The War Begins in Earnest

Whilst we accept that a Heron needs to eat and we wouldn’t begrudge it a few frogs, this time last year we watched helplessly on as a Heron consumed hundreds of Frogs and Newts and more or less cleared the ponds of amphibians.

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It even hunted in the dark on moonlit nights. Our sense of justice and fair play was outraged.

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Recently, it started sporadically returning and so we strung some string in a network across the pond, hoping to limit the bird to just one sector.

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It seemed very put off by this and it wasn’t seen for a while. However, as we suspected, all we had done was to win an early battle in a long and bitter war. We are now approaching what must be a highlight in any Heron’s diary – Frog mating time, when large numbers of Frogs gather together in water to mate and spawn. The photo below is from 2018 before the Heron found the pond:

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I was working in the meadows one morning this week and I had to chase the Heron away four times. One of the times it left with a Frog dangling from its beak. I was most displeased.

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My next gambit now is to increase the density of the string network to further inhibit its movement through the water. However, I am not helped in this by the Foxes who have become unwitting allies of the Heron by chewing through the strings every night.

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The strings need retying pretty much on a daily basis.

The Heron is very sensitive to our appearance and will fly away as soon as it sees us, even if we are a really long way away. So, inspired by the wonderful adaptation of Worzel Gummidge over Christmas, we are wondering if another strategy might be to build a scarecrow – and what fun that would be. We could move it about a bit and change its clothes from time to time. We are taking this war to save our amphibians very seriously but there is nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves at the same time.

There seems to be a tradition of quiet rebellion here, with animals nesting where they choose rather than where we want them to. We have had Squirrel in the Little Owl box, House Sparrows in the House Martin box, Starlings nesting in the Woodpecker box. So why not Blue Tits in the Bat box?

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There were a pair of birds going in and out of the box on a sunny January morning this week. They won’t be nesting yet, just trying to get ahead of the game and get those towels down on the sun lounger.

At this time of the year, Foxes seen out and about during the day on the cameras are likely be non-resident dispersing Foxes. This one only had part of its tail:

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However, three of our resident Foxes have also picked up injuries. This one has got an injury on its cheek:

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This one has been hurt above its eye:

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And this one is carrying a hind leg:

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Its a tough life being a British Fox, on the whole. Although the only natural predators of the Fox are Golden Eagle and Badger, both of which would only take cubs, the life expectancy of a wild Fox is generally 1-3 years. In captivity they can live over 14 years, much like our domestic pet dogs.

I feel that now is a good time to include some more gratuitous pinnacle shots:

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I went to a talk in the week given by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. They are now in the final year of their three-year ‘Making a Buzz for the Coast’ project in Kent. They are working in an area from Dartford to Deal with farmers and other landowners to create flower meadows out of otherwise unused, neglected land and joining them up by doing the same to roadside verges.

There are 270 species of Bee in Britain. Of these, one is the Honey Bee, 24 are Bumblebees and the rest are Solitary Bees. Of the 24 species of Bumblebee, 22 are to be found in warm and glorious Kent, although some of these are now very rare.

The blonde bombshell poster girl of the project is the Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum). It has a noticeably higher pitched buzz than other Bumblebees, hence the ‘shrill’ bit to is name.

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Internet photo of the Shrill Carder bee

One of the UK’s most endangered Bumblebees, this is a late-flying Bee – the new queens aren’t hatched until September and so they need plenty of flowers still available then or the next-year’s queens won’t get produced. Also, they don’t fly very far and so a population can find itself cut off with insufficient food to sustain it.

As with many of the rarer Kent Bumblebees, it has a long tongue and so will be visiting flowers such as Red Clover, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Comfrey and Knapweed – all of these plants grow here in the meadows.  I have made a sparkly new 2020 resolution to make it a year where I pay much more attention to Bumblebees and try to identify those that I see. The second meadow in particular is a large flower meadow all summer long and we could have populations of these rare Kent Bumblebees that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust are working so hard to conserve.

The Tawny is worming in the wood every night at the moment, sometimes making several visits a night. It is clearly a worm hotspot.

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A ghostly image of the Tawny in flight, legs dangling.

Also from the wood, a female Bullfinch visits the pond in the Beech grove:

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A heart-warming photo of the wood Badgers. Bit Besotted By Badgers – that needs to go on my gravestone when the time comes.

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And the magnificent Pheasant who seems to live under the feeders these days:

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As I have been mentioning in every single post recently, we are finding the coppicing of the wood really hard work. One of us has developed Tennis Elbow (now renamed Coppicer’s Elbow) and the other of us is complaining about a sore thumb.

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But this is something that we are planning on doing every winter – are our bodies going to be able to take it? We sought advice from our Pilates teacher who has suggested a new sawing technique using the power of more of our bodies than just our arms. We have also decided to invest in a bit more equipment:

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Silky pruning saws. His and Hers – one has a slightly longer blade than the other

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A battery operated chain saw. We are also going to buy protective trousers that have a lining of wool which would wrap around and disable the blades before they get to the leg. Chain saws scare me and this piece of equipment will be treated with the utmost respect.

There is another month of coppicing before nesting season starts and we will see how much more we can get done with this new equipment and sawing technique!

Back at the meadows, we didn’t know what best to do with the turfs that were cut when planting the hedge and so we have laid them along the line of the hedge making a small bank. Somehow this felt right:

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There has been another daytime appearances of a Badger:

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And I liked this photo of a Dunnock being king of his castle amongst a sea of Stock Dove.

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There continue to be a lot of Stock Doves here this winter. There are ten of them in this photo:

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This is the weekend of The Big Garden Bird Watch run by the RSPB when half a million people will spend an hour watching the birds and counting what they see. We set up the mobile hide near the feeders yesterday to give the birds time to get used to it and then spent an hour in there this morning:

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Our results this year are probably quite representative of what is going on, but weren’t terribly exciting: 7 Magpie, 3 Woodpigeon, 2 Stock Dove, 1 Blackbird, 4 Blue Tit, 22 House Sparrow, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Dunnock, 1 Robin, 5 Crow, 1 Greenfinch, 2 Great Tit, 1 Herring Gull, 1 Coal Tit and 2 Long Tailed Tit. Fifteen species though – we were quite pleased with that. These results have now been submitted and will form part of one of the world’s largest citizen science projects.

I wrap this post up today with a couple of photos taken from the meadows over the last few days:

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The sharp edge of a weather front moving over the meadows on Monday
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The view north from the highest point of the meadows. Deal Pier with the Isle of Thanet behind.

 

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