Visiting Wildwood

This week we visited the Wildwood Trust near Canterbury. Here you can see British native animals, both past and present, and the Trust is also heavily involved in conservation and rewilding projects. For us it was a chance to get a really good close look at some of the animals that we have only seen fleeting glimpses of in the wild.

We had Red Deer in the wood last year but we only saw them on trail cameras:

We have had quite a few long distance sightings of Short Eared Owl in the meadows over the years:

Sadly we have never seen a Barn Owl in the meadows or the wood. Hopefully one day:

A few months ago we visited West Blean Woods here in East Kent where Kent Wildlife Trust are going to be releasing Bison as part of a rewilding scheme next year. The hump on their back seems especially prominent when they are lying down:

Four young Red-billed Choughs that hatched at Wildwood earlier this year have now been transferred to an aviary at Dover Castle, as a stepping stone to the release of this species onto Dover Cliffs in due course. Choughs used to live on the white cliffs of Dover but went extinct in SE England two hundred years ago as a result of changes in farming practices. Several cliff-side farms to the north of Dover have been bought up and managed by the National Trust for a few years now and suitable Chough habitat has been restored. It will be so wonderful to have them back.

The ongoing rewilding project at Alladale in Scotland has plans to one day release Wolves into the wild but that is still a dream rather than a reality and there is much discussion and unease about it. A small pack of Wolves can be seen at Wildwood:

Brown Bear were native to Britain until they were hunted to extinction about a thousand years ago. The Wild Place Project near Bristol now has Brown Bear and Wolves living together in seven acres of woodland and it is hoped that this experiment will further the debate on the rewilding of these animals. Of course the introduction of the apex predator tends to grab the headlines, but it is the background habitat restoration, necessary to create conditions in which that predator can survive, that is the real benefit.

The two Brown Bears at Wildwood were rescued from Bulgaria. Happily, the enclosure they now live in is so large and lovely that we only got very distant views of them:

Wildwood also has Lynx, our largest native cat that was lost here about five hundred years ago due to habitat loss, hunting and persecution. A campaign called Lynx To Scotland has been running to assess public opinion and an application for a licence to release Lynx, possibly into the Cairngorms, might follow in time.

We had been meaning to visit Wildwood for a long time and are pleased that we now have. It felt like much money could be spent on improving the infrastructure and signage there but I am sure that they also need those funds for their conservation and restoration work. Its been a very difficult couple of years for zoos.

Back in the meadows, just as the first streaks of light appear in the sky and long before the sun pokes her head above the horizon, a Robin comes in for a drink:

Robins have large eyes which means that their pupils can open wide and gather sufficient light to see at low light levels. They are among the earliest birds to start singing in the morning when, with less background noise and still air, their song carries up to twenty times further than it would later in the day. But they are not guaranteed to be safe from predators at that time of the day because we often see Sparrowhawks hunting in very low light:

Sparrowhawk eating a Blue Tit way before dawn last winter
The sad aftermath of a Sparrowhawk kill this week

Also active in the dark is the Garden Spider who we have been observing recently to see what she gets up to. She caught a moth one night and had it wrapped up tight by the time we passed by in the morning:

Later that same day, she was eating a wasp at the edge of the web:

There then followed a period of strong winds during which her web was completely destroyed. But, once the winds had dropped, the web was reconstructed overnight and reopened for business by the morning.

The new web, rebuilt over one night.

At the moment there are four Badgers and four Foxes that are regulars at the nightly peanuts. Here are all of the Foxes in attendance..

..and here are all the Badgers:

The Badgers are working away at getting the reeds underground as winter bedding. We pulled these reeds from the pond and then left them out for the Badgers:

The Kestrels continue to enjoy the cut meadows and we have been seeing a lot of them:

Not long after arriving here, we planted several Corsican and Scots Pine trees because they do well in these exposed coastal conditions. They are now growing away strongly and, at this time of year, each one is surrounded by rings of these Bovine Boletes (Suillus bovinus):

This ectomycorrhizal fungus is found in conifer woods and plantations across Europe, where it lives in symbiotic association with the trees. The trees’ roots are enveloped in sheaths of fungal tissue and the fungus helps the plant take water and minerals out of the soil. In return, the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates that it has manufactured by photosynthesising the light.

The fungal fruiting bodies are very distinctive with their honeycomb undersides.

The fungus is mild and edible but not highly regarded by humans. However, slugs seem to love them:

I am generally not a fan of fuchsia and orange together but I do think that these Spindle berries get away with it:

The orange berries in the Stinking Iris pods are about to burst forth. This is our native Iris and there is a lot of it both in the meadows and the wood:

Two years ago, just over a hundred Slow Worms were rehomed here from land nearby that was to be developed. Since then, an ecologist has been regularly visiting the meadows to check on their welfare. This autumn he was hoping to see neonate, or newly born, Slow Worms as evidence that the population is now happily settled and breeding. Females incubate their eggs internally and give birth to live young in the late summer but we had never seen a neonate Slow Worm before. But we finally saw one this week under a sampling square, top left in this photo with the adults to give it scale:

We also found this tiny Toad under a sampling square. It was only about 3cm long and is the first Toad we have seen here this year:

This very small day-flying micro moth is probably the Diamond-backed Moth (Plutella xylostella)

A beautiful Comma butterfly bathing in the October sunshine:

A dramatic cloudscape out to sea:

We visited the wood this week and decided to do the annual clear out of this year’s old nests from the small nestboxes. However, five of the nest boxes in the regeneration area had Dormouse nests in them, so we left them well alone:

One Dormouse popped its head up – what an absolute sweetie

We bought thirty Dormice nest boxes last winter but haven’t put them up yet – our plans for the wood to become an official Dormouse monitoring site have been delayed because of Covid. But, with so many of the bird boxes being used by Dormice, I feel that I should now seek expert advice as to how best to proceed.

Also in the wood, a Buzzard comes in for a bath:

A Sparrowhawk takes a bath in the same pond:

I finish today with Grey Squirrels. Although the awful damage that Grey Squirrels do to the Beech trees do not endear them to me, there is something about them that is quite lovable. At this time of year, a lot of the mossy tree stumps in the wood are adorned with the outer casings of Sweet Chestnuts:

Most of these stumps are an awfully long way away from a Sweet Chestnut tree – the Squirrels are carrying the spiky nuts a considerable distance to then perch on the stumps to eat them:

Both these Squirrels and the Dormice will be be preparing for the coming winter, and the weather is already turning decidedly chilly. This will be our third winter in the wood and we are looking forward to commencing this year’s coppicing soon.

Mad Dash to The Finish

The tractor has been been repaired, serviced and returned and now the race is on to get the four acre second meadow cut whilst the weather still holds. But by this point in the year the field is generally too wet with dew to be harvested in the mornings without clogging the tractor, and it is only after lunch that work can commence.

The annual cut is vital to the health of a flower meadow but there is no doubt that it can be a catastrophic event for many of the small animals that are sheltering in amongst the tall vegetation.

A pair of Kestrels have been perched up watching the proceedings with rapt attention, hoping to spot any rodents that have become exposed by the cutting process:

Kestrel perched on the top of the hay pile

Kestrels need to eat between four to eight voles a day, depending on the time of year and how much energy-consuming hovering they have to do. Here is the female with a vole, as viewed from the tractor:

The Kestrels have also been turning up on the trail cameras. The female has got a bumblebee in her left claw here which is a new and interesting bit of information for me:

And this is the male:

You get to see a lot of wildlife whilst driving the tractor up and down the meadow for many hours. The resident corvids here tolerate Kestrels and Sparrowhawks but any other raptor is swiftly escorted off property. A Buzzard flew in close, hotly pursued by two Crows:

A flock of Goldfinch came down to eat Knapweed seeds. Sections of the meadow are left uncut every year on a rotational basis and we always try to leave some Knapweed areas for the birds.

The small flock of Goldfinch also appeared on a trail camera:

A very large frog was uncovered and rescued. What a monster this one was:

The male Herring Gull and his offspring were photographed from the tractor. I wonder how long this young bird will stay with its parent while it learns the ropes?

The pair have appeared many times on the trail cameras this week:

In fact they are waiting for us every morning as we walk up to scatter seed at the cages. But it has been some time now since the colour-ringed female gull has been seen.

On Sunday morning Swallows and House Martins were swooping over the meadows, readying themselves for their migration south. But we also saw flocks of Starling flying in off the sea and these are arriving rather than leaving. I went out with my big camera to see if I could photograph all this bird movement but instead spotted a Grey Heron down at the wild pond.

Our British Grey Herons are mostly resident throughout the year but they are joined for the winter by herons from the colder parts of Europe. These birds arrive on the east coast of Britain in the autumn and my guess is that this is a migrating bird hoping to feed up on our frogs after a long journey.

I was fifty metres away but still the heron didn’t like me pointing my big lens in its direction:

I have had another go at pulling reeds out of the wild pond. The water is much deeper now than when I last did this two or three weeks ago:

Progress has been made but we are not done yet

I will leave the pulled reeds close to the pond for a day for any displaced animals to make it back into the water. The reeds will then be stacked near the badger sett for the badgers to take as bedding – they love these reeds

All the reeds that were pulled last time have already been dragged underground

This grassy area near the tree copses only ever has sparse vegetation with patches of bare earth showing:

A lot of insect holes and fresh diggings have appeared here:

I waited to see what was coming in and out of these holes and found that it was an Ivy Bee colony. These bees were discovered as new to science as recently as 1993 but, since then, have been recorded over much of Europe. They were first seen in the UK in 2001 in Dorset and have spread quickly, now being found throughout southern Britain. Being new arrivals, they are here before any of their specific predators (such as the Ivy Bee Blister beetle, which has got to the Channel Islands but not yet onto mainland Britain) and this has probably allowed them to colonise so rapidly. I couldn’t find any reference to them harming any of our native species and it seems that these late-flying, Ivy-loving bees have slotted into a niche that was generally otherwise unoccupied.

These bees do like to nest in colonies but they are solitary bees meaning that each bee has her own nest hole. The hole can be a foot deep with up to eighteen brood chambers that are lined with her protective and waterproof saliva and each provisioned with pollen, onto which she lays a single egg. The egg hatches into a larva that feeds off the pollen and then pupates, the adult not emerging until next autumn.

A late Southern Hawker Dragonfly resting up in the weak October sunshine. This is a male and I love his spotty blue eyes:

This photo was taken by my sister-in-law of a very showy caterpillar that she found on her post box this week. It is the caterpillar of the Pale Tussock Moth and, although I often catch the adult moths in my trap, I have never seen the caterpillar before. What is the purpose of that red tail tuft? This is a fully grown caterpillar that has finished feeding up and is now wandering around looking for somewhere to pupate over winter:

What an amazing looking thing.

Here we are, it’s now Monday afternoon and the tractor has done its job and the meadow is finally declared cut. The harvest is over for another year and not a moment too soon since the weather is forecast to be deteriorating later on today.

The second meadow is now finished
Only a third of this area between the new hedgerow and the eastern boundary gets cut every year as part of the plan to manage this area for reptiles

Over in the wood, we have been hacking back dogwood to keep open a clearing that was becoming overgrown. A trail camera captured the work in progress:

We have now installed a cheap but cheerful picnic table at the edge of the clearing and we can imagine ourselves sitting there next summer with a cup of tea, possibly some cake as well, and surrounded by woodland butterflies:

Other photos from the wood this week:

Beautiful Buzzard
Sparrowhawk
Surely the same Sparrowhawk but on a different camera
Fox carrying Squirrel
Fox carrying Rabbit
A sweet little Wood Mouse

I finish with this morning’s sunrise over the sea. What an uplifting way to start the day:

Rain, Rain, Sunshine, Rain

Things were very changeable at the beginning of this week with plenty of gusty wind and sudden intense bouts of rain. The sort of weather that could trick the unwary into skipping off coatless around the meadows, bathed in sunshine and blue skies, only to find themselves soaked to the skin before they were halfway round. So, yes, that happened to me twice. The ponds are pretty much filled to winter levels:

Many of the trail cameras in more exposed positions have now got water on the lens and it then takes several days for them to dry out and start taking clear photos again. As a result, half our fleet of cameras has been out of action for most of the week:

The lens is that top circle that is fogged with water droplets on the inside

The cameras struggle with condensation like this for much of the winter and so we are going to experiment with ways to give them some protection from the worst of the weather. Perhaps build an outer casing around those most affected? Or maybe we buy more expensive cameras for these very exposed locations?

One morning we were out photographing water drops dangling off the Hawthorn berries….

…when we saw a Spotted Flycatcher doing its distinctive aerial loops to hunt down flies. We only see these birds on migration:

Thankfully the weather improved in the second half of the week, good enough for the Bird Ringers to come one morning and catch sixty-four birds, mainly migrating Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. The highlight, however, was this young Redstart:

The two central tail feathers are brown rather than red

They caught a Song Thrush, also born this year:

This young Wren looks a bit of a mess because it hasn’t yet got its adult feathers through:

On another sunny day, we had a grand day out to the Dungeness RSPB reserve, an hour down the coast:

The Dungeness nuclear power station as viewed across one of the reserve’s lakes

The reserve is still not fully back up and running and only three of the hides were open, although they have built a couple of additional viewing platforms for these Covid times. We were pleased to see this male Ruff:

Male Ruff in front of a monster Great Black-backed Gull

In the breeding season, male Ruffs have a collar (or ruff) of long neck feathers that they use to impress the females. One day I would love to see this display but it would need careful planning since, in the UK, Ruffs only breed in a few places in East Anglia.

By Arjan Haverkamp – originally posted to Flickr as 2009-05-22-14h06m00.IMG_9725l, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9141547

Back in the meadows, this is the male of our pair of Herring Gulls. Now that he is in his winter plumage, his head is flecked with grey rather than being brilliant white:

Jay drying off after a bath
Kestrel hunting for rodents from the perch
Sparrowhawk hunting for birds from the gate

This is a lovely portrait of the One-eyed Vixen, with her blue left eye. This fox has been with us through two summers now, raising a litter of cubs both years, and I have successfully treated her for mange twice. I feel a very personal connection with her, although she reciprocates with a healthy wariness of me and always keeps her distance.

This is a screen shot from a video of a fox carrying prey. The prey seems to be both squirrel-sized and shaped but with a furless tail with a white pom pom at the end. I have no idea what this can be:

In the sunshine of the second half of the week, we had a chance to enjoy the insect life around the meadows before it all disappears from sight for the winter:

Peacock Butterfly in such beautiful condition that you can observe all the wonderful details
Red Admiral. I always particularly like the two unexpected turquoise bars at the back
Small Copper
Ivy Bee on an Ivy flower with a leg loaded with pollen

We have been following the fortunes of a large European Garden Spider that has spun its web in a Hawthorn, about four feet off the ground. Today it had caught a woodlouse and was in the process of consuming it. How did a woodlouse get into the centre of the web, or did the spider go off and get it?

We have had the Almar at anchor alongside us for quite a few days. She is nearly 200m long and has sailed from India bringing 7,000 tonnes of steel destined for a company in Canterbury. Sourcing steel has apparently been a big problem during the Covid epidemic and her arrival was eagerly anticipated:

As we went through Dover on our way to Dungeness, we saw her in port:

The Port of Dover issued a press release about her because she is by far the largest ship to have used the new cargo facility there since it opened in December 2019.

On another calm, still day, we saw another migrant boat come in below us and this time it arrived on its own, unescorted by Border Force vessels. I can see a little boy sitting up at the front. The BBC website reports that this weekend more than 1,100 people crossed the channel like this and arrived in Britain.

We have been working hard in the wood. In the regenerating area there is a clearing that is covered in marjoram. This native plant is loved by pollinators, and it is here we saw the Silver-washed Fritillary Butterflies this year, gracefully gliding from plant to plant. But the glade was becoming heavily overgrown with dogwood which was starting to shade out all that lovely marjoram and so we knew we had to take action. It has been very good cardio exercise – we have now had three sessions of cutting down and clearing away the dogwood and it is really pleasing how much we have achieved. But light rain had started to fall once more for yesterday’s session and again I got very damp because I had not brought a coat.

I think this is going to look great next summer. The hope is that there will be a carpet of marjoram heaving with woodland pollinators and alive with butterflies and all this effort will have been worthwhile.

Missing from the Meadows

As a rule our bird feeders do brisk business but, at this time of year, they are like ghost ships on a becalmed sea.

Up until recently the large capacity feeder at the hide pond was having to be refilled every few days. At the moment, though, the seed level is hardly going down at all. Although there wouldn’t be birds on the feeder whatever the time of year when a Sparrowhawk is at the pond

Seed-eating birds are missing from the meadows and the wood because they are off hoovering up grain in the fields after harvest and it is lovely that, for a few weeks at least, the land is amply providing for them. A badger latrine near the sett in the wood supports my point- this badger has surely been off foraging in the agricultural fields all night:

Sorry to be introducing badger dung so early in the post

The Hazel coppices in the wood are covered in these silvery blisters. These are the leaf mines of the Nut-leaf Blister Moth (Phyllonorycter coryli).

The moth larva lives and then pupates within the safety of the blister, eventually emerging as an adult micro moth.

The adult Nut-leaf Blister Moth. Photo from Naturespot.org.uk

A Tawny Owl was photographed on three separate woodland cameras this week:

Lots of birds use this branch to perch on in the Beech grove:

Great Spotted Woodpecker

This squirrel made some sort of miscalculation and ended up getting wet feet:

One morning this week we went down for a swim at the local beach below the meadows with a visiting son. There were some people going out foil surfing – I hadn’t heard of this water sport before:

The board has an attached hydrofoil underneath it and the sail is held in the hand.
The idea is to get the board to lift up onto its hydrofoil which hasn’t happened in this photo yet – possibly it wasn’t windy enough

There was also a yoga lesson going on down there:

This large and amazing caterpillar was spotted in one of the beachside gardens:

The Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar. What is the purpose of that black, hooked tail?

What immediately sprang to my mind was that the caterpillar is in the colours of the Suffragettes:

Suffragette hunger strike medal and badge in the British Museum using the same colours as the Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar

The Privet Hawk-moth is the UK’s largest Hawk-moth and one that I often catch in the moth trap up in the meadows:

Two Privet Hawk-moths with their pink and black-striped abdomen. Also two pink and green Elephant Hawk-moths and an Eyed Hawk-moth. Photo from July 2020

The caterpillar will be feeding up on various plants including wild and garden Privet from July to September, at which point it will burrow more than 30cm underground to pupate and spend the winter. Perhaps it will use that black tail spike to dig its way underground?

The tractor has gone off in disgrace to be serviced and repaired and will be missing from the meadows for a couple of weeks. Here it is being picked up in front of the enormous pile of hay that it has already harvested from the first meadow. The much bigger second meadow is largely yet to be cut and so I hope that the tractor will be back soon and we can find a weather window to continue the job.

The hay will gradually be taken away over the next year with the household green waste collections. Currently, however, these have been suspended since the beginning of August because of a shortage of HGV drivers and the hay pile remains as large as ever.

Our hopes for reasonable October weather in order to be able to get on with the harvesting have been somewhat dampened after this last wild and stormy week. One night the wind was so strong that the stringing mechanism in the flag pole snapped and we found the flag in a sodden heap on the ground.

The flag has come in to get dry, and working out how to restring the flagpole has now been added to our list of jobs. It has been very autumnal out there but we haven’t yet felt the need to turn that Aga on

Last week I was getting on with another autumn job of pulling reeds out of the wild pond:

After leaving the pulled reeds by the side of the pond for a day so that any displaced animals can crawl back into the water, I put a pile of the reeds close to the badger sett.

Even though the reeds are uncomfortably coarse and still dampish, the badgers can’t resist them. There is also a pile of soft, dry hay nearby that they have left untouched:

Dragging the reeds back to their burrow as bedding

Much progress has been made on the project of revealing the young hedgerow from surrounding vegetation and laying bark chips down to stop moisture loss and discourage weed growth next summer:

We have quite a lot of this wool insulating packaging that arrives with food deliveries, stored up in the attic and awaiting inspiration on the best way to reuse it. We probably have twenty metres in all and realised that it would be good under the bark as additional mulching material.

Covering the wool with bark chips

It is so enjoyable to see Kestrels back hunting in the meadows where the vegetation is now short. They sit and look for rodents from the perches where possible because it uses less energy than hovering:

This next photo has got some rain on the lens but I like the very British queuing system to use the bath. Kestrel, Magpie and then Herring Gull.

Magpie springing from the bath

The way the gang of Magpies are surrounding and staring at this juvenile Herring Gull feels a bit sinister:

Crows are great big birds, yet it seems that they are still interested in the tiniest of millet seeds:

We found another interesting caterpillar this week – this time the larva of the Muslin Moth:

Muslin Moths are regulars in the moth trap here. They are lovely moths with their furry boleros. This is a male and the females are white:

Naturespot.org.uk

Squirrels are always largely missing from the meadows but there is a mature Walnut tree in our neighbour’s garden and this autumn this animal has been scampering around burying their nuts in our lawn:

I watched the squirrel bury a walnut, which was large because it was still in its protective green outer casing. There was a lot of digging and subsequent covering up and the whole thing took quite a long time. I hope it remembers where it put it because we don’t want a Walnut tree growing in the lawn.

Although we didn’t find any Wasp Spider webs in the long grasses of the meadows during the summer, this week we found a forlorn Wasp Spider cocoon being buffeted around by the wind in a vulnerable place on a short grass path:

A Wasp Spider cocoon, attached to a leaf by some sticky black threads

We only recognised what it was because we found some in good condition safely secured to long grasses last winter:

This is how a Wasp Spider cocoon should look. Photo from December 2020

We relocated the cocoon to within some long grass that won’t get cut this year, even if we do manage to get round to some more harvesting. Hopefully it can now survive through the coming winter and release its spiderlings next spring.

Next summer we will search the area where we relocated the cocoon to see if we can see some of these spiders and get that warm feeling that our rescue mission was successful. Photo from August 2020

This was a glorious sight when I pulled back the curtains one morning this week

Today’s weather is forecast to be awful this afternoon with winds of nearly 60mph for several hours and heavy rain. However, the day has started so peacefully with no hint of what is to come. The Herring Gulls are rising up from their overnight roosts on the sea and flying inland over our heads to their feeding grounds to start their day, calling to each other as they go. Very atmospheric:

The sun just poking her head above the horizon this morning

We do see magnificent sunrises from the meadows when the conditions are right and, now that the days are getting shorter, we are more likely to be awake to see them.

Apples and Pears

Here in the meadows the foxes love a tasty pear or two and late September is the time that the pears ripen on the trees and the fun begins.

Last year, after they had plucked all the fruit from the lower branches, they went climbing up into the tree for more:

September 2020

This year, they haven’t started climbing yet but, if they do, then we should know all about it:

The most photographed pear tree in Kent?

Badgers are also very partial to a pear but they are at a disadvantage with their short little legs and have to rely on drops:

Jays, Magpies and Crows are very interested too, pecking away at the fruit by day:

In the image below, the pear on the right went rotten first and, because it was touching the perfectly healthy left hand pear, the fungus passed across and produced this amazing effect.

Whilst all this pear mania is going on, the apples are lying mostly untouched on the ground:

I did, however, cut a few apples in half and spread them on the ground in front of a camera and a group of six Magpies came down to eat them. We have noticed in the past that birds are much more interested in apples if they are first cut up and this seems odd since surely most birds’ beaks could easily pierce the skin of an apple?

We willingly donate all the pears on this tree to wildlife because, although we do like pears ourselves, we like seeing the animals enjoying them more.

We are now certain that this is the male of the pair of Herring Gulls who have adopted the meadows as their territory throughout the year. The female is colour ringed and easy to spot but we can also recognise this male by his behaviour (which amusingly includes dive-bombing the dog) and it is only ever him that turns up with their youngster. We do see the female as well, but only on her own.

The male and his now-fledged chick

We have enjoyed observing this pair of Gulls this year but would like to better understand them and an out-of-print book has been recommended to us. Published in 1953 but apparently ageing well, this book was written by the Nobel-prize winning Niko Tinbergen and is a study of Herring Gulls’ social behaviour. It sounds very interesting and we have got a second-hand copy on its way:

The influential Collins New Naturalist series of books is the longest running natural history series in the world with over a hundred volumes published over seventy years

Now that some of the meadows has had its annual cut, we are seeing much more Kestrel activity. A trail camera captured one flying with its distinctive long, thin wings:

I think that this bird is one of this year’s young:
And this is an adult male with his grey head:

There is a lot of variation within the population of Common Lizards that we have here. We saw this beautiful green one this week:

This is so very different to the one we had seen the week before, yet they are the same species:

We also saw a different species on the Isle of Wight last week, the Wall Lizard, although there is also a population of these non-native lizards near us at Folkestone:

Other photos from the meadows this week:

One of September’s jobs each year is to pull reeds from the wild pond. All this vegetation has grown this year and it would soon get out of control if neglected. But this task is much more pleasant since we bought some waders
You can just make out the rufous tail of this migrating Redstart
Luckily we hadn’t yet picked the dog up from kennels after our trip to the Isle of Wight when this Chinook military helicopter came so low over the meadows. The dog would have gone completely crazy at this violation of her territory
I haven’t seen this fox before. Blind in his left eye but otherwise looking healthy
Another Blackbird in moult
First time we have seen a Tawny in the meadows for months
The racing pigeon has now moved on and I wish it well for its onward journey home
The Woodpigeon breeding season doesn’t seem to be over yet
I like this action shot
Such a rich orange on this Comma butterfly
A rare daytime Badger shot
Before a bath….
… and afterwards

In the woodland, I did a double-take when I saw this photo of a fox who looked so much like the Old Gentleman, who has left a fox-shaped hole in my heart:

Owls and Buzzards have been using the wood baths in this long spell of dry weather that we have been having this September:

Long wings

I am pleased to have had a few recent sightings of Marsh Tit:

I like this photo of a mouse trying to reach the water. Surely it is close to its tipping point?

There have been lots of visits of both adults and two juvenile Bullfinch to this pond:

Finally, I often give Magpies a hard time in this blog but now they have found a way to give me their response:

IOW Special

An Isle of Wight-shaped paddling pool in Ventnor, as viewed from the north

This week we spent a few days in a National Trust cottage on the Isle of Wight. When we booked, we unfortunately had not realised that the Isle of Wight Festival was on the very same weekend, although all this really meant for us was that the ferry from Southampton was busy. But the crossing was really interesting, all the same. From the meadows we often see these enormous car transporters at a distance sailing along the shipping lane and so we appreciated getting the chance to see one up close at last:

It has an opening on its side to enable ship-to-ship transfers, such as getting the pilot on board when coming into port.

The cars being loaded and unloaded are stored in multistories on the dock

It seems that Cruise Liners are back sailing the seven seas again after their long period of moth-balling. This monster block of flats, the Sky Princess, is off this week for a six day tour up to Glasgow and Belfast and back. Three of the six days are sea days and so there must be lots to enjoy on board:

I was shocked by this apocalyptic view of the Esso refinery at Fawley on the banks of Southampton Water:

It has been several decades since I was last in the Isle of Wight and it was exciting to arrive in Cowes.

Our cottage was in the south of the island, on the secluded and wonderful countryside estate of Wydcombe saved for the nation by the National trust:

Our home for a few days

I knew that there were Red Squirrels on the island and so had brought some peanuts and a trail camera to try to see one. But I hadn’t anticipated that it would be so easy – there was actually one in the back garden of the cottage when we arrived and we pretty much saw them wherever we went.

We were surprised that these Squirrels didn’t have tufted ears but I have now learnt that they only have those in the winter

How wonderful to have Red Squirrels burying nuts in the garden:

There were some lovely walks from the cottage, one of which took us up to to St Catherine’s Oratory. This used to be a complete chapel built around 1328 but now just the tower remains which was used as a beacon to protect shipping until the 17th century.

A migrating Wheatear up on the headland by St Catherine’s Oratory
Another view of the idyllic Wydcombe Estate

A view westwards from Blackgang Chine along the south coast and ending in the Needles. This photo shows a striking change in geology – brown cliffs give way to white chalk cliffs in the distance:

One morning we visited Carisbrooke Castle, where Charles the First was imprisoned for fourteen months before his execution in 1649.

Jackdaws have been associated with the castle for hundreds of years:

Nine species of Bat have been recorded roosting at the castle:

Walking along the ramparts, we noticed something interesting in one of the gatehouse towers:

Naturally nesting Honey Bees in the tower, bottom right in the photo
When not being farmed for honey in bee hives, these bees would tend to nest in hollow trees

We also visited Ventnor Botanic Garden which felt warm and humid and put us very much in mind of Gibraltar

Ventnor has Britain’s oldest colony of Wall Lizards. These reptiles are thought to be non-native but they have been in Ventnor for hundreds of years.

A Noon Fly (Mesembrina meridiana) with orange-gold on its wing bases, its face and its feet. It breeds in dung but we saw these colourful flies sun bathing on tree trunks

We were thinking that we might see some White-tailed Eagles while we were staying on the island. The Roy Dennis Foundation has released twenty-five of these eagles on the Isle of Wight over the last three years. They are all satellite tagged and so he knows that, although the 2020 birds are mainly off exploring elsewhere at the moment, the 2019 birds have now largely returned to the island and the 2021 birds are yet to disperse, meaning that there is quite a concentration of these magnificent birds here.

The only one we saw, however, is this stuffed one at Osbourne House, Queen Victoria’s beloved holiday residence and where she died in 1901.

A Wolf from the Apennines and a Great Bustard in the background, shot by various members of the Royal Family in the 19th century

I believe that there was a card by this case that said that this five-legged deer was born on the estate and Victoria and Albert’s children tried to care for it but it died. However, I cannot find any reference to this now and so I am doubting myself
Such a beautiful island

The Isle of Wight is a relatively small island – only 36km wide and 22km deep and with a population of 142,000 people. We didn’t get to explore the west of the island during our stay and there is much more to see, so we hope that we will return before too long.

Tales from the Hedgerow

One of the trail cameras got bumped sideways this week so that it was pointing at the hedgerow that runs alongside the feeding cages. Throughout that day, it took photos of a pair of rats emerging from the vegetation and venturing out across open ground to eat the bird seed:

But I now realise that these animals are risking their lives every time they come out into the open:

A Magpie spots a rat coming out
The bird then spent a long time hunting along the hedgerow for the rats
This Crow, already with a full crop of food, also tried to catch them

I was a bit surprised to see that corvids are actively hunting rodents like this. I had presumed that our rat population was held in check by foxes:

Fox with rat from back in June

This reminded me that we have also once seen a Weasel with a young rat:

February 2018

Although we have rats, we have never had a rat problem because there are so many things out there that want to eat them.

At this time of year, the hedgerows are laden with fruits and seeds such as Sloes, Rose hips, Dogwood berries, Blackberries, Old Man’s Beard and Haws.

Many of the wild roses have these Robin’s Pincushions, or Rose Bedeguar galls.

The gall wasp Diplolepis rosae causes a chemically-induced distortion of a leaf bud to form this odd looking gall which then protects the wasp’s eggs and larvae within. But what is the advantage of the gall looking so wildly hairy like this?
Migrant Hawker Dragonfly resting up in the hedgerow. There is a breeding population of these dragonflies in the UK but we only see them here in the meadows in the autumn when numbers are boosted by arrivals from continental Europe

Some parts of the hedgerows are heavy with mature ivy which comes into flower in September. Ivy nectar is very good quality with 49% sugar and is popular with a wide range of late flying insects. When the ivy is in the sun you can actually hear it humming from a distance away, such is the number of visiting bees, wasps and flies. The Ivy Bee is an ivy specialist that times its emergence to coincide with the ivy flowering and there are currently thousands of them working the hedgerows in the meadows:

Ivy Bee – such a glamorous bee I always think
Red Admiral on Ivy

We also have a young hedgerow that was planted in January 2020. It has had a bad start in life – after battling the drought of summer 2020, unfortunately it has become completely swamped by the surrounding lush vegetation during this wet summer. We are cross with ourselves for not acting sooner and there have been quite a few losses along its length, but on the whole it is just about hanging on in there. The tractor has now been run along either side to properly reveal it and we are weeding between the saplings.

We are going to apply a bark mulch this autumn to act as both a weed suppressant and moisture retainer which will give the new hedgerow a helping hand through next summer.

Whilst we were weeding this fledgling hedgerow, we found a very large and beautiful spider and brought her back to have a proper look. She is a European Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus), an orb web spider with a distinctive white cross on her back. These are centimetre squares to give you an idea of her size – she was big:

We returned her to the hedgerow where we found her.

There is bad news – the tractor has broken down! We think the belts driving the cutting deck have burnt out. Unfortunately the earliest it can go off to be repaired is the end of September meaning that this beautiful weather is going to waste whilst most of the second meadow remains uncut. We now have to hope for a dry October.

But in the meantime we are getting on with other jobs. We cut this small section of the first meadow very short with the lawn mower…

…and sowed some meadow flower seed. I now see that the EM6F mixture for chalky soils that I have used in the past has got wild parsnip seeds in it. That plant is a thug and persona non grata here these days and so I went for EM2F instead which still contains a variety of lovely plants but without the parsnip.

In a different section, also cut very short, I have laid some Lesser Knapweed seed heads that were harvested from an area where they were growing strongly. Hopefully, in this way, we get seeds for free:

One morning I found an old rusty battery up on the strip and wondered how it had arrived. But then I looked at the photos on the trail camera:

Magpie with AA battery

Dunking the battery in the water

There is folklore around Magpies collecting shiny things but, on doing a quick search on the internet now, I see that this has largely been debunked by scientific studies. So what is going on with this battery then?

This Magpie below had some sort of stick in its beak:

Then it dangled the stick down in its foot:

I am not sure what is going on here either
A fascinating and most handsome bird

The Bird Ringer came and spent a peaceful morning here with his nets, catching and ringing a selection of warblers on their way south.

Chiffchaff

The birds tend to come through in waves and, as usual this year, the Willow Warblers were ahead of the Chiffchaffs and have already mostly gone. The Chiffchaff wave is just beginning. These two species of birds look similar and I use the fact that Chiffchaffs have dark legs and Willow Warblers have pale ones to help tell them apart. However, apparently this is not true in all instances.

One way to categorically distinguish between them is to look at their primary wing feathers:

On a Chiffchaff wing, counting the little short feather at the front as number 1 and working backwards, there are six feathers that do not have any feather to the left of the shaft as you reach their tip. The technical term is immargination, or lacking a margin. Chiffchaffs have six feathers that are immarginated at the tips and Willow Warblers have but five. This distinction is probably only of relevance to ringers, though, and wouldn’t be any help whatsoever when viewing through a pair of binoculars.

This young Blackcap was a very feisty little bird. His cap has only recently turned black and the remnants of the brown head that he would have had as a juvenile can still be seen just above his beak.

He also had captivating white lower eyelash feathers:

Some other photos from this week:

We have had another racing pigeon with us these last few days and it is still here
Now that the meadows are getting cut, we are seeing a lot more of the Kestrels. No doubt they need the grass short to see their voles
In the autumn the badgers do a lot of bedding gathering to prepare their setts for the winter
This beautifully marked lizard was sun bathing on an ant hill. It has flattened its tummy to show as much surface area as possible to the sun
A fox in tip top condition
A rabbit with a lump on its cheek in the wood

In my university days back in the early 80s, I remember that slow cookers, house plants and rumtopfs were really popular amongst us students. Houseplants are now triumphantly back in fashion in this new century, but slow cookers and rumtopfs still languish in relative obscurity.

Although I liked the idea of a rumtopf, I’m not sure I ever actually used it back then so I decided it was time to finally give it a go this year.

As different fruits are harvested through the summer, you cut them into bite sized pieces and layer them into the rumtopf with a sprinkling of sugar. I have used our own orchard fruits but I have also added pineapple and nectarines to see how they fare too. With every added layer, rum is poured in so that the fruit is just covered. Then, by Christmas, it should all be nicely matured and you can start eating it – the recipe I read suggested you spoon it over ice cream although perhaps it would also go well with rice pudding for some winter comfort.

I have also taken advantage of what the hedgerow has to offer and made a 2021 vintage sloe gin. Just one day old and already the colour has started to infuse into the gin:

We shall look forward to drinking this in a year’s time.

Cutting Hay While the Sun Shines

Last weekend we spent two nights in a woodland cabin in Norfolk, close to the wild and lovely Yare river that heads east from Norwich and enters the sea near Great Yarmouth.

It was so restful to tip back in those comfortable chairs on the deck of the cabin and contemplate the sky through the rustling treetops. We have resolved to try to reproduce this in a small way in our own wood back home and I have ordered two similar chairs to facilitate this.

One of our favourite reserves, the Ted Ellis reserve at Wheaten Fen, is on the banks of the Yare:

Although now into September, the reserve was still thronging with invertebrate life.

Black-and-yellow Longhorn Beetle
Black-tailed Skimmer
Willow Emerald Damselfly- a recent colonist of the UK with its population centred around Suffolk
There was quite a lot of this beautiful plant on the reserve. On further investigation, however, I see that it is Orange Balsam. Like its cousin Himalayan Balsam, it is unfortunately an invasive species spreading its seeds along the British waterways

I love the round tower churches of East Anglia and I understand from the Round Tower Churches Society that one hundred and eighty of them still survive there.

The Church of St Peter and St Paul at Burgh Castle
The round tower Church of St. Edmund at Fritton – and this church is thatched as well

One of the loveliest gravestones I have ever seen was in the graveyard of this church in Fritton:

Carved by the Norfolk stonemason Teucer Wilson, it marks the grave of a woman who loved nature. Bird ringers, whom she called ‘the bird boys’, visited her land for many years to ring the Swallows and Barn Owls that shared her home with her.
There was a large flock of Goldfinch eating thistle seeds at Charlton Marshes, a Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve near Lowestoft

Now that we are back from Norfolk, we urgently need to get going with the annual cutting and clearing away of the meadows before autumn progresses much further. The plants and grasses have to be dry so that they don’t stick to the tractor – but is there going to be a sufficiently favourable weather window to get all this work done? I certainly hope so.

Working away at the first meadow. This meadow is half the size of the second one which is yet to be started.

We call it the tractor but it is really a powerful sit-on lawn mower with an ability to collect up the cuttings – a very important aspect of managing flower meadows. It is easily capable of cutting the meadows but it is never a speedy job. This year we are composting a few loads of the meadow cuttings to make a mulch for the garden. This is an experiment and I worry that it will have just too many seeds that will then germinate in the flower beds once the mulch has been applied.

A pair of breeding Magpies will hold a territory of about twelve acres all year round. But the number of breeding territories is a limiting factor meaning that twenty-five to sixty percent of Magpies do not breed because they don’t have a territory. These non-breeding birds form a flock with a home range of about fifty acres and perhaps this is one such flock that we saw in the meadows this week:

A flock of eight Magpies

Here in the meadows this summer we did have an active Magpie nest in a copse of trees and young were successfully fledged:

Collecting mud for the nest in March
A fledgling Magpie begging for food back in July
Feeding young on the gate in July

These young birds stay in their parents territory until September or October when they go off and join the non-breeding flock which feed and roost together. A high percentage of the young birds fail to make it through their first winter but, if they do survive, then they are likely to live for about three years.

Until the mid 19th century, Magpies were very common in Britain and they were popular with the farmers because they ate the insects and rodents that harmed the crop.

Photo from last month

But from then until the First World War, heavy persecution from gamekeepers caused their population to plummet. Since the second World War, though, numbers have increased and in fact trebled from 1970 to 1990, helped by the birds moving more into urban areas away from persecution and where there is plenty of food. The population has been relatively stable since 1990 suggesting that they have now reached their ecological equilibrium.

I have found it helpful researching and understanding these birds a bit more because I am not very fond of Magpies. They strut around like sixth form prefects with all the power gone to their heads and they just seem to be too successful here. Their biggest crime in my eyes is the way they predate songbird eggs and nestlings. However, the BTO analysed thirty-five years of its bird monitoring records and found that songbird numbers were no different in places where there were lots of Magpies to where there were few. Availability of food and suitable nesting sites are probably the main factors limiting songbird populations rather than the density of their predators.

A photo from last year with an adult bird in a Magpie’s beak

Actually they are indisputably beautiful birds:

Here is a Magpie with a Hawthorn berry. I am always interested to see which berries get eaten quickly and which are less popular – Hawthorn berries invariably go first. Sloes on the Blackthorn bushes seem to hang around until last, often lasting right through to the next spring.

We have planted a lot of Guelder Rose trees in the meadows because we had noticed elsewhere that the berries were very popular with all sorts of winter thrushes and, excitingly, Waxwings. The Guelder Roses in the meadows are now laden with a heavy crop of berries this autumn, ready for the thrushes’ arrival in the country shortly. We are yet to see a Waxwing here but perhaps this year will be the one.

Ready for the Waxwings!

In the meadows, there are three of these log structures built for beetles. The logs have been dug deep into the ground and are in the shade so that they don’t dry out and we hope that beetle larvae will now be living on the rotting underground wood:

This week the badgers provided us with a bit of evidence that this might indeed be the case by excavating around the base of the stack, presumably to get at the beetle grubs:

Badger diggings in amongst the logs

Spurred on by this apparent success, we plan to bring back additional logs from the wood this autumn and build a few more of these stacks.

Some other photos from the meadows this week:

I like to think that this is the Herring Gull fledgling of the pair of birds that have made the meadows their home, the female of which is colour-ringed. If my theory is correct, the adult bird here must be its father rather than its mother
And here is the youngster having an argument with a Magpie
Sparrowhawk at the hide pond. Look at those powerful feet
Sparrowhawk on the gate
Young Kestrel on the perch.
The farmer was harrowing the field next door and the sky became filled with Black-headed Gulls
Common Darter
A small caterpillar shelters amongst the spines of a Teasel head….
…it is the caterpillar of the Double-striped Pug moth
Wall Butterfly basking in the sun
An adult Box Bug

Over in the wood, a Tawny Owl has been visiting the shallow bath on a few nights recently:

It has also been perching up by one of the Tawny Owl nest boxes, although sadly showing no apparent interest in the box itself:

No, not a vulture! This Blackbird is moulting its neck feathers and looking most strange
Two juvenile Bullfinch

I finish with the breaking news that the last two days since our return from Norfolk have been hot and dry and the first meadow is now almost finished. A few areas are left uncut each year on a rotational basis:

Now, on with the second one before this weather breaks!

Summer’s End

I have to keep reminding myself that it is still August. The weather has been dull and grey with a chilly north-easterly for much of the week. We even felt the need to turn the heating on one evening although in my head was my father’s voice telling me to just go and put another jumper on.

Not having known much about them until the last few years, the insects of the meadows often amaze us. How about these two beasties, standing side-by-side on an Alder Buckthorn leaf and looking like Pixar cartoon characters?

They are an early instar and a late instar nymph of the Box Bug. This bug was first found in the UK at Box Hill in Surrey feeding on box plants but it has rapidly spread its distribution up as far as Yorkshire in the last decade by shifting to several other food plants, including the Buckthorn that I found them on.

I think that this must also be a Box Bug nymph in the wood because apparently they can turn red in the autumn:

And here is another very strange little animal. We actually rescued it from the conservatory but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at it closely:

I don’t know if anyone remembers Gonzo from the Muppets, but it really reminded us of him:

This is probably an Acorn Weevil (Curculio glandium) although there are three species that look similar. These weevils live in Oak trees and the female uses that long snout to bore her way into acorns to lay her egg. Her larva then develops within the acorn.

Kite-tailed Robberflies are often seen here, sometimes carrying their hoverfly prey. I hadn’t noticed those really odd feet before though:

We are still in the happy position to stop and take note when we see a squirrel in the meadows. This is certainly the first one that we have seen this year, if not for longer and I suspect that the reason that we don’t see more might be fox related.

Badgers turn up and rearrange the bird feeding cages most nights and we chuckle to ourselves when we see the cages in such disarray in the mornings:

I am fairly certain that there are currently four Badgers living under the meadows

After the long and ultimately unsuccessful battle to try to save the Old Gentleman this summer, I find it heartening to see that all the other foxes are looking really healthy. The medicated honey sandwiches that I put out did cure the two vixens of mange and they are now better, with fur regrown.

From mid August, our front lawn becomes a no-go zone as hundreds of Autumn Ladies Tresses orchids pop their elegant heads up above ground:

Autumn Ladies Tresses with clockwise spirals..
..and one with an anti-clockwise spiral

These orchids grow in low Nitrogen, low Phosphorus calcareous grassland, including closely mown gardens by the coast. Although they can spread a bit by producing lateral buds from underground stems, they are mainly pollinated by visiting bumblebees and the resulting dust-like seeds are then dispersed by the wind. But there then needs to be a prolonged symbiotic association with mycorrhizal fungi. This means that, amazingly, the first leaf rosette doesn’t appear until eleven years after germination, with the first flowering stalk appearing two to five years after that! Knowing this, we can’t help but feel honoured that our lawn is somewhere that they like to be.

Last autumn there was an extraordinary movement of hundreds, if not thousands, of Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Crossbill through the meadows. The bird ringers caught and ringed well over a hundred Lesser Redpoll and here is a lovely male from back then:

No one quite knew at the time whether these birds were arriving, departing or just moving around.

It now appears that the Redpolls, at least, were leaving the country because the bird ringer has just been advised by the BTO of two ringed recoveries. A Lesser Redpoll that he ringed in the meadows on 12th October 2020, was recaught in Limburg in the east of Belgium ten days later on 22nd October. Another Redpoll, ringed here on 30th September 2020, was subsequently recaptured in Luxembourg on 5th November. Ringing provides lots of information on size, age and health of the birds ringed. But it is always particularly satisfying when the bird is subsequently recaught in a different place and we can learn of its migration as well.

This Crow is moulting its neck feathers giving it a vulture-like appearance

In the wood, there is one area that has a large open glade rich in Marjoram which, at this time of year, is heart-warmingly filled with visiting insects. Silver-washed Fritillaries are big, woodland butterflies with a distinctive swooping flight and there are several feeding up in the Marjoram glade this year. The female is on the left below and the bright orange male is on the right with the dark lines on his forewings.

A Small Tortoiseshell was also on the Marjoram and this is the first time we have seen one in the wood. In fact we only ever see about one a year in the meadows as well so they are quite a spot in this part of the country. A beautiful butterfly with that blue margin to its wings:

It has definitely not been a hot, dry summer and birds of prey haven’t been drawn in to the water as they have in previous years. However, a Tawny Owl did visit the new pond on two successive nights this week.

The first night:

And the second night:

We hadn’t seen an Owl in the wood for many months so were really pleased to see one again. There has also been a Buzzard:

And a Sparrowhawk:

Also in the wood:

Juvenile Green Woodpecker
Rabbit on guard

As the country has started to return to normal this year, vintage aircraft are once again to be seen in the skies above the meadows as Spitfires take passengers on a trip of a lifetime along the white cliffs:

The dog can detect a 1940s Merlin engine from miles away and madly chases the planes up and down the length of the meadows, exhausting herself. This results in the need for a cool down in a pond and, inevitably, a dog that looks like this:

Although embarrassingly disreputable at times, she is very much part of the fabric of the meadows.

Blog On Tour

This year we decided to have a series of weekends away with each of our children rather than a longer holiday. So this week we launched ourselves across the country to the Pembrokeshire town of Saundersfoot with one of our daughters and her fiancé.

Grey Seal on a boat ride round Caldey Island. Our daughter’s photo
Another of her photos of Choughs on the cliffs at nearby Lydstep. There were but 335 pairs of these birds in Britain as of 2014-5 and most of them were and still are in Wales. But they are only green listed because their numbers are thankfully rising slightly, helped by reintroductions and targeted conservation habitat management. In fact, Kent Wildlife Trust is shortly hoping to reintroduce Choughs onto the white cliffs of Dover not far from the meadows, possibly next year.

Of course we couldn’t be in Saundersfoot without a spot of rock pooling:

Animals living in rock pools are very vulnerable to bird predation at low tide. This Goby uses camouflage to protect itself
There are about a dozen species of Chiton in the intertidal waters around the UK. They are grazers and move slowly over the rock eating the films of algae using their rasping tongue. They are also called coat-of-mail shells because of the eight interlocking plates across their backs
The thin and pointed triangular tail flap on this crab tells us that this is a male. A female would have a larger rounder flap.

We were only away three nights but this was long enough to get very behind with the harvesting at this time of year.

Overgrown courgettes anyone?

Whilst we were in Wales, the bird ringers set up their nets in the meadows one morning and caught a variety of warblers – Garden Warblers, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and this Reed Warbler:

For the first time ever in the meadows, they caught a Magpie. We are now enjoying spotting this ringed Magpie on the cameras:

Newly-ringed Magpie

Another thing that hasn’t happened before is that they caught a Short-tailed Field Vole in the nets – what a sweetie:

I like this trio of photos captured by a trail camera. The female Sparrowhawk is passing the time of day on the perch:

Then, just visible in the top right hand corner, a Magpie lands on the camera and the Sparrowhawk cranes her head around to look at it. A few years ago we got a trail camera photo of a Sparrowhawk taking a Magpie and I should think no bird whatsoever would want to catch the eye of a Sparrowhawk like this:

The Magpie promptly flies off, although I personally would have chosen to go in the opposite direction, away from the Sparrowhawk:

Other photos from the meadows this week:

Magpies generally look very amusing at this time of year
Jays always look amusing when they bathe
Unusual to see a Pheasant in the meadows but this female must have appeared on practically every camera whilst we were away. The Pheasant shooting season runs from 1st October to 1st February in the UK and so she might be well advised to hang around here for a few months where she will be safe
Delighted to now be seeing juvenile Yellowhammer (Dunnock on the right)
Fox with unidentified prey
A bundle of Slow Worms under the sampling square
A group of Gatekeepers enjoying the bramble flowers

I am finishing this week by taking the blog off on location again. My brother was so lucky to get the chance to see a family of Barn Owls in North Somerset recently. He only has a camera phone but his friend took this fantastic photo of them in very low light:

Here are two more that his friend has taken of these birds recently:

Time lapse of a vole being brought in to the chicks
Silent gliding across the field

We don’t get Barn Owls here unfortunately and it is thrilling to see them doing so well over there in North Somerset.