Weeds and Water

We travelled north to Yorkshire for two nights this week to visit my oldest friend on the occasion of a significant birthday. There wasn’t much time to go chasing wildlife but we did take a walk along the wooded valley of Hebden Beck just above the popular tourist town of Hebden Bridge. This town is set in a steep-sided valley, downstream from the coming-together of several rivers and streams, which has resulted in a long history of flooding. Recently, the town has been badly hit in 2012, 2015 and 2020.

Tree trunks secured to large and heavy boulders

There is now a flood alleviation scheme underway and we were interested to see one aspect of this already in place along Hebden Beck where tree trunks had been secured to large boulders at intervals along the stream. There has been much talk of Beaver pools and dams being used to help prevent flood surges by increasing the water holding capacity of the uplands. Now, in the moors and valleys above Hebden Bridge, unsuitable for Beaver reintroduction for many reasons, they are anyway reproducing this Beaver effect by reducing the water in local reservoirs by 10% and creating artificial dams with these tree trunks.

This trunk has started to form a fuller dam effect as other smaller pieces of wood get trapped alongside it

The charity Slow The Flow has been working hard using local volunteers to get these leaky dams and other measures in place to reduce the risk of future serious flooding events in the Calder Valley.

Himalayan Balsam was growing along the banks of the beck in some profusion. This invasive plant has an explosive seed dispersal mechanism, the seeds thus getting into the water course and spreading widely. It is an attractive plant but, once it gets going, it grows so densely that it inhibits growth of our native flora. Since it is an annual, cutting it down early so that no seeds form would be an effective control, the problem of course being that it is often growing in horribly inaccessible places.

We walked up the beck as far as the gloriously-located Gibson Mill, which used the power of Hebden Beck to drive a water wheel and produce cotton cloth until 1890, employing around 20 workers who lived onsite in attached cottages. Since 1950 it has been owned by the National Trust, now housing a welcome café although it still remains proudly off grid, generating all its power itself and using a local spring for its water.

Back down south, the vegetation in the meadows seems especially tall and verdant this year with all the rain we have had so far this summer.

It seems to be an extremely good year for Wild Carrot

We don’t have Himalayan Balsam here but that is not to say that we don’t have our own problematic plants. We rather smugly thought that we were winning the battle against Ragwort after several years of operating a zero tolerance policy, but this year there is a lot of it and it is looking so vigorous:

But now that the plant has advertised its locations with its acid yellow flowers, we are starting to pull it:

However, we are leaving those that have Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on them until the caterpillars pupate:

Maybe it is not just us who is having a rampant Ragwort year – I saw this small field in Berkshire on a visit back this week. If ever we wanted evidence to support our Ragwort zero tolerance stance, this field is it:

Last year we also removed all flower heads from Wild Parsnip after realising that the plant was growing in alarming concentrations in a couple of largish areas. The leaves have a toxin that can bring you out in a long-lasting photo-sensitive rash if you brush against them. This plant is a biennial and so we aspire to be able to eradicate this plant entirely if we keep our concentration up and don’t let it seed this year either.

Wild Parsnip
One of the two Wild Parsnip patches in 2020. It looks like it is as bad, if not worse, this year
We also fight an on-going war with Creeping Thistle, which we try not to allow to seed. We have missed the boat a bit this year with this, unfortunately

The female Sparrowhawk likes to spend some time most days on this perch:

And this is the most amazing show of leg from her:

The ringed female Blackbird and her two chicks
Comma
Painted Lady
Emperor Dragonfly laying eggs into the pond
We saw several of these rolled cigarettes on this tree, protecting something within, although we currently don’t know what

As summer progresses and the soil becomes drier, worms go deeper and are less accessible to Badgers. I have certainly noticed an increased enthusiasm for the nightly peanuts. With no cubs born this year, there are four adult Badgers:

Last year four cubs were born and so, by late July, we had a lovely family group of seven of them. I presume that one of these cubs was allowed to stay within the group, while other cubs were forced to disperse last autumn:

Photo from July 2020. Three adults and four young

The Badgers are also now coming up to the strip to bulldoze the cages aside and get at any seed that the birds might have left:

Most of the way into the cage.
Two cages flipped over and one cage largely dismantled the next morning

It has been two weeks now since we have seen the Old Gentleman Fox, or glimpsed him on any of the cameras, which is unprecedented. Despite my best efforts to cure his mange, I have to conclude that he is surely no more. The foxes here are generally deeply wary of humans and that is all for the best, of course. This included the Old Gentleman himself when he first arrived here last year but he gradually accepted us as the source of his beloved honey sandwiches and became increasingly tame. Up until a fortnight ago, he had started hanging around the house a good hour ahead of time, staring hard through the kitchen window to see if he could catch our eye and hurry us up a bit.

The Old Gentleman last month

Of course I became ridiculously fond of him and it feels very sad putting out the peanuts and sandwiches at dusk these days with no fox hanging round my ankles.

On Friday this week we had a day of strong winds as Storm Evert blew himself out above us. The Pride of Burgundy channel ferry sheltered alongside us – always a sign of disruption and associated passenger misery at the Port of Dover just to the south.

By this morning, calm had returned. The last day of July but there is a feeling that autumn is just round the corner. The first blackberries are starting to ripen:

Fruit is swelling on the trees of the orchard:

Fungal fruiting bodies will soon be sprouting up along this fairy ring…

…and the bird ringers returned to the meadows for their first ringing session of the autumnal migration.

Willow Warbler, born this year and weighing less than 7g but now on its way to Africa

We eagerly anticipate the autumn migration every year and the warblers have now started moving and so it is on its way. Last year we had a Ring Ouzel stay for several days in our garden and so who knows what this autumn might bring.

A view out to the late summer meadows across the Agapanthus

Crossing the Channel

A few racing pigeons drop by the meadows every year on their way back from the continent. One this week was particularly tame and surprisingly came into the conservatory and had a walk around inside whilst we were having a Pilates lesson in there. I fed it some seed and a broken up suet ball and it spent a long time feeding up before continuing its journey home.

Pigeons have been raced across the Channel for 125 years, the birds being released from points in France and Spain and completing the up to 500 mile trip in a few hours, mostly returning home on the same day that they are released. But it seems that the world of international pigeon racing might be about to become collateral damage of Brexit. Post-Brexit animal health regulations, due to have come into effect in April, require the birds to have a certificate signed by a vet and also to be in the EU at least 21 days before release. The birds would not be exercised during these three weeks and would lose a lot of condition. The implementation of these regulations has now been postponed until October but at the moment the future of cross-channel pigeon racing is looking bleak.

Racing pigeons being released in France to fly back to the UK. Animal rights organisations argue that cross-channel racing is cruel and results in the loss or death of hundreds of birds. Photo from BBC News
Is this the last summer we will be seeing these birds here in the meadows?

The weather has been hot and sunny although mainly with a delicious sea breeze here which has taken the edge off the heat. You always know that summer is in full swing when the Darters arrive.

Common Darters flying coupled up around the pond
Then the tip of the abdomen of the female is dipped into the water to lay an egg
When the winged ants start taking to the air, the sky is filled with Black-headed Gulls making the most of the bonanza
The sky was filled with something different on Monday when a Police helicopter spent several hours hovering above the meadows and surrounding area, driving the dog quite mad. Apparently a record number of 430 migrants crossed the Channel and landed on British shores that day, and we think that around 20 of these landed near here. More landed again on Wednesday and we had a visit from the Police to enquire if we had seen ‘anything suspicious’
The baby face of a young Jay
The raspberry legs of a young Stock Dove
Once again, we see adult Woodpigeon feeding each other crop milk. At least this is what I presume they are doing…
… which in this case was a precursor to mating. I read that Woodpigeon have two to three broods a year, two eggs being laid each time. The parents then take it in turn to sit on the eggs
This colour-ringed female Herring Gull with ring code X9LT has been visiting the meadows for many months. Her mate still waits for us every morning as we arrive to put out seed but we presume that she is currently busy with a nest on the white cliffs because her appearances are now much less regular. I am hoping she will bring her chick up as well before too long
Six Spot Burnet Moth on Kidney Vetch
The second brood of Small Blue Butterflies has started to emerge
Male Gatekeeper with his distinctive pair of white spots in the forewing
Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on Ragwort
Bumble Bee on Sunflower
In the wood – the Great Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens). You can’t necessarily tell from the photo but this fly was enormous – one of the largest flies in Britain with an ivory-white band across its middle. Common Wasps build their nests down abandoned rabbit burrows and other such holes in the wood and this fly enters those nests, either undetected or accepted by the wasps, and lays her eggs. The fly larvae then live off the wasp larvae and general nest detritus.
An image from back in 2018 when a Badger had broken open a wasp nest and we were able to look inside. The nest had Volucella hoverfly larvae inside it and we could see that they also attack adult wasps. The whole thing was absolutely fascinating
This branch is a favourite place for this Buzzard to sit and observe what’s going on down on the woodland floor
It is good to see this Squirrel Buster feeder doing its stuff – the weight of the squirrel causes the outer sheath to slide down over the feeding ports and so the animal can’t get at the food. This is the first time for a long while that a camera has been trained on the feeders in the wood. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were visiting but sadly I didn’t see the Marsh Tits, Coal Tits and Nuthatches that have been regulars in the past. I wonder why they have gone and if we can get them back?
A single fledgling Bullfinch has appeared

Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, just up the coast from here, recently raised a lot of funds to double the size of its scrape and to build a second hide. This project was finished just as the country went into lockdown last year and has only recently opened to visitors. We were excited to see it at long last and went there this week.

Approaching the new hide
The spacious new hide. We had it to ourselves
Looking out over the scrape from the new hide
A Lapwing – surely one of Britains most beautiful birds? Lapwing chicks successfully fledged on the scrape this year
Several families of Tufted Duck were also raised

Sitting in a hide is immensely relaxing, putting everything else on hold for a while while you spend some quiet minutes observing nature. I am so pleased that we can once again get ourselves along there to see what’s about.

Up in the Woods

Back in Berkshire again this week, we walked the dog up into Ashley Hill Woods. I first remember this Forestry Commission wood from when I went on an infant school trip there, not so very long after it had been clear-felled in the early 1960s. Thankfully, since then it has been more sensitively managed and is now a beautiful place – probably my all time favourite wood and one that I have done a lot of dog-walking in over the years.

At the top of the hill is a Giant Sequoia, forty-four metres high and dwarfing all the other trees around it. I suppose that this tree must have been spared in the clear-felling.
A different order of magnitude to all the others

We have been watching this Red Kite nest on Ashley Hill for several years now. It is much larger than it was when we last saw it a few months ago, so hopefully this means it has been active this year. Red Kites are famous for weaving plastic and other bits of human detritus into their nests.

Hiding under a shady roof of Bracken, we found a thriving colony of Common Spotted Orchids:

Another old haunt of ours in Berkshire is Carpenters Wood and we also visited there this week. It is nearly the seventy-seventh anniversary of when a Halifax bomber, with seven men on board and loaded with bombs destined for France, crashed into these woods. There is still the disquieting sight of a large crater at the crash site:

A plaque at the site says: ‘Tread softly because this is hallowed ground’ and that exactly describes how it feels.

A Comma, from Berkshire…

Back in our own wood in Kent, the wet summer so far has meant that the undergrowth is distinctly more rampant than normal and we are slashing and hacking back nettles and bramble to remake our woodland paths. A battery powered hedge cutter seems to be working best for this.

The new part of the wood is densely planted and badly needs thinning and so, in the autumn, our first job is going to be some selective clearing. We are going to prioritise English Oaks and clear space around them so that they have a better chance to become sturdy, beautiful trees.

But because we are not confident that we can recognise these young Oaks once they no longer have leaves, this week I have started to identify suitable trees and tying red rope around them. It’s a shame that it wasn’t yellow, but I was singing the song to myself anyway.

Fresh bark on the ground below a birch, alerted us to look up and notice that Grey Squirrels have been up to their old tricks again and are stripping bark:

Fresh stripped birch bark on the ground….
….and yes, the tree is completely bare of bark at a height of 3m and above. At least this isn’t at ground level so the bottom part of this tree will hopefully still survive. That stripped part and above will now die though.

I am so looking forward to the successful end of the trials that are currently underway to test a contraceptive that can be delivered to Grey Squirrels via hazelnut spread in a specially designed box. UK Squirrel Accord is a partnership of environmental, wildlife and forestry organisations working towards making this happen and it is definitely something that we would be very interested in for our wood as soon as it becomes available. It seems a humane and perfect answer to a big problem.

A female Large Skipper in the wood. I also saw a Silver-washed Fritillary but it was very jittery and I failed to get a photo even though I crept carefully towards it, applying my best bushcraft skills
Buzzards are such bulky birds with chunky feet and legs
Fox in a woodland scene
Bullfinch still visiting this pond daily
I do not know what is going on here!
A Nursery Web Spider guarding her white egg sac which is protected by a web, within which the spiderlings will live once they hatch
This is a Scorpionfly (Panorpa communis). In the male as above, the end of the abdomen is swollen and held over its body like a scorpion’s tail earning these insects their name…..
The female does not have the swollen end to her abdomen…
…but both sexes have a long, downwards pointing beak. These insects feed on small invertebrates in woodland margins and rough grassland

Back in the meadows, a young Blackbird appears on the gate…

…and then the ringed female comes to feed it. This female was photographed here carrying nesting material for so many weeks, it is wonderful to discover that it all that work led to a satisfactory conclusion:

I think this is a different Blackbird family down by the wild pond:

Fledgling Blackbird with its father

Although we often catch glimpses of Wrens poking around in the vegetation, it is rare that the trail cameras get photos of them. What a long beak they have:

The camera taking videos along the cliff edge captured these two fledgling Jays with fluffy white bottoms:

We spotted a large and rather extraordinary fly feeding on Wild Carrot that we had never seen before – Nowickia ferox. Its larvae grow within the caterpillars of the Dark Arches moth:

It had a strange white face:

This is another large fly, Myathropa florea. This hoverfly is irresistibly drawn to the revolting-smelling buckets of Comfrey fertiliser that are brewing away. She is looking to lay her eggs in there, from which rat-tailed maggots will develop. These maggots get their oxygen by sticking their tails above the water surface and so have no need of clean water. However, this has reminded me that I must sort out some lids for the buckets.

The extraordinary colours of the Green Bottle fly
I have seen mating Marbled Whites before but never where there is such a size discrepancy. The male is so small compared to the female
Here are the two vixens that had cubs this year. One-eyed vixen on the right.

And finally, some shipping! One evening this week two ships dropped anchor alongside us, both blue and white with yellow funnels. The THV Patricia feels like an old friend. She is operated by Trinity House and comes here to look after the buoys and lightships guarding the notorious Goodwin Sands that lie just offshore.

THV Patricia with her funnel, painted a delicate shade of primrose

The second ship’s funnel was a very different yellow:

Cefas Endeavour with her sunshine yellow funnel

Cefas Endeavour is a fisheries research vessel, owned by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), and she supports their activities such as monitoring fish stocks. She was designed to minimise underwater noise to reduce fish disturbance.

A little further up the coast in Sandwich, The Open Golf is being held at Royal St Georges golf club this weekend, postponed from last year due to Covid. Over thirty thousand people a day are flocking to the area for what is expected to be a very hot and sunny weekend. We shall be keeping our heads down, enjoying the weather and looking at nature, with the odd peek at the television to see who’s winning.

Meadows, Mange and Marmalade Flies

Our local beach, now in high summer

This week we revisited the National Trust land by the South Foreland Lighthouse, high up on the chalk cliffs north of Dover. In 2017, the Trust raised a million pounds to buy the 178 acres of land which had been intensively farmed since the Second World War. They are now restoring it to natural grasslands and wildflower meadows and in some areas they are planting a ‘bumblebird’ seed mix to provide seed for the birds through the winter and nectar for pollinators in the summer.

The land at Wanstone Farm which was acquired by the National Trust in 2017. Photos from the information boards on site

The Trust are still farming the purple section at the top of the photo above but are leaving a very wide conservation strip at the edges of the agricultural field:

The wide conservation strip running around the edge of a field of barley
One of the information boards showing before and after photos of the field margins, although actually they are now much larger still. They were certainly very meagre before
Looking towards to the South Foreland Lighthouse across the top of the land that has only been grassland since 2018
Corn Bunting in the 2018 grassland area. The UK population of these birds fell by 89% between 1970 and 2003 and I had never seen one before and was surprised how large they are compared to other buntings
Another Corn Bunting in the agricultural field margin. The vegetation in both the 2018 field and the agricultural margin didn’t really look much different to our meadows so maybe one day we will see a Corn Bunting here
There were Skylarks everywhere as well
Walking back for a cup of tea and a piece of cake at the Pines Calyx cafe in St Margarets
The Pines Calyx at St Margarets – a building built of chalk with a lovely green roof, and one that has the lowest carbon footprint of any wedding venue in the UK. We got married there ourselves, in fact.
The Old Gentleman giving us a hard stare through the french windows

The Old Gentleman Fox has started to come up very close to the house at dusk. One evening when I went out to take some photos of him, he was waiting by the back door and came in when it opened.

The bizarre sight of the Old Gentleman coming in through the back door

This is all wrong and I know that the dog would violently object which would not end well for the fox because he is such a frail little thing. From now on, I will exit the house at dusk from a different, see-through door so that I can be sure that he is not around and trying to come in when I go out to put the food down by the wild pond.

He is continuing to lose fur at an alarming rate, even though I am approaching the end of a three week mange treatment using Arsenicum sulphur on honey sandwiches. He also sounds like he has catarrh on his chest and a bit of a cough.

He has lost fur along his right flank over the past few days

I have once again approached the Fox Project charity to ask for their advice and guidance. It seems the cough will be either ringworm or lungworm and I should buy some Panacur granules to add to the sandwiches. They have also advised that I add some fox ‘infection stop’ medicine to deter secondary infections getting a hold in the sores on his skin. Other than that, it is a question of giving it a bit longer to see if the mange treatment starts to work. If it doesn’t, the final resort is to see if we can catch him in a cage and get him into a wildlife hospital for treatment. Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.

As I was going through the images from the camera at the hide pond, my attention was drawn to several photos where a pair of House Sparrows were repeatedly hanging around a clump of water reed:

Male sparrow perched in the reeds and female on the rocks

But when I saw this next photo, I realised what they were up to – hunting emerging dragonflies that were clinging to the reeds while their wings hardened up

I expect that the dragonfly prey was taken to the nest in the Swift box from whence the family of House Sparrows is cheeping noisily and both female and male adult bird are working hard to get food in to their chicks:

There is a very generous amount of space in that box for them. Elsewhere in the meadows we do have a sparrow terrace with three boxes in a row since sparrows like to nest communally. The central nest has its hole facing the front and there is a hole at each end for the side boxes. However, sparrows have never shown the slightest interest in it, even though we have tried several different locations:

The sparrow terrace, several years old now but never nested in

It is, however, being used this year for the first time, although not by sparrows:

We found the nest of a Nursery Web Spider:

The white egg sac in the centre with already a few hatched babies, all surrounded by protective web tenting. The female is on guard near the nest while the the spiderlings are young

The female carries the white egg sac around with her until it’s nearly time for the eggs to hatch, at which point she stops and builds the nursery web around the sac to protect the young as they emerge.

I had intended to continue to watch this nest as it developed but, in the middle of the week, there was a day of gale force winds. The nursery web, strung as it is between bits of foliage, was badly buffeted and pulled apart by the winds and is sadly no more.

Male Blackbirds, so dapper in their shiny black breeding plumage earlier in the year, are now looking distinctly worse for wear and are starting to moult

Bringing up a nestful of chicks through to fledging is really hard work and takes its toll on the parents – but here the young birds now are, successfully launched into the big wide world:

Young Blackbirds

This Sparrowhawk looks like she has got her head on the wrong way round. What impressive rotation:

She has been on this perch a lot this week:

A juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker – so unusual to see these birds in the meadows:

A male Kestrel:

An Essex Skipper Butterfly:

A male Ringlet Butterfly:

You might wonder why that Butterfly is called a Ringlet, until you see the underside of its wings:

There were an lot of these hoverflies around and, when I looked them up, I learned that they are the Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), and that they are Britain’s commonest hoverfly:

The background colour of this hoverfly is highly influenced by the temperature that the larvae develop in, those developing in the hotter summer are much oranger than the darker flies in the spring. This aids temperature regulation because a basking hoverfly with more dark pigment will absorb sunshine better and warm up quicker. The larvae of these hoverflies eat a wide variety of aphid species and, as such, they are the gardener’s friend.

One morning we found this dead Leopard Moth on a windowsill. A large and striking-looking moth:

A Robin’s Pincushion gall on Dog Rose – a growth distortion caused by Diplolepis rosae, a gall wasp, whose larvae develop within the protection of the gall.

In the wood, these Male Ferns are absolutely magnificent:

We have found our third orchid species in the wood with the discovery of this Pyramidal Orchid:

The pair of Bullfinch are daily users of the pond and I am assuming that they are nesting nearby:

We put a camera on this Tawny Owl box to see if it was being used and incidentally caught this Buzzard perching up:

It turns out that the box is indeed being used, but unfortunately by squirrels rather than owls.

I finish today with the sunflowers in the allotment – I haven’t grown sunflowers since the children were small. Back then, the object was to try to grow the tallest sunflower in the class but these days my priorities have changed and the ultimate goal is to see birds feeding on the seeds once they ripen later in the summer. However, in the meantime, they are bringing us a lot of pleasure:

Bison in the Blean

This week we joined a small group on a Kent Wildlife Trust walk around West Blean Woods, near Canterbury. These woods are only about twenty miles from the meadows but are on acidic clay rather than our calcareous chalk and that makes a big difference to the plants and animals to be found there. The Trust are going to be introducing European Bison into West Blean next year as part of a wilding scheme and also to help them manage the wood.

They hope that the Bison will provide a nature-based solution to the problem of properly managing such a large area of woodland. These big and heavy animals are ecosystem engineers – they will knock some trees over, creating fallen deadwood and, because they eat bark in the winter, this will kill trees resulting in standing deadwood, both of which are really important for biodiversity. Their browsing will also keep the vegetation open and naturally coppiced.

European Bison bull. From Talks Presenters 09 at English Wikipedia.

Thousands of years ago, Britain would have had Steppe Bison roaming the land – a species that is now extinct. European Bison are similar, although they themselves were hunted to extinction in the wild in 1919. A small number, however, remained in captivity which included only two males and it is from these two bulls that the whole of the current global population of 6,000 has grown. Bison are highly susceptible to problems caused by inbreeding and so great care has had to be taken to avoid this.

So, six Bison are arriving at Blean woods next year from populations in Continental Europe, including one bull and one mature female. Five very large paddocks are being created for this small herd which the Trust hopes will slowly grow in number over several years. Iron Age Pigs, Highland Cattle and Konik Horses will also be managing the wood although only the pigs will be in with the Bison.

Land in the first paddock that we walked around. All the fencing has been ordered and work will start in the autumn.
Some ponds were created in the paddocks last winter as a water source for the Bison
Even though the pond is only new, it already has Grass Snakes
The snake can open its mouth up in an unexpectedly enormous way
This land has been cleared for the fencing to go up, although work is currently stopped for the bird nesting season.
Two paddocks are going to join at this point with a tunnel for the Bison to pass through. The tunnel will be at ground level and the track will be ramped up over it. It is hoped that these ramps will also provide a viewing platform to allow the public to see the Bison as they approach the tunnel.

It is a very exciting and ground breaking experiment and is about to kick off in earnest in the next few months. I am so pleased that we got the opportunity to have a look round first before it all starts.

The Blean is home to a thriving population of one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, the Heath Fritillary. We were there on a sunny, hot day and we saw so many of them:

Cow Wheat is the larval food plant of the Heath Fritillary. It is an acidic soil specialist and is partly parasitic on the roots of nearby plants
Wood Ants are an important part of the ecosystem. Interestingly, the Cow Wheat plant attracts Wood Ants to it by producing a sugary liquid from glands at the base of its petals. The seeds of the plant look very much like the ants’ cocoons and so the ants carry them back to the nest, thus dispersing the seed.
We also saw a White Admiral Butterfly in the Blean
This bank in the foreground, with a second one towards the back of the photo, are the remnants of the Radfall, a medieval droveway through the wood, used to move livestock to and from the fertile coastal grazing pastures. The banks and ditches formed boundaries at the edges of the Radfall, preventing the animals from wandering into the woodland and browsing valuable coppice shoots
Valerian flowering below the white cliffs

Down at our local white cliffs on Monday, it looked like the family of Kestrels were ready to fledge. There were four young in there:

Four young Kestrels in their nest in the cliff – you can just see the eye of the one at the very back

When we got back from the Blean on Thursday, there was an adult and two juvenile Kestrels soaring and calling over the meadows and so it looks like they have now fledged:

This summer could not be more different to the previous one and we are certainly enjoying not having to water the pots and allotment.

A slow meander around the meadows noticing the minutiae always turns up something of interest:

This snail has a lot of growing to do before it fits its shell
Interesting to see its alimentary canal and also the dark spot at the end of its tentacle, which is an eye. There is a lens in that eye but it can’t focus the image with it or see colours. It can however, judge different intensities of light
Scabious is now flowering in the meadows and is so popular with invertebrates. I also have lots planted in pots around the house
Sicus ferruginous. This sinister-looking fly with its curled abdomen is a parasitoid of various bumblebees
They are often to be seen paired up
Crab spider lurking on a grass head
This is the caterpillar of the Six-spot Burnet Moth….
The Burnet caterpillars then form these pupae on grass stems….
…and then hatch into an adult Moth. This is the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth
After a really slow start to the mothing year, I am now finally getting large and interesting catches in the trap. There were five of these spectacular Privet Hawkmoth one morning
The Magpie is another beautiful moth
All the work that the adult Blue Tit has been doing to raise its family has clearly been taking its toll. Blue Tit fledgling on the left.
We were amazed to see this Goodyear Blimp come silently over. Launched from Calais, this is its first visit to the UK for ten years, to advertise an event at Brands Hatch.
I like this action pose from the male Herring Gull

I was back in Berkshire this week to visit my father and, as usual, parked near the church at Little Marlow to go birding at Spade Oak Nature Reserve. I love this little church – it feels so quintessentially English

Saint John the Baptist Church at Little Marlow, the photo taken over Easter when it was beautifully decorated. The church dates back nearly a thousand years to the 12th century which is pretty hard to get your head round

We always walk round the churchyard first to see what birds are about but this time all our attention was riveted on this newly built insect hotel:

This is a thing of beauty as well as being a fantastic sanctuary for wildlife. I have an extreme case of Insect Hotel Envy.