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.

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