Painted Lady Summer

There was an article in The Guardian this morning about 2019 seeing the largest influx of Painted Ladies to the UK for a decade. In 2009, eleven million Painted Ladies arrived in this country but numbers for this year are not yet known and we are all being encouraged to take part in the Big Butterfly Count that started today until 11th August to try to put a figure to it.

A Painted Lady on Knapweed back in June.

We had already noticed that a few weeks ago there were many, many more Painted Ladies around than we had ever seen before. Large numbers had been spotted in the Eastern Mediterranean and they arrived in Eastern England on 14 June. Others came through Spain and arrived in Western England two weeks later. Apparently lots of eggs have now been laid and the young should be hatching out of their pupae as adults during the Big Butterfly Count window of time.

Armed with this knowledge, we went out this morning to see if we could find any evidence of Painted Lady breeding on the Thistles in the meadows.

The Butterfly lays an egg on the Thistle and, when the caterpillar hatches out, it builds itself a silk tent for protection. It goes through five instars (where it sheds its skin in order to increase in size) and builds larger tents as it grows.

Here is a tent with quite a large caterpillar inside and dark faeces gathered at the bottom of the tent:


We found several of these tents as we inspected the Creeping Thistles:


Here is one of the Caterpillars outside of the protection of its tent:


We have marked up the Thistles that we found these nests on and will return in a week or so to see if we can find the pupae.

As we were inspecting the Thistles, we came across other interesting things such as this large female Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi):



She is quite an unmistakable Spider as it is, but apparently the web with this white central ribbon is very characteristic as well.

She spins her web low in the grasses because she is trying to catch Grasshoppers and Crickets such as this Roesel’s Bush-cricket (Metrioptera roeselii).



There were also these, with their bright red eyes and the most unappealing of names: Flesh Flies


And these beautiful Six-spot Burnet Moths:


The reptile ecologist came today. He is relocating Slow Worms to us from a nearby plot of land that is being developed. We haven’t seen him for ages though because reptiles go into aestivation in hot dry weather and are not to be found warming up under his sampling squares.  Aestivation is a light summer hibernation, necessary because they eat snails and slugs who also aestivate in weather like this.

However, we saw him today because he had caught Slow Worm Number 100 – a juvenile born last year:


We saw a Slow Worm ourselves today under one of our sampling squares. It is a large female who will be full of young at the moment- even though they are reptiles, Slow Worms give birth to live young because their eggs hatch inside their body.


The juvenile Green Woodpeckers are turning up on various cameras. Here is one up by the tiny pond on the strip:

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This pond is also being used by a wide variety of birds. Here is a group of Linnets:

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And it is extremely pleasing to now be getting frequent visits from Yellowhammers again:

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Having devoured all available cherries, the Magpies are now stripping the wild plum tree:


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The Badgers are coming out to start on the peanuts before it gets quite dark, giving us a rare opportunity to actually see them with our own eyes. We watched this little vignette following through a scope from afar:

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A mother and cub gathering to await the arrival of the peanuts.
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Once the peanuts arrive, the Foxes get going on them.
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A female Badger approaches from the cliff path.
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Initially the Foxes are put off their stride..
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But they soon realise that the Badger doesn’t have a problem with them and there is peaceful munching together for quite a while.
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Then Scarface, the male Badger, approaches from the cliff. The Foxes notice him…
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….and shoot off. Scarface in the foreground with the much heftier skull 
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The Badgers now have the peanuts to themselves for as long as they want.

Here is last year’s cub on the cliff path early in the morning:

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It has been so hot and dry here with no rain for such a long time. But rain is forecast overnight tonight and so we have prepared ourselves to divert as much as possible into the pond which is critically low:


So often we hear of rain sweeping across the country but so often it seems to miss this easternmost finger of Kent. Fingers crossed that tonight we actually get some.



Woodland Butterflies


Kicking off with the wood, we have constructed a cooking area by digging in some bricks in a starburst pattern. Unfortunately we were just one brick short:


We will put that right the next time we go.

The male and female Bullfinch are probably the most frequent visitors to the pond at the moment. They are there several times a day and what absolute beauties they are:



But that is not all. They are also now bringing three juveniles.  The young don’t have the black caps of their parents and therefore might have caused confusion had I not swotted up and been looking out for them:



Completely delighted that Bullfinch are successfully breeding in or near the wood.

We saw a White Admiral on the wood edges – a very noteworthy butterfly.


The larval food plant is wild Honeysuckle and we had stopped to smell some of that, currently out in flower, just before we saw the Butterfly.

But there is more – a Silver-washed Fritillary, basking in a sunny patch, flew away vigorously as we approached. I chased after it but only really managed to get a record shot this time:


But I will be back to try again, and this time with the right lens on the camera.

The larval food plant of this Butterfly are Violets, especially the Common Dog Violet, and there was a lot of that here earlier in the year.

Some others from the wood:

Female Meadow Brown.
Male Gatekeeper

We also saw Large Skippers, Large Whites, Red Admiral, Brimstone, and Commas.

This wasp nest, built into a burrow in the ground, has been dug out by Badgers:



Although we have heard Green Woodpecker many times whilst at the wood, this is the first time that we have seen one:

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And a juvenile as well:

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I love how Teasel flowers grow:



At the moment, the more mature part of the wood has masses of this Enchanter’s Nightshade growing as the main understorey plant. It is unrelated to other Nightshades and is completely harmless and it gives the wood an ethereal feeling with its tiny white flower heads floating above the greenery.

Circaea lutetiana. Enchanter's Nightshade.
Circaea lutetiana. Enchanter’s Nightshade.

Moving back to the meadows, there have been juvenile Green Woodpeckers here too. These two young birds had an escort of House Sparrows and occasional bombing by Blackbirds wherever they went.



They are both young females because their moustaches are dark with no hint of the red moustache that even a juvenile male would have:


Back in March, the strip was rotivated and it looked like this:


Nowadays, it looks like this:

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What a difference a few months have made.

At the moment on the strip we seem to have more Foxes than birds coming to eat the food that we are putting down and we are hoping that this means that the wider countryside is amply providing for birds at this time of year. What this has resulted in, however, is that we have been getting some wonderful daytime Fox photos:







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The camera looking down onto the Badger sett took this photo which made me smile:

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And another camera had this:

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Last night at the peanuts there were up to six Foxes:

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and four Badgers:

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The peanuts don’t last long with this number of large visitors.

We pulled up a few reeds from the pond and in no time at all they have disappeared underground into the Badgers’ sett.

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And still the young Badgers play, watched over by a long-suffering mother:

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More breeding activity from the Woodpigeons:

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Although, it this a Pigeon egg that the crow has?:

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And also on Corvids, the Magpie family is still around:

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This parasitic wasp below is Dusona falcator:


It is a parasite of Buff-Tip moth larvae. I had a Buff-Tip in the moth trap the other week and it looks like a Silver Birch twig:


This parasitic wasp picks up the caterpillars of this moth and carries them back to its nest where it lays an egg on it, I’m afraid. The life cycles of these parasitic wasps are not for the faint-hearted.

Here is another lovely moth that we found in the hedgerow, The Magpie:


The last photo for today is of the Patricia. She is a buoy-laying vessel and she often comes and puts down anchor overnight alongside these meadows. It feels like an old friend has to come to visit when she arrives.


I understand that she has some berths available for paying guests so that you can be aboard as she carries out her duties and then get off when she next puts into a port. Maybe one day…..

Dragonfly Days

A barrow-full of Ragwort 

Last week we cut an area of the meadow that had a lot of Creeping Thistle in an attempt to weaken and control it. This week it is the turn of another injurious weed from the 1959 Weeds Act, Common Ragwort.

Ragwort contains a toxin that slowly builds up in the livers of horses and cattle and does them no good at all. Although we know that animals are not going to graze these meadows and that any hay cut is not going to be fed to them, we have decided to remove it all anyway and ensure that we will not be guilty of letting it spread to other land. It has a lot of wildlife value but there is no shortage of Ragwort on rough ground around this area. The verges of the M20 down to Dover, for example, are completely acid yellow with the stuff at this time of year.

In our first summer, there was so much Ragwort growing here. Now, five summers of Ragwort-pulling later, there has been an enormous reduction. The annual Ragwort cull provides an opportunity to quietly step around the meadows, immersing yourself in its July loveliness and reacquainting yourself with all its little absorbing details. It is tremendously therapeutic.

There has been much Dragonfly action at the hide pond. This male Broad-bodied Chaser rests up at the side for an arriving female.



Once she turns up, things happen really fast – the pair join together whilst flying noisily over the pond and, after a couple of minutes, the female starts flying alone, dabbing her abdomen into the water in flight to lay eggs:



Below are two females laying eggs side-by-side. The abdomens of some older females start to go blue:


Female Emperors have also been laying eggs into the pond with a different technique. She lands, sticks her abdomen onto the water and lays the eggs over the course of several minutes which is so much easier to photograph:



One Emperor made a miscalculation and became submerged in the water and we needed to launch a rescue mission:



She was alright.

Today, we had two additional species of Dragonfly at the pond as well. The Red-veined Darter is a scarce migrant from Europe, although I did photograph one laying eggs into the pond two years ago.

Red-veined Darter male, awaiting a female. The blue undersides of the eye and the single pale stripe on the thorax are the distinguishing features of this Dragonfly


The red veins in the wing

A Dragonfly that we have never seen here before today is the one below – the Black-tailed Skimmer:

Black-tailed Skimmer


To round off this great day of Dragonflying, we noticed 20-30 very small Dragonfly exuviae (empty larval cases, the adult Dragonfly having emerged from it) clinging to the reeds of the pond.



I brought one back and measured it – it was only 16mm long and, looking in my book, I think that it is the exuvia of a Common Darter.


From only occasionally seeing Kestrels this year, we have started seeing them everyday hunting over the meadows.

Two Kestrels on the white cliffs

A short walk away is an area where the white cliffs rise up and then run south down to Dover. We went there and met a man who pointed out a hole high up on the cliff where Kestrels had nested this year and had just successfully fledged four young. These have to be the same birds that we are now seeing over the meadows.



Kestrel with the back half of a rodent prey

These Kestrels were up high on the cliffs and it is so great to now be able to take photos of them with my new camera lens.

The bird ringer also visited this area and took this photo of a ringed male Linnet singing:


This bird is almost certainly one of the approximately 150 Linnets that have been ringed here in the meadows and this is the first time we are aware of one being seen elsewhere, albeit only half a mile away.

The new tiny ponds that we dug in last week are proving popular amongst the local bird population, the first birds arriving only a couple of hours after they went in.

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A satisfyingly easy project now successfully completed.

Here are a few other photos from the meadows:

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Having a good old scratch at peanut time
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The young Badgers do so much romping together still
A trail camera caught a Goldfich in flight
So many Gatekeepers out in the meadows at the moment. This is a male with the dark central bars on the forewings.
In contrast, so few Burnet Moths this year. The first 6-spot Burnet that I have seen.
Marbled White

The headline from the wood is that the pair of Bullfinches are now visiting the wood ponds several times a day:

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Male and female Bullfinch

The Tawny has been worming underneath the feeders again although this has to be optimistic given how hard the soil is in this dry spell:

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The lack of rain has meant that the ponds are getting a lot of visitors. Here are nine birds using the pond at the same time:

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And the mammals are using it much more frequently as well:

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Surely we are due some rain now?





The Cut Begins

There is an area in the far corner of the second meadow where Creeping Thistle grows enthusiastically.


Too enthusiastically – Creeping Thistle can become very invasive and actually is classified as an injurious weed under the Weeds Act 1959 and we have a duty to control it and prevent its spread. However, it also has great wildlife value – Thistle seeds make up a third of a Goldfinch’s diet, for example, as well as the leaves being the larval food plant for Painted Lady butterflies. Its nectar is loved by many invertebrates and its stems are important as a habitat for overwintering insects.


In order to control these Creeping Thistles, at this time of year we cut this area that has a high density of them. We aim for when they are flowering and just about to go to seed when maximum reserves from the roots are up above ground and so will be cut away and the seeds haven’t yet dispersed.


The densest area of Thistle growth is now removed, although there is no  need to worry about the Goldfinches and the Painted Ladies –  there is still plenty of Creeping Thistle in the meadow, just more sparsely spread out.

So, the 2019 cutting of the meadows has begun, although there will now be a pause in the proceedings until September.

Gatekeepers have arrived in the meadows with the double white spots within a black spot:



And Ruddy Darters. I usually struggle to tell the difference between a Ruddy Darter and a Common Darter because my photos aren’t good enough. But this time I can see that this is a Ruddy Darter with its all-black legs. The Commons have a white stripe down them.



There was also this Broad-bodied Chaser female up at the hide pond where there is more open water:


This Hoverfly below is a Hornet mimic and it is enormous. The wing length of the Hornet Hoverfly is 15.5 to 19.5mm:

Volucella zonaria. Hornet Hoverfly.
Volucella zonaria. Hornet Hoverfly.

Earlier this year I was taking photos of Dance Flies catching St Mark’s flies and charmingly offering the carcass as a present to a potential mate. Here is another predatory fly with Hoverfly prey:

Dune Robberfly. Philonicus albiceps.

I believe that this is the Downland Robberfly (Machimus rusticus), a rare fly found on chalk and limestone downlands.

Currently there are far fewer small birds coming to the seed that we are putting down on the strip and we haven’t seen the Grey Partridge and Yellowhammer for a while. Hopefully the reason for this is that seeds are becoming abundant elsewhere in the meadows at this time of year. We are still getting a lot of Stock Dove, though:


And Foxes and Magpies unfortunately. They love the sunflower heart element of the seed mix:

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The bird ringer visited a nearby location where they are also putting down seed and they have breeding Turtle Dove and many other bird visitors. He noticed that many of the birds visited their pond first before coming to feed on the seed and suggested that we create a water source up near the strip. So this was this morning’s project:

The second meadow with the strip (now very overgrown) in the foreground.
A plastic painter’s tray is sunk into the ground. We can easily keep this topped up with tap water.
While we were at it, we put another one in the Ant Paddock which is also a fair distance from the main ponds.

We now have cameras on both of these cheap and cheerful tiny ponds and so we shall see what happens next.

The House Sparrows have gone straight on to rear another brood in the House Martin box. I read that they can have up to four broods in a good summer and are faithful to each other and their nest site. Once one set of youngsters fledge, the male continues to look after them out in the big wide world for about a week while the female gets straight on with preparations for the next lot.


The screaming parties of Swifts, attracted in by playing Swift calls, continue unabated and have become a very familiar part of the soundscape here. They also present us with the interesting photographic challenge of trying to capture a half decent image of them.


My trusty, lightweight camera (Olympus OM-D EM10) has been broken in a wine-related incident in France (I fumbled and dropped it after a glass of wine). This is the camera for which I have several lenses including the really useful macro lens and so I am going to buy a new body. But currently I am down to my much heavier DSLR – Canon 80D- with its 18-135mm zoom which is just not a long enough lens for me.

So I took the plunge and today this second-hand beast arrived:


I went out into the meadows with it and I am very excited with the results so far. The images below were all of things that were a very long way away!

Skylark going along to its nest
A pair of Crows
Dover Sea Safari going past at great speed

As well as the House Sparrows going for another brood, it seems that the Woodpigeons are as well:

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

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Juvenile Blackbird – some nests obviously managed to escape the notice of the Magpies.
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There are surely too many Magpies around here – nine in this shot.
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Also, they are stealing the cherries.
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The male badger up before dark last night.
A beautiful Jay


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Only a  few photos from the wood this time. Every Ragwort now has Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on it:



This is not surprising given the number of Cinnabar Moths that were flying earlier on in the year:


I also saw a mating pair of Yellow-and-black Longhorn Beetles:

Black-and-yellow Longhorn Beetle. Rutpela maculata.
Black-and-yellow Longhorn Beetle. Rutpela maculata.
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Fox Cub
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Badger Cub

Now, hold on to your hats for this last bit. The bird ringer sent me some photos showing us what he has been up to this past week. These are not photos from the meadows or the wood but they are all from this part of East Kent and are extremely good and interesting and cannot be left out! They were all taken on his Samsung Galaxy 8 phone and I do have his permission to include them:

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Ringing Barn Owl chicks in the Stour Valley
Pyramidal Orchids on Kingsdown Butts
Ringed Plover chick at Sandwich Bay
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Ringing Ringed Plover chick
Adult Ringed Plover
Oystercatcher nest
Oystercatcher chick
First ever Black Headed Gulls to nest on Restharrow Scrape at Sandwich Bay.
Marsh Helleborines at Sandwich Bay

He also unsuccessfully tried to ring Nightjars one night, getting to bed at 1.30am. He certainly had quite a week.









It’s Moth Time!

Saturday night promised to be hot and still – a perfect opportunity to haul out the moth trap out and see what’s about.

The spectacular Privet Hawkmoth on the left and Poplar Hawkmoth on the right

This year I am taking things more seriously and submitting my records to the county recorder. However, this weekend there was such an overwhelming number of moths in the trap that I was forced to resort to my old bad habits of cherry picking the interesting and extraordinary ones and there were plenty of those:

Privet Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth
Poplar Hawkmoth
Elephant Hawkmoth
Privet Hawkmoth, Pine Hawkmoth (centre) and Poplar Hawkmoth
So surprised to pull this egg box out of the moth trap and see the black-and-white Leopard Moth. Never had one of these beauties before
Leopard Moth
Swallow-tailed Moth (and Riband Wave)

I am continually astounded by the beauty and variety of what is flying round the meadows at night but I do need to get better and faster at identifying them so that, when there are large numbers, it doesn’t take all day.

Patches of yellow flowering Ladies Bedstraw have given the second meadow a painterly look that is most wonderful. I have tried to take photos of it but they don’t really do the meadow justice:

One of the Slow Worm refugia in the second meadow


In the next photo, you can see the bird ringer’s mobile hide. A pair of ground-nesting Skylark were feeding young and, a few days previously, he had worked out the approximate position of the nest. Always interested in developing ways to catch and ring all types of different birds, he came back today in attempt to ring these juveniles. I think the idea was that he would discover exactly where the nest was from the cover of his hide and then pop out to ring them while the adults were away. However, it seems that he was too late and the young have already fledged. Better luck next time.


With all these flowers, the meadows are billowing with Butterflies at the moment. So many Marbled Whites, they seem to be having a very good year:



A mating pair.
Another view of the mating pair. It is the female on the right with the browny underwings.

There are also a lot of Painted Ladies. This is a migratory Butterfly, coming to our shores from Africa. However, it is a multigenerational migration, a bit like a relay team and it is incredible to think how that works. In fact, I have so many questions about it.

Painted Lady on Knapweed.

Skippers also seem to be having a fantastic year. So many more around than normal of all three of the species that we get here: Large, Essex and Small.

Large Skipper on Dogwood.
Essex Skipper.

Ringlets are also around:

Ringlet with open wings – the bulls eyes are just visible from the top.

Meadow Browns and Small Heaths are also still here:

Meadow Brown.

But the Blues are largely gone for now.

Holly Blue on Bramble.

But what has happened to the Brimstones this year? For the last two summers our Alder Buckthorn saplings have been covered in Brimstone caterpillars and I was having to move caterpillars from tree to tree to ensure they had enough leafage to get them to a point that they could pupate. Alder Buckthorn is the sole larval food plant for Brimstones and, by July, all our trees were stripped of leaves. Here is one from last year with two big caterpillars but not enough leaf to keep them going:

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This year I cannot find a single caterpillar on any of the trees and the leaves are untouched:

Alder Buckthorn with leaves not nibbled.

But if we have learnt anything these past few years, it is that every year is so completely different from the one before. Things have good years and bad years and then good years again and I will be certainly hoping to see Brimstone caterpillars in 2020.

I did a trip round the meadows looking for Small Blue caterpillars on their larval food plants, Kidney Vetch. I found some:

Can you see it?
A bit more obvious here
This one was slightly out of the flower and so more obvious still.

The spring-flying Red Mason Bee season is now over for another year. A look in the Mason Bee observation box shows that the eggs have hatched and the larvae are eating the pollen piles as they grow through the summer.


These boxes are now wrapped in tights to protect them from predators whilst still allowing air movement and sitting under the stairs until the cocoons form in the autumn. Meanwhile, two new Summer Bee boxes, with tunnels of varying diameters,  are now out in the meadows to see what nests in them.

Talking of Bee predators, here is a very attractive one hanging round the observation boxes, seeking an opportunity to lay its eggs within:

Chrysis ignita.

I spoke of a successful fledging of Skylarks and there is also a recently-fledged family of Mistle Thrushes. Here is one of the adult Mistle Thrushes with a cherry.

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We were wondering who was eating all the cherries and had given the Wood Pigeons all the blame. Here is a Woodpigeon, now with a newly polished halo:

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We also have a recently-fledged family of Magpies appearing on several of the cameras:

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The House Sparrows that were nesting in the House Martin nest box also seem to have now fledged. But look what we photographed inspecting the box a couple of days ago:


It’s a Swift. This House Martin box is near the Swift box and we have been playing Swift calls near these boxes since the Swifts started arriving this summer which has resulted in so much Swift action. In terms of attracting Swifts to the area so that they notice the nest box, the whole thing has been a huge success. However, this is the first time that we have noticed one of them actually stopping off to properly investigate. The big question is, why are they looking in the House Martin box rather than the especially-built-for-them Swift box?

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Swift box with passing Swift, attracted by Swift calls playing.

It is too late for them to nest in the box this year but I feel quietly confident that some of these Swifts will return next year and remember this box when searching for a nest site.

Before moving from the meadows, there are some more photos that I wanted to include:

A magnificent Jay
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A moulting and less than magnificent Jay
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One of the juvenile Badgers
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About to go to bed at dawn.
Corizus hyoscyami - mating pair.
Corizus hyoscyami – mating pair.
Fox with tick.
Seven-spot Ladybird going in for the kill. Three spots on each wing and a larger central seventh spot just behind the head.
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Mistle Thrush with May Bug
Found two more Pyramidal Orchids – but total count this year is a dismal four.
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Nice arrangement of three Fox cubs

At the wood, there has been a Sparrowhawk drinking from the pond:

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There was an Owl pellet on one of the reptile sampling squares. I had a prod of it and it was full of small bones and fur:


As part of trying to think positively about all the nettles in the wood, I looked to see if there were signs of them being used as a resource by other things. I found several of these bugs:

Grypocoris stysi
Grypocoris stysi

When I looked them up in the book, the description of their habitat said ‘woodlands, often on nettles’ which was satisfyingly exactly where I found them.

My last photos for today are of a particular kind of spider web of which there are many at the moment both in the wood and the meadows

In the wood, covered in some dew.
In the meadows.

The black ball in the centre of the web is a mass of spiderlings. As soon as they notice you getting close, they immediately and extremely quickly disperse throughout the whole web. I presume that this is an anti-predator adaptation – the mass of spiderlings might represent a tasty mouthful whereas individual tiny spiderlings are probably not worth pursuing. I am currently unsure of the species of spider but hope to investigate further and be able to report back next time.