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.

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