Pond Dipping for Grown-Ups

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Young Smooth Newt

Now that it has rained and the ponds are under less stress, we decided to do some pond dipping. The hide pond is really rather young and looks like this:

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We have blanket weed issues meaning that the bottom of the pond is a green yellow colour. The Smooth Newts in this lighter-coloured pond are light-coloured themselves with reddish exterior gills:

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The wild pond looks very different with dark mud lining its bottom:

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The Smooth Newts we got out of this pond were much darker with brown rather than reddish gills:

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Darker newts from the wild pond (and a leech)

Does the colour of the Smooth Newts reflect the colour of the pond that they are in? As a result of today, we think they might but I can’t find anything on the internet about it and so I will check when next in the vicinity of an expert.

One sweep of the net yielded 15 young newts in the hide pond. What a wonderfully large number the pond must be supporting in total. There were fewer in the wild pond, but then there are many more places for them to hide from the net.

A lot of snails in the wild pond and a diversity of other things such as water boatmen, pond skater juveniles, leeches and all sorts of worms and larvae:

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Juvenile pond skater and water spider
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Water Boatman

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My resource for identifying things is this charming book published in 1963:

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However, I have to admit that, however charming, I did also find it somewhat lacking and so have now ordered a well-reviewed field guide which might mean I have a bit more of an idea as to what’s going on when we next pond dip.

There has been more rain today – another 5mm so far – but it has come down in a light drizzle for a lot of the day. It seemed like good weather to get out of and build a dry hedge under the shelter of the left hand copse of trees:

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A dry hedge under construction.

Dry hedges, basically a wall of sticks, provide good habitat for all sorts of things as well as giving us shelter from north-easterly winds, for this is where we have our hammocks:

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Resting from dry hedge construction. Swap the broken hammock with a better one and the mug of tea with a glass of wine and a book and you are getting there.

I cannot finish today without including this wonderful photo of Ma and Pa Woodpigeon from the trail camera trained on the gate that really makes me smile:

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Dancing in the Rain

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My father has a memory from some long-ago summer when there had been a severe drought and, once it finally broke, he went out dancing in the rain with his parents.

We were certainly happy enough to dance at 7.30 yesterday evening when the gathering clouds and strengthening winds finally made good on their promise and wet stuff started to fall from the sky. In the end we had 25.2mm of rain – over an inch.

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The rain commences
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After the storm. The water level is at least 3 inches higher by virtue of the runoff rigged up from the hide roof guttering.
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The patterns of rain on the ramp.
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Some very wet badgers.

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It hasn’t rained for so long, the young badger, coming above ground mid April this year, surely has scarcely seen the like before.

As the day was drawing to a close and shortly before the rain started, we discovered a Common Blue butterfly communal roost. There were eight of them in a little patch of dead Oxeye daisies, all closed down for the day.

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We didn’t know that they roosted up together and so that was very interesting. However, I hope they found somewhere more sheltered once the storm got going.

The recent high temperatures have been most particularly hard for the dog who gets the award for the most baths in any one day:

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She and we are so much more comfortable today.

The Feeding of Peanuts

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We didn’t intend to feed peanuts to the badgers. Rather, we started doing it temporarily and have never stopped. It has now got to the point that, if we are not able to do it for a few nights on the trot, we arrange for someone else to come and do it for us. This is what has happened here – someone else has scattered the nuts and the badgers have noticed the lingering non-known human smell.

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The foxes start gathering at least half an hour before the peanuts go out at dusk. They only have a small window before they get chased away by the badgers and so they need to be in position as soon as possible after the nuts have gone down. They wait patiently just the other side of the fence.

Once the badgers arrive, the remaining peanuts get hoovered up pretty quickly.

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Should it ever rain again, then the badgers can go back to eating worms but I imagine that they are pretty hard to get hold of at the moment.

We seem to be having a very good butterfly year here in this heat. Gatekeepers and Common Blues are the butterflies of the moment right now. However, we also have a few of the exciting Walls:

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A Wall Butterfly
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A Wall.

Finally for now, a Magpie silhouetted against an impressive sky:

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The Heatwave Continues

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There have been several cameras on the ponds for a while, but this picture, captured in the early hours of this morning, was a first for us. I posted this photo on a birding facebook group and there was a suggestion that this Tawny was after frogs – that may be so but surely they also need to drink?

Another interesting visitor was this juvenile Green Woodpecker:

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The juveniles are so speckly.  Lovely to see that there has been successful breeding nearby.

There are Darters at both ponds:

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As usual, I am struggling with identification. My feeling is that this dragonfly above at the Hide Pond is a Common Darter. Ruddy Darters, that I had decided were the species at the pond a couple of weeks ago, have completely black legs and this one is definitely not that.

However, these Darters at the Wild Pond today could very well be Ruddy Darters.

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Whatever their species, I think they are absolutely wonderful and fascinating things, but I definitely need to get myself onto some sort of course to learn more about them.

Looking at the weather forecast for the next fortnight, we see with despair that still no rain is forecast and so have taken the decision to add some tap water to the wild pond which is so low and in danger of drying out completely.

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The plan is to top it up in small amounts over the next few days, giving time for the chlorine etc to evaporate off before the next addition. This will be adding unwanted nutrients into the pond, but that has to be balanced against the devastating loss of life should it totally dry out.

The bird ringing season kicked off here this morning. The bird ringer, who lives nearby and uses these meadows to record and ring migrating birds, came for the first time for several months. At this time of year, he is only allowed to play the songs of birds that have now started to migrate, to ensure that he does not interfere with any breeding activity. So the meadows were filled with the loud and wonderful calls of Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers this morning in an attempt to attract any birds of these species into the nets. Nearby dog walkers who know their bird songs might have been getting very worked up and excited by this, because these are birds to get worked up and excited about. However, at the end of a hot couple of hours, not a single bird had been caught.

A few days ago, the plant recorder for the County of Kent visited because she wanted to see the Betony that we had spotted here last week:

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Betony

This is not a rare plant generally, but it has not been recorded in this area before and so she was interested. While she was here we took the opportunity to walk round the meadows with her and learned so much that we didn’t know before.

For instance, we did not know that we had St John’s Wort growing by the pond:

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Or Burdock growing in the hedgerow:

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And this plant that we had noticed but hadn’t got round to looking up in the books turns out to be Agrimony:

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These are plants that I had heard of but didn’t know what they looked like. Hopefully we will remember them by the time they come up again next year.

 

 

 

July in the Meadows. Part 2.

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The UK is the northernmost range of these Common lizards. Further south, they lay eggs but in the UK, as an adaptation to our northerly clime, the eggs hatch inside the female and she gives birth to 7-8 babies in August that are about an inch long. This lizard here looks like this is about to happen, she is a most peculiar shape.

There has been day after day, week after week of baking hot weather and no rain. The two ponds are now so low, but we have resisted topping them up with tap water because this introduces nutrients with consequent blanket weed/duck weed issues. The level of the hide pond has gone down such that the sides are now so steep that birds are not able to get at the water. Therefore, we have built a jetty:

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This was so immediately put into use such that we felt guilty for not doing it before:

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Emperor female laying eggs from the jetty

Such was its popularity that we have now built another one:

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We have some new species at the ponds:

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Ruddy Darter dragonfly
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Blue-tailed damselfly
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Azure damselflies

And delighted to see this second brood Small Blue in the reeds at the side:

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He truly is a tiny butterfly.

We have these dried and empty wheat heads scattered about the place. There are lots of them but its not because a nearby field has been harvested and these have blown across because this has not yet happened:

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No, I think the culprits have been captured on film below. Corvids are raiding the farmer’s field:

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Magpie with wheat
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Crow with wheat

Here is a photo of two mating 6 Spot Burnet moths that I haven’t managed to include above but is too lovely to miss out. How do they know that they have found another 6 Spot Burnet rather than a 5 Spot – do they count?

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My final photo for today arose because, elsewhere, a Stock Dove unfortunately flew into glass and broke its neck. We put the dove on the cliff path and were pleased to see that, sad though its death was, at least it wasn’t then wasted:

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July in the Meadows. Part 1.

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We thought that the Sparrowhawk had been using this gate to lie in wait for her victims and now we see that she has. I find this bird completely terrifying. Those eyes.

WordPress has been out of action for the past few days. My hope was that, if I did nothing other than fret about it and curse myself that I had no back up arranged for the blog, it would eventually correct itself and this is indeed what has happened today. However, it has made me realise that I do need to back this blog up because I would hate to lose the last three years worth of precious details of what has been going on here. When a tech-savvy young person next visits, I will see if I can get this done.

This means that I have built up a bit of a backlog and so this is Part One of the Meadows in July.

We have started the cutting of the meadows for this year. There is an area at the top of the second meadow that has a concentration of Creeping Thistle which is now out in flower and we want to avoid it going to seed. So this is the section we have started with.

 

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A lot of Creeping Thistle in this part
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Some of it has started to go to seed

Creeping Thistle is an injurious weed and we have a responsibility to avoid it spreading to other people’s land.

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The Creeping Thistle flower is popular with the insects and so in a way it was a shame to remove it but we haven’t got it all out by any means. Here is some here with mating Marbles Whites:

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This the only bit of the meadows we are going to cut until September.

We have been watching from afar the animals of the night come to the peanuts at dusk – the interactions between the foxes and the badgers are very interesting. The foxes come first:

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Then, before long an adult badger comes in fast and forcefully, like a black-and-white bowling ball, and the foxes scatter in all directions.

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However, the younger badgers come in without the attitude and happily share the peanuts with the foxes:

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The badgers continue to use our stacked reeds as bedding which we find very funny:

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Finally for Part 1, we have a new flower that we haven’t seen here before. This is Betony (Stachys officinalis):

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The Romans used Betony to cure 47 different illnesses and is still today used by herbalists for headaches. This plant is a lover of acid soil and, we understand from the Kent County plant recorder who lives nearby, has not previously been recorded in this chalky alkaline tetrad before.

So that is that for Part 1…..part 2 will follow shortly…

 

 

 

Drama at Nestbox 13

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A drama began to unfold yesterday as we became aware of a hullaballoo coming from Nestbox 13.

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It was full of baby Great Tits, almost ready to fledge by the look of them and often to be seen through the hole waiting eagerly for food.

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This nest box is viewable from the hide and we thought it would be lovely to go in and watch the parents come to and fro with food. However, this is where the story takes a dark turn because we were in there for an hour, with the babies calling loudly the whole time, but no adults to be seen. Feeling anxious for them, I put a camera on the box as we went off to do other things.

Three hours later, still nothing. At this point, I called the local bird expert and ringer who came round and assessed the situation. Unfortunately the conclusion was that there was nothing that we could possibly do that would help rather than hinder and we had to just stand by helplessly and hope for the best.

However, I have to tell you that this story does not have a happy ending. No adults returned to the nest and, at 6.30am this morning, some or all of the babies exited the nest in desperation although we cannot hope that any survived.

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One of the babies exiting the nest

The trail camera shows that we were not the only ones whose attention was caught by the plight of the babies:

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A cat
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Also, a Fox
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A Jay
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A Magpie

Well, we can assume that one, some or all of those predators dealt with the young because by the time we got to the box this morning, it was silent. At lunchtime, we had a look inside and found it empty:

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All very upsetting. But actually there are two other bits of bad news. Firstly, the lovely Wrens’ nest built in the teapot nest got predated yesterday. It was very vulnerable:

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The front of the nest has been pulled away and is lying by the lid of the teapot. I suspect Magpies. The nest is now abandoned.

Secondly, I cannot tell the twin badger cubs apart. It has been about two weeks now since I have seen the two cubs together but I had been hoping that I was seeing them both, just one at a time. However, there is a limit to how long you can keep avoiding the horrible likelihood that actually we have lost one of the cubs – I am now pretty certain that this is what has happened.

But now I am moving on to happier things. We put peanuts out most evenings, timed for dusk after the Magpies have roosted. There is much anticipation of their arrival:

 

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Still half an hour to go!

Last night, after the peanuts went out, we watched from afar with scopes which meant that we got more of an understanding of what was going on than just looking at the trail camera photos:

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The Fox cubs were there within minutes. Shortly after that the female badger arrived and ran at the foxes to chase them away. She was joined by last years cub and they then munched happily on peanuts for ten minutes, encircled by a ring of four silently waiting foxes:

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Then the mother badger (on the right) left the scene leaving last years cub. At this point, the foxes decided that they were not prepared to wait any longer and came in to eat.

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Surprisingly, the badger was intimidated by this and decided to withdraw, looking regretfully back over her shoulder a couple of times as she left. Then the foxes properly moved in to finish off:

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Those peanuts do not last long.

A new butterfly has arrived at the meadows this week, the Gatekeeper:

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One of the visitors here last weekend took this lovely photo of a Painted Lady and a Marbled White on Knapweed. I love the face of the Painted Lady (Gonzo from Sesame Street?):

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Thanks, Chris Gaffney

Crows have been very apparent on the trail cameras. There are lots of them and they are often at the water:

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A Crow-bar?
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Looking straight down the gullet
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Truly terrifying.

For the first Summer since we have been here, there are no Yellowhammers calling in the hedgerows, which is so sad. But here is one at the pond, which is good to see:

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I got hundreds and hundreds of moths in the trap last night. Here are a few interesting ones:

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Buff-tip, disguised as a broken birch twig.
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The Brimstone Moth (as oppose to the Brimstone Butterfly)
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A Swallow-tailed moth (as oppose to a Swallowtail Butterfly)
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Rosy Footman

The once bare earth Turtle Dove strip looks completely different to the rest of the meadow:

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One of our aims is to create a mosaic of different habitats here and this is a step towards doing that.

Its a lovely time of year and the meadows are looking fabulous:

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Although still need some rain.