Rebuilding

After the dramatic raid earlier this week by a badger on a wasps’ nest built in a pile of hay, the wasps are now working hard at rebuilding and you cannot but admire their pluck because the devastation is severe. This morning, while we were standing watching them at work, this large hoverfly, Volucella inanis, a parasite of wasps’ nests, arrived on the edges:

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After the badger attack, we found the discarded combs from the nest and they had been cleared of all the wasp larvae. However, the flat, parasitic larvae of these hoverflies were still wriggling within:

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And now, here was the hoverfly again, watching as the nest is rebuilt and biding her time before she enters the nest and lays her eggs within:

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The hoverfly, perched above the building works.
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She flies down for a closer look…

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Peering in

She wasn’t laying her eggs today – this was just a reconnaissance, I think, to see how the wasps are getting on and if they are ready for her.

We are seeing three Grey Partridge eating the seed on the weedy strip and I have checked with the bird ringer and confirmed that these are two adults with a juvenile in the middle:

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The juvenile Grey Partridge.

There have been some hawker dragonflies over the ponds but, frustratingly, at no point have they landed so that I can photograph and ID them. While I was waiting to see if they would co-operate (no, they wouldn’t), I took many, many photos of mating and egg-laying Ruddy Darters:

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Egg-laying in tandem.

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Not in focus, but there were quite a few of them.
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A male awaiting a passing female.

Also, a Blue-tailed Damselfly:

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And two last photos that are too lovely to leave out of today’s post:

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Speckled Wood butterfly
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I love this photo of a Green Bottle Fly on blackberries.

 

Night-time Raid

About a week ago, we noticed a wasps nest that had been made in a pile of hay. We couldn’t see the nest, just a hole into the side of the pile with a diameter of around 5cm and a steady stream of wasps entering and leaving. We know that a wasps nest is never reused a second year and that the wasps die at the end of the summer and so we were planning on excavating the nest out of the hay during winter to have a look at it.

But that’s not going to happen – we were beaten to it.

Yesterday, rather than a pile of hay, we saw this:

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Which, in more of a close up, looked like this:

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Overnight, a badger had dug the nest out to get at the larvae.

This is apparently something they do. They keep an eye on the nest until the night when they judge the larvae are at their juiciest and then attack the nest from the top to avoid the worst of the stings from the wasps guarding the entrance, which is to the side.

A little way away from the nest site, there were discarded combs:

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In closer detail the combs looked like this:

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Nearly all the larvae had gone but the internet photo below shows what the wasp larvae look like:

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Although there were no wasp larvae, there were these flat things wriggling out of the combs:

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These are the larvae of the hoverfly Volucella inanis. These hoverflies lay their eggs in wasps nests and their larvae live off the wasp larvae. I read that these parasitic larvae seem to be invisible to the wasps who just walk over them without noticing them and so don’t evict these intruders from their nest.

Here is an internet photo of the hoverfly Volucella inanis:

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The wasps now look like they are trying to rebuild the nest and we will watch progress with interest over the next few days. The Queen is still around in the wrecked nest. Here she is:

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What a size difference.

Away from the wasps, the bird ringers had a successful day today. They caught and ringed a total of 63 birds (37 Linnets plus one retrap, 6 Willow Warbler, 5 Blackcap, 3 Whitethroat, 2 Reed Warbler, 5 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Garden Warbler). A total of 48 Linnets have now been caught and ringed in the last couple of weeks. More ringing is planned for next week.

The Tawny was around last night and showed up on a couple of cameras. We always get terribly excited about owls:

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Shame it had its back to us!

 

 

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Weekend Round Up

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First year male Redstart.

If today’s weather is not enough of a sign that the seasons are changing, this Redstart at the pond yesterday shows that the Autumn migration is well underway. It’s a bird that spends its Summers in upland Britain, but has stopped off with us on its way out of the country.

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Migrant Hawker.

This Migrant Hawker, also called the Autumn Hawker, is a small hawker dragonfly whose numbers are boosted by migrants from continental Europe in the Autumn and it is to be seen working high up along hedgerows, searching for prey. A beautiful thing indeed.

We have received notification from MasonBees UK that they are now ready to receive back the completed tubes. Just to recap, mason bees build mud compartments in tunnels, depositing pollen in each one and then laying an egg on the pollen. We have an observation box which shows what it looks like inside each tunnel:

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MasonBees UK supplied us with 25 Red Mason Bee cocoons and a release box in the Spring, along with these tubes shown below, which it was hoped that the hatched bees would then use to lay their eggs, multiplying by many fold the number of cocoons we could send back to them in the Autumn.

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Once the bees stopped flying, we took the completed tubes and stored them under the stairs. The eggs will have hatched into larvae who feed off the pile of pollen and then eventually changed into cocoons by this point in the year. Unlike the eggs and the larvae, these cocoons are quite robust and will be able to handle being sent through the postal system.

Well, we are sending them back 45 completed tubes. We guess that there are about 12 compartments in each tube which makes a possible total of 540 cocoons that we will be returning. I hope they will be pleased with that.

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Yesterday, as we were out driving, a Collared Dove flew down onto the road right in front of us. It was sadly a fatality but I retrieved the bird from the side of the road and put it over the fence onto the cliff so that some good could come from it all:

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I also found a dead vole under the bird table. I think the culprit here was the dog who responds to any movement with a pounce but loses interest as soon as that movement stops (on account of it being dead, in this case). Again, I put this vole onto the cliff but it wasn’t a fox who went off with it this time:

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A Jay takes the vole.

Further cutting of the meadows is now on hold until drier weather returns, but we can still admire how much has been done:

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Taking some screen shots from last night’s videos along the cliff path, shows this submissive fox. The video stopped taking before we saw what was approaching but it was almost certainly a more dominant fox:

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There was a lot of badger activity taking fresh bedding back to the sett. Here is the male badger with a mouthful of hay:

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And after all that hard work dragging bedding, what better relaxation than sitting down and having a jolly good scratch?:

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As August Draws to a Close…

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As the late August Bank Holiday weekend rolls into view, everything here has a late Summer feel. We have embarked on some more cutting of areas that were untouched last year. Doing little areas at a time like this gives us a chance to get rid of the hay before we move on to the next bit – otherwise we would be totally swamped by the volumes involved.

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The area cut today.

The bird ringer is coming back next week along with his retired vicar apprentice and this time they are putting out many more nets and hoping again for Linnets and also for other farmland birds such as Yellowhammer. I have put down some seed:

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I have added some general bird seed to the oilseed rape and spread it thinly along the entire 60m of the weedy strip and so let us see what that attracts down. I hope they catch enough birds to justify their early start – they plan to be here at 6am. You have got to be a morning person to be a bird ringer.

There was a lot of dragonfly action at the ponds today. A rather tatty Emperor was laying her eggs:

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Ruddy Darters were pairing:

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Then they were off, joined in tandem, the male lowering the female into the water so that she could lay her eggs:

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It wasn’t just dragonflies that were pairing. Small Heath butterflies were at it too:

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We had a poor year for Small Blue butterflies this year and this was because last year was a bad year for Kidney Vetch, the larval food plant, and not many eggs were laid. We are trying to bump up the Kidney Vetch that is growing here to support our population of Small Blues and so I have grown some plants from seed:

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Today I planted them out near the wild pond which seems to be where the population is focused. Next year they should flower and be available should a Small Blue wish to deposit an egg.

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Kidney vetch newly planted in amongst the grass

A new plant has grown in the chalk ditch that we dug earlier this year. It’s Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea). Mignonette, a plant of disturbed calcareous grassland,  produces a large amount of seed that then has the ability to survive in the soil for years. For a new plant to grow, the soil needs to be disturbed and this might not happen for tens of years. However, when it does, as this soil here was disturbed when we dug the bank back in January, the seed is there ready to germinate and the plant can reappear after many years of absence. Well, its lovely to see it – I wonder how long the seed had been waiting.

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Another plant has reappeared in the last few days, but, unlike the Mignonette, this plant comes up every year and its arrival is eagerly anticipated by us as the summer starts to head towards its conclusion. It is the orchid Autumn Ladies Tresses, a specialist of short calcareous grassland and we get quite a lot of them growing here:

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Lovely spirals of flowers.

Badgers start to feed up and put on fat as we approach Autumn. Here are the four who live here and they are doing just that. It’s always reassuring to see all four of them together to know that they are safe and accounted for.

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I include this photo below as my final flourish because I really like it. Although the actual face has been burnt out by the infra red, you get a second chance to see it in the reflection.

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On the Trail of Snails

Something eats an awful lot of snails around here. There is always a littering of shells on the pathways, empty but otherwise intact.

There has been a recent succession of photos of Magpies carrying snails.

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Could they be who is eating so many? Would the shells then still be intact or would they damage the shell getting the snail out?

One snail-eater who definitely damages the shells when extracting the meat is the Song Thrush and the camera that takes videos along the cliff edge has been getting footage of Song Thrushes smashing snails on a stone:

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Song Thrush carrying a snail
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Two of them.

Unfortunately the stone is just below the reach of the camera but there is an accompanying sound track of the pinging noises as the snails are hit on the stone. A photo taken leaning over the fence shows the stone now being rather slimy with a carnage of numerous smashed shells lying nearby:

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We counted about 10 snail shells.

Interrogating the internet on snails gets a depressing return of hundreds of entries on how to kill them, using pejorative vocabulary  to suggest that they are nasty slimy things only fit for annihilation. There is very little information on their place within a natural ecosystem. But clearly they are forming an important part of the food chain here.

Slow Worms also eat snails. The ecologist who recently visited us to see if our meadows were an appropriate place to relocate a population of slow worms that are being displaced by upcoming development nearby, suggested that we planted areas of nettles because they are very good for snails which, in turn, were fantastic slow worm food. (I absolutely don’t want to plant nettles)

Maybe all these snails are being eaten by our resident Slow Worm population although we remain sceptical and will continue to see if we can shed any more light on this.

So far we have identified 5 species of snail here:

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Top to bottom in the photo above we have Cornu aspersum (the Garden Snail), Cepaea nemoralis (the Brown-lipped snail) and Aegopinella nitidula (Smooth glass snail).

We also have Cernuella virago  (the Vineyard snail) and these ones:

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This is the Pomatias elegans, the round-mouthed snail or also called the land winkle because they look so much like winkles. These two shells above were still being used by the snails and so we put them back where we found them.

Moving on from snails to Linnets. The bird ringer who uses these meadows was interested in trying to ring some Linnets because they are a species he has never managed to ring before – maybe one or two in his whole ringing career. To this end, we put some oilseed rape seeds down along the weedy strip. When we were putting supplementary feed down here in the Spring, we were attracting a lot of Linnets down.

Within a couple of days, the Linnets were back on the strip and so we let him know that anytime he wanted to try to catch them, we were ready for him:

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A male in his lovely rosy Summer plumage.
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Loads of them.

Today was the big day and he put just one net up between the weedy strip and the hedgerow:

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One mist net up.

Well, he had a fantastic morning, the final tally of which was: 12 Linnets, 2 Willow Warblers, 2 Whitethroats, 1 Lesser Whitethroat and, surprisingly, 1 Reed Warbler. He was delighted with that and is returning next week and putting a run of three nets up to see what that does.

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Juvenile Linnet

Just finishing today with butterflies, because we are having a good year for the Wall butterfly on our hands. Every year we see one or two, but yesterday we saw up to 8 of them in one circuit of the meadows. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like loads, but for Walls these days, I think thats very good.

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The Wall butterfly.

 

 

Left To Its Own Devices

We have been away for a fortnight. While I was away, I read the book ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree who, together with her husband Charlie Burrell, stopped farming their farm – Knepp –  in Sussex shortly after the turn of the century and left it to its own devices to see what happened next. Actually, fantastic things happened next and continue to happen and they now have important populations of many threatened species such as Nightingales, Turtle Doves and Purple Emperor butterflies.

We may only have 6 acres to their 3,500 but in our own, much smaller and limited way we too are working towards wilding our post agricultural land and turning it into something wonderful for nature. I found the book very inspiring indeed.

While we were away and our land was being left to its own devices more than usual, here are some of the things that happened: a Grey Wagtail visited the pond. This is a new bird species for here – number 66:

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Also, the Sparrowhawk has been lurking:

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And the juvenile Green Woodpecker has been making daily visits to the ponds.

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We have now returned to find the ground much greener and the ponds much fuller than when we went and there are many signs that Autumn is just round the corner:

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Sloes on the Blackthorn
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Haws on the Hawthorn
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Blackberries ripening
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Old Man’s beard going to seed.
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Elderberries.

The meadows are looking pretty brown:

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However, the strip that was bare earth at the start of the year looks completely different and is still green and weedy with very little grass. A very different habitat and that must be a good thing for biodiversity:

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The strip of land on the left of the photo was bare earth a few months ago.

This strip also has some intense colour pops from a few Sunflowers that have germinated from the turtle dove supplementary feed that we put down in the Spring:

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There is a definite feeling that the season is changing and we are back, refreshed and refilled with enthusiasm to continue nudging these meadows towards being as rich in species as possible.

 

 

Warblers On The Move

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Lesser Whitethroat. A white and grey bird.

Warblers of different sorts were being trapped and ringed in the mist nets this week and it’s a wonderful opportunity to get a really good look at them. They are on the move already out of the country and back to their wintering grounds and will now be wearing a shiny silver ring meaning they can be tracked back to these meadows if ever caught again.

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Garden Warbler
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Willow Warbler
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Willow Warbler

We are still putting oil seed rape down onto the bare earth strip (or the weedy strip as it is now). The Linnets continue to enjoy it.

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The Sparrowhawk has been visiting the pond. Her tail feathers remind me of a gingham tablecloth which is a homely thought that is strangely at odds with the scary animal that she is.

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One of our bird feeders is getting emptied really fast. We had hung it in close to a hedgerow to give the birds some protection so that they could feel more secure whilst using it. The black sunflower seeds were disappearing so quickly we thought that they must be loving it. However, I thought I would just check it out:

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Three Wood Mice
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Such a sweet little thing with its big eyes.

We have moved the feeder back away from the hedgerow now.

In this long, hot Summer, we are having a fantastic butterfly year.

I read in the most recent RSPB magazine that, during the war, the coastguards thought they had spotted a cloud of mustard gas coming across the channel towards the UK. But it turned out to be thousands of these Clouded Yellow butterflies migrating here. They are called Clouded Yellows and this may have come from ‘Clouds of Yellow’ as they arrive across the sea in swarms some years. They breed in the UK once they get here but cannot survive our Winters.

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That would have been a good yellow-on-yellow photo had I managed to actually get it in focus but this butterfly was not prepared to sit still for me. This next one’s in focus, though. We have loads of second brood Common Blues on the wing right now:

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And here is a Comma on  Teasel head:

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After the rains of last week, the weather has reverted to day after day of strong heat. We have taken to walking down at high tide to the pebbly beach below the meadows and taking a cooling dip. This is an extremely nice way to spend half an hour and something we will remember with pleasure in the depths of winter when in the grip of howling gales and chilling temperatures.

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