It has been a year of triumphs and dramas here in the meadows but they are all part of the road we are travelling to understand what’s going on and how best to manage the land for the benefit of Nature . Here is my summary of 2018:
1. Turtle Dove Strip
This was the major project of the year – a bare earth strip was dug to simulate a weedy agricultural field edge and supplementary feed supplied by the RSPB was put down for eight weeks in May and June in an attempt to get Turtle Doves to nest here. Sadly, this was unsuccessful and we didn’t see a Turtle Dove. However, it then developed into a project to support other struggling farmland birds such as Grey Partridge, Linnets and Stock Dove and this is still ongoing:
The strip is dug. February 2018.
We have decided to give the whole experiment another go next year with the hope of this time getting Turtle Dove and also Yellowhammer, which is another farmland bird that we really should have seen along the strip but didn’t.
2. Summer Drought
There was no rain here whatsoever for many weeks over the spring and summer. The water levels in the ponds dropped to critically low levels.
We worried for the trees that have been planted in the last couple of years. These Treegators were used to drip water onto the roots of the newly-planted Oaks and hopefully all six of them survived the drought.
At last it rained at the end of July. A new project for this winter has been to install many more water butts to catch as much of these summer rains as we can.
Twin baby badgers came above ground in April.
For a while we had five badgers. However, not long after this photo, one of the baby badgers disappeared – I understand that mortality rates are very high in young badgers for all sorts of reasons. But, as the year draws to a close, we do still have four badgers.
There were at least two vixen with young.
Fox cub suckling.
Foxes forming an orderly queue behind the badger at the peanuts.
Weasel carrying a young rat.
One of the dog Foxes has a taste for fish. Whiting here.
And Dogfish here.
We were sent 25 Red Mason Bee cocoons in March as part of the Red Mason Bee Guardian Scheme. Here is one that has just hatched.
A Red Mason Bee with a tummy loaded with pollen, building its nest in the cardboard tubes we put out for them.
At the end of the summer we sent back 45 completed tubes containing a total of 342 cocoons, although several of these were underweight due to fruit fly attack.
We also have two Mason Bee observation boxes. By the end of the summer, we took these boxes apart, cleaned up the cocoons and they are now in our fridge awaiting the arrival of spring.
In November we bought this non-interventionist Honey Bee nesting box that hopes to mimic how Honey Bees nest in the wild. We hope that it will be colonised next spring.
We saw 22 species of butterfly here, all of the same species as last year. However, this is one of the few sightings of a Small Blue that we had, although apparently these rare and tiny butterflies did quite well nationally. We think that our low number was because of a shortage of the larval food plant, Kidney Vetch, the year before. I am now going to to collect Kidney Vetch seed every year and grow some plants myself so that there is always a good supply.
Mating Marbled Whites.
We had a good year for the threatened Wall butterfly. We always see one or two but this year we saw around twenty.
We managed to photograph the entire sequence of emergence of Emperor dragonflies – this starts just before dusk and goes on into the night.
An estimated 150 Emperor dragonflies emerged from both ponds in May. We didn’t catch the emergence of any other species of dragonfly although we have seen five species egg laying. This is something to look forward to next year.
A magnificent beast – male Broad Bodied Chaser.
We have seen several Woodcock here this year. However, unfortunately this one fatally flew into glass in November.
The crisis in Nestbox 13. Both parents of a brood of very vocal baby Great Tits disappeared. These babies were nearly ready to fledge and called loudly all day. They eventually exited the nest in desperation but I am sure it did not end well.
A badger dug out a wasp nest that was built into a pile of hay and ate all the wasp larvae. However, the broken-open nest gave us a chance to see its inner workings. Here is a hoverfly, Volucella zonaria, a parasite of wasps’ nests, awaiting her chance to enter and lay her eggs within.
We also watched the larvae of the Great Pied Hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, attacking the adult wasps.
A lot of birds were ringed, measured and released here during the year, especially over the spring and autumn migrations. This bird was a bit of a highlight – a Pied Flycatcher – ringed in September.
Many House Martins were also ringed – especially interesting because little is still known where these birds go to for the winter. They have feathered legs to keep them warm when flying high over mountain ranges.
Well over 100 Linnets were caught and ringed. This is another bird that more is needed to be known about their movements.
A fair few Firecrests were also ringed. There was also news of a Chiffchaff that was caught here on 5th October. It had previously been ringed on 25th September, ten days earlier, on the Lizard in Cornwall which is 484kms away. This is evidence of how birds gather here on the Kent coast from all over the country in order to cross the Channel at the narrowest point.
9. New Bird Species for the List.
Thirteen new bird species were seen in or from the meadows over the year. This Brambling was here in the awful weather in March.
Buzzard was another new species, seen regularly in October and November, frequently being mobbed by corvids. Here, though, it is being attacked by a Kestrel. The other new species were Meadow Pipit, Woodcock, Moorhen, Coal tit, Black Headed Gull, Redwing, Jackdaw, Mistle Thrush, Grey Wagtail, Pied Flycatcher and Fieldfare, bringing the total of the list to 70.
10. Photos I haven’t managed to fit in anywhere else!
In May, a pair of Mallards came to bathe every morning in the pond whilst their eggs were being laid. Over this time, the female is weakened and needs the protection of the male. Once the last egg is out, the male leaves the female to incubate the eggs on her own. What lovely red legs he has, I had never noticed that before in a male Mallard.
A Tawny at the pond. Catching frogs or just drinking?
I’m slightly obsessed with Owls. Tawny again.
Male Pheasant in a wonderful pose.
Frog madness in March.
This is actually quite a wildlife spectacle.
It seems to have been a really good year for Slow Worms here. Early May.
An awkward moment when the male badger trundles upon a Fox cub and waits for it to realise that it needs to get out of his way.
The meadows covered in Buttercups in May. A glorious month.
Up and over the gate.
I decided that this looked like a couple of elderly magistrates with a ne’er-do-well in the dock and now I can’t get this scenario out of my head.
Wash and brush up before bed.
And that is the final photo in my summary of 2018. It’s been quite a year and thank you for joining us on the journey by reading this blog. A Happy Christmas to you and let us see what other delights 2019 brings.