Over the course of this year I have accumulated so many photos that I wanted to include in a round up of the meadows’ best bits. But I’ve had to be firm with myself and edit them down to make things more manageable. Here is the result – my favourites from the first part of 2021.
The Old Gentleman
The Old Gentleman Fox first arrived here in the autumn of 2020 and quickly became an enthusiastic consumer of the nightly peanuts. To begin with, he waited unseen on the cliff path but soon ventured closer.
So much so that, as the months rolled on, I started to wear wellies to deliver the peanuts because otherwise he had a tendency to nibble the bottom of my trousers which was very disconcerting.
But he was beset by problems – firstly carrying a hind paw, then a forepaw, he had bad eyes, a cough and, finally, a devastating attack of mange.
I repeatedly consulted the Fox Project charity for advice and did my best for him, giving him worm and mange treatments and whatever else they suggested. But ultimately it was not enough and we lost him.
Chuckles the Herring Gull
Another prominent personality from this year is thankfully still going strong. Chuckles is the male half of a pair of Herring Gulls that we got to know as we put seed down at the feeding cages every day. Watching them through the year has taught us that there is much to appreciate about these characterful birds.
The female of the pair was colour-ringed and so we were able to discover that she was ringed at Pitsea landfill site in Essex in January 2015 when she was around four years old. This means that she is now eleven or twelve years old.
These two gulls formed a very tight pair bond although Chuckles was much the braver and more vocal and often making his chuckling call.
The dog objected to him strutting around the feeding cages as though he owned the place and she would sometimes chase and bark at him. This was very entertaining because he retaliated by dive bombing her:
The birds were good enough to mate in front of the camera which helped us to be certain that Chuckles was the male:
The colour-ringed female then started to gather nesting material and shortly afterwards more or less disappeared – presumably because she was on eggs. Chuckles, however, still waited for us every morning as usual.
Towards the end of the summer, we were delighted to meet Chuckles’ offspring when they both started arriving each morning:
Chuckles is now in his winter plumage with greyish speckled neck feathers:
Ever since she disappeared to go and sit on eggs, the female has made only occasional visits and always on her own. But I hope that she will return properly next spring and once again join up with Chuckles.
In mid February there was a bitter spell of weather and snow lay on the ground for several days.
We became aware that the exceptional weather had brought different birds to the meadows and were interested to observe them:
The Snipe and the Lapwing were new species for the meadow bird list. The other four new species this year were Common Gull, Sand Martin, Reed Bunting and Curlew, bringing the total to ninety-one.
On particularly cold nights throughout the winter, a Wren roosted up in a teapot nest box in the garden. Here the Wren is, leaving just before dawn one morning:
It feels like the spectacle of the annual frog spawning in February is the inaugural event in our natural history year.
Now that we have sorted out the Heron problem with the tactical placement of our scarecrow, the frogs seemed to have a good year with a lot of spawn laid and then successfully hatched into tadpoles.
In March, winter-visiting Starlings always gather in the meadows, readying themselves for the flight across the North Sea back to mainland Europe to breed.
For the first time this year we noticed all the beak holes in the ground where they probe for soil invertebrates.
But for the last two years, several pairs of British resident Starling have chosen the meadows to raise their families. We are delighted with this, hoping it is a sign of improving habitat.
Crow Wars broke out in the skies above the meadows at the start of the breeding season. Every day there were noisy confrontations as encroaching Crows tried to muscle in on the territory of our resident pair. At one point I dashed out to rescue a bird that was pinned to the ground and surrounded. But I couldn’t be around all of the time and, before too long, we found a dead Crow on the ground.
This death seemed to have resolved the matter irrevocably and the victorious pair went on to build their nest on the top of a tall tree.
A number of species made use of the wool dispenser including this little Wren:
Three or four years of putting seed down daily on the strip and we are pleased to report that quite a flock of Yellowhammer has built up with several pairs nesting here this year:
A pair of Grey Partridge were in the meadows until about July although we haven’t seen them since. I do hope that they made a nest in a local hedgerow but sadly I have no evidence of that. Maybe we will see them again next spring.
Magpies successfully nested at the top of one of the pine trees.
They were also observed robbing other birds’ nests of eggs and chicks.
Blackbirds were very conspicuous nesters this year. The females have sole responsibility for making the nest and I had so very many great photos of them doing this.
We also saw a Song Thrush collecting wet mud from the pond for her nest:
Another species that we were happy to get evidence of nesting this year was Linnet:
This year we forgot to put bungs into the Swift box holes. By the time the Swifts were due to arrive back in the country, we found that every Swift box already had House Sparrows nesting within:
We decided to rapidly put two new boxes up because we were really hoping that 2021 would be our lucky year and Swifts would surely nest. In the event, however, poor weather dramatically delayed the Swifts’ arrival and, by the time they did finally get here, the new boxes also had House Sparrows nests.
As in previous years, the Swift calls that we were playing brought the birds into the vicinity of the boxes very successfully. But we didn’t see one stop to look in a box and there was certainly no nesting. Maybe next year….
Other Interesting Photos From The First Half Of The Year
May is such a wonderful month in the meadows. I finish today with this carpet of May buttercups that we look forward to every year.
In a few days, I will continue the review of the year with a final post covering the second six months of 2021.