The whole country has been celebrating Elizabeth II’s seventy year reign over this special, long weekend. In the sunshine of Friday, we attended the Wye village street party in the North Downs where one of our daughters now lives:
As we ate our picnic lunch, swifts were circling the church tower, presumably nesting within. A kestrel was also perched up on the tower – perhaps he too is nesting within the ancient masonry of the church.
An unexpected visitor was this Spitfire that flew over, saw the party below, circled back to us and barrel rolled over our heads. The sight and the sound of that made me feel very emotional:
One of the villagers is clearly an extraordinarily good knitter. I remember that this post box was adorned with a wonderful knitted creation last Christmas as well:
The Queen’s corgi also had a starring role on this brownie tray bake that we brought along to the picnic. It purportedly serves six but we didn’t need that number to polish it off..
There has been a nationwide competition to devise a celebratory pudding for the Jubilee. There were five thousand entries and the winner was a lemon Swiss roll and amaretti trifle, now renamed the Platinum Pudding. It is quite an involved recipe but I thoroughly enjoyed making it to take to the party. It is a lovely thought that this trifle will have been made and eaten up and down the country this weekend.
We are often to be found admiring the wonderful, sculptural weeping beech tree that stands in the garden:
Eight years ago, when first viewing the house, we walked under this tree’s canopy into the atmospheric green cathedral at its heart and I pictured our as-yet-unborn grandchildren building secret dens in there and having tea parties with their teddy bears:
Although, at this time of year, it is not just its appearance that is mesmerising, but also its sound. The entire tree hums loudly as if it were an enormous beehive.
But why are there so many bumblebees coming to the tree? It is not flowering at the moment – but even if it were, the flowers are wind pollinated and not designed to attract insects.
The answer to the puzzle lies with these Woolly Beech Aphids (Phyllaphis fagi) with their ridiculously furry white cloaks. They are to be found in low densities underneath many of the beech leaves and it is the honeydew that they produce that is bringing in the bees:
I love the thought of this beech tree being an enormous free energy filling station for our pollinators, where they can come to to refuel whenever they need to.
Elsewhere, the small Alder Buckthorn trees have a sprinkling of Brimstone butterfly caterpillars this year and, every time I go past, I look to see how they are getting on. The caterpillars lie along the central vein of the leaf during the day to help with their disguise:
It was during one such check that I saw one of the caterpillars being predated:
This is a larva of a green lacewing (Chrysophidae), a predator of aphids and other soft-bodies insects such as caterpillars. The lacewing larva’s maxillae can be seen sticking into the caterpillar – these are hollow, and digestive juices are pumped out through them into the caterpillar, breaking down its tissues. The resulting nutrient soup can then be sucked back in through them.
Lacewings are thus considered true gardeners’ friends because not only are these larvae voracious predators of garden ‘pests’ such as aphids, the adults are also effective pollinators.
The next day, I’m afraid that the caterpillar did look pretty well digested:
Last year I found what must be a different species of lacewing larva. This one had disguised itself by sticking bits of debris onto its back in order to get access to their aphid prey – ants guard aphid colonies whilst farming them for the honeydew and these ants are apparently fooled by the lacewings disguise and let them pass in. All very, very interesting:
I have seen Wren, Dunnock and Blackbird with caterpillars in their beaks to feed their young:
And fledglings are now being seen on the cameras. Robin:
And a just-fledged Great Spotted Woodpecker with its red cap was seen in the wood:
In the meadows, just before seven o’clock one the evening, look at these two baby badgers coming out into the open by the wild pond:
The problem was that, at this point, we ourselves were standing at the wild pond looking for dragonfly emergences – we were talking loudly to each other but this didn’t seem to put the silly sausages off. Actually the real problem was that we had the dog with us and unfortunately she pounced on one of the badgers. I got a fleeting glimpse of a dog with a badger in its mouth and screamed, the dog backed off and the small badger scuttled away.
Our dog is only interested in chasing rather than killing things, and I believe that she will have just mouthed rather than bitten the badger.
But things took a potentially darker turn a couple of days later. The dog alerted us to the fact that a baby badger was lying above ground in a hedge up close to the house, which is a whole hundred metres away from the badger sett. We gently poked the little thing with a stick and it raised its head to look at us and then flopped back down.
My assumption was that this is the badger that the dog caught and it was now sick with an injury or infection. I phoned around several wildlife charities to ask advice but it was the RSPCA who were able to send an inspector out. She arrived in the early evening, captured the animal and took it to a vet in Canterbury who checked the animal over, took its temperature and ensured that it had no injuries. It was declared fit and well and the inspector brought the little cub back to be released close to the sett just as it was getting dark, none the worse for its little adventure.
We were all delighted that there was a happy ending but couldn’t understand what the cub was doing sleeping on its own up above ground and so far from its sett. Perhaps it had got completely lost? But what a fantastic response from the RSPCA when we needed them, and we will now give this worthy charity a donation to show our appreciation for their help.
The sole fox cub in the meadows this year is starting to look very grown up:
Although the young fox is still interested in suckling, when its mother is distracted and eating peanuts:
With the addition of the cub to our band of foxes, it is starting to look like a crowd:
I would like to finish today with the daunting amount of broad beans that we have harvested over the weekend. There is now a big shelling and blanching job to be done before the beans can be safely packed away into the freezer.
What a whole lot of beans from one packet of seeds, pressed down into the soil last autumn. We do like broad beans but, even so, these should keep us going for a very, very long time.