Thanet Wind Farm

The sun coming up over the meadows on 1st January 2020, heralding the start of a brand new decade:

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On a clear day, you can stand in the meadows, look to the right, and see the white cliffs of France. Look to the left and you can see Deal pier, the white cliffs at Ramsgate and the Thanet wind farm out to sea.

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Thanet wind farm from the meadows through the big lens

There are four wind farms in the mouth of the Thames:

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The rapid expansion of wind farms in the decade that has just ended has attracted much controversy. Research into the effect on wildlife is being done but it does seem as though it is playing catch up and I read of accusations of data being manipulated by those who stand to gain. All very depressing. I spent some time researching the subject on the internet but found it difficult to get to grips with. Birds striking the turbine blades is a big concern and, since the carcasses are then washed away by the sea, this is also difficult to quantify. However, there is now some evidence that birds do generally manage to fly around the farm rather than through it. Also, the prohibition of fishing in the area and the bases of the windmills forming reef-type habitats seems to be creating a rich marine environment within the wind farm.

It seems clear that the way forward for our planet is not to burn carbon to meet our energy needs and to stop doing this as soon as possible.  But the alternatives, such as harnessing the power of the wind, sun and tide, all come with their own set of problems and wildlife concerns and it is so important ensure that, in our rush to get these other technologies up and working,  we don’t overlook the welfare of species other than our own.

Boat trips to the wind farm leave from Ramsgate during the summer and we plan to go on one of these to get a closer look and maybe get some of our questions answered.

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Blackcaps used to be just a summer visitor to the UK, migrating back to southern Europe or northern Africa in the winter.  But in recent years it has been increasingly normal to find them here in the winter as well. Ringing re-catches seem to suggest that the Blackcaps that are here over the winter have come across from Germany and are managing to survive the UK winter with the support of our garden bird tables.

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Female Blackcap and her rings

The bird ringer is participating in a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Blackcap colour ringing survey this winter to see if more can be discovered about how and why Blackcaps are changing their migratory behaviours. The Blackcaps that he catches will  have extensive biometrics taken and colour rings put on. The idea of the colour rings is that the bird doesn’t need to be recaught in order to identify the bird – the colour rings can be seen from afar and a report of the bird’s whereabouts fed back to the BTO.

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A different combination of rings on a Male Blackcap

These two birds above were caught and ringed in his nearby garden. Yesterday he came to the meadows and played their call to try to catch some more here in the meadows but had no luck. This project will be ongoing throughout the winter.

Another ongoing ringing project here is to catch and ring birds using a lobster- pot type cage rather than a net. Here it is upside down on the strip:

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It is there to get the birds accustomed to it, whilst ensuring that no bird can accidentally become trapped in it when we aren’t watching. We are putting seed down close by every day so that they get used to looking for food there.

We have other cages on the strip that are protecting some of the seed from being quickly wolfed down by the larger birds so that it remains available for smaller birds. These small birds have well and truly overcome their initial hesitation to go in:

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House Sparrows eating seed in the cages

We know that four Kestrels successfully fledged from a nest in the nearby white cliffs last year and we have certainly been seeing a lot of Kestrel activity in the meadows ever since. But mortality is high in young Kestrels – only 20% will survive two years until breeding age and starvation is the biggest cause of death. Their survival is closely linked to the Vole population.

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Kestrel with prey by its nest site on the nearby white cliffs in July last year

Kestrel hunting over the meadows a couple of days ago:

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We had a Kestrel fall victim to a Sparrowhawk last year:

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We were away from the meadows for a while over New Year and we saw this adult female Sparrowhawk eating a Feral Pigeon on a shed roof in a Berkshire garden:

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I read that two thirds of Sparrowhawks also starve to death in their first year which I find very surprising since there always seem to be so many waddling Woodpigeons around that surely must be easy for a Sparrowhawk to catch.

Here is one taking a very long and leisurely bath this morning:

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There are plenty of Stock Doves around as well at the moment:

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The Badgers have gone into their normal winter torpor – they do appear on the cameras every night but they are not out and about for long.

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Scarface at the peanuts in the early hours of this morning

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Winter is a time of Fox dispersal and often these visitors seem to have mange. It is upsetting to see but they will have already moved on through before we even collect the camera in:

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Our resident Foxes all look healthy at the moment and are posing nicely on the rock pinnacle at night:

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and are still being caught chewing through the rope that we have strung across the pond to deter the Heron:

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The rope has been chewed and repaired so many times..

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but is still doing its job very well – very few visits from the Heron recently.

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Today’s last photo is of this very smart-looking Green Woodpecker. You can tell that he is a male because of the red in the moustachial stripe – this would be all black in a female. I love their blue eyes.

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