This week we drove north up to Reculver near Herne Bay – not very far away but somewhere I had never been before. The iconic twin towers of St Mary’s Church, Reculver have been used as a navigation marker at the mouth of the River Thames for centuries.
The Romans built a fort here in AD200 and then, in the 7th century, an Anglo-Saxon monastery was constructed on the same site. Over time, this became the Reculver parish church until the 19th century, when coastal erosion became a problem and the structure was largely demolished, other than the twin towers.
The clifftop path here is a busy spot for dog walkers and cyclists, but we needed to be down on the beach for what we were looking for, and we had that more or less to ourselves.
There were signs that many invertebrates had been making use of the soft, sandy cliffs but it was too early in the year for there to be any activity:
This is what we had come to see, the largest Sand Martin colony in Kent:
But even though I stood and watched for a while, there was nothing going in or out of the nest holes. Perhaps the birds were not back yet from Africa?
A short distance further along towards Herne Bay, however, the sky suddenly became alive with Sand Martins. This second, much smaller, colony was right up near the clifftop:
Having seen what we came for, we found a path to get up and walked back to Reculver along the clifftop. Even though the meadows at the top are well frequented with humans, Skylarks were singing and Sand Martins were everywhere. We saw our first Whitethroat of the year with its scritchy-scratchy song:
A Black Oil Beetle lumbered across the path in front of us, although it played dead when it realised it had been spotted. What an amazing thing it is:
These animals have an interesting life cycle. This female, bloated full of eggs, will soon dig a hole to lay all her hundreds of eggs into. Once the larvae hatch, they climb up the stems of flowers and wait amongst the petals for a suitable mining bee to visit that could be its host. They attach themselves to the fur of the bee’s back using special hooks on their feet, and get carried back to the bee’s nest.
The beetle larva then lives off the bee’s store of pollen and nectar until it emerges from the nest as an adult. Although the south-west of the country remains a stronghold for them, all four species of British Oil Beetle are unfortunately under threat due to loss of wildflower-rich meadows and decline in their mining bee hosts.
Meanwhile, over in the wood, this blurry image was actually quite exciting:
Hares are most commonly seen in grassland habitats and at woodland edges such as this, and their simple nests are above ground rather than underground in burrows as with rabbits. But they are less frequently found where there are lots of buzzards and foxes and so, although it was lovely to see this one, we might never expect good hare numbers here.
A buzzard in the wood this week…
…and action from the fox den:
We are still not sure what is going on in the owl box. As I stood under it to download the photos to the computer, there was repeated soft tapping coming from the box. Could that be young owlets I was hearing – or was it baby squirrels? The camera did have this photo of an owl flying out of the box, presumably alarmed by the nearby squirrel climbing the tree:
But that was its only photo of an owl – it is all very intriguing. We are now awaiting the return from holiday of the bird ringer who is licensed to handle owls and who is going to open the box to look inside once he is back.
One thing we know for sure is that squirrels are nesting in the former woodpecker hole this year:
A large number of birds have been ringed in the wood this spring, including five Great Spotted Woodpeckers. This female, with her lovely red under-feathers, was very feisty and drew blood from the other bird ringer as he attempted to hold her so that I could take these pictures:
The woodland floor in the regeneration area is a beautiful mass of bugle spires, wild strawberry and foxgloves at the moment:
In the meadows, the breeding season is well underway. The Woodpigeon are nesting:
The Herring Gulls are nesting too:
A photo of some of the black-and-white animals in the meadows. An Ashy Mining Bee and our border collie dog would complete the collection:
Magpies like to escort foxes around whenever they can:
A beautiful Speckled Wood on the last of the Blackthorn blossom:
Late to the party, some of the beech trees are only now breaking out into leaf.
A badger trundles its way home at dawn this morning:
I was hoping to be able to give you a fluffy grand finale this week with some photos of the baby badgers, newly allowed up above ground by their mothers. But they are proving most elusive this year and currently this is the best that I can offer:
Hopefully, by my next post, I will be in a position to offer some better images of these adorable bundles of fun and fur.