Polecats and Ferrets

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We saw this animal in the wood last week. It is difficult to get much detail from our photo but our woodland neighbours have seen much more of a pair of them and have identified them as Polecat-Ferret hybrids.

Polecats were persecuted to near extinction in the UK at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, although they retained a stronghold in Wales. Since then, they have started recolonising – both outwards from Wales and also by reintroduction in some places, such as in Cumbria.


Ferrets are a domesticated form of Polecat, historically used to flush Rabbits. Over the years, a feral population of Ferrets has also become established in Britain, although they don’t survive as well in the wild as Polecats do. However, Polecats and Ferrets can breed together producing fertile Polecat-Ferret hybrids and this is what we think we have in the wood. Actually, in East Kent there has never been a validated Polecat sighting but there have been a few of these Polecat-Ferret Hybrids.

Polecats and these Hybrids eat Rabbits as the main constituent of their diet. I wonder what impact the extension of their range is having on Stoats, who seem to live in the same kind of places and also eat Rabbits?

The Red Deer is still making occasional visits to our wood. It is so enormous but it took me a while to spot it in this photo:

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A Buzzard came in for a drink:

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I was very pleased with this next photo – a speckled juvenile Green Woodpecker and a red-capped juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker in the same shot:

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In an open area, full of luxuriant Marjoram growth, there were a lot of these funnel webs. I could see the Spider at the bottom of the funnel but I’m afraid that I failed to achieve an adequate photo for you:


Back in the meadows, I have now reported back to the Fox Project that the seven-day treatment of Psorinum that I gave the Foxes in mid June does appear to have worked. Below is the one-eyed vixen and the bare patches on her tail, back legs, shoulders and neck all now seen to be growing fur back. She still looks a bit of a mess but I am so pleased that I was able to help her.


It felt like a fantastic reward when she came up onto the strip at dusk with her mate and their two cubs:

The one-eyed vixen at the front and her mate sitting right at the back


Unlike her, her mate looks in fantastic fettle


As well as this lovely look at her family,  she has also found her own special way to thank me:

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However, I am now watching what’s going on with this whip-thin Fox below – that tail looks a bit suspect to me:

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This next photo reminds me of a Brownie pow wow:

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Only six Badgers there but no need to worry because all seven are still being seen:

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The littlest Badger, distinctive with its very narrow head, still spends a lot of time going around with its mother:

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The Fox below is trying to get at the food in the cages:


So, too, is this Rat. Indisputably a male, I have also seen a female and so there are at least two:

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Another at one of the shallow ponds:

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A lot of Ant nests have formed under the protection of the Reptile sampling squares and these nests have been producing Flying Ants recently. This is a way of dispersal – there are both male and female Flying Ants and all the Ant nests in an area synchronise so that the flights happen at the same time. In this way, a flying female might well meet and mate with a flying male from another nest, thus avoiding inbreeding. She will then finish her flight and start a new colony.


Last year on 25th August we had flocks of circling Black-Headed Gulls over the meadows eating these Ants on the wing. We are watching for this again this year but haven’t seen it yet:

Black-Headed Gulls eating Flying Ants last year

Because the nests all produce Flying Ants at the same time, it can lead to situations such as last weekend when the Met Office radar mistook an 80km wide Ant swarm in southern Kent as a rain cloud. What a food resource for Gulls that must have been.

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Also in the meadows this week:

Kestrel coming in for a bath


This is a very odd effect with the wings on this male Sparrowhawk. I have not seen one holding its wings like that before.
This is probably the same bird


A male Blackbird taking back Worms for young. The Worms have wrapped round and round its beak
There must be a nest with young to be fed close by. There were so many photos of Blackbirds carrying food on this gate. Here is the female.
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A fledged young Blackbird still going round with its Dad.

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If you thought the young Blackbird on the right was so speckled that it might be mistaken for a Song Thrush, here it is an opportunity to see both at once.
Fledged Wren
Really interesting view of the ‘fingers’ at the end of a Crow wing
This is a really unfortunate way to see our first ever Hawkmoth caterpillar
A Crow carrying a flint stone – is it using it to smash something open?
Could it be anything to do with their taste for snails?
Herring Gull not happy with Crows coming in
Beautifully marked Viviperous Lizard
Mating Gatekeeper Butterflies
Mating Six-Spot Burnet Moths
A Festoon. I had never had one of these in the Moth Trap before
A Rosy Footman Moth
Swollen-thighed Flower Beetle

I found this beautiful Rosemary Beetle on some Lavender:

Chrysolina americana


This Beetle is native to Southern Europe but was found living in London in the 1990s and has since spread outwards, even though it can’t fly. It lives and breeds on aromatic plants such as Rosemary, Lavender and Thyme but rarely does much damage.


The Creeping Thistle is now going to seed. We couldn’t delay any longer – we got the tractor out to cut down the area where it grows densely:


Here are the meadows now, in late July:


We had a wander amongst the long grasses:

7-spot Ladybird eating Aphids
There were so many 7-Spots on this one plant
But one of the Ladybirds had fallen victim to a Spider
Still on this same plant was this caterpillar of the Dark Arches Moth


A Marbled White Butterfly being eaten by an Enoplognatha sp Spider
Common Blue roosting on a Plantain
Gatekeeper on Ladies Bedstraw
At least five Small Blues down by the wild pond. This is a male with a few blue scales on the wing

Finally for today, the Stock Doves are still incubating in the Kestrel nest box in the Pine Tree and occasionally we get little glimpses of an egg:

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VideoGlide Snapshot

We are very excited for the egg to hatch.






The Digiscopers

Various family members going for a swim

The year now seems to be galloping past and it has got to the point when the sea becomes so inviting that even I may consider going in for a swim. I haven’t got there yet personally, but everyone else has.

Down at the white cliffs, the chicks in the second Kestrel nest are growing up fast. We thought that there were two of them:

One eye open, one eye closed. Good results with the digiscope that we took down with us.


But then we saw that actually there were three:

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The chick at the back looks so much older

When we passed the nest again on our way back, that oldest chick was out of the nest:

Really short tail feathers still

It hopped back in while we were watching.

The House Martin nest, that I thought had been abandoned, has been repaired and is still going strong, with young being fed. So that is good news:



There are now a lot of House Martin nests – my guess would be around 30 – and it is lovely to see the birds all flying around and about. Here is another of the nests:



The digiscope – a normal birding scope with a connector so that a mobile phone can take photos through it – took a photo of the same nest, showing the pile of muck that has collected below as well:


This stretch of cliff also has Fulmars nesting in the little caves and crevices that are cut into the chalk. In the photo below, the nest is tucked in the back and one of the adults can just be seen sitting on it:


Fulmars are in the same family as Albatrosses and have a similar tube on their beaks to excrete excess salt.


The digiscope also did a good job with the Fulmars, capturing an adult and its chick making a right old racket:

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Herring Gulls seem to be able to manage without the shelter of a cave. Here is one of their nests built on an exposed ledge and with a spotty-headed chick:


This cruise ship, the Carnival Magic, came to Dover this week, apparently to pick up staff. Are cruises starting up again then? Surely not.


I know I was meant to be taking photos of the wildlife but the image of this man below, admiring the cliffs as they stretch off towards Dover, was so striking that I couldn’t resist. It looks like he was standing on the top of the world rather than at sea level.


Once he had got down, he came over and had a look at the digiscoping of the Kestrels with us.

Back in the meadows, we have a Kestrel box up in a Pine tree that has been standing empty and rejected for five years now. But this week we noticed a Stock Dove coming out of it and so climbed up to see what was going on:


A single Stock Dove egg. We put that wood chip in there, so the bird has done little, if any, nest building.

Stock Doves normally lay two eggs and so another one might be expected shortly. Then incubation is 16-18 days and apparently they can have up to five broods a year, which sounds like hard work.

We have now managed to get a camera in the box:

VideoGlide Snapshot 1

It is a different sort of camera to the trail cameras that we usually use – it has cables running off it that we then plug into the computer to see live footage from the box. The camera doesn’t record movements when we are not around but this does mean that we do not need to go near the nest again. We can just connect our computer up at a distance from time to time to see how things are progressing.

It seems that Wood Pigeons are still actively building nests. We have had several carrying sticks on this perch in the week:


And there was also this emergency landing which made me smile:


Somewhere about the meadows a family of Robins has successfully fledged:

Just-fledged Robin

Goldfinches as well. We rescued this young bird from a shed:


A Crow found a bit of jam sandwich that the Foxes must have missed and took it to water to soften it before eating:



We continually move the cages around so that there is no food build up, but when the cages are close to the hedgerow, they have been getting occasional daytime visits from this Rat:

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I have an instinctual negative reaction to seeing a Rat but I think this is misplaced and try to overcome it – after all, these cages are a long way away from any human habitation. We see Rats rarely here – there are far too many Foxes and Badgers, both of whom love to eat Rats.

Some other photos from the meadows this week:

A single stem of Ragwort supporting so much life – Cinnabar Moth caterpillars and Common Red Soldier Beetles
A second flush of the tiny Small Blue Butterflies is now to be seen
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My friend the one-eyed vixen. Well, she is my friend but I’m not sure I’m her friend
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One of her three cubs
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Mother and cub
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Phew – all seven Badgers still with us. The male is at the front. The small cub is on the far left
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The dog is a disgrace
Sparrowhawks being seen daily on this gate
Emperor Dragonfly laying eggs in the hide pond
The wild pond has only been there five years and it is wonderful to find that it has attracted specialist species. This is a Stretch Spider, Tetragnatha striata, and is a water reed specialist. There are reeds in the wild pond but this is the only habitat like this for a large distance – so how on earth did these Spiders get here after we dug the pond?
On a trip back to Maidenhead this week, I found this Wood Louse Spider under a flower pot. (Dysdera crocata). Although I have never seen one of these in the meadows in Kent, I  have often seen these Spiders under flower pots in Maidenhead. Never before actually with prey, though and so I was excited to include it

Time now to move to the wood. What on earth is this? Possibly a Mink – although it has quite a bushy tail and we are a long way from a water course. I’m not very good with Mustelids.

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I believe this animal was also seen on our woodland neighbours’ camera a while ago and we tried to work out what it was then but I don’t think a firm conclusion was reached.

Young Green Woodpeckers have now fledged somewhere in the wood:

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So very speckled

The Great Spotted young are around as well and so we have had a successful Woodpecker year:

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Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker with its red cap
Scorpion Fly (Panorpa sp) which feeds on small invertebrates in woodland margins. Look at its wacky elephant trunk and scorpion tail. A most peculiar thing.

We were a bit alarmed by this ship this week. The south to north shipping lane is too far east for us to see from the meadows, but this container ship, the Estelle Maersk, was travelling north quite close to us – we have never seen a container ship so close.  She was way out of the shipping lane and on a direct line to bump into Thanet. Then she seemed to abruptly change course and veer off sharply north-eastwards, away from us. All very peculiar. It is actually a wonder that they can see where they are going over all those containers – perhaps they can’t! Here she is as she passed the Goodwin Sands Lightship after she had veered north-east.


Below is a strange vessel. This is Hawk, a semi-submersible, heavy load carrier, nearing the end of a fifty day journey from the United Arab Emirates, via the Cape of Good Hope, to Nigg in Scotland. She is carrying footings for the Moray East Offshore Windfarm and I suppose these go onto the seabed and the wind turbines will slot into the rings at the top.

She is just over the horizon so we can’t see the bottom of the vessel

Below is Hawk again but also in the photo is Le Jacques Cartier, a brand new, super sleek cruise ship. The company that owns her, Ponant, only took delivery of her a couple of days ago. This ship has an underwater multi-sensory lounge with two round observation windows to watch the sea life as you cruise along drinking champagne which sounds really lovely.

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So, that was a lot of shipping to include in a wildlife blog but the variety of the stuff that sails past us here is completely fascinating and, now that we have the fantastic digiscope set up, we can get a proper look at it all.


The Insect Siren

I already knew that I was adored by Mosquitoes, Horse Flies and a host of other biting insects, but it turns out that I’m pretty popular with Pollen Beetles as well:


This sort of attention I could do without, but it serves me right for going out in a T shirt that makes me look like a giant Hawkweed. At least we have proved that it is the colour yellow that draws the Beetles in to the flowers, rather than smell or shape – so a scientific experiment, then, rather than a wardrobe miscalculation. The other one of us, wearing a shirt of muted greens and blues, had not a single Beetle on him.

Quite a high tide – it has been a full moon

Down at the white cliffs, two of the young Kestrels have now fledged and are inexpertly flying around in the vicinity of the nest:



Talking to a fellow nature enthusiast that we met, there are another two still in the nest:


There were also a pair of Ravens to be seen. Back in 2010, Ravens nested and successfully raised two young in the white cliffs around Dover for the first time in more than a century. There are now, I believe, several Raven nesting sites in the area, including one quite close to here:


But there has been drama down at the white cliffs. The House Martin nest that I had been particularly watching now seems to have been attacked and is standing empty.


But what bird is capable of robbing a nest on a sheer cliff like that? A quick search on the internet tells me that both Sparrowhawks and Great Spotted Woodpeckers would be able to do that- and of those two, Sparrowhawks have to be the prime suspects.

Having shut the gate between the meadows, we are now starting to see our Sparrowhawks again, rather than just the sorry piles of feathers that they leave as their calling cards:


The male is distinctive with white feathers on the back of his head:


And so here he is again on the strip:



We have had some more much-needed rain in the week. The Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves always seem pretty waterproof, the water simply forming spheres on their feathers that then roll off. But what on earth had happened to this one? In all the years of looking at these birds on trail cameras, I haven’t seen one looking wet like this before.

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It is always entertaining to see what state the Badgers manage to get themselves in when it rains:

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Although too early still to start this year’s cut of the meadows, we got the tractor out and cut the paths round the circumference.


IMAG0837The cut field margins stop the hedgerows encroaching too enthusiastically into the meadows as well as making it much easier for us to walk around.

An enticing path through the meadow flowers

We operate a zero-tolerance policy for Ragwort and just about now, as the Ragwort clearly advertises itself by coming into flower, we go round with the Ragwort fork and dig it all up. Ragwort is an injurious weed and its toxins build up in the liver of grazing animals, especially dangerous if it is in hay and they can’t recognise and avoid it. Our cut grasses don’t go to animals but we are under a legal obligation to ensure that Ragwort seed from our land doesn’t spread to other people’s.


We have been doing this now for five years and there is only a small amount growing now compared to before. However, Ragwort has many wildlife benefits – one of the most obvious being as the larval food plant for the beautiful Cinnabar Moth. We have been finding some of these caterpillars here this week:

I hadn’t noticed those hairs before



We have decided to delay the Ragwort-removal job for a couple of weeks to give the Cinnabars time to pupate – there is time before these plants start to go to seed. When the caterpillars are fully grown, they will leave the plant and pupate just below the surface of the soil until next spring.

For now, our bright yellow Rag-Fork will remain hanging in the shed

Now that we are in July, an extra layer of richness is brought to the soundscape of the meadows with the song of Grasshoppers and Crickets. Shut your eyes and you are on a Mediterranean holiday. They are very much part of the ecosystem here but we have never put the necessary effort in to get to know them. There are 34 species of Orthoptera (Bush-crickets, Crickets and Grasshoppers) in the UK but we have no idea how many of those live here. With East Africa currently suffering the worst locust devastation for many generations, it seemed a very appropriate time to find out a little more about these animals.

We saw this Roesels’s Bush-cricket on a window, very distinctive with the yellow spots on the side of her thorax and the margin of the pronotum, just behind the head. She is a female with her sword-like ovipositor.


I remembered that last year I had rescued a Roesel’s Bush-cricket from a spider web in a shed and I searched back for the photo:


This is also a female with that ovipositor – but the big difference is that this one’s wings are really short.

There is a form, f. diluta, of this species that has the long wings and f. diluta usually makes up less than 1% of the population. This percentage can rise, however, in long hot summers or if the population density is getting high – that is, in conditions where it might be necessary to disperse.

Here is a very different Bush-cricket that we also saw this week, the Speckled Bush-cricket:

A female again, with that ovipositor

We were finding this all so interesting that we decided to do some sweeps of the grass with a net and see what we caught.

What fun! (but we don’t get out much)

As well as the Roesel’s, we found Meadow Grasshoppers and Field Grasshoppers, although both of these come in many colour forms and identification proved to be a somewhat tricky business.

Meadow Grasshopper male. Chorthippus parallelus
Field Grasshopper. Chorthippus brunneus
Another female Roesel’s Bush-cricket, also with those long wings. Notice the white spines at the rear of her abdomen. We guess that they are used as anchors as she sticks the ovipositor into the ground.

The net also contained all sorts of other things – caterpillars, spiders, moths. We had never seen anything like these sweet little things before:




These are different instars of the nymphs of the Tortoise Bug (Eurygaster testudinaria). We didn’t find an adult but it is perhaps slightly too early.

Here are a few other photos from this week in the meadows:

Marbled White on Teasel
Goldfinch eating the flowers seeds
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Scarface out and about in the light

One wet morning this week, the De Gallant was at anchor alongside the meadows.


She was launched in 1916 and served as a Herring lugger in the North Sea until 1936. In recent times she has become a wind-powered cargo ship that also carries fare-paying passengers, who go along for the ride and also help crew the vessel. Last October, she sailed into Deal bringing produce all the way from the Caribbean that the people of the town had pre-ordered, powered only by the strength of the wind. We happened to see her arrival from the meadows as we were standing talking to the bird ringer:


This week, the De Gallant stayed at anchor all morning. We used digiscoping to get these more detailed images of her:


We thought she was getting ready to sail when we saw this bare-footed young man go along the bow sprit to grapple with the sails, but, in the end, she slid further along towards Deal with the tide and we lost sight of her.


I mentioned earlier that the tides have been high this week because of the full moon. Late one warm evening, we watched it rise above France.


It was completely magical.




And Now It’s July

After a particularly windy day, we found a tiny little nest on the ground, blown out of a hedgerow:


So delicate and soft, it had been woven out of Badger fur. But what sort of British bird would have a nest so small?


Well, it is lucky that we have the bird ringer to pose these questions to – apparently this is just the soft nest lining of a bigger nest, possibly Chaffinch. I love that the birds have been out collecting Badger fur so that their babies can be comfortable.

The bird ringer was back ringing in the meadows in a lull in the weather this week.

Juvenile Dunnock

He mentioned that the young Kestrels are now old enough to be standing at the entrance to their nest in the white cliffs. We high-tailed it down there that very afternoon:

Young Kestrel soon to fledge

Two chicks were visible in the nest and this adult female was immediately below the hole:


There was a lot of Kestrel activity there that day

As we walked further along, we think we found a second Kestrel nest. Certainly a Kestrel briefly landed at it which is what drew our attention:


If you peer into the photo, it is just possible to see a fluffy white chick within this black hole – we could see it much more clearly through our binoculars. This nest hole is lower than the original one and I am hoping it will be possible to get better photos of this nest as the baby gets older.

Chicks have now started hatching in the cliff-nesting House Martin colony:

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How lovely.

We also saw this Seal:

Seal with a fish
Using its flippers

I am not very familiar with Seals and I reminded myself yet again about what the differences between Grey and Common (or Harbour) Seals are. This next photo from the internet shows the larger Grey Seal in the middle with the Roman nose. The Common Seals on either side have a different face shape – almost a snub nose.

Grey and common seal

So that would definitely make our Seal a Grey Seal.

A few miles north from here, the River Stour enters the sea and last summer we took a boat trip along the Stour as far as its mouth where Seals are known to haul out.

The mouth of the Stour with the Isle of Thanet in the background. How did that tower block ever get planning permission?

Now that I have revised again the difference between Grey and Common Seals, I see that these were definitely Common Seals:


The rather alarming ginger colour shows that they have recently been spending time at  a particular place on the Thames in Essex where there is mud that stains them that colour.

However, it is Grey Seals who haul out onto the Goodwin Sands when they are exposed at low tide. These notorious sands lie directly offshore from the meadows and have been responsible for thousands of shipwrecks over the centuries, although these days they are surrounded by lightships and warning buoys. Two ships, responsible for looking after these structures, often come and drop anchor alongside us. The Patricia and the Galatea look quite similar and we get confused between them, but it was definitely the Galatea that was here overnight this week:

The Galatea is operated by Trinity House, the body responsible for lighthouses and marine navigation aids around the coasts of Btiain

Although not so much in the news these days, the issue of migrants coming across the channel to land at this part of the coast is still very much on-going – all the more perilous for these people in this time of pandemic. Border Force vessels maintain a presence in these waters and are a familiar sight to us:


Another week further on into the summer and all seven Badgers are still present and correct at dusk when the peanuts go down. Those headlights in the top left hand corner are the eyes of a Fox that is having to wait until the Badgers have finished before it can move in:

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Here are the three Fox cubs and their father seeing if the Badgers have left them any peanuts:

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But the Fox cubs have now discovered that food is also going out onto the pinnacle where the Badgers don’t go:

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We can’t have a whole post without the one-eyed vixen appearing and here she is on the right with one of her cubs.

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One of the cubs
Another Fox up on the strip. The camera was wonky – the sea is not really at this angle
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I love this photo. This is the young, first-time mother playing with her single cub

A Grey Wagtail visited the hide pond:

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The bird ringer tells us that the Grey Wagtails breeding in local chalk rivers have already finished their second broods and may be going on to a third. So this bird is most likely to have fledged from one of the first two broods and is now dispersing.

We liked this photo of a Blackbird flying off from the strip with a sunflower seed in his beak:

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We had been keeping this gate between the two meadows propped open during the pandemic so that the bird ringer didn’t have to touch any infrastructure when he came to do his ringing. However, we missed seeing the variety of birds that perch on it and so we have now closed it again unless the bird ringer is expected. In particular, it is a favourite spot for the Sparrowhawks to rest a while and watch for their unfortunate prey:


In the past week, the grasses seem to have gone much browner as we approach high summer:


The Wild Carrot is at its best
Two Swollen-thighed Beetles on Scabious, their thighs shining like jewels.
A Grasshopper with raspberry-coloured armour. This is the purple form of Field Grasshopper
A Gatekeeper Butterfly was first seen on 3rd July with its distinctive double white spots
Some Butterfly species such as this Peacock had disappeared but have now started to be seen again as the second broods hatch

In the wood, we saw about twenty Peacock caterpillars prominently placed on a patch of Nettle at the woodland margin. Nettle is the larval food plant of this Butterfly.


A very striking-looking Caterpillar

These Caterpillars will have been all living altogether in a communal web when they were smaller but, now they are close to pupating, they have become solitary, sitting fully exposed on leaves. They will pupate and then hatch out as second brood adults during the rest of the summer. At the beginning of September they will find somewhere safe and protected to hibernate over winter as adults so that they can be one of the first Butterflies on the wing next year.

The farm that runs alongside the wood changed hands last year and the new owner has taken it out of agriculture and is managing it for nature. This spring, he planted thousands of young trees in the field next to our wood. This is such a dry part of the country, we were wondering how he was going to keep them watered this summer whilst they establish themselves. Well, we now have our answer because he has built a temporary water tower in one corner of the field:


There continues to be a tremendous number of Great Tits visiting the deeper pond at the wood. I count fourteen of them in this photo below. We are taking credit for this, whether justified or not, because we think that these are families recently fledged from the nest boxes.


The Green Woodpecker nest in the Cherry Tree that we were watching must surely have failed because all activity there abruptly stopped. We are also not seeing any juvenile Green Woodpeckers on the cameras. Here is an adult bird:


A lovely shot of a Jay:


And we finish today with a Badger, looking absolutely right and at peace in its woodland habitat.

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