A Good Year for Voles

It has been a very good Vole year in this part of the country and the Barn Owls of the Stour Valley here in Kent are still busy raising second broods. We knew that the Barn Owl boxes in the wood had not been used for first broods this year, but were they being used for second ones?

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The two Barn Owl, the Tawny Owl and the Kestrel box in the wood were checked yesterday. A dolly on a pole blocks the entrance hole of the box so that any young cannot disastrously exit the box while the side door is opened.

However, all the boxes were unoccupied. A couple of the boxes have become partly obscured by leaf growth and we need to sort that out, but the main reason why none of these boxes has been used may be that they went up too late. Apparently the birds will be scouting for available nesting sites from as early as the autumn before and these boxes didn’t go up until February.

We are also putting up two further Tawny boxes – one moved across from the meadows and I have ordered a new one as well. On the subject of Tawny Owls, the bird ringer has recently been on a BTO Owl ringing course and he is going to attempt to ring the Tawnies in the wood this winter using a sound lure. I am already looking forward to this.

The Tawny is still visiting the shallow bath in the woods for a nightly bath, although now that we are having some proper rain for the first time for ages, this might become no longer necessary:

Trail camera

Trail camera

We found a Tawny feather on the wood floor and you can see the it is really built for silent flight rather than as a protection against the elements. I don’t think that Owls are very waterproof:

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Below are two more large boxes that are in the meadows and have not been used, apart from by a Squirrel:

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The left hand box is a Little Owl box. The bird ringer has heard Little Owls calling from the vicinity of the meadows and so we know that they are in the area. This box has now been moved a few feet down the tree to make it more visible. Apparently we had it unnecessarily high.

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The right hand box is a Kestrel Box. Although we do see a lot of Kestrels in the meadows, we are close to fantastic nesting possibilities in the high chalk cliffs, so why would they use this box? We have decided to move this box to the wood.

Here is a Kestrel having a bath in the meadows and it is perhaps the same one that was ringed here a few days ago. It looks like it to me, although the ring was not visible in the photos:

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Trail camera

The hide pond has got so low that it is only possible for the birds to access the water using a ramp that we built. Here is a Sparrowhawk doing just that:

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In the late summer drought that might just now be ending, many birds were using the water.

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What a powerful beak on this Crow

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Linnets coming in
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Four birds, four different species

There was more ringing in the meadows yesterday and a lot of Goldcrests were caught. Some bird species are very sexually dimorphic with males and females looking markedly different to each other. But in others, such as in Goldcrests, this is more subtle.

Here is a female Goldcrest. The feathers of her crest have been slightly fanned out before letting her go to demonstrate that the feathers are all gold:

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The male, however, has some incredibly intense orange feathers at the margins of the gold crest although this orange might not ordinarily be very visible:

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This intense orange goes a step further in the Firecrest where the entire crest is this colour. There haven’t been any Firecrests caught here yet this year, but a few were caught last year and below is a photo from back then. The Firecrest also has the black eyestripe and is a much rarer bird.

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We had been needing rain here for quite a while. The wild pond was beginning to look like an African mud wallow:

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Heavy rain was forecast and so the tarpaulin went down to try to magnify the effect of whatever rain we got:

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There is also the roof of a log pile that was built by the pond so that rain falling on the roof can go along a buried drainpipe into the pond:

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In the end we got 25mm of rain in a day:

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The drainpipe coming off the log pile roof into the pond. This surely helps a little but it is a large pond and that is only a little trickle of water

I like this photo of a Fox that was taken by the camera looking at the baking tray bath:

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The same camera that has been capturing Badgers taking the reed piles off for bedding:

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Although, those reeds are very difficult to get under the fence onto the cliff path:

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In the wood, I saw an Oak leaf on the ground that had these galls:

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These are silk button spangle galls caused by the Gall Wasp Neuroterus numismalis. Each gall contains a single Wasp larva which spends the winter on the Oak leaf on the ground and the adult Wasps emerge in the spring. Here is an internet photo of what the adult Wasp looks like:

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I’m afraid that I cannot put this off any longer. I have to tell you that we have lost one of the young twin Badgers. Here it is yesterday, dead on the road that runs below the meadows

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This is horribly upsetting. Ever since coming above ground in April, these young Badgers have been a complete delight – they were so playful together and the remaining cub has to be feeling the loss of its sibling keenly.  Here are some photos of these cubs from the archives:

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Long suffering mother watching her cubs play

I see so many Badgers dead on the side of roads in this area and I suppose that this might be an indication that there is actually a healthy population of them around. But it is also an indication that Badgers have very little road sense – one trundled straight out in front of my car once, years ago. I managed to stop in time but it was very, very close.

I have to try not to be too upset and take comfort from the fact that this lovely young Badger’s life was short but very happy.

 

The Eye of the Kestrel

What a complete privilege it is to see a wild raptor in such detail:

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I think that the eye of this bird, a female Kestrel born this year, is magnificent.

The bird ringer was catching a lot of Goldcrests in his nets this morning and thinks that this Kestrel was trying to predate them when she herself got entangled.

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Along with the Goldcrests, he was catching Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps – in total about 35 migrating birds and he is coming back tomorrow:

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The bird ringer also rings at Sandwich Bay, a few miles further north, where, last week, a Wryneck was ringed:

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This amazing bird is in the Woodpecker family but doesn’t climb up tree trunks like many other Woodpeckers – this bird eats ants on the ground. It’s a heavily protected, rare bird and the UK only sees a few of them on passage in the autumn.

We have been away for a week and there was a lot of catching up to do on our return.  For instance, the four trail cameras in the wood had close on 7,000 images to go through. There had clearly been a lot of heat and little or no rain and the shallow, painters tray bird bath had quickly completely dried up. Here is the Tawny Owl in the wood when there was still water in the bath:

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Trail camera

But the next time it visited, there was none:

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Trail camera

I feel like I have let it down. However, I would still like to be able to go away from time to time and so I am going to see if I can source painters trays that are deeper but still have the gentle slope which is proving so popular as a bathing terrace.

It wasn’t only the Owl, there were many, many birds that visited the bath only to find it empty. Here is the female Woodpecker that was ringed here back in the spring and she then successfully raised a brood of young in a Cherry tree in this wood:

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This Squirrel got in just before the water completely disappeared:

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We have moved the mustelid box to the wood now and we are hoping to attract a Weasel or Stoat in. No mustelid seen yet though, just various small rodents and this somewhat larger one:

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It looks far too large to get in through the tunnel.

The deeper bath in the wood has not had to be topped up since we initially set it up and, indeed, it still has plenty of water in it. There were several visits of the Sparrowhawk:

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and this juvenile Green Woodpecker:

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Its wings and tail seem so short in this image.

Back in the meadows, the painters trays were being topped up from time to time by the bird ringer while we were away and so they fared better. These are all Linnets:

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Pretty much every morning in our absence, this bird came a-visiting:

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We have spoken to the reptile and amphibian ecologist who was bringing the Slow Worms here over the summer and the plan that we have come up with is to encircle the pond with string about six inches from the ground in January and February. This is when the Frogs gather in large numbers to mate and when this Heron ate hundreds of them here earlier this year. The Heron doesn’t land on the water – it lands on the grass by the side of the pond and then walks in and so the circle of string at its knee height will hopefully deter it without harming it.

The reeds that we pulled out of the pond have all now disappeared underground. Here are the last bits being taken down:

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I would like to know about the Dormouse status of our wood. Dormice are terribly scarce these days but Kent is the best place for them in the country.  I do not yet fully understand what Dormice require and so, therefore, what we could be doing  to manage the wood for them.  We do have Hazel coppice, though, and I know they need that. One of the autumn projects we have planned is to find out if they are already here and, if not, what we can do to attract and support them. There are several more exciting autumn projects being considered but I will tell you about these in future posts..

104 Slow Worms

The Slow Worm mitigation scheme is now complete. Slow Worms were being rehomed here from a small piece of land about half a mile away that is going to be developed.

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Slow Worms under a sampling square this morning

The whole process has no doubt been very expensive for the developer and has taken over a year because of hibernation, but 104 Slow Worms have now been released into the ten new log piles that were especially built in the meadows to take them:

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After a long summer of transferring the Slow Worms, once the ecologist carrying out the work had visited the redevelopment site five times and found nothing under his sampling squares, he was then able to declare the project complete. But he will still be coming to the meadows to monitor their progress here for a number of years.

Now that the project has been signed off, the developer has made a sizeable donation to a nature conservation charity on our behalf.

We are continuing with our autumn jobs. By far the biggest of these is to give the meadows their annual cut, although many areas are left uncut each year on a rotational basis. The new Slow Worm release area will be completely left alone for this year and then only a third will be cut each successive year.

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Cutting the strip

Another autumn job was to clear vegetation out of the wild pond. Phase One of this job has been done which has resulted in the return of a magnificent but unwelcome visitor, who is after our frogs and newts:

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Trail camera

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It was back again this very morning

The reeds that were removed from the ponds were stacked nearby, as photographed by the trail camera looking at the baking tray pond:

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A Chiffchaff resting up as it migrates. Reeds stacked in the background.
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A Blackcap, another migrant, taking a bath in front of the reed stack. It has to be a Blackcap, but its beak does look very odd – maybe a trick of the light or a bit of leaf?

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This stack of reeds, however, has now disappeared underground as the Badgers use it as bedding material:

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Badgers hunt for food and almost always eat what they find where they find it – they rarely carry food. Their young are suckled until they are old enough to go out foraging with their parents and food is never brought back for them. The only time we have ever seen these Badgers with food is when we occasionally put out eggs and they carry them back to the cliff path to eat:

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Scarface, showing the scar for which he is named above his right eye. It was very noticeable when he first arrived a couple of years ago.

Here are a couple more photos of Scarface just as it was getting dark. He’s a powerful looking animal:

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This comedy pose, being demonstrated by one of the female Badgers below, is often used when they they want a jolly good tummy scratch:

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Community gathering outside the sett last night

A Badger in the wood, who has been digging for worms in the mud:

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A Sparrowhawk having a bath in this same wood pond:

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And a Tawny Owl having a bath in the other wood pond:

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Trail camera

We recently had a gathering of fellow woodlanders at our wood. We share lots of wildlife between our woods and it is great to also share information and ideas:

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Back in the meadows, the Ivy Bees have emerged, beautifully timed to coincide with the flowering of the Ivy:

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I have also been photographing Butterflies in iconic autumnal settings:

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Speckled Wood and Sloes
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Red Admiral and Old Man’s Beard
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Red Admiral on flowering Ivy
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No Butterfly here, but a lovely display of Blackberries

All of a sudden there are a lot of these Turnip Sawflies (Athalia rosae) around – the very distinctive hunchback shape of them and their bright orange colour makes them unmistakable:

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There are still large numbers of Linnets:

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Trail camera

And House Sparrows:

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A crow looking sweet and cuddly?:

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Trail camera

Rarely are Rats seen on the cameras. Perhaps there are just too many predators around. However, one has been appearing recently down by the Badger sett:

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And this Fox has the look of leisurely waiting for it to reappear. Love the crossed legs:

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I was so excited about this last bit – this year is the ‘Year of the Predatory Fly’ for us. In fact, I don’t think we knew that there were such things as predatory Flies before, but we have photographed several different species here this year and they are really fascinating. Today we saw the creme de la creme of predatory Flies – the Hornet Robberfly (Asilus crabroniformis). It was so shockingly enormous that at first I thought it must be a dragonfly:

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Hornet Robberfly with fly prey

I read in my book that they have body lengths of 18 to 28mm and this one had to have been up at the 28mm end of things. It is a rare and declining fly found in scattered parts of southern England, but the distribution map does not show it being found in East Kent.

I didn’t get long to try to get a decent photo of it before it took off with a low, loud buzz and it and its unfortunate prey item were gone – but I did get my picture and I will record this sighting on irecord so that it can be officially logged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season Switch

Now in September, although the sun is still out, there is a certain autumnal something in the air and a need to open up that jumper drawer again and see what’s inside. We decided that it was time to get started on our Autumn Season Jobs. Here is one of them in progress:

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This pond is so overgrown and needs extensive removal of vegetation at this time of year. There is some water in there somewhere – but just not very much. At the end of Phase One of this job, the wild pond now looks like this:

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First use of the new waders and they have been declared a success. This man got a hose down:

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It is much easier to remove the vegetation when its roots are in water and so Phase Two will commence once the pond refills a bit.

However, having now created a bit of open water, early the next morning unfortunately there was this:

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Another job is to send the completed Red Mason Bee tubes off to the Mason Bee Guardian Scheme HQ. Under this scheme, we get sent Bee cocoons in the spring. Once they hatch out, the Bees collect pollen from our lovely flower meadows and build nests in these tubes :

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When completed and capped off with mud, we keep the tubes in the cool and dark of the under-stairs cupboard during the summer. The developing larvae feed off the pollen in the nests and form hard cocoons which are then resilient enough to be sent via Royal Mail. Back at HQ, the cocoons will be cleaned up and then chilled through the winter, ready to send some back out to us again next spring.

Last year we were initially sent 25 Bee cocoons. At the end of the summer we sent back to them 45 completed tubes which, they reported, contained 342 healthy Red Mason Bee cocoons.

This year we have 52 completed tubes:

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These have now been posted off:

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They will let us know by the end of the year how many cocoons are within.

It is always a thrill when a Bird of Prey appears on a trail camera and, a couple of days ago, we had an unprecedented occurrence: three different species all in one day:

A Kestrel at the Ant Paddock pond. I don’t think she drank or bathed but, rather, she just seemed to be investigating:

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A Sparrowhawk at the Strip pond, using it as a paddling pool:

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Nearby there was this sad puddle of feathers:

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And, finally, a Tawny at the wood pond. I love the reflections in the water and I have never before seen an Owl drinking and bathing:

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All three of those birds are absolutely magnificent and it feels such a privilege to be seeing them like this.

This unusual feather below was found on the strip, possibly coming from the Sparrowhawk’s kill. There is a fascinating German website called featherbase.info which shows all the feathers of any bird that you might be interested in (going into Collection/country selection/United Kingdom helps it to be less overwhelming, I find). I will attempt to identify what bird this feather came off.

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The autumn migration is continuing and here is a male Redstart. We only see these birds on passage:

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A female Blackcap:

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And the ringed Whitethroat is still around:

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The large flock of Linnets of many hundred birds continue to billow along the hedgerows, sometimes descending down to the mini ponds:

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Trail camera

 

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Other birds seen at the ponds:

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A pair of bathing Stock Dove
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Stock Doves now clean
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Carrion Crow
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Crow now clean
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Yellowhammer
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A great comparison photo to pin down differences between Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove
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Collared Dove looking like an angel

We haven’t seen many birds on Perch Cam in recent weeks, but I do like this photo below:

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We are approaching the end of the Butterfly year, but here is a wonderful Small Copper photographed in the meadows a few days ago. I don’t think I realised that they had bottle green on them before:

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Badgers need to feed up and put on weight at this time of year, although Earthworms are going to be hard to come by until we get a bit more rain.

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However, while they wait, they might as well keep up with their grooming regime:

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That flexibility of hip is only to be admired.