Back When Life Was Normal

Back when life was normal, I only spent half the week in Kent with the meadows, wood and my husband. The other half I spent in Berkshire where I have responsibilities to look after my father. But, using the trail cameras as additional eyes, I felt I was capturing enough of what was going on for it not to be too frustrating. However, these current circumstances mean that I am full time in Kent for now until restrictions are relaxed. It’s a truly horrible time but it’s also important to try to keep focused on the positives and, for me, one of these is that I will have more time to quietly observe spring as it unfolds.

Nature doesn’t know that we humans are going through this crisis and she is carrying on as normal without us. She might even do better than before without us. The spring migration is starting up, butterflies are emerging from hibernation and young are being born – it’s very uplifting if only you are able to keep other dark thoughts at bay.

We have spent the day in lock down and what we surely need now is a few minutes of nature escapism:

The one-eyed Fox has had her cubs:

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She has returned to normal shape
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Her under-carriage showing signs of feeding cubs

She is always a regular attendee at the nightly peanuts and the fat and protein of this food will hopefully be helping her feed her babies.

Newly born Fox cubs can’t thermoregulate and so the female spends most of her time in the den nursing them to begin with, but then progressively lies up above ground nearby, only returning to feed the cubs. The male brings food back for her and then also for the cubs once they start eating solid food at about four weeks old.

I was was worrying that she won’t be good at judging distances with only one eye and might have difficulty catching prey for her young once they are weaned – so I was very pleased to read that she is hopefully not alone and a male should also be helping. Sometimes Fox families band together as well, running both families as a creche, each adult bringing food for all.

Here is the mother Badger. Her undercarriage also showing us that she is feeding cubs:

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In the last post, we had put a pile of dried, long grass out for the Badgers to use as fresh bedding:

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They ignored it the first night – they are sensibly wary of new things –  but the second night they took it all underground as soon as they were up and about:

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Followed by a bit of celebratory mutual grooming:

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In the morning it was all gone:

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The next night, we put another, larger pile out that we had also dried in the greenhouse:

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This all went off to their sett as soon as it got dark:

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Scarface helping too. But he will be in a different burrow to the cubs so perhaps he is taking this back to his house instead.

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By now, those sweet little cubs will be lying on lovely clean sheets and that thought makes me happy.

Two extra trail cameras had been put on duty looking at the hay pile but they have also been getting some great daytime Fox shots:

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It hasn’t rained here for ages now, it seems, and the wild pond is drying up fast. Because the frogspawn was laid in such shallow water, the tadpoles are getting stranded into isolated pools, no longer able to reach the main body of the pond

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A small creek where once there was a lagoon

We have been carrying out rescue missions, creating canals and trying to flush them down it or simply scooping them up in buckets and transferring them into deeper water:

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The new hedgerow must also need watering again by now. We bought a new type of hose that you leave in position and water slowly oozes out:

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This seemed like a good idea – however, the hedgerow is a long way away from the tap and the hosepipe between the two is very long with several weak joints that keep exploding open. The hedgerow is 85m long. This oozing hose is only 30m long, but the water pressure we can achieve means that water comes out of only the first 15m of it. The long and the short of it is that the whole thing was very aggravating and the hedgerow has still mostly not been watered. If we are going to keep it alive through this coming summer, we are going to have to get our act together a bit better than this.

But the lovely sunshine is not just causing us tadpole and hedgerow problems, it is also bringing the meadows to life. Its fantastic to be seeing Butterflies again – mostly Peacocks at the moment, and what lovely things they are:

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The Reptile Ecologist had been in contact about coming to the meadows to start monitoring the wellbeing of the Slow Worms who came to live here last year after he  moved them from land that is to be developed. However, after the news that the country was going into lock down, his visit has been postponed for now. We do have some roofing felt, though, and so we have put four squares out by the log piles that he built for them and will start the monitoring ourselves and report our observations back to him.

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With the additional quiet observation time available to us at the moment, we have identified two nests so far. A Magpie nest high in a Pine tree has a Magpie sitting on eggs and this morning a Robin was out collecting moss and repeatedly flying back to the same place in dense Ivy:

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Inevitably, this is very close to the Magpie nest but there is nothing to be done. A future drama in the making, perhaps.

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Fitting in a gratuitous Magpie photo here

There is much Newt interest going on in the ponds. The male Smooth Newts are looking fabulous at the moment, with their Leopard spots and flashes of red on their tails:

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The females with distended abdomens are full of eggs and are being escorted about the place by the males:

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I have ordered a polarising filter for my camera – due tomorrow apparently – and so I am hoping for a future improvement in the quality of my Newt photography.

Yesterday we saw this cruise ship – the Oceana – approaching Dover port:

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It used to be completely normal to see cruise ships arriving at and leaving Dover. A couple of years ago we stood in the meadows looking through binoculars and waving at a cruise ship we knew my aunt and uncle were on, setting off from Dover on their way up to the Norwegian Fjords.  Sadly they didn’t see us – too busy being served champagne in their cabin by their butler, I think!

However, the Oceana now looked like some sort of anachronistic dinosaur seeking somewhere to rest its bones and I do hope there weren’t any passengers on board.

On Monday we went to the wood. The visit seemed overshadowed by the ominously gathering clouds of an impending lock-down and I was mentally preparing myself for it being our last trip to the wood for quite a while.

Even though I had put a plaster over half the LEDs on this trail camera, it seems that I still haven’t managed to ramp them down enough and the Tawny Owl is hopelessly over exposed.

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Not here, though. It is concentrating so hard as it hunts for worms on the woodland floor:

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Jay on the perch
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Symmetrical Wood Pigeon

The project to discover if there are Hazel Dormice living in the wood will now have to be put on hold until life is back to some semblance of normality. However, now that Wild Honeysuckle has started to sprout, we see that there is actually loads of it already growing in the wood. Honeysuckle is vital to the Hazel Dormouse and so this is really good news.

Our wood is on the right of this track below and most of the trees along this stretch are supporting lots of Honeysuckle growth:

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Honeysuckle growing in profusion up the tree
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A great tangle of Honeysuckle

When we looked in the autumn, we had thought that we didn’t have much in the wood and so I have been growing some more on in the greenhouse over the winter. On Monday, we planted all these new plants out:

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Ten Wild Honeysuckle plants
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The new plants in front of an immense untidy Honeysuckle web already growing in the wood
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One of the new plants, sited near a tree that isn’t currently supporting honeysuckle

We had a leisurely stroll around the wood:

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Lizard in the regeneration area
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A lovely big patch of the Town Hall Clock (Moschatel)
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Picked up two bags of the plastic tree guards that are lying around all over the woodland floor of the new wood. Many more bags worth to go. We are using these black bin bags again and again – don’t worry

The most exciting discovery was a newly excavated Great Spotted Woodpecker hole. The Woodpeckers never use the same hole twice but often use the same tree – this is the same tree as last year and is now the 5th hole in the tree!

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I would like to try to photograph the young Woodpeckers looking out of this hole when the time comes. I really hope we get to return to the wood before these youngsters hatch and fledge…

 

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