Perching Up

Several years ago we were attempting to get turtle doves to breed in the meadows. Supplementary seed was going down and a perch was banged in close to the feeding area in the hope that the doves would land there. Sadly a turtle dove is yet to be seen, but hundreds of birds do now alight on this perch every day. Admittedly these are often woodpigeon, magpies and house sparrows that don’t get the heart racing, but sometimes something rather wonderful happens. This is what has been seen on the perch over the last couple of weeks:

A tawny owl hunting in the depths of the night. We have seen and heard a lot of the tawnies this autumn.
On Thursday night a new bird species for the meadows landed on the perch – a barn owl. So exciting that, after nearly a decade here, a barn owl has finally put in an appearance. Short-eared owls have also been seen in the meadows, usually as they arrive in the UK for the winter
A female kestrel, ringed in the meadows in September 2019, has been spending a lot of time on the perch this autumn
She was ringed as a young bird four years ago
A lot of voles have been caught and it is great to see that the meadows are providing her with food
She has also been catching crickets – I’ve seen her with two and so presume this isn’t just an opportunistic thing and that grasshoppers and crickets do form part of her autumn diet. Last year she was on the perch with her claws wrapped around a bumblebee which was also a surprise
The second cricket was in her other claw suggesting that she is ambidextrous
She’s a magnificent animal
We suppose she is nesting in the white cliffs just a bit to the south of the meadows
A much bigger buzzard has also been seen on the perch this autumn
The feeding cages are nearby and sparrowhawks like to sit on the perch and view the birds coming down to the seed. Here, the female is on the perch with the male in the air
Sparrowhawks do sometimes land with their prey. This photo with an unfortunate blackbird is from last year
But the perch’s all time greatest triumph was probably this juvenile cuckoo in July last year, on its way south to Africa

We have a camera on a hedgerow gate as well and this has had its own successes. As well as acting as a perch for birds, the top of the gate forms a motorway for small mammals moving along the hedgerow. This week there was a magpie who had caught a rodent:

This is a favourite pose for the sparrowhawks here – I’ve seen them doing it a lot

But my most memorable sighting on the gate was a weasel last year, tracking the footsteps of its rodent prey:

A pair of substantial English oak logs sit out in the meadows, remnants of a beautiful old oak tree that was blown over in a storm when we lived back in Berkshire. It has been interesting to watch these logs as they have slowly started to break down over the years. This autumn, one of these logs has had lots on holes drilled into it, each with a fine tilth of discarded wood below:

Small black flying insects were coming and going from the holes, although it was tricky to get a good enough photograph to get an ID:

Trying to get a decent photograph of the elusive small flying insects. Our dog’s lovely smile has changed recently after she went to the vets to have her teeth descaled and ended up having eighteen of them removed. She’s alright though – it is surprising what little difference this enormous loss of teeth has made to her

I did finally get some photographs of the insects from various angles – not very good but sufficient to tell that this is a colony of digger wasps, probably from the Crossocerus family, but there are many similar species that would need to go under a microscope to properly identify:

The female wasp will be digging a tunnel into the wood that will ultimately branch at its end. An egg is then laid into each branch and the tunnel packed with paralysed insect prey that she has caught and stung. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the prey before pupating. The wasps will finally leave the tunnel once they are adults.

We found two juvenile dormice on the September tour around the thirty dormouse boxes in the wood.

A juvenile male
A juvenile female with a lovely white tip to her tail. The juveniles are browner and not so heavy as the adults, as well as having a less bushy tail

We did also find some dormouse nests but these were empty. There will no doubt be dormouse litters being raised in the wood but that I think these will be in the woodcrete bird boxes that we didn’t check this time – unfortunately dormice seem to prefer these to the wooden dormouse boxes that we put up in order to monitor them.

A classic dormouse nest – with green hazel leaves surrounding a tightly woven core of stripped honeysuckle bark

Although we do have two barn owl nest boxes up in the wood, we have never seen a barn owl there. We have been seeing a lot of the tawnies though.There has been so little rain recently that they are coming to the ponds every night:

They have also been visiting the tawny nest box that they reared chicks in last year:

One day a tawny roosted in its entrance, much to the consternation of this jay:

Some other woodland animals that have been coming to the ponds:

I finish today with the sad news that the One-eyed Vixen has not been seen in the meadows for several weeks, and we presume she is now dead:

The One-eyed Vixen back in 2019

She and her mate have reigned as the Fox King and Queen of the meadows for several years and have together raised many cubs here.

The One-eyed Vixen grooming her mate in a tender moment last year. Her partner is still here, although will probably now remain forever a widower since foxes pair for life

It feels so odd that she is no longer waiting for me as I take the peanuts down at dusk. She was one of the meadows’ great characters and I shall miss her.

2 thoughts on “Perching Up

  1. Lots to see on the perch and especially lovely to see a barn owl.
    Very sad news about the one eyed vixen. Really sorry. Is it definate that her mate wouldn’t meet a new mate, very sad especially if he is young and healthy. X

  2. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Actually he has had mange all this year and looks terrible – but I’m hoping that has now been successfully treated now. I read that the average life of a British wild fox is only one to three years (although they could live up to nine if they had an easier life) and he has been with us here at least four years.

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