The Lull Before Christmas

On a strangely warm and calm morning this week, the Bird Ringers put their nets up in the meadows for what is probably their last session of the year.

A Continental Blackbird – although the beak is largely yellow, the weight of this bird, and longer length of his wings, means that he is almost certainly a bird from the colder parts of Europe, flown across to spend the winter here with us.

For a few years now, the Ringers have been participating in a Blackcap colour-ringing scheme organised by the British Trust for Ornithology. They caught a Blackcap here this week and she is now wearing coloured bracelets that will allow her to be identified without having to be recaught. A lot of additional measurements needed to be taken under this scheme, such as beak length, width and depth.

Our preparations for Christmas are now mostly complete and there is now a bit of a lull as we hold our breath and wait to see if plans for having the family to stay can come to fruition. Covid cases are soaring and the dispiriting weather has predominantly been foggy, grey and damp.

Looking back towards the nearby historic town of Deal from the end of the pier on a chilly, dull December day

There was so much moisture in the air that the furry leaves of the sage bush in the allotment looked like they had been studded with rhinestones:

There is a trail camera pointing onto the badger sett in the cliff. However, it isn’t actually taking very good pictures of the badgers because the infrared isn’t strong enough to reach down there. The badgers do still trigger the shot, but the camera then takes a photo of the gnarled Hawthorn tree in the foreground. But, in this way, it has accidentally been providing me with images of slugs going up and down the tree every night.

Tree slugs were thrust into the limelight in May 2018 when they were featured on the country’s best-loved nature television programme, Springwatch. It included this memorable quote from an ardent slug admirer and scientist: ‘Because, until you’ve seen a tree slug, you haven’t lived’. Tree slugs (Lehmannia marginata) climb trees, even right up into the canopy, to graze on the lichens and algae that they find there. This specialised diet of theirs means that these are not the slugs that you would find eating your lettuces and courgettes. They are a woodland species and indeed the cliff here is densely vegetated with stunted trees, albeit also heavily overgrown with rampant Ivy and Old Man’s Beard

On another night, a slug coming back down from the tree towards dawn.

I love that there are Tree Slugs trundling around the trees at night. Presumably they need to come back down to the ground each day to find a nice, damp place to rest up until it gets dark again.

This large bag of prickly bramble cuttings has been hanging around the meadows for a while and it is a bit of an eyesore:

When we eventually got round to moving it, there was a collection of Stinking Iris berries stored beneath it. Presumably this is the work of a little Wood Mouse:

We were pleased to see that at least something values these berries because there are a lot of them around:

Our native Iris, Iris foetidissima, or Stinking Iris. Lots of bright berries but nothing much eats them
We protected the store of berries under these tiles so that the mouse can still access the berries and move them somewhere else if it wants to
A tiny Smooth Newt was under a sampling square one day this week. This little one would have hatched this year and has now dispersed out of the pond
There have been no recent Grey Heron visits. However, I did get the opportunity to see one up close when visiting my father in Berkshire this week, and I have to admire those black eyebrows
The Herring Gulls have a very distinctive drinking posture at this mini pond, probably because they are having to reach into the tray to get to the water
Sparrowhawk on the look out at the perch above the feeding cages…
…his interest probably having been piqued by all these House Sparrows that are visiting at the moment
This feels very theatrical. The One-eyed Vixen by the wild pond whilst another fox eats peanuts in the infrared spotlight behind
Resting up by the baking tray pond
Yet another fish in the mouth of a fox this week
Oh dear. I can’t identify this dark bird but it looks like perhaps it has webbed or wader-like feet
A Dandelion clock

Mahonia in the garden, now out in full flower and great for late-flying pollinators

Hoverfly comes in to the Mahonia this afternoon, in the first bit of sunshine that we have had all week.

We have a camera looking at a new, small pond that we have built in the wood. Much like the tree slugs that are being incidentally photographed at the badger sett, it is the background of this photo that is much more interesting than the Blue Tit who triggered the photo:

Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers working their way up opposite sides of a tree

On another day, yet again there was a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the background of the shot, and on the same tree:

The tree that the woodpeckers are visiting is a Field Maple which has deeply textured bark with lots of lovely crevices into which insects can go to hide themselves away:

The interesting bark of a Field Maple tree

A Tawny Owl has perched on this branch on a couple of nights. Could it be looking with interest at that nest box?

A Tawny has also been seen elsewhere in the wood:

I was very pleased to see this Marsh Tit. We haven’t been seeing much of them in the wood this year:

A Woodcock taking a bath:

One night there was an extraordinary sight shining in the darkness out to sea. Anchored alongside us was Matador 3, a heavy-lifting, floating crane:

In the morning, there was a chance to get a better look at her. The crane barge isn’t self-propelled and needs a tug to move her around but, together, they have worked on offshore wind farm projects throughout Europe.

Tow line now reattached and ready to move off

Our son and his girlfriend, off round the world for a year, have sent us this atmospheric photo of the Guatemalan rainforest at Christmas time:

They had a wonderful time in Guatemala and have now flown down to Costa Rica where they plan to stay a while.

Today is the winter solstice and Christmas approaches fast on its heels. Whatever your plans, I wish you an enjoyable but also restful Christmas and hopefully there will be an opportunity to get out and about and immerse yourself in the restorative power of nature.

2 thoughts on “The Lull Before Christmas

  1. I’m envious of your hoverfly as I haven’t seen one for weeks, and nothing on my Mahonia other than blue tits. Are you going to log it on the hoverfly group?

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