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.