Review of 2020 in the Meadows – Part 3

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.

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