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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Honey Bee
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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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