Last weekend we spent two nights in a woodland cabin in Norfolk, close to the wild and lovely Yare river that heads east from Norwich and enters the sea near Great Yarmouth.
It was so restful to tip back in those comfortable chairs on the deck of the cabin and contemplate the sky through the rustling treetops. We have resolved to try to reproduce this in a small way in our own wood back home and I have ordered two similar chairs to facilitate this.
One of our favourite reserves, the Ted Ellis reserve at Wheaten Fen, is on the banks of the Yare:
Although now into September, the reserve was still thronging with invertebrate life.
I love the round tower churches of East Anglia and I understand from the Round Tower Churches Society that one hundred and eighty of them still survive there.
One of the loveliest gravestones I have ever seen was in the graveyard of this church in Fritton:
Now that we are back from Norfolk, we urgently need to get going with the annual cutting and clearing away of the meadows before autumn progresses much further. The plants and grasses have to be dry so that they don’t stick to the tractor – but is there going to be a sufficiently favourable weather window to get all this work done? I certainly hope so.
A pair of breeding Magpies will hold a territory of about twelve acres all year round. But the number of breeding territories is a limiting factor meaning that twenty-five to sixty percent of Magpies do not breed because they don’t have a territory. These non-breeding birds form a flock with a home range of about fifty acres and perhaps this is one such flock that we saw in the meadows this week:
Here in the meadows this summer we did have an active Magpie nest in a copse of trees and young were successfully fledged:
These young birds stay in their parents territory until September or October when they go off and join the non-breeding flock which feed and roost together. A high percentage of the young birds fail to make it through their first winter but, if they do survive, then they are likely to live for about three years.
Until the mid 19th century, Magpies were very common in Britain and they were popular with the farmers because they ate the insects and rodents that harmed the crop.
But from then until the First World War, heavy persecution from gamekeepers caused their population to plummet. Since the second World War, though, numbers have increased and in fact trebled from 1970 to 1990, helped by the birds moving more into urban areas away from persecution and where there is plenty of food. The population has been relatively stable since 1990 suggesting that they have now reached their ecological equilibrium.
I have found it helpful researching and understanding these birds a bit more because I am not very fond of Magpies. They strut around like sixth form prefects with all the power gone to their heads and they just seem to be too successful here. Their biggest crime in my eyes is the way they predate songbird eggs and nestlings. However, the BTO analysed thirty-five years of its bird monitoring records and found that songbird numbers were no different in places where there were lots of Magpies to where there were few. Availability of food and suitable nesting sites are probably the main factors limiting songbird populations rather than the density of their predators.
Actually they are indisputably beautiful birds:
Here is a Magpie with a Hawthorn berry. I am always interested to see which berries get eaten quickly and which are less popular – Hawthorn berries invariably go first. Sloes on the Blackthorn bushes seem to hang around until last, often lasting right through to the next spring.
We have planted a lot of Guelder Rose trees in the meadows because we had noticed elsewhere that the berries were very popular with all sorts of winter thrushes and, excitingly, Waxwings. The Guelder Roses in the meadows are now laden with a heavy crop of berries this autumn, ready for the thrushes’ arrival in the country shortly. We are yet to see a Waxwing here but perhaps this year will be the one.
In the meadows, there are three of these log structures built for beetles. The logs have been dug deep into the ground and are in the shade so that they don’t dry out and we hope that beetle larvae will now be living on the rotting underground wood:
This week the badgers provided us with a bit of evidence that this might indeed be the case by excavating around the base of the stack, presumably to get at the beetle grubs:
Spurred on by this apparent success, we plan to bring back additional logs from the wood this autumn and build a few more of these stacks.
Some other photos from the meadows this week:
Over in the wood, a Tawny Owl has been visiting the shallow bath on a few nights recently:
It has also been perching up by one of the Tawny Owl nest boxes, although sadly showing no apparent interest in the box itself:
I finish with the breaking news that the last two days since our return from Norfolk have been hot and dry and the first meadow is now almost finished. A few areas are left uncut each year on a rotational basis:
Now, on with the second one before this weather breaks!