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:

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