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….

4 thoughts on “Mining

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