Dogged Persistence Pays Off

There is an odd assortment of nest boxes high under the eaves of our house, facing north across the meadows:

The house martin box on the left regularly has sparrows nesting in it. The central box is a semi detached swift box and the one on the right is a single swift box. The sparrows love to nest in both of these swift boxes as well
A pair of house sparrows are nesting in the single swift box again this year

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.

The electronics that one of our sons rigged up for us in 2019 that plug in at the boiler house, with wires running to the speakers on the flat roof.

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:

Four swifts coming in over the roof last year

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.

Swift on her nest. Photo from a 2018 Guardian article on Saving Britain’s Swifts

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.

You actually get good views of the swift box whilst sitting on the loo

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:

We have had the builders in since the beginning of February and the new structure is now taking shape The wildlife tower at the top will eventually have four swift boxes in it. The walls of the tower, currently alarmingly blue, will soon have black wooden boarding with entrance holes cut into the wood. Short tunnels will lead to boxes contained within the body of the 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:

A swollen-thighed beetle
I think this bristly fly is Eriothrix rufomaculata, parasitic on subterranean moth caterpillars
A very impressive wasp beetle
Malachite beetle with two red spots at the end of the wing cases

There are always a few pyramidal orchids in the meadows every year and they are now just coming into flower:

Eupeades corollae hoverfly visiting the orchid

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:

These caterpillars are active by night. During the day they position themselves along the midline of a leaf hoping that a bird doesn’t spot them
I had to take this photo on my phone unfortunately, but it is of a female small blue butterfly laying her eggs onto kidney vetch – the larval food plant for this rare species. In a month or so I will look for small blue caterpillars on this plant
A broad-bodied chaser dragonfly just emerged out from the water of the hide pond
Something about this photo really speaks to me. I have been that exhausted parent
This photo felt a bit Hitchcockian
The underside of a wood pigeon
This rat has been coming daily to the hide pond. Is it an albino or an escaped pet?

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

What is most amazing is the height of the grasses this year – they must be at least double the height that they were last year and it feels a bit oppressive
The One-eyed Vixen now has short ginger fur growing strongly across the back of her, all of which was bare a few weeks ago. What a relief that is

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:

She is a hybrid vessel with large capacity batteries that will eventually be recharged by her diesel engines and will cut fuel use by 40%. However I understand that this facility can’t be operational currently since the infrastructure at Dover needs to catch up. She is also symmetrical so that she won’t need to turn around in port and can load and unload at either end

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:

A just-fledged great spotted woodpecker with its red cap

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.

One thought on “Dogged Persistence Pays Off

  1. I can’t believe days will now become shorter, i feel like the year has barely begun. I love seeing ox eye daisies in the fields, mostly I spot them on busyroadside verges, roadside verges are so good wildflowers. The white rat doesn’t give me the creeps like the brown rats, I must admit..

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