Tales from the Hedgerow

One of the trail cameras got bumped sideways this week so that it was pointing at the hedgerow that runs alongside the feeding cages. Throughout that day, it took photos of a pair of rats emerging from the vegetation and venturing out across open ground to eat the bird seed:

But I now realise that these animals are risking their lives every time they come out into the open:

A Magpie spots a rat coming out
The bird then spent a long time hunting along the hedgerow for the rats
This Crow, already with a full crop of food, also tried to catch them

I was a bit surprised to see that corvids are actively hunting rodents like this. I had presumed that our rat population was held in check by foxes:

Fox with rat from back in June

This reminded me that we have also once seen a Weasel with a young rat:

February 2018

Although we have rats, we have never had a rat problem because there are so many things out there that want to eat them.

At this time of year, the hedgerows are laden with fruits and seeds such as Sloes, Rose hips, Dogwood berries, Blackberries, Old Man’s Beard and Haws.

Many of the wild roses have these Robin’s Pincushions, or Rose Bedeguar galls.

The gall wasp Diplolepis rosae causes a chemically-induced distortion of a leaf bud to form this odd looking gall which then protects the wasp’s eggs and larvae within. But what is the advantage of the gall looking so wildly hairy like this?
Migrant Hawker Dragonfly resting up in the hedgerow. There is a breeding population of these dragonflies in the UK but we only see them here in the meadows in the autumn when numbers are boosted by arrivals from continental Europe

Some parts of the hedgerows are heavy with mature ivy which comes into flower in September. Ivy nectar is very good quality with 49% sugar and is popular with a wide range of late flying insects. When the ivy is in the sun you can actually hear it humming from a distance away, such is the number of visiting bees, wasps and flies. The Ivy Bee is an ivy specialist that times its emergence to coincide with the ivy flowering and there are currently thousands of them working the hedgerows in the meadows:

Ivy Bee – such a glamorous bee I always think
Red Admiral on Ivy

We also have a young hedgerow that was planted in January 2020. It has had a bad start in life – after battling the drought of summer 2020, unfortunately it has become completely swamped by the surrounding lush vegetation during this wet summer. We are cross with ourselves for not acting sooner and there have been quite a few losses along its length, but on the whole it is just about hanging on in there. The tractor has now been run along either side to properly reveal it and we are weeding between the saplings.

We are going to apply a bark mulch this autumn to act as both a weed suppressant and moisture retainer which will give the new hedgerow a helping hand through next summer.

Whilst we were weeding this fledgling hedgerow, we found a very large and beautiful spider and brought her back to have a proper look. She is a European Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), an orb web spider with a distinctive white cross on her back. These are centimetre squares to give you an idea of her size – she was big:

We returned her to the hedgerow where we found her.

There is bad news – the tractor has broken down! We think the belts driving the cutting deck have burnt out. Unfortunately the earliest it can go off to be repaired is the end of September meaning that this beautiful weather is going to waste whilst most of the second meadow remains uncut. We now have to hope for a dry October.

But in the meantime we are getting on with other jobs. We cut this small section of the first meadow very short with the lawn mower…

…and sowed some meadow flower seed. I now see that the EM6F mixture for chalky soils that I have used in the past has got wild parsnip seeds in it. That plant is a thug and persona non grata here these days and so I went for EM2F instead which still contains a variety of lovely plants but without the parsnip.

In a different section, also cut very short, I have laid some Lesser Knapweed seed heads that were harvested from an area where they were growing strongly. Hopefully, in this way, we get seeds for free:

One morning I found an old rusty battery up on the strip and wondered how it had arrived. But then I looked at the photos on the trail camera:

Magpie with AA battery

Dunking the battery in the water

There is folklore around Magpies collecting shiny things but, on doing a quick search on the internet now, I see that this has largely been debunked by scientific studies. So what is going on with this battery then?

This Magpie below had some sort of stick in its beak:

Then it dangled the stick down in its foot:

I am not sure what is going on here either
A fascinating and most handsome bird

The Bird Ringer came and spent a peaceful morning here with his nets, catching and ringing a selection of warblers on their way south.

Chiffchaff

The birds tend to come through in waves and, as usual this year, the Willow Warblers were ahead of the Chiffchaffs and have already mostly gone. The Chiffchaff wave is just beginning. These two species of birds look similar and I use the fact that Chiffchaffs have dark legs and Willow Warblers have pale ones to help tell them apart. However, apparently this is not true in all instances.

One way to categorically distinguish between them is to look at their primary wing feathers:

On a Chiffchaff wing, counting the little short feather at the front as number 1 and working backwards, there are six feathers that do not have any feather to the left of the shaft as you reach their tip. The technical term is immargination, or lacking a margin. Chiffchaffs have six feathers that are immarginated at the tips and Willow Warblers have but five. This distinction is probably only of relevance to ringers, though, and wouldn’t be any help whatsoever when viewing through a pair of binoculars.

This young Blackcap was a very feisty little bird. His cap has only recently turned black and the remnants of the brown head that he would have had as a juvenile can still be seen just above his beak.

He also had captivating white lower eyelash feathers:

Some other photos from this week:

We have had another racing pigeon with us these last few days and it is still here
Now that the meadows are getting cut, we are seeing a lot more of the Kestrels. No doubt they need the grass short to see their voles
In the autumn the badgers do a lot of bedding gathering to prepare their setts for the winter
This beautifully marked lizard was sun bathing on an ant hill. It has flattened its tummy to show as much surface area as possible to the sun
A fox in tip top condition
A rabbit with a lump on its cheek in the wood

In my university days back in the early 80s, I remember that slow cookers, house plants and rumtopfs were really popular amongst us students. Houseplants are now triumphantly back in fashion in this new century, but slow cookers and rumtopfs still languish in relative obscurity.

Although I liked the idea of a rumtopf, I’m not sure I ever actually used it back then so I decided it was time to finally give it a go this year.

As different fruits are harvested through the summer, you cut them into bite sized pieces and layer them into the rumtopf with a sprinkling of sugar. I have used our own orchard fruits but I have also added pineapple and nectarines to see how they fare too. With every added layer, rum is poured in so that the fruit is just covered. Then, by Christmas, it should all be nicely matured and you can start eating it – the recipe I read suggested you spoon it over ice cream although perhaps it would also go well with rice pudding for some winter comfort.

I have also taken advantage of what the hedgerow has to offer and made a 2021 vintage sloe gin. Just one day old and already the colour has started to infuse into the gin:

We shall look forward to drinking this in a year’s time.

3 thoughts on “Tales from the Hedgerow

  1. I think Magpies do like shiny bright things. I like to think so anyway. The Sloe gin looks a nice colour. I use a slow cooker all the time. In fact tonights tea is chilli which is slowly cooking away right now. 🙂

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      1. We did, and there’s more left for this evening. Slow cookers are brill! But I am someone who doesn’t cook much, so the simplicity of cooking in a slow cooker attracts me. 🙂

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