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.
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.
It is always entertaining to see what state the Badgers manage to get themselves in when it rains:
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.
The cut field margins stop the hedgerows encroaching too enthusiastically into the meadows as well as making it much easier for us to walk around.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.