Tying the Knot

There was a very concerning weather forecast for our daughter’s wedding last weekend but in the event we were lucky. The reception was in a marquee on our lawn but there was a magical little bar set up in the meadows that worked so well towards the end of the evening. With only thirty of us, it was a small but perfectly formed and joyous celebration to launch them on their married lives together.

The morning after

But as a result of all this celebrating, we have once again missed this year’s Green Woodpecker fledging in the wood and this photo is the best that I can offer you:

Trail camera photo of one of the chicks shouting out of the hole

We actually did quickly nip to the wood the night before the wedding but found the birds had already left the nest, although we could still hear them nearby. We did, however, find this dead Mole:

I was surprised to see that Moles have quite long tails
What amazing claws

I didn’t know much about Moles and so I have read up about them. They have a system of permanent deep burrows forming a network that is hundreds of metres long with tunnels at different depths, the deeper ones being used during droughts and when it is cold. Many generations of mole will use these permanent tunnels to find their earthworm prey, which they store alive but immobilised in chambers.

In the wood, the Moles will be predated by Tawny Owls, Buzzards and Stoats and the young ones are particularly vulnerable as they disperse away from their mother’s range above ground during the summer. I wonder if this dead Mole is a dispersing youngster, although that doesn’t explain why it hasn’t been eaten.

Molehills in the wood. These hills have no opening to the ground surface and are formed during the excavation of the permanent tunnels. Beneath each molehill there is a sloping tunnel through which the soil has been pushed to the surface.

Other photos from the wood:

Father and child
A sweet young Rabbit
This trail camera took a photo of the first amphibian we have ever seen in the wood. A Frog in the new pond. Frogs are a pioneering species, finding new ponds to colonise ahead of any Newts and other predators that eat their tadpoles
Young Crow, fledged but still being fed by a parent

Crows have fledged in the meadows as well:

There is a flock of about forty young Starlings now working the meadows:

And a young Stock Dove on the left:

After all the recent rain, the ponds continue to look really full and healthy – unprecedented for late June.

We found a Sparrowhawk kill up on the strip. There was still much meat on the bones and so we put a camera on it in case the Sparrowhawk came back.

A Collared Dove victim of a Sparrowhawk

But it was the Crows and Magpies that arrived to peck over the carcass

But, unexpectedly, a House Sparrow also came to gather up some of the feathers.

Yellow Rattle is parasitic on grass and helps knock it back, giving meadow flowers more of a chance to thrive. Three or four autumns ago we sowed a test area with Yellow Rattle seed as a bit of an experiment. It is far too densely planted but there is no disputing that the grass has been disadvantaged and the area can now function as a seed bank for the rest of the meadows.

The area of thickly-planted Yellow Rattle in the first meadow

We got the tractor out to cut a section of the first meadow to become a car park for the wedding weekend:

The tractor shaves off the tops of any anthills, creating bare earth patches into which new plants can get a hold. Now that the Yellow Rattle has finished flowering in the test area, we collected some of the seed to spread over this newly cut section.

Collecting Yellow Rattle seed to spread onto the newly cut car park

Although we have planned to collect and spread this seed for several years, this is the first time we have got round to actually doing it and it feels good.

Last autumn I planted Sweet William in the allotment to use as cut flowers. These are old fashioned plants but they have been fantastic and I have been cutting them for months now to put into jam jars to bring in to the house.

Samantha Jones Photography
The Sweet William patch still flowering strongly at the end of June. It is a short-lived perennial plant but usually grown as a biennial in this country

One afternoon this week I was picking some strawberries in the allotment and saw a Hummingbird Hawk-moth on the Sweet William. I ran for my camera but this is the best that I could achieve before it flew away:

I had already decided to plant more Sweet William this autumn but now that I know that Hummingbird Hawk-moths like it, I shall certainly be growing some every year.

A gathering with the correct two metre distancing at peanut time:

Here are the two vixens that have had cubs this year. They seem very comfortable together and are presumably part of a family group:

One of this year’s cubs
The One-eyed vixen with Stock Dove prey
There is a beak right at the top of this picture – perhaps this Fox was being bombed by a Magpie?
Love this one

Some other photos from the meadows:

The extraordinary Ruby-tailed Wasp, a parasitoid of mason bees, hanging around the bee box and looking for an opportunity
This Broomrape is more yellow than the normal Broomrape we have here that parasitises Clover. It is possibly the Bedstraw Broomrape?
Pyramidal Orchid
Thank you for letting me know that this plant is Sainfoin. Apparently it produces loads of nectar and flowers on right into September and so is great for pollinators
Six-spot Burnet Moth caterpillar
Dusky Sallow caterpillar amongst the meadow grasses
The Common Malachite Beetle
Breeding season still going strong for Woodpigeon
Demanding young Magpie
Yes, the ringed female Blackbird is still carrying nesting material…
…but perhaps this is for on-going nest repairs because here she also is taking in food for chicks
This Emperor Dragonfly larva has crawled six feet from the garden pond and up the side of the house in order to emerge as an adult
I have been trying to get a photo of this for ages. This is the male Herring Gull who waits for us every morning to put seed down on the strip. He and the dog are not the best of friends – she barks at him and he repeatedly dive-bombs her. It’s part of the daily routine
We saw our first Small Blue Butterfly on 22nd April last year, although we would normally expect to first see them in May. This year, however, it was 24th June.
Small Blue on its larval food plant – Kidney Vetch
Marbled Whites have arrived….
…and Essex Skippers……
…and Large Skippers with their wing checkerboarding….
…and finally Meadow Browns

This photo of a Kestrel with a mouse in his large yellow feet reminded us that we had taken our eye off the ball down at our local white cliffs:

We went down this week to take a look:

Perhaps the Kestrel hunting in the meadows is the father of these chicks?

At least two Kestrel chicks this year

A bit further along, there were two adult Peregrines perched near their nest high on the cliffs:

We stopped to watch a recently fledged family of Whitethroat:

The adult Whitethroat feeding a cranefly to its chick above
A just-fledged Whitethroat
Some splendid Pyramidal Orchids down there
Viper’s Bugloss

I finish today with mating Hedgehogs on our son’s lawn in Berkshire. Previously unaware that he even had Hedgehogs, he now hopes to raise awareness amongst his neighbours and perhaps they might even be persuaded to set up a Hedgehog highway network within the gardens so that the Hedgehogs can get in to forage. These animals are in such desperate trouble that they need any help they can get.

Out and About

Now that the country stutters forward in its return to normality, I have resumed my fortnightly trips back to Berkshire to visit my father. Whilst there I always try to go birding with a friend to the Spade Oak nature reserve near Marlow – a flooded gravel pit, next to a sewage works but always with something of interest.

Great Crested Grebe on nest
Two of the three well-used Tern rafts
The sign of Woodpecker predation on a wooden nest box
There were lots of Mallard families in and around the lake
Male Banded Demoiselle

This time our visit was a little bit more interesting than we had hoped for when we spotted a Greylag Goose entangled in fishing line under a low hanging Willow, but too far out in the water for us to reach.

It is just possible to see the line stretching out to the goose

We phoned Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital and, within the hour, a volunteer had arrived to assess the extent of the problem:

Within three hours, permissions had been sought and received and a rescue team arrived and launched a boat onto the lake although by then we had left. It was all a success and the bird was taken back to the hospital for treatment.

How absolutely wonderful it is that there are organisations to call on like that for wildlife emergencies – they are one of my favourite charitable causes.

Back again in East Kent, the Swifts continue to bombard the nest boxes but, so far as we can tell, they are not going in:

I have managed to establish that there are three Fox cubs in the meadows this year. The one-eyed vixen has twins:

The One-eyed vixen with her blue left eye and her two cubs

And the other vixen has a single cub:

The camera up by this second vixen’s den has been catching her bringing in prey. Often it’s not possible to see what the prey is but there was no mistaking this Rabbit:

Look at the Old Gentleman now. He is just starting to be able to put some weight on his bad front paw but all the fur has gone from his tail. I have treated him for mange twice this spring and am hoping that this fur loss relates to before these treatments. If I see the fur loss area spreading, I will have to contact the Fox Project charity again and see what they suggest. He’s such a worry.

There are two just-fledged Magpies being very demanding in the meadows:

One of these birds has a fledgling bird here

The ringed female Blackbird is still building her nest, of course. It has been weeks now. The nest must be very close to this gate because I have so many photos like this:

And the pair have been mating, so are laying eggs:

Other photos from the meadows this week:

It’s a good year for the Broomrape – a plant needing no chlorophyll because it is parasitic on Clover
The Holm Oaks are in full flower
I am not yet sure what this pretty vetch-like plant is, but the bees love it
A mixed gang of adult and juvenile Starlings working the meadows at the moment
Unusual to see a Wren so out in the open like this
Woodpigeon are still at the nest-building stage too
This is quite a surprising photo. These are both adult birds and my guess is that one is being fed crop milk by the other because it has been sitting for hours on the nest incubating eggs
I include this photo because it highlights the difference between the Stock Dove’s eye in the foreground and the Woodpigeon behind.
A lovely pair of Collared Dove
A new feeder with sunflower hearts has gone up in the ant paddock. We put a camera on it to see what birds were using it…
Badger going about its business
Monster from the deep

Over in the wood, I went to collect the camera that is trained on the Green Woodpecker hole and could hear the young softly churring within. They have hatched! We hope to go and digiscope the nest in the next few days to see if we can get get some better quality images now that the adults will be going backwards and forwards with food for their chicks.

Meanwhile, Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks have already fledged. One of the young has a Cormorant-like technique to dry off after visiting the bath. It was pictured doing this several times so perhaps the water is too deep for it and it is getting over-wet.

The courtship display of the male Pheasant involves spreading out his tail and pulling down his wing towards the female:

Male and female (behind) Bullfinch amidst the flowering Bugle
Cherry Ermine Moth caterpillars on Spindle
Very excited to find this vigorous White Helleborine growing in the new section of the wood
A Teasel with its water-collecting buckets at the leaf bases

We visited our local chalk cliffs again this week. Our suspicions that Peregrine Falcons are nesting there this year were confirmed when we saw one coming back with prey, its calls echoing around the cliffs:

Its arrival back at the nest was greeted with the excited noises of its chicks so the eggs have hatched.

Another adult was sitting close by:

The cliff-nesting House Martins were also busy taking food to their young:

We think this is a recently fledged Rock Pipit – it had all the feel of being parked somewhere by its parent:

I had my camera on the correct settings for flying Peregrines so was perfectly prepared when these Spitfires came over unexpectedly. Both have been adapted to take a passenger for a flight of a lifetime along the white cliffs

No Mow May has now finished when the country was being encouraged to leave its lawns uncut for the benefit of pollinators and other invertebrates. I have to say that I like the look of a wilder, more flowery, lawn especially if it is set off by a neatly cut edge or path.

Some friends have gone a stage further by removing an area of their turf from their lawn last autumn and sowing a mixture of annual and perennial meadow flower seeds.

It looks spectacular and is busy with visiting bees.

We are about to have a marquee up on our own lawn for our daughter’s wedding next weekend, postponed from last September and now with only a fifth of the number of guests. I will have to wrench my attention from wildlife matters for a while and focus on the matter in hand…

Here At Long Last

Our local Swifts arrived back on Bank Holiday Monday, 31st May, just as I had given up all hope. Since then they have been frequently and vigorously dive-bombing the boxes much to the concern of the nesting House Sparrows within. All four Swift boxes are currently occupied by House Sparrows but I read that Swifts will eject the Sparrows if they decide that they want to nest there so we will just have to see what happens.

It is so completely joyous to hear their screams, look up, and see a squadron of them shooting through the meadows and around the house. They also spread out and feed high in the skies above. These birds have had a battle with the weather to get here this spring, so let’s hope from now on things improve for them.

Another special experience is to sit by the pond at dusk at the end of a warm calm day, surrounded by the gentle sounds of the meadows winding down for the night, while at the same time something truly astonishing is happening in front of your eyes.

The late spring bank holiday is around the time each year that the largest dragonflies in Britain, the Emperors, emerge from the depths of the pond and undergo a remarkable transformation. It all begins when a larva climbs out of the water and clings on to a reed:

The larva is large – about 8 cm in length
Before too long, the adult dragonfly starts to push its way out through the thorax
It can all look a bit alarming
The emerging adult starts to bend over backwards as it comes out
At this point, the action stops for a while as the dragonfly gathers its strength to reach forward and flip itself over
Once it is the right way up, the wings are still compressed and fluid needs to be pumped into the wings to open them up
Even though the wings are now full size, it is several hours yet before they are hard enough to use for flight. The emergences start in the early evening so that it is dark when the dragonfly is vulnerable like this, but it is ready to fly away by dawn.

Emperors are known as colonisers of recently dug ponds and, when the ponds here were new, we had over a hundred of these Emperor emergences at the end of May every year. Now we only get a handful, but they continue to be a highlight of the wildlife year for us.

Happily photographing dragonflies
A just-emerged Broad-bodied Chaser with its discarded larval case below

Broad-bodied Chasers generally emerge before the Emperors and so are already now busy mating and egg laying.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser laying eggs into the water
The male resting up at the side of the pond awaiting the arrival of a female

After all the dragonfly admiration I had been doing, I was a bit shocked to see one in a Blackbird’s beak:

Surely this bird wasn’t going to try to get that dragonfly down the throat of a chick? This time last year, it had been hot and sunny for weeks and the ground was baked hard. There was much concern about how birds such as Blackbirds were managing to get worms out of the ground to feed to their young. Now it couldn’t be more different and every day I am seeing a selection of glorious photos on the cameras such as the one below. This is one thing I don’t have to worry about this year – baby Blackbirds are getting enough food.

I have lost count of how many weeks I have been posting photos of this ringed female Blackbird collecting nesting material. What on earth is going on? Is she building several nests?

A possible reason might be that her nests keep getting predated, perhaps? If so, here is one of the top suspects:

I think this might be a Woodpigeon egg, but Magpies will be on the look out for all sorts of nests

A lot of bird seed gets put down here and we definitely do see Rats:

A young Rat

But rodent populations here always seem to stay in a healthy balance and perhaps we have the foxes to thank for that:

This is the mother of the single cub. I always worry when I see rats being eaten in case they have been previously poisoned but if the rat was caught here it will be alright. This vixen has been treated for mange and I think I can now see fur growing back on that tail.
Her lovely cub, wet in the rain
The cub stretched out and enjoying the warmth of the sun

Towards the end of the week, we have seen two cubs together. The One-eyed Vixen also had cubs this year and I wonder of this is our first sighting of her young:

The Old Gentleman fox, still with his bad leg, and a Magpie

Only one Magpie chick has appeared in the meadows so far this year:

Chick requesting food

The female Sparrowhawk came down to the pond to bathe and this Magpie probably got a bit of a shock. No bird would ever want the gaze of a Sparrowhawk on it like this:

Other interesting photos from the meadows this week:

A male Sparrowhawk with a white eyebrow
A rare sighting of a Hedgehog
A Sawfly larva climbing a reed in the middle of the pond
There has been heavy dew some mornings this week
We have noticed that a lot of the buttercups have little snails in the flower although we don’t know why
A Crow with a beakful
A Woodpigeon, pink with the sunrise

One day this week we organised a dog sitter and took ourselves out. Our first stop was Orlestone Forest in Kent where we hoped to see the Grizzled Skipper butterfly. Unfortunately we didn’t spot one but we saw plenty of these Speckled Yellows – a day-flying moth that we had never seen before:

We also saw this Green Tiger Beetle, another new species for us:

For our second destination, we crossed over the county border and visited Rye Harbour, a Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve. We were hoping to see Little Terns nesting on the beach but once again we failed. We saw plenty of Avocets though:

Avocet with shrimp
Little Grebe

We were very charmed to see a Ringed Plover trying to impress a female with his courtship moves:

A good opportunity for me to revise the difference between Ringed and Little Ringed Plover. These are Ringed Plover with their orange beaks with the black tip (Little Ringed beak is all black) and no orange eye ring.

A Turnstone was very unimpressed with all this disturbance and gave the courting Plovers a piece of its mind:

One of our daughters has recently moved to East Kent and now is volunteering for Kent Wildlife Trust as a guardian of the River Stour. This weekend a group of the volunteers went out in Canadian canoes to collect litter from the river.

This is half of what their canoe collected

Beavers now live in the River Stour and I finish today with our daughter’s wonderful photo of a Beaver lodge that they paddled past whilst collecting litter. Who would have thought we had wild Beavers in East Kent.