This third instalment of the review of the meadows starts with an unexpected and funny thing that happened here this autumn. A few days after a gale, we noticed that all the apples that had been blown off the trees by the wind were still lying on the ground. The pears, however, had completely disappeared. A camera, trained onto one of the pear trees to see what was going on, discovered that here in East Kent we have tree-climbing Foxes and that they really, really love pears:
Over a couple of weeks, every pear was removed from the tree. Meanwhile the apples continued to lie untouched on the ground until the birds eventually got round to eating them.
On a clear day, Calais Town Hall can be seen through a pair of binoculars from the meadows – France is little more than twenty miles away across the Channel. As a result, autumn is exciting here with birds gathering from across the UK, waiting for good conditions to make the short sea crossing over to continental Europe and onwards south towards the warmth of Africa.
But this year, as well as the migration that we were expecting, very large numbers of Siskin, Crossbill and Lesser Redpoll flew through the meadows over several weeks. But it wasn’t understood whether these birds were leaving, arriving or just moving around. It started with the Siskins – the Bird Ringers managed to catch and ring a few:
After the Siskins came the Crossbill and the Lesser Redpoll. No Crossbill could unfortunately be persuaded into the net, but 214 Lesser Redpoll were ringed:
Meanwhile, other Birds were migrating south as normal:
A bit of a rarity, a Yellow-browed Warbler:
The first time a Redstart has been ringed here – and two of them went into the net together:
In 2019, a large number of House Martins were ringed. This didn’t happen this year but there was this Swallow:
A Ring Ouzel stayed for several days:
A Blackbird started to scold the Ouzel for trying to share the bath…
…but then seemed to rather regret this once it saw the Ouzel’s feisty reaction:
Some Birds were coming in rather than going out, like this Redwing and Brambling:
And possibly this Short Eared Owl had newly arrived as well:
A Great Black Backed Gull landed in the meadows with a flapping flat Fish, accompanied by a retinue of hopeful Herring Gulls. However, it managed to swallow the Fish down-in-one itself and the Herring Gulls were unlucky. I see that there are 17,000 pairs of UK breeding Great Blacked Gulls, but that this number swells to 76,000 birds in the winter and so this bird could well also have been a recent arrival.
Some birds are with us all year round. We have far too many Magpies here to my mind and seeing them eating small Birds like this does not make me any fonder of them:
However, I have enormous affection for the pair of Kestrels hunting in the meadows this year. The female of the pair is the one that was ringed here in the autumn of 2019:
Here are the two of them together:
We generally see more of the male:
Here he has caught a Vole:
And he eats it:
And then cleans his bloodied talons and stretches his wing after his meal:
The female here is also bringing a Vole to the perch and there are more bloodied talons:
This Sparrowhawk has caught a Blue Tit just before dawn:
It is always such a delight to see the Tawny Owl in the meadows:
2019 was a Painted Lady year and we saw so many of these migratory Butterflies that we ceased to properly notice them, but this year we have not seen a single one. We have, however, seen all of the other 22 species of Butterflies that we would expect to see, including this migrant Clouded Yellow in September:
Two Wasp Spider webs were found within a metre of each other. This large Spider was first recorded in Britain in 1922 in Sussex and it is a Grasshopper specialist, building its web low to the ground. The web has the distinctive zigzag ribbon down the centre of it called the stabilimentum, the purpose of which is still being debated.
Both ladies did brisk business catching, wrapping, killing and then eating prey. You can actually make out the Bee in this parcel:
Sometimes, these Spiders were so successful that they had several wrapped packages stored at the edges of their webs, waiting to be eaten. We never saw either of them catch a Grasshopper though. Several times a day, I was to be found at the webs, horrified and fascinated in equal parts. Then, at some point towards the end of September, both Spiders disappeared, having left their webs to build an egg sac nearby. We searched for these egg sacs but without success. However, in the last few days, we have found three of them in the long grasses in the parts of the meadows left uncut. One of them was very close to the webs that we had been watching back in the autumn:
When the grass was cut this autumn, all Wasp Spider egg sacs will likely have been destroyed in the cut areas. A salutary lesson on the benefits of the mosaic approach to meadow management and how easy it is to wipe out entire populations of things without realising it.
Some other photos from this last part of the year
On the 21st December, the winter solstice, there was a Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the skies and these two large planets had not been so close since 1623. You can see four moons around Jupiter on our digiscoped photo below:
This year has not been a great one for us humans and I really hope that the planets will align to make the coming one much better. But it has been another magnificent year in the meadows and we have found a lot of comfort and welcome distraction in watching it all happen. This closes my review of 2020 and I am looking forward to seeing what more there is to discover in 2021.
This second instalment of the review of the meadows mostly covers the beautiful summer months of May to the end of August. An exceptionally wet winter became a very dry spring and summer and, once again, we found ourselves with a battle on our hands to keep water in the ponds and the six hundred newly-planted hedgerow trees alive.
We have added ten species to the bird list this year, bringing the total to eighty-five. In January, a Greylag Goose flew in over our heads. Then, at the beginning of August, a Sedge Warbler was caught and ringed:
In mid August, a Whinchat was seen on a trail camera:
A Honey Buzzard flew low across the meadows one morning in late August, hotly pursued by Crows. Although stunned to begin with, I eventually mobilised myself, grabbed my camera and managed to get these shots:
In early September, a Spotted Flycatcher was caught and ringed. With the privilege of being able to get so close to this bird, you can see the slight hook on the end of the beak and those bristles round its beak:
The autumn migration was extraordinary. Flocks of Crossbills flew over the meadows for several weeks during September – another new bird for the list although sadly I failed to get a photo and the Bird Ringers didn’t manage to catch one.
Several Hobbies were also seen migrating in amongst the Swallows during the autumn. Hobbies eat Dragonflies during the summer, but switch to eating Swallows and other Hirundines in the autumn and, in fact, often migrate south with them using the Swallows as a sort of mobile canteen.
We hadn’t seen Lesser Redpoll before but now 214 have been caught and ringed this year because there were thousands of them moving through the area in the autumn. Hopefully the ringing information obtained will tell us where they were coming from and going to because at the time it wasn’t really known. Lovely to see the distinctive yellow lower mandible and that raspberry forehead:
The Bird Ringers also saw a male and female Stonechat several times in the hedgerow up where they were ringing. The final new bird for the year was a Goosander which flew in off the sea and over the Bird Ringers head on 16th October.
Some other bird ringing photos from the summer:
A lot of Starlings nested around these parts in the Spring. Then, all of a sudden, there were juvenile Starlings everywhere as the first broods started to fledge:
I presumed that this would continue through the summer whilst the adults went on to have second and even third broods. But, in fact, after a while all Starlings disappeared – though not before first stripping every last bit of fruit off the Cherry Tree:
Meanwhile, other young Birds were arriving on the cameras:
A Stock Dove nested in the Kestrel box this year and we managed to get a camera in there:
Walking under the nearby white cliffs, we spotted this little group of just-fledged Whitethroats, out of the nest but still being fed by the parents. Even though this was not in the meadows, these Birds are just too delightful not to include here:
There were two Kestrel nests in holes in these chalk cliffs, both of which successfully fledged young this year:
A pair of adult Kestrels – presumably the parents of one of these two broods in the cliffs – used the meadows to hunt and we have seen a lot of them:
A pair of Grey Partridge were to be found in the meadows on and off through the year:
Once again we played loud Swift calls close to this Swift box throughout the time the birds were here this summer. It attracted a lot of interest but unfortunately no takers. Maybe next year.
And there are always a lot of Woodpigeon here and they do so love to bathe:
A much anticipated annual summer spectacle is when flying Ants take to the air and Black-headed Gulls fly round and round above the meadows eating them:
The hot and dry summer meant that a lot of Butterfly species seemed to be having really good year:
At the height of the Mothing season in July and August, the number of Moths in the trap can be completely daunting and it regularly took me several hours to go through and properly identify them all to the best of my ability. An unexpected benefit of the lockdown was that, this year, I had that time to give and, for the first time, I properly recorded the Moths and submitted my data to the County Recorder. Of course, I subsequently had requests from him for photographic verification when he was surprised by what I was claiming to have caught. In some cases I was able to satisfactorily provide it, but mostly it resulted in him correcting my identifications. Nonetheless, I learnt an awful lot and hope that I can remember some of it for next year…
It was a very good summer for Burnet Moths. We found a Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth that had just hatched, and had the chance to get a proper look at the abandoned cocoon and pupal case:
For several years now we have been part of a Red Mason Bee guardian scheme. We are sent Red Mason Bee cocoons and cardboard tubes in early March and the Bees hatch out and gather pollen from the meadows during late spring. They build nests in the cardboard tubes which consist of a series of cells, each cell having a pile of pollen with a single egg laid upon it. The bees build walls of mud between each cell and then finish the tube off with a mud cap.
But we had never managed to establish where the Bees were getting the mud from to build their walls. At this time of year, the soil is rock hard and so surely they had to be getting the mud from the pond margins? But, despite looking, we hadn’t ever seen them doing this. This year, though, there was an exciting breakthrough. I was idling around the entrance to the Badger sett and became aware that Bees were flying down the tunnel where it is shady and cool and the soil is still damp. On my knees, peering down the tunnel, I could see the Mason Bees collecting up a ball of soft soil and then flying back up out with it. Such a satisfying discovery.
Some other memorable photos from the meadows this summer:
August ended with an impressive storm and a twister out to sea. Standing in the meadows, listening to the thunder rolling in across the water and watching groups of Swallows fleeing ahead of the ominously gathering clouds, there was a real feeling that summer was drawing to a close.
Autumn was coming, an exciting and eagerly-anticipated time of year here – to be covered in the final part of this review.
Over the course of a normal year, we would expect to be away from the meadows for several weeks. This year, we have scarcely been anywhere and never have the meadows been so comprehensively observed and photographed. Looking through the images that I want to include in this annual review, I find that there are way too many to shoehorn into a single post. So this instalment – Part One – covers roughly the first four months, January to April.
The annual jamboree of Frogs gathering together to spawn in late winter is quite a spectacle but it seems that it never goes without some sort of a hitch. One year, Foxes waded into the pond and feasted on all the frogspawn. Last year, there was complete carnage when a Heron ate all the Frogs – hundreds of them. This year, we had come up with a cunning strategy of rigging a grid of string over the pond, restricting the Heron to fishing in one area only and not able to wade freely through the water.
Initially, this definitely did seem to unnerve the Heron. But this approach was ultimately doomed because the Foxes just couldn’t resist chewing through the string, rendering it useless as a Heron deterrent.
Then, inspired by Worzel Gummidge on television last Christmas, we had the idea to make a scarecrow, Mackenzie, to watch over the Amphibians. He has proved completely successful and we have had no Heron visit whilst he is on guard.
Without the Heron as a lethal assassin, the Frogs were free to get on with the serious business of producing the next generation:
By mid February, Mackenzie was standing proudly over a pond that was filled with spawn:
But the problem this year was that the Frogs decided to lay their spawn into such terribly shallow water. This was probably because it is warmer but, unfortunately, Magpies were then able to get at it and a lot disappeared.
Once the spawn had hatched into tadpoles, Mackenzie went off duty and spent the summer resting up in the shed. But he is back in position again now as we approach the end of the year and the time for the Frogs to start up again.
It isn’t just the Frogs that Mackenzie was protecting from the Heron. It was the Newts as well.
I probably got a bit over-obsessed by Newts in late March and spent a lot of time watching and trying to photograph the very attentive male Smooth Newts as they pursued the females round the pond. I bought a polarising filter for the camera to remove the reflections from the water surface which helped a lot.
In the middle of January, the camera taking videos along the cliff captured two Foxes mating and I do beg their pardon for including this here:
By mid March, some of the Foxes appearing on the cameras were noticeably heavily pregnant. One of these particularly stood out and she became known as the One-eyed Vixen.
After she had had her cubs, it became apparent that she and another of our resident Foxes had mange.
I began treating the Foxes with Arsen Sulphur, having first checked with the charity The Fox Project that this was alright for lactating females. Although I hadn’t yet seen her cubs, I knew she had some close by. The Foxes had been successfully treated with this here before and it involves putting drops onto honey sandwiches every night for six weeks. I put the sandwiches onto the stone pinnacle in the ant paddock because the Badgers don’t get up there until later in the night:
The six weeks finished in mid May and, because there was a camera trained onto the pinnacle, I could tell that the One-eyed Vixen had got a dose of the Arsen Sulphur every night. The fur on the other mangey Fox’s tail began to grow back in, which was really satisfying. But, by mid June, it became obvious that the One-eyed Vixen’s mange had not gone away at all and was, in fact, getting worse. She had developed a new area of fur loss on her neck:
The Fox Project recommended I now tried Psorinum. This is similarly applied as drops onto honey sandwiches, but only for one week. I also added some Arnica drops as well because they advised that these can help healing. Once again, I was able to confirm that the One-eyed Vixen got a dose on every one of the seven nights.
This time, the treatment worked completely. Here she is in September with her fur nicely grown back and how heartwarming is that:
I had put a lot of emotional energy into the battle to save this Fox from a miserable death from mange and she thanked me in her own special way:
During May, her cubs were exploring away from the den a bit more and now started turning up on the cameras:
As the summer progressed, the cubs got bigger:
One evening in the middle of July, the camera up on the strip captured a series of wonderful images of all four of them together spending some contented family time. These photos are one of the absolute highlights of the year for me because I felt that I had had a part to play in helping this story have a happy ending:
In early February, the camera looking down upon the Badger sett, caught this:
Badgers mate as soon as this year’s young are born so we knew that it was now likely that there were tiny cubs lying cosily underground, although we wouldn’t see them until the female allowed them up at the end of April.
However, we were in for a treat when the mother decided to move them from one sett to another in the middle of February. She transferred three cubs – triplets this year!
She moved them again in early April – again three cubs were carried across to a new hole.
But then things started to get a bit odd. In previous years, the mother chooses a warm, calm night in late April to finally allow the cubs to come above ground. She watches over them like a hawk and they are initially only up for a very short time in a highly controlled manner.
But this year, a single cub, still really wobbly on its feet at first, started appearing along the cliff path on its own from early April:
Eventually, its mother would come racing up and drag it back to the sett:
I started forming theories for what on earth was going on. Was there a rebellious cub this year who refused to stay underground and went out exploring against express instructions?
Throughout April, this single, unaccompanied cub appeared most nights:
On 23rd April, the mother Badger allowed her triplets up out of the sett for the first time. She is an excellent mother and maintained a vigilant watch over them for the first few days while they found their feet. But is one of these cubs the maverick who we had been seeing out on its own?
Eventually the photo below and many more like it provided me with an explanation that I hadn’t considered – that there were two separate families. Our normal mother did indeed have triplets, but one of her daughters from a previous year had also had a cub. It was this single cub of the young mother who was out roaming unaccompanied. The four cubs were all related and were often crèched together and watched by a single adult:
Throughout the summer, the cubs grew and played and learned how to be Badgers. However, the single cub did not seem to thrive like the triplets. Here it is in the middle of May:
And here again, with an adult to its right and one of the triplets to its left.
The young mother often still dragged it around, far more than seemed reasonable:
The male Badger is not allowed anywhere near the cubs for a while. On one occasion, he came through the hole under the fence and stumbled upon them by accident. He immediately started grooming the cub nearest to him:
But the female rushed forward and gave him a severe telling off and he quickly reversed backwards through the hole and retreated.
With the four cubs, two adult females and the adult male, all of a sudden there were a lot of Badgers about:
First year mortality for Badgers is 50-65%, would you believe, and so I was pleased whenever all seven of them turned up together at the nightly peanuts and I could confirm that everyone was still present and correct:
The littlest Badger, who had remained smaller and more delicate-looking than the others, had the most joyful of summers playing around with the other cubs and driving its mother to distraction. However, unfortunately it was last seen on 24th September:
The triplets, though, are still going strong.
The strip was rotavated in February. This is part of the Operation Turtle Dove project and we were about to embark on our third year of putting down supplementary food supplied by the RSPB to encourage Turtle Doves to visit and nest:
But we are yet to see a Turtle Dove here, despite our best efforts. Other threatened farmland birds, however, have definitely been thriving on the seed such as Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge, Linnets and Stock Dove. Three years ago, there were no Yellowhammer to be seen here but in 2020 the Bird Ringer caught and ringed around ten of them and I am still seeing more unringed birds on the cameras:
Just as the Hawthorn had unfolded its tender leaves at the beginning of spring, there was a vicious north-easterly wind that blew for several days. The leaves and flower buds along the whole of the 300m stretch of the westerly hedgerow became burnt to a crisp. Although the bushes did subsequent regrow leaves, they didn’t flower this year and subsequently, in the autumn, no berries have been produced.
On more sheltered stretches of hedgerow, the Hawthorn blossom survived. It is so exquisitely beautiful with those pink anthers against the white petals:
Here are some of the other things that were going on in the meadows in the first third of 2020:
We used coppiced birch from the wood to create another Beetle stack in the meadows. The wood will slowly rot underground and be available for Beetle species to lay their eggs into.
I am writing this post on the winter solstice. Yes, we have got there at long last and from now on the days will be getting a little bit longer with every passing day. Outside, heavy rain is being blown hard against the window panes, there is a new and unknown strain of Covid raging all about our ears and nearby Dover is completely gridlocked with lorries because of a perfect storm of the uncertainties of imminent Brexit and the rest of Europe understandably not wanting our new type of Covid. There has never been a better time, in my lifetime anyway, to sit tight and absorb oneself completely in the wonders of nature.
I hope to get the second episode of the Review of Meadows for 2020 out before Christmas, but in case I get overtaken by events and that doesn’t happen, then let me leave you with this for now:
When we bought a piece of woodland at the beginning of 2019, we had no idea that we would soon have reason to be so grateful for the safe refuge and calming surroundings that it provides. 2020 has been horrible, disrupted, stressful and a whole string of other adjectives which I won’t list but all of which mean that it’s been awful. Having the wood has helped tremendously. There was a time in the spring when we couldn’t visit for many weeks but nature carried on regardless and we joined back in when we could.
In January 2020, we bought an adjoining additional 4.5 acres of woodland, meaning that our wood is now 11 acres. It is surrounded by more woodland and a farm that has recently been taken out of agriculture and is now being managed for wildlife. So, happily, it is set within a landscape where nature is being allowed to flourish over quite a large area.
During January and February we were busy with coppicing work but bits of our bodies were complaining forcefully about what hard work it was. This was resolved by the purchase of a battery-powered chain saw which made a big difference.
We felt we needed some sort of shelter from the elements and so started to make a wooden enclosure with the cut wood although this was as far as we got before being overtaken by events:
Winter, when the soil is nice and soft, is a time when Worms and other soil Invertebrates are a vital food source for many things:
At this time, we also became aware that nearly every one of our large raptor boxes in the wood was filled with nesting Squirrels:
On 23rd of March, before we decided what to do about the Squirrels and before we had had a chance to finish that winter’s coppicing, we had to stop visiting the wood for several weeks. During this time, the feeders ran out of seed and the ponds dried up and we just had to hope that the animals that had been visiting them were managing alright without them.
When we started returning at the end of April, the feeders were immediately refilled but they remained there, unvisited, for a quite a long time. These feeders, that had previously been so popular with swarms of small birds now hung there like ghost ships, seemingly giving me the stark message that I had let our wildlife down. It has taken a while but now, nearing the end of December, they are again as popular as they ever were.
It was late April, and a most glorious time of the year to have returned in the wood. We realised that Green Woodpeckers were nesting in the same hole that Great Spotted Woodpeckers had used last year:
This photo, from the end of July, is of successfully-fledged juveniles of both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers using the pond together:
There were at least three Badger cubs this year and here they are playing together:
And two of the adults taking a drink:
The heat and drought of the summer drew in some wonderful animals to the ponds:
The Polecat-Ferret Hybrids and the Red Deer were a complete surprise to us. We have continued to see the Deer on the cameras occasionally throughout the year. There was also this young male:
And this one with a fork in his antlers:
As the spring and summer progressed, young birds of many species started appearing on the cameras. Every one of the twelve small nest boxes had Blue Tit or Great Tit nests in them, producing a large number of fledglings. We have put an additional six boxes up in the new part of the wood this autumn.
In June, we were horrified to see the damage that Grey Squirrels were doing to the Beech trees in the new part of the wood. So many had been newly attacked and some were completely ringed like the one below. The water and food carrying tissues of the tree are just below the bark and will have been removed along with the bark, meaning that this beautiful tree will now die. We really regretted not having ejected those Squirrels from the raptor boxes earlier in the year – we were making life easy for them.
One area of Nettles had a lot of these Peacock Butterfly caterpillars on them in July. Peacock caterpillars are always quoted as the classic things that eat Nettles and so we were pleased to catch them at it:
At the end of August, many of the Oaks in the new section of the wood had these strange-looking Knopper Galls distorting their acorns:
As the year rolled into autumn, winter migrants started arriving at the wood. Woodcock rest up in the vegetation by day, waiting for the dark before they go out probing for soil Invertebrates in the soft ground:
A leucistic Blackbird with white head feathers:
The coppicing season has now started again. The Hazel stools that we had cut back at the beginning of the year are now growing strongly from the stumps:
This winter we have allocated ourselves a new area to cut:
And we finally got round to finishing the wooden enclosure that had been abandoned earlier in the year:
As we cleared out the nest boxes in October, the wood had one more surprise in store for us – a Dormouse had made a nest in one of the boxes:
Dormice are heavily protected by law and a licence is needed to disturb them in any way. Back in 2019, an ecologist who is a specialist in Dormice came to look at our wood to assess it for its Dormouse potential. Having found that we do indeed have them, she has now suggested that our wood and a neighbouring wood with like-minded owners – 20 acres in all – become a Dormouse Monitoring Site. This will involve getting 50 nest boxes up before the Dormice come out of hibernation in the spring and these boxes will then be checked every month by the licensed ecologist. Meanwhile, our woodland neighbour and I will start to work towards becoming licensed so that eventually we can check the boxes ourselves.
That is something to look forward to in 2021. What next year is going to look like and what will be possible is still uncertain but we shall have to keep our fingers crossed and do the best we can in the circumstances that present themselves.
This week we took a trip out to Samphire Hoe, just the other side of Dover.
It is a 75 acre piece of land created from the chalk dug out of the ground to create the Channel Tunnel. Most of Samphire Hoe is now a country park, although there are some buildings connected with the tunnel up at the top end.
As we approached the turn off for Samphire Hoe, there was a stationary queue of lorries stretching for miles waiting to get into the port of Dover. A depressing glimpse of the nightmare that might be in store post Brexit:
A steep traffic-light controlled tunnel through the cliff gives access down to the reclaimed land at the bottom:
The tunnel on the right below spits you out at the bottom. The other two tunnels are for the Folkestone to Dover railway:
The chalk cliffs are very different to the cliffs nearer to us. These cliffs are no longer undercut by the sea and have become more vegetated and with rounded edges. They also don’t have those layers of flints that the Kestrels so love to perch on:
The Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 and so this land is only about 30 years old. Here is an internet photo of it in 1990:
Once the site was cleared, 31 species of plant were initially planted but now there are more than 200 species growing. Probably the most famous are its Early Spider Orchids, of which there are over a thousand flowering every spring, along with five thousand Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchids. But it got its name because of the Rock Samphire that we saw growing everywhere there on our visit:
There was scarcely anyone there at this time of the year and so it was a great place to walk the sometimes dubiously-behaved dog.
220 species of Birds, 30 species of Butterflies and 380 species of Moth have now been recorded at Samphire Hoe, and we made a resolution to return next spring to see all those Early Spider Orchids and hopefully some of the Butterflies as well.
Back in the meadows, the wildlife has been quiet and the cameras have not captured very much to show you this week. The weather hasn’t helped and the camera lenses are mostly covered in condensation:
The Mahonia in the garden is still flowering, although now coming to an end:
On a dull, damp and chilly day in mid December, there were still Buff-tailed Bumblebees visiting the flowers. How extraordinary and what a fantastic advert for planting Mahonia and other winter-flowering shrubs in gardens. The black berries that will follow these flowers are much loved by Birds as well:
For five years now we have been monitoring a hole under the fence that leads into the meadows from the cliffs. There is a lot of coming and going of both Foxes and Badgers but they always seem to arrange things so that they never meet. Until this week, that is, when both a Fox and a Badger tried to go through at the same time. It’s so strange that we haven’t caught this on the cameras before.
A Badger approaches the hole:
But a Fox is coming through the other way:
They then both give way. The Fox reverses backwards and the Badger rushes past the hole on towards the camera:
On the next video, a minute and a half later, everything gets sorted out. When the Fox tries again, another Badger has turned up to offer a distraction.
An unusual sighting of a Badger still up at dawn:
In the last post, I mentioned the Peacock Butterfly found hibernating in a cold, unheated bedroom of the house:
I decided to leave it there for now in the predator-free bedroom rather than transfer it to a shed where is would be vulnerable to attack by Spiders. Well, the day after that post, I went to check on it and found it gone. There was just a tiny fragment of wing left clinging to the curtains as a clue:
It seems that the house is not as predator-free as I had hoped. How does any Butterfly ever survive a whole winter without getting eaten?
The garlic, onions and broad beans growing away in the allotment are very cheering at this time of year:
In the wood, the Primroses are starting to grow as well, full of promise of what is to come in the spring:
We met one of our sons in the wood to help with the coppicing and a pleasing amount of work was done.
The new pond continues to delight us. Woodcock are nocturnal but here are two visiting by day:
And again at night:
There are Woodcock that are resident in the UK but numbers are much boosted by winter visitors from Finland and Russia. We have never seen one in the wood during the summer and presume all of ours here are migrants.
Another Bird that comes to the UK to spend the winter in this country is the Fieldfare. Like the Woodcock, they mainly eat grubs and worms in the soil and so do need to be somewhere where the soil in not frozen for long periods:
Long-tailed Tit, Marsh Tit, Blue Tit and Great Tit all at the pond at the same time:
And this is the first time that a Badger has visited this new pond:
The best that the other ponds in the wood could offer us this week is a Green Woodpecker:
The Christmas decorations have come down from the attic and the house is looking festive. I hate to bring anything in from the meadows that might be part of a vital food larder to sustain animals through the winter. However, we have so much mature Ivy out there producing such an enormous amount of berries that it feels alright bring some of that in:
I finish today with one Christmas event that has not had to be cancelled this year. Ramsgate is a little bit north of here and, every December, the boats in the harbour are festooned with lights making a magical scene. For the last few years, we have kick started that Christmassy feeling by taking a trip up there and it was great to still be able to do that in this most abnormal of years:
This week has seen Kent move from lockdown into very high alert, tier 3 measures. With distressing levels of Covid all around, we have revised our Christmas plans and will now spend a quiet festive season here with the meadows and the wood. I am sure that people all over the country are making similar adjustments and will be having an unusual Christmas at the end of a highly peculiar year.
The wildlife of East Kent, blissfully unaware of all these human concerns, continues in its own sweet way.
A Sparrowhawk lands on the gate just before dawn with prey:
It looks to be an unfortunate Blue Tit and we went up there to search for its remains in case it had been ringed. However, the only sign were some sad feathers caught in Spider webs around the camera tripod:
We also came across a very fresh Sparrowhawk kill in the wood. This must have been a female, which is a much bigger bird, to have tackled something the size of a Woodpigeon:
There was a leucistic Blackbird with a white head in the wood this week. They are thought to be more noticeable to Sparrowhawks and therefore also more vulnerable to predation:
The most noticeable birds in the meadows at the moment are House Sparrows. There is a large gang of them and I love their loud, contented cheeping often emanating from the hedgerows.
Kestrels mainly eat Rodents rather than other Birds and here one is with bloodied talons and her Vole prey. I have lightened it as much as I could but it was an awfully dull day:
Since there is no prospect of having house guests for now, we have turned the radiators off and closed the doors of the unused bedrooms in the house. But, in one of these, we found a guest already making itself comfortable – a hibernating Peacock Butterfly on the inside of the window:
Since this animal chose us to spend the winter with, I now feel a responsibility to get it safely through to spring. Every time I check, it has slightly changed position. This morning it was on the curtains:
Of our fifty-nine British Butterfly species, most spend the winter as caterpillars but five species (Brimstone, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock) attempt to hibernate as adults which allows them to be early on the wing next spring.
The Brimstone hibernates in amongst Ivy and Bramble in a sunny spot. It is not known where Commas hibernate although a few have been found amongst Honeysuckle tangles and in Hazel coppices. The other three are associated with holes such as hollow trees, log piles and Rabbit burrows but they also like dark, damp sheds and attics.
Central heating is disastrous for them because it dries them out too much. Advice on the internet suggests moving the animal to a shed without touching its wings, so long as it will be able to get out once it wakes up – there is no escaping from the bedroom where it currently resides. But our sheds are generally very Spidery – how safe would it be from them?
We have decided to leave the Butterfly where it is in that cold predator-free bedroom for now whilst there is no chance of it waking and wanting to leave. Then we will try to find some suitable shed location to move it to. I suppose Spiders might be inactive themselves during the winter, although there are some monsters in the wood store that are still very much awake:
I see that Butterfly houses are available to buy. Perhaps I will ask for one of these for Christmas and move the Butterfly out into there where we know there will be no Spiders, at least initially.
Every year we look out for the White Saddles (Helvella crispa) coming up, a fungus that grows in association with the roots of one of the Holm Oaks here. These strange fruiting bodies are in a slightly different place every year but always close to that Oak:
Also around this tree are several of what I think are Common Earthballs (Scleroderma citrinum). And there are so many Worm casts everywhere now that the earth is soft:
A day of wall-to-wall rain this week and the wild pond showed us what it is meant to look like, with marshy areas at its apex. The problem of keeping this pond filled is one that I obsess about all summer:
A couple of Fox photos that caught my eye this week:
We occasionally see the Foxes here carrying Fish, evidence that they scavenge down on the beach amongst the sea anglers. These are screenshots from a video of a Fox rushing through carrying a Dogfish:
The Foxes here are British and, as such, understand how to queue nicely for their nightly peanuts.
And we all so hate a queue jumper:
The berries on the Yew in the garden are nearly all now gone, but Song Thrushes as well as the Blackbirds are joining in on the bonanza whilst it lasts:
Progress on this year’s coppicing is continuing in the wood.
The new pond is in a bit of a clearing and perhaps that is why it is attracting many more small birds than our other ponds that are in denser woodland. Nine Blue Tits and a Great Tit below, but Coal Tits, Long-Tailed and Marsh Tits are also regulars:
Bullfinch coming in:
And two Redwing:
The Hazel that we are cutting down is already covered in catkins – a lovely way to decorate the house before we get the Christmas decorations down from the attic: