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.