Harvest time

The large field of wheat that runs along the entire western boundary of the meadows has been harvested this week and the combine harvester was still working away long after it got dark and we had gone to bed. By the next morning, the job was all done.

The tractor provides the scale to be able to appreciate the gigantic size of the harvester

One of the farming contractors told us the fantastic news that, although spring barley was planned for next year, there would then be two years of meadow flowers grown in this field under an environmental scheme.

We went down to the white cliffs for the first time since early June and saw that all the Fulmars had now done what they needed to do here and have returned out to sea for the rest of the summer. The cliffs felt very empty without their noise. The House Martins are still around, though, and they should remain until September or even into October, finishing off rearing their final broods of chicks.

Photo from back in June

There was also this Wheatear on her way south:

As I was inching closer to the Wheatear to try for a better shot, I found a colony of Bee Wolves under my feet. These are large predatory wasps who fill their sandy underground burrows with paralysed Honey Bees to feed their young. Most of the tunnels were still actively being dug by the wasps and I couldn’t see any Honey Bees being carried in during the time that I was watching. I plan to return in a couple of weeks to see how the colony is getting on.

A Bee Wolf hauling out a white piece of chalk from her tunnel

An ecologist visits the meadows from time to time to check on the relocated Slow Worms that came to us a couple of years ago from nearby land that was to be developed. He tries to persuade us to grow more nettles here because they are good for snails, one of the main prey items of Slow Worms. But there is no way that we want to be especially planting nettles, although we have let this one patch grow in order to please him. This year it is six feet high:

The nettle patch

It actually does seem to be supporting a lot of life:

Comma Butterfly caterpillar
Lots of Ladybird larvae although sadly they are the invasive Harlequin ones which out-compete and actually also eat our native ladybirds
Ladybird pupa

And plenty of adult Harlequin ladybirds of various forms:

What I do not see is many snails on the nettles. However, the underside of the courgette leaves in the allotment is another matter and perhaps he should have been persuading us to grow courgette instead:

A snail nursery on the courgettes

One of the glories of the garden in August is the Agapanthus in flower:

By the end of the summer, all these flower heads will be swollen with seed. In its native South Africa, Sunbirds help pollinate the Agapanthus flowers but what is pollinating it here? I do see some bees visiting by day.

As darkness falls, the blue of the magnificent flowers really begins to pop…

….and the plant becomes busy with visiting Silver Y moths

Using the camera flash in the dark to capture this Silver Y moth visiting the flower

Moths are the unsung heroes of pollination, getting to work under the cover of darkness unnoticed by us.

It is only recently starting to be fully appreciated what an important role moths play in the reproduction of a wide variety of plants and crops.

I found this Silver Y moth caterpillar on a Mullein growing as a weed in the greenhouse:

I had difficulty identifying it because I was looking in the book for a green caterpillar with dark spots. However, I now realise that these spots are puncture wounds where the caterpillar has been predated by ichneumon wasps, sticking their ovipositor in to lay an egg into the caterpillar. Horrible but fascinating, as is so much in the invertebrate world.

Here is another very interesting invertebrate I came across this week. It is a debris-carrying Lacewing larva and I found it on my arm, although I had just pushed myself through a hedge backwards:

Although adult Lacewings feed only on nectar, pollen and honeydew, the larvae are voracious predators that eat mainly aphids, but also caterpillars and other soft-bodied things. They stick the carcasses of their prey along with sundry bits of organic vegetation on their backs to disguise themselves:

Close up of the debris on the Lacewing larva’s back

But why do they need to disguise themselves if they are mostly eating immobile aphids that can’t get away anyway? Ants have a mutually beneficial relationship with aphids – the aphids provide the ants with some of the honeydew that they are sucking from the plant and the ants provide protection for the aphids from predators. A scientific study has found that if a Lacewing larva approaches an aphid colony with no debris on its back, the ants will detect and eject it. If, however, it approaches with the debris in place, the ants don’t seem to be able to notice it and it can get past the ants to eat the aphids. I find that really rather amazing.

It is thought that Greenfinch numbers have fallen a devastating 60% since a protozoan parasite called Trichomonosis started causing a disease of their throats in 2006. The parasite is often passed on when a sick bird leaves infected saliva on the feeder and so everyone is urged to clean bird feeders once a week to slow the transmission of the disease.

Female Greenfinch

But, despite my best intentions, I don’t get round to this job anything like that often. I also wait for a feeder to be empty first before bringing it in to clean and refill which can take a while with some of the less popular seed types. Therefore I was very interested to learn of the Finches Friend – a feeder which has been re-engineered specifically to make cleaning much easier and therefore more likely to be done weekly as advised.

My new Finches Friend feeder – dispenses two different types of seed if you want

The feeders are quite expensive but I bought one anyway to see if it is as good as I hope it is. It comes with two bottom sections from whence the seed is dispensed. At any time you can stop off the flow of the seed from above and swap the bottom section for a new clean one, then turning the seed flow back on and taking the old dispenser off for cleaning and drying. It’s very simple once you get the knack of it and I will now be ensuring that I do this every week.

Four old-style feeders have now come in to be retired if the Finches Friend works as hoped

An area of the wood is a beautiful open glade filled with Marjoram, although Dogwood is now also growing strongly. On a sunny day in August, the Marjoram is heaving with bees and butterflies – mainly Peacocks and Meadow Browns but there were also at least two graceful Silver Washed Fritillaries gliding around. Both of these individuals are males:

We also saw a White Admiral although it was so very tatty that it was a wonder it was still flying:

Silver Washed Fritillaries and White Admirals are exciting woodland species and we are so pleased to see them flying in the wood. This autumn we must hack back the Dogwood to ensure this area remains open and Marjoram-filled to keep these butterflies happy.

Other photos from around the meadows and wood this week:

Young playful foxes at dawn
The One-eyed vixen with her blue left eye
Bounding along the path
Male Roesel’s bush-cricket
Over the years here we have seen Magpies with both fledgling and adult birds, eggs and Slow Worms in their beaks but never before with rodents
This male House Sparrow seems to be a single parent family and he is working so hard going back and forth to keep a nest full of noisy chicks fed
A thorough wash
Stock Doves just getting their feet wet
A pair of delicate Collared Doves
Yes, the Wood Pigeon breeding season still seems to be ongoing
Buzzard in the wood

Although we have often heard that boats carrying migrants have landed at this part of coast, we have never before witnessed the upsetting sight of a boat coming in.

A large inflatable boat being safely escorted in to shore by the Border Force

These people are arriving with practically no possessions and no certainty as to their future now that they have finally reached their destination. I try but cannot imagine the depths of their anxiety as they sit there in their inadequate boat approaching our iconic white cliffs but my heart goes out to them.

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