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.

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