Late Summer Scenes

This weekend I completed another step on my journey to qualify for a dormouse disturbance licence by attending a handling course at Wildwood.

Wildwood near Canterbury – a zoo of British native species but a lot of conservation work goes on there as well

The course took us behind the scenes at the zoo where the enclosures for the dormouse captive breeding scheme are sited. The young born here are used in reintroduction schemes throughout the country.

The dormouse enclosures at Wildwood

We learned how to hold the animals and the best ways to transfer them from nest to bag, then on to a smaller bag for weighing and then safely back into their box.

Laboratory mice and hamsters have been found to be vulnerable to catching covid and so rigorous precautions were in place before handling the dormice
A ridiculously adorable juvenile dormouse in its weighing bag. This animal will be released into the wild next year

Dormice are nocturnal and so shouldn’t ever fall prey to magpies, but over the years in the meadows we have seen all manner of things in the beaks of these birds – snails, bird eggs, heads of wheat, berries and also rodents:

Photo from last year

I was discomforted by this photo of a magpie with a small bird last week:

And this week I have a photo of a magpie with another prey item – a lizard:

They have a very mixed and varied diet.

These birds also make it their business to closely monitor any predator activity in what they regard as their territory.

A magpie keeping its beady eye on a fox earlier this year, back in those halcyon days when the grass was green

A sparrowhawk has been using this pond a lot recently:

In the next photo, she can still be seen in the background in the water, but now two magpies have arrived to watch her:

They stayed throughout her bath:

Until eventually she finished and flew off.

I am reminded here of two boxers assessing each other from opposite sides of the ring as they wait for the starting bell:

Two magpies on the perch:

This sparrowhawk in flight this week shows the barring of her underwing feathers

We saw a juvenile cuckoo on the same perch last month. Cuckoos are thought to be trying to mimic sparrowhawks with that same barring on their wings – perhaps hoping to temporarily scare host birds away to give them a window of opportunity to sneak in and lay an egg in their nest.

Photo of juvenile cuckoo from last month

It is approaching that jay time of year when these charismatic birds pluck and bury all the thousands of acorns on the holm oaks. But while they wait for the acorns to fully ripen, they are busying themselves with eating apples in the orchard:

There is a common wasp nest in the chalk bank this year and, at the end of July, a badger made an attempt to dig it out to get at the tasty wasp larvae:

Wasps are still flying in and out of the nest through the now-enlarged entrance. Photo from July

But the nest is deeper than the badgers were prepared dig and so it survived the attack and continues to thrive. I put a camera on it to see if anything else interesting is going to happen – is it too much to hope that a honey buzzard might be tempted in? We have seen a honey buzzard here before and the badger diggings have exposed a lot of bare chalk, which must make the nest very obvious to a bird flying over:

This week a badger has been back several times to check on the nest – they have an extremely good nose and can smell the best time to raid it. So far there has been no further digging and so I suppose that the time is not yet right:

The One-eyed Vixen looks for all the world like she has a Bonio dog biscuit in her mouth:

When we arrived here in the meadows, we inherited a garden pond that had goldfish in it. We don’t feed these fish but they continue to do very well by sadly eating all the wildlife in there. However, this week I did disturb this Stratiomys soldier fly larva when I was pulling some weed out of the pond:

A fish came in to investigate the larva as I was photographing it, which gives this large larva some scale:

Late summer is the time when the front lawn becomes covered in autumn ladies tresses orchids. The annual appearance of this diminutive, late-flowering orchid means the lawn is out of bounds to us during the second half of August and the whole of September.

I had wondered how these little plants would do in this dry, drought year. In the event, perhaps they are not quite as widespread and exuberant as normal but the individual plants seem healthy enough.

The lack of rain doesn’t seem to be affecting the autumn fruitfulness of the hedgerows either. Blackberries seem particularly abundant and are ripening fast:

The Bird Ringer sent me these wonderful photos of starlings enjoying the blackberries at Sandwich Bay, a few miles up the coast:

He also saw a whinchat:

Despite high probabilities of rain being forecast by the Met Office for Wednesday this week, dishearteningly hardly a drop fell. However, a delicious 5mm has arrived this weekend even though none was being predicted. I might have known that the rain wouldn’t be able to resist putting in an appearance for the Bank Holiday weekend.

Rain clouds gathering over the yellow meadows. What a wondrous sight

In the wood, the animals are drawn to the water sources that we are keeping topped up for them:

Squirrels enjoying the water in the natural bowl at the centre of a coppice
And woodpigeon as well
Two willow warbler migrants mixing with some resident birds
It is not so much the fox that interests me here as the two frogs in the foreground
A sparrowhawk at the same pond
And a buzzard
A pair of Jays
A tawny owl is coming down for a bath most nights. Sadly I am yet to see one of the ringed young owls from this year on the cameras, even though theoretically they may still be around

I finish this week with the Seven Borealis, a heavy load lifter and pipe layer. She looked eye-catchingly peculiar as she sailed past the meadows this week, way out in the shipping lane, and reminding us of a Swiss army penknife with all the blades out.

Here she is in more detail. There is accommodation for three hundred and ninety-nine people on board:

Seven Borealis. Photo by Kees Torn courtesy of Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 2.0

When she passed the meadows she was on a journey from Rotterdam all the way to Bridgetown, Barbados. I wonder what she is going to do there? The idea of sailing across the ocean and arriving in the Caribbean feels very romantic although perhaps the reality will be rather less so.

3 thoughts on “Late Summer Scenes

Leave a Reply