Out and About

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:

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