The Evergreen Oak

There are several majestic, evergreen Holm Oaks in the meadows, providing a windbreak from strong coastal winds for us and year-round shelter for birds and other animals.

These trees are native to the Mediterranean region but they do very well here in this exposed and often unforgiving coastal location, where many of our native species struggle. Only one of these trees has had a heavy crop of acorns this year but it has now been ransacked of this bounty by the Jays. We have seen three birds at one time so there is at least that number at work. Most of the acorns will, by now, be buried in the meadows, forming a stash of food to keep the birds provisioned throughout the ordeal of the winter to come:

Empty acorn cups

Jays apparently have a remarkable memory for where they have buried their acorns so that they can return. But there are always some that have not been eaten by spring that will then start to germinate. It may be that they were not needed or have been overlooked, but there is also new evidence to suggest that the Jays might actually be farming these seedlings.

Photo from October 2020. A Jay must have buried three Holm Oak acorns in this bag of topsoil the previous autumn and presumably forgotten about them

By the time they are sprouting upwards in the spring, a tap root will have formed underground to bring in food, and the tiny trees will no longer need the carbohydrates stored in the cotyledons of the acorn. Jays have been observed to half pull some of these seedlings up – far enough to get at these cotyledons that are now no longer required, but not enough to kill the fledgling tree. They then give these energy-packed cotyledons to their young. The Oaks feed the Jays and the Jays plant the trees’ seeds – I find this mutually beneficial relationship between the tree and the bird absolutely fascinating.

Perhaps a few acorns are still left on the trees – but not for much longer:

Jay with an acorn tucked between its feet
A year on and one of these small Holm Oaks, originally planted by Jays in the bag of topsoil, has now been replanted in the meadows. Here it will have the space to grow into an enormous tree for future generations of both Jays and humans to enjoy
A Holm Oak in our garden. We had this pollarded a few years ago which felt quite drastic at the time but it has now grown back to be this absolutely beautiful tree, which puts me in mind of an Olive tree. No acorns on it this year though

Six years ago we built a beetle stack by digging these logs deep into the ground, where they would slowly rot and provide habitat for beetle larvae:

By now, many of these logs are very soft and close to collapsing but the whole thing can be declared a complete success. Just from our occasional strolls past, we have noticed adult beetles emerging, a Wren spends a lot of time hunting for insects within the structure and this summer there was a bumblebee nest at the base. At the moment, there is quite a covering of Dead Man’s fingers:

The fungus Xylaria polymorpha, or Dead Man’s Fingers, growing in the soil around the rotting wood

We had hoped to encourage Stag Beetles with these log stacks, but have never seen one, or its smaller relative, the Lesser Stag Beetle, in the meadows.

The distribution of the majestic Stag Beetle in 2017 is shown in purple above and sadly I see that it no longer stretches to coastal East Kent. Stag Beetles lay their eggs in rotting wood under the ground. Image taken from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species website

Lesser Stag Beetles are similar but smaller and, unlike their Stag Beetles cousins, they lay their eggs into wood and tree stumps above ground. They are more common and have a wider range than the Stag Beetle but unfortunately are still not seen in the east coast of Kent:

So it looks like the three log stacks we have built in the meadows are unlikely to be benefiting either type of Stag Beetle anytime soon, but there are surely so many other invertebrates that have been happily using them instead. We are planning to build a few more of these structures this winter using timber that we will cut from the wood this coming coppicing season.

The other two, more recently constructed, beetle stacks in the shade of a Wild Cherry in the meadows

I was very pleased this week when the colour-ringed female Herring Gull X9LT made a fleeting appearance. She hasn’t been around for quite a while and I was getting worried:

She was ringed in January 2015 at Pitsea landfill site in Essex and, at that point, was assessed to be four years old or older but still with some juvenile plumage. This makes her approximately eleven years old now and I see that the average lifespan is twelve years although Herring Gulls have been known to live to thirty-two.

At this time of year, every sighting of a butterfly is precious because you don’t know if it is going to be the last one until next spring. Here is a glamorous Red Admiral this week – will this be the 2021 grand butterfly finale?

We have waded back in the wild pond and now most of the reeds have been pulled out, although leaving some as shelter for amphibians. It is pleasing to have finally got this job done:

This is a highly unusual sight for the meadows:

This sight, however, is not. This lovely little dog of ours has just had her eighth birthday but still remains very active, chasing helicopters and micro-lighters out of her airspace. Thankfully she has no interest whatsoever in killing the wildlife that she shares the meadows with, but she definitely loves to chase it given half a chance:

We had a large cargo ship, the Ocean Giant, at anchor alongside the meadows for perhaps as long as a week and it was beginning to feel like a new friend:

I wonder how the crew onboard amused themselves during all those days with nothing much going on. Did they learn to tie knots and scrub away at the decks, or am I in the wrong century?

We took the dog north along the coast for a walk at Sandwich Bay this week, and enjoyed the view back towards the town of Deal with the Ocean Giant still at anchor.

Stonechat at Sandwich Bay

While we were there, we called in at The Sandwich Bay Observatory Trust’s Restharrow scrape. This new scrape was finished in early 2020 just as Covid struck and so it didn’t actually open to visitors until the middle of this year and this was only our second ever visit. We were very pleased to see a group of nine Snipe there:

Three of the Snipe amongst some Teal

The Ocean Giant was on a voyage from Poland to Canada. Eventually, on Monday night, she raised her anchor in the dark and slipped silently away back into the shipping lane, heading west to Canada, and we are left none the wiser as to why she spent this week-long pause in her journey with us.

Over in the wood, we have had another session of clearing Dogwood from the area where we saw the Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies this year:

In the summer, this part of the wood is a fantastic carpet of Marjoram, but it was becoming very overgrown and shaded out by Dogwood. We have had fun clearing this quite large area and are now filled with eager anticipation to see how this will look next year

The Woodcock are arriving back in the wood for the winter:

I have seen this Fox on the cameras in the wood a couple of times now and feel instant affection for it because it looks so very much like the Old Gentleman from the meadows:

In winter, the wood is a good place to see the wonderfully named Dog Sick Slime Mould:

On a dull, mid-November day, what we need to buck us up is a little bit of colour. The best that the meadows can offer at this time of year are the berries of the native Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima:

They are very colourful and might do the trick but perhaps these American Flamingos will do better? Our son and his girlfriend have launched themselves on a year-long world trip starting in Mexico and this week they visited the Celestún Biosphere Reserve in the Yucatan region of Mexico.

The collective noun for Flamingos is a flamboyance which feels very appropriate.

I finish today with the moon. The moon shining on the sea forms an atmospheric background for this photo of our old friend the One-eyed Vixen:

As the moon rose this afternoon, I tried my best to capture something of its magic:

The full moon in November is called the Beaver Moon and we will look out for it tomorrow night.

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