2021 in the Meadows Part 2

In Part 1, earlier this week, we went on a whistle stop tour of the meadows through the first part of 2021. Now you will need to hold on to your hats as we are off again, this time looking at the highlights of the second half of the year.

Fledgling birds

2020 had been so dry, and the ground so hard, that there was much concern in the press that birds such as Blackbirds were not able to get at worms to feed their chicks. 2021 was altogether a much wetter year and this, at least, was one thing that no one had to worry about.

I have so many heart-warming photos of Blackbirds with their beaks stuffed full of worms to take back to their nests
I wonder how it went when this Blackbird tried to stuff a large dragonfly down one of his chick’s throat

After all the photos of Blackbird chicks being well provisioned, it was lovely when they started to fledge and appear on the cameras:

Yellowhammers also bred successfully here:

Two fledgling Yellowhammers in the water (and a Dunnock)

Unusually, there were no speckled, young Green Woodpeckers this year. There was a juvenile Great Spotted but these birds are not around here very often and the nest was probably not that local.

Magpies and Crows also successfully raised families in the meadows. These young Magpies were being brought food by a parent as they waited on the gate and they’ve been given a dead bird here, possibly a Blue Tit:

When we cleared out the nest boxes in the autumn, we were dismayed to discover that only three of the seventeen boxes contained nests, suggesting that Great Tits and Blue Tits had had a really poor breeding year. A spell of very cold weather in the spring must have impacted these early nesters.

Bird Ringing

It is always exciting when the Bird Ringers set their nets up in the meadows. In 2020, 1059 birds were ringed here, this number boosted by the exceptional autumn migration that year. In 2021, for one reason or another, only 253 birds were ringed but this did include 26 species.

Meadow Pipit
The extraordinary hind claw of the Meadow Pipit, thought to help them spring off from the ground away from predators
A young Redstart on its way south
Song Thrush
Long-tailed Tit with yellow eyelids. The colour of their eyelids can vary from yellow to deep red, possibly depending on their mood, and amazingly the change can happen in a few minutes
The Bird Ringers participate in a BTO Blackcap colour-ringing scheme. This female was caught and colour-ringed here in December – if you see her, please do let us know…
One of the more unusual catches in the net – a Short-tailed Field Vole

Kestrels and Other Birds of Prey

For the last few years we have been following the fortunes of a Kestrel nest in a hole in the white cliffs, a short walk away. In 2021 there were four chicks in the nest:

Some of the Kestrels that we see in the meadows surely come from this nest

It is only when the meadows were cut in the autumn, and voles had fewer places to hide, that these birds started hunting here in earnest.

Kestrel holding vole prey
This bird is holding a Bumblebee in her left claw. I didn’t know that they ate bees
The Kestrel was in constant attendance as the tractor was cutting the meadows, hoping to spot fleeing rodents. This photo was taken from the seat of the tractor
Stopping for a drink. What beautiful birds they are

Our residents Crows are annoyingly quick to escort any visiting bird of prey off property:

Seeing off a Buzzard

But Kestrels and Sparrowhawks are usually tolerated. One day, however, we enjoyed watching a Crow make four attempts to get a Kestrel to move on but she wasn’t to be intimidated and stayed put.

I was most impressed to see how far round a Sparrowhawk can rotate its neck..

..and also at the length of that leg:

Given all the eggs and young birds we have seen in a Magpie’s beak over the course of the year, it is sort of nice to see a Magpie on the back foot for once, as it became aware that it had caught the eye of a Sparrowhawk:

Foxes

It’s difficult to know how many foxes live in and around the meadows because I do not recognise them all. But some, such as this handsome fellow with the tip of his tail dipped down, I see on the cameras a lot and have got to know:

He seems to be a successful hunter and here he is with what we believe to be a Tawny Owl, for goodness sake…..

…and another unidentified but interesting-looking bird

Two small litters of fox cubs were born here in 2021. The male with the tail dip was the father of a single cub. His mate was a vixen with distinctively starey eyes:

We put a camera close to their den and it captured the most wonderful sequence of photos of the little cub being taken on its first trip out into the big wide world. To begin with, the vixen looked out to check that the coast was clear:

Then both parents came out with the cub, the father watching over it so tenderly that my heart melts every time I see it:

The mother of the second litter of cubs was our old friend the One-eyed Vixen:

A heavily pregnant One-eyed Vixen in mid-March
The One-eyed Vixen, with her blue left eye, and her two cubs
Her pair of gorgeous cubs
Wet from some summer rain

Both of the vixens with cubs are relaxed in each other’s company and perhaps are themselves related:

The One-eyed and Starey-eyed Vixens

These two vixens had mange on their tails in the summer but I successfully treated them with medicine-laced honey sandwiches. This did not work for the Old Gentleman but I’m so pleased that it did for these mothers with cubs to care for.

There have been a lot of photos of foxes carrying fish this year. I am not entirely sure how they are getting hold of them but guess that they are opportunistically hanging around night fishermen down on the beach:

The Starey-eyed Vixen with fish.
Fox with rabbit

The final thing that I want to say about foxes is to mention their love of pears. As the fruits ripened on the tree towards the end of September, the foxes got to work to take off as many as they could, although this year we did not see them climbing into the tree as they had the year before.

At the same time, apples lay on the ground untouched. All very interesting.

Invertebrates

Every year we take a little step forward in our understanding and appreciation of the invertebrates that we share the meadows with. Here are some of the invertebrate highlights of 2021:

A just-emerged Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly with its still shiny wings and the now-empty larval case
An emerging Emperor Dragonfly. I never tire of watching this transformation
A female Emperor laying eggs into the pond
Mating Marbled Whites. The females are generally a bit larger than the males but the size difference here is extreme
A male Wall Butterfly. We have two separate small colonies of Walls at either end of the meadows
This amazing thing is an Acorn Weevil (or one of several very similar species)
Different instar stages of a Box Bug nymph
With light shining through, it is possible to see the alimentary canal of this snail. Also, its eye at the tip of its antenna
A spider web in the fog
These are lovely blue darkling beetles, Helops caeruleus, a speciality of the east of the country

I had never considered that Woodlice would need to shed their exoskeleton in order to grow. They do this in two parts – the back half is lost first followed, two or three days later, by the front half as here.

Other Interesting Photos from the Second Half of 2021

This Spotted Flycatcher, stopping here on its way south, caught our eye because of its short circular feeding flights out from the hedgerow
Love to see Goldfinch eating seeds in the meadows in autumn
The Holm Oaks were stripped of their acorns by Jays in November. These birds can apparently carry up to nine acorns in their gullet at a time and it does looks like this bird has several in there
The first time we have evidence of Magpies eating rodents
This Crow is anting. It has rested itself down on an anthill and is allowing the ants to crawl over its feathers. Not yet fully understood, it is thought that the ants secrete a liquid that repels insects and mites or has a bactericide or fungicide effect
We saw this several times and think that one adult bird is feeding crop milk to its mate that is sitting on eggs
We don’t often see toads here but this little one turned up this year
This is a very green Viviperous Lizard
A lovely bundle of Slow Worms
Slow Worm shedding her skin
Broomrape, parasitic on clover, always does well in the meadows
We hadn’t seen Sainfoin growing in the meadows before. The bees absolutely loved it.

2021 was another year in which the world was beset by problems and concerns and it was easy to be overwhelmed. But here in this little corner of East Kent, we have managed to find a certain amount of solace and escape for a while into the wonders of nature. I would say that we are definitely feeling positive about this new year just beginning and there is much to look forward to as we roll on towards spring.

A happy new year to all and let us hope that this one is a good one.

One thought on “2021 in the Meadows Part 2

  1. It’s amazing how much interesting animal behaviour you observe and share. Who knew for example that kestrels eat bees, crows sit on anthills, foxes prefer pears to apples and jays can carry all those acorns. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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