The Summer Fades

The weather forecast foretold wind gusts of up to 55mph and heavy rainfall for most of Tuesday as we waited for Storm Francis to make his way over the top of us. The ponds need rainwater so badly that we pulled out all the stops to gather as much of the promised water as possible to boost the flagging water levels.

We also worried about the orchard, laden with heavy fruit as the trees are at this time of year.

We decided to do an emergency harvest of some of the fruit to lighten the branches and make them less vulnerable to wind damage.

There was then an awful lot of processing to do to get this lot into the freezer. In the event, Francis had somewhat blown himself out by the time he got to us, although we did get a precious 8mm of rain. Hurricane Laura, that has battered Louisiana this week, makes Francis seem minor. But it was Francis’ timing that was so concerning, coming as he did when summer was still in full swing.

Then, on Thursday and Friday there has been another glorious 14mm of rain.

Thunder rumbled loudly and atmospherically around the meadows and then suddenly the sky was filled with Swallows, riding the wave of air displaced by the approaching weather system. A twister started to form out to sea although it didn’t touch ground:

With all the rain that has fallen from the skies this week, the ponds are still a long way from looking great but they are certainly improved.

This Sparrowhawk below has chains of hearts rather than barring on its upper chest indicating that it is a juvenile:

These next two images might well be the same bird in different lights:

This is another Sparrowhawk below but it is stretching my Sparrowhawk ID skills. I think it is a different juvenile with those love hearts on its chest again and it somehow looks a bit cuddlier than your normal Sparrowhawk:

But I am certain that this next bird is an adult male Sparrowhawk with his rufous sides and cheeks:

The pair of Grey Partridge visit the strip every day. This is the male with his rufous head and faint patch of red skin behind his eye. That red would have been very bright earlier on in the summer:

Females usually have a pale supercilium – a stripe above their eyes – although some don’t. Ours here doesn’t but I am wondering if perhaps it is actually a juvenile going around with its Dad. There is much higher mortality of adult females since they are more exposed to predators such as Foxes whilst sitting on the nest in a hedgerow.

We have been seeing Kestrels perched high in the hedgerows, watching for rodents:

We continue to have a Rat visiting the seed cages up on the strip…

…and I wonder if this is what this Kestrel was after:

A quick bit of research on the internet suggests that Kestrels do prefer mouse-sized rodents but there were several references to them also occasionally taking Rats.

It is a couple of weeks since I have seen all seven Badgers together. However, there are six of them here a few nights ago and I don’t think any of these is the heftier adult male, Scarface. I have definitely seen him on other cameras and so that would mean that all Badgers are still accounted for. The little cub is front right.

Seventy percent of a Badger’s diet would normally be Worms, but at times of drought such as now, the ground is hard and the Worms have retreated down deep. The Badgers need to find alternative sources of food until the rains come again and one of the things they do is to dig up Wasp nests and eat the grubs, being able to smell exactly when the most productive time is to do this. We found such an attacked nest that had been built in an old vole hole:

A couple of Wasps were still hanging around in the hole, surrounded by the sorry destruction of their nest:

Another animal that would have liked to have found this Wasp nest flew low across the meadows on Friday morning, with a pair of Crows in hot pursuit:

This is a new species for the meadow – a Honey Buzzard. Its main source of food are the nests, larvae, pupae and adults of social insects – including Wasps, Bees, Bumble Bees and Hornets. It finds a nest by following the insects back to it and then digs the nest out with its feet. It can dig down as deep as 40cm. This is a really unusual diet for a bird and it is adapted for it, having small, dense feathers on its face to reduce stings, powerful feet for digging and slit-like nostrils to stop soil clogging.

In the wood, some of the English Oaks have an alarming number of these galls. In fact on a few of the trees, every one of its acorns seemed to have been transformed:

This knopper gall is caused by the Gall Wasp Andricus quercuscalicus which arrived naturally in Britain in the 1960s and caused much concern for a while because of the widespread destruction of acorns. However, some years are much worse than others and there have always been enough acorns surviving intact so that it has not turned out to be the problem that was at first thought.

These galled acorns fall to the ground and the Wasp emerges next spring. The Knopper Gall Wasps have a complicated two-phase life cycle – they have an asexual all-female reproductive year, making these galls on English Oak, but the next year they will have a sexual phase and make small conical galls on the catkins of Turkey Oaks.

The same Oaks that had the knopper galls, also had these galls below. These are silk button spangle galls caused by another Gall Wasp, Neuroterus numismalis. These spangle galls are the asexual phase for this Wasp. The Wasp has a sexual phase as well, which produces different looking galls also on English Oaks.

The Ivy is just beginning to flower in the wood and the Ivy Bees have arrived, in beautifully-timed choreography:

Back in the meadows, the Ivy is not yet in flower and Ivy Bees aren’t to be seen but we are expecting hundreds of thousands of them shortly. They are a harbinger of autumn here.

The one-eyed vixen is now almost looking like a normal, healthy Fox. The seven-day treatment with Psorinum worked a treat:

The Stock Dove chick fledged on 24th August and we found the box empty. What a success and what a relief:

However, on 27th, there was this:

It looks like we are going to go through the suspense of observing another chick grow up in the box. It seems very late in the year to be starting again – September is just round the corner after all. We have also been seeing Stock Dove courtship on the trail cameras:

Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs are starting to move. The Bird Ringer was in the meadows targeting them this week:

There has been a definite nip in the air these last few days, suggesting the end of the tired old summer and the ushering in of an exciting, fresh new season. Autumn brings with it the bird migration, the cutting of the meadows and the starting of this year’s coppicing in the wood and there is much to look forward to.

Climate Canaries

On the beach below the meadows, the action of the sea moves the pebbles inexorably northwards with the on-going process of long-shore drift. Every year, large trucks arrive and drive along the beach moving it all south again. The dog really objects to these trucks and sees it as a personal responsibility to race pointlessly up and down the meadows to chase them off. There is so little water in the ponds at the moment that a cooling dip afterwards turns her into this objectionable mud monster.

This annual beach-moving seems a very costly exercise, both in money and in terms of the environment. Surely there is a better solution.

On these warm August nights, I have been getting some good catches of Moths. I only run the Moth trap if I know I’ve got a few spare hours the next day to work through and identify them all.

Jersey Tigers were rare immigrants until recently. But I know from FaceBook Moth groups that I follow that people have been getting large numbers of these Moths in their traps this year and I had eleven one night this week.

A few years ago, one of our sons visited Butterfly Valley on the Greek island of Rhodes where countless thousands of these Jersey Tiger Moths are to be found. I don’t think he took a photo while he was there and so here is one from the internet:

Moth and Butterfly numbers respond rapidly to changes in climate and other effects on their habitats and so it feels really important to observe and record them – they are like the Canaries that the coal miners took down the mines to quickly detect poisonous gases.

A really quite large area of this yellow umbellifer appeared in the first meadow this year:

We realised that we hadn’t seen this plant before and didn’t know what it was and so took some back to identify:

It’s good that we did because it turns out to be Wild Parsnip. This is an unwelcome development because the sap of this plant causes rashes to the skin if it is exposed to sunlight after contact.

Wild Parsnip is a biennial which means that, having now set seed, all these plants will die at the end of the summer. If we were going to control this plant, it was urgent to act quickly and ensure that none of these seeds reached the soil and be given a chance to germinate. In the sweltering temperatures of this week, we ventured out in long trousers, long sleeves and gloves to cut out and bag up all of the plants and get them off site while their seeds were still attached. A job well done and Wild Parsnip has now joined Ragwort and Creeping Thistle on the ‘Not Welcome Here’ list.

This plant, however, is very welcome here. It is Autumn Lady’s Tresses – an Orchid that seems to like it round these parts. Every year from August we have many hundreds of the little beauties growing in a close cropped turf area. The delicate individual flowers grow in a spiral up the stalk.

It seemed that everywhere else in the entire country had been having rain this week except for us on the east coast of Kent. However, on Wednesday evening, some finally fell.

The fall of rain, hopefully bringing worms up from the deep, hasn’t stopped the Badgers still being very interested in any bird seed that may be lurking in the cages up on the strip. In the photo below, there is a Badger actually in one of the cages:

One night, a Badger dislodged a cage such that it was sticking up a bit into the air:

Then, the next morning, a Feral Pigeon managed to squeeze under and become trapped. Funnily enough, we have never seen a Feral Pigeon here before – only ringed Racing Pigeons:

It was trapped in there for a couple of hours before we turned up and released it:

We hadn’t foreseen a set of circumstances that could result in a bird getting trapped in these cages and yet it happened. A salutary lesson learned that we should not leave them out if we are away.

At the end of a long night, some lounging around before bed:

The young Stock Dove, that hatched in the Kestrel box on 30th July, has now become a beautiful Dove

It will fledge before too long – I expect one day we will connect to the camera and the box will be empty. I hope to then see it on the cameras around the meadows, identifiable because it is almost certainly the only one that will be ringed.

It has been quiet here for the last few days but here are some of the more interesting photos from the week:

Finally today, I just wanted to have a small celebration of Yellowhammers. Two years ago we had no Yellowhammers in the meadows but now they are around so often on the cameras that our feathers have ceased to be ruffled by them. Around ten of them have been ringed here this year and I am still seeing unringed birds on the cameras. Furthermore, in the past few weeks some juveniles have been caught and ringed suggesting that there has been successful breeding here too and hopefully a little population of them has now been established – one of our big successes of the year. Here are some photos from this morning’s trail cameras – such a fantastic bird:

The Melting Days of Summer

This week we took a trip a few miles up the coast to Sandwich Bay.

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The reason for going was to see if the colony of the Bee Wolves that we found last year, dug into a sandy incline, were there again this year. We were pleased to see that they were:

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A Bee Wolf (Philanthus triangulum) by her tunnel

The Bee Wolf is one of the UK’s largest Solitary Wasps. A female will dig a burrow in the  sand that can be a metre long with up to 34 brood chambers coming off it. Then she goes out hunting to catch Honey Bee workers. When she gets one, she will paralyse it with a sting and carry it back to her burrow. Up to six paralysed Honey Bees are placed in each brood chamber and then a single egg is laid on one of the Bees and the chamber is sealed with sand. After hatching, the Bee Wolf larva will live on the cache of Honey Bees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate through the winter and hatch next spring.

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A Bee Wolf lands, carrying a paralysed Honey Bee below her. A bit difficult to make out, but the Bee is on its back with its eyes by the Wolf’s front legs
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The Wolf and the hapless Bee go off down the tunnel together

Since we were at Sandwich Bay at the end of a exhaustingly hot day, it would have been a shame not to have submerged ourselves in the deliciously cool water.

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The photo below, taken from a video, captures the moment when the smallest Badger cub was making for the hole under the fence but found the one-eyed vixen in its way. You just need to look at the little Badger’s whole body posture to see the difficulty it is having coping with this unexpected turn of events.

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Over the course of the video, the vixen moves off but the Badger stays rooted to the spot in shock. It is interesting how separate these two species keep themselves, given that they are living in very close proximity and both using this same hole under the fence into the meadows. You would think that they must rub up together so often that they become accustomed to it. I am also enjoying how good the one-eyed vixen looks these days, with her tail now bushing up nicely.

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Grooming session at 4.30am, preparing for bed

Halfway through August now and all seven Badgers still accounted for:

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However, with this hot, dry weather the soil is rock hard and the worms, that ideally would make up 70% of their diet, will have gone down deep and unreachable. I can tell the Badgers are hungry because several of them spend a lot of each night scouring the area around the cages on the strip trying to find any seed overlooked by the birds. A few seeds here and there are not going to keep a Badger going for long – we so desperately need some rain.

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Searching for overlooked seeds

Mind you, there are a lot of apple drops in the orchard that are not being eaten by anything and, if you were a hungry omnivore like a Badger, I would have thought you would have eaten those.

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As the temperatures soared this week, we had Raptors coming to the ponds for a drink and a bath.

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Male Sparrowhawk on the strip
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Just four minutes later, this female Kestrel arrived in the same spot
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And a lovely male Kestrel as well with his grey head
We don’t see males so often

Although the wood is generally in the shade, the air temperature was very high there too  – hot enough to bring the Tawny Owls in for a bath at night:

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Female Sparrowhawk in the wood
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Green Woodpeckers are very enthusiastic users of any watering hole and here is a speckled juvenile drinking in the meadows:

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We have been seeing some additional fledglings around this week:

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Two young Greenfinch, with their mother at the back
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Three Goldfinch young (no red on their heads) with their mother
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Spotty Herring Gull juvenile at the back
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I love to see the normally bully-boy Magpies put on the back foot
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The Magpie is out-numbered

As I was meandering around the wood, I disturbed a group of about six Wrens from a Silver Birch coppice stool. I presume that this was a group of fledglings and how lovely was that. Two days later, they were all there again in more or less the same place. This time I managed to get a photo of one of the youngsters:

One of the cameras in the wood captured this Fox with prey – this looks like a pair of bunny back legs to me?

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There is an open area in the new part of the wood that is carpeted with Marjoram and, at this time of year with the Marjoram in flower, it is absolutely alive with bees and other insect life.

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We are going to remove some of the encroaching Rosebay Willowherb, Dogwood and Silver Birch saplings this autumn to ensure that this area remains open and filled with prolific Marjoram growth. A Green-veined White Butterfly was enjoying the nectar in this area:

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Although every year in the meadows we see 23 species of Butterflies, we have never seen a Green-veined White – yet it is one of the UK’s most widespread and common Butterflies. However, damp lush vegetation is an essential requirement for it and nothing about the meadows is damp, lying as they do on free-draining chalk.

We have also never seen one of these Butterflies below in the meadows. The Bird Ringer snapped it on his phone this week at the nearby Lyddon and Temple Ewell nature reserve:

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This is the Silver-spotted Skipper, a rare Skipper found on chalk downlands in parts of southern Britain. However, a grazing regime is critical since it can only survive in really closely cropped turf with bare patches of earth. We do not want the responsibility of having grazing animals here and so we have to therefore also accept that we will never have the delights of Silver-spotted Skippers.

You might not recognise our Stock Dove squab – what a difference a week has made. Here it is when it was ringed last Friday:

And here it is this Friday, just seven days later:

For a few days after the egg hatched, one of the parents stayed with the chick most of the time. But then they went off and this young bird is now alone almost always. Stock Doves spend a lonely childhood, we have discovered, although there are usually two eggs laid. However, there is no doubt that it is being well fed and growing quickly. When a parent comes in to feed the chick, it first of all lands elsewhere in the tree and takes its time looking around for danger before it hops into the box.

Just as I was about to publish this post today, I went through the day’s cameras which included several photos of this bird up on the strip:

Fortuitously the Bird Ringers are here this morning because I had no idea what this bird was although I suspected that it was something interesting. It turns out that it is a Whinchat – species number 78 on the meadows bird list. This is a young bird, on its way to West Africa, south of the Sahara. The Bird Ringers would have loved to have caught and ringed this bird.

One day this week, we had several fly-bys by this RAF aeroplane, an A400 Atlas. It was so noisy that it was impossible not to stop what you were doing and give it your full attention as it went past.

This plane had flown here from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to assist the Border Force and spend the day patrolling for migrant boats coming across from France

It was quite a spectacle but we are pleased that she has now returned to her other duties elsewhere.

It has now been announced that, as of today, people arriving here from France are once again going to have to quarantine themselves. To mark this sad development and all that it implies about the current Covid situation in France, we are now flying their tricolour as a gesture of support.

WilWas and WooWas

Warblers have started their migrations from their breeding grounds, down through the country and on, all the way to Africa. The Bird Ringers came early one morning to target WilWas and WooWas – this is ringer-speak for Willow Warblers and Wood Warblers. Because these birds are no longer breeding, they are now allowed to play their song to bring in any of these species that are in the area.

Although they did not catch a WooWa, they did get some WilWas:

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Willow Warbler

They also caught four other types of Warbler:

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Sedge Warbler. From the finger, you can tell it’s been eating blackberries

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Reed Warbler

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Reed Warblers have such arrow-shaped heads

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Garden Warbler. Small white eye ring is its most distinctive feature

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Whitethroat

All these birds have been born this year and are now making their way south for the first time. The adult birds are also migrating now but probably go straight through, without stopping at the coast.

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They also ringed this young Yellowhammer who will have been born here this year. A very different beak shape to the warblers.

One of our sons, visiting this week, spotted a Wasp Spider in amongst these flowers below. The Spider was doing brisk business catching unfortunate insects.

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A magnificent female Wasp Spider

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With wrapped prey

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You can just make out a Bee in the parcel. This size comparison gives an idea of how large she is.

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From below and you can see silk coming out from that circular spinneret

We also found a second Wasp Spider, a couple of feet further back, and I started going down to visit both webs several times a day because I really wanted to also see a male, who is tiny in comparison. However, I have now read that I was too late – these spiders mate in July and unfortunately the male often doesn’t live to tell the tale, being eaten by her. During August, the female gets larger and larger as the eggs grow inside her and, a month after mating, she finally builds a cocoon for her eggs. Every time I go down to look  at them, they are both busy with new prey items – enthralling and horrifying in equal parts.

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Their webs have a distinctive zig zag ribbon down them – possibly to strengthen them or to make them more visible to larger animals so that they don’t walk through it

We used the welcome injection of enthusiasm in the form of our visiting son to progress a couple of projects. In the wood, several hours were spent working hard on the round house, which we are making out of the by-products from our coppicing efforts over the winter:

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The circle is now complete. Next step is to bang in some larger posts to get the walls a bit higher.

In the meadows, we scythed the green hay off the flowery rectangle that was sown five years ago and laid it onto a neighbouring less-flowery area. We hope that flower seeds will now drop and germinate in this new area.

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Scything the spent flower stalks

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Cutting the grass on an adjoining area really short and scratching up the soil

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The cut flower stalks now spread on the new area

In the wood, we have now got much better photos of the Polecat/Ferret Hybrid:

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There are also other interesting photos from the wood this week:

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Red Deer. This is a second Red Deer  – the other one we have seen had small antlers

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The long-legged giant on a different night

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Tawny Owl

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This Sparrowhawk arrival must have given the young Jay a horrible shock

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Sparrowhawk on another occasion

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Buzzard

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I love the way they walk

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The same Buzzard in a different part of the wood

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Peaceful woodland scene with a male Badger relaxing

In the meadows, a pair of Grey Partridge have begun visiting the strip:

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This Kestrel below is ringed and so I suspect that she is the one that was ringed here in the meadows last year as a young bird.

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Here she is again:

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Young Crow with parent

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Young Yellowhammer with parent

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Yellowhammer bathing

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Green Woodpecker preparing to bathe..

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..and afterwards

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What a sight – a moulting Magpie

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This is intriguing. 1.30am at the dead of night and something goes over the gate. But surely that is fur rather than feathers? I have no idea what this is.

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Two of the triplets

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One of this year’s cubs

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Two roosting Common Blues

We have been following the fortunes of this Stock Dove squab who hatched out of an egg on 30th July. Its a funny looking little thing, and its ears aren’t where you might expect.

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When the Bird Ringers were here this week, they ringed this squab:

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Getting the squab out of the box, having first checked the camera to see that it was on its own

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Fitting the ring

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All ready to go back. Its feathers are in quills still, giving it a very odd appearance

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After the squab had been ringed, a parent is back at the nest, feeding it crop milk

It’s been a hot and busy week. Last night, one of our old favourites, the Patricia, was at anchor alongside. This ship is operated by Trinity House and she tends to the needs of the lightships and buoys marking the treacherous Goodwin Sands that lie just offshore.

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The sea was so unusually still and calm that the reflections, the throb of her engines across the water and the warm, summer evening created a magical atmosphere, one to remember with nostalgia when we are once again in the grip of winter

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The Moon rising with the Patricia on a serene summer night

 

Fledgling Joy

On Friday this week, when the temperature rose above 30 degrees, the Flying Ants took off and we were treated to a fantastic wildlife spectacle in the column of air above the meadows:

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Hundreds of Black-headed Gulls quietly circling round and round feasting on the Ants. We try hard to get the Insects right here in the meadows trusting that everything else will follow and at times of like this we are filled with hope that we are doing things right.

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Now seems a good time to celebrate all this year’s fledglings that are arriving, proof that the natural cycle of renewal is carrying on, unhindered by what is going on in the human world.

Although we have no idea where the nest is, we take great delight in seeing juvenile Green Woodpeckers in the meadows each year – another animal that is drawn here by the Ants:

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Looking rather pleased with itself, I thought.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have announced that over a million rings were put on birds by its accredited ringers in 2019. That is an enormous volunteer effort, especially given how highly trained they all have to be. The Bird Ringer, one of these very volunteers, caught and ringed this young Yellowhammer this week. It will have fledged from a nest somewhere in the meadows this year:

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He also caught five recently-fledged Dunnock chicks and this sweet, juvenile House Sparrow. You can still just see the remains of its yellow gape at the back of the beak:

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Here is young Crow being fed by its parent:

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And Robins have also recently fledged nearby:

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These two Willow Warblers below were born this year but they are already on the move. They stopped off in the meadows this week on their way to Africa for the winter:

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The Bird Ringer tells us that Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler migration has just started and will now continue throughout August. The Chiffchaff migration won’t start until the beginning of September since they don’t travel as far into Africa as the Willow Warblers.

We have also been seeing fledglings in the wood and here are two young fluffy Jays:

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In the meadows, the Stock Doves’ egg has hatched. There is now a long and dangerous road to travel before this little one fledges in 27-28 days time. In that open Kestrel box, the nest will be very obvious and exposed to Magpies and Crows and I already feel nervous for it.

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The adult is pecking the baby’s beak to stimulate feeding

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Feeding the baby crop milk

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Once breeding is over for another year, the adults go into a moult and this Magpie is doing just that and not looking great on it:

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All seven Badgers are still to be seen in the meadows:

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One of the triplets annoying its mother while she tries to drink

One morning we found that a bird feeding cage had been flattened:

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We suspected some teenage hooligans and discovered that we were indeed right when the trail cameras caught two of the triplets red handed:

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One of the perpetrators was even seen sloping away from the scene of the crime at first light:

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I know the Badgers in the wood much less well. This one just looks like it has got a button as a nose:

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Gorgeous colours on this wood Fox

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Haven’t seen a Tawny Owl for ages

On a sunny day, the meadows are absolutely billowing with Butterflies:

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Mating Common Blues

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A Wall Butterfly liking the heat of a sampling square

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Mating Gatekeepers

We have now rescued five Hummingbird Hawk-Moths from inappropriate places so far this year. We have only ever seen one here before, so they are clearly having a good year:

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Hummingbird Hawk-Moth in the process of being rescued

I have been getting some lovely Moths in the trap this week:

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Jersey Tiger

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Magpie Moth

We found this Broad-barred White on a door. Since they have never seen themselves, I am intrigued how they know where to roost so that they are disguised:

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I suppose the ones that get it right are the ones that survive to pass that information on to the next generation – Darwinism in action – but it’s all fascinating stuff.

This photo of a Magpie is also amazing. Its lower beak is so much longer than its upper beak, which is what enables it to open its mouth so wide.

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As the temperature hit 30 degrees this week and the Ants took to the air, we took ourselves down to the beach and swam. It has to be really hot and still to get me into the water and conditions were perfect:

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My only regret was that we forgot to take some wine and glasses.