Parsley of Alexandria

It has been a wet winter and Badgers haven’t been collecting new bedding anything like as often as we have seen in previous years. Presumably they can’t find anything dry enough. They did do some bedding runs this week, however. This trip below took back some grass from a pile that is now really composted and definitely will not be very pleasant as bedding.

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A couple of other loads were of leaves that have collected under the hedgerows which was a good idea of theirs. But there was also this load of reeds from the pond margins which, again, must be damp.

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The mother Badger has already moved her three cubs out of one burrow and my guess is that this was because it was getting disagreeable in there:

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We did a bit of cutting of the long grass around the trees in the orchard – it will be apple blossom time soon and we want it to look lovely (..and isn’t that a joyful thought to look forward to).

I would like the baby badgers to be lying on sweet-smelling, dry hay. To this end, we put the cut grass from the orchard in wheel barrows and dried it in the greenhouse for a couple of days

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Two wheelbarrows of cut long grass going into the greenhouse to dry

Then, last night, we put it out near the sett so that they can drag it underground.

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However, this story will have to be continued next time. Badgers are naturally and understandably wary of new things and they didn’t take any of this as bedding last night but I am certain that they will shortly. We have another batch of grass drying in the greenhouse as well.

The Foxes and Badgers, both animals of the night, live in close proximity here and if you ever wondered about the interaction between Foxes and Badgers and which one rules supreme, this photo should give you the answer:

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Foxes always give way to Badgers. The pregnant one-eyed Fox has been filmed up at the strip and she still hasn’t had her cubs:

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Alexanders are growing vigorously all around the margins of the meadows at this time of year. The Romans introduced this plant – it was originally called Parsley of Alexandria – and every part of the plant is edible, either raw or cooked, tasting like celery but also like parsley. We have used the raw leaves as a salad garnish in the past but maybe we should be more adventurous in these times of uncertain food supply.

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Alexanders growing strongly along the hedgerows

There was a recipe in the paper for making dandelion and nettle leaf crisps and I thought I would try that using Alexander leaves:

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Alexander leaves
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Washed, dried, tossed in olive oil and salt and put in the oven at a low heat (130 fan oven) for 15 mins until crisp
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Alexander Crisps

They were nicely crisp but we found them rather underwhelming, although adding some sunflower and pumpkin seeds for the last 5 minutes might give it more interest. However, it was all hardly worth the effort – I will need to experiment with cooking the stem and root if I am serious about properly using it as an alternative food source.

The flowers of the Alexanders are attractive to a wide variety of different flies. This Fly below was very patient and stayed put long enough for me to get photographs good enough to identify it:

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I know from previous experience that sometimes a correct ID can hinge on the smallest of details and so it is important to get clear photos from all angles. In the case of this fly, it turned out that the important fact was that its leg tarsi and tibiae are not all dark.

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Internet photo of the leg of a Fly

Therefore, I am able to say with a certain degree of confidence that this is the Tapered Drone Fly (Eristalis pertinax) rather than the very similar Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax, which has all-dark legs). Now that I have identified and recognise this Fly, I notice there are absolutely loads of them basking along the hedgerows at the moment.

The larval stage of both of these Fly species have the wonderful name of rat-tailed maggots:

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Internet photo of a rat-tailed maggot

The rat-tail bit acts as a snorkel so that it can breath air whilst underwater, allowing them to live in stagnant ditches and really polluted waters with low Oxygen content. These larvae became briefly infamous in 2017 when they were found living in the composting toilets (the ‘Long Drops’) at Glastonbury festival.

Bee-flies have arrived in the meadows, really marking the beginning of spring for us:

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Dark-edged Bee-fly – the most common type
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Another Dark-edged one. The name refers to the dark leading edge of the wing.
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The more unusual Dotted Bee-fly with spots on its wings

Mining Bees are around in the spring when the soil is still damp enough for them to dig their tunnels down into it. These Bee-flies look sweet and furry but are parasitic on the Mining Bees and really do not have a cuddly lifestyle. They flick their eggs into the Mining Bee tunnels with great precision and their larvae then live off the Bee larvae and their pollen store.

One of the Mining Bees that the Bee-fly will be parasitising is the Tawny Mining Bee with its fantastic fox-red and bright ginger colouring. Honestly, what a stunning Bee:

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Another category of Bee are the Mason Bees that build walls of mud to make individual cells for each of their eggs. Our annual delivery of Red Mason Bee cocoons and nesting tubes has just arrived in the post:

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Red Mason Bee cocoons and their nesting tubes

We have also been keeping Red Mason Bee cocoons in our own fridge over the winter and these have come out now too:

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More space in the fridge now that these are going out into the meadows

All the cocoons have gone into the meadows in release boxes to hatch out when they are good and ready.

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Two Bee release boxes

I was delighted to find a caterpillar the other day and be able to wield my new caterpillar field guide for the first time and identify it. A definite early victory:

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I discovered that it was the caterpillar of the Angle Shades Moth – a very distinctive Moth that I frequently get in the Moth trap:

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Side view of the Angle Shades caterpillar. This caterpillar was 33mm long – really quite large.
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Angle Shades caterpillar – top view
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Angle Shades moth (internet photo)

A Brambling turned up on the strip this week, the first one that I have seen this year. These birds are winter visitors from Scandinavia  but we haven’t had many across this year because it has been mild and they have largely stayed there. This one will no doubt be returning back across the North Sea to breed there shortly.

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The bird ringer has now ringed four Yellowhammers on the strip. However, I am still seeing non-ringed birds on the cameras so there are some more available for him:

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This bird does not have a ring on its right leg
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Nor does this Yellowhammer (although it could always be the same bird)

I am including the photo below because the expression on the Wood Pigeon’s face exactly sums up how I feel about Magpies:

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They have been collecting mud for their nesting activities from around the painters tray bath up on the strip:

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This shallow bath pond needs filling up every day even though the weather is not hot at this time of year. The trouble is that, as well as there being lots of small bird visitors, daintily drinking and bathing..

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Brambling and Chaffinch
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Yellowhammer and Chaffinch

..a lot of big bruisers use it as well:

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Crows

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Magpies

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Herring Gulls, adult and juvenile

Magpies are not the only birds we have seen gathering nesting materials. A camera looking at the wet mud at the side of the pond has caught several different species. Here is a Song Thrush with muddy reeds in its beak

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Increasing numbers of lovely Slow Worms are warming up under the sampling squares:

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This Lizard got rolled over by accident as I looked under the square. I had forgotten what colourful undersides they have:

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Another marker of spring in the meadows is when the Cowslips come into flower and here is the first one now out:

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In these unsettling times, there has to be a chance that a population lock-down becomes necessary as it has in other countries and we won’t be able to get to the wood like we have been. Thoughts like that make every visit we do now make very precious.

It is Primrose season in the more open areas of the wood:

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Easter Bunnies posing nicely:

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A magnificent animal, the male Pheasant, although there are rather a lot of them around:

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The female Pheasants are still doing a lot of this, whatever ‘this’ is:

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Finally, since we have available logs, why not build a third Beetle stack back at the meadows? Here is another car full of logs coming back, giving another project for us to be getting on with whilst we keep our heads down over the coming days.

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