The Health of the Wood

The wood had an unusual visitor on Monday:

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It is a juvenile or female Pied Flycatcher. There was a big influx of these birds at the East coast over the Bank Holiday weekend, many of them juveniles suggesting that they have had a good year in the woodlands of the Baltic where they spend their summers.

A Pied Flycatcher was ringed in the meadows last September and here is a photo from back then:

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Other interesting birds at the wood:

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Willow Warbler on the left (Pied Flycatcher and Blue Tit on the log)
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Beautiful little Wren caught in a beam of light
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Male Sparrowhawk
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Male Sparrowhawk – so brown.

In the regeneration section of the wood, the Sycamore trees are under attack:

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The leaves are shrivelling and dropping early because they are affected by Tar Spot:

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It is not a good look. Caused by a fungus (Rhytisma acerinum) apparently there is no long term effect on the vigour of the trees – although it is a bit hard to believe that when you see the state of them now, in late summer. Sadly, there is no cure. If this was a garden setting, it would really help to brush up and  burn the fallen leaves that harbour the pathogen over the winter but this is not practical here in the wood.

Luckily, any Sycamores in the main part of the wood, including this magnificent Sycamore coppice, do not seem to be affected and its leaves are still gorgeously green:

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It is not just Sycamores that are struggling. Bordering our wood are a few Horse Chestnuts:

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This is caused by the Horse Chestnut leaf mining moth, Cameraria ohridella, which was first spotted in the UK in Wimbledon in 2002.  Here is a photo of the adult moth from the internet:

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The larvae of this little moth live in the leaves of the tree and cause the damage. Like the Sycamore above, it is difficult to see how this cannot be disadvantaging the tree over the course of several years.

There are also Ash trees bordering the wood that are showing signs of Ash Dieback:

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This is caused by a fungus (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) which blocks the water transport system in the trees. It is a very depressing, serious disease that is killing Ash trees across Europe.

We plan to engage a forester later this year to have a look at the wood and advise us on our best way forward with it. We will also ask about these woodland health issues to see if there is anything that we should be doing.

There has been a bit of Dragonfly excitement going on around the ponds of the meadows. There are large numbers of Common Darter and here is a pair mating:

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Then, still joined together, they take to the wing, the red male leading:

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The female is repeatedly lowered so that the end of her abdomen touches the water and she lays an egg:

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By staying attached to her in this way, the male can ensure that no other male gets a look in.

Emperor Dragonflies lay eggs in a very different way. The female lands and sticks her abdomen into the water in a slow and methodical manner:

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But the Dragonfly highlight has been a new species laying eggs into the pond. The photos are not great because she was extremely wary of me sneaking up on her but they are good enough to be able to positively ID her as a Southern Hawker. This is a common Dragonfly in the south of England, but not one that we have seen here before:

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There is a large flock of about two hundred Linnets swirling around the hedgerows and it is heartening to see such a lovely lot of birds:

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Some of them are also coming down to the mini ponds:

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Other birds around the meadows at the moment:

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Ringed Whitethroat (ringed here last week. This bird was actually caught again this morning)
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The ringed Whitethroat
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Blackcap and Linnets
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Yellowhammer
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Green Woodpecker – ant specialist – visiting the sand pit
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and again yesterday.
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Not my favourite bird, but they really do have rather wonderful tail feathers.

There was ringing in the meadows again today and here are the tail feathers from a juvenile Blackcap that was processed:

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It is really interesting to see the fault bars in the feathers. When the baby bird is growing its tail feathers in the nest, if there is a period when food is short, then that section of feather will not be so strong and robust and a bar will develop.

The bird ringer sent me a photo of a juvenile Cetti’s Warbler that he ringed earlier this week at Sandwich Bay, just up the coast:

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I have never knowingly seen one of these birds but they have lovely rufous tails with broad feathers but only ten feathers rather than the more usual twelve:

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This wonderful Garden Warbler was also ringed here in the meadows this morning:

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The final animal for today is this Hornet Hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) that loudly buzzed down and landed near my knees this afternoon. It is truly gigantic with a wing length of nearly 2cm:

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They lay their eggs in wasp nests and then their larvae live off the wasp larvae as they develop. Last August, a Badger knocked open a wasp nest and I photographed a Hornet Hoverfly awaiting its chance to get inside. This was one of the meadow photos of 2018 of which I was most proud:

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Warbler Exodus

As we relaxed during these hot, late summer days, we would have been completely unaware that there was a mass evacuation going on over our heads, were it not for the bird ringers who have spent two mornings here last week.

Warblers are streaming south out of the country at the moment and most will be gone by the end of August. The bird ringers wanted to capture and ring as many as possible as they pass through the meadows and, indeed, they have processed nearly fifty birds, including Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers, Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and a Reed Warbler.

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Willow Warbler
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Lesser Whitethroat (lots of grey)
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Blackcap
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Whitethroat (chestnut rather than grey)
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Garden Warbler (a very bland-looking bird indeed)
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Reed Warbler

Warblers have also been turning up on the trail cameras:

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Whitethroat
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Female Blackcap

The weather has again turned hot and dry and the water baths and ponds in the meadows are being well used:

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A group of Linnets having a bath
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Long-tailed Tits and juvenile Goldfinch
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Juvenile Crow being fed seeds by its parent
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Jay

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Juvenile female Green Woodpecker going down to the wild pond

I love the reflections in the water in the next few photos:

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The ponds in the wood are also well visited:

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Buzzard in the wood

These long yellow legs are distinctively Sparrowhawk:

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The next shot was of her from the rear and it was a surprise to see how much white she has on her:

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This is a very different look indeed to the female Sparrowhawk from the meadows that I included in my previous post. No white patches at all:

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On doing a quick bit of research and it seems that it is reasonably normal for Sparrowhawks to have white patches like that but I have certainly never seen anything like it before.

Before I leave the wood and go back to the meadows, I have to include this photo of a rabbit with the light shining through its ears. So very sweet.

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Although Foxes in captivity have a life expectancy of 13-14 years, wild Foxes sadly don’t survive anything like as long as that. Shockingly, a study of Oxford Foxes found that 63% died in their first year and the average life expectancy was only 19 months. Other studies have come up with slightly longer lives than that but the general consensus seems to be that they survive an average of 2-5 years. Unfortunately we have had a fatality here of one of this year’s cubs. The dog alerted us to this little corpse tucked away under a Holm Oak in the right hand copse.

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Mostly seeing them on the trail cameras, we are always surprised at how small they are when we see them with our eyes. We suspect that this lovely young Fox was hit by a car on the road below the meadows. Although very upsetting, I take comfort that it managed to get itself back up to the meadows before it died , somewhere familiar and safe where it has surely been happy this summer, playing with its siblings and eagerly awaiting the delivery of peanuts at dusk.

We decided to throw it into the dense vegetation of the cliff to let nature take its course.

Given how close to the sea the meadows are, we have perhaps unexpectedly little interaction with Seagulls. However, for the last few afternoons there have been hundreds of Black-headed  and Mediterranean Gulls circling over the second meadow for several hours.

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We suspect that they are catching flying ants or other airborne insects in the airspace above the meadow which is actually a compliment to how it is being managed.

The moth trap has been out a couple of nights recently and we have been enjoying going through a healthy-sized, but not overwhelming, catch of moths in the mornings.

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Latticed Heath (larval food plant will be Clover here)
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Swallow Prominent (larval food plant is Aspen, Poplars and Sallows)
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Swallow Prominent from above
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Jersey Tiger. This is a nationally scarce moth that might have bred here in the coastal south of England or may be an immigrant from Continental Europe. They use a variety of larval foodplants: Nettles, Bramble, Borage and Plantains.

Now that it is late August, we are seeing second or maybe even third generations of the same Butterflies that we saw in larger numbers earlier in the year:

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Speckled Wood
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Common Blue
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Painted Lady

Late August is also the time when this lovely and elegant rare Orchid appears in the areas of grass here that are kept short:

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These are Autumn Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes spiralis), whose white blooms grow in a tight spiral round the stem.

In our Flora Brittanica book,  Richard Mabey says ‘the spike has the look of a sea-creature, or an ivory ornament, turned on a lathe’, or another description compares it to a braid of the Virgin’s hair. But whatever it can be compared to, it is certainly a very special plant and we look forward to its appearance at this time every year.

With the oncoming Autumn days, the Badgers will be starting to feed up and put on weight ready for the tougher days of winter ahead. Here are the four female Badgers gathered at the peanuts:

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Three of those females engrossed in some mutual grooming:

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This photo was taken by the trail camera at nearly 7am – very late to bed for this Badger

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The last two photos today make me giggle. They were taken by the trail camera that is trained on the new sand pit habitat, recently created to see what might use it. We had found some burrows in the sand and wanted to investigate further and the result is really most unfortunate:

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Yellowhammering

2019 is the second year that we have been putting supplementary seed down into the meadows specifically to support farmland birds. Last year we saw no Yellowhammers but this year they have been visiting throughout the spring and summer. Here are some photos that the bird ringer took of them back in May:

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I am delighted to say that up to two juveniles are now visiting along with an adult:

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Yellowhammers are red listed birds and to have provided a habitat where they have successfully bred is definitely one of the highlights of our wildlife year.

I was googling Yellowhammers to find out more about their breeding activities and I came across the interesting fact that the distinctive call of the Yellowhammer – often described as ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’ – is suggested to be the inspiration for the famous opening few bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

The more you observe a species, the greater your depth of understanding of them and, often, the bigger your empathy with them. However, this just hasn’t happened with me and Magpies. The more I learn about them, the more I think that there are too many of them around. Below is a series of photos to support this view:

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Although I have to say that the Magpie has probably met its match here:

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Incidentally, referring back to my previous post, this Sparrowhawk does not have a white spot on the back of its head:

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The Magpie’s victim looks like it was a House Sparrow and there are certainly a lot of these feeding up on the strip and it is perhaps not surprising that they have attracted the attention of these predators:

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A young Sparrow in the foreground below is being fed by its mother:

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House Sparrows having a bath…

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…and a mixed bathing group of Sparrow and Linnets:

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One of this year’s baby Badgers gave me cause for concern when it became covered in what I at first thought must be ticks around its neck:

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But then I looked at the dog:

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and realised that at this time of the year there are so many plants that are trying to disperse their seeds by hitching a ride on a mammal pushing through the undergrowth.

Although it might be difficult to remove burrs from one’s own neck, so much mutual grooming goes on between Badgers that hopefully this will all get sorted out quite quickly:

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We put a new small pond out when Scarface had a bad leg and we thought he might have trouble hopping down to the main pond to drink. It has subsequently been used by many Birds and Foxes but last night was the first time that a Badger used it to drink:

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although a Badger had been caught on film passing it while gathering bedding a few nights previously:

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Here is a very nice portrait of a Badger from the wood:

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The Buzzard continues to visit the shallow tray in the wood every day. This bird does have a white patch on the back of its head:

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The weather has been very mixed recently and a few days ago we saw a waterspout out to sea. I had never seen one of these before:

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There are often interesting ships offshore. Here we have a a Panamanian research vessel, the Med Surveyor, built in 1968, which was moored up for the night and which is being passed behind by one of the Border Force ships that regularly patrol these waters:

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The Med Surveyor is still moored as this Dutch Hopper dredger goes past, the Reimerswaal, looking a bit like a disreputable pirate of the seas:

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Two last photos for today.

For a few days now there has been a large female Slow Worm under one of the squares which I believe can be described as ‘gravid’ – carrying eggs or young:

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We are hoping that she will give birth under this square and that we will see the young before they disperse.

And finally, as my parting photo for today, there is this:

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Buzzard in the Wood

For the past week or so, a Buzzard has been visiting the shallow pond in the wood. The trail camera has really been getting some great images of this magnificent bird:

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When the bird ringer sent me the photo below of the Cuckoo that he has recently ringed, he commented that it has a white spot on the back of its head (just visible in the photo), much like a Sparrowhawk has and that, by mimicking Sparrowhawks in this way, it is thought to help to avoid predation by them:

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However, I now notice that the Buzzard in the Wood also has a white spot on the back of its head:

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Why have these raptors got white spots on the back of their heads? I do not know but will attempt to find out.

I read that Buzzards mainly eat small rodents but also take birds, reptiles, amphibians, large insects and earthworms. Anything up to 500g can be taken alive but if the prey weighs more than this, then it will have to be carrion. Here is the Buzzard looking for earthworms in the same place as the Tawny Owl hunts for them at night. Clearly a worming hotspot.

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Also in the wood, the two baby Badgers that we were getting photos of earlier on in the summer are still around. Badger mortality is very high in their first year and so it is good to see them both:

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Below are the two Badger cubs at the meadows with their mother and an older sister:

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The male Badger, Scarface, about whom I was so worried last week, seems to have made a good recovery, although it is unusual for him to allow a Fox to be around him like this:

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I am sure, however, he would make a point of scattering this lot:

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Foxes are enjoying using the small additional ponds that we have put in the meadows this year. Here is one drinking:

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and then, ten seconds later:

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I can only apologise to subsequent users of the pond. So many birds are using them:

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House Sparrows
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Crows
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Surprised how massive a Greenfinch beak is.

A few days ago we dug a small sand pit as an additional type of habitat:

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The next morning, it looked like it had been thoroughly investigated:

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And, now, a few days later, it has continued to be dug around:

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We should have put a camera on it straight away,  but we have now and so hopefully we shall see who is doing this.

More rain was expected overnight and so, again, the tarpaulin went out:

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We did get 6mm which was welcome but so much more is needed. This morning, after the rains, something made me look in this lime green bucket below:

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I found two very surprising things. One was a newtlet in the few centimetres of rainwater collected within:

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How did that get in there?

The other thing was a large black Dung Beetle floating on the surface of the water. I fished it out and it was still alive:

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I have identified it as the Common Dumble Dor (Geotrupes spiniger). Did J K Rowling use this Beetle as inspiration?

These Beetles are associated with cow pats. They burrow under the pat and drag balls of dung down into the burrow to feed their young. But there are no farmed animals close to here. Tucked behind the water butts are three black buckets in which we are making Comfrey fertiliser and the smell of this stuff is extraordinarily and offensively manure-like. Could it be the smell from these buckets that has attracted this Dung Beetle? I looked into the buckets and, sure enough, I found another one drowned in one of them:

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A Common Dumble Dor, drowned in a bucket of Comfrey fertiliser. However, it does demonstrate how Beetles fly.

The underside of the Dumble Dor Beetle is beautifully metallic, although they are known to always be infested with mites as this one indeed was:

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The metallic underside of the Common Dumble Dor along with associated mites.

I didn’t like the thought that these buckets may be luring animals in to their death and so I have now strained the fertiliser into its final containers, which are upcycled ironing water flagons:

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Not without spilling some of the foul smelling liquid over my foot, though. Comfrey fertiliser is very good but I am definitely going to upgrade my equipment should I decide to make it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sand Land

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Sandwich Bay, a short distance up the coast from us, is a special place for nature. A large sandy bay with marshes behind and located close to the shortest crossing to mainland Europe, it is a migration hotspot and we went up there a couple of days ago to see the seven Wood Sandpipers that were being reported there. A few of these birds usually arrive in the UK every year on passage but we had never seen one before.

While we were there we also went to the bay to stretch the dog’s legs but didn’t get much further than the sandy car park where we found a colony of Bee-wolves:

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A Bee-wolf. Philanthus triangulum.

These are wasps that live in a colony of tunnels in the sand:

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A Bee-wolf in the entrance of its tunnel.

They prey on Honey Bees – paralyse them and fly back to their tunnel carrying them upside down.

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Bee-wolf with Honey Bee prey.
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The wasp’s tunnel entrance had collapsed and so it drops its prey to dig it out again.
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Trying to find its tunnel entrance
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Tunnel found, the wasp disappears down it….
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Then it pulls the unfortunate, paralysed Honey Bee down after it.
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Predator and prey now underground, the wasp will now lay an egg on the bee.

As we watched, we saw numerous wasps coming in carrying Honey Bee prey. It was completely horrible and totally fascinating both at the same time.

This encounter with a sand-dwelling species, along with seeing House Sparrows sand-bathing on the coastline below the meadows, gave us the idea to create a sand pit in the meadows  to introduce this different type of habitat here and see if anything uses it.

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Five bags of sand and the location decided.
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The job in progress.
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The completed sand pit.

We do have an existing shallow-sand beach by the side of the hide pond and here is someone who loves to use it:

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Adult male Green Woodpecker approaches the water.
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The water bath bit completed….
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Now for the sand bath.

Here is the adult female at the wild pond:

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She has a similarly over-the-top bathing technique:

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Also at the wild pond is a speckly juvenile female:

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She may be one of the two juvenile females below that I photographed here a fortnight or so ago:

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This juvenile below, however, is a male with red in his moustache:

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He seems to be following in his parents footsteps when it comes to bathing:

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The bath the Woodpecker is using is a new one that we put out for the injured male Badger, Scarface. The ponds are so low at the moment that we worried that he would have difficulty getting down to the water with his injured leg.

Although the bath immediately proved extremely popular with many birds and Foxes, there have been no Badgers drinking from it so far. However, I have good news to report: Scarface is now walking on all four legs again and the swelling has gone down:

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That is such a relief.

Here is an unusual view of one of the female Badgers:

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As the hot weather continues, all three of the new mini-ponds are being well used:

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Linnets.
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House Sparrows

These ponds were so cheap and easy to do, I can’t think why it has taken us until now to think of doing them.

In much the same way as the Bee-wolf was taking Honey Bees back to its nest as food for its young, here in the meadows is a Kite-tailed Robberfly (Machimus atricapillus) with its prey, a paralysed Hoverfly, going back to the Robberfly’s nest.

Kite-tailed Robberfly Machimus atricapillus

But on a less gory note, below is a very striking Jersey Tiger Moth – probably an immigrant from France:

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A Comma Butterfly is so named because of the white comma mark on the underside of its hind-wings:

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At the beginning of this post, I mentioned Sandwich Bay and this is where the bird ringer does much of his ringing. He has sent me some photos of a Cuckoo that he ringed there this week:

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Such long wings. This is a juvenile and it is an interesting thought that its father is probably already migrating back through  Africa.

 

 

Badger Concern

 

I ended the previous post full of anticipation for a decent amount of rain. A large tarpaulin went down to increase the catchment area of the wild pond that so desperately needed topping up.

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It was surprising to see that the Foxes didn’t seem to have a problem walking on this tarpaulin:

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In the end we did have 20mm of wonderful rain.

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A wet Fox after the rain.

Before the rain, at the hide pond:

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And immediately afterwards:

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Although subsequently there have been quite a few hot and dry days again and the levels have dropped right back down.

For the last three nights, the male Badger (Scarface) has not been able to put any weight on his left front leg:

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Badgers use their front paws to dig for their main food, earthworms, and without the use of this paw, my worry is that he will not be able to feed.

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I contacted the East Kent Badger Group yesterday and asked for any advice that they might have. Their view was that the most likely scenario is that he has a thorn in his paw and his body will sort this out itself although it takes a week to ten days to do so.

We doubled the number of peanuts that went out last night so that they lasted longer and that his share of them was larger. This resulted in a bit of a bonanza although none of these animals below are Scarface:

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But here he is, eating them at 2.41am when ordinarily they would be long gone well before midnight:

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However, reviewing the trail cameras this morning, we see that he has a large swelling in his upper arm and the problem probably isn’t his paw at all:

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I have got back in touch today with the Badger group and they are very helpful. However, there isn’t really much to be done because he would be next to impossible to catch in order for a vet to take a look at him. Things that can be tried, though, is to put out some Marmite on bread because the B vitamins in Marmite can apparently help. There are also some homeopathic Aloe Vera pills that are available from chemists that can sometimes give remarkable results. We will try both of these and hope that they, together with the simple passage of time, will work their magic.

A few days ago I visited Highgrove, the home of Prince Charles and Camilla in Gloucestershire. The gardens (..and the champagne cream tea) were absolutely fantastic and it is well worth going but their famous wild flower meadow was completely over by this time of year. All seed heads and nothing still in flower.

Grass is a much larger component of our meadows here and, at first sight, there is now no colour here either:

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But in fact , looking closer, there is still quite a lot going on:

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Lesser Knapweed going strong
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Lovely patch of Scabious
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Wild Carrot and Lesser Knapweed.
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Yarrow
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A large clump of Marjoram, absolutely covered in Butterflies and Bees when the sun shines.
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Gatekeeper and Common Blue on Marjoram

There has been a welcome return of a lot of the summer Butterflies, now on their second brood of the year. Small Heaths, Brown Argus, Marbled Whites, Common Blues and Wall are once again dancing through the meadows.

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Common Blue
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Wall.

The House Sparrows nesting in the House Martin box are busy raising their third brood of  young. I see that the male is ringed:

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I am on a few Swift Groups on Facebook and from these I learn that Swifts are currently leaving the country in their droves and it is time to turn our Swift Call machine off for this year. It has proved to be such an effective Swift attractant and now we need some of the Swifts that have been sweeping over the meadows all summer to remember our box when they return next year. We plan to build a second one over the winter and also investigate installing a box camera because wouldn’t that be great.

Yellowhammer are still frequent visitors and they particularly like the painter tray ponds:

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Female Yellowhammer on the right.

 

Foxes also drink a lot from these small ponds:

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This next photo made me realise for the first time that Foxes tails are actually longer than their legs which feels like a poor design feature:

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And I have a few more Fox photos to include as well:

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Trail camera

We saw this tiny little Viviperous Lizard today warming up on top of one of the reptile sampling squares:

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Viviperous Lizard eggs hatch inside their bodies and they ‘give birth’ to live young in July  but this is the first time we have seen one so newly born.

In the allotment area, there was this very large spider web in the Rosemary. It is the nest of the Nurseryweb Spider. These Spiders build their web not to catch prey but into which to place their egg sac so that it will protect the spiderlings once they hatch:

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Nurseryweb Spiders often hold their legs in this distinctive formation:

Nurseryweb Spider. Pisaura mirabilis.
Nurseryweb Spider. Pisaura mirabilis.

I am now keeping an eye on this egg sac waiting for the babies to hatch.

The last photo from the meadows is of a Red-legged Shieldbug that was on one of the trail cameras:

Red-legged Shieldbug. Pentatoma rufipes.
Red-legged Shieldbug. Pentatoma rufipes.

The Shieldbug larvae feed on deciduous trees but the adults are partly predatory and eat caterpillars and other insects as well as fruit.

The young Bullfinch have kept on returning to the pond in the wood, although we haven’t now seen them or the adult Bullfinch for a few days. Did they just come here to breed?:

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Here are some of the other visitors to the wood’s ponds over the last week or so:

Trail camera
One of this year’s young Great Spotted Woodpeckers with its red cap.
Trail camera
The adult male.
Trail camera
Juvenile Goldfinch
Trail camera
Fox cub at the painters tray
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Fox cub at the other pond.
Trail camera
Vole
Trail camera
Shrew
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Male Sparrowhawk

We haven’t spent much time at the wood recently because there has been a lot on but we are planning on staying the night there next week, us and the dog. This is something I haven’t done before and which fills me with slight nervous apprehension. But I am sure it will be fine and, either way, I will report back here!