A Perch Revisited

A few years ago, we started rotavating a long, narrow strip of ground as part of a Turtle Dove conservation project. We also put up a perch in the hedgerow alongside this strip because Turtle Doves like to perch high when they are singing in that distinctive purring way that they do.

Several years on now and we are yet to see a Turtle Dove here and actually had all but forgotten about the perch. That is, until we noticed that Kestrels had started using it as a look-out post when scanning the meadow for rodents.

We decided to get a camera trained onto this perch and, over the past week, have been making tweaks to perfect its positioning. Ideally it doesn’t want to be pointing upwards where it is vulnerable to the rains, although that has meant that it has ended up at a lofty and somewhat inaccessible height.

However, it has been getting some good stuff. While we were away last week, the meadows were visited by a Short Eared Owl:

This week we have seen a Tawny Owl:

A pair of adult Kestrels have also been frequent users.

The camera captured a surprising sequence of these Kestrels mating although I am only including a couple of the photos here – there was condensation on the lens and the quality of the photos is not brilliant:

Apparently the day length at the moment, similar to that in the spring, can sometimes confuse the birds and trigger them to mate. I have to say that it was very accommodating of them to do this in front of the camera.

Sadly, there was fogging of the lens again when the male caught and ate a mouse on the perch:

Some other photos of the Kestrels on the perch this week:

Sparrowhawks are also using the perch, although often at dawn and dusk:

Here on the gate, as well, just as it is getting light:

The Bird Ringers achieved their biggest score yet in the meadows this week by ringing 98 birds in a morning. 74 of these were Chiffchaffs, 15 were Lesser Redpoll along with 8 Blackcaps and a Robin.

They also saw a Hobby hunting over the meadows, six Grey Wagtails fly in off the sea, a Sparrowhawk shoot past, a Meadow Pipit and several hundred Redpoll fly through. Needless to say, if it was us spending the morning in the meadows, we would have missed most of this.

One further thing that they saw were the Grey Partridge and they are now reinvigorated to attempt to catch and ring them and may be trying this next week if the weather stays calm.

It’s a busy time of the year for Jays:

They are collecting and burying acorns from the Holm Oaks to feed themselves through the winter. But they don’t always remember where they have put them. We have a large bag of topsoil left over from when the raised beds were constructed in the allotment.

Jays must have put acorns in there and not rediscovered them and now we have three little Holm Oaks growing:

I have now extracted these little trees and put them in pots to grow on and maybe they will get planted out properly in the meadows this time next year. Holm Oaks seem to love these coastal conditions.

There is also a Walnut tree growing in the middle of the second meadow and we presume that this is also the work of Jays because this new tree is at least 200m from another Walnut tree. It is growing so well that we have decided to leave it there for now.

I do so enjoy a muddy Badger at the end of a long, wet night’s work

And there is always a spot of socialising that goes on before bed:

I was worried about the male Badger, Scarface, this week. Four nights ago, we had a video of him unable to put any weight down on his left front paw. A Badger’s front paws are vital for digging up the worms that make up 70% of his diet. Here he is, hopping along on three legs:

Then, for the next two nights, he didn’t appear on the cameras at all which was unusual and concerning. However, it seems that all is now well because he was on the videos again last night with no sign of a limp. He even did some digging in front of the camera to prove that he is now better:

There are a few Wall Butterflies to be seen in the meadows, still fluttering around deep into October.

Several autumn jobs are outstanding and we now need to be getting on with these. One of them is to pull the reeds out of the wild pond to stop them falling in and rotting. They are very vigorous and, if we didn’t knock them back once a year like this, they would quickly choke the pond.

We bought the 4.5 acre extension to the wood in January this year and initially started exploring but disturbed a lot of Woodcock, who were resting up by day in its undergrowth. So we decided to wait until the end of winter when they would be gone before we had a proper look around. By then, of course, the country had gone into lockdown and we couldn’t visit the woods for several months. When we did finally return, we had somehow lost momentum. Therefore, here we are, now in mid October, and still we haven’t really properly got to know the wood that was bought nearly a year ago.

This weekend we spent a couple of hours hacking a new path into the vegetation using loppers and a heavy duty hedge cutter.

We plan to create several more leisurely-rambling routes over the next few weeks, although we are aware that the Woodcock will now be returning before too long and a tactical withdrawal may again be necessary.

This sky lantern had landed in the wood:

These lanterns cause injury and death to animals by ingestion and entanglement and they can also start fires because they use an open flame to float. It seems so obvious that these lanterns are a danger to wildlife and a threat to the natural environment and I cannot understand why they have not been made illegal. Perhaps I need to write to my MP.

These two Beech trees below, standing side-by-side, are telling a story of the effect of Squirrel damage:

The Beech Tree on the right, clothed in its beautiful autumn yellows, has actually gone into premature shut down because Squirrels have removed its bark in a complete ring around the trunk.

The vascular tissues that transport water and nutrients up from the roots sit just under the bark and have been removed along with the bark leaving the tree in extreme distress.

The green-leaved Beech has escaped the attentions of the Squirrels so far and remains perfectly healthy.

As we walked around the wood, we started the job of clearing out old bird nests from the boxes. Parasites will be attempting to over winter in the old nest material, hoping to jump onto a new host when the birds return next year.

Every box we came across had been used this year and contained an old nest. We need to put up still more boxes for next year, particularly in the new section of the wood.

This nest below was most probably Great Tit but a Rodent has been using it to eat acorns after the birds fledged.

This next one had a leafy Rodent nest on top of the mossy Bird nest but the Rodent was still in it.

I didn’t notice at the time, but now that I have downloaded the photo, I see that this little animal has the yellow fur and black whiskers of a Hazel Dormouse. I so wish that we had taken a closer look at it so that we knew for sure – I hadn’t considered this possibility because I thought that Dormice beds are made of strips of Honeysuckle bark rather than leaves. Thankfully we didn’t disturb this animal further.

The next time we visit the wood, we will tour round clearing the rest of the boxes out, this time alive to the possibility of Dormice. The moment we become certain that we have Dormice, all of this species’ legal protections will kick in.

It’s always nice to have an exciting photographic project on the go. Last week we were trying to get a good trail camera photo of Otters in Wales. This week we have been busy getting a camera to take good photos of the Kestrel perch. We have also now decided to train a camera on the bird box in the wood that had the query Dormouse within.

But there is another upcoming project for the wood and that is to capture the spectacle of Tawny Owls worming. It seems that this has already started – this Tawny Owl below, staring hard at the ground, is looking for worms to eat:

Over the winter, when the soil is soft, Tawnies are often to be found worming in the wood. We now need to redeploy some cameras across onto these worming duties and see if we can get some good photos. Definitely one of the things to look forward to as the winter rolls in.

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