Looking up into the skies this last week of August, you were much more likely to have seen dramatic dark cloudscapes than the longed-for blue vistas of the school summer holidays. But in the airspace above the meadows, there has been more to see than just the rainclouds. Over the course of several days, large numbers of black-headed gulls have been busy ‘anting’:
In late summer when the conditions are just right, winged queen and male ants emerge from the innumerable ant nests dotted about the meadows and take to the air to mate and disperse. The ant colonies act in synchrony and the sky above them becomes an insect-rich hunting ground for the gulls, who fly in small circles for hours making a distinctive ‘chipping’ sound. This gives us the warm sense of satisfaction that our meadow management is encouraging ants and helping to support a healthy ecosystem.
A large flock of linnets has gathered here which swarms up and down the hedgerows, the birds sometimes plunging down en masse to eat the seeds of the spent meadow flowers.
The throaty roar of a Spitfire’s Merlin engine is the sound of the summer here as these iconic planes fly along the White Cliffs. They have mostly been adapted to take a fare-paying passenger, who will have had to part with a very large fare indeed. Flying along with the heritage Spitfire is a modern plane, also with paying passengers onboard, taking photos of the Spitfire in flight:
But the most dramatic event of all in the skies was the unexpected flypast by the Red Arrows this week, flying in tight formation low across the meadows. It was spectacular but all happened so quickly that I failed to get a photo.
The bird ringers came again early one morning to see if they could catch and ring some of the flock of linnets that has been gathering. They also wanted to see if they could encourage some migrating warblers into their nets.
Sadly they didn’t get any linnets this time but they did get a good variety of warblers including this common whitethroat:
This young sparrow, still with some of its yellow gape remaining, had sweet little tufts of white feathers behind each eye:
Now that breeding is over for the year, a flock of house sparrows is once more coming down to the daily seed that is scattered onto the strip by the feeding cages:
These proceedings are regularly overseen by sparrowhawks sitting on a nearby perch:
I have never seen two sparrowhawks together before:
As well as the flying ants, another late summer phenomenon here is the constant background rasp of grasshoppers and crickets – the Orthoptera – that live amongst the grasses. We don’t know much about these animals but we do now know that great green bush-crickets live here, having seen a few this summer ..
There are also Roesels Bush-crickets here:
A wide variety of predators cash in on the late summer bonanza of Orthoptera in the meadows. The wasp spider is a bit of a grasshopper specialist:
She is a devastatingly successful hunter and there have been forlorn wrapped-up parcels of Orthoptera waiting in the wings of her web all week:
Birds also take grasshoppers and crickets although they must be quite difficult to eat with all that body armour they have:
In the wood, a cricket had drowned in a pond and was being feasted upon by pond skaters. I see that there are now juvenile pond skaters around:
Any rain cloud that may have hung threateningly above the meadows this week literally pales to insignificance when compared to this exact day three years ago:
British Bank Holiday weekends often fail to deliver!