There is an odd assortment of nest boxes high under the eaves of our house, facing north across the meadows:
Lovely though they are, it was not the house sparrows that we were really after. Since 2019, from May to when the swifts leave again for Africa, we have been playing swift calls from speakers placed on the flat roof just below these boxes. This has become one of the sounds of the summer here and the hope was to attract the swifts attention to the boxes.
Almost from the beginning, the calls were very successful in bringing in small screaming parties of swifts that flew round and round the house for a while before heading off across the meadows to catch insects in their enormous gapes:
Often they repeatedly flew very close to the boxes but we never saw them actually going in.
But then, just before they left at the end of last summer and nearly four years after the calls first went on, I saw a swift going into the right hand side of the semi detached box and it remained in there for ten minutes. We hoped that this was a bird checking out the box to use the next time it was back in the UK. Sure enough, once the swifts finally returned this spring, they have come back to that same box and I strongly believe that they are now on eggs in there. By now there should be two or three eggs in the box and incubation will have started from the laying of the first egg, which will hatch nineteen or twenty days later.
We have seen the swifts go into the box many times this last week but they do so without really slowing down and I haven’t yet managed to get a photo. Once the eggs hatch, they will be coming and going more frequently to feed the chicks and perhaps I will have more of a chance. After hatching, the young swifts will remain in the nest for 37 to 56 days, depending on weather conditions, and I will have a reasonable window of time to attempt some photography.
Swifts are faithful to a nest site and like to nest in groups and hopefully this is just the beginning, leading to a small new colony establishing here in the coming years. There are four swift boxes up on the house, but we are also in the process of building a new garage with a wildlife tower:
Our recent Orkney holiday meant that we were away for eleven days. When we left for Scotland, buttercups were dominating the floral landscape of the meadows:
On our return the buttercups have been subsumed amongst the grasses that are growing very tall this year. It is now the turn of the oxeye daisy to take centre stage:
The flower of the oxeye daisy is a wonderful viewing bowl to photograph visiting invertebrates:
There are always a few pyramidal orchids in the meadows every year and they are now just coming into flower:
We planted several alder buckthorn whips here seven years ago because this is the food plant of the brimstone butterfly. Although alder buckthorn is a tree of wet places and weren’t likely to do very well in our dry chalky meadows, against the odds a few are thriving and are now two metres tall. At this time of year they are gratifyingly covered in brimstone butterfly caterpillars:
There were no young badgers in the meadows this year and there has only been a single fox cub. It is very elusive though and, although I see that mother all the time, this is the only sighting I have had of the cub:
The cub hasn’t been coming to the nightly peanuts which is where the best views of the resident foxes are to be had:
The One-eyed Vixen, with her entourage of magpies, has started coming up close to the house at dusk to try to hurry me along with the peanuts
The swift calls that we have been playing these last few years is only one of the sounds of summer here. Another is the iconic sound of the Merlin engine as Spitfires, now adapted to take a fare-paying passenger, regularly fly along the white cliffs, often barrel rolling over our heads. Sends the dog wild, of course.
We have also been treated to fantastic views of P&O’s new ship, The Pioneer, as she dropped anchor alongside us for three nights this week and proceeded to run through a noisy series of procedural checks involving the tannoy and the ships horn. She was built in China and has just arrived into Dover and is now undergoing tests and inspections before she goes into service this summer:
I am seeing a lot of fox cubs in the wood. Here is one sweetly peering out from under its mother:
Although the cubs are mostly seen wandering around on their own:
Squirrels are a scourge of the wood and currently there is no way to control them, short of shooting them for which we don’t have the stomach. Therefore, I’m afraid that I was rather pleased to see a squirrel in the mouth of this cub:
I would so much rather they caught squirrels than rabbits who don’t cause any harm to the woodland, don’t predate bird eggs and chicks and don’t compete with owls and woodpeckers for nesting places:
Green woodpeckers are not nesting in this hole following confrontations with squirrels, but they are still occasionally seen going in:
There are a lot of great spotted woodpeckers in the wood:
And their young have fledged already:
There was a big battle between the owls and the squirrels for this box and in the end I don’t think either are now nesting in there. However, the owls sometimes use it to roost by day:
Today is the summer solstice and from now on the days will get shorter. I leave you with a terrific sunset over the meadows this week, seen as I was taking the peanuts down for the foxes:
This was after 9pm, a fact that will be almost incomprehensible once we are once more plunged into the short days of the winter.