The cliff-dwelling Foxes and Badgers have to rub shoulders with each other here. They all share the same hole under the fence to get from the cliffs into the meadows and they all gather at the same place at dusk when the peanuts go down.
An unwritten agreement has been reached to make it work and it is the Foxes who are careful to give way to the Badgers at any hint of confrontation and actually it seems to be choreographed perfectly – we rarely observe any interaction between them. Although occasionally a Badger will chase a Fox off and this is reminiscent of a charging Rhino. During the winter, the Badgers aren’t especially interested in the peanuts when their metabolism is slowed and it is easy to dig for worms in the soft ground. At this time of year, however, they are very keen:
However, I also put peanuts (and currently sandwiches as well) on the pinnacle up in the Ant paddock. The Badgers don’t go in here until later in the night by which time the Foxes have eaten everything and so the Badgers have never discovered that this is happening. Never, that is, until now:
It will be interesting to see how this now develops.
The Fox cubs are growing up in the meadows:
In the wood, there are both Foxes and Badgers as well but the Foxes seem to be in much lower density and there is no cliff effect to concentrate the animals into bottlenecks.
There are at least three Badger cubs in the wood and they are small – much the size of the small Badger cub in the meadows that we are worried about. Rather than that cub being small, perhaps it’s just that the triplets are super-sized and we don’t need to be concerned at all.
Last year, as the hot summer got into its stride, Buzzards started coming down to the shallow ponds in the wood and this seems to be starting again now. It is such a treat to see them up close:
Large family groups of Great Tits and Blue Tits are appearing at the wood ponds as the young fledge. There was also this gathering of three just-fledged Song Thrush:
The second meadow is starting to put its summer clothes on as the yellow Ladies Bedstraw comes out into flower. We always think it looks like an impressionist painting with these patches of colour.
This Fly caught my eye. I could tell there was something odd about it but it was only when I looked at the photos afterwards did I realise that its abdomen is being carried tucked under in a way that I have never before seen in a Fly:
This is Sicus ferrugineus – and it is perhaps no surprise to learn that something with an abdomen like this is a parasitoid – the unfortunate hosts that will be killed by this Fly are Bumblebees.
There are just so many Marbled White and Large, Small and Essex Skipper Butterflies around this year. It’s wonderful to see them all.
Six Spot and Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet Moths are also doing very well.
I have been putting the Moth trap out often. One of the many delights of Moths are their English names, given to them by our Victorian forebears and often very memorable – I often get a Moth called ‘Uncertain’ in the trap and this week I got a Moth called ‘Confused’
Last night I caught four Bright Wave in the trap.
This unassuming little thing doesn’t have a silly name but it is a rare Moth that only breeds in a few areas dotted along along an 18km stretch of this part of the East Kent coastline. The area of vegetated shingle below the meadows is known to be good for them and, in May last year, I went down there with a Butterfly Conservation ecologist to help him do the annual count of their caterpillars. I was delighted to find this one myself on Ragwort because they were difficult to spot until you got your eye in:
On several occasions recently we have seen Kestrels carrying prey, heading back to their nest in the white cliffs. We went along to see how the nest was getting on but, in fact, there was little to be seen although the nest does look active. However, while we were there, there were other interesting things going on:
It feels so special to have a cliff-dwelling House Martin colony there, one of only a handful in the UK where they are not nesting on buildings:
This week we also went to Park Gate Down, a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve in East Kent that is renowned for its many different types of Orchid. In particular, it is one of only three sites in Britain where Monkey Orchids still grow.
The end of June is too late for Monkey Orchids or indeed many of the other Orchids that grow there but Fragrant Orchids were flowering in their thousands.
Nice to get out and make the most of these beautiful long summer evenings.
It’s been quiet on the shipping front this week although this was a striking image with two ships anchored up alongside the meadows one night. The Whitdawn in the foreground is a regular but the large ship in the background is new – GH Storm Cat. She is a bulk carrier and I see that, after spending a couple of days with us here in Kent, she is now on her way to Brazil, expected to arrive on 7th July.
The last photo today is of the Cherry tree. This year, along with every other year we have been here, we are not expecting to harvest a single cherry from this tree. Currently it is being stripped by those Starlings we were so delighting in.
Five years ago, when we were newly arrived and had no real idea what we were doing, Kent Wildlife Trust came to do a botanical survey here and produced a report advising on the best way to manage the meadows for wildlife. Whilst they were with us, they suggested that we seeded a rectangle in the first meadow with a perennial wildflower mix suitable for calcareous grassland. We cut the grass down really hard that September to expose as much earth as we could and broke the soil up by raking before spreading the seed.
Half a decade later and, in contrast to the surrounding grasses, this rectangle is full of flowers and billowing with Butterflies, Bees and Hoverflies. If ever there was an advert for stopping mowing some of your lawn and sowing some wild flowers, then this is it.
This year, once the seed heads have formed and ripened, we will cut this rectangle and lay the green hay onto another area of the meadow for a while. In this way, hopefully the seeds will drop and then we get this wonderful flower diversity elsewhere without having to buy more seed.
After seeing the damage that Grey Squirrels have been doing to the Beech Trees in the wood, we wanted to have a look in the six large bird boxes and evict any Squirrels that we could, although we are aware that they may be having second broods. Back in the spring, we had seen Squirrels nesting in every one of the boxes by using trail cameras mounted on to poles.
This week, we found Squirrel nests in five of the boxes. Of these, two of the boxes had Squirrels actually in them and we couldn’t get a good enough view to see if they had young in the box. So we left these nests alone for now.
However the empty nests in the other three boxes were cleared out. Owls may be looking for somewhere to raise second broods and we wanted as many boxes as possible to be available should they want to use them.
All of the Squirrels nests looked similar and were made up of sticks and leaves with a soft topping of moss.
But in the sixth box there was a nest that looked very different, being made of just grass with no visible entrance.
We don’t think that this is a Squirrel nest and I have sent this photo to Kent Mammal Group to see if they think that it may be Dormice.
Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks have fledged somewhere in the wood – we didn’t manage to find the nest this year and now it is too late.
The large Red Deer continues to pay occasional visits to our part of the wider wood:
A lovely couple of calming woodland scenes:
Back at the meadows, the nights are getting warmer and there are many more Moths in the trap in the mornings. Many more individual Moths and also many more species – and with more time on my hands at the moment, I’m finding this fact exciting rather than daunting.
The Eyed Hawkmoth is one of the more amazing ones:
I often catch these large Ophion sp Ichneumonid Wasps in the trap and they are a bit scary looking.
I asked my Mothing assistant if he would pot this one up so that I could get a better photo of it. Unfortunately, he fumbled it a bit and ended up getting stung which apparently really hurt. In the ensuing chaos, the insect seized the moment and took off and so I never did get my photo.
I was confused by all this because I hadn’t realised that they could sting. However, after doing a bit more research, I think that, rather than being stung, he must have been stabbed with its ovipositor. These Wasps lay their eggs into living caterpillars, I’m afraid, and so their ovipositors must be strong enough to go into flesh. How many humans can say they have been stabbed by an Ichneumonid Wasp? I think it is something to be proud of.
Here is a different Ichneumonid that we also saw this week:
Increasingly, I find Insects completely fascinating, particularly the interactions between different species. These Wasps below are Ornate Tailed Digger Wasps, Cerceris rybyensis. It was a bit difficult to work out what was going on here but I think it was a mating pair and a third one was trying to get in on the act:
These Wasps dig deep tunnel nests into compacted soil, often in colonies. A friend found a colony of these Wasps (or a very similar species) near his home in Maidenhead and he has let me include his photo of one of their tunnels:
These Digger Wasps hunt small Mining Bee females and like to attack them as they are returning to their nest heavily laden with pollen so that they can’t easily evade capture. The female Bee is stung and paralysed and taken back to the Wasp’s tunnel where she remains still alive for up to two days to be fresh food for the Wasp larvae. Each larva is provisioned with many such Bees. Actually, it’s like something from a horror film.
I happened to be in the right place to spot a Hummingbird Hawkmoth become entangled in a Spider web. The Spider shot out shockingly fast from where it was lurking but we managed to get the Moth out from its clutches in time, clear away the sticky web from its wings and let it happily fly off again, none the worse for wear. The Spider lost its lunch but I really don’t feel guilty about that.
We saw a Ringlet Butterfly in the meadows for the first time on 18th:
June is just such a fantastic time for insects in the meadows:
We are attempting to catch the eye of passing Turtle Dove by adopting the strategy of spreading seed on the strip. The flocks of Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove that come to eat the seed will tempt the Turtle Dove down to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, we are yet to see a Turtle Dove, but the strategy was proven to work this week when it attracted down two Racing Pigeon.
These birds are still with us several days later. Have they got lost? After all, they are meant to be in a race. They are noticeably much tamer than wild birds and I was able to get quite close to take these photos.
Another strategy we are applying is to play Swift calls loudly into the sky to bring Swifts in and alert them to the presence of our nest box. This is also proving successful and there is much Swift action to be seen as small groups feed over the meadows and then wheel round past the box, screaming, throughout the day. We are yet to see one actually go in the box though.
Next to the Swift box is a House Martin box, although it is actually House Sparrows that are nesting in it:
The bird ringer has been down to the cliffs this week to see how the House Martin colony is getting on there. Apparently nest building is still ongoing and he took this fantastic photo of a bird collecting material for its nest.
Here are some more of his photos that he took while he was there:
The bird ringer also went off to ring young Barn Owls in nest boxes along the Stour valley this week. He does this every year but this year there were no young Owls to ring in the boxes which was really disappointing. He did, however, ring this surprising clutch of young Kestrels that he found in one of the Owl boxes. There were four babies, although only two can be seen here, along with two cold eggs.
Up at Sandwich Bay, he took this photo of a Great Green Bush Cricket on a Lizard Orchid:
We have been playing an elaborate game of cat and mouse with a pair of Grey Partridge. They have been in the second meadow for several weeks now and we put them up most days as we walk around the circumference of the meadow. It is actually really good news that they haven’t come up to the seed and cameras on the strip at the top – the meadow is providing what they need without any supplementary feed.
However, we would like to get a photo of them. Every day we walk round with cameras at the ready, but they seem to know exactly when we lose concentration and that is the moment when they burst from the undergrowth and fly off to a different part of the meadow. After several weeks of trying, the best photo of them that I can offer you is this:
There is not much to report on the meadow’s mammals this time. A Rabbit has been coming to the strip and this is the first time we have seen a Rabbit here for several years:
Here is one of the Badger triplets being taught how to collect bedding:
The one-eyed vixen is now nearly at the end of the course of mange medication that we have been giving her. I really hope that this second type has worked this time, although in this photo below she is still itching:
This Irish ship, the Arklow Castle, was moored alongside us for many days and started to feel like part of the family. It was very empty and buoyant – no red would be visible on its hull once it is loaded:
We have also seen two cruises ships coming into Dover this week. This is Carnival Breeze:
We also saw Disney Magic come in. We went to Dover this week and drove up to a viewpoint overlooking the port – Disney Magic was still there.
The country is starting to reopen and a new normal is tentatively emerging. However, I am unsure what the future is going to hold for cruise ships and for all these new facilities that Dover Harbour is currently building for them. We shall have to see how things progress.
A wet Fox! We have had some rain – not enough to make any noticeable difference to the gasping ponds but we will gratefully accept what we have been given. The rain gauge reports that a glorious 20mm has fallen in the last week.
This week we went to nearby Lydden Temple Ewell nature reserve, 220 acres of chalk grassland and a wonderful haven for Butterflies in July and August. At this time of year there are hundreds of Fragrant Orchids out, although they are really small with so little rain this spring.
We also went up to Sandwich Bay to see the Lizard Orchids. They are such odd plants:
They too looked like they have been affected by the dry weather, although I think we were also a bit early for them. We will try again in a couple of weeks – its good to have a reason to go off to such a lovely place, although the dog will insist on barking at the waves.
Last year, Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory had a major fundraising effort to buy the land in which they had dug their scrape. They had previously been renting the land but, now that they have bought it, they have been able to increase its size and carry out all sorts of other improvements. Unfortunately, its grand opening is currently put on hold.
Now, as we drove past the newly dug banks, Poppies were having a complete field day on the disturbed soil.
It was an absolute spectacle. I hadn’t previously considered the wildlife credentials of Poppies but we have noticed that the few here in the meadows are really attractive to Bumblebees and other pollinators:
So what a nectar bonanza all those Poppies on the banks of Restharrow Scrape must be providing this year.
2020 is meant to be the year that I am focusing on improving my Bee recognition skills and, since there are lots of Bumblebees about, I am concentrating on them for now. The UK has only 24 species of Bumblebee and so how difficult can it really be? The answer appears to be that it’s actually quite difficult – certainly that’s what I’m finding.
These two Bumblebees below are interesting. The Bee at the back is the Buff-tailed Bumblebee. The Bee at the front, with its white tail bordered by sulphur yellow, is the Vestal Cuckoo Bee which is parasitic on the Buff-tailed Bumblebee.
The Vestal Cuckoo Bee will seek out a Buff-tailed Bumblebee nest, kill the queen, lay her own eggs in the nest and the Buff-tailed workers will then look after the Cuckoo Bee young rather than the young of their own species.
I feel on much firmer ground with Moths and Butterflies. We saw the first Burnet Moths in the meadows on 10th June:
There are quite a few splodges of shockingly day-glo orange Slime Mould growing on a Dog Rose in the hedgerow. Slime Moulds live freely as single cells when their microorganism food is abundant. But when food becomes scarce, many will come together and start moving as a single body as is happening with this one below. Apparently there are a few bright orange slime moulds that look like this one but, if it goes on to produce fruiting bodies, it might be possible to then properly identify it.
We found this dead Pygmy Shrew and what a nose it has:
Pygmy Shrews are much smaller than Common Shrews but we didn’t have both to compare and we also didn’t take any measurements. Pygmy Shrews, however, have a proportionately longer tail to body length as this internet photo below shows and so I am reasonably confident that this is a Pygmy Shrew.
Shrews are killed by Kestrels amongst others but are often found abandoned by their predators since glands in their skin produce a foul tasting liquid.
The flock of around fifty young Starlings still remains a prominent feature of meadow life at the moment.
I include this photo of a Carrion Crow because it puts me in mind of a Victorian lady in mourning with her jet black skirts..
..and this one looks a bit Dickensian as well:
Just when I thought that I had understood what was going on with Fox cubs this year, one night there were three of them. We have only seen three the once this year:
Is this third cub also the offspring of the one-eyed vixen and her mate?
Since I stopped treating the Foxes for mange about a fortnight ago, the one-eyed vixen has very rapidly developed another balding area behind her ear. This is so depressing – I thought she was better.
I have been in touch with The Fox Project again and they have recommended now trying a different treatment – Psorinum 30c. As with the Arsen Sulphur that I was previously using, this remedy is again made from natural ingredients and it does not matter if an uninfected Fox or other animal takes it instead of our target animal. It is a one-week treatment and has been found to be effective on Foxes with up to 40% hair loss due to mange. It should arrive early next week and fingers crossed that this works for her.
She is the only one of the resident Foxes that now has mange. The rest of the Foxes here are looking great:
The Badgers are looking good too, although we do have concerns about that little one. The triplets are now not far off the size of their parents:
An enormous yacht sailed past us this week – the people standing below the beam help put the thing in proportion. If those are people, how tall is that mast?
This yacht is Geist, 34 metres by 7metres, and she has just been built in Britain – in the Spirit Yachts Boatyard in Ipswich, Suffolk. She was only launched on 4th March 2020 and is the largest single-masted wooden yacht to be built in the UK since 1930.
She is indeed a luxurious superyacht. She flies a Portuguese flag and so I wonder if she was sailing past the meadows on her journey from Ipswich to Portugal.
My final photo for today is of a beautiful sunset over the meadows this week – at this time of year this is at about 9.30pm, a fact that is almost unbelievable in the depths of December.
Seventy-six years ago today, 156,000 men landed in Normandy, marking a turning point in the war.
There was bad weather on 5th June 1944 and D-Day got pushed back a day. All those men had to deal with their nervous energy, apprehension and dread for another twenty-four hours until a lull in the weather created a window of opportunity on 6th June allowing it all to go ahead. Seventy-six years later we find ourselves once more in challenging times as again poor weather batters the meadows at this same point in June.
Men were not being loaded onto ships here – our part of the coast was more about trying to trick Hitler into thinking the invasion was going to be further east, across the much shorter Dover-Calais part of the Channel. But we have Poppies flowering in the disturbed ground along the line of the new hedgerow and it seems appropriate to start with these to mark all those countless lives that were lost this day back in 1944 for the good of all of us that follow.
Whenever you look out over the meadows at the moment, there is a Kestrel to be seen hunting. With all that hovering in last week’s heat, they were getting hot and thirsty and so were also turning up at the ponds:
We thought that this increased activity suggested that young had now been born in their nest in the nearby white cliffs.
We walked along to the nest and, actually, there was nothing interesting to report going on at the Kestrel nest although we did see a male Kestrel.
However, I was really excited to see a small colony of House Martins building their nests on the cliffs, high up, tucked under protective ledges of the chalk.
Last year’s nests would never survive the winter on these cliffs and so the birds have to start again each year, a nest taking more than a 1,000 beak-sized pellets of mud and up to 10 days to build.
They were getting the mud from the edges of this pool, formed by sea water that breaks over the sea defences at high tide:
House Martins traditionally built their nests on cliffs but, by the 19th Century, they started making use of buildings allowing them to extend their range. There are now only a handful of cliff-dwelling colonies in the country.
Nest building is only just starting here at the white cliffs this year and the birds will have two or maybe even three broods, keeping going possibly until October before embarking on the long journey back to Africa. We counted about 10 nests so far but will now be visiting regularly to keep an eye on the progress of the colony over the summer.
At the base of the cliffs, a little group of just-fledged Whitethroats were cuddled up on a branch still being fed by their parents:
Back in the meadows, Green Woodpeckers seem to be continually at work amongst the long grass, pecking into Ants’ nests for their food. One of the birds around this year has an unusual drab colouration:
They eat the Ant eggs, larvae and the adult Ants as well – they have a very long tongue covered in sticky saliva to help with this. Woodpecker droppings look a bit like cigarettes:
The white outer casing is hard and dry. If you break it open a bit, you can see the exoskeletons of Ants within:
I wasn’t initially sure what this very spotty bird below was and had to look it up in the book. It is a juvenile Dunnock:
The bird ringer then caught and ringed one:
He also ringed a juvenile Chaffinch and this juvenile House Sparrow, still with a bit of its bright yellow gape:
He also caught this lovely adult Coal Tit:
Young birds are appearing everywhere, including young Magpies which are a bit less welcome here.
In previous years there have been several Fox families in the meadows but the only one this year seems to be that of the one-eyed vixen. I do now think that both the young cubs here are hers:
The one-eyed vixen continues to turn up on cameras all over the meadows:
June has arrived and so have the Skippers. We saw an Essex Skipper on 1st June:
and a Large Skipper, with the slight checkerboarding on the forewings on the 2nd:
On 4th June, we fleetingly saw the first Marbled White of the year and a Meadow Brown on the 5th.
There are only 59 species of Butterflies that breed regularly in this country and we see 22 of those in the meadows every year. There is always room for improvement, though. The bird ringer went to a nearby nature reserve this week, Lydden Temple Ewell, which Kent Wildlife Trust maintain as wonderfully biodiverse chalk grassland. He took these photos of mating Adonis Blue Butterflies:
Sadly, we don’t yet see Adonis Blues or Chalkhill Blues in the meadows but I am on a quest to put that right. Both of these Butterflies use Horseshoe Vetch as their sole larval food plant and over the last couple of years I have been growing Horseshoe Vetch in the greenhouse and planting it into the meadows where previously there wasn’t any. This project is ongoing – it will take a few years to build up a sufficient bank of this Vetch to have any hope of attracting them in.
We have an arachnophobic daughter who thinks that these posts should carry a Spider Alert warning banner so that she doesn’t accidentally come across an image of a Spider without first being prepared. So I can now reassure her that the following images of insects seen about the meadows over the last week do not include that of a Spider:
The Hedgehog is back in the meadows by the wild pond and I really wish it wasn’t. This is close to where the Badger sett and Fox dens are, both of which eat Hedgehogs. This photo below is far from best quality but perhaps demonstrates what I am talking about. The little Hedgehog is standing left of centre. To the far left of the photo is a blur of a Badger and to the far right of the photo is a moving Fox. What I don’t really know is how readily they eat Hedgehogs – is is just occasionally when they are short of other things to eat or would they have eaten this one if they’d noticed it?
Wandering through the regenerating part of the wood this week, we were horrified to see lots of Grey Squirrel damage to the Beech Trees.
The Squirrels are pulling the bark off to get to the sweet sap being carried in the phloem just below. If they completely ring the tree, all phloem tubes will be cut and it can no longer transport sugars up to the part of the tree above the ring and that part will die. Even if the tree isn’t ringed, its growth will by adversely affected and it is vulnerable to fungal attack.
We researched the whole controversial subject when we got home. Grey Squirrel damage occurs from late April until the end of July to trees aged between 10 and 40 years, at which point the bark becomes too thick. Some years are much worse than others but it isn’t really known why. Controlling the number of Squirrels would be difficult in our wood because they will simply recolonise from other parts of the wider wood.
It was heartbreaking to see beautiful Beech Trees with this terrible damage. We have made a mental note to ensure that all Squirrels are evicted from the large Owl boxes once they have finished raising this year’s families and we will then insist that they do not return to breed in them again next year. We might not be prepared to kill them but equally we don’t want to make life too easy for them.
Here are a few photos from the trail cameras in the wood this week:
I finish with the on-going project to get a decent photo of the Green Woodpecker young looking out of the nest hole. Progress is being made but the camera was too high and the image is just not sharp enough. It is the other adult looking out of the hole – I think that the young are not yet at that stage so I do still have a bit more time to get it right.
We have now swapped in our best camera and reduced the height of the pole and we will see if this has worked when we next visit.