As February begins to unfurl, a few tantalising glimpses of spring are there to be seen by those who long to hustle this winter out of the door:
The more I learn about the perils of Butterfly hibernation, the more I appreciate the miracle of seeing one emerge intact in the spring.
The Freshwater Habitats Trust are once again running a spawn survey where they request sightings of spawn and publish them on a weekly map. As usual, the sightings commence in Devon and Cornwall, where it is usually milder and wetter, and then gradually spread across the country from there. As of Friday 5th February, the situation was as below:
Is this the year that we shall see some Toad spawn here? Our ponds are relatively new and Toads are slow colonisers of new places and so maybe not yet, but I will look for it nonetheless.
For the last week, the male Badger, Scarface, has seemed very testosterone-fuelled and has been making a wickering noise on every video that he appears in. Badgers mate as soon as the cubs are born in early February and he knows that his time is coming.
Seeing him out in the daylight is also suggestive of interesting happenings going on underground:
There are also signs that fresh bedding is being brought into the sett, perhaps in preparation for the birth. But it has been so very wet that all vegetation above ground is saturated and hardly ideal as bedding – but what choice do they have?
In our garden we have several areas of Crocosmia growing – it must be a plant that likes dry, chalky conditions. The foliage is now all flopped over and withered but we haven’t cleared it away in order to provide winter shelter for invertebrates. That’s our excuse anyway.
Winter is still far from over and now is not a wildlife-friendly moment to tidy this Crocosmia up, but I did do a light comb-through with my fingers to pull away some of the leaves so that I could dry them and put them out for the Badgers. I want to think of the new cubs lying on cosy bedding deep down in their sett.
I spread the leaves out on the tiled floor of the greenhouse to dry off.
This reminded me that, a few years ago now, we visited the Highland Park Whisky Distillery on Orkney which is one of the few distilleries to still dry the barley the traditional way on a heated malting floor.
We are so overdue a return trip to Orkney – it was lovely there.
The weather forecast was foretelling that one night this week was going to be entirely dry and not too cold – a rare occurrence of late. The leaves drying in the greenhouse weren’t quite ready by this point so I finished them off in front of the Aga during the afternoon, turning them frequently just as they do with the barley at the Highland Park Distillery…
…and put them down by the sett at dusk:
There is a camera trained on this hole but it let me down and failed to capture anything other than this photo of a Badger contemplating the pile:
By the morning, however, the Crocosmia leaves had largely disappeared underground, as I had hoped.
I believe that, as I write now, there are already cubs lying on those Crocosmia leaves – yes, I think that cubs have now been born. We have observed over the years that the adult female Badgers are extremely protective of their cubs and will not let the male Badger anywhere near them for quite some considerable time. So it is very telling that, in several of the videos over the last couple of days, I have seen the females launching attacks on poor old Scarface.
This young Badger was bumbling along and didn’t notice the resting old gentleman Fox until it was almost on top of him:
I wonder if he has finally successfully found himself a mate:
The female Kestrel has been using the new perch by the Reptile area again this week. In this photo she is showing her ring:
She is almost certainly the bird that was ringed here in September 2019 as a youngster:
We have a black triumvirate – a family of three Carrion Crows who live here and can be found together in a group almost all of the time. A bit of research on the internet reveals that these Crows will probably be gathering to roost overnight with lots of other Crows during the winter, somewhere in dense woodland that has traditionally been used for generations. Crows are often the last birds to go to roost at night, usually well after dusk, and the earliest to leave in the mornings, being very keen to return to defend their territories against potential intruders.
These three are always to be seen here during daylight hours and presumably they will soon be nesting close by.
The Crows are tolerant of the Kestrels and probably can’t keep track of what the Sparrowhawks are getting up to. But, should any other Bird of Prey dare to fly into the airspace above the meadows, like a war time RAF station, they scramble to get themselves up into the air to see off the enemy planes. This is most annoying for us humans who would like to get good views of the visiting raptor but often only see it rapidly departing with the triumvirate in hot pursuit.
We took the dog for a walk on the high, high chalk cliffs at St Margarets this week, a village just to the south of the meadows. At the highest point, there is the Dover Patrol Memorial, a granite obelisk built to commemorate the two thousand people from the Royal Navy’s Dover Patrol who lost their lives during the First World War. There is a matching second such obelisk at Cap Blanc-Nez directly across the Channel in France and a third one in New York City.
A decommissioned Coast Guard Station is next to the memorial that, until a few years ago, was the Bluebird Tearoom. Such a shame that this is now a private residence – much missed as a welcome stop off during walks along the cliffs.
As we neared the Dover Patrol Memorial, we spotted a Peregrine Falcon perched at the top of the cliffs. Not a great photo but it is the closest we managed to get.
As I write now, with Storm Darcy raging its way across the land, all thoughts of spring are put on hold:
This Woodcock, pictured in the wood this week, has travelled to Britain to spend the winter here. It might be completely unpleasant out there today, but it’s nothing compared to the Scandinavian and Russian winters from which it is escaping.
As we walked the dog around the meadows this morning, wrapped up warm against the strong north-easterly winds and horizontal driving snow, we put a Woodcock up from the scrubby hedgerow edge here in the meadows. Has this bird been newly blown in from Scandinavia ahead of these winds? We only see Woodcock in the meadows at times of extreme weather.
But I return to a note of calm to finish today. Earlier on in the week, when I was still contemplating the joys of spring, we were treated to a glorious yellow dawn:
The smaller vessel is the Ocean Marlin who has been here for several weeks now, seconded onto fishery protection duties. These duties seem to involve a lot of time at anchor alongside us but maybe that’s a good sign. The other ship is a banana boat – one of the refrigerated reefers that sail the ocean between South America and the Port of Dover loaded with cargoes of exotic fruits. All seemed tranquil on this lovely morning but I expect that it is a very different picture indeed out at sea today.