One calm but overcast morning this week, the Bird Ringers arrived early and set up their nets in the meadows before we were even awake – you definitely need to be a morning person to be a bird ringer. The warbler migration is now underway and, over the course of a few hours, they ringed eight different species of them. For us, it was a very useful warbler revision course as well as being an immense privilege to be able to photograph these beautiful birds up close.
Luckily we had emerged to start the day in time to see the indisputable star of the morning come out of the nets – a wood warbler, a species never before seen in the meadows.
There was a Willow Warbler in the net at the same time:
The two species are generally quite similar though:
Four Sedge Warblers were ringed. This one shows the lovely spotty necklace that young Sedge Warblers often have on their chests – and the purple mark on the Bird Ringers hand suggests that the bird has been eating blackberries or elderberries:
And a Reed Warbler, although this bird would just not sit still to have its photograph taken and consequently this photo doesn’t really illustrate its arrow-shaped head as I had hoped to:
A Garden Warbler has no terribly obvious distinguishing features other than a pale eye ring:
A Blackcap was the sixth warbler species to be ringed:
A Common Whitethroat was the seventh..
..and, finally, an extremely young and fluffy Chiffchaff was the eighth warbler species to be ringed that morning:
Several non-warbler species were also caught, including this young Yellowhammer:
An adult female Linnet with intricate patterning of her head feathers:
And a scruffy little Long-tailed Tit:
It was a really interesting and memorable morning.
I read that this current drought is now predicted to continue through August and September and most of Kent is to have a hosepipe ban imposed from 12th August. Our area in the far east of the county is actually not included in the ban but we are trying to be very circumspect with our water use nonetheless – although we desperately do not want the ponds to dry out completely, killing much of the aquatic life within.
A lot of new trees were planted across the kingdom last winter under the Queen’s Green Canopy scheme, marking her seventy years on the throne. I hope that they are all being watered through this drought or there will surely be big losses.
Looking to the future with drier summers and tempestuous winters being foretold, we are thinking of ways to make the garden and the meadows more drought and storm tolerant. The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative starts up again in October until the end of the jubilee year and we hope to plant some more trees in this second phase, this time making them tough ones such as Scots pines or holm oaks.
One morning our attention was caught by our resident crows who had flown to the top of a holm oak and were making the most tremendous racket. They then launched off and we saw what all the fuss was about as a majestic red kite soared over the meadows, with its accompanying band of crows desperate to escort it out of their territory. When I’m visiting my father, I can look up at any point and probably see several of these wonderful birds soaring in the skies over Maidenhead. They were very successfully reintroduced in The Chilterns in the 90s but their subsequent expansion outwards hasn’t yet reached this furthest most point of Kent.
A couple of days later, a single red kite was seen again, this time unmolested by territorial residents.
We exercise a rigorous zero tolerance policy of some plants here. In particular, we don’t want any seeding at all of alexanders, ragwort and wild parsnip, but we also try to control spear thistle and creeping thistle. All of these plants are scarily successful at reproducing themselves and have demonstrated that they would quickly become dominating bullies if we let our guard down.
In August, it is time to turn our attention to the wild parsnip which has come into flower and, unlike the rest of the meadow around it, does not seem to be adversely affected by this year’s drought. There is a large patch of this plant in the first meadow and a slightly smaller area of them in the second and, as I said, our approach is to make sure none of it seeds. We hope that eventually the existing plants will dwindle and disappear as well. It is a biennial plant but there is the worry that, by doing this, we have turned it perennial – however, we currently don’t know what else to do and at least the problem is contained and not getting any worse.
On a walk along the cliffs around St Margaret’s this week, we saw that the broad wild flower margin created by the National Trust has become dominated by wild parsnip at this time of year. I think that this photo justifies the strict stance that we have adopted in the meadows. Wild parsnip does have benefits for pollinators, but it reproduces itself aggressively and has a sap that contains photo-sensitive chemicals that can cause skin burns.
Now that it is early August, the wildlife of the meadows and the wood seems to be in the doldrums and the trail cameras are very quiet. The crows and the other corvids are going through a moult, with their breeding season over, and they can look quite amusing. Here is a magpie:
..and this Jay. Note the ear hole set surprisingly low in the head:
There are always lots of Red-tailed Bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius) visiting the flowers in the meadows. This, however, is a male Red-tailed Cuckoo Bee (Bombus rupestris). The fur is less dense and there are no pollen sacks on their legs – these bees are brood parasites and do not have to do the work of collecting pollen:
The Red-tailed Cuckoo Bee looks very similar to its host, the Red-tailed Bumblebee. The female cuckoo bee will sneak into a Red-tailed Bumblebee nest, kill the queen and lay her own eggs. The worker bees are then fooled into rearing her young instead of their own, which is all pretty fascinating stuff.
In the wood, I am very much enjoying all the invertebrate life that the marjoram glade is attracting:
But, here too, things seem very quiet.
I want to finish today with our sweet-natured but highly-strung dog who is currently undergoing training with an ex-police dog handler. We have a grandchild due in the autumn and, amongst many other things, this dog is scared of children.
She is making great progress and we are so proud of her, but she will shortly be nine years old which just goes to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.