Autumn Rains

We have been away for a week in West Wales and in our absence an awful lot of water has fallen from the skies. The ponds are now refilled and looking admirably good:

It rained a lot in Wales as well, turning the gentle, babbling rivers into terrifying, raging torrents. One of the aims of the holiday was to photograph Otters and this is the best we could achieve before the rivers got too scary:

Luckily, one of us had the foresight to tie the cameras to bits of vegetation higher on the bank with boot laces. But for that, all three cameras would have been lost as the rivers rose three feet in an hour.

Back in the meadows, it has been quite an exceptional autumn in terms of bird movements. Flocks of Siskin, Crossbill and Lesser Redpoll have been moving up and down the coast although it is not really known if they are coming in, going out or just moving around.

In the last week the bird ringers have caught over 50 Lesser Redpoll – a bird which we hadn’t seen here before and so has now gone onto the bird list at number 83.

They also caught some Swallows:

There have been lots of Crossbill flying over, including a group of about 15 landing briefly in one of the Scots Pines. They also spotted a male and female Stonechat in the hedgerow – now added as species number 84 on the list.

On the day we returned, they started the morning’s ringing in a most flamboyant style by catching a much sought-after rarity – a Yellow-Browed Warbler:

This was then followed up with a Firecrest, another exciting bird:

They caught 59 birds during the morning which included 27 Lesser Redpoll ands 5 Robin. Apparently a lot of Robins arrived in this part of the country last week.

Going through the photos taken by the trail cameras while we were away, there was this blurry image of an Owl:

Although we have occasionally seen a Short Eared Owl hunting over the meadows, the usual Owl that we see here is the Tawny. However, the wings of this bird above are much longer than a Tawny’s and so this is either a Short Eared or a Long Eared Owl, both of which also have that noticeable wing bar. Here is the wing of a Long Eared Owl that the Bird Ringer ringed some years ago:

But both the Bird Ringer and the Warden of the Bird Observatory, whose opinion was also sought, are leaning towards our bird being a Short Eared Owl and so, for now, we cannot jubilantly also add Long Eared Owl to our list. Maybe one day.

Although we see Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the wood, it is extremely rare to see them in the meadows:

This cat, looking like a small black Panther, continues to hunt and kill our small Mammals. This first photo looks like something out of ‘His Dark Materials’:

So much of the year is spent longing for more rain that we forget some of the downsides – soggy trail cameras with their lenses fogged with condensation. There were many photos of Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and, yes, even those Stonechats, that I am not including because the picture quality is too awful. However, the moist weather does mean that we all get to enjoy photos of wet cuddly Badger fur:

We always see a lot of the Rose Bedeguar Galls on the Wild Roses in the meadows. The Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae causes a distortion of the end bud of the plant, turning it onto a mossy looking ball which contains the Wasp larvae. Usually, these galls are no larger than a conker, but we have a prize-winning one in the meadows this year:

Interestingly, this Gall Wasp is parthenogenetic, meaning that the embryos can develop from unfertilised cells. Therefore, fewer than 1% of these Wasps are males which sounds like something from futuristic science fiction.

The cameras in the wood were more protected from the elements by the trees and didn’t suffer the same drenching inflicted on those in the meadows and also in Wales.

Red Deer antlers are made of bone and begin growing in the spring. They can grow at a rate of an inch a day but, with the approach of autumn, the antlers stop growing and calcify in preparation for the rut. They are then shed at the end of winter. The only way to properly age a Red Deer is by looking at its teeth, the number of spikes on the antlers not being a reliable indication. However, to me, this male has all the feel of being a young animal.

While we have been away, the work on the stone groynes down on the beach has been progressing but still appears far from finished. Today, there is yet another barge offshore, loaded with granite and awaiting a favourable tide to offload its cargo onto the beach.

What an enormous amount of work and expense it has been. As we approach winter and storms continue to batter the coast, it will be interesting to see how effective these new groynes prove to be.

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