Bees, Bugs and Birds

British Summer Time is here at last, the hour has sprung forward and a whole extra section of the day becomes available to us for outside activities. The glorious prospect of summer evening dog walks and nature exploration lies ahead.

We are about to embark on our fourth year of being Red Mason Bee Guardians.

Each March we receive bee cocoons and cardboard nesting tubes from the guardianship scheme. We put these out into the meadows and the bees hatch and forage for pollen and then build their nests in cardboard tubes that we provide nearby. In September, once the bee larvae in the nests have transformed into hard cocoons to overwinter in, we send the tubes back to the Guardian scheme HQ for the cocoons to be extracted, cleaned of parasites and stored safely over winter.

In 2018, we sent back 45 used nest tubes, which contained a pleasing total of 342 healthy cocoons. This was an average of 7.6 cocoons per tube and a fantastic increase on the 25 cocoons we started with. In 2019, we proudly sent back 53 tubes, but only 184 viable cocoons were found within which is a disappointing 3.5 per tube. However, much, much worse was to come in 2020. Last year we managed a miserly 18 tubes which only contained 31 healthy cocoons – that’s a mere 1.7 cocoons per tube.

We don’t know what went wrong and why so few of the tubes were used and also why there were hardly any healthy cocoons within each tube. Perhaps parasites are building up in the area, attracted by all these bee nests and so we have decided to change the release site from the orchard to down by the wild pond and see how we get on in this new location. There are still plenty of pollen-rich flowers around there.

Twenty-five bee cocoons in the release box
The release box and the nesting tubes on a pole in the new position by the wild pond

The mason bees need damp soil to build the walls between the nest cells and last year we discovered some bees taking their soil from deep in the badger tunnels. This new release site is much closer to the badger sett meaning that the bees won’t leave their nests unattended for so long when they collect the soil, giving less chance for parasites to attack.

A photo from last May. A female returning to her nest carrying pollen on her abdomen. She is also being pursued by a hopeful male
Also from last year, a female carrying a ball of mud in her mouth to build a wall in her nest. This time she has no pollen on her abdomen

It is so wonderful to have invertebrates around again and these days I am increasingly fascinated by them. I know not everyone is, although hopefully you will humour me if I include a couple here. We were lying in the grass looking closely at a patch of Sweet Violets that were surprisingly pale-coloured – all the others here are a deep purple:

While we were down there, close to the soil, we noticed this tiny little chap that looks straight out of a Disney cartoon to me:

This is a nymph of a Leafhopper (in the sub-family Deltocephalinae – possibly Euscelis incisus).

This next small bug, that I found sunbathing on a leaf, has a lovely white heart on its back. It is a Mirid bug, possibly Lygus pratensis, but there are many that look similar. It will be sucking sap from plants.

I was very pleased to get this photo of a Whirligig (Gyrinus sp). These tiny beetles gyrate madly in circles on the surface of the ponds and represent a real photographic challenge. The breakthrough came when I realised that they slowed down, and sometimes even actually stopped, when I wasn’t looming over them. So it was simply a question of pretending I had gone away, whilst still lurking close by.

These beetles carry a water bubble at the tip of their abdomen to help with buoyancy. They also have two pairs of eyes – the lower set looks under the water and the upper set above. They eat dead insects found floating on the surface.

We have seen another Peacock that has suffered from the ravages of time. This one has most of a forewing gone:

Good to see that the Slow Worms are starting to appear under the reptile sampling squares:

A month after the frogspawn was laid in the wild pond, an additional blob has appeared in ludicrously shallow water. We have moved it somewhere a bit deeper and less likely to dry up before the tadpoles are grown.

The Badgers have been taking bedding down the hole that opens directly into the meadows, suggesting that the baby Badgers are down there:

The sett entrance on the cliff

A few years ago we went to Costa Rica and were astounded to see the Resplendent Quetzel:

Internet photo

Sometimes, when the light hits the tail of a Magpie at just the right angle, it brings a little bit of Costa Rica to the meadows:

Magpies are still nest building. I have so many photos of them taking beakfuls of wet earth from next to the little pond on the strip, where the soil is kept damp by the splashing of bathing birds :

Slightly out of focus, but great to see a pair of Green Finch:

Why this is so great is because they are having an absolutely terrible time at the moment, the population being devastated by a parasite of the oesophagus, Trichomonosis. Transmission is most likely through contaminated food and water – a major incentive to keep feeders regularly washed. This disease was first noticed in Greenfinch in late summer 2006 and, although birds’ current conservation status is green, being of least concern, this will surely now change when this is next reviewed.

BTO graph

If I hadn’t already managed to read the ring code of the colour-ringed Herring Gull, GR94467, I definitely would have done so by now:

I am working under the assumption that she is a female and, together with her mate, they have become regulars up on the strip. They are magnificent-looking birds and I am now very fond of them both:

The armpit of a juvenile Herring Gull

There continue to be a number of Yellowhammer here – I think it could even be described as a small flock. I count nine in this photo, along with a House Sparrow.

A few Linnet about:

And a Starling or two:

Blackbirds have started nest building in the same vicinity as last year. It is the female who does all the work:

Although the male has found a caterpillar:

Sparrowhawk:

Moving inland to the wood now, the Tawny Owl has been worming again in the usual spot.

We haven’t seen it successfully catch a worm this winter, but we got this photo last year:

Blackbirds are building nests in the wood as well:

We don’t see Bullfinch in the wood during the winter but a pair have bred both summers we have been here. So its great to see them back:

Female in the front, male behind (Blue Tit in the middle)

Some other photos from the wood:

Redwing still remain
Red-legged Partridge
Lovely healthy Rabbit
Wren
An unusual view of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker looking rather like a Mondrian painting

Finally, back in the meadows, I’m keeping my eye very firmly on this beautiful and delicate vixen:

I am very suspicious of what’s going on with her tail and suspect the beginnings of mange. Watching the foxes here over the years has taught me how quickly this spreads once it gets a hold and I want to act fast if necessary. Here is her tail from a different angle and there is a definite bald patch halfway along:

If I need to start dispensing the medicine-laced honey sandwiches again, I think she would be an easy target because I see her at the peanuts most nights. However, the issue will be how to stop the old gentleman fox from eating them all before she arrives. Here he is, needing to have a stretch after waiting for an hour for me to arrive. He is always first on the scene.

But that is a problem for the future. Although I do not yet have a photo, I have seen that the one-eyed vixen is now looking slim again – she has had her cubs. I am so looking forward to seeing the badger cubs and then the fox cubs on the cameras in the next few weeks.

The Gentle Purr of the Turtle Dove

Three years ago we visited Yockletts Bank, an East Kent nature reserve famed for its orchids. We had timed it just right and the orchids were in their full glory, although what we really remember of that visit was the Turtle Dove purring in a tree above us. It was the first and only time we have heard one in Britain.

The number of Turtle Doves in the UK has fallen by 98% between 1967 and 2016 and this will be our fourth year of participating with Operation Turtle Dove to try to persuade Britain’s fastest declining bird to come and breed in the meadows.

We visited the captive Turtle Dove breeding programme at Pensthorpe in Norfolk in January last year. One day I hope to be able to post a photo of a wild Turtle Dove in the meadows, but it hasn’t happened yet.

On paper we have everything they want. We have freshwater and thorny, dense hedgerow of the right height for them to build their nests. We will be putting down supplementary Turtle Dove food provided by the RSPB during May and June so that they can rapidly feed up after their long migration from Africa and get into breeding condition as soon as possible.

In addition, we rotavate a strip of land each spring so that, over the course of the summer, it gets weedy whilst still retaining about 30% bare earth. This is the sort of habitat found at the edges of agricultural fields which is where Turtle Doves like to be.

Here is the strip that gets rotavated each spring. By this point of the year, it was mostly covered in vegetation and difficult to distinguish from the rest of the meadow.

Rotavator at the ready

This time the rotavation took less than two hours – apparently it gets easier every year as the soil becomes used to being turned over, although we are yet to attempt the job ourselves.

For the rest of the day, the ploughed-up soil attracted in the Gulls – Herring Gulls on the left, Black-headed by the water and Common Gull flying on the right. The Black-headed Gull at the front now has the chocolate brown mask of its summer plumage while the one behind it is still in its winter clothes.

I include this next photo because I like the composition:

Last week we attended a virtual talk given by Kent Wildlife Trust on their Wilder Blean project. Lack of woodland management in the UK is one of the biggest factors causing species loss and the Wilder Blean project is going to introduce European Bison and carefully selected species of pigs, cows and horses to naturally manage Blean Woods, a large area of woodland around Canterbury. This year they are doing base-line surveys to measure future progress against, and building some infrastructure necessary for managing the Bison that are due to arrive next year. How fantastic to have such an exciting project on our doorstep and looking forward to hearing how the wood gradually recovers and species build over the years.

Ideally we would bring in grazing animals here to do our own smaller-scale rewilding of these meadows but we have never wanted the responsibility of livestock. However, although we are two kilometres away from the nearest cow, these Yellow Dung flies (Scathophaga stercoraria) have been seen all over the meadows this week, on the budding flowerheads of Alexanders.

This male is a lovely-looking fly with its yellow furry legs and abdomen although admittedly his love of cow pats could count against him for some. The males live in and around the dung, awaiting the arrival of females for mating and the eggs are then laid into the pat. Although they do visit flowers for nectar, they are mainly predators of other flies.

Here is a female, looking similar but without the yellow fur. She’s got pollen all over her chops, I see.

Between her thorax and abdomen, it is possible to see one of her yellow, club-shaped halteres. Other flying insects, such as bees and dragonflies, have two sets of wings but the second set in flies has been modified into these halteres – they function as gyroscopes providing the fly with good in-flight information and so allowing it to have great manoeuvrability.

Zoomed in a bit more to show the yellow haltere.

Here is a mating pair of Yellow Dung flies, although with no nearby dung into which to lay the eggs:

I don’t understand why we have so many dung flies here, so far from the dung of grazing animals. There are surely plenty of flowers available closer to the horse fields and the cattle farm – why are they coming all the way over here?

We saw these furry flies here last year as well and this photo was taken on 1st March 2020. But see how open those Blackthorn flowers were right at the beginning of March last year:

Photo from 1st March 2020

Here is this same Blackthorn bush on 21st March this year and only now on the brink of coming into flower – that is three or four weeks behind 2020. What an amazing difference from year to year.

For a couple of days this week, we had a group of around two hundred Starlings, gathering here at the coast before making the crossing across the North Sea back to Continental Europe to breed.

They were captured by only one of the trail cameras, probing the ground for soil invertebrates and perching in the hedgerows:

Perhaps it is a bit difficult to see in the photograph below, but some areas of the meadows were covered in the holes made by their beaks. We have never noticed this before:

All Starlings have departed now, including the birds that had arrived earlier and that I was hoping were summer residents coming here to breed. It seems that they too were winter visitors, simply slightly ahead of the main pack.

Three years ago we planted six large English Oaks in the second meadow. We now know it was a mistake to plant such big trees in these dry chalky soils – smaller trees would have demanded less of the roots whilst they are getting over the shock of planting and establishing themselves in their new position. We watered them like mad but, nonetheless, I think we have lost three of them. The ones that survive have a lot of of these marble galls caused by the gall wasp Andricus kollari. This wasp is not a native, but one that was introduced early in the 19th century when these galls were in demand as a source of tannin for dyeing and ink making.

The wasp emergence hole from the marble gall

For the first time, we have seen a different type of gall on these Oaks this year:

This is the ram’s-horn gall caused by the gall wasp Andricus aries which was first discovered in Berkshire in 1997 but now occurs all over the southern half of Britain. Neither of these galls harm the tree.

The Badgers are so busy at the moment. There has been more digging pretty much every night:

A new vertical shaft has been opened up this week, some distance from the other workings. It is coming up in the middle of the reptile area and goes down an awfully long way:

Here we are looking at this new hole. It is quite a long way into the meadow from the main sett entrance that must be on the cliff. Peering over the fence at this point, we can see that there is a lot of recently dug spoil there as well. What a network of Badger tunnels there surely is under this area of the meadows.

We are going to need to mark this hole now so that we don’t fall down it by mistake.

Last autumn we had six Badgers but by now some might be expected to have dispersed and I am no longer sure how many there are. The most I have seen together in recent times is four:

This weekend is the spring equinox – yes, we are now finally officially there and what a cause for celebration that feels like. Here are some of the other things that have been going on this week.

This is our first Bee-fly of the season – a Dark-edged Bee-fly. It is a sweet-looking little thing but appearances can be deceptive because it is parasitic on mining bees, flicking its eggs into their nests and its larvae then feed on the bee grubs.

I am so pleased that the Grey Partridge are back. We are putting them up again from the uncut sections of the second meadow as we walk round but this grainy, dark photo is the only time they have wandered in front of a camera:

Yellowhammer in flight, beautifully demonstrating those white tail feathers:

The colour-ringed Gull, GR94467, is a beautiful bird. I rechecked the North Thames Gull Group ringing record for it and this time spotted that, when the bird was ringed on Pitsea landfill site in Essex six years ago, it was recorded as being four years or older but with some immature plumage. This makes it at least ten years old now.

The bird very much seems to be one of a pair and that is why I was looking again at the ringing record to check if they had sexed it – they hadn’t. A quick look at the internet tells me that adult female Herring Gulls are smaller birds than the males and less fierce-looking. GR94467 is on the left in this picture and my guess on this basis is that she is female.

The first frogspawn was laid in the wild pond on 28th February this year. Now, nearly three weeks later, some has finally arrived in the hide pond on 18th March. Frogs just don’t like this pond as much:

I put the moth trap out one night this week. Just one moth turned up – an Early Grey. It’s a beauty though. A moth that is very much associated with Honeysuckle, both wild and garden varieties.

A wonderful clump of Primrose in the wood:

Yesterday we were surprised and slightly alarmed to see six warships on the horizon. We have subsequently discovered that is was a flotilla of four Russian warships that left the Baltic a few days ago and are now moving west through the Straits of Dover, their progress being monitored by two Royal Navy warships. This all feels uncomfortably Cold War-ish.

One of the four Russian Warships on the right

A couple of times this week, we walked the dog down under our local chalk cliffs. Last spring we followed the fortunes of the Kestrels, Fulmars, House Martins, Jackdaws and other birds that nest here.

The Fulmars are here again already, defending their nest sites, with their calls atmospherically bouncing around the arena of the cliffs.

We got talking to a fellow nature enthusiast there who told us that he had seen a pair of Kestrels mating by their usual nest hole a few days previously and we also saw Jackdaws disappearing into holes in the cliffs carrying sticks. It’s all kicking off once more and that is wonderful news. With all holidays still having big question marks dangling over them, there will be lots of time to visit these cliffs regularly once again this year and that is something I am very much looking forward to.

Mining

Last year the Badgers surprised us by opening up a vertical shaft of a tunnel that emerged out into the meadows. Since all previous holes had been on the steep cliff, we can now better observe life in and around the sett. Recently, they have begun modifying this burrow and digging operations have been continuing throughout the week to make the gradient out of the hole shallower:

The fresh diggings

During the day, birds are keen to pick over the resultant spoil. Song Thrush and Blackbird in particular..

..but also Redwing:

The dog tells us that very interesting smells indeed are wafting out of this hole:

There will be a strong aroma of Badger, of course, but I think that Rats are also nesting down there. The bird feeders are not far from here and Rats are so often photographed going in and out of the tunnel.

A Rabbit was also at this hole one night – a rare visitor to the meadows, because surely there are just too many Foxes around here for it to be safe for them.

The black cat that prowls the meadows at night is also drawn in to investigate the smell

And what is this animal at the hole entrance? If only we had a better view of his face:

Last summer, we saw a Polecat-Ferret Hybrid in the wood:

This Polecat-Ferret Hybrid was also seen at night in the wood and, in the infrared light, it looks very similar to the animal seen in the meadows this week:

The facial markings are not very noticeable under the infrared light

My current best guess is that it was also a Polecat-Ferret Hybrid in the meadows. These animals mainly eat Rabbits in the summer, but have a more varied diet, including Rats, in the winter. The distribution maps do not show them being this far east and so I hope that we will get an opportunity to see him again and properly identify him.

But now a different type of mining. At this time of year, the evergreen Holm Oaks are looking brown rather than green:

The reflection of a very brown Holm Oak in the pond

This is because their leaves are covered in the leaf mines of the moth Ectoedemia heringella. It is ridiculous that we have never seen the adult moth because there are simply millions of these caterpillars safely overwintering within the leaves of the Holm Oaks here.

We put one of the leaves under the microscope. There are three caterpillars just in this tiny section of leaf:

The scale here shows that they are about 3mm long. But they must be very flat to fit between the two surfaces of a leaf.

The adult moths will be emerging in June or July and I will definitely be going out with a torch at night to try to see them this year. The tree should be covered in these moths if I get the timing right. I suppose another way to see the adult would be to put some of the leaves into a glass container and wait until they hatch out, but I will try the torch method first.

Internet photo of the adult Ectoedemia heringella

The moth is a native of Mediterranean regions – as are the Holm Oaks, in fact – and it is a recent arrival in the country. It was first caught in London in 1996 and seems now to be spreading outwards from there. The Holm Oaks are largely unharmed by this large scale attack and they will anyway be shedding all of these affected leaves in the early summer and growing some new green ones.

One evening this week, a second Fox arrived at peanut time whilst it was still light. My friend in the foreground here, the Old Gentleman Fox, was initially not too pleased with this competition for the sandwiches:

But he decided to ignore her and get on with eating..

Two Foxes with two Magpies watching closely for their opportunity

..because once it gets dark, others will turn up and he loses the advantage that being bold enough to come out in the light gives him.

The Old Gentleman back left. The One-eyed Vixen back right.

The One-eyed Vixen looks like she is carrying cubs.

A very stout One-eyed Vixen

For comparison, here she was last summer:

Sparrowhawks must surely be catching birds in the meadows every day.

Yet we rarely see them with prey. But this image was down by the Badger sett on the cliff – the bird on the ground is very black and white – not sure what it is, actually.

A little group of Linnets have returned to the meadows and have been feeding up on the strip. There was also this Siskin:

Some more Starlings arrived in the meadows:

Five Starlings are now flying around in a tight group. Hopefully these are summer residents and are stopping to breed

This morning, however, a group of about two hundred have arrived. These are winter visiting Starlings that are gathering here at the coast, prior to departing back over the North Sea to their breeding ground in Continental Europe.

The male Kestrel:

A nice photo of a Jay:

GR94467 and friend taking a drink
There have been gales here for most of the week, but also some bouts of heavy rain and hail

The pair of Grey Partridge have not been seen again this week unfortunately. I have been reading about the conservation work that is being done at the 14,000 acre Englefield Estate in my home county of Berkshire. Grey Partridges have declined by 94% across Europe since 1980 and, when Englefield’s Grey Partridge Project was launched in 2009, there were just two pairs on the estate. But there are now 70 pairs. They have achieved this heart-warming increase by planting new hedgerows and 10,000 metres of ‘beetle banks’ which are raised banks of earth criss-crossing the fields and sown with tussock grass to attract many different insect species. Wide strips of wildflowers have been left at the edges of the arable fields and they are putting out supplementary feed during the winter and well as leaving some cereal crop unharvested. All this is not just helping the Partridge but many farmland birds – for instance, Corn Bunting is now being seen there for the first time in twenty-five years.

The Englefield Estate is a large arable farm with attached woodland – but perhaps lessons can be learned from their success and applied here in our flower meadows.

Possibly the most important lesson is to strive to improve insect biodiversity and also their general abundance. We planted this native Scots Pine three or four years ago.

We were delighted to find six Pine Ladybirds on it this morning – a ladybird that particularly loves Scots Pines. This tree has increased our insect biodiversity! We also planted some Corsican Pines at the same time, a non-native species but one that is noted for doing very well in these exposed coastal conditions. But sadly we could not find any Pine Ladybirds on the Corsican Pines.

Exochomus quadripustulatus, the Pine Ladybird. Sighted for the first time in the meadows this morning.
Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens nectaring up on the winter-flowering Heather in the garden
Pollen Beetles already in Dandelion flowers this week
Small Tortoiseshell. This butterfly hibernates as an adult and so can be very early out and about in the spring – however, it has lost one of its hind wings somewhere along the line.

In the wood, the Woodpecker hole in the Cherry tree does look like it has been recently enlarged:

And Green Woodpeckers are still investigating it, so hopefully they will decide to nest here:

Redwings continue in the wood for now:

Last year we bought an additional section of wood, adjacent to our existing one, and this new bit of the wood had been clear-felled and replanted ten to fifteen years ago. The vulnerable small trees were protected with plastic sleeves but now this plastic is littering the wood. Some of the sleeves are still round the trees although much is just lying on the woodland floor. I wonder if these days a more biodegradable alternative is used? I do hope so.

It is an outstanding job to collect all this plastic up. On the 23rd March last year, on the very brink of the country going into lockdown, we visited the wood and picked up two bin bags full of this horrible, brittle plastic.

Two bags of collected plastic. 23rd March 2020

It was a strange and surreal visit – we had a good idea of what might be about to be announced that very evening, and that it would be our last visit to the wood for some time. Looking back now, that day feels rather dreamlike.

In the event, it was indeed many weeks before we returned to the wood and I’m afraid that we have failed to do any more plastic clearing since then. Until this week, that is, when we picked up another two bags worth and recreated the photo, one year on and definitely now in a more optimistic place.

There is so much more to clear up. Hopefully we can interest the family in a work day at the wood once we are allowed to meet up again.

Back at the meadows, the Frog spawn is just starting to hatch:

A single tadpole in amongst the spawn

Our scarecrow Mackenzie’s work is done for another year. There has not been a single Heron visit on his watch and, because of him, a new generation of tadpoles will soon be swimming en masse in the pond.

But the adult Frogs are now dispersing and it is time for him to go off duty for the summer. He will rest up in the field shed until his time to shine comes again next winter….

Gull GR94467

It has been an eventful week. A big birthday came and went, unwelcome in some ways but it did mean that my age became wonderfully aligned with the NHS vaccination programme and yesterday was a red letter day when we had our Covid jabs.

The wildlife in the meadows has been noticeably busier as well. We have been hearing the Tawnies at night but this is the first time we have seen one for many months.

The colour-ringed Herring Gull has returned, and this time I could read the ring – X9LT. So, let me now introduce you to Gull GR94467, a bird that was ringed by the North Thames Gull Group on 24th January 2015 at the Pitsea Landfill site in Essex:

The North Thames Gull Group study the gulls of the Essex Landfill sites and Pitsea in Essex was the second largest landfill in the UK, receiving 800,000 tonnes of solid waste a year, mainly from London. It has now closed, or is about to do so, and the RSPB are planning to turn it into a nature reserve. The Gull Group worked there for 34 years, ringing an amazing 46,224 new birds and they have also had 24,105 retraps and subsequent sightings.

The birds are caught on the landfills using cannon nets. The waste contractor lays a load of the waste onto the ground in the catch area, attracting in the gulls. The net is arranged in a long line and four cannons, set into old tyres to cushion the recoil, fire the net into the air which then settles back down onto the gulls, several hundred of which will hopefully be caught with each firing.

Gull GR94467 was ringed at Pitsea at the beginning of 2015 and was next sighted in 2017 and then 2018 at Bexley Pit, another landfill a bit further in towards London along the Thames Estuary. But now it has left the rubbish heaps behind and flown to the more fragrant East Kent coast. It was sighted at the local beach here in April 2020 and again in November and I have now also reported my sighting of it in the meadows in March 2021. Herring Gulls can live for 30 years or more and so we are looking forward to seeing GR94467 for many years to come.

We have decided to keep the gates closed between the two meadows, meaning that the dog now only goes into the second meadow when she is with us. Perhaps this will reduce disturbance for ground nesting birds this spring although it won’t keep the Foxes and Badgers out, all of whom use holes under the fences. It actually doesn’t necessarily keep the dog out either when there is extreme provocation such as a tractor working in the field alongside that clearly needs chasing.

The tractor was harrowing and planting and this didn’t go unnoticed by the local Gulls:

Every year Skylarks nest in the grass of the second meadow and they are sensitive to disturbance – last year we believe that we had two pairs and they each raised more than one brood. Now they have returned for the breeding season again and are to be heard singing high in the sky. There is nothing quite like that for raising the spirits after a long, cold, Covid-filled winter.

Grey Partridge nest low in hedgerows and the adults are out foraging amongst the grass during the day and they too are easily disturbed. A pair have recently arrived back in the second meadow and we have been putting them up as we walk round. This week they came up to the seed at the strip for the first time and so we got a chance to have a proper look at them. The female is on the right with the stripe over her eye.

Grey Partridge is one of the most strongly declining species across Europe and they are red listed as being of great conservation concern across most of their range. So we will obviously be delighted if they choose to stay and raise young here again this summer.

The two Starling are still with us and are very much a pair:

The Magpies, who are building a nest at the top of one of the Holm Oaks, continue to bring in sticks. This stick is really very long:

And pleased to see that the Woodcock still remains here for now. Woodcock do breed in the UK but on heathland rather than flowery meadow and so this bird will no doubt be leaving before too long.

We have never located a Sparrowhawk nest here but presumably they do breed in the vicinity since the meadows seem very much within their territory:

In my quest to try to find caterpillars this year and learn more about the life cycles of the moths and butterflies that live here, I have found another caterpillar hibernating under one of these stones by the hide pond:

This robust caterpillar is the larval stage of the Square-spot Rustic – a moth that I haven’t yet caught in the trap in the summer, although I will now be looking out it.

There has been more digging at the Badger hole that emerges into the meadows:

My suspicion is that they are creating a shallower slope up out of the hole because they are planning to bring the wobbly cubs out this way in a few weeks time. In previous years, the cubs have always first emerged onto the cliff. There is a terrace in front of the cliff burrow but the gradient is very steep and dangerous and the mother has to watch them like a hawk initially.

The date that the first Blackthorn flower opens in the meadows is one that we try to notice and record. This year it was 1st March, although last year it was 2nd February:

In the wood, Tawny Owls have been keeping a very low profile this winter. However, one was back again this week searching for worms on the woodland floor:

A different species of Partridge has been seen at the wood:

This is the Reg-legged Partridge, a most attractive bird but one that is non-native and has probably been released into the British countryside purely to be shot. Unlike the Pheasants, though, there don’t seem to be many Red-legged Partridges around the area, since this is only the second time we have seen one.

I am still not yet sure that Green Woodpeckers are going to be nesting again in last year’s hole in a cherry tree, but they do certainly seem to be investigating it. Here are both of them, the male up near the hole with red in his moustachial stripe.

The same camera also captured this Redwing

We have returned to cold north-easterlies these last few days and yet again we are wrapping up warm with double coats and gloves. However, with so many leaves unfurling and blossoms opening, and now newly vaccinated, we cannot help but feel optimistic for the coming spring.

I am dedicating this blog post to my daughter who is 30 today and whose interest in Seals, Deer, Birds and other wildlife gives me so much pleasure.