Woe Water Rising

On the way back from the wood one day this week, we took a small diversion to the village of Barham where we had heard that the nailbourne had started flowing. East Kent has very little running surface water, but it does have four intermittent streams, that are called nailbournes here.

These nailbournes start running when the water table rises above ground level in an area where there are fissures in the rock and springs bubble up through them. The intermittent stream that flows through Barham is the Elham nailbourne and it runs for fifteen miles until it joins the Little Stour river at Bekesbourne. In the photo below, it crosses a road creating a ford.

In times past, before it was understood why these streams suddenly appeared, they were seen as harbingers of bad luck and were known as ‘woe waters’. Even in the twentieth century, the rising of the Elham nailbourne in the spring of 1935 was widely thought to have been a portent of the death of King George V.

This woe water is said by local legend to rise once every seven years. It ran in 2014 and again in January last year and so perhaps it wasn’t expected again quite yet but these days people get very excited to see it and there certainly has been a lot of rain.

In the meadows, the weather situation can be summed up by just this Badger photo alone:

As well as all the wetness, there have also been days of relentless wind as Storm Christophe blew his way across the country. The rain has worked its way into the lenses of the more exposed of the trail cameras and it will take a few days now for them to properly dry out. In the meantime, I am afraid I am having to offer up some misty photos this time.

A pair of Kestrels have been hunting together in the meadows most of the year. We have seen them previously on this blog sitting companionably shoulder-to-shoulder. So what is going on here?

The female could have simply misjudged her landing but I think it looks deliberate. A minute or so later, she was sitting on the perch on her own looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in her beak:

On another day, she was on the perch in the ant paddock. I took this long shot with my camera and was filled with anticipation because that trail camera trained on her there should surely be getting some lovely photos:

But, as it turned out, this camera, too, had been affected by the rain and all that it could offer me were photos that looked like this:

The cameras in the wood are more sheltered from the elements and don’t suffer quite as badly. Although it clearly did snow and I wish I had been there then because it must have been very beautiful.

A Buzzard has paid a few visits to this pond. It’s such a large bird:

We have made a couple of habitat enhancements in the meadows. Another pile of flints down by the wild pond:

We brought some logs back from the wood..

..and made a log pile in the ant paddock:

It is good to feel like we are making some forward progress in all this horrible weather and after having been under severe Covid restrictions for seemingly months. Actually, it really is months now for us here in Kent.

Green Woodpeckers are very active in the meadows at the moment, probing in the grass for ants:

Here is one breaking off for a drink:

I realised that I knew embarrassingly little about the ants here or, indeed, what they get up to in the winter. Are they like wasps and all die off over winter except for the Queens? But, if that is the case, then what are the Green Woodpeckers eating?

Where the meadows haven’t been cut for a couple of years, some pretty impressive Yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus) nests have developed:

But, when the meadows are cut, the tops of these anthills are sliced off and the nests don’t have a chance to properly develop.

Last summer, we visited Park Gate Down, a local Kent Wildlife Trust reserve noted for its Monkey Orchids. The grass here is grazed rather than mown and so the Yellow Meadow Ant nests don’t get destroyed and have been there for hundreds of years.

In the part of the meadows we call the ant paddock, the grass has not been cut for two decades and the whole paddock is chock-a-block with anthills.

The anthills become their own mini habitats supporting different species of plants and animals and, in this way, increasing biodiversity.

Ordinarily, Yellow Meadow Ants don’t come above ground and it is only the winged males and females who make a hole in the mound and emerge once a year to swarm and disperse. Other than that, the ants are busy underground farming aphids (shown at A in the diagram below) that live off the roots of the plants on the mound. The aphids suck nutrients from the roots of the plants and the ants eat the honeydew that comes out of the abdomens of the aphids.

From what I could tell by researching on the internet, all of this is still going on out there during the winter, protected as the ants are under the mound of soil.

Well, I found that all really interesting and I had no idea that these mounds were aphid farms. We decided to find out for ourselves if the woodpeckers were indeed managing to still eat ants through the winter. We collected some Green Woodpecker droppings from the ground:

After drying them on the Aga, they were broken open and put under the Dino-lite microscope:

Sure enough, we could see that they were made up of the exoskeletons of thousands of yellow ants confirming to us that these Woodpeckers are definitely still eating ants in the winter.

In the last post I mentioned that this gate is used as a rodent super-highway at night:

It seems that I’m not the only one to have noticed…..

This Fox wanted to have a really, really close look at one of the trail cameras:

Winter is a time of male Fox dispersal and I find photos like this desperately upsetting. This Fox will no doubt already have moved on before I even collected the camera in but, if he would only stay a week, I could cure that mange with medicated jam sandwiches. I can only hope that when he arrives at wherever it is that he is going, someone will spot his plight and help him.

We woke this morning to a bitter day with a heavy frost.

However, the sunrise was absolutely magnificent to start another winter’s day:

I am so looking forward to spring.

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