The Year in Review – The Meadows

Part One – Birds and Other Things

The weather plays a major role in the progress of any year, but in 2022 the lack of rain had a tremendous impact on how the year proceeded here in the meadows. The ground remained hard and impenetrable for months and the water-starved vegetation frizzled away long before its proper time. Some things thrived in these extreme conditions but others struggled terribly.

The meadows in August
Cutting the meadows in September

We will certainly remember the summer drought of 2022 for years to come. Against the backdrop of this difficult year, here are the memorable wildlife events in the meadows:


Five new bird species were added to our meadow list in 2022. In late July a trail camera photographed a young cuckoo as it was about to leave the country and start its perilous solo journey south to the Congo basin:

In an unforgettable ringing session in early August, John and John, the bird ringers, caught eight different warbler species in their nets. One of these species was new to the meadows – a wood warbler with its bright white tummy. We have seen these birds in the oak woodlands of Wales where they breed, but this bird was now on its way to tropical Africa to spend the winter:

In September, John and John caught another exciting bird that we hadn’t seen here before – a tree pipit. Another summer visitor on its way down south:

This year eight European bee-eaters famously took up residence in a quarry in Norfolk, and successfully fledged some young, before they all migrated south again at the end of the summer. There were also sightings of bee-eaters in East Kent and John saw two of them fly over the meadows at the beginning of July, a very colourful new species for us here.

In September, red-billed chough were released into restored habitat around the White Cliffs of Dover as part of a reintroduction scheme. The very next day, John heard and then saw a pair of these choughs over the meadows and they were entered onto the list at number ninety-six, although perhaps a purist might argue that these birds were not really wild and shouldn’t be counted.

Over the course of the year, there have been many ringing sessions in the meadows and it’s always exciting for us to see what is caught. It is such a special thing to see the beauty of even ordinary, everyday birds up so close and there is always the added frisson that something more unusual might land in the net. This tiny male firecrest flew into the net at the end of September:

….and this sedge warbler was caught at the end of August:

Autumn is a thrilling time in the meadows when migrating birds gather to wait for the right conditions to set off across The Channel. As well as the bird ringers catching these migrants in their nets, we do also see them on the trail cameras although the photos are never so good:

Jays are prominent in the autumn as well, busy harvesting acorns from the holm oaks and, as here, helping themselves to apples in the orchard:

Winter can be an exciting time for birds too and, when it gets really cold, winter waders arrive in the meadows. They were here back in the frosts of January and then again in December in the recent cold snap before Christmas:

For several years we have been spreading some mixed bird seed on the ground every morning and are now rewarded with large winter flocks of house sparrow and stock doves as well as increasing numbers of yellowhammer.

The highest yellowhammer count has been seventeen so far
House sparrows and stock dove in the winter

We also get grey heron in the winter, probably birds across from northern Europe escaping the frozen conditions there. Unfortunately these birds are very interested in the amphibians in the ponds.

Spring and summer is all about bird nesting. Many juvenile starlings fledge here every year and proceed to use the meadows as their playground whilst their parents go on to have a second brood.

I like how one starling appears to have put a comforting wing around the other

Because the ground was so hard and dry, worms had gone down deep and inaccessible. Parent blackbirds and thrushes had to find other things to feed to their chicks. I don’t know what impact this had on the number of chicks that successfully fledged, but it surely can’t have been good:

Blackbird with a beak full of grasshopper

It is always lovely when the young birds start to arrive on the cameras:

A young crow tenderly being fed by a parent

Magpies are a big presence in the meadows and are forever on the lookout for opportunities presented by the vulnerable young birds:

Magpie with bird chick
Magpie with an older bird
Magpie with a rodent..
.. and with a lizard
The meadows are part of a vigorously-defended magpie territory but, from time to time, groups of non-breeding birds also stop by

I am pleased to say that sometimes magpies do get their comeuppance. Here, a fox has caught one:

And this magpie has probably met its match with a sparrowhawk:

Once the nesting season is over for another year, August is the time for the adult magpies to moult and get a fresh set of feathers. This can sometimes look pretty funny:

Sparrowhawks are around throughout the year, hunting for their bird prey:

Below, the sparrowhawk has caught one of John’s ringed house sparrows. I did go up to the gate to see if I could retrieve the ring from the carcass but couldn’t find anything:

I find this photo of a sparrowhawk utterly terrifying:

Kestrels are another bird of prey that we see here all year round:

Kestrel with short-tailed field vole prey
A kestrel coming towards the camera. Surely a frightening sight for any small mammal

In October we saw again the kestrel that was ringed here as a young bird in September 2019. It was a long time since we had last seen her and had thought that she might no longer be around:

Tawny owls are often to be heard hooting in the meadows at night, and occasionally are caught on camera:

At the height of summer, we eagerly await the flying ant spectacle. Winged ants are produced in the hundreds of ant nests in the meadows, and all take to the air at the same time. Then, large numbers of black-headed gulls materialise as if from nowhere and fly round in circles to catch the ants.

Difficult to get a good photo, but this one does give you an idea of quite how many gulls are involved

For us, nothing conjures up summer more evocatively than screaming parties of swifts shooting through the air and circling the house. They are here for such a brief window of time and it does seem to me that they are arriving ever later and leaving earlier. They nest in the roof of one of the houses on the seafront, but not yet in the four swift boxes we have on the side of our house. For several years we have played loud swift calls up into the sky and these have been very successful at bringing the birds to the boxes but we had never seen them go in.

Swift flying close to the semi-detached box

In mid July I was watching a group of swifts circumnavigate the house and make repeated passes in front of the boxes….and then it happened – one of the birds went into the right-hand side of the box above. It stayed in there for perhaps ten minutes before exiting and rejoining its friends. Not long after this the swifts had disappeared and flown south for another year. We were left hoping that they will now use the box when they return next spring but we shall have to wait and see.

Other Things

At the end of January we engaged an agricultural contractor to trim some of the hedgerows. No cutting of the hedges had been done for a couple of years and things were getting slightly out of control.

These days the hedgerows are kept high and very wide at the base

The first wildlife spectacle of the year is always the laying of the frog spawn in February. Male frogs gather in the pond, awaiting the arrival of a female so that they can climb onto her and fertilise the spawn as it is laid.

Many of these male frogs will have been hibernating in the mud at the bottom of the pond through the winter
Male frogs, with their bright white throats, patiently waiting

A lot of frogspawn was eventually laid, but it turned out to be a very challenging year for the tadpoles – in the heat of the summer the pond almost completely dried up, although we tried our best to divert water into it. I wonder how many tadpoles actually reached adulthood from all of this spawn?

The concentration of frogs at spawning time is a big temptation for a heron and, as usual, we were embroiled in a battle of wits with this one:

Grey heron hunting for frogs over the spawn

We had a new species for the plant list this year when two common spotted orchids flowered in the margins of the wild pond:

Over the course of the summer there is a wonderful progression of plants coming into flower. Salad burnet is one that flowers quite early on and it had a particularly good year, seen here with so many white dollops of cuckoo spit:

This cuckoo spit is produced by froghopper nymphs who whisk up the sap of the plant with their back legs. They then hide within the froth to protect themselves from attack by parasitic wasps:

So much cuckoo spit on salad burnet this year

Common broomrape also had a good year. This plant doesn’t photosynthesise, but obtains all its nutrients and water from the clover that it grows amongst:

Stems of common broomrape growing within a patch of clover

This plant also has a yellow form rather than the more normal pale pink and we see quite a lot of this:

One of the last botanical highlights each year is the appearance of the autumn ladies tresses in late August, when hundreds of these orchids come up on our front lawn. But this was at the height of the drought this year and we wondered how they would be affected:

But we needn’t have worried because happily they were as abundant and healthy-looking as usual, although I’m not sure how they did it.

These delicate autumn ladies tresses round off the first part of the Review of the Meadows in 2022. Coming shortly in part two I’ll cover what the mammals and invertebrates have been up to this year.

The Cold Before Christmas

Much of the month of December has been very cold this year.

The snowy postbox nativity scene in our daughter’s village of Wye.
The ground stayed frozen in the wood for many days
Woodcock standing on the ice

There was no snow in the meadows but the cold snap did bring in some winter birds. We repeatedly put up several snipe hunkered down amongst the grass tussocks and an occasional woodcock as well.

Trying to photograph a snipe in the meadows but they were way too fast for me
The dog escaped from the garden early one morning and took herself off to look for wildlife on her own. It’s not so much snipe as chasing foxes that she is interested in

Although I failed to catch a snipe on camera, John the bird ringer did catch one in his nets at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory just up the coast. This is a female with a longer beak than the male, possibly to enable her to reach more prey in the soil and feed up and get into breeding condition faster. I was surprised at the size of her feet. Waders do need feet that are not going to sink into the mud and they often have a degree of webbing to help with this. But rather than webbing, snipe just have big feet because they also need to perch.

In the icy weather, birds can puff up their feathers to trap a layer of warmer air next to their skin:

A lovely ball of blackbird

There is still a good crop of ivy berries in the hedgerows for those birds that like to eat them:

At least the amphibians were safe from the heron whilst there was a thick sheet of ice on the ponds. We have put down four additional squares of corrugated roofing as extra protection for them as frog spawning time approaches in the new year.

Now, as we approach Christmas Day, the temperatures have risen, the ponds have thawed and the heron is back in position. Here it is yesterday fishing out a newt:

After Christmas we will be launching Operation Hazard Tape. This will involve posts in the ground all around the circumference of the pond and hazard tape laced between them at heron thigh height to stop the bird wading into the water. It’s going to look absolutely terrible but our experience in previous years tells us that the heron will only visit until the frogspawn is laid. Then it can all come down.

In November, I treated the One-eyed Vixen for mange with a course of Psorinum. There is now a heart-in-mouth wait to see if this has worked, or if it hasn’t and she develops further bald areas. I’m keeping my eye on her but do have an alternative treatment using Arsen Sulphur up my sleeve. Over the years that this fox has lived here, she has caught mange every year, occasionally twice a year, and treatment has always been successful in the past. I just hope that I can pull it off again.

Here is her mate with a bird – a Blackbird possibly?

I planted a hundred tulip bulbs at the end of November to produce cut flowers for the house next spring. However, it seems that every bulb has been dug up, and that the guilty party was able to very accurately detect where the bulbs were:

Holes where the tulip bulbs used to be

I put a trail camera on the allotment and got the evidence to convict a rat as the culprit:

I got lots of photos of the rat but here it is carrying off one of the last remaining tulip bulbs

The dog tells us that something very interesting is going on under this wood store and I suspect that there may now be a big cache of tulip bulbs under here:

Since tulips bulbs can be planted any time up to Christmas, I decided to have another go and purchased forty more bulbs:

Farmer Gracy, my usual bulb supplier, had finished selling tulip bulbs for the season, but a limited selection was still available from other suppliers
Here we go again. Another batch of bulbs being planted

The soil was raked over and this time chicken wire was pegged down over the bulbs. Of course rats could easily dig under this wire, but will they bother – especially when they already have a hundred bulbs stashed away close by to see them through the winter?

I suppose we will remove the wire just as the shoots appear above the ground. Despite planting tulip bulbs every autumn, it is the first year that we have had this problem. If the approach is successful then there is no reason why we can’t protect the tulip bulbs like this every year now to be on the safe side.

When the meadows are cut each autumn, all the cut material is removed off the land. By doing this, nutrient levels are slowly depleted from the soil, discouraging grasses and allowing other plants to thrive. We make an enormous pile of the cut vegetation up by the gate and it goes out in council green waste collections gradually over the next year. Because of this year’s drought, the pile was very much smaller than normal and the final load was taken away just before Christmas. Ordinarily we wouldn’t expect to be finished until next summer.

Getting the last of the pile into the green bags

We knew that there had been a wasp nest in this pile of vegetation this year and we had been leaving that section until last to be completely sure that the nest would be deserted:

Uncovering the wasp nest in the pile of grasses
It’s a fascinating structure of tessellating hexagons
Viewed from above
Viewed from the side, we could see that it was made up of several tiers
The tiers were held apart by supporting columns, creating spaces to allow good access to all the cells

Right at the end of November we decided to clear out the bird boxes in the wood but I opened the first one and found a dormouse staring up at me. We looked in them again this week and found some delightful empty dormice nests. The animals themselves will now be hibernating in their winter nests down at ground level.

A dormouse nest in a bird box. It was such a lovely thing that I couldn’t bring myself to clear it out

Some of the wooden dormouse nest boxes have been chewed, presumably by squirrels. I expect that we will need to inspect the boxes, rewrite the numbers, and generally get them ship shape again before the dormouse season restarts in the spring. Some might even need replacing.

There has been a lot of squirrel activity around the owl box and they are definitely nesting in there again.

Two squirrels at the entrance of the box and a third carrying leaves up to the box

We cleared this box out last month and they have been working so hard ever since to rebuild their nest in there. It will certainly feel uncomfortable removing it again in January – but I’m afraid that it is an owl box and not a squirrel box.

I finish with an old friend, the Patricia, who was moored alongside the meadows one night this week. Operated by Trinity House, she often comes to these waters to work on the lightships and buoys guarding the Goodwin Sands.

Throughout the night she was lit up and looked like our very own festive Christmas tree out to sea.

The Year in Review – The Wood

Here are the highlights of what has been a really interesting and exciting year in the wood:


This year our wood has joined the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. The British dormouse population has heavily declined in recent times and dormice are now strongly protected by law. But unfortunately the population is still falling, and more research is vital to understand the reasons so that steps can be taken to help.

The programme has been running for twenty-five years and four hundred sites in the UK are being monitored, half of these being in Kent which is a stronghold for these adorable animals. Working together with our neighbouring wood, fifty dormouse nest boxes were put up around both woods in February. Throughout the rest of the year we accompanied the dormouse disturbance licence holder on monthly inspection tours around the boxes.

The holes face into the trunk to deter blue tits – but, even so, fifteen of the boxes had blue tits nests in them in the spring.

As well as blue tits, we found various caterpillars, copper underwing moths and yellow-necked mice in the boxes, but it was quite a while before we actually found a dormouse. Perhaps the year was too hot for them to nest in the wooden boxes and they were choosing airier locations further up the trees.

Copper underwing moths, woodland specialists, were often found in the wooden dormouse boxes and, as here, in bird boxes
Being shown the correct way to handle yellow-necked mice who, unlike dormice, are very likely to bite

I began my training to obtain a dormouse disturbance licence so that eventually I will be allowed to check the nest boxes myself. This will take two to three years and, as part of this process, I went on two courses during the summer at The Wildwood Trust near Canterbury where they have a breeding programme to provide young dormice to use in reintroductions schemes.

The enclosures of the captive dormouse breeding programme, behind the scenes at The Wildwood Trust

By July we did start finding dormice, both in the wooden boxes and in some heavy ‘woodcrete’ bird boxes that we also looked in and which may have been cooler for them.

A dormouse nest in a woodcrete bird box. Green hazel leaves surround a centre of tightly woven material

Dormice live in very low densities in a wood and so we were never expecting to find large numbers in the boxes. But, by October, with dormice numbers augmented by the year’s young, we found seventeen dormice nests in the fifty boxes. It took a long time to process the dormice that day and we didn’t have the time or energy to look in the bird boxes as well, but there would no doubt have been more in those.

Two juvenile dormice in their weighing bags.

One of the dormice we found was a female that had been born this year and yet she already had a litter of young. This is most unusual and is a valuable piece of data to report back:

Born this year but already with a family of her own

Now, in December, all the dormice will be hibernating in their winter nests down at ground level. Hibernation is hazardous, but those that survive should start to emerge in March and I am full of anticipation to see what next year brings.

Tawny Owls

We have had a tawny owl box up in a stand of beech trees since the autumn of 2019, but it has only ever provided a safe and comfortable home for grey squirrels. There is a camera on a pole looking at the box but unfortunately it is slightly too far away and the box is just out of the range of its sensors.

However, in February and March we did start getting occasional suggestions that owls were interested in the box this year.

The camera has been triggered by a blackbird but we were very excited about what we saw in the background

The bird ringer is licensed to ring owls and he monitors barn owl chicks in the Stour valley every year, but he had never before ringed tawny owl chicks. We mentioned to him that we were in no way certain but that something might be going on in the wood. The sightings of owls around the box continued from time to time and, in early May, we all met in the wood to open up the box and see what was inside.

Preparing to look in the box. The net on a pole was in case an adult owl was in the box

To our absolute delight there were two fluffy tawny owlets inside:

Ringing one of the chicks

Once the babies had been ringed and measured, they were returned safely to the box:

The bird ringer took this wonderful photo on his phone once they were back inside:

We managed to rig a second trail camera up on the other side of the tree and, a couple of days after the chicks were ringed, it recorded an adult owl encouraging one of the chicks out of the box:

The chick looking out of the box
The adult comes in with food and perches on a nearby branch to tempt the chick out
The chick starts to come out of the box
The chick is out

Unfortunately, after that fantastic sequence, the cameras provided us with no further footage of the chicks. Newly fledged tawnies do stay in their parents territories for several months but I didn’t see a ringed owl on the cameras however hard I looked.

Tawny owls came to this pond to drink and bathe every night throughout the summer and right up to the end of November but I searched their right legs for rings in vain. This owl has a worm

But at the end of October I did finally see a ringed bird – proof that at least one of the chicks had successfully fledged:

After the owls had left, the squirrels once more took up residence in the box and, in the autumn, we cleared the box out. The owl nest was at the bottom but a squirrel nest was on top:

I think that the squirrels have now returned again unfortunately. We plan to clear the box once more in January in the hope that the owls will use it next year.

Squirrels around the box in December


We have the dog to thank for this year’s success with the foxes. She was extremely interested in one of the many rabbit holes that there are in the wood. As I pulled her away, I noticed a clump of pheasant feathers at the entrance to the hole which wouldn’t be expected with rabbits. We put a camera on the hole and our suspicions were confirmed when we straight away got this photo:

There were a pair of adult foxes and seven gorgeous little cubs living down the hole:

Sharing a rabbit supper
Washing one of the cubs
Feeding her young
As the cubs grew, they were above ground on their own for a lot of the day. Temperature regulation was clearly still an issue though, and they often huddled together in a ball
What a pair of sweeties
Still feeding the cubs as they grew

After a while the photos abruptly stopped and I presume that the cubs were moved to a different location – it must have been getting pretty unpleasant down that hole after all. We did continue to see fox cubs on various cameras throughout the rest of the summer:

A cub amongst the bugle

Apparently a vixen may reuse a den year after year and so we continue to have a camera on this hole in case she does.

Birds and Bird Ringing

There has been a lot of ringing in the wood this year, giving us a wonderful insight into the birdlife of the wood:

Four marsh tits have been ringed this year
Over ten great spotted woodpeckers have also been ringed. The nets are put up close to the feeders and I presume the peanuts are bringing these birds in from a wide area
We have never seen a nuthatch in the meadows, but they do come to the feeders in the wood
Always a delight to see a treecreeper

In the winter, the wood provides sanctuary to lots of woodcock that have migrated here to escape the cold of Finland and Russia where they breed.

Woodcock are mainly nocturnal and it is unusual to get a daytime shot of them

This hole in an old cherry tree has been nested in by both great spotted and then by green woodpecker in previous years. But this year it was used by squirrels.

The woodpecker hole is stuffed up with grass by squirrels

However, the green woodpeckers did find somewhere else to nest and raise a family:

Juvenile green woodpecker and a couple of rabbits

When we took on the wood it came with an over-sized population of pheasant, presumably a legacy from when there was a shoot here in former times.

A male pheasant displaying to his mate – or one of his mates, anyway, because male pheasants have a harem of females

It is estimated that a flabbergasting sixty million game birds are released into the British countryside every year to be shot for pleasure. Whilst these birds are often given supplementary food, they do also hoover up our wildlife and this photo caught one of them red-handed:

A pheasant with a shrew

When we first saw round the wood in the autumn of 2018, there had been an active buzzard nest that summer at the top of one of the silver birch and we found rabbit bones on the ground below the tree. Sadly buzzards have not nested in our bit of the wider wood since then, but we have enjoyed frequent sightings of these magnificent creatures throughout the year:

Other Things

When we visited the wood on a sunny and still day in March, we noticed that certain trees were humming loudly with life. It was the goat willow which had come into flower up at their very crowns and we needed binoculars to see what was going on.

The tree’s flowers were heavy with pollen which was being much appreciated by honey bees. Unlike many other bees, honey bee workers overwinter and can come out on sunny spring days to take advantage of early pollen bonanzas such as this.

We had several sightings of a brown hare in the wood in spring. This photo is not great, but it is the only one we managed to get of it:

In early April, the trail camera looking at the woodpecker hole in the old cherry tree caught four brown long-eared bats around the tree one evening. One of the bats is at the entrance of the hole, just below the top branch.

The ecologist who is helping us with the dormice is also a bat expert and she set up infrared floodlights and a sophisticated IR camera to try to catch the bats as they emerged from the hole the next evening. The camera was amazing – even when it was totally dark it had a remarkable view, as if it were daylight:

Brown long-eared bats were detected around the tree although they they probably didn’t come out of that exact hole, as well as common and soprano pipistrelles. It was so interesting to get to know a bit more about the bats that are living in the wood.

The same old cherry tree has many old woodpecker holes in it. Squirrels were nesting in several of these this year:

The badgers in the wood have had a low key year, but we have enjoyed seeing them from time to time nonetheless:

Over the previous winter we had cut back a lot of dogwood in one of the clearings to stop it shading out the abundant marjoram that grows there. We were rewarded for all that hard work this year with fantastic butterfly sightings on the marjoram, including many silver-washed fritillaries that came gliding in:

The marjoram clearing was rich in many other invertebrates as well as butterflies. These red-brown longhorn beetles were particularly eye-catching:

In September there was a sighting of a red deer…

…and in November a polecat (or perhaps polecat-ferret hybrid) visited the wood:

It has been very enjoyable to compile this review of the year for the wood, and gather together all of its best bits. What an amazing twelve months it has been. This winter we plan to continue thinning some areas of dense growth and coppicing some hazel whilst the wood sleeps, all the while looking forward to what next year will bring.

The Great Ship Swallower

The notorious Goodwin Sands, also known as the ship swallower, lie a small distance offshore from the meadows.

We have a 1973 map of the Goodwin Sands pinned up in the study

Although the ten-mile-long sandbank is exposed at low tide, it is completely covered and hidden by the high tide and currents shift the sand around, constantly altering its shape. More than two thousand ships have been wrecked on these treacherous sands over the centuries, and countless lives have been lost, including 1,200 on just one night during the Great Storm of 1703.

Two of the ships that went aground on the sands were both called S.S. Mahratta. The first was in 1909:

An old postcard of the S.S. Mahratta broken up on the sands in 1909. She was so very nearly home after a voyage from Calcutta in India with a mixed cargo of jute, rice, rubber and tea. Most of the passengers were rescued by the Deal lifeboat but the Dover tugs were unable to pull the boat off the sands.

The second S.S. Mahratta was also returning from Calcutta when she ran aground in 1939 less than a mile from the site of the wreck of the first Mahratta. Once this later Mahratta had broken up, she was found to have settled on top of the first Mahratta which is very odd. In 2008 the P&O ferry The Pride of Canterbury struck the wreck of one of the Mahrattas whilst manoeuvring in severe weather, sustaining extensive damage to her port propeller and had to be towed back to Dover.

As well as all the ship wrecks, around eighty planes crashed into the area during the fierce fighting of the Battle of Britain. The exact locations of most of these planes are unknown and the Goodwin Sands remains a military graveyard.

An engine from a German Dornier plane which was shot down on 26th August 1940 and crashed onto the Goodwin Sands. Two of the crew died and two others were taken prisoner. The wreck of the plane was located in 2008, finally raised in 2013, and moved to the RAF museum at Cosford. Photo Alan Wilson from Wikimedia Commons under cc-by-sa-2.0

A few years ago the Dover Harbour Board were granted a licence to dredge two million cubic metres of sand and gravel from the Goodwins to use as landfill in the Dover Docks redevelopment. There was a huge local outcry against this decision which would have led to destruction of the delicate marine environment, altered the pattern of erosion of our shoreline here, as well as disturbing the watery graves of countless people over the centuries. Despite many setbacks, the campaigners heroically never gave up trying to get the decision overturned.

Last month we heard the fantastic news that the Port of Dover has abandoned its plans to dredge the Goodwin Sands and has found an alternative source for the landfill. But the campaign now continues on to try to get the Goodwins properly protected so that it can never be exploited in the future.

A dredger sailing on past the meadows this week. The threat to the sands has passed for now and there is no call for dredgers here.

Unfortunately we are once again a covid household. Dave had managed to avoid catching it all this time before finally succumbing this week. I had covid back in the spring and definitely don’t want it again, especially with one of our son’s 30th birthday celebrations and pre-Christmas events planned and now in possible jeopardy.

So we are trying to keep to different parts of the house and wearing masks, but it has been far too cold to have the windows open. The low December sun is up for a few precious hours before the dark descends once more:

Meanwhile, we have a mystery on our hands here – the Case of the Disappearing Tulip Bulbs. For several autumns now I have been planting unusual varieties of tulip bulbs in the allotment to bring into the house in the spring as cut flowers.

A bunch of interesting tulips in April 2020. How uplifting

This year I planted more bulbs than ever before:

Ninety-five tulip bulbs were planted into the allotment in late November

But as I opened the gate and stepped into the allotment this week, my feet crunched down onto a little pile of tulip bulbs just inside. I couldn’t understand what they were doing there, but then I realised that every single tulip bulb planted in the allotment had been dug up and removed. There was a grid of little holes in the soil mirroring where I had planted the bulbs.

Looking on the internet, squirrels seem to be the main culprits blamed for digging up and caching garden bulbs but we only very rarely see a squirrel here. The cache of bulbs must be enormous and I wonder where that is? Personally I suspect rats although actually I am amazed that either animal could smell and locate the deeply planted bulbs so accurately.

I replanted the few abandoned bulbs that I had stood on and put a trail camera on them to see if the suspects will return to the scene of the crime and be caught red-handed.

Nothing so far but the ground has been frozen for much of the time since then.

The frost pocket in a corner of the second meadow. The ground here remains frozen long after everywhere else has melted. On this particular day there was freezing fog out to sea, with fog horns sounding atmospherically from the lightships and buoys guarding the Goodwin Sands, as well as the deep voice of the Dover Port horn to the south

It is the time of year for tree planting and we have added seven fruit trees to the orchard and planted a whitebeam as a memorial to my father whose funeral was last week.

We plant some trees every autumn but don’t want to go too wild because every new tree will need to be well watered throughout the next summer as they establish a proper root system.

This new little copse of fruit trees has two crab apples, a russet apple and a plum tree

A few winters ago a heron fished all the frogs and newts from the wild pond. It felt like a mass slaughter with the dice being very heavily weighted in favour of the heron.

Now a heron has started visiting the pond once more:

Long distance photo taken from the house. The heron circled the meadows, eventually landing some distance from the pond and walking down. That may have been its first visit to the meadows but now it has started appearing every day

The camera looking at the pond is fogged with condensation but its photos are just about good enough to show that the heron’s patient fishing technique is reaping rewards:

Heron and male frog with his white throat. Male frogs will be hibernating in the silt at the bottom of the pond at this time of year, their skin being permeable to oxygen

In the past we have solved our heron problem by deploying our scarecrow, MacKenzie, at the side of the pond. This week he has once more been put out on duty:

MacKenzie, guardian of our amphibians, standing over the frozen pond

But unfortunately the heron visiting this year seems to be wise to this trick and has continued to fish under Mackenzie’s very nose. In February hundreds of frogs will gather here to spawn which will be a bonanza for the heron unless we can sort something out by then. One thing we can do is lay down some more squares like this at the edges of the pond:

Whilst admittedly not very attractive, they do offer a safe refuge for the frogs and newts.

Other recent and interesting photos from the meadows:

A robin puffed up into a little ball to keep warm
You might have to take my word for it, but this is a weasel running across the gate. Interesting to see that it is still out and about and actively hunting in this cold snap
The sparrowhawks are always out hunting
A beautiful fox portrait as dusk falls
Rabbits are still venturing into the meadows at night…..
….although there is now one fewer of them than there was
A bedraggled magpie at the end of a rainbow

The bird ringers have been bringing trainees to the wood to give them experience of ringing good hauls of woodland birds. On one of the sessions they ringed twenty-nine blue tits!

A coal tit and a marsh tit
A tawny owl coming to one of the mini-ponds in the wood
Jelly ear fungus on elder

The bird ringer has been photographing purple sandpiper in Broadstairs harbour:

These dumpy little birds breed in the tundra at the top of the world but about thirteen thousand birds migrate down to the UK to spend their winters around our coasts.

Christmas is just around the corner and I finish today with a festive flourish – I absolutely adore this knitted topper that adorns a postbox in Wye where one of our daughters lives. Someone there is incredibly talented:

Happy Christmas to one and all.