The Longest Day

The year has now rolled past its tipping point and the days are inexorably starting to shorten once again – but there is still a whole lot of summer left and we intend to make the most of it.

On the longest day we returned to Reculver, near Herne Bay on the north coast of Kent, to give the dog an outing and see how the Sand Martin colony was getting on.

The imposing twin towers of the medieval church at Reculver

Strung along the cliff there are clusters of Sand Martin burrows and, around them, the air becomes wonderfully alive with the calls of Sand Martins as they bring food in for their chicks and take out their faecal sacs.

Sand Martins – a brown and white hirundine with a broad brown chest band

This next photo was taken of an adult Sand Martin just about to emerge from its burrow on the right with a faecal sac in its beak. It was only when I was going through the photos later that I saw the three chicks huddled together in another hole on the left:

Two more chicks peering out of their hole:

I came across a blog of someone who has been birding in the Reculver area for many decades. He reported that there are only about thirty pairs here this year which is much lower than normal. Since this is the first year that we have visited the colony, we didn’t know to be depressed about this and were actually delighted with the nesting birds that we saw.

Although we did notice that this section of Sand Martin burrows, nearest to Reculver, was completely devoid of birds:

Let us hope that this year is a blip for them. We shall visit again next year and hope for better things.

There are a thousand or so different plant galls in Britain, where an insect or other organism co-opts a plant into forming a protective structure to assist it through a particular stage of its lifecycle. There are fifty different galls on our oaks trees alone. We were on holiday recently with a lady who was fascinated with galls, particularly their artistic form so that she could draw them, and I think she would have liked this attractive one that we found on ground ivy in the wood this week:

A red hairy sphere on a ground ivy leaf
The underside of the leaf

The gall is caused by the gall wasp Liposthenes glechomae and the sphere will contain a single wasp larva at its centre:

A gall cut in half to reveal the wasp larva. Photo courtesy of bladmineerders.nl under ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

The larva pupates in the galls over winter and the new adult will emerge in late spring

It was a dull day in the wood and this well camouflaged Hummingbird Hawk moth was resting on the woodland floor, awaiting some sunshine

I have lost count but I think that it is about ten Great Spotted Woodpeckers that have been caught and ringed in the wood this spring. Possibly our peanut feeder is bringing them in from far and wide.

A ringed male with red at the back of his head

During a ringing session in the wood this week, a juvenile with its red cap was also ringed.

A juvenile, although its right leg isn’t visible to check if this is the one that was ringed

A badger cub with its parent in the wood:

A male badger out in the wood at first light
A woodland fox
A buzzard at the owl box
Bullfinches breed in the wood each summer

Once again, the camera looking at the woodpecker hole in the cherry tree has caught a bat going in to roost in there:

Before our daughters wedding last week, we were seeing a lot of this young badger in the meadows. Every day it was coming out into the meadows in the afternoon:

The scruffy little bottom of a badger cub as it makes its way back to its burrow

However, since we have returned from our few days away, there have been no further sightings of any of the badger cubs, even on the cameras. The dry spring and early summer will have been very difficult for them since their main food source, earthworms, have gone down deep and inaccessible. I hope to see them again but suspect I might not.

We have this very distinctive magpie here this year, with lost facial feathers revealing its ear:

Here is it eating a snail and we have often seen magpies eating these, as well as rodents, eggs and small birds:

However, we have never caught them red-handed with lizards before:

But magpies don’t always have it all their own way. Predator became prey this week when we saw one in the mouth of a fox:

Another camera caught this as well and I can see that it is the One-eyed Vixen that has got the bird:

This next photo caused much discussion amongst the family when asked what they thought this was in the mouth of the fox cub:

Can I see black furry legs? It’s not a black cat, is it? Or a crow? I have a second photo from a different camera:

This is definitely another bird in the mouth of the One-eyed Vixen:

And this is a dogfish:

I find it so interesting to see the range of prey items taken by our country foxes. Of course the foxes in the meadows also have a small serving of peanut protein at dusk each night:

One of the adult foxes with a lovely shiny nose
The sole cub in the meadows this year, offspring of the One-eyed Vixen

What an extremely sweet young rabbit and how nice to not see it in the mouth of a fox:

We are enjoying seeing all the Starlings that are here at the moment:

One of them is colour-ringed although I am not even close to being able to read that ring. There is apparently a lady who colour-rings starlings in nearby Deal and no doubt this bird is one of hers:

In the wet early summer of last year, I loved seeing blackbirds and song thrush with their beaks stuffed full of worms to give to their young. This year it has been so dry and there hasn’t been anything like that at all on the cameras – I wonder how they are feeding their chicks?

Song Thrush with a solitary worm. How different this is from last year

But baby blackbirds are starting to be seen in the meadows now, so some alternative food was clearly found for them:

When the neighbouring field is growing grain, plucked seed heads are discarded all over the meadows and we did suspect the crows. Now we have some evidence for this:

This crow has an orderly row of four brown pellets in its beak. I don’t know what they are but the bird has come to soften them in the water before swallowing:

On a cool day this week, I looked under one of the reptile sampling squares where there is a black ant nest and there were a very large number of ant pupae of two different sizes:

The ants were in the process on transporting some more of the larger pupae up to the surface:

The next day was much warmer and there were no pupae at all to be seen under the reptile square. They had all been taken back underground:

Presumably the pupae are being put in different places to keep them at the right temperature, but what an extraordinary amount of work that is for the ants. Ants are a very important part of the meadow ecosystem here and I have set myself the challenge of finding out a bit more about them and why there are two different sizes of pupae.

Some other images from the meadows this week:

Sparrowhawk on the gate
Haven’t seen much of our kestrels in recent weeks
The length of a wren’s beak and the angle that they cock their tail make this such an eye catching little bird
We see a few Grey Wagtails here every year on passage
A Privet Hawkmoth found on the gate
The Marbled Whites are back in the meadow
A Hummingbird Hawkmoth on red valerian. It all happened so fast and this is the best I could get
Pyramidal Orchids are starting to flower
An Early Bumblebee enjoying some nectar
Mason bee season is now over for another year. It seems to have been a good one here and I will have quite a few completed tubes to send back for processing as part of the Red Mason Bee guardianship scheme come September
The June bugs are out and swarming around the hedgerows at dusk. They bump into me as I go to put the peanuts out which is most disconcerting

Sunset over the meadows shortly before 10pm on the longest day:

A section of the first meadow that we seeded seven years ago with native perennials is looking absolutely fabulous and is heaving with bees and butterflies:

What a wonderful time of year, I wish I could bottle it.

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