Foxes and Musket Balls

Caressed as we are by the warmer sea, it is rare for temperatures to drop below zero here on the coast, but one morning this week it was down to -2°C:

Once the water had melted, a Sparrowhawk had a bath in the same spot:

We finally got out and did some metal detecting this week once the ground was no longer frozen, although it was still very cold and we didn’t stick at it for long:

Two more musket balls were discovered in the ground. We have now found four, all of the same size and weight:

This sized ammunition was used in ‘Brown Bess’ flintlock muskets which were in service in the British army from 1725 until 1838:

We have two musket balls framed on the wall that were found at the site of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium (not by us though) and our four from the meadows are the same size as the larger one of these:

At the time that these musket balls were dropped in the meadows, the soldiers would have been dressed as below and the balls would have been held in a black leather bag on the hip. We are assuming that they were dropped rather than fired because there are no indentations on them, although apparently if they have only gone through flesh, there wouldn’t necessarily be any.

As I stand and look out over the meadows, I find it disconcerting to try to imagine these soldiers here in their scarlet and white uniforms two or three hundred years ago. It rams the point forcefully home to me that, as current owners, we are just temporary guardians of the land and this is all just a snapshot of time.

Foxes mate between December and February. At some point during these months, The females come into oestrus for three weeks although fertilisation is only possible for three days of that time. During oestrus, the male closely attends the female and, as the magic three days approach, he shadows her every move. The first attempts to mate are usually rejected by the female and I think this is what we are seeing here. The male on the left is the moth-eaten old gentleman – so perhaps not as moth-eaten as I thought, then:

The Badgers are in their winter torpor and are spending much more of the night cosily in their burrows conserving energy. Although they do appear at some point every night.

The chalk rock under the meadows contains layers of flints which gradually work their way to the surface. We collected some from the hedgerows…

…and made a flint pile near one of the shallow ponds as additional habitat that will be useful shelter for all sorts of things:

The paving stone along the edge of this little pond was already there and, as we were making the flint pile, we found several Frogs sheltering under its lip whilst standing in the water. A couple of days previously, this shallow water had been completely rock solid so presumably they got themselves out of the pond before this happened because otherwise they would have been frozen into the ice.

Whenever the sea is not dangerously rough, my sister-in-law and her friends go swimming every morning throughout the year from the local beach below. One day this week she had an unexpected spectator in this Grey Seal pup:

This is the second pup she has seen in recent weeks. It seemed perfectly alright and will be fully weaned by this stage of the year and so they gave it space and left it in peace.

In the wood, the camera under the feeders always takes hundreds of photos of Pheasants. As I was clicking rapidly through them, my eye caught on this one:

Up in the top right hand corner, a Buzzard is gliding through the wood. Its wingspan is so enormous, I’m amazed that it fits between the trees when at full stretch like that. Here is the same photo but zoomed in:

On both recent visits to the wood I have put several Woodcock up as I step along the paths to get to the cameras. They have also been seen on the camera at the new pond:

Now that it is January, the sound of Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming on dead treetops reverberates through the quiet winter wood. They use this drumming to advertise their ownership of an area of the wood, the way that males of other Bird species use song.

The town of Deal is just up the coast and we went there for our flu vaccinations this week and took the opportunity to walk along the seafront. Between the pier and the castle, there is a tangle of fishing boats and winches to lower them down the steep shingle bank into the sea and haul them back up again. Actually, I have never seen these boats move anywhere but maybe they do:

On Fridays, a fisherman sells fish from these tables. It’s a quintessential Deal scene and he’s always very popular.

You can see the pier in the background of the photo – another iconic part of Deal. This is the third pier on this site. The first one, built in 1838, was washed away by a storm some twenty years later. The second one was opened in 1864 and sounded great with salt baths, a tram running along it and a concert pavilion and reading room at the end. However, in 1940 during the war, a Dutch ship, the Nora, was damaged by a mine and was lying incapacitated just to the south. Inevitably, it got swept onto the pier and destroyed a large part of it and Winston Churchill gave the army permission to take all the wreckage away to allow the coastal guns a clear line of sight. The current pier, built of reinforced concrete – and, dare I say, a bit ugly?- was opened in 1957 and now is held in great affection by the people of Deal.

There are often fishermen strung along the pier and you can promenade to the restaurant at the end which is still open for take-aways in these locked down times. I hear that the lobster rolls are very good.

As I write this morning, we have had the lightest of dustings of snow:

In the seven winters that we have been here, we are yet to experience the wonder of an old-school thick carpet of snow covering the meadows – the sort of snow where I used to wake the children up early so that they could dress up in hats and gloves and go out into the garden to make a snowman before school. I know that it comes with lots of hardships to wildlife and inconvenience to travellers but a part of me can’t stop wishing for it nonetheless.

5 thoughts on “Foxes and Musket Balls

  1. My friend, Sarah Parker, recommended your blog to me because I am a nature enthusiast. I have been reading it for about a year now, and thoroughly enjoy the information you provide and the wonderful photos. Thank you, and keep up the good work.

    1. That is a really good question about the musket balls. Perhaps eventually frame the best things that we find so that they can be displayed and admired? Then, when the sad time comes that we hand this land on to whatever comes next, give the new owners the frame so that these things can stay with the land? That feels like the right thing to do. Don’t like to think about that time though!

      As far as Woodcock go, I had a look in the Bird Atlas 2007-11 for Clitheroe. Although there are some in the area in the winter, it doesn’t look like there are loads of them – however, there definitely seem to be breeding Woodcock in your area in the summer. I saw my first Woodcock when I went to heathland at dusk in June some years ago to try to see Nightjar – male Woodcock were flying along the edges of the woodland surrounding the heath – the display flight that is called roding. Very special – we saw Nightjar as well.

      1. Good idea about the musket balls. Very interesting history that needs to be recorded.
        Good news about the woodcock’s possibly in this area, maybe in the nearby forest of bowland countryside. There are ring ouzels there and hen harrier. Lovely that you saw Nightjar. X

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