The Mippit

There have been a couple visits by the bird ringers to the meadows recently to try to ring the flock of Linnets that are feeding up on the strip. There has been a lot of tinkering with net heights and positioning but still these Linnets have largely evaded capture.

Today, however, the excitement was caused by a Meadow Pipit – often affectionately called a Mippit in the birding world – that came down to drink at the field pond and then flew into a net that was down by the feeders there.

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These birds mostly breed in the upland areas of the North and West of the country but move south and spend the winter throughout Britain as well as in France and Spain. This bird was born in 2018 and will soon be moving back north.

An amazing thing about Mippits is this:

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It is thought that their long hind claw is used as a sort of spring to catapult them into the air from the ground to escape predation.

Having spent many years living in the Thames Valley, we are very familiar with Ring-Necked Parakeets and we often had several at a time on our feeders there. There is also a population of them on Thanet but we had never seen one here in the meadows. However, about a month or so ago, we thought one had arrived. This bird is still being seen and heard daily although it actually sounds totally different from the Parakeets we were used to in the Thames Valley which we found very odd.

The bird ringers saw it today and they think it may be a larger Alexandrine Parakeet rather than a Ring-Necked one. Since we still haven’t managed to photograph the bird, here is a photo of an Alexandrine from the internet:

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It is a bigger bird at 60cm to the Ring-Necked’s 42cm and has red patches on its shoulders. Interestingly, the British list of birds documents 13 species of Parrots spotted in the country and, of these, four species are well established as feral populations: The Ring-Necked Parakeet, the Alexandrine Parakeet, the Monk Parakeet and the Blue-Crowned Conure. I was unaware of all of that.

We will now try hard to get a photograph of this bird so that we can verify its identity as an Alexandrine Parakeet.

Although it was a misty night when this photo below was taken, I think it looks like a small herd of grazing animals and I like it:

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I also like this – the seed heads of the Stinking Iris, one of the two native Iris species in this country. These seeds look like they are trying to attract animals to eat them but nothing ever does so they must taste horrible:

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In the wood, the new pond is starting to get lots of visitors. Here is a Badger drinking:

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And a Song Thrush:

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Finally for today, in the regeneration section of the wood, there are many tree stumps from when the last crop of trees was taken out. These are covered in moss and clearly are now functioning as useful look out podiums for Rabbits:

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Ringing in the Wood

There was another ringing session in the wood on this beautiful late February morning. Unfortunately, it did result in the bird ringer getting bitten again – this time by this very vigorous bird:

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It is a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, something that you can tell because there is no red at all on its head. This tiny Coal Tit was also caught and ringed:

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I checked the cameras in the wood and see that there are at least two Badgers around:

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And then there was this photo which gave me a shock:

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Cat and Rabbit.

Returning now to the meadows and the ongoing Heron issue:

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I now have hundreds of photos of the Heron fishing at the pond and so many Frogs have been taken that I have completely lost count. Loads and loads. As well as the traditional fishing time of dawn, the Heron has been here through the night for the last four nights while the moon has been full and the skies clear. Here it is last night again:

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The frogs are very active at the moment as they gather to mate and lay spawn and they are falling like flies to this extremely successful predator.

However, there has been a small triumph against adversity and some spawn has been laid:

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We have been helplessly watching – admittedly initially with interest but then increasingly with alarm and a sense of injustice. This afternoon we decided to take action and have turned the pond into a bit of a war zone:

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We have attempted to create some areas of refuge for the frogs to even out the odds a bit. But it’s another clear and bright night out there now so we await to see if this has been any help when we go through the cameras in the morning.

Other news from the meadows is that we have got the Sparrow terrace up into position – three new homes in one, now awaiting tenants:

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A nice view of the long-legged female Sparrowhawk about to take a bath:

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A wonderful shot of a Badger – short-sighted but an extremely able smeller, checking out the state of affairs before she emerges into the meadows from the safety of the cliff:

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Our hedgerow that adjoins the farmers field was getting very overgrown and hadn’t been cut for quite a while:

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Although we don’t want to cut it every year to leave as many berries as possible to provide food through the winter, it does need cutting every so often to keep it as a healthy hedge. There are no berries left by this point in the year and so now seemed a good time to cut it before the nesting season gets underway.

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A tractor with a cutting arm works along the hedgerow.

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The meadows have been to the barbers and the hedgerow now looks ready to spring back into life with renewed vigour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Fishermen

We are still getting early morning visits from the Heron, fishing for frogs in the pond:

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It has an unexpected strip of black and white feathers running down the front of its neck:

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For the last two nights, we were flabbergasted to see that it was fishing through the night as well, taking advantage of the full moon and the clear skies. The times shown on the photos are accurate:

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This doesn’t seem to be quite cricket to me and I will be pleased once the nights darken again. The Heron is a silent and ruthlessly successful assassin and I am beginning to worry that it will be completely emptying the pond of frogs.

However – there’s more – it seems it is not just frogs. I have photographic evidence of it taking four newts during this morning’s fishing session:

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Like Gussie, in P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, who had a passion for newts and kept them in the bath, I too have a real soft spot for them and I find it difficult to watch them being taken like this. I have to console myself with the fact that there is a lot of vegetation in that pond for them to hide under.

This is not the first time that we have seen birds hunting amphibians at night. Here is a  Tawny Owl from a few days ago – we are delighted because we haven’t seen one for months, although it was a shame there was dew on the camera lens:

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But last summer, we got this shot of a Tawny at the hide pond – presumably hunting for frogs:

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I think that this fox below has been raiding night fishermen of the human kind down on the beach. This looks to me like a piece of fish that has been cut up for bait:

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Walking around the meadows this morning in the February sunshine, there was a Lark ascending in full, glorious song above my head. It then descended again into the grass. Of course I had the wrong lens on my camera but that happens so often I don’t know why I even comment on it:

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Skylark.

All winter we have had a flock of House Sparrows feeding on the red millet that we have been putting out in feeders.  Their cheery chirruping from the shrubbery has been a real feature of that part of the meadows this year. We have now seen them starting to gather bedding material and so have just taken delivery of this Sparrow terrace:

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Sparrows like to nest colonially and so it will be interesting to see if they like it.

Here are a few other recent photos from the meadows that I like:

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Very rare to see the Badgers here out and about in daylight:

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So much of a Badger’s diet is made up of juicy worms that they seldom need to drink:

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The main reason we bought the wood was to nurture and study the habitat and wildlife. However, we also want it to be a place where family and friends can come and immerse themselves in nature. Maybe even grandchildren someday! Last weekend one of our sons, who is very interested in bushcraft,  visited the wood and tried out his new hammock:

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Well, we all tried it out – it is a completely enclosed zipped cocoon with a mesh top and a roof above as protection against the weather. It is also extremely comfortable. We could  envisage ourselves waking up on a beautiful May morning , the dawn chorus in surround-sound, having had a good night’s sleep in the Great Outdoors  – we have now promptly ordered two more for ourselves. I am not a keen camper but I really think that this is a way to enjoy spending a whole night out in the woods.

 

 

 

Herons and Frogs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrogs have started mobilising, gathering for what is one of the first wildlife spectacles of the year here. Below is a trail camera photo from last year when frog numbers reached their peak in early March:

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There are nothing like those numbers yet but the increased activity that there is has not gone unnoticed:

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Grey Heron fish mainly at dawn and dusk and indeed this is when we have been seeing this bird for the past few days. Yesterday morning we saw it flying off with a frog in its beak. This morning it was back again and we were able to watch it from afar through our scope catching two frogs for breakfast:

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No frog spawn here yet. Freshwater Habitats Trust run a spawn survey each year and the sightings they report always start in the warmer west of the country and sweep east over several weeks. Here is the most recent map that they have posted to Facebook:

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Another happening early in the year is Badger mating immediately after the birth of their cubs. This is not the first year that they have been kind enough to do this in front of our camera but I was certainly most surprised to see a third badger involved.

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The mating couple are the two mature Badgers but the badger backed up against them is the 2017 cub. I read that female Badgers start to ovulate in the Spring of their second year and this is exactly how old she now is and so I suppose that she is hoping for cubs next year. The male, aka Scarface, is not her father.

Here is Scarface on a wet night when he has been transformed into a very stripey Badger.

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And a beautiful, healthy wet Fox:

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There are a lot of Linnets on the strip at the moment eating the millet and oil seed rape seed that we are putting down through the winter:

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The bird ringer came today to try to catch them but he caught very few. He thinks that his net is too high and they can see it silhouetted against the sky. He is going to borrow a half-height net and try again next week.

I like this photo of communally bathing Woodpigeons:

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In my last post, I suggested that this animal below might be a baby badger that had come out of the sett while its mother was out feeding:

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When I finally got round to looking at my backlog of videos that were taken by another camera close by, I saw that it had captured an animal that I now think is a feral Ferret lolloping along the cliff path. This is the same animal and is not an early sighting of a baby Badger.

The bird ringer went to the wood for the first time yesterday. He was hoping to catch Blue Tits for a survey he is doing for the BTO. Well, he caught 27 of them so that pleased him. He also caught this Marsh Tit, which is a rare bird for Kent. It’s confusing because it does live in woods not marshes.

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He also caught a young male Sparrowhawk:

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He took this photo while holding the bird by the legs with the other. However, it did then peck him and, not surprisingly given its beak, drew blood.

We have been noticing a wonderful crescendo of bird song building up these days as spring approaches. Particularly beautiful is this Robin who is often to be found singing his little heart out on the top of this tree:

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Early February Round Up

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It was a glorious day yesterday – cold but sunny, crisp and still. Here is a Kestrel perched high looking over the meadows in the last hour of daylight.

Today couldn’t be more different, however, with strong winds and rain for most of the day. But this didn’t deter the badgers who spent from 6.25am to 6.58 this morning mating – and apologies to them for my lack of discretion. Mating occurs soon after this year’s cubs have been born:

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It always seems to involve the male doing a lot of biting of the female’s neck which looks painful but doesn’t appear to bother her. There is delayed impregnation in Badgers – any cubs resulting from this pairing will not be born until January 2020.

But what about this animal below that was outside the Badger sett in the very early hours of this morning?:

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In order to judge size, here it is uncropped:

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And here is a Badger in more or less the same spot, also uncropped:

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The mystery animal is right in front of a Badger sett. Could it be a baby Badger who has toddled out of the tunnel? Since Badgers don’t store food, the mother badger will have to leave the babies unattended while she goes out to find food for herself. I don’t really know what it is but that is probably my best guess. Any better ideas, please let know.

Word about the occasional placing of meal worms in the Mustelid box has got around the Wood Mouse community. Here are four of them in there:

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And I am still trying to get a good photo of the Pygmy Shrew. I think this is the best one yet:

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We leave the meadows today with this comedy photo of the dog:

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In the woods, the Kestrel box has gone up into position:

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We are pleased with where it is, with a clear view out over farmland at the moment although we may need to do some pruning once the leaves come out.

The wood’s trail cameras have come up with some good photos over the last few days. These two birds below are Lesser Redpolls – Birch and Alder specialists who breed in the North and West of the UK but do come to the South and the East to overwinter. We certainly have a lot of Silver Birch for them here. They have red caps which you would be able to see if they were looking at us:

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It was good to see several different bird species coming to drink at the new pond:

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As we walk round the wood, we often put up Woodcock – sometimes as many as four on one visit – so it was great that one got caught on camera:

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And cropped in a bit:

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What a fantastic bird.

Finally for today, we have been seeing a lot of male Pheasants on the trail cameras, but here for the first time is a female as well:

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Isn’t this the sort of photo you could use for a caption competition?

 

 

 

 

Attempting to Help

For four weeks now we have been putting out honey sandwiches with medicine dripped onto them to try to help a Fox with mange. But, frustratingly, we have missed the intended target on every single day. The trouble is that the Fox visits at different times and every day our healthy resident Foxes get to the sandwiches first.

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Some of our resident Foxes.

We have also seen the mangey Fox out and about during the day and it is difficult indeed to watch its condition worsening while our attempts to help it are proving so inadequate.

Here it is this morning under the bird feeders:

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Here it is when we first saw this Fox a month ago, showing how much worse it has got since then:

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I had a long phone conversation today with a lady from Kent Wildlife Rescue on Sheppey and her suggestion was to build a shelter. This Fox is not part of the population of Foxes who live on the cliff here in warm burrows and it is probably in need of somewhere to go to keep warm. As it gets sicker, it will need shelter more urgently. If we build a shelter and it uses it, we can put the sandwiches near the shelter for it. Or maybe she can come and try to catch it in there. She also suggested putting some of the sandwiches out during the day when it is only the mangey Fox that is out and about, although the Crows and Magpies will then be an issue of course.

This seemed like a very good plan and, within the hour, we were out there building a shelter in the copse of trees close to the feeders where we filmed the Fox this morning.

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An old side table
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A load of insulation packing saved from our Gousto food deliveries. Thick wadding sheets of sheep wool, each with a plastic surround. We were wondering what we were going to do with it all.
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Some of the sheeps wool packaging goes down on the floor still in the plastic. Then, some old carpet.
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While the rest comes out of the plastic to be warm bedding and roof insulation.
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Some bubble wrap as well. What a mess!
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Now some roofing felt over the top.
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Lots of branches pulled over it, whilst still leaving the entranceway clear. Also, a trail camera was trained on the entrance to see if there is any interest. 

It was good to have something positive to do to try to help and we will now cross our fingers and see if it works. The mild winter until now has meant that the mange-causing insects haven’t been killed off by the cold. However, our healthy Foxes will be protected whilst they continue to eat all those honey sandwiches that we are putting out.

Before leaving the subject of Foxes, here is one going over the gate:

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Robins seem very prominent at the moment and are prepared to get very close. How lovely they are:

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Dog and Robin.

The camera in the Mustelid box is not taking very good photos of something as small as a Pygmy Shrew, but these photos do still show what a really quite extraordinary nose they have:

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Moving on to the Wood, it seems that we were hopelessly naive in assuming that Rabbits don’t like eating conifers. The Nordmann Fir baby bare-root Christmas Trees we planted a fortnight ago had been terribly nibbled.

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It was time to construct a rabbit-proof enclosure to keep them out:

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Digging a trench.
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Banging in the posts.

 

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Almost complete. Still outstanding is to attach a tight wire along the top of the chicken wire to stop sagging.

With snow on the ground today, we couldn’t see any rabbit tracks within the enclosure so maybe this has worked:

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It is always fun to look for animal tracks when it has snowed:

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Pheasant and Fox

Here are some more photos from the woods over the last couple of weeks:

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The track leading up to the wood.

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Weasel.

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The Kestrel Box has now arrived and the next job over this coming weekend is to get that up. Should be fun.