Squirrel Eviction

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.

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The rectangle that was planted with Emorsgate seed EM6F five years ago

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.

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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.

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There were two Squirrels in this Tawny Owl box. One darted out but the other one hunkered down and so may have had young underneath. We closed this box back up and left it

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.

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Clearing a Squirrels nest out of a Barn Owl box

All of the Squirrels nests looked similar and were made up of sticks and leaves with a soft topping of moss.

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We were able to clear out this empty nest in a woodcrete Tawny box

But in the sixth box there was a nest that looked very different, being made of just grass with no visible entrance.

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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.

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Mother feeding just-fledged young

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The large Red Deer continues to pay occasional visits to our part of the wider wood:

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A lovely couple of calming woodland scenes:

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Trail camera

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.

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A selection of the many Hawkmoths that were caught one night

The Eyed Hawkmoth is one of the more amazing ones:

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Eyed Hawkmoth flashing its ‘eyes’ to scare off a predator

I often catch these large Ophion sp Ichneumonid Wasps in the trap and they are a bit scary looking.

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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:

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Ichneumon xanthorius. Look at its ridiculously slender black waist. This is a male, but the females will again be laying her eggs into live Caterpillars.

 

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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:

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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:

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A Digger Wasp emerging from her nest

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.

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The rescued Hummingbird Hawkmoth at rest. It is quite a worn one with that bald patch on the top of its head.

We saw a Ringlet Butterfly in the meadows for the first time on 18th:

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Ringlet

June is just such a fantastic time for insects in the meadows:

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Two Six Spot Burnet Moths
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Mating Six-spot Burnets
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Marbled Whites on Greater Knapweed
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Lots of Cockchafers flying around the hedgerows in the evenings. They bump into me as I walk out at dusk to put the peanuts out which was a bit unnerving before I got used to it.
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I am not sure what this hospital-green Beetle is, but its very lurid against the Kidney Vetch
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A well disguised Click Beetle, Agrypnus murinus. Click Beetles can click loudly to give a potential predator a shock, giving the Beetle time to escape. The mechanism to make the click can also be used to right themselves if they get turned upside down.
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Tiger Crane Fly, Nephrotoma flavescens

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.

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Note the colourful leg rings

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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.

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Next to the Swift box is a House Martin box, although it is actually House Sparrows that are nesting in it:

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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.

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Here are some more of his photos that he took while he was there:

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House Martin
a Peregrine 3
Peregrine Falcon – ringed, I notice, so probably not born on the cliffs.
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Rock Pipit

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.

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Up at Sandwich Bay, he took this photo of a Great Green Bush Cricket on a Lizard Orchid:

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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.

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Cameras at the ready for the Grey Partridge

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:

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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:

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Here is one of the Badger triplets being taught how to collect bedding:

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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:

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We had another 17mm of rain this week. Here she is, wet and looking her absolute worst

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Trail camera

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:

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We have also seen two cruises ships coming into Dover this week. This is Carnival Breeze:

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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.

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Disney Magic moored at the brand new cruise ship berth. To the left is the new marina and the building with the solar panels to the right is where the old Hoverport used to be
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This is the old cruise ship berth. The white hotel building and train terminus behind it date back to when there was a train ferry here. This all closed down once the channel tunnel opened and it is now the site of the cruise ship passenger terminal.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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