Farmland Birds – Year 3

A strip of land in the second meadow has been rotavated for the past two years to create an agricultural field-type habitat to encourage farmland birds. We have now started Year  Three of this project:

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The strip of land about to be to be rotavated for the third year

In the first year, it was really difficult to break through the sward of grass and, in the end, we needed to bring in a digger. Last year it was done with a rotavator but was still really tough work. This year it was a little bit easier, although it is still not a job that we have actually done ourselves. Maybe next year.

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A landscape gardener rotavating the strip for us
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Job completed for another year.

The idea is that, by breaking up the thick grass mat, the seed bank within the soil can get a chance to germinate and become weedy plants bearing seed to feed farmland birds. It is also the sort of thing that Turtle Doves are looking out for as they pass overhead on their way back from Africa. Perhaps they will be sufficiently intrigued to fly down to take a closer look and then find the supplementary food that we will be putting down and decide to stay.

In meadows that are not ever ploughed, it is good wildlife management to get them grazed by cattle. The sheer heaviness of the animals causes their hooves to break up, or ‘poach’, the ground creating little soil pockets where weedy plants can establish. We do not want the responsibility of livestock – but we have noticed that all the millions of worm casts across the meadows this winter seem to be fulfilling the same function:

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Seeds germinating on the worm casts

Every evening, thousands of Gulls fly over the meadows in the hour before dark to get from their inland feeding grounds to roost on the sea overnight. It is an atmospheric daily spectacle that I love to stand and watch. We rarely see Gulls actually land in the meadows but this newly turned-over earth brought a couple in to look for worms:

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Not a bird held in high esteem by many, the Herring Gull is, however, really rather magnificent and is a red listed bird, the species being of highest conservation priority due to ongoing population declines. There do still seem to be quite a few of them along Deal seafront hanging around people eating chips, although deep fried potato cannot be a nutritious way to live their lives.

The annual Frog Spawning Fiesta is now nearly over for another year.

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We have an unprecedented volume of spawn maturing nicely in both ponds:

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The hide pond. We have only previously had a very small amount in this pond
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Absolutely masses in the wild pond this year
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Smooth Newt coming for air

Our Scarecrow, Mackenzie, has been a complete Amphibian Hero and the Heron has not visited the pond once since he went out to guard it. We will leave him in position a bit longer because there seem to be a lot of vulnerable Newts loafing around in open water at the moment and then we will retire him to a shed to maintain his shock value for when he is next deployed.

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Seen offshore in the photo above is the Galatea. This ship often moors up with us and it feels like an old friend coming to visit when we see it roll up towards dusk and drop anchor:

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Digiscoping!

It is a lighthouse tender operated by Trinity House who look after all of our country’s lighthouses and marine navigation aids. I suppose she is often in these waters because of the many warning beacons around the Goodwin Sands.

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Extract from a 1973 navigation chart that we have, showing the infamous Goodwin Sands
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Galatea at dawn

Since the meadows look east, we get some magnificent sun rises here. Here is the astounding sky at around 6.30am Friday morning:

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Turtle Doves and Grey Partridge are two red listed farmland birds that we hope will be visiting the strip this summer. However, there are another two red listed farmland species that are already here, Yellowhammer and Linnet:

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Yellowhammer and Linnet
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Three Yellowhammer in the cages and one on top. So hopefully two breeding pairs this year?

A group of around ten amber listed Stock Dove have been visiting the strip all winter as well, another declining farmland bird that we are pleased to welcome here:

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Here is a shot from the same camera last weekend when the light conditions made the sea appear almost yellow:

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One morning I found that I had pointed one of the cameras too high into the sky, missing the ground. However, this did lead to some interesting results:

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Female Sparrowhawk hunting along the hedgerow

Before we leave the strip for today, we did have a brief appearance of a group of Starlings. It is usually in March every year that large numbers of Starling gather in the meadows awaiting good conditions to get themselves across the sea back to their breeding grounds in mainland Europe. There are Starlings resident in the UK but their numbers are greatly swelled in the winter by EU birds coming in to join them. We don’t normally see Starlings in the meadows during the winter and so perhaps this little group are migrants starting to return across the Channel earlier than usual.

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We are still seeing nesting activity going on. Inevitably, it is our most disreputable nest box that is the most popular every year. Blue Tits started laying claim to this one from January onwards:

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My grandparents lived in beautiful Newton Ferrers in Devon when I was growing up and I have a clear memory of going to the cinema in Plymouth to watch the new Dr Dolittle film in 1967 and being fascinated by the Pushmi Pullyu.

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The Foxes are staging their own version here:

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Well, ok, maybe not.

This photo of a Fox from last night shows that all Fox cubs are not yet born:

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In the wood, several of the large bird boxes now have sticks protruding from them and we put a trail camera onto a pole to see if it could show us what is going on. The results are in for two of the boxes so far – both Tawny Owl boxes:

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Oh well, it is Squirrels that have made their homes in them.

In discussion with the bird ringer, we have decided to leave the Squirrels be for now. Although Tawny Owls generally don’t lay their first egg until the third week of March, they will definitely have chosen their nest site by now. So if there are Squirrels in these boxes, then these are not Tawny nest sites and removing the Squirrels at this point will not change that for this year. Also, Squirrels give birth from mid February to mid April and so there is a chance that there are young Squirrels – kits – in the boxes.

I wonder where this Tawny, busy worming below, is nesting then?  Probably in the larger, mature trees in the other parts of the wider wood:

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We had a son visiting this weekend who made the mistake of saying that he was happy to help us with coppicing in the wood:

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It had been weeks since we last did any coppicing because of the appalling weather but this weekend we were finally back out working. Frustratingly, we did forget to bring the chain for the chainsaw and so we were doing it by hand but, with three of us on it, we got a fair bit done.

There’s a big finish today with this enormous bird – a Buzzard – that came down to the pond to have a look to see what was going on. Shame it didn’t show us its face.

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