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?


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:


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


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.


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:

Trail camera

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:

Trail camera

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

Trail camera
What a powerful beak on this Crow

Trail camera

Trail camera
Linnets coming in
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:



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:



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.


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

Trail camera

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


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:


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


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:


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


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:


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:


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


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:

Trail camera

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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.


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