Crossing Borders

Mid November and Swallows continue to be buffeted by strong winds over the meadows as they battle their way south to warmer climes. At the same time, fast, tight squadrons of Starlings shoot in off the sea at regular intervals. They do not linger but speed straight on through, drawn onwards to their destinations further inland – these seasonal visitors will join our resident Starlings and together they will murmurate in their thousands at dusk over our reedbeds throughout the winter.

We have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to see the winter spectacle of the Starling murmurations many times. This was the best one seen to date – Otmoor RSPB reserve in Oxfordshire in December 2019

Also arriving into the country from the coniferous forests around the Baltic are these tiny little birds, a few of which were caught and ringed here this week. This is a female Goldcrest and if you gently blow on the feathers of her crest, you can see that they are all gold:

These petite little birds only weigh around 5g

This next bird is a male:

At first sight, he looks very similar but, when you blow on his crest feathers, you can see vibrant flame-orange feathers that lie mostly hidden within the crest:

The Bird Ringers also caught a female Firecrest, with a black stripe through her eye and the white stripe above:

Similar to the female Goldcrest, her crest is all yellow:

This is probably a Continental Blackbird, bigger and heavier that our resident birds and with a dark beak:

It is now known that the Blackcaps that are in the UK during the summer migrate south in the autumn, although they are replaced by other Blackcaps that arrive from colder parts of Europe to spend the winter here. Therefore, the Blackcap that was caught and ringed here this week could have been either leaving or arriving:

Meadow Pipits stay in this country all year:

The amazingly long hind claws on a Meadow Pipit, thought to help it to spring up quickly from the ground away from predators

Long-tailed Tits are also resident and a group of six flew in to the net this week:

Interestingly, eyelid colour in Long Tailed Tit can range from pale yellow, as here, to deep red. There is some scientific evidence that the colour can be a reflection of their mood:

The Bird Ringers use their ears as well as their eyes to tell them what birds are around, in a way that we are only very slowly learning to do. They told us that there were Fieldfare and Linnets in the hedgerow, Meadow Pipits in the field behind and a small flock of Siskin flying over. They also saw a Reed Bunting in the ant paddock which is a new species for the meadow list – number ninety.

The Jays have been busy all week stripping the Holm Oaks of their acorns:

Jay with acorn

The acorn is stripped down to the cotyledons and this one was eaten rather than buried:

Apparently a Jay can carry up to nine acorns at a time in its gullet but normally they carry two or three with one also in its bill:

A Jay carrying at least two acorns, captured by a trail camera. I am slightly confused why these acorns seem to be stripped of their outer casings – maybe it is just the light

It has been estimated that a single Jay will hoard as many as 3,000 acorns over the course of an autumn as a store of food for it through the winter.

Blackbirds eating the Whitebeam berries
Lovely little House Sparrow in the hedgerow
In early autumn there were very few House Sparrows around, but a big flock has returned now
Kestrel at the top of a pine tree

And watching for voles in the second meadow
There has been another Heron visit this week but I saw it come down and went out to shoo it off. If you are surprised by how dogmatically anti-Heron we are, could I explain that it is a result of bitter experience – a couple of years ago the pond became a scene of mass slaughter when a Heron fished literally hundreds of frogs and newts out, leaving it bare of amphibians. Herons are not seen here at all during the summer and I believe this to be a newly-arrived migrant bird

When the sun is shining, there are still plenty of late-flying insects taking advantage of what the flowering Ivy has on offer

Common Wasp, Vespula vulgaris. I hadn’t realised how furry they are
Eristalis sp hoverfly, possibly Eristalis pertinax but I really needed to get a better view of its legs to say for sure
The complicated underside of a Red Admiral, probing the Ivy with its proboscis
And from above
While the Bird Ringers were here, we spotted our first Clouded Yellow of the year. This is a migratory species that flies here from northern Africa or southern Europe
A spider has built a web across this camera lens creating this surreal effect

In the last post, I mentioned how wonderful it was to hear Owls hooting around the house at night. This next photo is a screenshot from a video this week. I have looked long and hard at the video and I regret to say that this looks ever so much like a Tawny Owl that this fox is carrying in his mouth. Certainly we have not heard an Owl since this video was taken:

This fox, with the end of his tail dipped down, is a regular at the nightly peanuts

On winter nights in the wood, we have seen Tawny Owls on the ground hunting for worms and I suppose they are vulnerable to pouncing foxes when they do this.

One of my all-time favourite trail camera shots of a Tawny catching a worm back in 2019

Swallows, Starlings, Goldcrests, Firecrests, Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Herons and Clouded Yellows – there is a lot of crossing of borders at this time of year. One of our sons has crossed continents and embarked on a grand adventure – a year travelling the world with his girlfriend. They will probably have to be flexible with their itinerary but they have started in Mexico. I asked them to send me photos of interesting wildlife that they see along the way, and this week we have this colourful photo of a Mexican butterfly:

An unidentified Mexican butterfly

Mexico famously provides a safe haven for millions of the migratory Monarch Butterflies from October to March, but they do also have 2,044 other species of butterfly in the country. In contrast, the UK has a meagre 59 species.

Mexico also has 19 species of Iguana. I found a website showing images of them all and think that this one that they saw is probably the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). I see that the adult size of this one is a rather monstrous 4-5.5 feet:

I envy them the experiences of new cultures, landscapes and wildlife that are to come and it seems an awfully long time since we ourselves have stepped a foot off British soil. On clear days we can see another country from the meadows:

The white cliffs of France across the Channel

Ferries are plying back and forth from Dover just down the coast and maybe it won’t be too long now before we have the confidence to get over there, even if only for a day trip.

As Remembrance Day approaches, I finish today with this moving installation by Mark Humphreys on Dover seafront to commemorate the dead of the First World War. Every few minutes a motor starts up and the space is filled with fluttering poppies:

Lest We Forget.

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