A Most Welcome Guest

A few weeks ago, we put a baking tray bath and camera in an area of short cut grass. This was a half-joking and definitely optimistic attempt to photograph Ring Ouzel and Wheatear on migration this autumn – both are birds that favour close cropped grass. After a few days of seeing nothing particularly interesting, the camera got redeployed onto urgent duties elsewhere and our attentions were distracted away from the bath.

This week, though, we remembered it and put the camera back. That was fortuitous because otherwise we would have missed one of our wildlife highlights of the year: the most welcome visit of a young male Ring Ouzel. It was with us for four days this week, coming to the bath several times a day.

This bird will have been born this summer in the British uplands and stopped with us here on the coast en route to his wintering grounds in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Tunisia in North West Africa. For the few days he was here, he was probably feeding up on hedgerow berries to build fat reserves for his long journey. Hawthorn Berries are particularly popular with birds, as these Blackbirds are demonstrating:

The Ouzel has been interacting with the Blackbirds. Initially the Blackbird tells him off…

but then seems to really regret this once he sees the Ouzel’s reaction:

The same camera, forever now to be known as Ouzel cam, captured some other good stuff:

The Bird Ringer has never ringed a Jay in the meadows. However, he did ring one in his nearby garden in April 2018 and this is presumably that bird – Jays don’t travel far.

We cleared the old nests out of the bird boxes in the meadows:

Back in the spring, when the Blue Tits had started nesting, there were a few days of absolutely desperate weather here and our hedgerows, with their fresh, tender leaves just newly unfurled, were terribly affected:

This must have had an enormous impact on those nesting Blue Tits, both in surviving the weather itself and on the subsequent availability of insects to feed any young. Many Blue Tit nests failed and unfortunately they only have one brood a year. The Bird Ringer reported significantly less young Blue Tits around here this year but Great Tits, starting to nest later, fared much better.

Given all this, we had braced ourselves to find nests with dead baby birds within and we did have this one nest with two dead young but this number is actually not unusual.

In the end we got seven bird nests although we have probably double that number of boxes up.

Another impact of those terrible spring winds is that we do not now have berries along that entire length of hedgerow this autumn to act as a feeding station pit-stop for migrating birds.

When we see a pile of feathers like this, we presume that the Sparrowhawks have been at work:

However, in this case, the feathers had clearly been bitten off and have blunt ends rather than plucked out which points the finger at a Fox:

Here is a Magpie, also eating birds, it seems:

Storm Barbara hit the coast here on Wednesday, bringing with her 25mm of rain:

The cameras up on the strip once again got drenched and then had condensation on their lenses. One of them still managed to capture a bit of a confrontation between a Kestrel and a Magpie. First there were a few foggy photos of the Kestrel bathing and then along came the Magpie:

The Kestrel gives way to the Magpie, but look at her eye – she is not pleased.

The Magpie takes a drink and then flies off – you can just see the tip of its wing:

And the Kestrel can continue her bath.

Interesting to see that even some Birds of Prey come below Magpies in the pecking order.

Some other photos from up on the strip:

Every day we put the cages on the strip in a nice neat line as above. Inevitably, by the morning they are higgledy-piggledy.

We joke that the bulldozers have been out overnight. And here are our bulldozers:

The most number of Badgers together that I have seen in recent times is five:

Over the summer we had seven Badgers and so we might be two down. I will start paying more attention to see if I can work out what is going on.

It has been too wet and windy for bird ringing but they did visit once this week and caught this lovely Song Thrush:

We don’t have much Sweet Chestnut in our wood, but those trees that we do have seem to have produced a lot of chestnuts this year:

The regeneration area has many moss-covered tree stumps dating back to when the previous tree crop was harvested. Many of these stumps are a long way away from a Sweet Chestnut tree but still have chestnut casings on them, where Squirrels have sat to eat the nuts. This happened last year as well and, back then, I thought it very sweet. But I am less keen on Grey Squirrels these days after seeing the damage they did to some of our beautiful Beeches and now I find this distinctly less endearing.

But very exciting to see that Woodcock have arrived back in the wood for the winter. Here is one, probing the soft soil for invertebrates in the middle of the night. Always a surprise to see a nocturnal bird on the cameras.

Redwing are another winter visitor to the wood and there was one of these on the cameras this week as well:

Another visitor to the meadows this week was this astonishingly loud and very low and close Apache helicopter.

Two people on board:

This helicopter was designed to hunt and destroy tanks and it carries a mix of weapons including rockets, missiles and a 30mm chain gun. Scarily, it let down one of these weapons just as it was more or less over the meadows:

Not sure what they were doing, but hopefully just practising. But ending today on a calmer note…We have got round to making some sloe gin for ourselves and have kept the bottle out to remind us to shake it every so often when we notice it. Well, it has been getting a lot of shaking because something this beautiful is catching our eyes a lot.

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