We have had a lot going on recently and had rather forgotten that we were booked on an evening wildlife cruise on the River Stour. The boat left Grove Ferry at 6pm and set off upstream towards Canterbury. There was a lot of wildlife potentially to be seen but without a doubt the main attraction was the beaver.

We had a wildlife guide on board and straight away he identified a Cetti’s warbler singing. This bird is now a British resident and the very first record of its breeding in the UK was here in the Stour valley in 1972.

The rather nondescript Cetti’s warbler. Photo by Mark S Jobling courtesy of Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
The lovely Stour at the end of the day from the back of the boat

Beavers had been hunted to extinction in this country but, in 2002, The Wildwood Trust – a charity championing the conservation of British wildlife – imported beavers from Norway and Bavaria and reintroduced them at Ham Fen, a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve in the Stour valley near Sandwich. Ham Fen had been especially prepared for these animals with electric fences to contain them but, perhaps inevitably, some escaped and started living wild on the Stour. There are now estimated to be fifty beavers on the river between Sandwich and Canterbury, not including those animals still at Ham Fen.

It was not very long at all before we saw our first beaver. The light was going fast and photography was difficult:

A young beaver
One of the three beaver lodges we passed between Grove Ferry and Fordwich on The Stour. There are branches at the front and holes dug into the bank behind
An adult beaver with that distinctive flat tail
The same adult beaver, but with the branch in focus showing stripped bark and gnawings

We returned Grove Ferry at 8pm in the dark, a bit damp but with an inner warmth of delight having seen eight beavers on the trip.

As well as their dormouse reintroduction programme that I learnt about when I attended my dormouse courses at Wildwood this summer, The Wildwood Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust are also involved in another exciting local project to reintroduce red-billed chough to the White Cliffs Country around Dover. These will be the first choughs flying free in Kent for two hundred years which is how long they have been extinct in the county due to habitat loss and persecution.

Red-billed Chough photographed in the Canary Islands courtesy of Malte Uhl under CC-by-SA
Our daughter’s photo of choughs that they saw when they were holidaying with us in Pembrokeshire last year

We understand that, after a few years of careful habitat preparation and building up of a stock of birds, some choughs were finally released into the wild near Dover on Thursday 22nd. On Friday, the very next day, the Bird Ringer heard and saw two chough flying along the hedgerow at the western edge of the meadows and we are very pleased to now enter this species onto the meadow bird list at number 96. This list is getting increasingly bizarre for a Kent meadow, with gannet, cormorant, wood warbler, ring ouzel, bee eater, honey buzzard and red-billed chough on it, amongst others.

A juvenile sparrowhawk posed on the gate this week with its ringed house sparrow prey:

It then proceeded to eat the bird:

This photo of a sparrowhawk hunting swallows was taken by the Bird Ringer at our nearby white cliffs recently:

There have been two successful bird ringing sessions in the meadows this week. Today, two male firecrests flew into the net together, each weighing a mere 5g:

This bird fledged this year
This slightly tattier one was a full adult
Those fire-coloured feathers in the crest of a male

This blackcap was already ringed and so we should get more details on where and when she was previously caught before too long:

There were a lot of chiffchaffs in the nets this week:

When we returned from holiday last week, there was a fox lying dead by the side of the road below the meadows. I thought it was my friend The One-Eyed Vixen from the glimpse I got as we drove past, and so, once home, I raced out with a torch to either confirm my fears or to put them to rest. To me every fox is precious, but I was nonetheless pleased to see that it was not her but a poor dispersing youngster with slight mange on its tail.

The One-eyed Vixen, still going strong
What a fantastically bushy tail she has at the moment. This feels a triumph because she has been treated for mange three times now, here in the meadows
Here she is with prey. I suppose this must be rabbit
I can’t even begin to guess what this is that she is carrying

In the Lake District last week we saw a rather scary-looking devil’s coach-horse beetle that had caught a violet ground beetle:

Back in the meadows, we spotted one of these predatory beetles again and, this time, it had caught a moth that was still helplessly flapping its wings:

These devil’s coach-horses are rove beetles – a large family of beetles distinguished by their very short wing cases that leave more than half their abdominal segments exposed. A look in my insect book shows that there are lots of common rove beetles in the UK, but I only really know this one – I must try harder to spot some more.

Every autumn a lot of fungal fruiting bodies appear in the meadows in association with the roots of the pine trees. They are called bovine boletes because they are meant to be the colour of a Jersey cow:

There are really quite a lot of them and they can get very large. The underneath of the fruiting body is distinctive because it is a honeycomb rather than having the more normal gills:

There are some very large toadstools coming up in the wood as well. I’m not sure what this one is:

A redwing has arrived in the wood which feels quite early:

And we have again seen the buzzard with lots of white feathers.. well as the browner one that we have been seeing all summer:

Here the bird is again, presumably coughing up a pellet:

This tawny owl has got itself a worm:

What amazing eyes it’s got:

I’m finishing today with our dog who is shortly going to be nine years old, which is all a bit shocking.

Even though nine is getting on a bit for a dog, I’m so impressed to see that she can still get herself over this gate when she wants to. There is life in the old dog yet.

3 thoughts on “Reintroductions

  1. Congrats on seeing the Choughs at your woodland. And the firecrests too, they are beautiful. Lucky to see the beavers. The ones on the Lowther estate near my mum’s seem to have disappeared, apparently.

    1. I see in the news today that beavers in England have just been granted legal protection – that’s something. For the good of my mental health I need to think that the Lowther Estate ones just decided to move elsewhere, but obviously that’s probably not what happened

      1. I know, it’s all a bit strange. Nothing about it online but my brother who farms has some land not far from their reintroduction, no one has seen them for a long time. Keeping my fingers crossed. X

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