Summer Visitors

So, here we now are in marvellous May. We are expecting some summer visitors from Africa shortly and have been busy preparing for them.

Actually, from the scritchy-scratchy song that we are hearing around the meadows, our first guests have already arrived. We didn’t need to do anything special for these ones – merely neglecting to tidy the hedgerows so that there is lots of wild, thorny growth does the trick  because that is exactly where they like to nest. Here is one of them, a Whitethroat, just back from sub-Saharan Africa:

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I understand from nature Facebook groups that I follow that other expected visitors, Swifts, have been arriving back to breeding sites around Britain. We haven’t seen any here yet but the bungs have now been taken out of the nest box and the electronic Swift calls turned on to remind them about our box once they do return.  Lots of them inspected it last year and I am really hopeful that this year they will decide to nest.

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The Swift box, primed and ready for action. Hopefully.

Our third potential summer visitor is the Turtle Dove. We are now starting the Year Three of putting down supplementary feed from the beginning of May to the end of June using a special seed mix provided by Operation Turtle Dove and the RSPB.

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Scattering the seed on the strip

Although, on paper, the meadows provide everything that a Turtle Dove might be looking for in a nesting site, we are yet to have any success in attracting them here. However, other declining farmland birds such as Linnets, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove and Grey Partridge have been visiting the seed and breeding locally and that too is an excellent result. We haven’t seen Grey Partridge since last year, though, but we remain ever hopeful.

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A male Linnet in glorious, full breeding plumage
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A ringed male Linnet photo taken by the bird ringer last year at the nearby disused military firing range. This bird was almost certainly ringed in the meadows. The bird ringer tells us he has ringed a total of 218 Linnets in the meadows.

 

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A surreal image of a Yellowhammer taken by the trail camera

We might not yet have seen Turtle Doves on the strip, but we do have two other species of Dove:

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A pair of Collared Doves have recently arrived in the meadows
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Stock Dove
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The UK holds 60% of the European population of Stock Doves and so we need to look after them
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They have lovely raspberry-coloured feet

And we have many Wood Pigeon:

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Cross eyed Wood Pigeon

Seeing these Doves and Pigeon milling around on the strip is what might catch the eye of a passing Turtle Dove and intrigue it enough to fly down to investigate. Here is Day 1 of the seed going down and the Stock Dove are playing their part wonderfully.

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It is such a privilege to be able to watch the Badger cubs as they start to learn how to be proper Badgers. They are becoming noticeably more confident every night.

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There are definitely four cubs but they are in constant motion and difficult to get a good photo of. I don’t know if the single cub is currently grounded and kept escaping, but it got carried back to its sett three times last night, at 9pm, midnight and 3am:

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The male, Scarface, is not allowed anywhere near the cubs at this stage of the proceedings and is living a solitary life at the fringes. As the days lengthen, he has been spotted out in daylight a few times.

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At the end of a hard night’s worming

After a long spell of dry and sunny weather, we have finally had some rain to refill the ponds and refresh the land.

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At this time of year, the meadows are awash with Buttercups and it is impossible not to be cheered by them:

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Cowslips as well
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The start of the Oxeye Daisies
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The first Yellow Flag Iris at the wild pond

Small Copper and Red Admiral are two more Butterflies that have made their first appearances of the year this week.

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A Small Copper on a Buttercup
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A Wall. This is a male (broad brown stripe in the middle of the forewing).

May is a time when Slow Worms mate. During courtship, the male takes the female in his jaws and bites the back of her neck.

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Internet photo of Slow Worm courtship

They then intertwine and start some lower body rhythmic waving before mating starts which can last ten hours. Whilst we are unlikely to catch the early parts of this ritual, we may be lucky to see the mating part since it lasts so long and so we shall now be routinely looking under our sampling squares to see what’s going on. There are sometimes a lot of Slow Worms under them:

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I have been making an effort to photograph and identify Ladybirds and thus learn a bit more about them. But every one that I have seen so far this year has been a Harlequin, I’m afraid. This invasive species originating from Asia but introduced to Europe to control aphids on crops is really bad news because it outcompetes our native Ladybird species for food as well as eating their eggs and larvae.

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Harlequin Ladybird
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Melanic form of the Harlequin

The Harlequin is very variable but can be recognised by a white triangle right at the front.

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When we first bought the meadows, it was probably a whole year before we even saw a House Sparrow here. Happily we now have lots:

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A pair of House Sparrows are setting up their home in the House Martin Box and here they are, mating next to it. This involved around five quick mounts and dismounts.

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It was all over quickly and the male went off into the chosen box:

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Summer Starlings are another species that we didn’t see initially but we do now. Here is one disturbing a Green Woodpecker’s bath:

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We have always had Crows though. Here is a rare tender moment between them:

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We have always had Magpies as well. Too many actually. I see that Magpies are managing to get themselves into the middle cage that has a larger gauge than the other two to allow Blackbird-sized birds to get in. But I’m sure it is meant to be Magpie-proof:

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There are a lot of Alexanders growing along some of the hedgerows but in one area of the second meadow, they are starting to encroach inwards. These robust plants are extremely good at self-seeding and, once established, are really difficult to pull out of the ground.

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They are just finishing flowering and starting to set seed so we decided to cut them down with shears and take everything away so at least there won’t be any seed produced in this area this year although the root systems will be still in the ground. We wage a bit of an ongoing war with Alexanders.

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Job done

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For three weeks now, we have been putting out medicated jam sandwiches at dusk to help several of our Foxes that have mange. This needs to be done for at least six weeks and so we are halfway through the treatment. The one-eyed vixen has not missed a single day which is just as well because she really is in a bit of a state:

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I hope that she is already getting better although we won’t be able to tell until her fur starts growing back.

I have come to look forward to taking the sandwiches out at dusk because she is almost always there first. This trail camera photo is just before I arrived and she is waiting on the pinnacle. It had been a rainy day:

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When the next photo was taken, I had appeared at the gate into the paddock. As I then advanced on the pinnacle, she did retreat a bit further than this, but not much – she was wary but stood her ground:

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And as I left, she was back for those jam sandwiches that she loves so much:

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But we are having to constantly review our sandwich-deploying technique to ensure they go down the right throats. For instance, last night the one-eyed Fox was again waiting for me in the ant paddock. She ate a few here and then quickly followed me down to the wild pond for the ones I also put down there. However, after she went, the Magpie ate the rest of the sandwiches. Clearly I need to wait until it is darker and the birds have properly roosted.

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But when she arrived down at the wild pond, it was only to find that the Badgers had come out early and were eating the sandwiches down there, forcing our girl to wait in the background until they were all eaten. If this happens again, I will start putting all the sandwiches out into the ant paddock where the Badgers don’t go until later into the night. It’s all very complicated.

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A ferry was behaving oddly this week. It was anchored alongside us for several days in calm weather, although also making several short trips back to Dover during this time.

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It is The Pride of Canterbury – a P&O ship used on the Dover-Calais route

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Flying a Cypriot marine flag at the stern

After two or three days she set off for Leith near Edinburgh. She is one of two P&O ferries that are going to be safely stored in Leith docks for the rest of the lock down since P&O are now only operating a much reduced ferry schedule.

Here is another interesting vessel that sailed past this morning. This is Solitaire, a pipe layer.

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Solitaire with France behind. She was built as a bulk carrier in 1972 in Hiroshima, Japan, but was then converted to a pipe layer between 1996-8 at Swan Hunter Shipyard on Tyneside. She is 300m long, has a crew of 420 when fully operational and can lay more than 9km of pipe a day.

Sometimes the Moon is so beautiful that I cannot resist trying to photograph it, usually with disappointing results that remind me that I need to get a tripod for my camera. This week, the new Moon was really close to the brightly shining Venus and we were out admiring the spectacle. I was quite pleased with this image of the moon, although I do still need to get that tripod…..

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