomorrow.
Although the camera on the normal tripod is not being triggered by the frogs, we have left it in position. This is because the year before last the frog spawn was all eaten by the foxes. Should this happen again this year, it will capture all the incriminating evidence.
On the other side of the same pond, we had this beautiful bird come down to drink:
She’s a beauty. A female Pheasant.
We were also visited again by the Tawny Owl – the first time on the perch for quite a long time. The weather just hasn’t been calm enough for them to hunt – I wonder how they have been surviving.
However, as you can see, I clearly need to adjust the position of the camera:
I try to remember to record the day that iconic things happen each year. And so I can tell you now that the first frogspawn appeared on 24th February last year – nearly 2 weeks earlier. I am sure that last weeks awful weather played its part in that but there is a real sense out there that all that is behind us now and its time to get on with Spring.