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
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.
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.
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.
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:
It was a very special day and one that will linger in our memories for a long time.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Baby animals are appearing on the cameras throughout the wood:
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.