October Storms

I have entitled this post ‘October Storms’ in a hope that the wild and dismal weather we have had this week will indeed be contained within October and we can have a fresh new start as November is ushered in next week.

Back in September 2019 a female Kestrel, born that spring, was ringed in the meadows, managing to take a chunk out of the Bird Ringer’s hand at the same time.

This autumn, we have been seeing a lot of a pair of adult Kestrels in the meadows and noticed that the female of the pair is ringed. This is almost certainly the same bird.

Survival of Kestrels is very dependant on the population cycles of their prey, particularly the Short-tailed Field Vole, and first year mortality of newly-fledged Kestrels can be as much as 70%.

I have tried to lighten these next photos as much as I can but they are still a bit dark – as I mentioned, the weather has been terrible. Here is the male eating a Vole:

We think that all the Kestrels we see here in the meadows have come from a nest in the nearby chalk cliffs. Four young fledged from this nest in 2019 and another four this year:

However, this year there was also a second Kestrel nest nearby, in the same section of cliff.

This is purely supposition, but what if the pair of Kestrels that we have been seeing in the meadows were the young parents of this second nest? The ringed female was born in spring 2019 and I read that female Kestrels can breed once they are a year old. It is surely a possibility and I would like to believe it.

I wonder if the Tawny Owl that is often visiting the meadows at the moment is also after rodents, or is it worming, like the Tawnies do in the woods? Here it is on the strip perch:

Last night, there was also an Owl on the ant paddock perch and I decided that it was a Short-eared Owl. It doesn’t seem to have the heart-shaped face and certainly looks to have short feather ears:

But we are fortunate indeed to have the Bird Ringer to check these things with because this is apparently also a Tawny Owl. But what a beautiful bird.

Sparrowhawks have been seen on the strip perch, but nearly always in low light:

The weather has been pretty uniformly awful this week but just occasionally the sun has broken through.

Tails of Magpies often appear surprisingly green when they catch the light in a particular way:

All this rain has meant the ponds are looking fantastic. Here is the wild pond being enjoyed by representatives of each of our three bully-boy bird species, Magpie, Crow and Sparrowhawk:

For a few days, an odd-looking ship, the Oceanic, was sheltering alongside the meadows, in the lee of the stormy weather.

It is described as a general cargo ship although we couldn’t help wondering why that bridge at the back was so high. It looked really peculiar. But then we saw photos of it on the internet with the type of load that it carries and it all suddenly made sense:

It seems that it is a specialist carrier of things that are very long and thin such as the blades of wind turbines.

We see a few Grey Wagtails on passage every autumn. This is not a very good photo, but I’m afraid that it is the best that I have:

And here is a winter visitor that we see most years – a Brambling. She’s been with us for several days now.

That Fox with the unusually black tail has made another appearance on the cameras. I would really like to see what that tail looks like in the daytime because it is so very much darker than the tails of our resident Foxes

This is a daylight shot of a different Fox that has a white tip to its tail. But perhaps this dark tail would also appear as deeply black under the infra red lights of the trail cameras:

The wood has been suffering in this awful weather as well. The really high winds of last weekend brought a tree down across the access track. Thank goodness for that battery powered chain saw.

The chain saw was also very useful in cutting up some of the wood that we have coppiced and it is now being brought back home to dry.

In order to entertain family and friends this winter, it seems that we are going to need to be outside, keeping warm with blankets, fire pits and wood-fired ovens. An ample supply of dried logs will therefore be extremely useful.

There is now a trail camera on the nest box in the wood that we found the Dormouse in and it is proving to be very interesting. The Dormouse is still in there and is yet to hibernate:

But. unexpectedly, the box has also had a lot of other visitors. So many Great Tits have been checking it out, or perhaps it is the same birds repeatedly:

Blue Tits have also been showing interest. Here is a Blue Tit queuing, waiting for the Great Tit to finish so that it too can have a look in:

Presumably the birds are prospecting potential sites for next year’s breeding season. However, I am not sure what the motives of this Squirrel are:

There is a lot of fungus in the wood at the moment. I struggle to identify it on the whole but I do know this oddly-contorted one – White Saddle fungus:

Back in the meadows, there is some of this Dog Sick Slime Mould (Mucilago crustacea):

Every autumn in the meadows there are vast numbers of this toadstool below, always seen in strong association with the pine trees.

I have unsuccessfully tried to identify it in the past, but this year I posted photos onto a nature identification group and have found out that it is the Bovine Bolete (Suillus bovinus).

There seem to be two different stories as to why it got its name. One is that it is the colour of a Jersey Cow. The other story tells of medieval knights who considered this toadstool growing in the pine forests to be of inferior quality to eat (preferring the Tricholoma species that are now considered poisonous) and so they left them for the cattle drovers.

One thing to look out for is that the Rosy Spike toadstool (Gomphidius roseus) is thought to be parasitic on the Bovine Bolete and can often be found growing alongside. I will be watching out for this now.

For a Border Collie, bred tough to be out in all weathers bringing sheep in from the hills, our dog is a bit of a princess about the rain. She much prefers to relax in the warm and dry:

Hopefully the weather will improve and we can all get out and about a bit more next week.

However, just as I was about to publish this post, a second national lockdown has been announced. Once again we are going to be keeping our heads down and trying to keep our spirits up. Although I am still trying to come to terms with this news, the absolute best coping mechanism that I know of to get through this terrible time is to immerse myself in the wonders of the natural world around me. For the next month and beyond, this is what I shall be doing.

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