Late October

Many sorry piles of feathers tell the tale that Sparrowhawks are around, but it has been some time since they have turned up on the cameras. However,  here is a magnificent male yesterday with his rufous cheeks and breast.

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The aftermath of a Sparrowhawk attack.

And actually here he is again from a few days earlier. A powerful outline:

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But this is a female on the gate – no rufous colouring and a browner back, but the same scary yellow eye and long yellow legs.

Trail camera

The homing pigeon came again yesterday – you can just see the rings on it’s left leg. It hadn’t been seen for a while and I had thought it was either one of the sorry piles of feathers mentioned above, or it had decided it was finally time to go home.

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It has been visiting for over a month now, which is impressive for a bird unaccustomed to surviving in the wild.

When we cut the meadows this autumn, the decision to leave areas untouched has meant that we can still provide cover for the three Grey Partridge that have been here all year. I was surprised to see how rusty red their tails are in flight:

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And from above as well:

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Here is a Blackbird with a sloe in its beak – the first time that I have noticed sloes being used by wildlife. Usually they wither and rot on the tree (…those that we haven’t already picked to make sloe gin of course)

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And here is a Jay with an acorn from a Holm Oak in its beak. It is nice to notice who is eating what:

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The Tawny was on the perch for the first time since we raised the camera on a pole:

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A bit burnt out by the infra red – we will now move the pole back a bit.

Actually, we have bought a new trail camera, a different one to our normal cheap and cheerful Crenovas. This one is three times the price and has extremely powerful infra red flash capability – enough to light a very large area indeed if needed. It also has clip-on lenses to enable it to focus as close as 46cm, in which case it is possible to turn the infra red down a lot. The pictures should have much better clarity as well.

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We are testing it out alongside the Crenovas at the moment to get the measure of it but eventually we hope that it will go into the new Mustelid box.

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The new Bushnell trail camera in amongst the sea of Crenovas.

A small hole has appeared in the ground of the left hand copse and the dog is excessively interested in it, doing loud snorting down it every time she passes.

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A small hole in the ground.

We put a camera on it overnight to see what was living in there. It turned out that it wasn’t just the dog that was interested:

Trail camera

The residents were revealed to be two mice:

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Ok, so the picture quality is awful – perhaps I should have put the new Bushnell on the job.

We are never a rich place for autumnal fungus here, perhaps because of the lack of trees and associated rotting wood. But these White Saddles normally put in an appearance in the grass – strange contorted things:

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These come up every year as well:

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They are quite large and underneath have a honeycomb of pores rather than gills. I have been looking in my books to try to ID them and, with no confidence whatsoever, I can suggest that they are Weeping Boletes (Suillus granulatus). Certainly a Bolete of some type.

Some of the foxes have extraordinarily plush-looking tails at the moment..

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

No tails here but I just like the composition:

Trail camera

In front of the meadows is an area of sea that is sheltered in westerly winds and we often have vessels moored up overnight there. Recently there was the Avontuur, flying a German flag and built in 1920, it purportedly is a cargo ship although it looks much more like a pirate ship to us:

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This chemical tanker, the Whitdawn, flying a Maltese flag, was moored up alongside for about 4 days:

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Never moored up outside but always to be seen plodding along the busy shipping lane on the horizon are these floating islands:

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This particular containership is the Triton, also flying a Maltese flag, nine hours out from Rotterdam on its voyage to the Suez Canal.

I will finish today with the sky over the meadows as the sun got lower and the light began to fade last night. A mackerel sky, suggestive of a change in the weather to come.

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Autumnal Clear Out

Today was the day to clear out the nest boxes.

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Many of them have used the fluorescent fluff from the dog’s footballs which makes them look very stylish.

We have 38 boxes up of assorted shapes and sizes and 11 of them had birds nests in – mostly Great Tits but also a Blue Tit, a Wren nest and a few unknown. Additionally, the Little Owl box and one of the Kestrel boxes had Squirrel nests in them:

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The Little Owl box
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A Squirrel nest in the Little Owl box.
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Presumed Squirrel nest in the Kestrel box

Until this year we had never seen a Squirrel here. However, in early summer this year, a Squirrel started appearing on the pond cameras every day to drink. We have not now seen this animal for several months and assume it is no longer with us and so have cleaned out both these boxes – ideally we want Little Owls and Kestrels, not Squirrels.

The Blue Tit nest had 10 babies which had been ringed whilst still in the nest back in May. Nine of these babies had subsequently successfully fledged but there was sadly a dead bird still in the box:

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A dead, ringed juvenile Blue Tit.

Two of the nest boxes that we knew had had Great Tits in during the summer, now have been adopted by mice:

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Box 22 – now a mouse nest. We left it alone and will reassess in the early spring
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Box 26 – we assume this is also now a mouse nest and so have left this one as well.

So 11 nests in 38 nest boxes is not a great hit rate but hopefully many young birds will have been successfully launched into the world from them this year. We will look at which boxes didn’t get used and consider re-siting them ready for next spring.

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It was a simply beautiful calm, warm day today. Several Common Darters were at the ponds:

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Butterflies were basking in the sunshine:

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Speckled Wood.
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Small Copper.
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Red Admiral.

A Buzzard flew low over the meadows, causing pandemonium amongst the resident corvids, many of whom formed a mob to chase it off the premises:

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We saw our first ever Buzzard here only a fortnight ago and so this is still a very exciting sight for us.

Last night we were taking a stroll around at about 5.30pm and we flushed a Woodcock from low in the hedgerow at the northernmost boundary. We have repositioned a few cameras to see if we can capture it photographically as it forages around the grass in the dark but we would have to be very lucky – its a big area to be covered by a couple of cameras.

We did get this shot of a Jay – I hadn’t really realised that Jays had quite this much blue on them.

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The experiment with the new Mustelid box continues. We still have only had mice visiting the box and we are still dissatisfied with the clarity of the photo that the trail camera is taking when asked to focus on something so close:

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Trail camera

This is still a work in progress.

The Tawny Owl is visiting regularly but, because the camera is pointing up at the perch, it is very vulnerable to getting dew on the lens resulting in this sort of thing:

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We have now raised the camera up on a stick but hope that, now that the camera is the highest point, the owl doesn’t perch on that instead, because that would be annoying:

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Here is the badger sett by day, when the foxes are free to roam:

Trail camera

Trail camera

But, at the witching hour (6.15pm at the moment), the badgers emerge:

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A badger emerges to start the day.

Some sniffing of the air to ensure all is as it should be:

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Then a bit of grooming:

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A bit of general loafing around:

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Then the day can properly start. Any minute now the badgers will arrive to break up this peanut party:

Trail camera

Trail camera

We do not tire of watching and trying to understand how these animals live their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Beekeeping – the next step

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Trail camera

A few photos of our larger mammals from the past few days.

Now that it is October, it is time to progress our wild beekeeping onto the next stage. Red Mason bees fly in the spring and nest in tunnels, creating compartments with mud and putting a pile of pollen and an egg into each compartment. We have two solitary bee observation nest boxes:

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The two solitary bee nests on the side of the hide.
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The side of one of the nests removed in the spring to show the completed tunnels.

Since the bees stopped flying in late spring, we took the boxes inside and kept them in a cool, dark place – the understairs cupboard.

Inevitably, many parasites will have attacked the nests to try to take advantage of the pollen stores and it is now necessary to clean away these parasites and transfer the bee cocoons safely to the fridge for the winter.

While the boxes have been under the stairs, the eggs have hatched into larvae, who have lived off the pollen store through the summer and by now have pupated into hard and resilient cocoons which contain the new adult bees within, ready to emerge next spring.

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The box in October with lots of dark cocoons.
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The blocks with the perspex sides removed.
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Pollen mites – one of many types of parasites that attack the nests.
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Some of the extracted bee cocoons
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Washing the cocoons. They float – everything else sinks.

 

 

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Another stage of the cleaning – shaking the cocoons in sand, using the abrasive action to remove surface parasites.

The cocoons have now gone into the fridge in a special Bee Humidifier box to keep them in the perfect conditions until spring.

Two other species of bee had used the boxes before we brought them indoors:

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Leafcutter bee cocoons

The Leafcutter bees lay their eggs in a similar style to the mason bees but they form their compartments with cut pieces of leaves rather than mud, which then forms a cigar.

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The middle tunnel contains the young of Osmia leaiana – the Orange Vented Bee

The young of both the Leafcutter bees and the Orange Vented bees spend the winter as larvae rather than already-formed adults in a tough cocoon. They are, therefore, very delicate and cannot be cleaned up like it is possible to do with the Red Masons. I am going to pack the Leafcutter cigars and the Orange Vented bee larvae in vermiculite and put them back under the stairs until the spring.

The boxes also need stiff brushing and washing to remove any potential lingering nasties:

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The boxes with the cocoons removed but before brushing and washing.
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All cleaned and drying by the Aga. They will all go into the freezer for a month next just to be on the safe side.

All very time consuming but completely fascinating.

The Mustelid Observation box is now finished and ready for action:

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The piece of drain pipe has been cut away so that any animals using the tunnel can be photographed on the trail camera.

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For two nights, there were no visitors to the box. However, last night we had a mouse:

 

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Progress! This little animal had removed all the peanuts by morning. However, we were a bit dissatisfied with the quality of the image. This is a screen shot from a video and so, if just photographs are being taken, the quality will be better. Overnight tonight we have changed the camera with one that we think has better resolution and also set it onto photo mode and so we shall wait and see what happens next.

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It has been a great summer for British grapes and, elsewhere, we have a vine on a south facing wall which is doing extremely well and the harvest is heavy every year.  However,  the grapes are full of seeds and so supply far exceeds human demand. I have put some bunches of the grapes out in the meadows to see what will eat them.

Finishing today on the subject of Wild Carrot seed heads:

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Wild Carrot seed heads.

Although the meadows have mostly been cut by now, we have left areas that have a lot of  seed-bearing plants such as Wild Carrot and Knapweed. It is lovely to see flocks of Goldfinch roaming the meadows feeding on these seeds. The bird ringer has put his mist nets up near the stands of carrot to target them and here is a juvenile Goldfinch. Note it’s beak that comes to the most tiny point to be able to deal with the smallest of seeds.

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Early October

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All manner of interesting vessels sail past these meadows but this one today really caught our eye. I have a marine traffic app and so I can tell you that this is a Heavy Lift Vessel called BokaLift1 flying the Cypriot flag. The bit that looks like a piece of the Eiffel Tower is it’s cargo and all the rest is part of the ship’s structure.

So, September has slipped quietly into October. While the days remain on the whole sunny, the autumnal colours are intensifying and night time temperatures are dropping.  I saw a Brambling hopping about the hedgerow yesterday but didn’t have my camera with me and so I was very pleased to see that it had got itself down to the pond this morning to have its picture taken by the trail camera there. A very striking looking bird:

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Yesterday we saw a Fieldfare in the Whitebeam, presumably snacking on the heavy crop of berries that they have this year.

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We have never seen a Fieldfare here before and so that is species 68 on our list. Today, we saw another one on a smaller tree and so we have now speculatively placed a camera on this smaller tree to see what else we get eating these berries. Berries are almost always red, orange and yellow and berry-eating birds’ eyesight is adapted so that they can see these particular colours very vividly. As they fly over the meadows, all the berries on the hedgerows will will be highlighted for them. Likewise, the eyesight of seabirds is adapted so that the whites and greys of fish are very obvious.

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It has been a week since my last post but, while we have been away, our trusty stable of trail cameras have been beavering away on our behalf capturing the wonders of our meadow wildlife. Here is a little run through of some of what they caught. This female Blackcap is having a bath but has spread her tail out beautifully using the surface tension of the water.

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There has been another Grey Wagtail passing through:

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And some lovely photos of Jays:

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There have been many sightings of the Green Woodpecker:

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Trail camera

We have lots of anthills and not many mature trees and so it is Green Woodpeckers that we get here. Although we have very occasionally had a Great-Spotted Woodpecker on the peanut feeder. However, there were two here this morning working their way up the Pine tree:

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This is a male because it has a red patch on the back of its head.

The Tawny Owl made an appearance on the cameras once while we were away. And when I say ON the camera, I do mean actually perched on the camera.

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Sometimes its hard to admire the lifestyle of Magpies, but this is certainly a wonderful and unexpected angle of one:

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There is now a fox around with the most luxuriant tail:

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And of course there is badger stuff as well. Here is a badger emerging from her burrow at dusk to start the day:

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And here is a badger trudging home to bed at dawn. Actually, well after dawn – what was going on?

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It is unusual to see these badgers out in the light other than in June when the nights are so short. But here is the male badger coming out before dark to see where his peanuts are:

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Such a powerful looking animal. Meanwhile, the fun continues as various badgers try to get bundles of reeds through a smallish hole under the fence:

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We were inspired by an idea that we saw on a Dutch wildlife website for photographing animals that like to go through tunnels such as Stoats, Weasels and rodents.

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Work is now well underway to produce our own version of this:

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We are using marine ply for the top and bottom and pine wood for the sides. In a few days it should be all finished with a coat of paint and a protective covering of roofing felt and the experiment can begin!

Finally, we saw these beetles today:

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They are Chrysolina banksii, a beautiful metallic little beetle that is particularly abundant in coastal areas and associated with Ribwort Plantain. While I was researching these beetles, I came across a cousin of theirs in the insect book, Chrysolina cerealis, the Rainbow Leaf Beetle:

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We will never see this beetle here – it is only to be found in Snowdonia and, in fact, even if you went there you are very unlikely to see it since it is exceedingly rare. But it is such an astounding thing that I couldn’t leave it out.