Kestrels on the Cliffs

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The cliffs stretching off towards Dover

It is dizzying to stand at the base of these towering cliffs and look up. They are but a short distance away from us here in the meadows, yet present a wildly different set of challenges for anything to successfully survive. Consequently, the plants and animals are refreshingly different to the ones in the meadows that we have been spending so much time with during the lock down.

The section of cliff closest to us is a local birding hotspot although it was previously a military firing range.

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A disused Royal Marines firing range. Cracks and crevices in the soft rock allow plants to get a foothold and birds to nest
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The famous Moonraker Cliffs

Last year we located a Kestrel nest high up on these cliffs and we wanted to see if they were using it again this year and so visited this week. There were certainly a lot of Kestrels about – we saw four at the same time but actually there could well have been more. They like to perch on the beds of flints that stick out from the chalk.

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We were delighted that, as we had hoped, there was a bird sitting in the same nest hole. Four young successfully fledged from this nest last year and surely the Kestrels that we see in the meadows have all come from here.

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Several pairs of Fulmars also nest on the cliffs. Fulmars are related to Albatrosses and, like them, they have a tube running along their bill through which they excrete the excess salt that they have ingested while fishing in the sea.

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Internet photo of a Fulmar beak close up. The birds have a salt gland to remove salt from their bodies and the resulting, strongly saline liquid drains out through the tube so that it doesn’t blow into their eyes when they are flying.

They come here for a short time to breed and then head back out to sea again until next year

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A band of Jackdaws were collecting rocks and soft chalky paste and flying off into holes in the cliff. Presumably, then, they are making nests with this although that doesn’t sound very comfortable.

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A Jackdaw with a stone flew into this hole, going in over the Fulmar’s head. Perhaps they are sharing this space, the Jackdaws nesting deeper in?

We hope to go to these cliffs for our daily exercise a few times in the coming weeks to see how the Kestrel nest is getting on.

Back in the meadows, I have had to readjust my thinking about the the baby Badgers. The cubs were finally allowed above ground on 23rd April. For the first few nights they only come up for a short while and their mother is in constant attendance, watching their every move and guarding them from all danger.

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This was completely what we were expecting and in accordance with what we have observed in previous years. Our Badger mother takes tremendous care of her young.

So how does this fit with the lone cub that we saw on four different nights before the cubs officially came up? Now that the cubs are being allowed up escorted closely by their mother,  is one of them still also wandering around on its own for long periods?

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It is even going out into the meadows on its own:

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It all seemed a bit odd.  But then there was this photo:

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It is a bit dark but the mother Badger above is looking after four cubs – there are four of them! She also took all four for a walk along the cliff. Badger cubs are really playful and four exuberant cubs are a lot to look after.

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I think that this Badger mother did only have three cubs – we saw three being moved between setts twice as they were growing and, now that they have come above ground, she is most often with a tightly controlled band of three young. There surely must be a second mother – most probably her daughter from 2018 who still lives within the family group – who has also had one cub. Therefore, one of these babies above would actually be her grandchild rather than her child.

I was wondering if we might expect Scarface, the male of the family group, to be both the father and the grandfather of this lone cub? But I do read that, to avoid excessive inbreeding, mating does take place between adjoining groups of Badgers. That could be what has happened here – there are certainly other nearby communities of Badgers along the cliffs.

Some other Badger photos from this week:

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An Early Spider Orchid has appeared in the meadows:

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One of the County Botanical Recorders who lives nearby has come by to log it because this is a rare and exciting plant. Amazingly,  the Orchid is trying to get the male Buffish Mining Bee to mate with its flower in order to get itself pollinated. It does this by smell rather than sight because that flower really does not look much like a female Buffish Mining Bee to my eye. Of course, our plant here is in solitary splendour all on its own and it would have to self pollinate if it is going to form any seed – the Recorder tells us that this can happen and we should check it to see if the seed heads start to swell.

I am yet to identify a Buffish Mining Bee – the Bee that the Orchid is trying to lure –  in the meadows although, looking at their distribution map, I feel sure that they will be here. So we put these Bees at the top of our ‘Most Wanted’ list and confidently strode out into the meadows to try to spot and photograph one. Of course we didn’t find one, but we did see lots of other interesting stuff whilst we were looking:

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A Small Blue Butterfly. This is really early – they are usually seen from mid May
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Small Blue
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Wall Butterfly
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Green Hairstreak Butterfly. This one has a nice white hairstreak mark showing.
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Speckled Wood Butterfly
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Brown Tip Moth Caterpillars
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Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
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Green Longhorn Moth. Those antennae are ridiculous
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Empis tessellata. A predatory Dance Fly
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Empis tessellata
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Marsham’s Nomad Bee. A kleptoparasitic bee, laying its eggs into the tunnels of the Chocolate Mining Bee (haven’t seen that Bee in the meadows yet either) and Trimmers Mining Bee (yes, seen that one).
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Marsham’s Nomad Bee
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Eristalis pertinax – the Tapered Drone Fly
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The beautiful Common Carder Bumble Bee. This has reminded me that I am meant to be looking out for rare Carder Bees that have a stronghold in Kent – the Moss Carder Bee, the Brown Banded Carder Bee and, most of all, the Shrill Carder Bee. Need to swot up on them so that I know what I’m looking for.
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Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonflies hatching out of the hide pond
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Broad Bodied Chaser ready to go chasing

There are a lot of Craneflies dancing about the meadows at the moment.

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327 species of Cranefly in the UK. This is Tipula vernalis.

If you zoom this photo in to look at its eyes, you see that they are a rather surprising metallic green:

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Here is a pair mating:

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Interesting to see the difference between male (left) and female (right)

This female has been ambushed by a Spider. I am sure that there will be lots of things cashing in on this Cranefly bonanza.

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There are many beautiful plants flowering their hearts out in the meadows right now and here are a few of them:

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Cowslips
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Hawthorn. I hadn’t noticed before that that anthers are pink when the flowers first open. Absolutely gorgeous.
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Hawthorn flower in close up. These pink anthers wither and turn black as the flower ages.
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Apple Blossom (and a Red Mason Bee)

But I’m moving on to Foxes for this last photo for today. This is of our friend, the One-eyed Vixen, and we can clearly see the problem with her left eye. Nice shiny nose though:

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The Troublesome Toddler

As we observe and record events as the years cycle by, there have come to be several annual happenings that we eagerly await. Probably the most keenly anticipated of all is the night that the Badger cubs are first allowed above ground and this hasn’t happened yet although I am expecting it any day.

But one of the cubs this year is a rule-breaker and has now escaped three times from the burrow before the official launch date.  Each time we have seen it, there is then an interval of a few nights before it again forgets that it is meant to stay locked down at home and reappears above ground once more. Here it is on its second unauthorised trip out, still very wobbly on its legs:

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Each time it is discovered out, it gets frogmarched back to the burrow:

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Its third and most recent escape was on Saturday night:

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The arrival of the Green Hairstreak Butterflies is another day that we look forward to and we first saw them here on 16th April this year:

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These are very small Butterflies that look dark when they fly because they have brown upper wings. They spend a lot of time engaged in pitch battles with their rivals but their true glory is revealed when they rest down and show the fluorescent green of their underwings. Their larval food plant on chalk downland is Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Common Rock-Rose.

We first saw Holly Blues on the very same day as the Hairstreaks this year:

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The first Dragonfly sighting is another red-letter day and that was yesterday, when we saw a beautifully shiny Broad-Bodied Chaser:

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In dry spells, Green Woodpeckers start to come and bathe in the ponds and we will never tire of their extraordinary washing technique.

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A male arrives
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All reasonably normal so far
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But now look what’s happened
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They often rub themselves in the sand as a final flourish but the camera didn’t capture that on this occasion

The cameras trained at the ponds take footage of a lot of different birds washing. They fluff their feathers up, sprinkle some water around and emerge looking pretty much the same as when they went in. No other bird species does such a spectacularly thorough job as the Green Woodpecker. Or is it that their feathers aren’t as waterproof as other birds?

We are locked down for another three weeks at least and I am trying to turn this into a positive opportunity to get to know the insects that live here a bit better. However, sometimes identification is a struggle. Take, for instance, this small little thing below:

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Given its shiny black-and-yellow abdomen, I was looking in the Wasp section of my insect books. However, it turns out that this is a Gooden’s Nomad Bee (Nomada Goodeniana). There are 34 species of Nomad Bee in the UK and they are cleptoparasites on Andrena Mining Bees. A cleptoparasitic species is one that lives off the food supplies that another species has collected to feed its own young. The two yellow spots on the thorax tell me that the Bee above is a female. She will enter the host’s nesting burrow, lay an egg in the wall of an unsealed nest cell and the resulting grub will then destroy the host egg or grub and proceed to live off the food store. The three host species that this particular Nomad Bee uses are the Buffish Mining Bee, the Grey-patched Mining Bee and the Cliff Mining Bee.

I find this all completely fascinating, particularly the interaction between different species, and I was delighted to discover that one of the other Bee species that I have managed to positively identify this week turns out to be the Cliff Mining Bee (Andrena thoracica), one of the hosts of the Gooden’s Nomad Bee:

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The Bee was in constant motion, rummaging around in the grass and this is my excuse for the photo being out of focus. It’s a very striking-looking Bee.

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This Bee is strongly associated with coastal habitats and the flowery habitats nearby and Blackthorn is one of their favourite nectar sources and so it makes perfect sense that we should find it here.

A third Bee that I have successfully identified is this Trimmer’s Mining Bee:

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Trimmer’s Mining Bee, another small Bee common in southern, coastal, flowery areas.

The bird ringer has been doing some more solitary ringing in the meadows. As well as catching and ringing another 23 Linnets, he caught this young male Yellowhammer:

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He also caught a Lesser Whitethroat. This bird has just arrived back from East Africa via the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Italy.

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This bird apparently had a very tatty tail. It was born last year somewhere in the UK and has then flown down to East Africa and back with the same feathers that it grew when it was a youngster in the nest. It will now rear a family of its own this summer before it finally moults and gets some fresh feathers to take it back to Africa again at the end of the summer.

But this was the last ringing session for the foreseeable future because the BTO has today disallowed any further ringing outside the confines of one’s own garden, even if the ringing site is within an easy stroll and is done in complete solitude as was the case here.

At least two of our resident Foxes are showing signs of mange and we have embarked on a six week programme of putting out medicated jam sandwiches for them each evening.

One of the Foxes affected is this one-eyed vixen:

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I am putting the sandwiches out in two different places to try to spread them amongst more Foxes – some sandwiches go down by the wild pond and some go onto the stone pinnacle up in the ant paddock. The one-eyed vixen waits for me by the wild pond at dusk. She hoovers up all the sandwiches there and high-tails it up to the ant paddock to get those too:

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By the time the other Fox with mange arrives at the pinnacle, the sandwiches have often gone. Although he did manage to beat her to them last night:

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We have decided to tweak things so that we put sandwiches at the wild pond at dusk but the ones onto the pinnacle go out two hours later at our bedtime. Hopefully this may thwart the one-eyed vixen and her love of sandwiches.

Before I leave Foxes, here are another couple of lovely Fox photos:

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Blackbirds must be feeding young because they are turning up on various cameras with beaks full of worms:

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Last year we had two Starling breeding in the meadows. This year we seem to have a little band of them which is really pleasing.

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What a fantastic palette of colours on this Greenfinch:

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Following the recent clarification that it is not illegal to drive a short distance for your daily exercise, this weekend we visited the wood for the first time in 4 weeks. It was such a relief to refill the empty feeders and ponds. Most of the trail cameras had stopped working and so I actually have very few photos to show for our month’s absence from the wood. We have a camera on a newly-dug but unused sett. However, occasionally Badgers apparently do visit it:

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There were many photos of a Buzzard poking around in more or less this exact spot on several different days. I wonder what is so special about it?

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Redwing were using the ponds a lot before they dried up. These birds should now have returned to their breeding grounds:

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An unusual view of a Jay:

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The vegetation has taken a big step into spring since we were last there:

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Patches of Bluebells
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The Yellow Archangels are coming up
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Happily, the area of Twayblades has reappeared this year

We had so missed the wood and it was fantastic to be back. But it was also great to discover that it had actually been getting along perfectly all right without us because we are uncertain when we might be able to next return.

 

 

 

Another Round of Jam Sandwiches

Most of the Foxes that live around here are looking in tiptop condition:

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But two of our resident Foxes do now have mild mange and we need to take action because this is something that we should be able to help with. One of the animals affected is the one-eyed vixen. She has just had cubs and she needs to be well to care for her family and so that they don’t all get mange. Here she is awaiting the nightly peanuts. She’s a bit early:

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The second Fox is a male who also has a ropey tail:

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Mange is a horrible thing. Caused by parasitic mites, it can quickly spread through a community of Foxes and the animals eventually die, usually by secondary infections getting into sores on their skin.

I have twice previously treated our Foxes successfully for mange by sprinkling drops of Arsen Sulphur onto jam sandwiches and putting these out with the peanuts at dusk. This then needs to be done every day for six weeks. I’m not sure that we will be going anywhere for the next six weeks and so it is perfect timing in that respect.

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Luckily I already have a bottle of in-date Arsen Sulphur

I emailed the charity The Fox Project to check that it is alright to give Arsen Sulphur to lactating Foxes and they have said that it was fine and that it should indeed clear this mild mange up. They suggested that drops of Arnica 30c could also help and I have now ordered some of that and will drop it onto the sandwiches as well once it arrives.

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Two rounds of medicated jam sandwiches ready to go out

The one-eyed vixen is a jam sandwich-dispenser’s dream. She is always first on the scene after I have scattered them down. She wolfs most of them before anyone else arrives and so I am definitely getting the medicine into her. The male with mange is more tricky because he generally doesn’t turn up until all the sandwiches have gone. I’ll have to put my thinking cap on for him – maybe we need to put a second batch out later in the evening as well.

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The one-eyed vixen eating all the sandwiches

Two days after being moved to their new burrow, one of the Badger cubs staged a Great Escape….

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…and got ignominiously returned to the sett:

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Presumably this cub was then well and truly told off because there have been no further reappearances in the nights that have followed.

The Badgers have been collecting a lot of fresh bedding recently. We put some long dry grass out for them that we had generated whilst working in the meadows:

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It had all gone by the morning:

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And it was enjoyable watching the videos of them taking it away:

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Before this spell of lovely weather, we had many days of strong, bitterly cold north-easterly winds. The meadows are very exposed to winds off the sea and we now realise that the entire 300m of hedgerow along the more elevated western edge has been damaged by these winds and is now brown and withered. There is a lot of Hawthorn in this section of the hedgerow and this had just got its fresh, tender young leaves.

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This hedgerow is brown instead of green for as far as the eye can see

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Where there was some shelter from the winds, such as along this path, the hedgerow remains joyously green and the Hawthorn is about to come out into flower.

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I am sure that this hedgerow is going bounce back and will green up again over the next few weeks, especially once the Blackthorn element gets into leaf. However, it has to be likely that all the Hawthorn will not now flower this year and consequently there will be no berries for the wildlife along this whole stretch in the autumn and this is very bad news.

The orchard is in blossom. I can’t decide if I prefer Pear blossom with its lovely dark anthers against the white petals:

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or Apple blossom with its exquisite shades of pink:

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We realise that we need to pay more attention to the pruning of this odd-looking Pear tree below. There are two varieties grafted onto one trunk, Doyenne du Commice on the left and Conference on the right, but they are growing to different heights and shapes and remedial action needs to be taken this coming winter:

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Last autumn, I planted several different types of Tulip to be used as cut flowers this spring.

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Having home grown flowers in the house always gives me an immense amount of pleasure:

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The RSPB and Operation Turtle Dove have sent us 60kg of Turtle Dove seed mix that we will be putting up onto the strip for 8 weeks from the beginning of May, following their guidelines on how best to do this.  Hopefully 2020 will be the year when Turtle Doves drop by, see the scattered seed and all the lovely nesting opportunities that we have for them here, and decide to stay and breed.

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This seed is for Turtle Doves and so we won’t put it in the feeding cages, where it would be inaccessible to larger birds like Doves. However, the cages have proved such a success in retaining available food for smaller farmland birds, that we still plan to put some of our own seed into the cages. We regularly move these cages so that there is not a build up of uneaten food that may then harbour disease.

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Yellowhammer and Stock Dove
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Yellowhammer and Linnets

This is a very unflattering trail camera photo of the dog:

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She looks like some kind of Yeti but perhaps we are all going to look like that when we emerge, blinking and tentative, out of lock-down.

The bird ringer has recently bought a moth trap and needless to say he is already much more competent than me. But I’m not about to embark on competitive mothing, although the concept does make me giggle. He caught a very rare moth over the weekend in his nearby garden – a Barred Tooth-Striped Moth. This Moth used to be recorded widely over the UK but has now dramatically declined with only 63 records nationally since 2000. The larval food plant is Wild Privet.

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A Red Kite is still a show-stopping sight here and one flew over on Easter Sunday:

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A Tawny Owl is still regularly visiting the ant paddock on calm nights:

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We saw this male Sparrowhawk in one of our Pine trees at dusk:

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A Linnet in a treetop:

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Female Green Woodpecker:

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And a male Starling (blue at the base of the beak) having a drink:

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The meadows look east over the sea to where the Sun and the Moon rise up above the horizon. For the first few wonderful minutes they are often blood red and my last photo for today is the Moon coming up one evening last week in all its magnificent splendour:

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Moving House

In early February this year, three baby Badgers were born. We know that there were three because we were treated to an unexpected, early glimpse of them on 15th February when the tiny cubs were moved out to a different sett:

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Since then, we had seen no more, until just before midnight on Monday night when two of the cubs were carried back to their original sett. The first came across on the lower path:

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And the second came in on the higher path a few minutes later.

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There was then a heart-stopping three and a half hour gap before the third cub was carried in. It is a bit difficult to spot but its head is just visible in the mothers mouth in the photo below:

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When I got round to looking at the footage from another camera that takes videos along the cliff, I found that it had taken a video of this third cub coming across at 3.30am:

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Baby Badgers are ludicrously sweet and it is lovely to see that we still have three of them. My guess is that the cubs have been moved back to their original sett because this is the one that has a wide terrace in front of the burrow entrance. This will be important when the cubs are officially allowed out because the cliff is extremely steep and lethal for a wobbly little cub. Fortuitously for us, this is also the only sett that we have a camera on.

These cubs are the fourth set of young that we have watched this same female Badger raise. She is the most fantastic mother that they could possibly have wished for, fiercely protective and firm but fair. Feeding three cubs like this is no small undertaking as her undercarriage shows:

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We had a new entrant onto the Meadows Bird List this week. Species 76 made a fleeting fly by – a solitary Greylag Goose flew across the first meadow as we stood there. I did get a photo but the quality is so appalling that I don’t have the audacity to include it here. Luckily one of us had binoculars on it and so we were able to make a firm identification without relying on my photograph.

However, we did fail to get the White-tailed Sea Eagle onto the list as Species 77.  There had been one seen above the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory last Wednesday and I was hoping that we would spot it here. The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation is the charity involved in the reintroduction of the Eagles onto the Isle of Wight last year and I have downloaded a map from their website.  The coloured lines are the trips that each of the four re-introduced young satellite-tagged Eagles have taken since late March:

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It was G274 that came on a 524km trip round Kent last week and it was clear from his route marked in yellow that he did indeed come over the meadows, although sadly we missed him.

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The bird ringer made another solitary visit and has ringed another 9 Linnets. That is 30 Linnets in a week.

He also ringed this male Blackbird with beautiful yellow eye rings and beak:

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And he caught a Blue Tit that he had caught before in May 2017. It was already an adult back then and so that means that it is at least four years old. I looked up life expectancy for Blue Tits and see that it is 2.7 years on average. However, the maximum age recorded is 21 years which is an amazingly old Blue Tit.

There are some Starlings around that are clearly nesting nearby. This one below is ringed:

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The bird ringer has not ever ringed a Starling in the meadows but he has ringed a couple in his own nearby garden. There is also a bird ringer in Deal who has apparently ringed hundreds of Starlings and so this could well be one of hers.

We have been seeing this male Kestrel hunting in the meadows a lot recently. In fact, I think I can say that we see him every day, although I have been having trouble photographing him. Therefore, it was very handy that he came and plonked himself in front of one of the trail cameras to put me out of my photographic misery:

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I have got a bit blasé about Yellowhammers these days. There are a lot of them up on the strip and they no longer cause the sensation they did when they first turned up. But what fantastic birds they are:

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When we put the additional perch up in the Ant paddock, we were envisaging a Tawny Owl perching on it while it surveyed the ground for rodents. We most certainly did not have this scenario in mind:

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Here is an unusual view of a Magpie:

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I see that the Pheasant hunting season in the UK runs from 1st October to 1st February each year. It is very unusual to see a Pheasant in the meadows and so nice to see this one strolling past and to know that it has survived the hunting season and can now get on with enjoying its summer:

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Before I leave birds, I just wanted to also include this photo of a fluffy Stock Dove, drying off after a bath:

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Some of the Hawthorn in exposed places along the high hedgerow has been damaged, either by the late frosts we had last week or by the relentless freezing north-easterlies that blew for many days:

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Where there is more shelter, however, the Hawthorn is looking fresh and glorious and is about to burst into bloom:

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Two new Butterflies have fluttered into view this week. Large White and Speckled Wood:

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Speckled Wood female

I have seen and managed to identify two species of Leatherbugs:

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Box Bug (Gonocerus acuteangulatus)
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Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis)

A lovely looking Rat. Rats get a tough time round here – too many Foxes, I suspect.

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And, talking of Foxes:

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The one-eyed Vixen up on the strip
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Peanut time
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Peanut time Mark 2

We were very excited yesterday afternoon when a Warship came alongside the meadows and dropped anchor.

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This is the RFA Tidespring A136 of the British Royal Fleet Auxillary. She is a replenishment tanker with the primary role of refuelling Naval warships at sea. She has anti aircraft guns to protect herself and a helipad and hanger at the back and 64 personnel on board with the ability to carry 46 more.

Twenty-four hours later and she is still with us. We have never had a Naval vessel alongside before and I wonder if it is here for a Corona Virus related reason. I know that those on board will no longer have their hammocks densely strung between the beams below deck as in days of olde but living on board must mean that they are in close proximity to each other. How is it that all working for them?

I hope they can see our message of solidarity that we are sending them from the shore:

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A Summer of Lost Weddings

Our eldest daughter is getting married in September. No decisions have yet been made about what is going to happen with the celebration but most of this year’s wedding season is surely now to be postponed in this new, surreal world. A little section of the first meadow is run as an allotment and my plans had been to mostly grow flowers in there this year – late bloomers that could be cut in September and used at the wedding.

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However, priorities have radically altered during the passage of just one short month and it now feels like we should be hunkering down and growing vegetables to eat rather than flowers which are more about looking beautiful.

We have been working hard in the allotment these past few days and it is all now weeded, dug over and composted and is ready to go. First early potatoes will be going in shortly. I planted out garlic and broad beans last autumn – I find that a very successful slug-deterring strategy since there are no slugs around when they are at their tender and vulnerable stage.

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A delivery is expected this week of a selection of vegetable seeds, some of which we have previously  had good results with and some of which will be experimental. But this isn’t going to become a blog of the trials and tribulations of Growing Your Own, although I cannot guarantee that I won’t be including some of my inevitable failures and maybe even the odd success from the allotment as the year rolls on.

The photo above also shows another new development in the meadows – a flagpole has gone up next to the field shed, a Christmas present that has now finally been put in place.  At the moment we are proudly flying a Union Jack but we have a number of other flags that will be hauled up on relevant occasions.

This fenced off area of the meadows is what we call the Ant paddock. The grass has not been cut in here – certainly not for the five years we have been here but probably for very much longer than that. This has meant that substantial and well established ant hills have had a chance to develop and the grass has become tussocky:

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We have been seeing the Tawny Owl a few times in this Ant paddock area recently on calm, still nights:

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The stone pinnacle is positioned in the middle of the paddock and this next photo is the Owl perching on the camera that points at the pinnacle:

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So we have put another perch up behind, although the Owl is yet to use it:

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Another nocturnal animal is the Badger and we now have a camera on the new tunnel entrance that has been dug actually into the meadow as opposed to into the cliff:

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It is not just us who is interested in this new tunnel:

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I have got so many photographs of the dog peering down this hole. So, what is she smelling?

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It is close to the animal track, used by all the cliff dwellers to get into the second meadow:

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This next photo shows the male, Scarface, taking some bedding to the part of the sett that the baby Badgers have been taken out of, prompting speculation on my part that it might now be being prepared for their return and we might get another glimpse of them as they are carried across:

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A look back at my records shows me that, in 2019, the young Badgers officially came above ground on 16th April. In 2018 it was 17th April and so it looks like we have another two weeks to wait before they properly appear. But this year we don’t have a camera on the burrow that they are currently in and so we may well not know immediately.

All through the winter, the Badgers make fleeting and solitary visits to the nightly peanuts. Now that spring is here, they seem to be more interested and I wonder if it is because the ground is getting harder and worms more difficult to dig for:

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Yet another nocturnal group of animals are the Moths. It has been cold and windy for so long here that the official launch of the 2020 Mothing Season has been delayed.

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However, a couple of nights ago, it got underway and the moth trap went out. I got twelve moths of four species, one of which I couldn’t identify. I keep forgetting how frustrating mothing can be.

We don’t have any Linnets here in the winter, but they have returned to us now to breed:

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The bird ringer has caught and ringed 21 of them on two recent solitary visits to the meadows. He also caught a Linnet that he had first caught when it was a young bird in August 2018. He caught it again in March 2019 and for a third time this week.

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Male Linnet, just starting to develop his breeding plumage

He also caught some other familiar birds:

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Robin
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Male House Sparrow

The House Sparrows have turned their thoughts to nesting. We were watching a pair trying so hard to make a bat box their home but they couldn’t fit in however much they tried. I was anxiously watching – if they managed to squeeze in then they surely wouldn’t be able to get out again and we would need to mount a rescue. But these bat boxes are really high up.

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At the same time, there were more trying the same thing on another bat box:

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Yet another pair are clearly thinking about putting a deposit down on the House Martin box:

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These Sparrows only seemed to be interested in boxes that that weren’t meant for them. We have many boxes perfectly suitable for them, including a Sparrow Terrace which is specifically for them but needless to say they were completely ignoring all of these.

There are also a pair of Starlings around which must be nesting locally again this year, although of course they haven’t chosen one of our two Starling boxes:

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A little Dunnock below has a beak full of moss and is building a nest somewhere as well:

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This Magpie’s beak is muddy because it has been collecting mud to add to its nest:

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And I was most displeased to see this on the cameras:

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There is a Magpie in the middle cage. I went straight up there to do a site inspection but I have absolutely no idea how it got in there or how it then got out.

It seems a long time since we have witnessed the enjoyable spectacle of a Green woodpecker taking a bath. On this occasion we don’t quite get such a good view as we have in the past but this is something to look forward to as the summer advances:

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It always looks as though the bird has had a near death experience.

The Red Mason Bees have started hatching out in the release boxes. These Bees spent the winter in our fridge:

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On Wednesday, we saw a big raptor circling high above. I had a camera but unfortunately it was not my Canon with its Big Bertha lens attached and this is the best shot that I got:

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We couldn’t work out what this was. But then we heard that a juvenile White-tailed Sea Eagle had flown over the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory on that very same day. Could this be our mystery bird? However much I might wish the answer to be ‘Yes’, I really don’t think it is. But, yesterday, apparently two White-tailed Sea Eagles were circling over Deal and so we are now on high alert, looking to the skies.

What becomes very obvious when you look up is how lovely it is not to see aircraft vapour trails heading out across the North Sea. We did see this one, which is the first we had seen for some days:

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Looking out to sea, there are still ships to be seen in the north to south shipping lane which is the only one we can see from the meadows:

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The YM Wisdom, flying a Singapore flag. On a voyage from Antwerp to Southampton.
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France! I wonder how every thing is getting on there?
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Ville De Bordeaux. This is an interesting ship – it says ‘Airbus A380 onboard’ on the side of it. Airbus has plants in Germany, France, Spain and the UK and components for making their aeroplanes were transferred between the different plants using specially adapted Beluga aircraft. However, the parts for the A380 were too big for the Beluga planes and so Airbus leased three ships instead, including this one, the Ville De Bordeaux.

And I’m finishing today with uplifting blossom that is appearing in the meadows. I may be changing my plans from growing flowers to vegetables in the allotment this year, but the meadows are gearing up to a lovely spring in bloom. And as for our daughter whose wedding plans for September are now looking questionable, well, both she and her fiancé are hospital doctors and currently have other things on their minds.

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Blackthorn and Alexanders
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Pear Blossom just starting in the orchard