Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

It looks like it is going to be a good year for sloes. I’m afraid that we have developed a bit of a taste for sloe gin since we have been here – very sweet but oh so very delicious – and we are certainly going to be making some again this autumn.

Back in the spring, there were several days of icily freezing north-easterly winds which hit our hedgerows hard just as the Hawthorn was coming into leaf. Along the entire 300m run of hedgerow along the western boundary, the leaves shrivelled and browned. As a result, the Hawthorn had no blossom and consequently now has no berries. Birds love Hawthorn berries but sadly our crop of them is seriously depleted this year. There are, however, still a few Hawthorns along the cliff that were more sheltered from those terrible winds and do now have some berries that we can offer them:

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. What a wonderfully evocative line from John Keat’s poem ‘To Autumn’. We don’t see many mists here with our winds but on a glorious autumnal day this week we visited Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection, which is on the outskirts of Faversham, just the other side of Canterbury. We had been meaning to go for ages:

In their 150 acres of orchard, they grow 2,300 different varieties of apple, 550 of pear, 350 of plum and 320 of cherry.

September is a great month to go when the fruit is heavy on the trees but, of course, it wasn’t the best year to visit – they are not running their guided tours for Covid-19 reasons and so we walked a self-guided route round the orchards and admired all the wonderful fruit. But it would have been nice to learn a bit more about all the different varieties and get to taste them too and so we will try again next year.

I really liked the look of the variety called ‘Josephine’ shown below. The lacework pattern of russeting is so beautiful and they look very tempting:

Brogdale has a weather station – below is the Stevenson screen which is a shelter for wet and dry bulb thermometers to measure air temperature and humidity. It is famous in meteorological circles because it measured the hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK – 38.5 degrees on 10th August 2003.

Back in the meadows, the weather has been calm for a while and no further pears have fallen from the trees. That hasn’t stopped the Foxes staring longingly upwards hoping for one to drop:

We have been starting about our autumn jobs. The first meadow is now almost cut. As usual, we are leaving several artistic areas uncut on a rotational basis so that we don’t wipe out insect populations such as Large Skipper Butterflies whose caterpillars will be living within the grass blades, only venturing out to feed.

I started to pull reeds out of the pond but could only do the ones that were standing in the small amount of water that there is in there currently. Otherwise they just snapped off rather than coming out with their roots. I will revisit this job once we have had some more rain.

I made a pile of the pulled reeds close to the Badger sett in case they wanted to take them as bedding.

Of course they did. Here is the male, Scarface, taking some reeds off to his bed:

We also scythed some long grasses and helpfully put them by a Badger hole. The next morning the pile had gone:

It is now a few weeks since I have seen all seven Badgers together, although there are often six. It is quite difficult to tell, but I don’t think that one of these Badgers below is Scarface, in which case I am happy that we haven’t lost one because he is often to be seen on his own elsewhere:

I took the photo below of the Wasp Spider on Tuesday, 9th September and, ever since we discovered her on 4th August, she has been sitting here on her web. For most of August she was kept very busy catching, wrapping and eating prey, but then the flowers around the web went to seed and were no longer visited by insects. Since then things have been much quieter for her.

The day after I took the photo, she was gone. I read that Wasp Spiders mate in July and spend August feeding up as eggs are produced within her. Then, a month after mating, she leaves the web and makes a cocoon containing her eggs which hangs on nearby foliage. It did not say, but I presume that she stays by the cocoon, protecting it, because she has not returned to the web and she will then die over the winter. Although we searched in the vicinity of the web, we couldn’t find her but the grass is not going to be cut in that area so her cocoon will be safe even if we don’t know exactly where it is.

Now that autumn is here, the Ivy is just starting to come into flower in the hedgerows of the meadows. This is something that you can actually hear more than you can see – the buzzing coming from these hedgerows in the sunshine is amazing:

Autumn is also the time when we see Migrant Hawker Dragonflies in the meadows. This is a common Dragonfly in wetter areas of southern Britain but its numbers are boosted by migrants coming in from continental Europe in the autumn and it is these migrants that we see here.

Recently we have been watching a pair of Stock Doves successfully raise a single young bird in a Kestrel box. After it fledged, they immediately laid two more eggs, but they now seem to have had a rethink about having another brood this year and have abandoned the eggs:

We are no longer holding out any hope at all that Kestrels will ever use this box and we would be delighted to welcome the Doves back again next year should they wish to return and raise another family. Meanwhile, we might as well keep the camera in position in the box to see if anything else interesting happens over the winter.

The autumn bird migration is in full swing here. Chiffchaffs in particular are moving through right now and the Bird Ringers were working in the meadows three mornings this week, catching and ringing well over a hundred birds on their way to Africa.

Here is a Chiffchaff, soon to set off on its long and perilous journey to another continent and now wearing a shiny anklet which can be used to find out where and when it was ringed should it be caught again as it goes on its way.

Some other photos from the meadows this week:

The headlines from the wood this week is that we saw a Hare in the field that borders the wood. I don’t have a photograph to support this sighting but there was no doubting what it was. This was very exciting because we hadn’t seen a Hare there before, although our woodland neighbours have.

Other goings-on in the wood:

Finally, back to the meadows, where the barge arrived back from Falmouth this week, carrying another load of granite to build the new groynes on the beach. The barge itself has no motor and has been towed to Cornwall and back:

After the barge had discharged this second load of granite, I went down to see how the beach is getting on. The answer is that it is currently all a bit of a mess – the groyne in the foreground below is perhaps now completed but the other two are still just piles and look like they might yet need more stone.

We will await another delivery of Cornish stone next week.

Today we are flying the Welsh Dragon in memory of my much-loved and much-missed mother whose birthday would have been tomorrow. Although she moved to England when she married, most of her heart remained in Wales.

Bank Holiday Entertainment

Dover Council laid on some August Bank Holiday entertainment for us this week with the arrival of a work barge, loaded with granite. We saw it when it was still offshore and wondered what it was:

It was a time of full moon and the barge was pushed to the shore on the high spring tide in the late morning and started unloading its boulders onto the beach.

As the tide retreated in the mid afternoon, so did the barge and it moored up just offshore. Then, at the next high tide shortly before midnight, it was back at the beach unloading the rest of the stone and keeping the inhabitants of this part of Walmer awake late into the night with its clanking and crashing.

The next morning, the barge had gone but there were two piles of stone on the shore:

This granite has come from Cornwall – probably Carnsew Quarry near Falmouth – and we presume the barge is now being towed back there to pick up some more. We have a small sliver of the rock that had sheared off as the stones crashed together:

Dover Council are paying £831k to construct three rock groynes here at Walmer and one a bit further north at Sandown Castle to stop the beach being eroded and carried north at the rate that it has been in recent years.

We are now expecting the return of the barge with another load of Cornish granite before too long to finish what it has started. In the meantime, heavy machinery is still at work on the beach, repositioning the boulders and filling the gaps with smaller rocks. Once the groynes are finished, they might provide habitat for Rock Pipits, Purple Sandpipers and other exciting birds as well as helping with the beach erosion.

The recent storms caused fruit to fall from the fruit trees in the orchard. One week on and we noticed that the apples were still lying, gently rotting, on the ground:

However, all the fallen pears had disappeared. We pulled a few more pears from the tree down onto the ground below and put a camera on them to see who is so partial to our pears whilst ignoring the apples:

The camera also caught them eating pears off the tree:

I don’t blame them – they are ever so nice.

In the wood, the recent rains provided a little taster of a winter phenomenon there that I eagerly await – the Tawny Owls nightly worming. The Owl’s posture is very distinctive, staring intently down at the ground just in front of its feet.

Hopefully I will get better photos for you when the ground softens more as autumn gets properly into its stride.

Before we bought the wood, there was a big shoot there in the winters and we have quite a few Pheasants around still which, I think, are a legacy from that time. Astoundingly, 43 million Pheasants are released into the British countryside by the shooting industry every year. But, although we have seen courtship behaviour amongst the adult birds, we hadn’t ever seen any juveniles as evidence that they were successfully breeding in the wild. However, I think now we have because this bird below must be a young bird, with its short tail feathers:

In the meadows, this Fox is being very brave:

It is an exciting time of year for the Bird Ringers with a lot of Birds on the move and they have been ringing in the meadows a couple of times this week. On Friday they caught a Spotted Flycatcher:

This Bird was born this year and is now migrating to south of the Sahara. It has a very distinctive beak shape with coarse whiskers on either side:

Also, the very tip of the top beak turns down:

This species has suffered a devastating 89% population decline in the UK between 1967 and 2010 and I had actually never seen one before. Spotted Flycatcher has now entered the meadows bird list at number 80. But Friday was a great day and there was more to come. As the Bird Ringers were sitting in the meadows, they heard and saw two Crossbills fly overhead (Species 81) and then a Hobby (Species 82).

Earlier in the week they had caught a second Sedge Warbler and look what a beauty it is:

Also a lovely variety of other Warblers:

Some other photos from around the meadows this week:

I sent my Moth records up to the end of August in to the County Moth Recorder. There were a very large number of records and he queried nine of them that stood out to him as odd or unusual. I was quite pleased with that but he told me not to be disheartened which seems to imply that he thought I might be. Of the nine queries, I didn’t have photos to support two of the records so they are ignored. I sent him photos for his remaining seven queries and five of these were found to be misidentified by me. However, I did get two correct!

My mothing enthusiasm continues undaunted by all of this – I have learnt so much this summer. This is a beautiful Moth, Campion, that I caught in the week, with its purple undertones. I hadn’t seen one of these before.

I finish today with a Spitfire. In normal summers these aeroplanes are a very familiar sight over the meadows. They do acrobatics over our heads several times a day at weekends as they fly along the white cliffs, carrying fare-paying passengers in a two-seater training version of the plane. This summer, unusual in every possible way, we have scarcely seen them. However, one flew over this week and it was so lovely to see it and hear that distinctive 1940s engine again.