Kites and Cockroaches

My sister celebrated her birthday this week and I went up to visit her in Berkshire. I took the birding scope with me because red kites have been nesting high in a pine tree at the bottom of her garden this summer. One of the young kites had already fledged but the second was still at the nest.

The remaining chick at the nest. These birds are famous for incorporating plastic into their nests giving them a very shambolic appearance
The young bird is yet to develop its grey head and blue eye
One of the adults was observing proceedings from a nearby oak

These are lovely birds but we don’t often see them in our part of East Kent. Between 1989 and 1994, birds from Spain were successfully reintroduced into the Chilterns and the population has spread from there although not yet as far as us.They are mainly sedentary, although juvenile birds do range widely during their first winter, sometimes across to continental Europe, but returning by the spring to the area they fledged from. I think the red kites that we occasionally see over the meadows are these juvenile wanderers but perhaps one day they might decide to stay – perhaps the extensive Blean Woods surrounding Canterbury, where bison were reintroduced last year, would be very attractive to them.

Back at home, I saw a small insect that I didn’t recognise on the draining board one morning and rushed off to get my macro lens:

The whole structure of this insect was one that I was unfamiliar with. In particular I noticed the two short cerci sticking up at the end of the abdomen

I had thought it was going to be simple to identify this little thing with that white stripe, but this didn’t prove to be the case. Having failed to find it in any of my invertebrate books or internet searches, I put the photos onto a wildlife identification site and the experts there told me it was a cockroach nymph. This was alarming news since I had found the animal in my kitchen.

When I was in my 20s, I worked for a while in a hospital where there were cockroaches in the kitchen of the ward. These were enormous and their scuttling about was horrifying but this was a long time ago and I haven’t seen one since. There are four species of invasive cockroaches in the UK. These find the British weather too harsh for them so they live inside our buildings as pests. The large hospital cockroaches of my youth would probably have been oriental cockroaches although I wasn’t interested in attempting an id back then.

An oriental cockroach. I see that the body of these animals is about an inch long but they had lived on in my memory as much bigger than that. This animal also has those two cerci sticking up at the end of the abdomen. Photo by Dimitar Boevski from Wiki commons under CC share alike 4.0

Yet Britain has three of its own native cockroach species – the tawny cockroach, the dusky cockroach and the lesser cockroach. These are all adapted to living outside in our country and are not interested in being household pests. They are active by day and feed on plant material as well as scavenging dead animals – they are not a nuisance to us in any way.

The cockroach I found on the draining board, however, was not one of those four invasive house-dwelling species or one of these three known British native species. It was a nymph of the variable cockroach, Planuncus tingitanus:

An adult variable cockroach. It is very pleasing to learn that these cockroaches do not live in human houses. Photo from Wiki Commons in the public domain

This species is newly arrived into the UK but is extremely under reported with little currently understood of its abundance and distribution. There is now a study underway to find out more of what they are up to. Having previously known next to nothing about cockroaches, I now know perhaps a little bit more but have to admit that even our native species do still make my skin creep – and I so hope that there are no longer cockroaches in hospital kitchens.

Rabbits are lovely though. A mother has been bringing her sweet babies out in front one of my cameras:

There are three young rabbits and their mother, in the centre here, remains ever alert to danger whilst they hop around and explore:

One even tries to snuggle up to her:

I also like this photo. A badger hoovers up the remaining nightly peanuts while the One-eyed Vixen and her mate, a long-standing couple for many years now, look on from the sidelines:

A similar scene from another evening, although this time it is the One-eyed Vixen and one of her daughters from a previous year who wait patiently for the badger to polish off the peanuts and to leave:

This is the first time a tawny owl has appeared on the meadow cameras this year:

There is a new sparrowhawk on the block and he has been appearing on the cameras a lot recently, as well as being responsible for several sorry piles of feathers around the meadows. Here he is, nonchalantly dangling his long limbs on the perch:

And on another day, he has fanned his tail out into a skirt:

I am enjoying watching our solitary blackbird chick this year, still always out and about with its father:

There are so few dragonflies here this year but I did see this migrant hawker resting in a hedgerow:

Most of the ragwort has now been pulled from the meadows, although we keep thinking we’ve got it all but then spot some more:

A heap of ragwort

Now it’s time to turn our attention to the dreaded wild parsnip. The latex from this plant causes light-sensitive burns on human skin and we therefore treat it with the utmost respect, but it is worryingly good at reproducing itself and grows like a thug on our calcareous soils. There are two really quite large areas where it is still growing densely, despite us not letting any seed set for three years now. The plant is theoretically a biennial but I think we have perennialised it by stopping it seeding.

The wild parsnip area in the first meadow
The parsnip grows densely and dominates all the other vegetation where it is growing

Our approach to controlling this plant is to mow it now when it is about to flower but long before it sets seed. We then mow once or perhaps twice more as the summer progresses to whip away any flower regrowth. So, our 2023 Battle of the Parsnip began on Sunday but didn’t get very far when the tractor stalled on the way up to the parsnip patch and wouldn’t restart. Frustratingly it is just back from its service so that will have to be sorted out before hostilities can once more commence.

Trying to restart the tractor. But all that did was to drain the battery

Last July I found a large and hairy pupa behind a trail camera that was resting against the bark of an old apple tree. I attempted to ID it but was unsuccessful:

Photo of the back of a trail camera from July 2022

This week I remembered that pupa from last year and looked behind the camera again. This time I found an extremely large caterpillar and piles of what I presume are its droppings. The caterpillar was all of 5cm long and did move around a bit although it was probably preparing to pupate:

It is the caterpillar of the gypsy moth. This moth was common in the East Anglian fenlands in the 19th century but had become extinct by 1900. It accidentally got reintroduced into London around 1995 and DEFRA tried unsuccessfully to eradicate it because the caterpillars can do a lot of damage to deciduous trees and is a pest in areas of continental Europe. But it is now firmly established as resident in colonies around southern England and it appears that we have it here in the meadows although I am not aware of it doing any damage.

A most impressive beast, but those hairs could cause an allergic skin reaction in humans and caution is required

I now think the pupa I found last year must have been that of the gypsy moth and if I look behind the camera again in a while I will surely find another.

A large skipper has finally been seen in the meadows. They are normally on the wing from mid June and I had thought that I wasn’t going to see one at all this year:

I love this photo of a fox cub in the wood:

The marjoram is now out in flower and the clearing is alive with butterflies – particularly peacocks but I counted nine different species when I was there one sunny morning:

The peacocks were all in absolute mint condition as though they had just hatched:

I couldn’t stop photographing them:

There were also richly orange commas:

And second brood brimstone:

But I return to the meadows for today’s last photo. On Saturday afternoon, in persistent light drizzle, we witnessed an enormous movement of swifts above our heads, silently flying south along the coast. They were spread out but formed a constant stream which kept on coming for hours until we could no longer see them in the dark. By that time many hundreds if not thousands had gone by. Swifts are late to arrive in this country in the spring and then they stay only long enough to breed. Their migration south again to Africa in late July or August is believed to be triggered by a lack of insects high in the air.
Swifts are not with us very long each summer and here three of them are beginning their journey back to Africa on 22nd July

But what of the pair of swifts nesting here in the meadows this year? Have their young fledged and the little family joined Saturday’s large movement of birds south? The truth is that we don’t really know what went on in that box this summer – we so rarely saw them coming and going, although both birds were seen entering the box as recently ago as Thursday. However, there has been no sign of them since Saturday and I think the joyous sight of screaming parties of swifts circling around the house and over the summer meadows might already be over for another year.

Diving Into Dung

Red-billed choughs became extinct in Kent more than two hundred years ago because of changes in farming practices and persecution. Now, following several years of preparation and hard work, these charming birds are about to be released onto the cliffs around Dover once more.

Red-billed chough on Herefordshire Beacon. Photo by gailhampshire on Wiki Commons cc-by-2.0

On the back of this imminent reintroduction, a flurry of ‘Diving Into Dung’ workshops are being held in our area to increase awareness and appreciation of dung beetles which will form an important element of the newly-released birds’ diet. But, having attended one of these workshops this week, we now realise that these beetles are also of vital importance to farmers and in fact to us all.

The workshop was held at a farm overlooking Dover and the classroom was very atmospherically located in the barn. There were a mix of people attending – some were land managers like ourselves but others were vets and farmers.

Our makeshift lecture theatre in the barn at Broadlees Farm near Dover.

Sally-Ann Spence has spent the last thirty years studying dung beetles and it was impossible not to be drawn in by her enthusiasm and compelling talk about dung beetle biology and ecology and what they require to thrive and do their crucial work. As well as that, she farms livestock herself, using her farm to further research dung beetle-friendly farming practices whilst proving that it is possible to make a farming profit at the same time as cherishing these animals.

Sally-Ann’s box of pinned British dung beetle specimens and identification charts. A microscope is generally needed to get down to species level

In other areas of the world, competition for herbivore dung is so intense that some dung beetles are ‘rollers’ – making a dung ball and rolling it away it away to keep it for themselves. We do not have that level of competition for dung here and there are no British ‘roller’ species. Our species are either ‘dwellers’ or ‘tunnellers’.

A single cow produces 9 tonnes of dung each year and each sheep produces 800kg and, unless all of this vast quantity is quickly broken down, it will sit in the fields and reduce the area that is available for grazing. The beetles tunnel around the dung improving soil aeration, water infiltration and carbon sequestration, as well as reducing the methane that is released into the atmosphere by dung fermentation. If the dung contains seeds, these are taken underground by the beetles and effectively planted. In addition, as well as the choughs, all sorts of other animals eat the adult beetles and their larvae such as little owls, kestrels, hobbies, songbirds, lizards, snakes and badgers.

Britain has been slow to realise the importance of dung beetles in the ecosystem and the dosing of livestock with insecticides has resulted in toxic, insect-free dung that sits in the fields for ages.

After lunch, we went out into the sheep fields to look for dung beetles.

The farm is close to the iconic aerials that stand proud above Dover. Built in 1936, this was once a Chain Home radar station but these days the aerials transmit FM radio to the whole of Kent.

There is also a circus in one of the farm’s fields at the moment:

Sally-Ann demonstrated the different methods of surveying for dung beetles:

Unfortunately we did not find a single dung beetle – an indication that the sheep on this farm had probably been given treatments such that their dung was toxic to the beetles – this was a very salutary demonstration of what the problem is.

Our meadows lie to the north of the chough release site but are sufficiently close that, with the correct management such as grazing parts of them with sheep perhaps, they might be of use to the birds. Indeed, some choughs were briefly released last year and John the bird ringer saw a pair fly over the meadows the very next day.

Not sure how our resident crows would feel about their more colourful cousins, the choughs, visiting? I presume they would not be pleased:

My feeling is that blackbirds and thrushes did not have a good breeding year here with the hot June coming just when they were trying to get worms out of the ground to feed chicks. But this week I did finally have a sighting of a lovely chick out with its dad:

This next photo is an unusual angle of a sparrowhawk which really shows what long legs they have:

A second brood small blue butterfly on the wing in the meadows this week:

Its caterpillars eat the ripening seed of kidney vetch and are cunningly disguised to look like a seed pod:

The caterpillars are usually widely spaced and you could expect to search many plants before finding one. But because there is so little kidney vetch this year, they are much more concentrated – amazing that there are two in a single flower here:

Second brood brimstones are also out and about now:

I think these are small tortoiseshell caterpillars in our nettle patch. I certainly hope they are anyway because we haven’t seen one of these adult butterflies this year and it would be good to know that one has flown through and even stopped by to lay some eggs:

Also on the nettle patch was this harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis (f. succinea). These invasive ladybirds have been out-competing and actually also eating the larvae of our native ladybirds since they arrived in Britain from Asia in 2004. I understand from Sally-Ann Spence, an expert in all sorts of beetle, that their pathogens are starting to catch up with them now and that the rampant harlequin populations we have been experiencing here recently are coming more under control – great to hear some good news.

The harlequin and one of our much lovelier native ladybirds – a seven-spot:

When I first saw this fly in the meadows a few years ago I was confused because its abdomen seemed too small for the rest of it:

It is only when you see it in profile do you realise what’s going on and that most of its abdomen is curled under. It is a really sinister-looking fly:

It is a female ferruginous bee-grabber, Sicus ferrugineus, and she will be laying her eggs onto bumblebees I’m afraid.

In the wood, the marjoram glade is just coming out into flower and, with perfect co-ordination of both timing and colour, is now alive with day-flying mint moths:

The roving camera has moved to look at a second bird box to see if dormice have moved in now that the birds have finished nesting. It seems that this box also has dormice in it:

But the camera has caught a bat at the entrance of the box as well:

Many of these ‘woodcrete’ boxes have ridges built into their ceilings so that bats can cling on and roost within, cohabiting by day with whatever else might be in the box. It is a lovely thought that this box almost certainly had great tits or blue tits nesting in it back in the spring and now it has dormice and bats using it. We have resolved to put up more boxes this autumn because they seem to be making such a difference.

Parent and cub
Two cubs out on their own
Always an absolute treat to see a tawny owl

I finish today with a beautiful view of the white cliffs of France from the top of the second meadow this afternoon. Yesterday we had 25mm of rain but today the sun has returned and the sea is looking almost Caribbean-turquoise.

July in the Isle of Purbeck

Last weekend we once more made for the wonderful lowland heaths of Dorset. We hadn’t visited them in July before and were interested to see what goes on there at this time of year. En route we stayed with some friends who have taken the plunge and moved to live full time in Milford on Sea.

The Needles on the Isle of Wight as viewed from Milford on Sea. They are very happy living by the sea and with the New Forest as well just to the north and in easy reach

The next day, the dreary and over-busy route west from Milford, weaving round the major conurbations of Bournemouth and Poole, made us begin to wonder if it was all actually worth it. But from the moment we turned off left and headed south onto the Isle of Purbeck, we knew that it was. After all, we were returning to one of our favourite hotels, the Priory Hotel in Wareham, set in four acres of beautiful gardens:

The very comfortable Priory Hotel in Wareham. Photo from our last visit in June 2021
Our room was in the right hand side of this boathouse, with french windows opening out onto a terrace by the river Frome. It was all very lovely

Directly opposite the boat house is a row of trees that hosts a major corvid roost each night. We made sure we were sitting on our terrace as dusk approached in order to witness the noisy spectacle of them all flying in. The racket coming from those trees once the crows arrive is quite a thing, but they very quickly settle down and tranquility once more descends.

We were impressed that Durlston Country Park, in the south of the Isle of Purbeck, regularly records thirty-four species of butterfly. What is the management there to encourage so many species of butterflies – and can we replicate it back in the meadows? We went along to find out.

The Victorian ‘castle’ at Durlston is now a visitors’ centre and cafe

As we walked along their wildlife trail, we saw that the mix of plants in the flower meadows was actually pretty similar to that in our own meadows back in Kent. But, in contrast to the shortage of butterflies that we are experiencing this year, Durlston had clouds of them – skippers in particular, most of which seemed to be the rare Lulworth skipper – a butterfly we had never seen before:

The females have a ‘sun-ray’ on their wings – a splay of golden dots on their rich orange wings
Photographing Lulworth skippers at Durlston

In the UK, Lulworth skippers are localised in a few self-contained colonies, mostly in coastal Dorset, east of Lulworth Cove. Within these very limited number of places, though, they can be extremely numerous such as they are at Durlston – but they do only fly on sunny days and it is only then that you see them.

Along with the skippers there were plenty of marbled whites, gatekeepers and meadow browns there to admire.

We also saw several small blues as we went round
Six spot burnet moth

We came away delighted to have seen so many butterflies at Durlston, but still without ideas on what we could be doing further to help our butterflies in the meadows. We certainly envy Durlston its six miles of dry stone walling as well as its much greater scale and variety of habitats including cliffs, gullies and sea caves. But as far as its flower meadows go, ours look very similar.

We will continue onwards with our long term butterfly goals for the meadows; trying to improve the ratio of flowering plants to grasses, trying to increase the variety of trumpet-shaped flowers to encourage long-tongued bees and butterflies and enlarging the areas of horseshoe vetch in an attempt to entice in two of the more unusual blue butterfly species – the chalkhill blue and adonis blue.

A roe buck with his white chin at Durlston
Driving through Corfe Castle on the way back up to Wareham

One the next day we visited RSPB Arne in the northern part of the Isle of Purbeck, part of the extensive Purbeck Heath National Nature Reserve:

Arne is a beautiful reserve at any time of year but in July the sea lavender, Limonium vulgare, is in flower, giving the salt mashes a pinkish hue:

I was unfamiliar with this plant but it is in fact very similar to the statice that I used to grow in the garden.

This sea lavender is much loved by a little bee that we saw digging its burrows down into the sand of Coombe Heath:

Active burrows being dug into the sand on the heath

The bee was difficult to photograph as it rarely stayed still but we did notice that they had a very shrill hum as they came and went. However, it was only when we subsequently looked at our photographs that we noticed those wonderful green eyes and realised that this must be the green-eyed flower bee, Anthophora bimaculata, found mostly in lowland heaths in southern Britain. Just look at those amazing eyes:

The heather was also coming into flower at Arne:

What a remarkable place, particularly given its location on the over populated south coast of England:

The new Middlebere hide has distant views over an artificial osprey nest:

This year’s Springwatch was filmed at Arne and did feature nesting ospreys on a similar platform but perhaps there are more than one because this one seemed very disused

We didn’t see many butterflies at Arne, and actually few birds as well – certainly nothing as exciting as this nightjar that we saw right by the path when we visited in August 2021:

But we really enjoyed our visit to the reserve and were surprised to find that a five whole hours had gone by when we returned to our car.

The sparse but surprisingly long hairs of a cinnabar moth caterpillar at Arne
I think this is a five-spot burnet moth, rather than the narrow-bordered five-spot burnets that we get in the meadows
This photo gives no idea of the scale and sturdiness of this funnel web by a pond, with the spider sitting plum in its centre. It was simply enormous but I couldn’t get close to take photos good enough be able to identify it

Back once more in the meadows and our new chalk butterfly bank is starting to look very cheering with the native annual seed mix that I sowed back in the spring.

Perennial seed was also sown onto the bank but these plants will take longer to get established.

I sat and watched as this magnificent emperor laid her eggs in the pond:

Shockingly, this is only the second dragonfly I have seen in the meadows this year. Although we took steps to ensure our ponds didn’t dry out completely last summer, many ponds in the area almost certainly would have done, killing most of the freshwater invertebrates within including dragonfly larvae.

Here she is again with a blue-tailed damselfly for scale – the spectacular emperor is the UK’s largest dragonfly:

Those eggs she is laying will be emerging as emperors themselves in a couple of years.

Last year a swarm of honey bees took up residence in our little owl box:

In September, numbers had built up to such an extent that a swarm formed and hung in a cone below the box while scouts went out to find it a new home:

The amazing swarm hung in the vegetation for several hours before it moved on to its new premises. I wish I had had the patience to have stayed and watched it as it moved off

It would only have been some of the bees that left in the swarm, though, the others remaining in the box and preparing to overwinter. But many bee colonies do not survive the winter and ours unfortunately was one of those that didn’t. When the weather warmed up again this spring, the box remained deathly quiet. This week, however, I noticed that it is once more active and busy – this time with a nest of tree wasps.

I will attempt to get better photos of these wasps but I’m not that keen on getting close.

Some other interesting photos from the meadows this week:

A dock bug
The last of the brimstone butterfly caterpillars are just finishing up on the alder buckthorn before they pupate
There are still loads of pollen beetles around
It seems to be a very good year for seven-spot ladybirds. I have seen so many
Surely these are dog biscuits that this fox has in her mouth?
Earlier this year we put a tremendous effort into ridding the meadows of alexanders. Now it is time to do the same with ragwort

There is a roving camera in the wood, that we are pointing at bird boxes to see if dormice have arrived to make a home on top of the abandoned tit nests. For this box, first there was this little teaser:

But soon the dormouse showed herself properly:

Dormice have sticky pads on their feet that enable them to cling on to things really well:

Other photos from the wood this week:

A smart female green woodpecker..
…and the male showing this year’s speckled juvenile the new pond
I always enjoy a jay with a mohican after a bath
A pair of jay
Tawny by the pond
A sweet little fox cub

We seem to have been away an awful lot this year. But, now that we are back from Dorset, we are not going anywhere for the rest of the summer and I am looking forward to catching up. There is always a long list of outstanding jobs to do here and it would be very satisfying to get round to ticking some of these off now.

Sailing on the Swale

We had a truly memorable time this week, spending a day sailing onboard one of the few remaining historic Thames sailing barges, SB Mirosa.

The ship’s dog

The Mirosa was bought by Peter Dodds in 1976 and, since then, has been lovingly restored and raced by him. In return, she became his home for many years

She was built in 1892 and was used to carry hay and straw on her deck from Suffolk and Essex to feed London’s horses, returning with their manure for the farms. After the First World War, she changed to carrying timber which was stacked metres high on her deck.

Mirosa carrying timber in the 1950s. She is unusual in that she has never had a motor fitted and remains to this day a classic sailing barge
The historic Mirosa competing in the 109th Medway Barge Sailing Match in 2017. Photo courtesy of Clem Rutter on Wikipedia Commons

With twelve passengers and several crew on board, we left Oare Marshes and sailed west along the Swale, anchoring for lunch off the Elmley Nature Reserve and returning to Oare by the end of the day.

The Swale is the tidal channel that separates the Isle of Sheppey from the rest of Kent

Knowing so very little about sailing myself, I found it wonderfully interesting to sit and watch as the crew pulled up the anchor and unfurled the sails. It all required an immense amount of skill and fine tuning as well as fitness and stamina.

Here we go. Opening up the foresail

The barges were flat-bottomed which enabled them to ply their trade in the shallow waters of the Thames estuary but, even so, it was sometimes necessary to ‘swing the lead’ – a metal weight lowered into the water attached to rope with knots at fathom intervals to test the depth of the water:

Below deck, everything was welcoming and atmospheric:

Although the marine toilet did require a bit of concentration to begin with:

By lunchtime, we had reached Elmley where we anchored up to go below deck for a delicious lunch:

View across the Swale to Kingshill Farmhouse and the shepherds huts of Elmley Nature Reserve where we have so enjoyed staying twice this year

It was a very special day and one that will linger in our memories for a long time.

Peter returning to Mirosa after having dropped us at Oare at the end of the day

Back in the meadows, this gate often affords us a chance to learn about a magpies diet. Here we have seen them with rodents, snails, lizards, slow worms and heads of wheat from the neighbouring field, but this time I’m afraid it is a small bird:

…which was then fed to its chicks:

With the hard work of the breeding season now largely behind them, it is time for the magpies to moult. Judging by the photo below, this can’t come a moment too soon:

But they are way too successful here and I am pleased to see that sometimes the foxes do their bit to keep the magpie population in balance:

Butterflies numbers seem very low this year and some species that are usually abundant, such as the common blue, have scarcely been around at all. It was certainly a cold, wet spring and perhaps this took its toll – but then I remembered a particular day in mid July last year. It hadn’t rained for weeks and all vegetation above ground was yellow and withered:

The shocking view across the second meadow on 21st July 2022

We became aware that all around us were second-brood common blues roosting up amongst the yellowed grass stalks. We quickly counted to fifty without much effort:

Six common blues perched forlornly amongst the shrivelled vegetation

The larval food plant for these butterflies is birds-foot-trefoil but they had nowhere to lay their eggs that would give the resulting caterpillars anything to eat. There must surely have been no offspring produced by this second brood at all and this is what has so badly affected their numbers this year.

Hopefully there will be more rain this summer so that the populations have a chance to bounce back. In fact, we have had a little rain this week – just 6mm, but every little counts at this time of year.

Because the grasses have grown so long, just a small amount of soft rain caused large areas to flop right over. By the next day everything was back up

Looking over the meadows after the rain. Although the grass seed heads are becoming brown as they ripen, the stalks are very much still green:

One area of the meadows was sown with a native wild flower seed mix for chalky soils back in 2016 and every year it gets more wonderful:

As we wait for our butterfly populations to recover, we are celebrating those that have arrived:

Marbled white on greater knapweed
Essex skipper
Small skipper on lavender in the garden
Six spot burnet moth with those surprisingly blue antennae

For several years I collected kidney vetch seeds every autumn and grew them on in the greenhouse to plant back out into the meadows. This is the larval food plant for our precious colony of small blue butterflies, but it is a short lived perennial and I wanted to ensure that there was always enough. After a while there seemed to be so much kidney vetch out there that I felt it would happily self-seed and be self-perpetuating and so I stopped doing this. But unfortunately there is very little kidney vetch here now – perhaps last year’s drought has affected this too. I have hurriedly bought twenty plug plants and potted them up ready to go out into the meadows this autumn to feed small blue caterpillars next summer.

The pollen beetles are out in force at the moment, gorging themselves in the flowers:

I have a T shirt this colour and will never again make the mistake of wearing it out in the meadows in July. These beetles find bright yellow irresistible:

Photo from July 2020

The pollen beetles also love bramble flowers, but I don’t have a shirt this colour to see if it has the same effect:

There are many types of different grasses in the meadows, some of which we haven’t yet got round to identifying. We do know timothy grass, though. Apparently this grass was named after Timothy Hanson, a farmer, who brought it to the southern states of the US from its native Europe in the early 18th century because it makes such good hay for animal fodder:

At this time of year, the timothy grass flower is covered in purple stamens:

We have just started to hear the sound of grasshoppers and crickets as we walk round the meadows:

Field grasshopper

It’s been a busy week in the allotment. The onion family harvest, all planted last autumn, has been very successful and will keep us through the winter:

Red onions, garlic and shallots all drying in the trolley

The roofers have been working away on the new garage and there was a moment of triumph as the pinnacle was positioned on the wildlife tower:

This pinnacle will stop magpies and crows from perching on the top of the tower and using it as a lookout. From there they would also be well placed to predate fledgling birds that will be emerging from the bird boxes within the tower

It was a blisteringly hot day for June’s tour round the dormice boxes in the wood. The blue tits have now all finished with their nests in the boxes and we found several dormice nests on top of these abandoned bird nests…

… as well as two yellow-necked mouse nests and a beautiful wren nest:

This is the first time that we had found a wren nest in the boxes. Amazingly, a male wren builds five or six nests and then shows them all to his female so that she can select the one she likes the best. It looked as though this particular nest in the dormouse box had not been used

Two of the dormice nests already had a litter of young within. In one, we could see that the babies were only six days old and hadn’t yet fully developed their grey fur. Although normal practice would be to get these ‘pinks’ out and weigh them altogether, in the extreme heat of the day the decision was made not to disturb them further. The other nest, however, had three older young that we could get out of the nest and individually weigh:

This sweet young dormouse is at the stage called ‘eyes open’ and will be between 18 and 40 days old

Baby animals are appearing on the cameras throughout the wood:

Bullfinch have fledged
Big family groups of great tits and blue tits are coming down to the shallow pools
Fox cub with its parent

And my final photo of today is this. I believe that this must be one of this years baby owls since its tail feathers are yet to fully develop:

Of course is a shame that it didn’t grow up in the owl box where it could have been ringed, but I am so delighted to see it successfully fledged anyway.