Review of 2020 in the Meadows – Part Two

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.

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