The Pond at Night

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These monsters, Emperor Dragonfly larvae, around 5cm long and voracious predators, are very active in the ponds at night. They live as larvae for one or, more usually, two years in the pond and then, towards the end of May, they emerge from the water and burst out into their adult form:

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Last night in the hide pond. The larva climbs up the vegetation.

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A frog providing a foreground to the emergence behind.

It doesn’t always go completely to plan. Last night one of the dragonflies was all crooked as it attempted to emerge:

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We left it alone and hoped for the best, but in the morning it was apparent that it had never managed to disentangle itself:

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By midday it had disappeared, presumably eaten by a bird.

This was all happening in the hide pond. When emergences start in the wild pond we will stay up into the night, put some waders on, and try to photograph the entire sequence, but this is what we have got for now.

There have been about fifteen Emperor emergences from this pond so far. There were also Azure Damselflies emerging:

azure Damselfly - just hatched

Below is another species of Dragonfly larvae in the pond. My guess is that they are Broad Bodied Chasers but, since they always seem to have algae growing on their backs, they are difficult things to get a good look at.

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We also saw plenty of newts swimming around last night. They are green in this pond – probably to blend in against all that blanket weed – and black in the wild pond with the much darker substratum.

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The number of new Slow Worms that have arrived in the meadows has now reached about sixty:

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Another arrival of about twenty Slow Worms this morning.

This is an adult male who will be about twelve years old:

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This is an adult female with the dark flanks. However, to be an archetypal female, she should have a stripe down the middle of her back as well:

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The Red Mason Bees are going about their lives with gusto. Here is the much smaller, white moustachioed male mating with the larger female:

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However, it was all a bit of a bundle because other males kept on trying to displace him and take over:

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Once that is all successfully negotiated, the female goes on the build a nest:

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This is a bee observation box with the wooden side temporarily removed for the purpose of taking photographs. She feeds her young on pollen rather than nectar. A pile of pollen is built,  an egg laid on it and then a mud wall built to contain it into its own compartment. The eggs will hatch in their individual cells and the bee larva lives off the pollen store during the summer until it pupates in the autumn.

Yesterday the bird ringer came round the meadows and the wood to see if the baby birds in the boxes were ready to be ringed. It turns out that all the baby birds in the meadow were too tiny to be ringed, whereas all the baby birds in the wood had either already fledged or were too big and so couldn’t safely be disturbed without the risk of them fleeing the box before they are ready. This means that the wood was at least two weeks ahead of the meadows and our best guess is that this is because the meadows are so much more exposed with their relentless coastal winds at times.

It is always funny to see how much of the fluff from the dog’s ball is incorporated into the nests in the meadows:

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The bird ringer checking out the Tawny box. Result was as expected: Squirrel.

Here is the White Helleborine (a type of Orchid) coming out into flower in the meadows. This is its third year.

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The Broom Rape, interesting because it is parasitic on Clover, is starting to come up:

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I never get tired of trying to successfully photograph these Green Long Horn Moths:

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The water level has dropped in the wild pond but these baby Badgers are making it seem worse than it is:

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I was still a bit uncertain as to whether it is a male or a female Yellowhammer that has been visiting and so have asked the bird ringer. It turns out that apparently they are surprisingly difficult to sex from first appearances. This is either a female or a young male, it seems. He is going to try to catch and ring it to find out for sure:

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In the wood, the Woodpecker nest camera has shown that the babies are being fed by both parents. Here is the female with no red on her head:

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And here is the male with a red nape:

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One final thing for today is a most wonderful beetle that was flying around the regeneration area of the wood yesterday. It was quite large, although not by Stag Beetle standards:

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Pyrochroa serraticornis.

It is the Red-Headed Cardinal Beetle. Quite widespread and its larvae feed on other insects beneath the bark of freshly dead broadleaved trees. It’s a very lovely thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Surveying Woodland Reptiles

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We have an ecologist visiting the meadows every day at the moment to release Slow Worms that have been trapped on a nearby site that is to be developed. He is also the Kent County recorder of amphibians and reptiles and he was very interested to hear of the wood because he has no records whatsoever from that area. The nearest record he has is of Adders in a wood that is four miles away from our wood.

Adder populations have declined so terribly that they are said to be soon facing extinction in the UK unless action is taken. However, if there are Adders in the wood, then that is something that I really want to be aware of so that appropriate care can be taken such as not thrashing around in the undergrowth in flip-flops in the summer.

Whereas roofing felt is the best material to make sampling squares out of if you are interested in Slow Worms, corrugated tin is best for snakes and lizards. But in the past we have tried and failed to get hold of corrugated tin. However, now we have struck a deal with the ecologist – he has given us five tin squares to place in appropriate areas of the wood and in return we will submit the records to him of what we find.

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The five tin squares went down today, along with an additional five roofing felt ones. We have been briefed to only lift the squares with a stick – Adders often also bask in the areas around the square. But I have to tell you that this might be the only time that I am actually hoping not to find the thing we are looking for.

Whilst we were in the wood, we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest in a Cherry Tree.

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We first heard this nest rather than saw it because baby Woodpeckers always seem to make a continuous racket even when an adult is not around – how can that possibly be a good idea for them? In fact we think these babies must be quite young because we have found nests in the past that are much noisier than this.

A trail camera on a pole was wedged against an adjoining tree to see what was going on:

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It will be interesting to see how this nest develops.

A couple of days ago, we found that one of the small but very heavy bird boxes had fallen off the tree it was nailed to and was lying on the ground on its back. We knew that this box had a nest with young birds in it and feared the worst. However, when we looked inside, everything was absolutely fine. The babies were still alive and the adult had extended the nest up the back of the box that had now become the new floor.

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Even though a new floor had been built, the baby birds were still sitting within the original cup of the nest and so were on their sides and so we decided to put the box back up the correct way but to leave it on the ground.

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We put a camera on the box and recorded many visits of the parents to what was now the third position of this box and so all continues to be well:

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The male Bull Finch has paid another visit to the pond in the wood and so I am hoping that they are nesting somewhere in the area:

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and there are some very sweet baby Rabbits hopping around these days:

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The regeneration area of the wood, with its young trees, is much sunnier and warmer than the main section of the wood and it is here that the insect action is kicking off.

The tally of Butterflies seen in the wood stands at five species so far: Brimstone, Peacock, Large White, Comma and, seen today, Green Hairstreak:

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A small but beautiful Butterfly. It closes its wings at rest and so the irridescent green undersides are what is usually seen. However, the uppersides are brown and so it always looks brown rather than green in flight.

Also now flying around this area in some numbers are these Cinnabar moths. Their underwings are a most glorious scarlet and this is all you see when they are in flight:

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Cinnabar Moth. Larval food plant: Ragwort.

There were also these Soldier Beetles who expose their orange abdomens in flight:

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Cantharis rustica.

And these Turnip Sawflys who also looked orange in flight. These flies were very sensitive to figures brandishing cameras looming over them but eventually I managed to get a shot:

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Athalia rosae. The Turnip Sawfly.

The Tawny Owl is still regularly appearing on the cameras under the feeders hunting for worms. Not every night anymore but then I suppose this gets a less productive way of feeding as the ground gets drier and harder:

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In the Silver Birch central core of the wood there is now an area of dense nettle that we want to tackle. However, there are also patches of wonderful ferns unfurling that make it all most beautiful:

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Moving to the meadows, the Buttercups continue to delight us:

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Two new Butterflies made an appearance here today, the Common Blue:

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and the Brown Argus:

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Sunglasses are required for the next photo of a male Orange Tip:

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There are many Green Longhorn Moths flittering around the hedgerows with their ridiculously long ‘horns’ that make flying difficult:

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Another Broad Bodied Chaser was basking around the ant paddock, its shiny wings telling the story that it has only just emerged:

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In fact there have been three Emperor emergences already in the hide pond:

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The empty exuvia of an Emperor Dragonfly larva, the adult having emerged overnight.

Last year this hide pond was at least a week ahead of the much larger wild pond and, indeed, there is no sign yet of anything happening there although there were several of these delicate Azure Damselflies around the wild pond area:

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The Yellowhammer female is now a regular visitor at the strip. She appears early in the morning and just before dusk and I am hoping that this might suggest that she is sitting on eggs:

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The photos below shows three other farmland species that we are hoping that feeding along this strip will support:

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Linnets, Grey Partridge and Stock Doves

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No Turtle Doves yet, though. Our fingers remain crossed.

One of the cameras on the strip faces East and it has been taking photo of sunrises over the sea for us to admire:

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The small flock of Starling appear on many of the cameras throughout the meadows:

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This hide pond camera has continued to capture the Green Woodpecker who loves to roll in the sand after bathing. I posted a series of photos about this previously thinking that it was extraordinary, but it continues to happen:

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From this….
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To this….
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To this….
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And finally this.

This year, I am planting some Nicotiana. This flowering plant of the tobacco family releases its scent in the evening in the hope of attracting moths to pollinate it and I am interested to see what comes along. In particular, I am wishing for the magnificent Convolvulus Hawkmoth, who is known to be partial to Nicotiana. I have never seen one of these but really want to!

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Nicotiana plug plants have arrived.

The last photo today is of a pair of Mallards who paid a fleeting visit yesterday. I presume that this is not the original pair who visited every day for a while recently while their eggs were being laid and the male accompanies the female everywhere to protect her in her weakened state. They must surely have chicks by now whom they can’t leave.  I hope this must is a different pair who are still laying eggs because the other conclusion that I don’t want to arrive at is that they have lost all their chicks and are starting again.

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Worm Welcome

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Here are our first new arrivals – fifteen relocated Slow Worm of varying ages and sexes. These have now been released into the log piles and we might expect more to be brought across every day for quite a while. Slow Worms give birth in July and the ecologist hopes to get most of them to us by then so that the young can be born here. Although they are reptiles and you might therefore expect them to lay eggs, the eggs are incubated inside the female. They then hatch still within her and so she appears to give birth to live young.

At last we have had a Yellowhammer feeding on the strip:

 

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At first I thought that this must be the male that we heard singing in the hedgerow a few days ago but now, having looked in my bird books, I actually think that this is a female bird. This would be very good news should that male still be around (Yellowhammer match making).

Still a mixed group of Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove and Collared Dove coming down to feed on the strip. If I was an exhausted and hungry Turtle Dove, just having arrived from Africa and see this lot pecking around, I would certainly go and join them to see what all the fuss was about.

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In fact, I might even come in like this Stock Dove did:

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This thirsty and hungry bird did arrive on the hide roof this afternoon:

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It is a homing pigeon and I am supposing that it is returning from the Continent. I hope that it continues on its onward journey safely.

The long lens for my camera is off being repaired at the moment and so this is the best photo that I have got of this Whitethroat that is singing his little heart out at the top of a Holm Oak every day. We think that Whitethroats would like to nest in the dense Bramble that grows near the tree. His song is a lovely little warble but one that sounds like it is being played on a scratchy old record player.

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This ringed female Blackbird below was building her nest when I wrote the last post. Well, she has finished all that now and is probably sitting on eggs because these days she is rarely seen:

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Now it is the turn of the Dunnocks to build a nest. Here is a ringed female Dunnock at work:

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Here she is with her mate, who, I see, is also ringed:

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The female alone builds the nest and incubates the eggs although both sexes feed the young birds. The nest will be being built in the dense, prickly undergrowth that there is near this gate and this is an internet photo of what the nest will look like:

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Look at the gorgeous colour of those eggs!

There are also Starlings building a nest around here as well. They are cavity nesters and so may have found a hollow tree or something similar to use because they are not using the boxes we put up for them.

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We have seen the first Dragonfly of the year – a Broad Bodied Chaser.  I have scrutinised both ponds and cannot see evidence that it emerged from here, so it must have flown in.

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On sunny days, there are now Butterflies fluttering along the hedgerows and amongst the flowers and grasses. Here are two Holly Blues on Hawthorn:

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And a Speckled Wood on some Ivy:

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The meadows in May are magnificent with their Buttercups.

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This is an intriguing photo of a Fox carrying something along the cliff track:

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Is it a Baguette or something?

We had a bit more rain and the gathering of wet Foxes at the peanuts was looking a bit like a pack of Wolves:

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There is only one photo from the wood today and I will finish with that. It is great to see that the Tawny is still returning to worm in the same spot:

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Slow Worm Safe Haven

The work on building refuges for the relocated Slow Worms is now complete. One and a half tons of untreated timber sourced from a tree surgeon was delivered:

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Today, in the pouring rain, the refuges were constructed by digging the bottom layer into the turf and then laying the turf on top of the completed pile:

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It all looks a bit like a prehistoric landscape to me. The Slow Worms will start arriving in a couple of days and will be released into these structures to protect them while they get their bearings.

I have talked before about the St Mark’s Flies that are billowing out above the hedgerows at the moment. They hatch out on or around St Mark’s Day on 25th April and live for about a week:

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St Mark’s Fly (Bibio marci)

They are here every year but do seem particularly abundant this year. In their short lives above ground, they are important pollinators, flying from flower to flower with their legs distinctively dangling down:

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Then they mate…

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And afterwards the females lay their eggs into the soil and die. The eggs hatch and the larvae live in the soil through the summer, pupate over winter and then, on 25th April next year, off it all goes again.

What is really fascinating is noticing the other species that are cashing in on this bonanza, the boom in the St Marks Flies being woven into their own lifecycles.

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A male Dance Fly, Empis tessellata. The black thighs and orange wing bases are diagnostic.

As the swells of St Mark’s Flies gather above the hedgerows, these Dance Flies are catching and killing them. Then, carrying the cadavers of the flies across their bodies, they await a female.

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Empis tessellata awaiting a female.

When a female arrives, the male offers her the dead fly as a gift and then mates with her as she eats it:

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Mating Empis tessellata.

A female will not mate with a male who does not present a gift to her. All very interesting and wonderful to stand at the hedgerows watching this all going on.

While we were loitering along the hedgerows, we also spotted another iconic spring species, the Green Longhorn Moth (Adela reaumurella):

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Many Green Hairstreaks were feeding and battling with each other amongst the Hawthorn. A small but beautifully iridescent butterfly:

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About six months ago, there was a little spate of Foxes turning up on the cameras carrying large fish. We think that there must have been a new and naive night fisherman down on the shingle below who took his time to cotton on to why his fish catch kept disappearing. But cotton on he eventually must have, because there have been no Fox-with-Fish sightings for quite a while. However, the Fox got lucky again a couple of nights ago and here one is with a large Dog Fish, which may well be going back to the den to feed cubs:

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Yesterday I picked up a carrier bag of electronics from one of our sons:

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Loving this sort of thing, he has cobbled together a system to play loud Swift calls out of a couple of repurposed car speakers. It was all working well yesterday at his home and now all I need to do is to remember how to reassemble it once I am back at the meadows. Over the winter we have built and erected a pair of semi-detached Swift dwellings and playing these calls in the vicinity will greatly improve the chances of the box being noticed now that the Swifts are arriving back in the country.

Over at Gate cam, a pair of Blackbirds are building a nest. When I say ‘a pair’, it actually only one of them, a ringed female, who is doing all the work and I have a large number of photos of her with her beak full of nest material. The male is around too, although he isn’t assisting with the building work, which, I read, is completely normal:

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I suppose the male is providing some protection while all this work goes on, although he is also doing a fair amount of posing as well:

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There was also this lugubrious Green Woodpecker:

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We have been hearing the melodious warbling of newly arrived Whitethroats along the hedgerows for the last week and now here is one on the gate:

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It has been several months since we last had a Tawny on the perch in the meadows and we are completely delighted to see it again.

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Also on the perch was this starling that is carrying something. I presume that they are nesting nearby but we don’t think either of our Starling boxes are being used by Starling this year (one has Great Tits in).

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Having become traumatised over the last two summers with the struggle to keep the pond levels up without resorting to adding tap water (which would introduce unwanted nutrients), we vowed this year to take action whenever there was any rain being forecast. Rain was due today and so we have spread out a tarpaulin to increase the catchment area of the pond. Every little helps at this time of year:

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The tarpaulin didn’t seem to faze the animals:

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and in the end we had about 16mm of rain which is most welcome.

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I end today with some gratuitous photos of baby Badgers:

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And a lovely one of a Fox:

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Turtle Dove Project: Year 2

 

My day was made this morning as we were doing our normal circuit round the meadows and we heard a Yellowhammer calling. This will be a male establishing a territory to breed. This year, the farmer has deep ploughed around the edges of the field behind the meadows which seems a much more environmentally sensitive way to deal with weeds than spraying with chemicals which is what he has done before. It was in this hedgerow, close to but at  right angles to ours, that the bird was singing:

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During April we have been carrying out our Operation Yellowhammer where we have been putting down finch food on the strip to support Yellowhammer. In fact, we haven’t seen a single Yellowhammer eating the seed but it doesn’t matter because one has arrived in the hedgerows anyway and that is fantastic.

Now that it is May, Operation Yellowhammer has seamlessly morphed into The Turtle Dove Project.

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The RSPB has supplied us with seed that has been mixed especially for Turtle Doves and they have asked us to put down 6kg of this seed once a week along the whole of the rotivated strip. However, we have decided to put down 3kg twice a week, dividing the strip into quadrants and rotating around them. This is so that we can better cover this smaller area with our trail cameras but we had better check that they don’t mind.

Here is the strip after the food went down: Collared Doves, Stock Doves and Wood Pigeon all there and the Turtle Dove Officer tells us that it is these birds feeding that will catch the eye of passing Turtle Doves and cause them to investigate further.

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The pair of Grey Partridge are often there enjoying the seed too:

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I think that below is our first baby bird of the year – a juvenile Stock Dove. (The bird ringer is not around at the moment but when he is, I would just like his confirmation that this is a bird that was born this year. )

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We are about to become a receptor site for an unknown number of Slow Worms which are being relocated from a site nearby due for development. All British reptiles are protected by law and a condition of the planning permission was that very thorough provisions were first made for the well being of the reptiles.

In the next few days a number of log piles are going to be dug into an area of the second meadow and the Slow Worms will be trapped on the site and brought daily across to us and released into the log piles.

The ecologist overseeing this work came to see us to discuss the final details:

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He is also the County Recorder for Reptiles and Amphibians and, while we had him here, we asked him about a couple of problems that we have! Firstly, there is the issue of the Heron eating all our Frogs. Since the Herons don’t land directly on the water but touch down in the grass nearby and walk to the water, his advice was to ring the pond edge with a wire about 9 inches off the ground which will help to deter them. A good idea.

Our second problem is the blanket weed in the hide pond:

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In the photo above we are planting a few native British plants into the hide pond  which will hopefully act as supports for Dragonfly emergences later this month. The blanket weed problem is very apparent to all.  Since the first filling of this pond, only rain water has gone into it. However, we did use tap water to initially fill it two or three years ago and the nutrients from this tap water are still trapped in the body of water and have nowhere to go and are causing this weed growth. Only by removing the blanket weed do you remove the nutrients locked up in it. The pond, though, is teeming with life which will become hopelessly entangled within the blanket weed when it is pulled out. The advice is to pull half the blanket weed out at the end of the summer, rescue as many animals as we can and leave the pulled weed on the side of the pond in the hope that others can rescue themselves. This may involve loss of life but that can be minimised and is the best way to solve the problem and create a healthy pond environment.

The moth trap went out last night for the first time this year:

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Here are a couple of beauties that I caught:

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A Mullein. A stunner.
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A Muslin Moth – I always think that it is dressed to go to the opera with its fur shawl.
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The Muslin from the front to highlight its antennae.

Here are some other photos taken around the meadows over the past few days:

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A pair of Starling. Look at the violet-coloured chest.
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Still a lot of these St Marks Flies around with their distinctive way of flying with their legs dangling.
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This is a type of Dance Fly called Empis tessellata carrying its St Marks fly prey.
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Small Heath Butterflies have arrived in the meadows! First seen on 2nd May.
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Still a lot of Green Hairstreak flying. Here is one on Wild Mignonette.
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Last year I planted some Horseshoe Vetch – the larval food plant of Adonis Blue and Chalkhill Blue butterflies. This is now flowering and I will collect the seed and plant even more next year. Part of an attempt to attract these two butterfly species into the meadows.
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We have had some rain recently and some more is forecast over the next couple of days. Good for keeping the pond levels up.
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Pygmy Shrew in the Mustelid box. What a snout.
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Mum and the twins.
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So very fluffy and a wispy tail.
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Being disciplined.
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Two furry backs.
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Have we ever had five Foxes together at the peanuts before?
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Four Foxes and one Badger, holding its own.
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A ringed female Blackbird building a nest nearby.
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A lovely photo of a Stock Dove on the strip.

 

We are beginning to identify our first problem with the wood. There is a central core of mature Silver Birch and a fine crop of very lush, dense and vigorous nettles have sprung up underneath:

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Nettles do have wildlife value – they are the larval food plant for Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies for example – but they are growing here in such tremendous proliferation and it is far too much of a good thing. I have been researching what we can do to control them without weedkiller and it seems that we need to keep knocking them back with a strimmer and try not to let them flower and seed. I think it is something that we will need to keep working away at over several years and things will gradually improve. I feel optimistic.

This photo is very exciting. A male and female Bullfinch came down for a drink yesterday and what absolutely lovely birds they are:

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We have recently put down some reptile sampling squares down in the wood. No reptiles so far but today there was this rather lovely Leopard Slug:

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A camera looking at one of the Barn Owl boxes caught this Squirrel going past. No Barn Owls unfortunately yet and I am pleased to say that the Squirrel doesn’t seem to be nesting there either:

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Two wood Badgers:

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The last photo for today is of this Great Spotted Woodpecker drinking at the painter’s tray yesterday:

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As you can see, the bird is ringed and this was done here on February 21st:

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It is nice to see that it is still around.