A Country Worth Fighting For

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We had a quiet and contemplative al fresco lunch today to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day. We know from old mapping that, not twenty metres from where we were sitting, there was a slit trench and an observation post looking out towards France during the war. It feels important to spend some time acknowledging what terrible times those were.

The wood in May is absolutely glorious. The Ferns are gently unfurling and the trees becoming clothed in fresh, green leaf.

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Large areas of Bugle in early May
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Leaves starting to resprout on the Hazel coppice stools that we cut over the winter
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The Cinnabar Moth’s underwings are all scarlet and this is what shows when it flies. Fluttering vermilion amongst the blue of the Bugle and Speedwell.

Because the feeders were not filled up for so long, we have lost a lot of our birds and the feeders, now replenished, hang there forlornly unvisited. However, we looked in a few of our small nest boxes as we walked around and every one had a nest in, so not all birds have deserted us:

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Great Tit on eggs

Last year we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest with loudly-calling young in a large Cherry Tree. This year, there is a new hole drilled into the same tree – they do sometimes use the same nest but often make a new one instead. We tried to arrange a camera on a long pole so that it pointed at this new hole to get some photos of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers going in and out. However, we didn’t get the camera position quite right and it was instead pointing at a different hole altogether. In the event, this turned out to be quite fortuitous:

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This older hole turns out to be an active Green Woodpecker nest. Green Woodpeckers, with softer beaks since they are generally pecking into soil to eat ants, do use the same hole repeatedly. They lay a single batch of 4-6 eggs in May and both parents share the incubation.

So, are Great Spotted Woodpeckers also nesting in this same tree as these Green Woodpeckers? We will get a second camera up on a pole and see if we can find out.

As well as lots of photos of Green Woodpeckers at this hole, the trail camera did also capture a Squirrel peering in. Actually it did this on several occasions and I read that apparently Grey Squirrels can be significant predators of bird nests.

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And also a Great Spotted Woodpecker had a look in:

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Even though we have been very absent recently, we have our trusty trail cameras to show us some of the things that have been going on without us. Like this, for instance:

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This is such a big animal with very knobbly knees – a Roe Deer. In fact, the same Deer turned up on a different camera as well and what a beautiful animal he is:

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And then the next photo was this:

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It seems that ground has not yet become too hard for the Tawny Owl to attempt to catch some worms. Here is its classic head down, concentrating hard, worming posture:

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And this is a particularly sweet little rabbit:

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Over winter we were working hard coppicing the Hazel in the wood. These operations were prematurely curtailed and we are yet to clear the ground in the area that we were working. There are piles of logs and brash still sitting on the woodland floor that, by rights, should now be getting sunlight onto it and bursting forth with woodland flowers. It would be lovely to properly get back to the wood and finish this job off.

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This week we had another walk in the nearby disused military firing range under the chalk cliffs. There were several clumps of Early Spider Orchids there:

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There is a Kestrel nest high up on the cliffs in a hole in the chalk. This time we couldn’t see a bird on the nest, but we did see Kestrels on the cliffs. This one had rodent prey:

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Back in the meadows, the Buttercup bonanza has probably now reached its wonderful peak.

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The allotment with Buttercup meadows beyond

A Chiffchaff has arrived from Africa and can be heard singing along in the hedgerows.

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The Chiffchaff that arrived in the meadows this week and hasn’t shut up since, it seems.

But this is not the only newly arrived bird that we have been hearing this week – the raucously loud and unmistakable calls of Peacocks were disturbing our peaceful English twittering on Wednesday evening.  They must have been roosting immediately below the meadows overnight because they were still calling from there at dawn on Thursday.  A quick search on the internet tells me that four Peacocks have escaped from a village just north of Deal. The owner didn’t clip their wings to allow them to roost in trees to be safe from Foxes. Two have been recaptured but the remaining two are still at large and they now have their own Facebook page and have been on the ITV news.

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Internet photo of the four escaped Peacocks. They invaded a local garage in Deal for a while including getting onto the office, it seems. I don’t understand why they didn’t just close the door on them and then all four of them would have been recaptured.

There is a lot of Broad Bodied Chaser activity at the ponds and eggs are being laid.

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A male, awaiting the arrival of a female

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A female grabbing hold of a Buttercup to rest up for a while.

It is that time of year when countless St Mark’s Flies billow around the hedgerows with their legs distinctively dangling.

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St Marks Flies.

We stood and watched the predatory male Dance Flies, Empis tessellata, who catch the St Marks flies and hold them across their bodies awaiting a female.

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Empis tessellata with his prey, a St Mark’s Fly, held below him

When a female arrives, the male offers her the St Marks Fly as a gift and then mates with her as she eats it:

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Male at the top, holding on to the leaf and to the female.  Female in the middle, eating the hapless St Marks Fly at the bottom.

While we were watching this fascinating drama being played out under our noses in the hedgerow, we saw these very little mating Flies with the most amazing green eyes:

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They are Celery Flies, Euleia heraclei, a species of Picture-winged Flies. After mating, eggs will be laid on host plants which will hatch and the larvae mine the leaves of the plants. They use a wide range of plants from the Apiaceae (Umbellifer) family – including Alexanders and there is a bountiful supply of those plants around here.

This is a nice Hoverfly with its bright yellow hairs:

Myathropa florea
Myathropa florea

I thought that this tiny little day-flying moth below was a Mint Moth but it turns out to be the similar Common Purple and Gold Moth:

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Common Purple and Gold Moth

Another really small Moth:

Small Yellow Underwing
Small Yellow Underwing

And this minuscule little thing, the Small Blue Butterfly:

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I finally got a photo of a Wall Butterfly that I am pleased with

This Slow Worm is in the process of shedding its skin. It is interesting to see this happening and that the older skin, still on the back part of its body, is a darker colour.

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Looking to the skies, we saw our first Swifts on Thursday. Two of them, feeding over the meadows, and what a sight for sore eyes they were. By Friday, a pair were repeatedly flying by the Swift nest box and even briefly perched up on the bat box.

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We have also had a visit from two Red Kites, mobbed by Crows. Visits from Kites seem to be getting more frequent and I wonder if their range has spread closer to us.

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The meadows trail cameras have been coming up with some good stuff over the last few days:

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Male Kestrel

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Only our third ever sighting of a Hedgehog here. This animal needs to get itself away and fast – there are far too many Foxes and Badgers in these parts
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A Badger arriving too early for peanut time

May is the most magical of months. We were due to go on holiday this weekend and clearly this is not now happening. But the England we live in, the country that the people of seventy-five years ago had fought so hard for and sacrificed so much for, is a lovely place to be at any time but especially in May and June and we now wonder why we would want to be anywhere else.

 

 

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