The Birds and the Bees

A shiny new species for the meadows arrived in the Ringers’ net this week- a tree pipit.

Species 95 on the meadow list

It looks a lot like a meadow pipit to me, but there are subtle differences. The Bird Ringer sent me some of his photos to illustrate a few of the ID features for tree pipits:

That hind claw might be long but it’s shorter and more curved than on a meadow pipit, the belly feathers are white, changing to cream under the tail, and the streaks on the flank of the bird are obviously finer than on the breast

Unlike meadow pipits, tree pipits are red-listed in the UK and are summer visitors, breeding in open woodland in the north and west of the country. The bird in the meadows this week will probably be on its way to sub-Saharan Africa to spend the winter.

Apart from the excitement of the tree pipit, the ringers had a quiet morning, although they did also catch a few warblers:

A very fine blackcap

On the same morning that the bird ringers were here, a pied flycatcher managed to evade their nets and turned up on a camera at one of the mini ponds:

This pair of birds below have once again met on the gate and are sizing each other up:

Magpie and sparrowhawk

Around lunchtime one day, we became aware that there were a lot of honeybees in the house, two or three buzzing at seemingly every window. This felt unusual and so I walked up to the little owl nest box, where honey bees have been nesting this year, to see if anything was going on.

The little owl box where honeybees are nesting

There were still bees going in and out of the nest box but, thrillingly, there was also a swarm hanging in the hedgerow below it:

Swarming is how the colony reproduces itself – an old queen leaves the nest, taking some of the bees with her. The group leave the hive and hang nearby in a cluster whilst scout bees go off to try to find somewhere for the swarm to move to. It is no doubt some of these scout bees that were ending up in our house.

The swarm from another angle – so many bees

I went up to check on the swarm several times during the afternoon and watched enthralled as many bees arrived back and did the waggle dance, which is thought to impart geographical information. But when I last visited at 5pm the swarm was gone, presumably off to a new home that had been found for it by one of the scouts.

We have a Gardeners Beehive in the meadows which is specifically designed to provide a stress-free home for wild honeybees. Despite it being close to the swarm, and we know that bee scouts were out all afternoon searching for a suitable place to nest, this beehive was still not chosen. We clearly need to change its position and actually might even move it to the wood.

The Gardeners Beehive, still standing morosely empty

As well as the honeybee nest, we have also been watching a common wasp nest in a steep chalky bank.

We have seen badgers and magpies checking the nest out, but never a rabbit before

Some major excavation work has been going on here all week with a constant and steady stream of wasps emerging carrying small boulders of chalk. Occasionally one of these boulders is too large to fly with, despite the wasp’s best efforts, and it is in these instances that I was able to get photos:

A wasp attempting to fly with its rock
Manhandling the excavated boulder, whilst surrounded by a sea of similarly mined chalk

So much chalk has been brought out over the course of the week that the nest must, by now, be quite large.

We were fascinated to spot an attempt to parasitise this wasp nest by a large Volucella hoverfly:

This is Volucella zonaria, the hornet mimic hoverfly, which became established in Britain in the 1940s and it is rather nice that the first ever British record of it was in Walmer. The hoverfly lays its eggs in wasp nests and, once hatched, the larvae live off the wasp larvae and general nest detritus.

As we watched, the hoverfly repeatedly tried to squeeze herself through the narrow entrance into the wasp nest. The wasps do not see her as a threat, although it is currently not known how she achieves this – she certainly doesn’t look like them but presumably she smells like them.

Like a cork in a bottle, the nest entrance is blocked by the large hoverfly

After many attempts to get herself in, she gave up and flew away.

Back in 2018, we had another encounter with a hornet mimic hoverfly. In this case, we could see into the wasp nest because it had been pulled apart by a badger. As we watched, the hoverfly landed on the periphery of the wrecked nest to see if it afforded her any possibilities:

At the bottom of the nest, we could see that hoverfly larvae were already shuffling around:

They also seemed to be attacking the adult wasps:

Here we are now in mid September and, at long last, the drought has broken and there has been 86mm of rain in the last week- that is nearly 3 and a half inches.

A storm out at sea in the dark, with lightning turning night into day and reflecting off the shipping
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a wet badger

Just before the rains came, we got the first meadow cut.

The cut underway
One meadow done and dusted… but the second meadow is yet to be started and is twice the size
A few days after the rains and it’s all looking much greener. Isn’t it amazing how quickly that happens?

Over in the wood, we had been hoping that September’s tour of the dormouse boxes would be a good one as juveniles start to disperse and set up temporary residences in the boxes. We checked some bird boxes first and found a few dormouse nests, one of which had a dormouse at home:

A dormouse nest in a bird box

However, for the first time, we also found dormouse nests in the wooden dormouse boxes this month:

A dormouse nest in one of the wooden dormouse boxes

By the end, we had found eleven dormouse nests and four dormice which was really very pleasing.

A dormouse in her weighing bag

We also found some yellow-necked mice in the boxes:

A yellow-necked mouse
Demonstrating the correct way to handle a yellow-necked mouse to avoid being bitten

Also in the wood, this is a really beautiful buzzard with a lot of white feathers:

This bird is very different to the buzzard that we have been seeing throughout the summer:

Tawny owls have been seen on several different cameras this week although, now that we have finally had some rain, perhaps we won’t be seeing them so often from now on:

I finish today with our flagpole.

We are flying a flag at half mast to mark the sad death of The Queen last week. The flag is the Welsh Dragon to acknowledge that today would have been the 90th birthday of my mother – now gone but very much not forgotten.

4 thoughts on “The Birds and the Bees

    1. I just don’t know why there should be such a difference in buzzards, when most other bird species all tend to look really similar to each other. I will enquire of the bird ringer, see if he has any thoughts on the matter!

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