The Clearing in the Wood

Back in the 1990s when I was juggling a job and young children, I had a friend whose parents always spent the months of November and February in Florida. November, in particular, can be such a dreary month in England and the thought of relaxing for the month in warmer climes had seemed so impossibly wonderful at that stage of my life.

Twenty years on, the job has gone and the children have grown up and fledged but now I find that I love my home and my country far too much to ever abandon it in that way. However, November does continue to be sometimes dull and dispiriting, especially this year of all years when we are locked down with most of the entries in our diaries crossed out.

But we are keeping ourselves busy here with autumn projects and one of these was to build another small pond in the wood.

In January this year we bought a 4.5 acre extension to the wood but, what with one thing and another, it is only now that we are properly exploring and bonding with it.

On the whole it is very densely planted and difficult to manoeuvre ourselves around, although there is a clearing where a group of Ash trees have died of Ash Dieback. Young Ash are most vulnerable to this fungal disease and, once infected, they quickly die.

A lot of the dead trees had already fallen over and we have decided to clear the area, cut down the remaining standing skeleton trees and drag all the dead wood away to stack it to form a useful habitat inconspicuously elsewhere. Nothing is to be gained at this point by burning the diseased wood, the Fungus already having taken hold in the area.

Once it was no longer looking like an Ash graveyard, the clearing was already starting to feel quite nice and we decided to dig the new pond here:

Well, its a start. Room for improvement perhaps but, locked down as we are, we wanted to just reuse and recycle stuff that we had to hand. There is a steep slope of flints and ramps of split Silver Birch to allow wildlife to get at the water and also allow anything to get out should it fall in by mistake.

The green corrugated sheet at the back of this new pond is to increase the catchment area to help keep the water level up. It had previously been at the wild pond in the meadows and, when I pulled it up from there to move to the wood, I found three Frogs of varying sizes and two Newts sheltering underneath:

I felt bad about removing this safe refuge for the meadow Amphibians, especially since this is where historically they have been under attack from Grey Herons. Luckily our local builders merchant is still open and we were able buy some more:

But on the subject of Grey Herons, my ears pricked up in one section of this year’s BBC Autumnwatch. They were talking about nocmigging – recording migration at night by picking up the calls of birds passing overhead in the dark. One of the calls they were getting were of Grey Heron movements at night and this was news to me because I thought that British Grey Herons were sedentary and didn’t migrate.

On investigating this further, I see that our resident Grey Herons do generally stay put but, in Eastern England anyway, other birds from Northern Europe come and join them in the autumn. This shines a different light on the visitor we had here last week. Rather than a pesky local pond robber, this bird may have been an exhausted migrant stopping off to refuel after a long sea crossing. In these new circumstances, I find myself feeling much more sympathetic towards it.

Below is an area in the second meadow that we are managing for Reptiles. Last year a hundred or so Slow Worms, removed from nearby land to be developed, were released by an ecologist into newly built log piles here.

The vegetation is being allowed to grow up and become tussocky here, although we do plan to cut a third of it every year, starting next year. Last winter a new hedgerow was also planted along the length of it.

Although the habitat in this area is still establishing, we are already noticing that the different management is paying dividends. The dog often tells us that she has noticed interesting goings-on in the log piles – presumably the log piles are being used by small Mammals as well as Reptiles.

And Kestrels are frequently to be seen perched in the hedgerow above. Rodent urine emits ultraviolet light which is visible to Kestrels, showing them the best places to find food.

We have an agreement with Dover District Council to manage this part of the meadows in this way to benefit the relocated Slow Worms, but it is very pleasing indeed to see that the resultant habitat is already being enjoyed by all sorts of animals. We wondered if Tawny Owls were also finding it a good place to hunt and so a new perch has gone up alongside this Reptile area with an associated camera to see what we get:

A Tawny was up on the strip this week, although the photo has been burnt out by too much infrared from the camera.

This particular camera doesn’t have the option to adjust this setting and so we have put some black tape over the top two rows of infrared bulbs to see if this does any good:

There are now hardly any acorns left on the Holm Oaks. These have mostly been taken by Wood Pigeon and Jays as far as we could tell.

We had thought that it was Jays that planted a Walnut in the middle of the second meadow, resulting in this healthy little tree:

However, we hadn’t considered Crows and there was a group of Crows battling over a walnut out there today:

I continue to see a lot of the Fox with the white star on his chest on the cameras looking at the clifftop.

Mostly he is alone, but here he is below, sitting patiently waiting for the peanuts, when another Fox, carrying a back right paw and with possibly the beginnings of mange on its tail, hops across him:

On another occasion, the male Badger, Scarface, lumbers past and totally ignores the Fox:

The Badgers will be feeding up on Worms now, trying to put on as much weight as possible before winter.

There is delayed implantation of eggs in female Badgers – although she may have mated as early as February, the egg implants once she reaches a critical weight in the autumn, with young being born underground in February. This female Badger on the left below is surely spectacularly heftier than she was during the summer – she looks absolutely enormous.

The triplets that were born this year are still very playful with each other, which is lovely to see.

A few other photos from the meadows this week:

Returning to the wood, there were no more Dormouse sightings this week on the camera looking at the nest box and so perhaps it has now hibernated. The camera did, however, photograph many more Great Tit and Blue Tit visits.

Foxes were twice caught carrying prey. I suppose this must be a Rabbit:

And this a Pheasant?

There does seem to be a healthy population of Rabbits in the wood but there are also a lot of animals that would like to eat them given a chance:

One night this week, the moon amazed me by looking just like a slice of lemon hanging in the sky. The lemon rind was shining particularly brightly and I tried unsuccessfully to take a photo. I had more luck, though, the next morning, shortly before it set:

Looking at the photo, I could see that the effect had been caused by the dark seas on the moon being positioned in the centre, leaving more reflective areas on the curved edge. I still have an awful lot to learn about the moon and the solar system.

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