The Thrill of the Crest

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Weighing just 5g, this male Firecrest was ringed here today. It is most likely making its way into Britain for the winter, flying against the tide of birds on their way out.

Here are some more photos of it because it surely is a magnificent thing:

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I find the badgers utilising the reeds that we have pulled out of the pond very amusing and here is a sequence of them doing just that. It’s always very awkward for them getting  it all under the fence:

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If you have ever found yourself wondering what a badger latrine looks like, then here one is:

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Such clean animals, they dig latrines like these around the sett and also at the limits of their area to warn other badgers that they are in danger of trundling into occupied territory. But moving swiftly on from latrines, this photo from last night at the peanuts makes me smile. The badgers look like two portly magistrates interrogating a miscreant in the dock.

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Before I move on from my favourite subject of badgers, this photo was taken at 7am this morning at the end of a long, hard night of worm slurping:

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Another view of the Tawny last night, for the first time ever seen on the gate rather than the perch:

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One project we have for the winter is to build some Swift boxes since there were Swifts flying around the area all summer this year. We intend to go the whole hog and play Swift calls at the relevant times next spring to alert any birds that might be looking for new lodgings that some are now available here.

Another winter project we have is to build a Weasel and Stoat (Mustelids) box. I saw the idea on a Dutch mustelid group’s website and I think it would be great to try this here:

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It’s not just Mustelids they have photographed – small mammals and even snakes as well:

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We have never seen a snake here and that is something I am very happy about. However, getting the chance to have a good look at our small mammal life without having to capture them in a trap is a very exciting prospect. Not sure what the focal lengths of our trail cameras are, but I suppose you can just make the box longer if necessary.

Good to line up a few inspiring projects to do over the winter as the summer draws to a close and always on the look out for new ideas.

 

The Migrants Gather

Another couple of glorious days and the meadows are alive with migrants gathering here before they set off across the channel – House Martins sweeping through the air and the Pine trees jumping with Chiffchaffs. There is a vague feeling of the days before Dunkirk.

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Chiffchaff at the pond yesterday
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Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, just up the coast from here, ringed 746 birds yesterday – mainly House Martins, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Most of those will already be in France by now.

The Tawny is visiting nightly – in fact last night it visited at least twice. We heard it’s loud calling close by in the early evening and here it is at 2.40am. The dew on the lens almost increases the drama:

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Other action on the cameras from last night:

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Love this one. Three foxes kept waiting with ill-concealed impatience.

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Some hierarchical positioning from the foxes is mainly a showing of teeth:

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And talking of showing teeth:

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I am not sure what this badger was doing but it was on it’s own and it is not aggression however it might appear. Certainly, though, their jaws can open an awfully long way.

Here is a bedding-dragging shot that I was hoping for:

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And a rare shot of a badger in the light, wending its way to bed this morning:

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Not quite in focus, but a Robin at the pond, showing that it has recently spent some time in the bird ringer’s net

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The Green Woodpecker is a daily visitor to the ponds:

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As is the homing pigeon, who is still here and is yet to find its way home:

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In fact, I was working in the allotment this afternoon and I saw this bird as it came in for a drink. I thought that it might be accustomed to humans and so approached with a friendly attitude, but it wasn’t having any of it and scarpered.

We have five Gooseberry bushes on the allotment because we are a family who are very fond indeed of Gooseberries. However, they have been attacked by Gooseberry Sawflies this year and have been stripped of all their leaves:

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Three skeletal gooseberry bushes with no leaves left.

As I was weeding around the bushes, I found a Gooseberry Sawfly:

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The allotment is within the meadows and is managed without chemicals and so, although I let this little thing go today, I am going to have to investigate the use of nematodes next year because this problem will not just go away on its own now.

However, this Cinnamon bug (Corizus hyoscyami) is a bit of a beauty and is welcome here:

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Yellow Rattle is a trendy thing in flower-meadow growing circles. It is a British native plant and is parasitic on grass and so knocks back otherwise-bullying grasses, letting the flowers come through. We don’t have any Yellow Rattle here and so I have sown some seed in an area of the first meadow as a bit of an experiment. If some grows next year, we can shake the seed heads around in other areas and expand it’s area year-on-year.

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The grass cut really low in preparation of sowing the Yellow Rattle seed.

When cutting the area to be sown, another wasp nest was discovered in a hole in the ground. It is tremendously active one with a steady stream of wasps in and out, so I steered well clear of this.

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Another wasp nest in the ground.

Lastly for today, there is this intriguing photo:

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This checking out of the nest box by these three birds went on for at least half an hour. I asked the bird ringer what was going on here and it seems that male Blue Tits select boxes to roost in over the winter and they are then in pole position to claim the box for the breeding season the next spring. There is a movement of Blue Tits in the autumn and so these could be newly-arrived male birds competing for the box.

I hear that today was the last in this run of beautiful weather and so I hope that all those gathered birds get safely off across the channel tonight before everything changes.

 

 

 

 

Early Autumn Sunshine

There has been a little run of beautiful autumnal days and this is a round up of some of the going-ons here:

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A homing pigeon has spent several days here. In fact, it was on the cameras as recently as yesterday and so it may still be here. I have expanded the photo as much as I can but cannot read any information on its leg rings and so there is nothing to be done other than hope that it is enjoying it’s holiday but that it will soon find its way safely home because I am sure that it is being missed somewhere.

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Double-decker sunbathing – Dragonfly and Fly

There are a lot of Common Darters around at the moment and I have been frustrating myself trying to photograph them:

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The stones around the pond are proving popular spots to keep warm now that the air temperature is lower:

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We are trying out a new camera position on the cliff, looking at some major earthworks:

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What already is clear, is that this is currently the main sett where the female and young badgers are sleeping and so I hope to get some good bedding-dragging shots over the next few nights:

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The female and the two young badgers. I think Scarface might be in a different, but close by, tunnel. Time will tell – I’m watching for him.

Here are the young badgers and the female last night, playing nicely with a fox. I like to see them all getting along:

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Although it was only the bravest one of these foxes that stayed once the badgers arrived:

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The Tawny has been occasionally visiting and here is an action shot of it:

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The bird ringer was here this morning and he was busy.  In fact, he caught 76 birds in total. Below are his tripods with some birds in bags safely awaiting processing – that’s a lot of birds for one check of the nets.

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Looking back at last year, he was catching Goldcrests and Firecrests at this time. However, they have not started migrating yet this year and that is thought to be due to them having a good breeding season which they are still finishing off. Well, it’s lovely to have some good news. Today he caught 40 Chiffchaffs, 31 Blackcaps, 1 Linnet, 3 Bluetits and a Dunnock. Actually, here is a Chiffchaff on a trail camera this morning having a drink.

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Loads of berries on the Whitebeam trees this year. Never seen a crop anything like this here before:

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We also have a Spindle tree (Euonymus europaea) in the hedgerow which likes chalky soils and has very distinctive pink berries:

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The berries from below

When you cut across the berries:

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Spindle timber is white, hard and dense and used to be used for making spindles for spinning wool (as well as tooth picks, skewers and knitting needles). Today the wood is used to make high-quality charcoal for artists.

One of the new Oak trees that we planted at the beginning of this year is forming quite a few of these galls:

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I have just the book to find out about galls:

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I discover that our native Oaks have 40 different galls to be found on them. I think that the galls in my photo above are Oak marbles, caused by the asexual generation of the gall wasp Andricus kollari. These gall wasps are not a native species, having been introduced early in the 19th century when the marble galls were used as a source of tannin for dyeing and ink-making. These are now the most common of all Oak galls.

So, thus ends a galloping round-up from the last few days. It was really lovely here today – sunshine, no wind and a chance to get out and really enjoy.

 

Pied in the Sky

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It’s very good that it is not us doing the bird ringing because we had no idea what bird this was. Turns out it is a Pied Flycatcher – a juvenile female.

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Pied Flycatchers are to be found only in the west of the UK and only during the summer. We have seen them before in Yarner Woods on the flanks of Dartmoor and Wales is also a good place to see them. So, what is this bird doing on the east coast of Kent then? Well, the bird ringer thought that this might be a bird from the woods of Poland that was migrating back to Africa.

Here is her triangular fly-catching beak:

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I subscribe to an email service alerting me to interesting birds sighted in the area and there were several other Pied Flycatcher sightings along the same stretch of coast yesterday.

This is our first Pied Flycatcher sighting for these meadows (species number 67).

Moving on from Pied Flycatchers to another pied animal – Great Pied Hoverflies.

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A Great Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens) recently spotted here

A wasps’ nest in a pile of hay was raided by a badger a fortnight ago but presumably a Great Pied Hoverfly, that is parasitic on wasps’ nests, had laid its eggs in the nest before it was attacked. At least ten of its larvae hatched out yesterday and, because the nest is now devastated, they are open to the air rather than enclosed within the nest:

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These larvae were attacking wasps that got too close:

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Because we only had a phone to take photos on at the time, the quality of these photos is far from wonderful but I have found a couple of photos showing exactly this on the internet and they are much better quality:

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Really quite the stuff of nightmares, but completely fascinating for all that.

While we were gathered around the ringing station watching the Pied Flycatcher being weighed and measured before being ringed and released, a Kestrel was hovering low above our heads:

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I am trying to learn my new camera and I do know now how to bump up shutter speed which would have really helped here but sadly my brain didn’t have time to react.

This Kestrel was a young female. Male and female Kestrels look very different as shown in this really useful aide memoire below:

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My last photo today is of a bit of a tug-of-war going on between Scarface and some of the reeds I pulled from the pond as he tries to get them through the hole under the fence to use as new bedding:

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Next Stop Africa

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An adult House Martin. The juveniles are browner.

Fifty-five House Martins were ringed here yesterday! Their contact call was played on a sound system nearby and, all of a sudden, the air was full of them. One or two will have got caught in the mist net and they will have called to the others for help and before we knew it, there were 54 in the net all at once leading to a frenzy of activity for the poor bird ringer who was on his own yesterday.

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We have learned an awful lot about House Martins from this that we didn’t know before.

Firstly, the juveniles and the adults migrate back to Africa in separate groups. Of the 55 caught yesterday, only one was an adult and the rest were juveniles. The adults stay on to have a second brood and the juveniles go on ahead, usually with no bird that has been before to show them the way. Simply amazing.

Secondly, even though thousands of House Martins are ringed in the UK every year, we still don’t know where our UK birds go to spend the winter. Their exact wintering grounds are a mystery although thought to be somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Also not known are the migration routes taken. Currently there is not a satellite tag small enough to go on a bird of their size and so the hope is that there will be retraps of ringed birds to give a clue as to what’s going on.

However, it is known that they migrate at high altitudes over mountain ranges – probably the Pyrenees. This is why it it thought that the juveniles have feathery legs and feet, to keep them warmer:

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Once this juvenile above was released after having been ringed, it will probably next touch ground in Africa which is a mind boggling thought.

I posted the photograph below onto a Hoverfly Facebook group to ask if it is known how they manage to fly unchallenged into otherwise extremely well-guarded wasps’ nests to lay their eggs. These eggs hatch to become larvae that are parasitic on the wasp larvae:

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The first thing I discovered was that I had misidentified the Hoverfly and that this is Volucella zonaria (the Hornet Mimic Hoverfly) rather than Volucella inanis. The experts on the group tell me that one possibility is that the larvae eat sufficient detritus while in the nest so that they pick up wasp pheromones that then mask them from attack. However, this is simply a guess and the reason just isn’t known. They also mentioned that it is an interesting record because the first ever record of Volucella zonaria being a resident species came from Walmer, Kent which is where the meadows are.

The next photo is notable because we have never recorded badgers carrying food before.  They eat food where they find it and also don’t carry prey back to their young – the babies are suckled until they are old enough to go out on foraging trips with their parents.

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I put some slightly out-of-date eggs out with the peanuts and here they are carrying them back onto the cliff path before eating them.

We have a lot of dragonflies here at the moment hawking along the hedgerows and buzzing over the ponds. Occasionally one will stop for long enough for us to get a bit of a look at it. This one is a Migrant Hawker – maybe they all are:

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Lastly for today, once again the Sparrowhawk is back on the gate, this time having a bit of a scratch with those fearsome talons of hers.

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Celebration of Badgers

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Over the past two or three years of closely observing the family of badgers that have made these meadows their home, I have come to have a deep respect and affection for them. They go trundling about their business, keeping to themselves, eating mostly earthworms and not causing any trouble. Yet badgers have been mercilessly persecuted for hundreds of years. These days they are more controversial than ever before and I can only hope that sense will eventually prevail and they will be allowed to return to quietly getting on with their lives in peace.

I pulled some reeds out of the pond a few days ago and stacked them on the side. As predicted, the badgers have already started taking them underground as bedding. It really doesn’t look particularly comfortable but that doesn’t seem to worry them:

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I am still enjoying seeing all four of them contentedly eating all together at peanut time:

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Looks like some sort of ballroom dance.

Especially interesting to me is to observe their interactions with the foxes who inhabit the same space along the cliff. The younger badgers are usually happy to eat alongside the foxes:

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But the adult badgers have the confidence to insist that they take precedence and are not usually so accommodating with the foxes. However, this is Scarface, the adult male, in a rare moment of tolerance:

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In September every year, the Swallows gather to feed over the meadows before they embark on their journey across the channel and onwards to Africa. It’s a magical thing to sit and watch them and wish them Bon Voyage as they swoop and glide in the autumn sun. Although, it is definitely difficult to capture them photographically and this is the best I could do:

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Although, actually, the trail camera that we call ‘perch cam’ probably did it better than me:

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The dog cannot stop herself pointlessly chasing them as they swoop, involving much thrashing around in the late summer seedy growth:

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In amongst the Swallows, there was a Kestrel hovering above the meadows. It reduced its height once, twice and then plummeted down onto the ground, only to fly off empty-taloned shortly afterwards.

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While on the subject of birds of prey, the Sparrowhawk was once again on the gate yesterday in her normal lurking spot:

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We have seen this large hoverfly hanging around:

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Volucella pellucens.

This is the Great Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens). This is another large hoverfly that is parasitic on Wasp’s nests.  Last week we saw a different Volucella hoverfly, Volucella inanis, checking out the wasps’ nest that is being rebuilt after a badger raid:

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Volucella inanis checking out progress.

Both these hoverflies species can fly unhindered into a wasps’ nest to lay their eggs, although the nest is generally extremely well guarded. Is it because they chemically mask themselves in some way and so are invisible to the guards, or do the guards let them in because they want hoverfly larvae in the nest? Perhaps the Hoverfly larvae only eat the dead wasps, larvae and other discarded material, thus keeping the nest clean? I don’t know the answer to this at the moment but will try to find out what’s going on because I find it fascinating.

The wasps’ nest is now largely rebuilt after the badger raid. The new sphere is built under the hay on the right of the wreckage of the previous nest.

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I am thinking that it might be worth getting a camera on the nest to see if it is attacked again. There has to be quite a high chance that this will happen, it’s very undefended.

A distinctive plant in the grass is the patch of Marjoram:

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This Marjoram is a complete magnet to butterflies, bees, hoverflies and others over the summer and as such is a wonderful British native plant to have around. I have grown some from seeds and have now planted it out into the meadows.

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Hopefully we will have a second large patch of Marjoram next summer covered in pollinators.

I am finishing with a plant today. Earlier in the year, we discovered some Black Bryony scrambling amongst the hedgerows. A climber and our only native species of the Yam family. Now that autumn is here, it has these luscious looking red berries hanging like grapes.  Beautiful red berries like this are usually to tempt animals to eat them thus dispersing the seed. However, these berries are highly toxic and so therefore I do not understand the point of them and why it bothers producing them. Should I discover the reason, I will let you know.

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Early September

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The wild pond has been far too full of vegetation this year and it’s hard to spot much open water. It is clear that drastic clearance action is needed this autumn to avoid the same thing next year.

So, here we are. The work has started:

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It is quite a bit of effort involving lots of pulling and an awful lot of mud and so it’s being done in phases.

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The reeds are left on the side of the pond for a day to allow animals to make their way back into the  water and then they are stacked by the fence.

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Much like worms pulling autumn leaves down into the soil, we are expecting these reeds to soon disappear underground as badger bedding. They seem to love them. Or rather, they love the ease of having them stacked ready for their use.

Now that the reeds have been cleared away, here is the pond at the end of Phase 1 of the work. Phase 2 will follow soon(ish).

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It’s early September and the Ivy is in flower. Timed to perfection, the Ivy Bees have also arrived to feast on the Ivy pollen and nectar. These are solitary bees because each female bee digs her own tunnel down into the soil with chambers off into which they lay their eggs. However, they do tend to dig their tunnels all in the same area. There are already swarms of many thousands of them here and their time has only just begun.

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Another Grey Wagtail arrived the other day. They do move in autumn – some go across the channel somewhere warmer, but others simply move within the UK away from their breeding grounds to a place to spend the winter.

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Yesterday was a glorious day and the bird ringers were at work along the weedy strip. They had another great catch of Linnets – 35 yesterday, bringing the total number of Linnets ringed in the last fortnight to 83.

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A male. In the process of losing his flambuoyant red breeding plumage but still looking a bit like he has been daubed in lipstick.
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A juvenile male.

Butterfly numbers are gradually dropping off. However, we did see this Clouded Yellow and I include this photo to point out its large green eye which is something I haven’t noticed before.

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The badgers are continuing to feed up ready for the winter:

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Peanut time

I guess this ghostly being must be a bat:

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The final photo for today is this fantastic tail display by the Sparrowhawk perched up in her normal place:

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