All Change for Christmas

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:

One thought on “All Change for Christmas

  1. I have seen lots of those catkins recently and I wondered what tree they are? I never seem to see any hazel nuts though! Hope the white headed blackbird survives. X

Leave a Reply