Fox Society

Trail camera

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:

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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:

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A Moorhen.

And today the Kestrel came down for a drink:

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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:

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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.

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Bee Guardianship

Twenty-five bee cocoons have arrived in the post.

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The bee cocoons.

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.

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Internet photo of a Red Mason Bee carrying pollen on its tummy.

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.

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Here is a Red Mason Bee from the meadows last year:

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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.

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The egg hatches and the grub feasts on the pollen before turning into a cocoon in the Autumn.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Fox Feeder

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.

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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.

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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:

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More frogspawn has hatched in the pond:

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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.

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Perch Cam Gems

In the last couple of weeks we have had some great visitors to the perch:

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Jay
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Green Woodpecker
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Tawny Owl
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Sparrowhawk

Meanwhile, the frogspawn has started hatching into tadpoles.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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Sett Cam in Place

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:

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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.

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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.

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The Butterfly Bank which stood out shockingly white against the field when it was dug last month….

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…now no longer seems quite so white:

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And the first Blackthorn to come into flower now looks foolhardy rather than brave:

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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 Gathering

The camera set up to see if foxes are going to eat the frogspawn captured this Kestrel having a bath this morning:

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That wasn’t the only raptor action today because we also got this Sparrowhawk on the perch cam at dawn:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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The Reawakening

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:

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Viviparous Lizards

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.

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Slow Worm

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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.