A Week in May

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The pair of Mallards continue to fly in every morning for an hour or so. Here they are today:

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They are clearly a breeding pair, so does that mean that they leave the nest unattended while they are both here? The answer seems to be that, yes, they do – but they cover the eggs with leaves or other camouflage. The female lays 10-12 eggs with a 1-2 day interval between each egg which is a total of half her body weight and this makes her weakened and in need of protection by the male while she is egg laying. However, once the clutch is completed, than that’s it for the male and he goes off with other males down the pub and leaves the rest of the work to the female. So they will only be coming here as a pair until her eggs are all laid. Also, look at the colour of his feet – I had no idea they were so bright.

One of the nest boxes we have up is a bit of a gimmicky thing – an upcycled teapot. However, we have a wren building her nest in it this year. How lovely is that?

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The teapot Wren’s nest

I put a trail camera on it and got lots of photos of her building it.

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It is the time of year for Mason bees and we have a lot of Red Mason Bees building their nests in our viewing chambers:

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They build a wall of mud and then bring in a lot of yellow pollen and then lay a single white egg on the pollen mound. Then another mud wall to seal the compartment and so on until the tube is full. It is then sealed off with a mud cap.

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They work so hard.

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The meadows are full of Buttercups. So many Buttercups. But also the Red Clover, Common Vetch and Black Medick are in flower.

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Common Carder Bee – the ginger one.

And the hawthorn is out in full and glorious flower:

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And the Jonny-Bed-By-Noon is starting to come out. Its also called Goatsbeard but, since we have a son called Jonny, we prefer that name. Its flowers are closed up by the afternoon, hence the Noon bit of its name:

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And, in the left hand copse, the White Helleborine is coming up again this year. This is an Orchid and unusual for this part of the county and so we were watching for it especially.

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I will photograph it again once it has opened to its full glory.

The twin baby badgers are continuing to romp around. This screen shot of a video is notable since it shows all 5 of the badgers now living in this section of the cliff. Here they all are, bless their cotton socks:

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The next couple of screenshots I have included specifically to look at badger claws – worthy of special attention I feel. This badger is just a year old:

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And here is the mother badger, up and about really early last night:

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The bare earth strip has not as yet enticed any Turtle Doves. However, we are enjoying the Grey Partridge pair that are camping out on it:

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They do an awful lot of dust bathing in the course of a day:

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I will finish this round up of the last few days with this little chap who was flying around this afternoon:

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Very brightly coloured, this is the Cinnamon Bug (Corizus hyoscyami). This bug was historically coastal in southern Britain but has been spreading inland. Found in dry grassland, it is part of a group called the Scentless Plant Bugs.

Preparation for Emergence

Today, Green Hairstreak and Small Heath Butterflies appeared for the first time this year.

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Green Hairstreak

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Small Heath

A pair of Mallards have taken to arriving at dawn onto the wild pond and staying for about an hour. They were here this morning – I would like to know where they spend the rest of the day.

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Last night I put a few slightly-out-of-date eggs out with the peanuts and a camera on the cliff caught a fox making off with one:

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Elsewhere, on the bare earth strip on Day 2 of the Supplementary Feeding Project, again the foxes were working on it through the night, presumably after the sunflower hearts. Many more birds have now found the food – a pair of Grey Partridge have been there most of the day:

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We went up and looked at them through binoculars and realised that there was a small third partridge that didn’t come onto the strip and so wasn’t being caught on camera. On doing a quick bit of research about them, I find that juvenile birds are insect eating and so the strip wouldn’t have the same allure for them. The baby birds get up and move really quickly after hatching and the parents take them around with them and so I presume this is what is happening here.

Other birds caught on the strip today:

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Linnet
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Woodpigeon
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Stock Dove
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Magpie

After having seen the first Dragonfly of the year yesterday, our thoughts turned to the new pond up near the hide. As recommended by the Freshwater Habitats Trust, we have done nothing to this pond – no planting in the water or around the edge out of the water – but are just letting it do its own thing. The idea is that it is completely natural and wild. Things will take longer to arrive but that just means we have longer to enjoy each stage as it comes. This does mean that we are also getting a long time to ‘enjoy’ its blanket weed stage that its going through at the moment which makes its appearance less savoury than we would ideally wish. The blanket weed will disappear as the pond comes into equilibrium but we are not there yet.

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Also not there yet are any rushes or reeds that emerging dragonfly larvae can clamber out of the water on to become adults. Most of the literature that I read on dragonflies say that the larvae are in the water for at least two years which would mean that we would not be expecting any this year from this 15 month old pond. However, in the wild pond that we dug three years ago, we had both Broad Bodied Chasers and Emperors emerging after just one year.

So we need to be prepared.

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We cut bits from this old, dead branch and put these bits into flowerpots, weighted down by stones and placed them into the pond.

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That was fun – looks a bit stupid, mind you, but will be interesting to see if our artificial structures are used if and when the time comes.

Also interesting was this spider the colour of Granny Smith apples that had made its web within the curve of a Wayfarer tree leaf:

Araniella cucurbitina or opisthographa

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I have looked her up in my spider book and I’m pretty sure she is either a Cucumber spider (Araniella opisthographa) or a Common Cucumber Spider (A. cucurbitina). These two species are outwardly indistinguishable but they are both widespread and common spiders found on trees in a range of habitats.

Its been a glorious lovely day and another forecast for tomorrow. Things are moving very rapidly here now that Spring has finally got a chance to spring.

 

 

 

Supplementary feeding Day 1

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Delighted to see our first dragonfly of the year today flying over the pond – a Broad Bodied Chaser, newly emerged with lovely shiny wings.  Don’t think it came out of our pond, though. I couldn’t see any evidence of emergence.

The cameras at the pond sides caught this rather lovely photo of a Green Woodpecker having a bath:

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Our Slow Worm colony is going from strength to strength under the reptile sampling squares. Counting the heads here I got to 6:

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It’s the time for Cowslips and we have a lot more that have appeared this year. But this robust plant has been with us since we arrived and is looking particularly fine right now:

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Its 24 hours since we put the RSPB supplementary Turtle Dove seed down and we have been watching to see if it is discovered by the birds.

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Four cameras watching!

The answer seems to be that the birds have not discovered it yet but the foxes have. There was much fox activity overnight along the strip:

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I know that foxes are very partial to sunflower seeds but here single seeds are very widely distributed across a large area – surely it isn’t worth the energy expenditure to seek them out? Clearly it actually is because they were working hard at it during the night.

But there has been a notable absence of birdlife down on the strip other than a couple of Linnets:

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But I hope the word gets around more than this, otherwise these two birds are going to have to hoover up the whole 6kgs themselves by next Thursday when the next lot goes down.

The trail camera also captured this:

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Forever the object of ridicule by my children, this is me photographing insects on the strip. The bare earth is a new habitat mosaic for us and I am keen to see what is using it. We may never see Turtle Doves here, but I am certain that many other plants and animals will benefit from this additional habitat we are providing.

So, what did I see? Well, I saw this Ashy Mining Bee making a little tunnel down into the earth:

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So this isn’t a great image but I know this is an Ashy Mining Bee because I was investigating them last year elsewhere in the meadows. I also saw many spiders and beetles. Here is a lovely emerald ground beetle that was trundling across the open ground:

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It was the most beautiful deep green and I thought it would therefore be easy to identify. However, having subsequently looked up ground beetles, I see that there are a gobsmacking number of species and many of them are in fact green. I should have temporarily halted this little chaps progress and popped him into a pot so that I could get a proper look at him and get my macro lens on him.

Finally, the wonderful Dotted Bee Fly (Bombylius discolor):

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I can’t help having a soft spot for Bee Flies even though they don’t have a cuddly lifestyle, hovering around spring-flying mining bees nests and flicking their eggs in which then hatch and parasitise the bees.

Its been a gorgeous day here. So calm, which is unusual. I didn’t have the right lens on my camera but here is the view from the second meadow this evening looking off towards Thanet:

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Feed the Birds….

Earlier this year we dug a 60m strip of bare earth as part of a project to help Turtle Doves.

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The RSPB’s Turtle Dove Conservation Officer had visited the meadows at the beginning of the year and was happy that we had a nearby freshwater source, dense prickly vegetation for nesting and enough clover, vetches and other food plants to provide seeds for the birds but needed an area with a large percentage of bare earth for them to forage.

It is thought that a large part of these birds’ catastrophic recent decline is that they arrive in the UK in Spring but do not put weight on quickly enough to get into breeding condition in time to have several broods each year. They struggle to have have just one and that is not enough to keep the population stable.

To help with this, the RSPB has this week provided us with 50kg of bird food, especially formulated with Turtle Doves in mind.  It is 10% Wheat, 35% Oil Seed Rape, 35% Feed White Millet, 10% Canary Seed and 10% Sunflower Hearts.

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The plan is that we thinly spread out 6kg of this seed over the bare earth once a week for 8 weeks, starting the first week of May as the birds arrive in the UK and finishing at the end of June when there should be lots of seed around naturally.

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Above is one of the bags of the seed with the 6kg for the first week decanted out into the two plastic boxes – 6kg is a lot of seed.

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We worked along the strip, broadcasting by hand and letting the seed trickle through our fingers. If uneaten seed builds up, there is a risk that it will start to harbour pathogens causing more harm than good to the birds and so for that reason, we spread the seed very thinly and consistently evenly.

Another worry is that uneaten seed will germinate, leaving us with wheat, rape, and even sunflowers growing along the strip. To reduce the potential problem of this, we spread the seed half on the short grass bordering the strip where, even if the seeds germinated, competition with the other plants would be huge for the new seedlings. Then we spread seed only halfway across the bare earth because it is here that germinated seed has a much better chance of establishing and causing us trouble.

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Spreading the seed on the short grass and on the bare earth

We managed to release four cameras from their duties elsewhere in the meadows and have redeployed them along the strip to see what happens next.

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Cameras in position

This is a leap of faith for us because we have not seen Turtle Dove here before. And it may well be that all this doesn’t catch their eye as they fly over but, if that is the case, there are many other birds of conservation concern that will also benefit from this food: Grey Partridge, Skylark, Linnet and Yellowhammer are all regulars here. A Linnet was even watching us as we worked:

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It was a beautiful afternoon and we don’t spend much time lying around enjoying it but now, job done for this week, seemed like a really good opportunity….

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Update on the Twins

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Its lovely to see these four badgers all bundling in together. We have the twins, born this year, the mother badger with all four feet on the ground and last years cub climbing over her back. This last years cub has been minding the twins more and more recently as the mother goes off to find food for herself and its wonderful that she  has been allowed to stay around. If she had have been a male, I think she would have been asked to leave last Autumn to find new territory.

The mother has also been taking the twins out with her and here they are at the peanuts last night:

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The male is living very close but separate from this little band of badgers and the mother threatens him if he comes near. We have seen him interacting with the twins just once when they were left unattended and he was rough with them – neck biting and dragging them around by the scruff of their necks. But they didn’t complain and subsequently seemed no worse for wear.

Such a privilege to watch this family every night and slowly get to piece together how they are all interacting and work out just exactly what’s going on.