Looking For Linnets

Kestrels need to eat between four and eight Voles a day, depending on the time of year and how much energy-consuming hovering they need to do.

Here is a Kestrel in the meadows with one of his Voles of the day:

Then a bit of cleaning of the talons:

Some preening of one’s feathers:

A stretch of the wings:

And off to search for another.

We had an extraordinary autumn migration this year with flocks of Redpoll and Crossbills flying around the meadows for several weeks. But where were the Linnets? In every previous year, there has been a sizeable flock of Linnets gathered here to spend the autumn with us. Last year the Bird Ringer ringed about 150 of them but this year there was nothing.

In 2017, the National Trust raised a million pounds to buy Wanstone Farm, a 178 acre piece of land just a bit south of here, high on the white cliffs around the South Foreland Lighthouse. It was land that had been intensively farmed since the Second World War.

They are now restoring the land with natural grassland and wildflower meadows. In some of the fields they have planted a ‘bumble bird’ seed mix to provide food through the winter for birds and nectar for pollinators in the summer.

The late Dame Vera Lynn supported the fundraising campaign to buy this farm, but, even so, there never have been and surely never will be Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover, unless she was referring to Blue Tits. However, if there are winter food plants now being grown, it is a possibility that this is where all the Linnets have gone.

We walked up there one day this week to see if we could find them.

Looking north towards St Margarets and the Dover Patrol Memorial on the skyline. The cliffs are terrifyingly high here:

When we were last here, this field below was full of waving wheat. Earlier this year, there was a good news story in the national news about this land now being a fantastic wildflower meadow for pollinators – but nothing looks quite the same on a dull day at the bog end of November.

Apparently the number of Skylark and Yellowhammer have already tripled and Corn Bunting are also to be seen here – a bird that is yet to be added to our meadows Bird list. However, we didn’t manage to find any of the fields that are planted with this ‘bumble bird’ crop to feed the birds and actually we saw very few birds at all. The mystery of our disappearing Linnets remains unsolved for now, but we will return in the early summer next year to see what’s going on then.

Although the excitement of the autumn migration is now over, the Bird Ringer was back this week for a spot of gentle ringing in the meadows.

This is a continental Blackbird. It reminds me of old news footage of coal miners coming above ground at the end of their shift.

Those brown primary flight feathers on the leading edge of its wing tell us that this is a young bird born this year

This is also a continental Chaffinch. Its wings were over a centimetre longer than another adult male Chaffinch that was also caught the same morning:

There are a lot of Blackbirds in the meadows at the moment, very busy on the Hawthorn:

They are also very much enjoying Yew berries in the garden:

Stock Dove numbers have also built up recently:

As have House Sparrow:

I have quite a soft spot for Badgers:

The photo below is a screen shot from a video and, on the video, I could hear myself scattering the nightly peanuts. Nice to know that the moth-eaten old gentleman and the one-eyed Vixen were waiting just behind the fence for me to finish:

Sparrowhawk always seem to appear at low light at the moment:

The Patricia moored alongside us one night with her lovely yellow funnel. She is a regular here – operated by Trinity House, she looks after the lighthouses and lightships around our coast. The notorious Goodwin Sands, just offshore from the meadows, have claimed thousands of ships over the centuries and now have lightships and buoys marking them that need looking after.

There have been some fantastic winter skies over the meadows this week. The dog has just had her seventh birthday but her leaping days are not yet over:

In the wood, we have just about completed what we had hoped to achieve last winter and are ready to move on to the next section. The coppice that we cut last year is now growing away strongly, and what a lot of growth there has been in one year:

We have built a round enclosure with some of the cut wood. The intention is to develop this a bit further and put up poles from which tarpaulins can be quickly hung to give some shelter when it rains. On several occasions we have been soaked to the skin in the wood and that is not very enjoyable.

We identified this section near the Beech grove to start on next:

So, this winter’s coppicing season finally got under way this week:

We used the cut wood to make dead hedge habitat on the boundary of the wood:

Quite a satisfyingly noticeable area cut and cleared away as a result of our morning’s work.

Another prospective tenant has been viewing the nest box that had (or has) the Dormouse in:

We know that we have a few Marsh Tits in the wood and it would be very exciting indeed if a pair were to nest in one of the boxes.

I started with a Kestrel and now I finish with a Kestrel. I took this through the windscreen as we were leaving the wood. We have only once seen a Kestrel in the wood so it was great to see one again in the area.

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