The Progress of Spring

A few fresh, spring sprigs brought into the house, guaranteed to lift the spirits

Our son and his girlfriend, continuing their travels around the world, have now reached Ecuador and spent some days in the Amazon jungle. Here are some of the wildlife wonders that they have seen:

A pair of extraordinary Crested Owls. These birds are nocturnal and mainly eat insects but not much more is known about them, it seems. They have chosen a great place to roost here
A magnificent Scarlet Macaw
These parrots are licking the clay from the cliffs – called geophagy, eating the clay neutralises the quinidine and other toxins contained in the seeds and nuts of their daily diet, making them easier to digest
A clearwing butterfly

The UK has around 59 species of butterfly but Ecuador has 4,000 and that thought makes me want to jolly well pack my bags, get on a plane and go and see some of them. But – wait – there has been some warm spring sunshine here this week and our insects are tentatively starting to emerge. Perhaps there is no need for me to go anywhere – we have been delighted to welcome back a few early butterflies, some bees and hoverflies to the meadows.
The first mining bee of the season – a Yellow-legged Mining Bee male, I think
The hoverfly Eupeodes luniger on a daisy flower. There are several similar species but E. luniger is likely to be the one that is out and about this early in the season

We had been watching for the reawakening of the reptiles and it was yesterday, 12th March, that Slow Worms came up from their underground burrows. We haven’t seen any lizards yet.

The grand magpie nest building project is continuing apace:

I have realised, however, that there is now a second magpie nest being constructed. One of the birds that has recently been seen carrying sticks is very distinctive, with feathers lost from his face, and he is not one of the pair that has been building since January:

This idiosyncratic magpie has recently started building a nest

A magpie breeding territory is apparently twelve acres, and is held throughout the year. Perhaps the meadows, at only six acres, contain the junction of two separate territories both with a nest? We don’t know where either of these two nests are, but continue to try to work out what is going on.

Crows also build new nests every year but the pair here are yet to start. This is perhaps a crust of bread below that is being dunked into the water to soften it – we see these intelligent animals doing this sort of thing a lot:

A group of around twenty Stock Dove have been with us all winter. They are such lovely birds and we here in the UK are custodians of 60% of the global population, so we need to make sure we take care of them:

A Stock Dove courtship bow, but the female seems far from impressed:

A flock of House Sparrows has also been with us throughout the winter and remain here still. Hopefully they will be staying for the summer to breed:

A soggy House Sparrow flies away after his bath

A pair of Collared Dove are daily visitors. I was surprised to see how black and white, almost magpie-like, the underside of the tail of these birds is:

We don’t get Starlings here in the winter at all. But, every March, groups of Starling arrive from across the country, awaiting favourable conditions to fly back to their breeding grounds in the more northerly parts of Europe. Some years we have seen very large numbers indeed, but this is the most that have appeared on the trail cameras so far this March:

A rare sighting of a Tawny Owl in the meadows last night. Is it carrying something?

Our male Herring Gull, Chuckles, continues to have problems with an interloper on his patch. Chuckles always trumpets with his neck outstretched, while the new gull bends its neck down to call:

In this photo from last week, the two adult birds are adopting these same postures:

Over in the wood, we have been getting the rest of the Dormice nest boxes up so that they are ready to be discovered by the animals when they emerge from hibernation shortly:

Box 15 – halfway through the job

Sadly there has been no further action at the owl nest box. However, a Tawny did come down and drink at this pond on four nights this week:

Buzzard by the owl box
Sparrowhawk in the pond

The Bird Ringers visited the wood with some students who they are training. The students are teenagers which is great because it feels so important to inspire a love of nature in the younger generation. The group caught and ringed forty-four birds over the course of the morning, including a Great-spotted Woodpecker and two Marsh Tits:

The last photos for today are of the view out to sea on this spring Sunday morning. Two bulk carriers, Alda and Aspri, both of which have been here for several days waiting to get into Dover port, atmospherically flank the Dover lifeboat:

The Dover lifeboat, The City of London II, is presumably out on a training exercise. It is impossible not to have great respect for those brave volunteers who put themselves in danger and freely give up so much of their time to rescue others.

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