A Listening Ear

One windy afternoon this week we went for a walk to see the sound mirror up on Abbot’s Cliff between Dover and Folkestone. This concrete listening ear was built in 1928 to collect and concentrate the sound waves of enemy aircraft approaching from across the Channel, although this technology was soon superseded in the 1930s with the invention of radar.

The Abbot’s Cliff sound mirror is depicted in a painting by the war artist Eric Ravilious, who was stationed in Dover for six months in 1941. Poignantly Eric became the first British war artist to die on active service in the Second World War when the aircraft he was in went down off Iceland in 1942.

Bombing the Channel Ports by Eric Ravilious. Copyright Imperial War Museum Art. IWM Art LD 1588
The concave dish facing towards Continental Europe

There has been so much rain this autumn and many of the trail cameras in the meadows have become fogged with condensation that doesn’t clear for days.

One of the offending cameras against a mackerel sky

As a result they haven’t provided me with many photos to use this week, but I do have a few. Here is a sparrowhawk with two magpies who are monitoring its every move:

A Kestrel, also with a magpie escort:

One of the highlights of the year has been seeing a weasel passing back and forth across this gate:

Photo from September

We have seen this pocket-sized predator twice again this week and it’s interesting to see that it is hunting in both night and day:

A solitary common darter sunbathing on a fallen autumn leaf this week. These dragonflies are late fliers and can still be seen on the wing into December some years:

There is now very little activity going on at the wasp nest that we have watching for a few months:

The common wasp nest in the chalk bank

There were, however, a few wasps leaving the nest whilst struggling with heavy loads. Earlier in the year we had seen them carrying out small boulders of chalk as they mined the rock to make the nest bigger. Initially I thought this must be what was still going on, but now I see that they are carrying larvae out. I don’t understand this.

Wasp carrying a larva

This wasp nest will die off shortly and not be used again. Only the queen with survive but she will leave the nest to find somewhere with a constant temperature to hibernate over the winter.

Now that it’s November, the mahonia in the garden is out in its full glory:

What a spirit-lifter

The flowers are buzzing with bees in the weak, autumnal sunshine. Common carder bumblebees are usually the latest bumblebees to still fly out of summer nests each year:

Buff-tailed bumblebees have a winter generation in this part of the country:

And there are a few honey bees on the wing:

November is also the time when the weird and contorted white saddle fungal fruiting bodies appear. This fungus is believed to be mycorrhizal on beech and oak trees – certainly it always appears somewhere in a large circle around a holm oak here:

There are just a couple of photos from the wood this week. A jay carrying an acorn:

Unfortunately we are seeing a lot of squirrel activity around this box. We cleared it out this autumn and are hoping for a return of the owls next spring:

And finally, I dedicate this blog post to my father who died this week and it feels so very strange that he is no longer here. We are left with memories of a man who was centred in his family, but one who often jovially declared he loved dogs much more than he liked people. He was also liable to give tours to visitors around the twenty or so waterbutts in his garden, play croquet by torchlight and numerous other mild eccentricities which have long been the subject of indulgent family folklore.

Nick Hart 1935 – 2022, rest in peace.

Standing in amongst the cowslips on Maidenhead Thicket flower meadow, close to his home for the last fifty-eight years
Flying the flags of my Welsh mother and English father, together again this week

4 thoughts on “A Listening Ear

Leave a Reply