As The Clocks Go Back

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And so we begin the final day before the clocks go back and we fully lose our evenings to the dark.

The autumn migration is still going on all around. Today it seems that it is Black Redstarts that are on the move and are being reported on my Birdguides alert emails all over this part of the coast.

Below is a Robin, one of four ringed here a couple of days ago. Last weekend’s easterly winds brought in thousands of birds of all sorts of species from Europe and there is a good chance that this Robin is a continental bird. At Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, seventeen Robins had been ringed the day before and in the past some of these have been previously ringed in Russia and Denmark – you don’t necessarily expect your garden Robin to have travelled so far.

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The patches of brown amongst the black of this male Blackcap tell the tale that this is a very young bird:

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We now know that the Chiffchaff that was caught here earlier in the month and found to be already ringed, was ringed at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire almost exactly 24 hours previously. This is a distance of 150kms (or 93 miles) as the Crow or Chiffchaff flies.

As I closed my last post, I was off up to the mobile hide to see if the migrating Ring Ouzel was going to visit the meadows for the third day running. Needless to say, it was a no-show but I enjoyed myself anyway photographing the other birds that had bothered to turn up:

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Yesterday morning, the sun was shining and the meadows were a hive of bird activity. There were a pair of these Wagtails:

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I believe that these are White Wagtails because of the slate-grey on their backs. White Wagtails are the European subspecies ‘alba’ of the Pied Wagtail which are only seen in Britain on passage. The subspecies that breeds in Britain is ‘yarrellii’ which is a very black-and-white bird.

Great Tits and Blue Tits were checking out nest boxes, including two Blue Tits who appeared out of the Swift box – we don’t want them in there, we are really hoping for Swifts next year. I remember now that we are meant to have the holes of this box blocked up while the Swifts are out of the country. House Sparrows were back at the House Martin nest box:

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There has been so much rain that all the trail cameras have become soggy and their lenses covered with condensation. But we can still just about see this female Kestrel, although she again doesn’t show her right leg to tell us if she is the bird that was ringed here a few weeks ago:

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I recently went on a guided nature walk  in the grounds of Waltham Place near Maidenhead in Berkshire. This a biodynamic and organic estate where there is a completely inspiring passion for wildlife and I have come away with several ideas for things that I would like to do here. They have a large area of Comfrey and one of the gardeners rummaged around the base of these plants and brought out a caterpillar of the Scarlet Tiger Moth. Comfrey is the larval food plant for this moth and apparently they are always to be found there at this time of year, along with several other moth species too.

We have our own patch of Comfrey in the allotment area of the meadows:

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I had never thought to investigate the soil underneath these plants before and I found it to be absolutely alive with Woodlice and other invertebrates. A Frog and Smooth Newt as well had been attracted in by the dense, damp cover and all those insects to eat.

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We have put another small load of hay near the Badger sett for the Badgers to use as bedding:

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Chiffchaff and the new load of hay

For several nights now, there have been many photos of this:

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We changed this camera to video as it got dark and found that the Fox was just using its lofty perch on top of the hay pile as a viewing gallery to watch the Badgers as they went backwards and forwards from the cliff path to the peanuts.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are working away at getting this hay pile underground:

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Going into the difficult days of winter, our resident foxes are looking good and long may that last:

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In my previous post I was talking about the coppicing course that we went on and I now realise that I was misspelling the subdivisions of a coppiced wood as ‘coup’ instead of ‘coupe’. Yesterday we made a start coppicing our own wood:

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If we do have Dormice living on the wood, then they like to hibernate in the centres of these hazel coppice stools and so we tried to be careful of this.

We had chosen to start on a particularly large and overgrown stool and it took us ages. However, once it was done, a patch of sky could be seen above us and now light will be hitting the wood floor:

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There is a lot more to be done to complete the section of the wood that we have in mind to be coppiced this winter but we have until the end of February until the birds start to nest.

In the regeneration area of the wood there are several Spindle trees that are loaded with berries this year. These berries are eaten by birds and other wildlife but are poisonous to humans:

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The Mustelid box in the wood has been visited by all sorts of things – this time it was bird – maybe a Dunnock?-  that hopped in. No Mustelids yet though.

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The Bushnell trail camera trained on the deeper pond in the wood is giving us clear photos with lovely intense colours. It was three or four times the cost of our other cameras but I think it was probably worth the outlay:

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Male Sparrowhawk
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Male Sparrowhawk flying away

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We had the opportunity last weekend to visit the enormous new scrape that is being dug by the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory.  A new hide is also to built shortly. This year Slow Worms were transferred to the meadows here from nearby land that is to be developed and the developer made a sizeable donation to this project as part of our agreement to rehome these reptiles.

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The RSPB is also creating a new reserve close to this scrape and so this whole area will become a large and fantastic sanctuary for birds. It will be so interesting to see how this all develops over the next few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coppicing for Beginners

We have just returned from a coppicing course in the beautiful Malvern Hills. In 1884 an Act of Parliament was passed to protect the area from ‘Encroachment’ and the west side of the hills in particular, with its sweeping views out towards Wales, is still absolutely lovely.  The woodsman who was running the coppicing course has been granted a nine year lease to manage one of the woods on this western flank of the hills. It is divided into eight sections – or coups – each roughly half an acre of Hazel coppice with Oak standards. One coup gets cut down each year on a rotational basis.

Here is the coup he cut last year and so the small Hazel coppice stools are currently only one year old:

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But we were going to be starting the cutting of the eight year old coup:

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This is some of the equipment we were using:

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The poles with the hooks at the end were the ‘Slashers’ used to clear the undergrowth around the coppice. Loppers were then wielded to continue the clearing of the ground. Once we could get at the coppices, they were cut with bow saws, although I personally much preferred using a pruning saw.

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A Japanese pruning saw that we bought off him
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Demonstrating different styles of bill hooks – he uses these mainly for cleaning up the cut coppice poles to turn them into saleable products such as hedge-laying stakes, bean poles and pea sticks.

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Cutting just a few stools of the coppice very quickly created a large clearing in the coup. Managing the coups on a rotational basis like this ensures that there is always one part of the wood which is in the right phase of development to be used by the great variety of species that thrive in coppiced woodland.

I had intended to take many more photos but unfortunately it rained for most of the day and I had to keep my camera out of the wet.

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There is something very calming and good for one’s mental health about spending an entire day working outside in the wood. We had no shelter from the elements – the lease prohibits any tarpaulin to be erected – but somehow that didn’t matter when you are either working hard or warming up by a ‘comfort fire’ with a hot cup of tea.

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This fire stand was made by a blacksmith to the woodsman’s design

 

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Tea making in the wood

In just one day we have learnt a lot and now return to Kent with new-found confidence to tackle the overgrown Hazel coppice in our own wood. We are also bringing some other ideas back with us such as this large heap of rotting coppice poles. Apparently a fantastic numbers of Beetles have been seen emerging from this:

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We have always had a thing for Ring Ouzels. In fact, twice we have gone out with a nature guide onto Dartmoor specifically to see them, driven on by the knowledge that a few pairs nested in remote valleys on the moor each summer. However, on both occasions, we were unsuccessful and we have since learnt from our guide that, sadly, Ring Ouzels now no longer nest on Dartmoor. They do still breed in upland areas further north in the UK but they are in steep decline and are in a whole lot of trouble.

We did eventually see one very briefly on Dartmoor two years ago – a beautiful male as he migrated through – but that is the only glimpse we have ever had.

So, how jolly exciting is this then?:

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The feathers look more like scales on its tummy
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The classic Ouzel white bib is only partly formed on this juvenile bird

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This is a first-winter juvenile Ring Ouzel on its way out of the country on migration but we presumed it stopped in for a drink with us just as it was getting dark the day before yesterday

But then it was back yesterday as well, same place, same approaching-dusk sort of time. Hopefully it spent the day  fuelling up on all the berries that are dripping off the hedgerows at the moment:

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We all know that it won’t be back a third time, but I have set up my mobile hide and will spend a couple of hours in there with my camera this evening just in case.

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Poor weather has stopped the bird ringer spending as much time in the meadows as he might otherwise have done but he has now caught and ringed two Firecrests. Much rarer than Goldcrests, these little birds have a black eye stripe and a more intensely-coloured crest. The Firecrest below was already ringed:

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When the bird ringer subsequently went through his records, he discovered that it was he who in fact ringed it on 27th October 2017 here in the meadows. Two years later, here it is again in the very same place.

Getting on towards the end of October and there are still bands of Swallows swooping over the meadows. They have got a long way to go and it is getting late in the year- they surely need to get a move on:

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We have been seeing a lot of the Green Woodpeckers recently. Perhaps they are more active now that the soil is softer and they can more easily probe it for ants.

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The softer soil also makes it more easy for Badgers to dig for worms, of course:

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I think the photo below has wonderful composition and would make a good painting, if only I had any skill in that area:

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I have finally got  a photo of the faces of all three of the female and young Badgers to confirm that none of them are the adult male, Scarface, who has a heftier skull. Therefore, I can now confirm with reasonable confidence that the sett currently contains four Badgers once you add in Scarface.

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Last summer I harvested seed from the Kidney Vetch that was growing in the meadows. Kidney Vetch is the larval food plant of the Small Blue – a rare Butterfly that we have a little colony of here. Kidney Vetch is a short-lived perennial and has a tendency to have some very poor years which then lead to subsequent crashes in Small Blue numbers. It all seems very precarious and I have an on-going project to greatly increase the bank of Kidney Vetch growing here so that every year there will be lots available for the Small Blue caterpillars to eat.

I germinated the harvested seed and, throughout this summer, have been growing the plants on. Now they are ready to be planted out into the meadows:

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The plants have gone in by the wild pond which seems to be a bit of a focus for our Small Blue colony. Fingers crossed that next year will be a good year for these lovely, tiny Butterflies.

We have recently acquired a small load of York stone from a local garden centre that was closing down:

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This stone has now been made into a Reptile refuge in the Ant paddock where we have always seen a lot of Lizards:

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It is very charming to see mossy tree stumps in the regeneration area of the wood being used as comfortable perching posts by the Squirrels who must be carrying these spiky Sweet Chestnuts quite a distance because there aren’t any of these trees in this area:

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Pretty much every mossy stump had a Sweet Chestnut husk on it – I must put trail cameras on a couple next autumn to try to catch them at it. It is a time of great plenty for Squirrels in the wood at the moment and here is one with a Hazelnut:

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All this rain has meant that this autumn has become a fantastic year for fungus around here. I am busy photographing it to try to work out what it is but am finding it difficult. One of the reasons for this is that it often looks very different when it first comes above ground to when it has been up for a while. Here is a clump from a week ago that has come up near the entrance to the wood

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Now, a week later, this same clump looks like this:

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So, even though I don’t necessarily know what these Toadstools are, they are lovely things and I will finish today with some more that have recently appeared in the wood:

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The Annual Cut Commences

The annual cut of the meadows has now begun in earnest, although we are having to choreograph the work to fit into pauses in the rain.

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The much smaller first meadow is now completed and work on the second meadow has started. Several bits have been left long and one area has been cut really hard to leave patches of bare soil because we want to sow wildflower seed there.

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The triangle to be sown
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This area is cut really low, exposing soil in places.

We bought the seed from Emorsgate:

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I love looking at their website – it is even possible to buy a seed mix taken from the Prince of Wales’ famous wildflower meadows at Highgrove. Although that would not be appropriate for our soil conditions here – we have bought EM6F which is a seed mix of native perennials for chalky soil.

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Emorsgate EM6F wildflower seed – perennials for chalky soil

We have also added in some additional Yellow Rattle seed, a plant that is parasitic on grass and so knocks it back, allowing the flowers more space to flourish. Cutting the meadows and taking away the arisings year-on-year also reduces nutrient levels and discourages grasses but Yellow Rattle is another tool in the flower meadow toolbox:

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Yellow Rattle seed

All the cut grass was piled up near the gate into the meadow and over the next few months we will work at getting that away through a combination of taking loads down to the recycling centre and bagging it up and putting it out for the fortnightly green waste collection. We did deposit some down by the Badger sett to see if they would want to use it for bedding. We suspected they would.

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The pile of freshly cut hay near the Badger sett

The next morning there was a grassy trail leading from the pile to the the hole under the fence, beyond which the Badger sett lies:

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The trail then led along the cliff path towards the sett:

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In fact here they are, the beauties, caught red-footed:

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Harvesting from the pile….
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…under the fence and onto the cliff path….

 

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…and down to the sett

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A couple of days later and the hay pile had all disappeared underground:

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I love the thought of them now sleeping on freshly cut, sweet-smelling hay.

In a previous post I mentioned an experiment we were planning to see if Yellow Rattle has the same negative effect on Tor Grass as it does on other meadow grasses. We have Tor Grass along the northern boundary of the meadows and it is starting to spread slightly which concerns us because it can be a bit of a thug. We also have a few isolated clumps of it and we selected one of these on which to conduct our experiment:

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A clump of Tor Grass
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Closer up, showing what a coarse, vigorous grass it is.
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Starting to cut into the clump

At this point of the proceedings, a Lizard was spotted just in front of the tractor and so a rescue mission was successfully carried out:

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The meadows are generally cut quite high meaning that small mammals, amphibians and reptiles like this Lizard that live amongst the grass would normally be expected to survive. But in this instance we were going to be cutting the grass really short to sow seed onto it and so we were happy to have spotted and rescued this little thing first.

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The grass cut low..
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..and then even lower to expose the soil.
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Yellow Rattle seed was sown
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The experiment completed for now.

We have marked where the patch of Tor Grass is and we will monitor it next year to see how it gets on.

One area of the second meadow has quite a lot of Creeping Thistle which is another plant that we would like get under control. Therefore, we are also going to sow Yellow Rattle there to see what happens. I know we can’t expect Yellow Rattle to be our knight-in-shining-armour for all our problems but there seems nothing to lose from having a go.

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The area with a lot of Thistles is cut very low prior to sowing Yellow Rattle.

This is quite interesting. In the photo below, the grass on the left hand side was cut last autumn. However, the grass on the right hand side has been left two years since it was cut. The right side is much browner because of all the anthills that have had an additional year to develop and grow.

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The bird ringer has been back and was busy ringing mainly Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. He also got a Robin control – a bird that had been previously ringed elsewhere. He has now had three controls in the past two visits and we await information on where and when they had been ringed before.

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Goldcrest

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There are a lot of berries of various sorts now adorning the hedgerows ready as an autumnal feast for birds. This Mistle Thrush rather fancied these Rowan Berries:

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This beautiful Kestrel came down for a bath:

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At no point in the sequence of photos do we see her right leg to tell if she is the bird that was ringed here a couple of weeks ago.

Green Woodpeckers are regular users of the bathing facilities:

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Magpies are very enthusiastic bathers – no wonder these little ponds need topping up with water so very often.

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Below is another keen user of the ponds, although an altogether less welcome one having seen it eat hundreds of frogs and newts here earlier this year. So, here it is back again but we have formulated a plan to stop the same wholesale slaughter happening again next frog-mating season and so we are not unduly worried:

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The Badgers here are pretty much strictly nocturnal and it is only in the very short nights around June that we stand a chance of seeing them in the light. But here is a Badger out of her sett in the middle of the afternoon:

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I find this slightly alarming because surely something was wrong for her to have done that.  But all seems well again now and so the reason for this most unexpected appearance remains a mystery.

The owner of our local, friendly garden centre is retiring after many decades of running his plant sales and landscaping business. They have done a lot of work in these meadows over the years including digging both of the large ponds and it feels like the end of an era. However, on the plus side, he is now clearing his land and we have relieved him of these assorted bits and pieces of York stone which we will use to build some sort of wildlife structure as a project over the winter:

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Included amongst the stone is this one:

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It has been suggested that this stone is from some sort of Roman water system but I don’t think there is necessarily any sound basis for this speculation. From time to time an archeologist visits these meadows and we will see what he thinks when he is next here.

The wood is looking completely glorious at this time of year.

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There are now so many Toadstools. I have tried to identify them but I’m afraid don’t have a lot of confidence in my IDs – it’s difficult!

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Coprinus silvaticus
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Not at all sure
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Brick Tuft? (Hypholoma lateritium)
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We have a lot of Silver Birch Trees and so were expecting to see these Fly Agarics – nearly always associated with Silver Birch.

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I love this photo of wood Badgers:

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I finish today with a series of photos that I just want to entitle ‘Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area’ We have moved the Mustelid box to the wood where we thought we would be more likely to get a Stoat or Weasel. So far we have had Mice, Voles, Shrews and once a Squirrel came in. It is positioned in dense undergrowth but not that far from a small warren:

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So, after that introduction, here are the photos:

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For the last couple of days this adorable young Rabbit has been spending an awful lot of time in the box and even sleeping in there. So what will happen now if a Stoat or Weasel did now decide to take a look in? This sweet young Rabbit would be a sitting duck, that’s what. Always so much to worry about.

Wild Beekeeping Special

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All through last winter, one shelf of our fridge was taken up with Red Mason Bee cocoons. They were being stored at the right temperature and humidity to keep them safe and healthy ready for their triumphant emergence in the spring.

In late March we put mixed-sex batches (the male cocoons are smaller) out into the release box and waited for them to hatch and fly away:

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Although I have photographed this release box on the ground, it was positioned on a post about five feet off the ground, facing south.

The idea of the several small batches is that not all your eggs are then in one basket should an unexpected patch of bad weather blow up and kill all the newly hatched Bees. However, in the event, the cocoons remained for ages in the release box without hatching and so I did end up putting them out altogether because I started worrying that I was going to run out of springtime.

But most of the cocoons did eventually hatch – the whole thing was a success and we are now filled with a bit more confidence to do it all again.

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The Red Mason Bee observation boxes also went back up in late March, ready for the Bees to make their nests within.

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These boxes had been thoroughly cleaned from last year. Then boiling water was poured over them followed by a drying out in front of the Aga and they even then went into the freezer for a month. So I was pretty confident that these boxes were clean! The outer casing was painted with a non-toxic varnish although the inner wooden blocks were not touched:

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This is a tiny pot and it was very expensive (about £25 I think). There has to be a cheaper alternative.

They also had an insect barrier grease spread on the gaps and cracks to minimise the chance of parasites squeezing their way in via the back.

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The Red Mason Bees mated (the smaller male, with the white fur, on top)

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Although this turned into a bit of a mass bundle with other males trying to be involved as well:

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Once mated, the females started building their nests in the observation boxes. Eggs were laid on piles of pollen and wet mud used to wall each egg off into a separate cell.

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This is from a different observation box but I have included it here because it does show the nest structure well. We no longer use this box because we think that, if entirely encased in glass, moisture cannot dissipate and the nest fails.
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The observation box with the side panel temporarily removed

Meanwhile, the parasites gathered in the vicinity looking for a chance to get their eggs onto the piles of pollen instead. Some of the parasites were really beautiful such as this Ruby-tailed Wasp:

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The Bee eggs hatched into larvae that ate the pollen and grew:

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Once the Bees stopped flying at about the beginning of June we took the boxes inside, wrapped them in tights so that predators couldn’t gain access and kept them under the stairs in the cool and the dark to see out the rest of the summer.

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This year, we also had some different Summer observation boxes which went out once the Red Mason Bee boxes came in. These boxes have tunnels of different sizes for summer-flying Bee species.

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These summer boxes also went in tights under the stairs as the summer came to an end.

Now that it is October, it is time to harvest the cocoons and clean them up. The two Summer Bee boxes are on the left in the photo below. These species spend the winter as soft larvae rather than hard cocoons and so we can’t remove parasites without damaging the Bees. We will have to leave these boxes as they are and just bring them out next spring so that the Bees can hatch out.

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However, the earlier-flying Red Mason Bees have now formed hard, dark-coloured cocoons that can be safely handled.

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As well as the cocoons, there is the mud used to build the walls, some unused pollen and a lot of parasitic shenanigans, despite all of those precautions we took.

We used narrow wooden coffee stirrers to push the cocoons out of the wooden blocks:

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and put them in batches into a bucket of tepid water. The cocoons float and everything else sinks:

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Once they were scooped out of the water, we sand-cleaned them by shaking them in sand vigorously for a few minutes:

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We gave them one last dunk to wash off the sand:

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and then they were rested on some kitchen roll before going into the cocoon fridge storage box:

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Actually, I have ordered a second one of these Humidibee boxes so that the cocoons won’t be so densely packed once it arrives:

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And here is their home for the winter, our fridge:

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My feeling is that we had fewer healthy Bee cocoons and more parasites this year but I am sure that it varies greatly from year to year and is dependant on all sorts of factors.

But good to have got that all done for another year and already looking forward to seeing them hatch out next spring.

Best Ringing Day Yet

You have to be good with mornings to be a bird ringer – the best catches are usually soon after dawn. However, yesterday the bird ringer had been giving a talk in London until late the night before and only arrived after 9am in the meadows to set up the nets. But even so, he had a very busy morning with a lot of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests:

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Chiffchaff
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The same bird being ringed
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Male Goldcrest (intense orange as well as the gold in the crest feathers)
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Coal Tit – an usual bird for these parts

He also had two ‘controls’ – a Chiffchaff and a Blue Tit. This is the word used when a bird has been already ringed elsewhere. Once the bird ringer has submitted his ringing data to the BTO, he should find out where and when these birds were previously ringed.

During the morning a Goshawk flew over – yes! A Goshawk. Sadly I personally missed this but I am told that it flew north to south over the meadows, was mobbed by Crows, and then turned round and went south to north. What an amazing bird to go in at number 73 on our meadows bird list (only two species added this year so far: Alexandrine Parakeet back in January and now Goshawk)

We went to a talk last night at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory on Urban Peregrines. The man giving the talk also knew about Goshawks and we learnt that now is the time that young Goshawks (and Peregrines) start dispersing away from the nest area, sometimes flying long distances.

We don’t have a photo of yesterday’s Goshawk but here are a couple from the internet:

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But the excitement didn’t stop there. A group of House Martins were noticed flying over the meadows and so a net was put up along a gap in the hedgerow and their call was played on a loudspeaker. Soon, the sky was filled with them. At this point of the year, when House Martins are gathering to migrate, they become extremely responsive to the call of other birds of the same species.

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The sky became filled with House Martins

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Before too long, many of them were in the net:

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These mist nets have been well designed so that the birds become entangled but are not in any way damaged and all these birds were quickly processed, ringed and released, completely unharmed. Because there were so many of them, all that was done was a quick check of their age and a ring put on so that they could be off and away as soon as possible. They were all juveniles, born this year. So, just to be clear, that means they are all setting off on an immensely long journey across continents and mountain ranges to winter in the forests of the Congo Basin, none of them having done it before and with no adults to guide them. Completely amazing.

There were also some stowaways going along for the ride:

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All the birds will have these blood-sucking Flat Flies  (or Louse Flies) on them.

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These will normally be tucked in amongst the feathers but they have emerged out of the plumage here because the bird had stopped flying whilst in the net.

These flies are members of the Hippoboscidae family. With poorly developed wings, they are unable to fly and their survival depends on the repeated use of a nest by the host. Their emergence from their pupae in last years nest is synchronised with the return of the breeding birds in the spring.

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However, I have to tell you that these things were jumping off the birds and onto the bird ringer. He was very blasé about it but, if I didn’t already know that ringing was not for me because of the early mornings, this business with these Flat Flies would have knocked any budding desire to ring birds right on the head.

In the end 37 Martins were ringed and released and, in total, the bird ringer processed 96 birds during the morning. I say morning, but he was still here at 4pm.

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In the early afternoon, this schooner sailed past:

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This is the De Gallant, a sailing cargo ship. The concept behind this ship’s visit is exciting, inspiring and feels right out of the eighteenth century – the idea is that the community bands together and preorders food from various different suppliers from far off lands. These foodstuffs are then delivered using the power of the wind. In this case, a shop in Deal called Smugglers Records has organised the ship to moor off Deal beach and bring the food ashore. Because the food is bought in advance, the financial risk of the voyage is covered.  With the goods being collected directly from the ship or from whoever organised it, distribution and storage costs are low. People are encouraged to buy in large quantities to last a long time or to join together with others so that several kilograms can be delivered in a single hessian bag, thus reducing packaging waste.  Isn’t this all a wonderful thing to be doing? Smugglers Records are having a community party to celebrate the arrival of the ship – Deal is such a great town.

The ponds in the meadows are now starting to look more normal after all the rain that we have had. The plants in the hide pond were put into the pond in a hurry so that Dragonflies larvae could climb up them. Now that all of that is over for another year, we realise that the appearance of the pond is not very artistic and more should be done to make it aesthetically pleasing. But at least the blanket weed seems to have gone for now.

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The wild pond looks great and we haven’t seen the Heron for quite a while:

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But it is the small shallow ponds that continue too be more popular with the birds:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

I finish today over in the wood where the female Sparrowhawk has been visiting the pond there regularly to take a bath:

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A magnificent but scary bird.

 

 

 

Autumn Rain

Since the weather broke a week ago, we have had 69mm – nearly 7 centimetres – of rain and there is still more being forecast. We really needed this rain and the ponds are filling up nicely but it has meant that we haven’t got on with things as much as we might have liked.

The new Tawny Owl box has arrived:

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We have bought this box from the RSPB and it particularly appealed because it has the hatch for the birdringer to get in and ring any babies that might hopefully one day be nestled within, but who knows. However, we did decide to add some roofing felt to the top for added protection against the elements:

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The bird ringer has advised us where best to site the boxes and this one is going in the lovely copse of mature beech

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Here it is in position.

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It is facing into the wood which is contrary to all advice that I have otherwise read but it can always be moved again in a few years should this position not be successful. If the photo is taken from a bit further away, we can see three skinny Silver Birch in the centre here that we are now going to take out so that there is a clearer fly zone in the front of the box:

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We haven’t done much cutting down of trees yet and even these small Birch are going to represent a bit of a challenge for us. Our previous lumberjacking to date has only amounted to one Hazel coppice stool soon after buying the wood.  But that stool has now started to grow back beautifully:

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We intend to cut sections of the existing coppice on a rotational basis each year. In this way, there will be a mosaic of coppice at various stages of development always available for wildlife to utilise whatever stage it requires.

One species that would benefit from this type of woodland management is the Dormouse. In my quest to discover if there are Dormice in the wood, I have been looking at teeth marks on chewed nuts found on the woodland floor:

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Hummm. Well, Dormice leave smooth edges with no obvious tooth marks and I think that I can see some tooth marks on these nuts, but it is difficult for me as a novice to be sure.

Another thing that Dormice require of a habitat is wild Honeysuckle. I thought that our wood didn’t have much of that, but yesterday I discovered that in one particular area it is growing quite well:

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I think these tangles of plant climbing up though the trees is wild Honeysuckle, although it has lost its leaves by this stage of the year.  Honeysuckle is also the larval food plant of the exciting White Admiral Butterfly and we did see one of these near here back in the summer.

We also put a second Tawny Owl box up yesterday. We have moved this box across from the meadows where it had remained uninhabited for a few years:

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This is a very heavy woodcrete box with no ringing hatch – any temporary removal of young birds for ringing would have to happen through the roof. This box is sited overlooking a small clearing in the wood:

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Now that some rain has fallen, I am hoping that the wood will start sprouting fungus.

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I got the books out and tried but failed to identify this large toadstool above.  I even have doubts about the one below, which looks like it should have been so easy to pin down. I think it is Meadow Coral (Clavulinopsis corniculata):

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It is not just birds using the ponds in the woods. Rodents also use them a lot such as this Wood Mouse:

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and here is one of the beautiful young Badgers in the wood:

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At the meadows, following the sad loss of one of the young Badgers who was killed by a car last week, I have been trying to take stock of the remaining Badgers to ensure that there are indeed now still four of them. I can easily recognise the male, Scarface, but the females and young are more difficult to tell apart and ideally I would like to see them all together so that I know for sure. I think that none of these Badgers below is Scarface which would mean that we do still have four in total but it would have been better if they were all showing their faces nicely to the camera:

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Scarface’s neck continues to be covered in burrs:

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I suppose he lives a more solitary life than the others and doesn’t indulge in so much communal grooming and that might be the only thing to get these things out of his fur. It would be difficult for him to do this on his own.

The patch of brighter green grass to the right of the path below is Tor Grass (Brachypodium pinnatum)

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We have always had Tor Grass growing along the northern boundary of the meadows but now we have noticed with unease that it appears to be spreading. There are several large isolated patches like the one above and, moreover, it is spreading into the meadows from the boundary. The path in the photo below runs up the northern boundary and the greener, courser grass to the left of it is Tor Grass where there didn’t used to be any. The path itself and the small bank to the right of the path is also mostly Tor Grass.

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Tor Grass has wildlife credentials in its own right – it is the larval food plant of the Large and Essex Skipper Butterflies, for instance –  but it does love calcareous grassland and tends to start to take over, resulting in an overall decrease in biodiversity.

The Yellow Rattle plant is parasitic on meadow grasses and we have had great success with it this year in the area of the meadows where we had sowed it. We do not know if it would also be parasitic on Tor Grass but we are going to experiment to find out! We shall sow Yellow Rattle onto one of the isolated patches of Tor Grass, having first cut back the grass hard, to see if the Rattle weakens it next year.

I found a scientific paper on Tor Grass where they were trying out different cutting regimes to try to control it and it concluded that twice yearly cutting and taking away the cuttings did definitely disadvantage it.

However, although it is reassuring to know that it is controllable, we do not want to cut absolutely all of the Tor Grass here because we would knock out our population of Large and Essex Skippers. Also, at the moment, when the sun comes out, there are hundreds of thousands of Ivy Bees working hard along the hedgerows:

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Ivy Bee on flowering Ivy

These Bees build their tunnels in this bank along the northern boundary below, down into the soft soil amongst the Tor Grass. The bank faces south and is warm and dry.

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Ivy Bee diggings amongst the Tor Grass

So, it has been raining a lot. The appallin’ tarpaulin (as it has become affectionately known) has been down for several days now to increase the catchment area of the wild pond:

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But in-between the wet bits, there has been some sunshine. There have even been some Butterflies out basking..

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Small Copper
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Speckled Wood
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Comma

And signs of autumn all around:

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Spindle and Old Man’s Beard
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Bramble fruit and Alexander seeds
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The Robin’s Pincushion (Rose Bedeguar Gall) caused by the Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae. The Wasp lays up to 60 eggs on the Wild Rose and the resulting larvae release a chemical that causes the Rose to produce this abnormal growth which then protects the larvae over the winter. Adult Wasps will emerge from the gall in the spring.

The birds have been keeping a bit of a low profile in the bad weather, but there are always Magpies about:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera
I make this twelve Magpies

And the male Sparrowhawk has been around as well:

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It has been far too windy to put ringing nets up but we are aware that there has been a big movement of Chiffchaffs and Crests going through.

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A migrating Chiffchaff

Having longed for rain for so long, I am of course now already fed up with it and hoping for dry, calm October days.  Then we can get on with the annual cutting of the meadows and other autumn jobs.