Review of 2020 in the Meadows – Part Two

This second instalment of the review of the meadows mostly covers the beautiful summer months of May to the end of August. An exceptionally wet winter became a very dry spring and summer and, once again, we found ourselves with a battle on our hands to keep water in the ponds and the six hundred newly-planted hedgerow trees alive.

We have added ten species to the bird list this year, bringing the total to eighty-five. In January, a Greylag Goose flew in over our heads. Then, at the beginning of August, a Sedge Warbler was caught and ringed:

In mid August, a Whinchat was seen on a trail camera:

A Honey Buzzard flew low across the meadows one morning in late August, hotly pursued by Crows. Although stunned to begin with, I eventually mobilised myself, grabbed my camera and managed to get these shots:

In early September, a Spotted Flycatcher was caught and ringed. With the privilege of being able to get so close to this bird, you can see the slight hook on the end of the beak and those bristles round its beak:

The autumn migration was extraordinary. Flocks of Crossbills flew over the meadows for several weeks during September – another new bird for the list although sadly I failed to get a photo and the Bird Ringers didn’t manage to catch one.

Several Hobbies were also seen migrating in amongst the Swallows during the autumn. Hobbies eat Dragonflies during the summer, but switch to eating Swallows and other Hirundines in the autumn and, in fact, often migrate south with them using the Swallows as a sort of mobile canteen.

We hadn’t seen Lesser Redpoll before but now 214 have been caught and ringed this year because there were thousands of them moving through the area in the autumn. Hopefully the ringing information obtained will tell us where they were coming from and going to because at the time it wasn’t really known. Lovely to see the distinctive yellow lower mandible and that raspberry forehead:

The Bird Ringers also saw a male and female Stonechat several times in the hedgerow up where they were ringing. The final new bird for the year was a Goosander which flew in off the sea and over the Bird Ringers head on 16th October.

Some other bird ringing photos from the summer:

A lot of Starlings nested around these parts in the Spring. Then, all of a sudden, there were juvenile Starlings everywhere as the first broods started to fledge:

I presumed that this would continue through the summer whilst the adults went on to have second and even third broods. But, in fact, after a while all Starlings disappeared – though not before first stripping every last bit of fruit off the Cherry Tree:

Meanwhile, other young Birds were arriving on the cameras:

A Stock Dove nested in the Kestrel box this year and we managed to get a camera in there:

Walking under the nearby white cliffs, we spotted this little group of just-fledged Whitethroats, out of the nest but still being fed by the parents. Even though this was not in the meadows, these Birds are just too delightful not to include here:

There were two Kestrel nests in holes in these chalk cliffs, both of which successfully fledged young this year:

A pair of adult Kestrels – presumably the parents of one of these two broods in the cliffs – used the meadows to hunt and we have seen a lot of them:

A pair of Grey Partridge were to be found in the meadows on and off through the year:

Once again we played loud Swift calls close to this Swift box throughout the time the birds were here this summer. It attracted a lot of interest but unfortunately no takers. Maybe next year.

And there are always a lot of Woodpigeon here and they do so love to bathe:

A much anticipated annual summer spectacle is when flying Ants take to the air and Black-headed Gulls fly round and round above the meadows eating them:

The hot and dry summer meant that a lot of Butterfly species seemed to be having really good year:

At the height of the Mothing season in July and August, the number of Moths in the trap can be completely daunting and it regularly took me several hours to go through and properly identify them all to the best of my ability. An unexpected benefit of the lockdown was that, this year, I had that time to give and, for the first time, I properly recorded the Moths and submitted my data to the County Recorder. Of course, I subsequently had requests from him for photographic verification when he was surprised by what I was claiming to have caught. In some cases I was able to satisfactorily provide it, but mostly it resulted in him correcting my identifications. Nonetheless, I learnt an awful lot and hope that I can remember some of it for next year…

It was a very good summer for Burnet Moths. We found a Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth that had just hatched, and had the chance to get a proper look at the abandoned cocoon and pupal case:

For several years now we have been part of a Red Mason Bee guardian scheme. We are sent Red Mason Bee cocoons and cardboard tubes in early March and the Bees hatch out and gather pollen from the meadows during late spring. They build nests in the cardboard tubes which consist of a series of cells, each cell having a pile of pollen with a single egg laid upon it. The bees build walls of mud between each cell and then finish the tube off with a mud cap.

But we had never managed to establish where the Bees were getting the mud from to build their walls. At this time of year, the soil is rock hard and so surely they had to be getting the mud from the pond margins? But, despite looking, we hadn’t ever seen them doing this. This year, though, there was an exciting breakthrough. I was idling around the entrance to the Badger sett and became aware that Bees were flying down the tunnel where it is shady and cool and the soil is still damp. On my knees, peering down the tunnel, I could see the Mason Bees collecting up a ball of soft soil and then flying back up out with it. Such a satisfying discovery.

Some other memorable photos from the meadows this summer:

August ended with an impressive storm and a twister out to sea. Standing in the meadows, listening to the thunder rolling in across the water and watching groups of Swallows fleeing ahead of the ominously gathering clouds, there was a real feeling that summer was drawing to a close.

Autumn was coming, an exciting and eagerly-anticipated time of year here – to be covered in the final part of this review.

Review of 2020 in the Meadows – Part One

Over the course of a normal year, we would expect to be away from the meadows for several weeks. This year, we have scarcely been anywhere and never have the meadows been so comprehensively observed and photographed. Looking through the images that I want to include in this annual review, I find that there are way too many to shoehorn into a single post. So this instalment – Part One – covers roughly the first four months, January to April.

The annual jamboree of Frogs gathering together to spawn in late winter is quite a spectacle but it seems that it never goes without some sort of a hitch. One year, Foxes waded into the pond and feasted on all the frogspawn. Last year, there was complete carnage when a Heron ate all the Frogs – hundreds of them. This year, we had come up with a cunning strategy of rigging a grid of string over the pond, restricting the Heron to fishing in one area only and not able to wade freely through the water.

Initially, this definitely did seem to unnerve the Heron. But this approach was ultimately doomed because the Foxes just couldn’t resist chewing through the string, rendering it useless as a Heron deterrent.

Then, inspired by Worzel Gummidge on television last Christmas, we had the idea to make a scarecrow, Mackenzie, to watch over the Amphibians. He has proved completely successful and we have had no Heron visit whilst he is on guard.

Without the Heron as a lethal assassin, the Frogs were free to get on with the serious business of producing the next generation:

By mid February, Mackenzie was standing proudly over a pond that was filled with spawn:

But the problem this year was that the Frogs decided to lay their spawn into such terribly shallow water. This was probably because it is warmer but, unfortunately, Magpies were then able to get at it and a lot disappeared.

Once the spawn had hatched into tadpoles, Mackenzie went off duty and spent the summer resting up in the shed. But he is back in position again now as we approach the end of the year and the time for the Frogs to start up again.

It isn’t just the Frogs that Mackenzie was protecting from the Heron. It was the Newts as well.

I probably got a bit over-obsessed by Newts in late March and spent a lot of time watching and trying to photograph the very attentive male Smooth Newts as they pursued the females round the pond. I bought a polarising filter for the camera to remove the reflections from the water surface which helped a lot.

In the middle of January, the camera taking videos along the cliff captured two Foxes mating and I do beg their pardon for including this here:

By mid March, some of the Foxes appearing on the cameras were noticeably heavily pregnant. One of these particularly stood out and she became known as the One-eyed Vixen.

After she had had her cubs, it became apparent that she and another of our resident Foxes had mange.

I began treating the Foxes with Arsen Sulphur, having first checked with the charity The Fox Project that this was alright for lactating females. Although I hadn’t yet seen her cubs, I knew she had some close by. The Foxes had been successfully treated with this here before and it involves putting drops onto honey sandwiches every night for six weeks. I put the sandwiches onto the stone pinnacle in the ant paddock because the Badgers don’t get up there until later in the night:

The six weeks finished in mid May and, because there was a camera trained onto the pinnacle, I could tell that the One-eyed Vixen had got a dose of the Arsen Sulphur every night. The fur on the other mangey Fox’s tail began to grow back in, which was really satisfying. But, by mid June, it became obvious that the One-eyed Vixen’s mange had not gone away at all and was, in fact, getting worse. She had developed a new area of fur loss on her neck:

The Fox Project recommended I now tried Psorinum. This is similarly applied as drops onto honey sandwiches, but only for one week. I also added some Arnica drops as well because they advised that these can help healing. Once again, I was able to confirm that the One-eyed Vixen got a dose on every one of the seven nights.

This time, the treatment worked completely. Here she is in September with her fur nicely grown back and how heartwarming is that:

I had put a lot of emotional energy into the battle to save this Fox from a miserable death from mange and she thanked me in her own special way:

During May, her cubs were exploring away from the den a bit more and now started turning up on the cameras:

As the summer progressed, the cubs got bigger:

One evening in the middle of July, the camera up on the strip captured a series of wonderful images of all four of them together spending some contented family time. These photos are one of the absolute highlights of the year for me because I felt that I had had a part to play in helping this story have a happy ending:

In early February, the camera looking down upon the Badger sett, caught this:

Badgers mate as soon as this year’s young are born so we knew that it was now likely that there were tiny cubs lying cosily underground, although we wouldn’t see them until the female allowed them up at the end of April.

However, we were in for a treat when the mother decided to move them from one sett to another in the middle of February. She transferred three cubs – triplets this year!

She moved them again in early April – again three cubs were carried across to a new hole.

But then things started to get a bit odd. In previous years, the mother chooses a warm, calm night in late April to finally allow the cubs to come above ground. She watches over them like a hawk and they are initially only up for a very short time in a highly controlled manner.

But this year, a single cub, still really wobbly on its feet at first, started appearing along the cliff path on its own from early April:

Eventually, its mother would come racing up and drag it back to the sett:

I started forming theories for what on earth was going on. Was there a rebellious cub this year who refused to stay underground and went out exploring against express instructions?

Throughout April, this single, unaccompanied cub appeared most nights:

On 23rd April, the mother Badger allowed her triplets up out of the sett for the first time. She is an excellent mother and maintained a vigilant watch over them for the first few days while they found their feet. But is one of these cubs the maverick who we had been seeing out on its own?

Eventually the photo below and many more like it provided me with an explanation that I hadn’t considered – that there were two separate families. Our normal mother did indeed have triplets, but one of her daughters from a previous year had also had a cub. It was this single cub of the young mother who was out roaming unaccompanied. The four cubs were all related and were often crèched together and watched by a single adult:

Throughout the summer, the cubs grew and played and learned how to be Badgers. However, the single cub did not seem to thrive like the triplets. Here it is in the middle of May:

And here again, with an adult to its right and one of the triplets to its left.

The young mother often still dragged it around, far more than seemed reasonable:

The male Badger is not allowed anywhere near the cubs for a while. On one occasion, he came through the hole under the fence and stumbled upon them by accident. He immediately started grooming the cub nearest to him:

But the female rushed forward and gave him a severe telling off and he quickly reversed backwards through the hole and retreated.

With the four cubs, two adult females and the adult male, all of a sudden there were a lot of Badgers about:

First year mortality for Badgers is 50-65%, would you believe, and so I was pleased whenever all seven of them turned up together at the nightly peanuts and I could confirm that everyone was still present and correct:

The littlest Badger, who had remained smaller and more delicate-looking than the others, had the most joyful of summers playing around with the other cubs and driving its mother to distraction. However, unfortunately it was last seen on 24th September:

The triplets, though, are still going strong.

The strip was rotavated in February. This is part of the Operation Turtle Dove project and we were about to embark on our third year of putting down supplementary food supplied by the RSPB to encourage Turtle Doves to visit and nest:

But we are yet to see a Turtle Dove here, despite our best efforts. Other threatened farmland birds, however, have definitely been thriving on the seed such as Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge, Linnets and Stock Dove. Three years ago, there were no Yellowhammer to be seen here but in 2020 the Bird Ringer caught and ringed around ten of them and I am still seeing more unringed birds on the cameras:

Just as the Hawthorn had unfolded its tender leaves at the beginning of spring, there was a vicious north-easterly wind that blew for several days. The leaves and flower buds along the whole of the 300m stretch of the westerly hedgerow became burnt to a crisp. Although the bushes did subsequent regrow leaves, they didn’t flower this year and subsequently, in the autumn, no berries have been produced.

On more sheltered stretches of hedgerow, the Hawthorn blossom survived. It is so exquisitely beautiful with those pink anthers against the white petals:

Here are some of the other things that were going on in the meadows in the first third of 2020:

We used coppiced birch from the wood to create another Beetle stack in the meadows. The wood will slowly rot underground and be available for Beetle species to lay their eggs into.

I am writing this post on the winter solstice. Yes, we have got there at long last and from now on the days will be getting a little bit longer with every passing day. Outside, heavy rain is being blown hard against the window panes, there is a new and unknown strain of Covid raging all about our ears and nearby Dover is completely gridlocked with lorries because of a perfect storm of the uncertainties of imminent Brexit and the rest of Europe understandably not wanting our new type of Covid. There has never been a better time, in my lifetime anyway, to sit tight and absorb oneself completely in the wonders of nature.

I hope to get the second episode of the Review of Meadows for 2020 out before Christmas, but in case I get overtaken by events and that doesn’t happen, then let me leave you with this for now:

Review of 2020 – The Wood

When we bought a piece of woodland at the beginning of 2019, we had no idea that we would soon have reason to be so grateful for the safe refuge and calming surroundings that it provides. 2020 has been horrible, disrupted, stressful and a whole string of other adjectives which I won’t list but all of which mean that it’s been awful. Having the wood has helped tremendously. There was a time in the spring when we couldn’t visit for many weeks but nature carried on regardless and we joined back in when we could.

In January 2020, we bought an adjoining additional 4.5 acres of woodland, meaning that our wood is now 11 acres. It is surrounded by more woodland and a farm that has recently been taken out of agriculture and is now being managed for wildlife. So, happily, it is set within a landscape where nature is being allowed to flourish over quite a large area.

During January and February we were busy with coppicing work but bits of our bodies were complaining forcefully about what hard work it was. This was resolved by the purchase of a battery-powered chain saw which made a big difference.

We felt we needed some sort of shelter from the elements and so started to make a wooden enclosure with the cut wood although this was as far as we got before being overtaken by events:

Winter, when the soil is nice and soft, is a time when Worms and other soil Invertebrates are a vital food source for many things:

At this time, we also became aware that nearly every one of our large raptor boxes in the wood was filled with nesting Squirrels:

On 23rd of March, before we decided what to do about the Squirrels and before we had had a chance to finish that winter’s coppicing, we had to stop visiting the wood for several weeks. During this time, the feeders ran out of seed and the ponds dried up and we just had to hope that the animals that had been visiting them were managing alright without them.

When we started returning at the end of April, the feeders were immediately refilled but they remained there, unvisited, for a quite a long time. These feeders, that had previously been so popular with swarms of small birds now hung there like ghost ships, seemingly giving me the stark message that I had let our wildlife down. It has taken a while but now, nearing the end of December, they are again as popular as they ever were.

It was late April, and a most glorious time of the year to have returned in the wood. We realised that Green Woodpeckers were nesting in the same hole that Great Spotted Woodpeckers had used last year:

This photo, from the end of July, is of successfully-fledged juveniles of both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers using the pond together:

There were at least three Badger cubs this year and here they are playing together:

And two of the adults taking a drink:

The heat and drought of the summer drew in some wonderful animals to the ponds:

The Polecat-Ferret Hybrids and the Red Deer were a complete surprise to us. We have continued to see the Deer on the cameras occasionally throughout the year. There was also this young male:

And this one with a fork in his antlers:

As the spring and summer progressed, young birds of many species started appearing on the cameras. Every one of the twelve small nest boxes had Blue Tit or Great Tit nests in them, producing a large number of fledglings. We have put an additional six boxes up in the new part of the wood this autumn.

In June, we were horrified to see the damage that Grey Squirrels were doing to the Beech trees in the new part of the wood. So many had been newly attacked and some were completely ringed like the one below. The water and food carrying tissues of the tree are just below the bark and will have been removed along with the bark, meaning that this beautiful tree will now die. We really regretted not having ejected those Squirrels from the raptor boxes earlier in the year – we were making life easy for them.

One area of Nettles had a lot of these Peacock Butterfly caterpillars on them in July. Peacock caterpillars are always quoted as the classic things that eat Nettles and so we were pleased to catch them at it:

At the end of August, many of the Oaks in the new section of the wood had these strange-looking Knopper Galls distorting their acorns:

As the year rolled into autumn, winter migrants started arriving at the wood. Woodcock rest up in the vegetation by day, waiting for the dark before they go out probing for soil Invertebrates in the soft ground:

A leucistic Blackbird with white head feathers:

The coppicing season has now started again. The Hazel stools that we had cut back at the beginning of the year are now growing strongly from the stumps:

This winter we have allocated ourselves a new area to cut:

And we finally got round to finishing the wooden enclosure that had been abandoned earlier in the year:

As we cleared out the nest boxes in October, the wood had one more surprise in store for us – a Dormouse had made a nest in one of the boxes:

Dormice are heavily protected by law and a licence is needed to disturb them in any way. Back in 2019, an ecologist who is a specialist in Dormice came to look at our wood to assess it for its Dormouse potential. Having found that we do indeed have them, she has now suggested that our wood and a neighbouring wood with like-minded owners – 20 acres in all – become a Dormouse Monitoring Site. This will involve getting 50 nest boxes up before the Dormice come out of hibernation in the spring and these boxes will then be checked every month by the licensed ecologist. Meanwhile, our woodland neighbour and I will start to work towards becoming licensed so that eventually we can check the boxes ourselves.

That is something to look forward to in 2021. What next year is going to look like and what will be possible is still uncertain but we shall have to keep our fingers crossed and do the best we can in the circumstances that present themselves.

Out and About

This week we took a trip out to Samphire Hoe, just the other side of Dover.

It is a 75 acre piece of land created from the chalk dug out of the ground to create the Channel Tunnel. Most of Samphire Hoe is now a country park, although there are some buildings connected with the tunnel up at the top end.

As we approached the turn off for Samphire Hoe, there was a stationary queue of lorries stretching for miles waiting to get into the port of Dover. A depressing glimpse of the nightmare that might be in store post Brexit:

A steep traffic-light controlled tunnel through the cliff gives access down to the reclaimed land at the bottom:

The tunnel on the right below spits you out at the bottom. The other two tunnels are for the Folkestone to Dover railway:

The chalk cliffs are very different to the cliffs nearer to us. These cliffs are no longer undercut by the sea and have become more vegetated and with rounded edges. They also don’t have those layers of flints that the Kestrels so love to perch on:

The Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 and so this land is only about 30 years old. Here is an internet photo of it in 1990:

Once the site was cleared, 31 species of plant were initially planted but now there are more than 200 species growing. Probably the most famous are its Early Spider Orchids, of which there are over a thousand flowering every spring, along with five thousand Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchids. But it got its name because of the Rock Samphire that we saw growing everywhere there on our visit:

There was scarcely anyone there at this time of the year and so it was a great place to walk the sometimes dubiously-behaved dog.

220 species of Birds, 30 species of Butterflies and 380 species of Moth have now been recorded at Samphire Hoe, and we made a resolution to return next spring to see all those Early Spider Orchids and hopefully some of the Butterflies as well.

Back in the meadows, the wildlife has been quiet and the cameras have not captured very much to show you this week. The weather hasn’t helped and the camera lenses are mostly covered in condensation:

The Mahonia in the garden is still flowering, although now coming to an end:

On a dull, damp and chilly day in mid December, there were still Buff-tailed Bumblebees visiting the flowers. How extraordinary and what a fantastic advert for planting Mahonia and other winter-flowering shrubs in gardens. The black berries that will follow these flowers are much loved by Birds as well:

For five years now we have been monitoring a hole under the fence that leads into the meadows from the cliffs. There is a lot of coming and going of both Foxes and Badgers but they always seem to arrange things so that they never meet. Until this week, that is, when both a Fox and a Badger tried to go through at the same time. It’s so strange that we haven’t caught this on the cameras before.

A Badger approaches the hole:

But a Fox is coming through the other way:

They then both give way. The Fox reverses backwards and the Badger rushes past the hole on towards the camera:

On the next video, a minute and a half later, everything gets sorted out. When the Fox tries again, another Badger has turned up to offer a distraction.

An unusual sighting of a Badger still up at dawn:

In the last post, I mentioned the Peacock Butterfly found hibernating in a cold, unheated bedroom of the house:

I decided to leave it there for now in the predator-free bedroom rather than transfer it to a shed where is would be vulnerable to attack by Spiders. Well, the day after that post, I went to check on it and found it gone. There was just a tiny fragment of wing left clinging to the curtains as a clue:

It seems that the house is not as predator-free as I had hoped. How does any Butterfly ever survive a whole winter without getting eaten?

The garlic, onions and broad beans growing away in the allotment are very cheering at this time of year:

In the wood, the Primroses are starting to grow as well, full of promise of what is to come in the spring:

We met one of our sons in the wood to help with the coppicing and a pleasing amount of work was done.

The new pond continues to delight us. Woodcock are nocturnal but here are two visiting by day:

And again at night:

There are Woodcock that are resident in the UK but numbers are much boosted by winter visitors from Finland and Russia. We have never seen one in the wood during the summer and presume all of ours here are migrants.

Another Bird that comes to the UK to spend the winter in this country is the Fieldfare. Like the Woodcock, they mainly eat grubs and worms in the soil and so do need to be somewhere where the soil in not frozen for long periods:

Long-tailed Tit, Marsh Tit, Blue Tit and Great Tit all at the pond at the same time:

And this is the first time that a Badger has visited this new pond:

The best that the other ponds in the wood could offer us this week is a Green Woodpecker:

The Christmas decorations have come down from the attic and the house is looking festive. I hate to bring anything in from the meadows that might be part of a vital food larder to sustain animals through the winter. However, we have so much mature Ivy out there producing such an enormous amount of berries that it feels alright bring some of that in:

I finish today with one Christmas event that has not had to be cancelled this year. Ramsgate is a little bit north of here and, every December, the boats in the harbour are festooned with lights making a magical scene. For the last few years, we have kick started that Christmassy feeling by taking a trip up there and it was great to still be able to do that in this most abnormal of years:

All Change for Christmas

This week has seen Kent move from lockdown into very high alert, tier 3 measures. With distressing levels of Covid all around, we have revised our Christmas plans and will now spend a quiet festive season here with the meadows and the wood. I am sure that people all over the country are making similar adjustments and will be having an unusual Christmas at the end of a highly peculiar year.

The wildlife of East Kent, blissfully unaware of all these human concerns, continues in its own sweet way.

A Sparrowhawk lands on the gate just before dawn with prey:

It looks to be an unfortunate Blue Tit and we went up there to search for its remains in case it had been ringed. However, the only sign were some sad feathers caught in Spider webs around the camera tripod:

We also came across a very fresh Sparrowhawk kill in the wood. This must have been a female, which is a much bigger bird, to have tackled something the size of a Woodpigeon:

There was a leucistic Blackbird with a white head in the wood this week. They are thought to be more noticeable to Sparrowhawks and therefore also more vulnerable to predation:

The most noticeable birds in the meadows at the moment are House Sparrows. There is a large gang of them and I love their loud, contented cheeping often emanating from the hedgerows.

Kestrels mainly eat Rodents rather than other Birds and here one is with bloodied talons and her Vole prey. I have lightened it as much as I could but it was an awfully dull day:

Since there is no prospect of having house guests for now, we have turned the radiators off and closed the doors of the unused bedrooms in the house. But, in one of these, we found a guest already making itself comfortable – a hibernating Peacock Butterfly on the inside of the window:

Since this animal chose us to spend the winter with, I now feel a responsibility to get it safely through to spring. Every time I check, it has slightly changed position. This morning it was on the curtains:

Of our fifty-nine British Butterfly species, most spend the winter as caterpillars but five species (Brimstone, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock) attempt to hibernate as adults which allows them to be early on the wing next spring.

The Brimstone hibernates in amongst Ivy and Bramble in a sunny spot. It is not known where Commas hibernate although a few have been found amongst Honeysuckle tangles and in Hazel coppices. The other three are associated with holes such as hollow trees, log piles and Rabbit burrows but they also like dark, damp sheds and attics.

Central heating is disastrous for them because it dries them out too much. Advice on the internet suggests moving the animal to a shed without touching its wings, so long as it will be able to get out once it wakes up – there is no escaping from the bedroom where it currently resides. But our sheds are generally very Spidery – how safe would it be from them?

We have decided to leave the Butterfly where it is in that cold predator-free bedroom for now whilst there is no chance of it waking and wanting to leave. Then we will try to find some suitable shed location to move it to. I suppose Spiders might be inactive themselves during the winter, although there are some monsters in the wood store that are still very much awake:

I see that Butterfly houses are available to buy. Perhaps I will ask for one of these for Christmas and move the Butterfly out into there where we know there will be no Spiders, at least initially.

Every year we look out for the White Saddles (Helvella crispa) coming up, a fungus that grows in association with the roots of one of the Holm Oaks here. These strange fruiting bodies are in a slightly different place every year but always close to that Oak:

Also around this tree are several of what I think are Common Earthballs (Scleroderma citrinum). And there are so many Worm casts everywhere now that the earth is soft:

A day of wall-to-wall rain this week and the wild pond showed us what it is meant to look like, with marshy areas at its apex. The problem of keeping this pond filled is one that I obsess about all summer:

A couple of Fox photos that caught my eye this week:

We occasionally see the Foxes here carrying Fish, evidence that they scavenge down on the beach amongst the sea anglers. These are screenshots from a video of a Fox rushing through carrying a Dogfish:

The Foxes here are British and, as such, understand how to queue nicely for their nightly peanuts.

And we all so hate a queue jumper:

The berries on the Yew in the garden are nearly all now gone, but Song Thrushes as well as the Blackbirds are joining in on the bonanza whilst it lasts:

Progress on this year’s coppicing is continuing in the wood.

The new pond is in a bit of a clearing and perhaps that is why it is attracting many more small birds than our other ponds that are in denser woodland. Nine Blue Tits and a Great Tit below, but Coal Tits, Long-Tailed and Marsh Tits are also regulars:

Bullfinch coming in:

And two Redwing:

The Hazel that we are cutting down is already covered in catkins – a lovely way to decorate the house before we get the Christmas decorations down from the attic:

Looking For Linnets

Kestrels need to eat between four and eight Voles a day, depending on the time of year and how much energy-consuming hovering they need to do.

Here is a Kestrel in the meadows with one of his Voles of the day:

Then a bit of cleaning of the talons:

Some preening of one’s feathers:

A stretch of the wings:

And off to search for another.

We had an extraordinary autumn migration this year with flocks of Redpoll and Crossbills flying around the meadows for several weeks. But where were the Linnets? In every previous year, there has been a sizeable flock of Linnets gathered here to spend the autumn with us. Last year the Bird Ringer ringed about 150 of them but this year there was nothing.

In 2017, the National Trust raised a million pounds to buy Wanstone Farm, a 178 acre piece of land just a bit south of here, high on the white cliffs around the South Foreland Lighthouse. It was land that had been intensively farmed since the Second World War.

They are now restoring the land with natural grassland and wildflower meadows. In some of the fields they have planted a ‘bumble bird’ seed mix to provide food through the winter for birds and nectar for pollinators in the summer.

The late Dame Vera Lynn supported the fundraising campaign to buy this farm, but, even so, there never have been and surely never will be Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover, unless she was referring to Blue Tits. However, if there are winter food plants now being grown, it is a possibility that this is where all the Linnets have gone.

We walked up there one day this week to see if we could find them.

Looking north towards St Margarets and the Dover Patrol Memorial on the skyline. The cliffs are terrifyingly high here:

When we were last here, this field below was full of waving wheat. Earlier this year, there was a good news story in the national news about this land now being a fantastic wildflower meadow for pollinators – but nothing looks quite the same on a dull day at the bog end of November.

Apparently the number of Skylark and Yellowhammer have already tripled and Corn Bunting are also to be seen here – a bird that is yet to be added to our meadows Bird list. However, we didn’t manage to find any of the fields that are planted with this ‘bumble bird’ crop to feed the birds and actually we saw very few birds at all. The mystery of our disappearing Linnets remains unsolved for now, but we will return in the early summer next year to see what’s going on then.

Although the excitement of the autumn migration is now over, the Bird Ringer was back this week for a spot of gentle ringing in the meadows.

This is a continental Blackbird. It reminds me of old news footage of coal miners coming above ground at the end of their shift.

Those brown primary flight feathers on the leading edge of its wing tell us that this is a young bird born this year

This is also a continental Chaffinch. Its wings were over a centimetre longer than another adult male Chaffinch that was also caught the same morning:

There are a lot of Blackbirds in the meadows at the moment, very busy on the Hawthorn:

They are also very much enjoying Yew berries in the garden:

Stock Dove numbers have also built up recently:

As have House Sparrow:

I have quite a soft spot for Badgers:

The photo below is a screen shot from a video and, on the video, I could hear myself scattering the nightly peanuts. Nice to know that the moth-eaten old gentleman and the one-eyed Vixen were waiting just behind the fence for me to finish:

Sparrowhawk always seem to appear at low light at the moment:

The Patricia moored alongside us one night with her lovely yellow funnel. She is a regular here – operated by Trinity House, she looks after the lighthouses and lightships around our coast. The notorious Goodwin Sands, just offshore from the meadows, have claimed thousands of ships over the centuries and now have lightships and buoys marking them that need looking after.

There have been some fantastic winter skies over the meadows this week. The dog has just had her seventh birthday but her leaping days are not yet over:

In the wood, we have just about completed what we had hoped to achieve last winter and are ready to move on to the next section. The coppice that we cut last year is now growing away strongly, and what a lot of growth there has been in one year:

We have built a round enclosure with some of the cut wood. The intention is to develop this a bit further and put up poles from which tarpaulins can be quickly hung to give some shelter when it rains. On several occasions we have been soaked to the skin in the wood and that is not very enjoyable.

We identified this section near the Beech grove to start on next:

So, this winter’s coppicing season finally got under way this week:

We used the cut wood to make dead hedge habitat on the boundary of the wood:

Quite a satisfyingly noticeable area cut and cleared away as a result of our morning’s work.

Another prospective tenant has been viewing the nest box that had (or has) the Dormouse in:

We know that we have a few Marsh Tits in the wood and it would be very exciting indeed if a pair were to nest in one of the boxes.

I started with a Kestrel and now I finish with a Kestrel. I took this through the windscreen as we were leaving the wood. We have only once seen a Kestrel in the wood so it was great to see one again in the area.

Blooming November

Five years ago, my mother was very ill in hospital in Slough. This horrible chapter of my life lives in my memory now as a rather surreal time, the weirdness being exaggerated by the fact that great swathes of Daffodils were in full bloom in Slough by the sides of the roads in November. It felt like the world had gone wrong in so many ways.

Half a decade on now and another mild autumn, although there are no Daffodils flowering this November. But, surprisingly, the Choisya in the garden is in full bloom and the fragrance is absolutely wondrous.

There were some Hoverflies visiting the Choisya and it was great to dust off the Insect books again and set about trying to identify them:

The Mahonia is also in full flower in the garden, but this is as expected for this shrub.

As I stood and admired it, I saw that Bumblebees were regularly visiting:

This is the Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris. My Bee book tells me that two generations are regularly attempted in the south of England with queens from the second brood often seen into September and October. However, in some areas, there is also a third generation that takes advantage of winter-flowering garden shrubs. These Bees on the Mahonia must be of this third, have-a-go-hero winter generation and I’m so pleased that the garden has something to offer them.

Glorious sunrise over the meadows one morning this week:

Wrens are not often seen on the trail cameras but I have been seeing some recently.

These are probably my favourite British birds. There is just one species of Wren in the UK but, because they tend to be sedentary, over the years they have evolved into six subspecies. Four of these are on islands – Shetland, Fair Isle, St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides all have their own subspecies of Wren. On mainland Britain, the subspecies indigenus is found in the north and west, gradually merging with troglodytes in the south-east, which is the subspecies found in the rest of Europe.

Winter is a challenging time for Wrens because of their small size and the scarcity of their insect prey, although the subspecies on the islands can survive by foraging in the intertidal zone for marine invertebrates. Elsewhere, Wrens defend a territory even during the winter in order to protect for themselves what food there is. They also have the really lovable tactic of bundling into a bird box together overnight to keep warm – sixty have been recorded snuggled up in just one box. They all arrive just after dark and leave just before dawn and so we humans rarely notice this going on. How I would love to get some cameras in some nest boxes to try to capture that.

In the colder bits of Europe, Wrens are forced to migrate because they cannot survive those winters. It was always thought, however, that our British Wrens stay put, although recent ringing evidence suggests that some do actually migrate from here as well.

At low tide one morning, we went down to the foreshore near us to see what Birds were taking advantage of what it had to offer.

There seemed to be generally very few birds around and we certainly didn’t see any Wrens foraging for marine invertebrates.

You need to be sure of the tide situation when you walk on the beach here because you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of this wall on a rising tide.

As well as a few Gulls and Crows, we saw a Little Egret, an Oystercatcher and heard a Curlew. There was also this Pied Wagtail:

And a handful of Rock Pipits as well:

Still plenty of Fulmar on and around the cliffs here:

There was so much work going on down at the beach this autumn, building three groynes using rock that was arriving on barges from Falmouth in Cornwall.

Now that everything is finished, we walked down to have a look at this section of the beach. For all that work and all those loads of rock that were delivered, the groynes are strangely unobtrusive.

There is a bit of a problem with garden escapee plants growing on the beach and several large clumps of Kniphofia from South Africa are still flowering there halfway through November. They shouldn’t be there but they are very beautiful – naughty but nice.

As I go to put the peanuts out each evening, there is a Bat flying along the hedgerow, not far above my head. Surely there can’t be much still around for it to eat? We are yet to properly got to grips with what Bats are here, but many of our Bird boxes are designed to also accommodate Bats roosting within. We have two boxes specifically for Bats as well:

We had a look in one of these and there were signs that it had frequently been visited. There was no nesting material so it has been used for roosting rather than nesting.

Below is an internet photo of Bat droppings and so I think we can say that it is Birds rather than Bats that have been roosting in the box:

The hole into the box is very small and flattened and most birds would not be able to fit in, so could it actually be that Wrens are roosting communally in this box? Well, maybe, although there were also some yellowish feathers which points to Blue Tits having been in there at some point and they do fit in too. Here is a photo of our other Bat box earlier this year with a Blue Tit emerging:

I can’t get a camera into the bat box but I might get one looking at it to try to see what is going on.

The Owl was back on the perch up on the strip this week. We had tried to ramp down the infrared coming from this camera by putting sticky tape across some of the bulbs. However, it seems that we need to cover still more because the Bird was yet again burnt out:

Fortuitously, however, it also landed on the gate and the camera there dealt with it all much better:

As we embark on the final thirty days running up to the winter solstice, the days are now depressingly short and the sun is hanging low in the sky – what a long shadow this is for 10 o’clock in the morning:

More from the meadows this week:

Some of our family are enthusiastic to help with the coppicing of the wood this winter, although all work parties are sadly put on hold now that we are again in lockdown. But we have been working there ourselves and making slow progress – its simply lovely to spend time there and it is certainly great all-round exercise. The knowledge that there are Dormice in the wood gives us added impetus to keep going.

The new pond is proving popular. Our first visitor arrived within an hour of its completion:

Rain this week has now filled the pond:

Winter is a time when you find yourself noticing the bark of trees and Field Maple is certainly one of the more distinctive:

Back to the meadows, where this Whitebeam was planted in memory of my much-loved mother. It has lost all its leaves for now but it stands waiting to burst back into life next spring.

The Clearing in the Wood

Back in the 1990s when I was juggling a job and young children, I had a friend whose parents always spent the months of November and February in Florida. November, in particular, can be such a dreary month in England and the thought of relaxing for the month in warmer climes had seemed so impossibly wonderful at that stage of my life.

Twenty years on, the job has gone and the children have grown up and fledged but now I find that I love my home and my country far too much to ever abandon it in that way. However, November does continue to be sometimes dull and dispiriting, especially this year of all years when we are locked down with most of the entries in our diaries crossed out.

But we are keeping ourselves busy here with autumn projects and one of these was to build another small pond in the wood.

In January this year we bought a 4.5 acre extension to the wood but, what with one thing and another, it is only now that we are properly exploring and bonding with it.

On the whole it is very densely planted and difficult to manoeuvre ourselves around, although there is a clearing where a group of Ash trees have died of Ash Dieback. Young Ash are most vulnerable to this fungal disease and, once infected, they quickly die.

A lot of the dead trees had already fallen over and we have decided to clear the area, cut down the remaining standing skeleton trees and drag all the dead wood away to stack it to form a useful habitat inconspicuously elsewhere. Nothing is to be gained at this point by burning the diseased wood, the Fungus already having taken hold in the area.

Once it was no longer looking like an Ash graveyard, the clearing was already starting to feel quite nice and we decided to dig the new pond here:

Well, its a start. Room for improvement perhaps but, locked down as we are, we wanted to just reuse and recycle stuff that we had to hand. There is a steep slope of flints and ramps of split Silver Birch to allow wildlife to get at the water and also allow anything to get out should it fall in by mistake.

The green corrugated sheet at the back of this new pond is to increase the catchment area to help keep the water level up. It had previously been at the wild pond in the meadows and, when I pulled it up from there to move to the wood, I found three Frogs of varying sizes and two Newts sheltering underneath:

I felt bad about removing this safe refuge for the meadow Amphibians, especially since this is where historically they have been under attack from Grey Herons. Luckily our local builders merchant is still open and we were able buy some more:

But on the subject of Grey Herons, my ears pricked up in one section of this year’s BBC Autumnwatch. They were talking about nocmigging – recording migration at night by picking up the calls of birds passing overhead in the dark. One of the calls they were getting were of Grey Heron movements at night and this was news to me because I thought that British Grey Herons were sedentary and didn’t migrate.

On investigating this further, I see that our resident Grey Herons do generally stay put but, in Eastern England anyway, other birds from Northern Europe come and join them in the autumn. This shines a different light on the visitor we had here last week. Rather than a pesky local pond robber, this bird may have been an exhausted migrant stopping off to refuel after a long sea crossing. In these new circumstances, I find myself feeling much more sympathetic towards it.

Below is an area in the second meadow that we are managing for Reptiles. Last year a hundred or so Slow Worms, removed from nearby land to be developed, were released by an ecologist into newly built log piles here.

The vegetation is being allowed to grow up and become tussocky here, although we do plan to cut a third of it every year, starting next year. Last winter a new hedgerow was also planted along the length of it.

Although the habitat in this area is still establishing, we are already noticing that the different management is paying dividends. The dog often tells us that she has noticed interesting goings-on in the log piles – presumably the log piles are being used by small Mammals as well as Reptiles.

And Kestrels are frequently to be seen perched in the hedgerow above. Rodent urine emits ultraviolet light which is visible to Kestrels, showing them the best places to find food.

We have an agreement with Dover District Council to manage this part of the meadows in this way to benefit the relocated Slow Worms, but it is very pleasing indeed to see that the resultant habitat is already being enjoyed by all sorts of animals. We wondered if Tawny Owls were also finding it a good place to hunt and so a new perch has gone up alongside this Reptile area with an associated camera to see what we get:

A Tawny was up on the strip this week, although the photo has been burnt out by too much infrared from the camera.

This particular camera doesn’t have the option to adjust this setting and so we have put some black tape over the top two rows of infrared bulbs to see if this does any good:

There are now hardly any acorns left on the Holm Oaks. These have mostly been taken by Wood Pigeon and Jays as far as we could tell.

We had thought that it was Jays that planted a Walnut in the middle of the second meadow, resulting in this healthy little tree:

However, we hadn’t considered Crows and there was a group of Crows battling over a walnut out there today:

I continue to see a lot of the Fox with the white star on his chest on the cameras looking at the clifftop.

Mostly he is alone, but here he is below, sitting patiently waiting for the peanuts, when another Fox, carrying a back right paw and with possibly the beginnings of mange on its tail, hops across him:

On another occasion, the male Badger, Scarface, lumbers past and totally ignores the Fox:

The Badgers will be feeding up on Worms now, trying to put on as much weight as possible before winter.

There is delayed implantation of eggs in female Badgers – although she may have mated as early as February, the egg implants once she reaches a critical weight in the autumn, with young being born underground in February. This female Badger on the left below is surely spectacularly heftier than she was during the summer – she looks absolutely enormous.

The triplets that were born this year are still very playful with each other, which is lovely to see.

A few other photos from the meadows this week:

Returning to the wood, there were no more Dormouse sightings this week on the camera looking at the nest box and so perhaps it has now hibernated. The camera did, however, photograph many more Great Tit and Blue Tit visits.

Foxes were twice caught carrying prey. I suppose this must be a Rabbit:

And this a Pheasant?

There does seem to be a healthy population of Rabbits in the wood but there are also a lot of animals that would like to eat them given a chance:

One night this week, the moon amazed me by looking just like a slice of lemon hanging in the sky. The lemon rind was shining particularly brightly and I tried unsuccessfully to take a photo. I had more luck, though, the next morning, shortly before it set:

Looking at the photo, I could see that the effect had been caused by the dark seas on the moon being positioned in the centre, leaving more reflective areas on the curved edge. I still have an awful lot to learn about the moon and the solar system.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

I am sure that I’m not alone in having felt a bit wobbly this week. Although of course this is combined with feeling guilty since there are so many people much worse off than us.

Around 1980 I went to see Ian Dury and the Blockheads playing at Exeter University and they sang Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3. This song had been released in 1979, following a near fatal accident when one of their roadies got electrocuted from a microphone stand whilst they were touring Italy. The song lists many reasons to be cheerful, included because they were important to Ian but also because they rhymed with the item that went before. Oatmeal breakfast cereal, generosity and politeness, equal voting rights and cheddar cheese and pickle sandwiches all got a look in.

Now, as the UK goes into its second national lockdown, it is another good time to focus on the many reasons to be cheerful that surround us. Here are some of the things that perhaps haven’t quite made me cheerful, but have given me some comfort this week.

We walked down to the white cliffs this week, the first time for several months. It had all got a bit popular over this most unusual of summers, but now we had it to ourselves once again:

Lots of Black-headed Gulls, in their winter plumage these days, were loafing around in the waves. Although the meadows are very close, we rarely see Black-headed Gulls here other than on flying Ant days.

It’s lovely to see bird photos taken by the trail cameras, but it is even better to see the birds with our own eyes. This Sparrowhawk was idling in one of the Pines in the meadows. He was a long way away but we digiscoped him:

When I next went through the trail cameras, it turns out that he had just previously had a bath in the pond:

This is probably him as well:

This Kestrel allowed us to get pretty close to him:

It was a full moon on Halloween, last Saturday night:

It has been so long since we have had a visit from the Heron that we had forgotten to be scared of the full moon, when there is enough light for them to hunt in the middle of the night. But here a Heron is, at midnight, relieving the pond of one Frog and then one Newt before the camera ran out of batteries.

Well, it was time for us to pull our secret weapon out of the shed: MacKenzie, the saviour of our Amphibians.

After we built him last year and placed him by the pond, we had no more visits from the Heron, even over the most tempting of times when the Frogs gathered in large numbers to spawn. Two years ago, a Heron ate hundreds of Frogs and Newts from the pond – it was carnage, and has reduced our tolerance of these birds down to zero.

This is the darker, older Fox with only half a tail, but he is the keenest of consumers of the nightly peanuts, often waiting around for a long time for dusk to arrive which is when I put them out. I notice that he also has a bright white star on his chest.

Although I can’t tell all of the Badgers apart in the meadows, I have been paying attention to try to work out which, if any, are missing. One night this week there were six of them together at the peanuts:

During the summer there were seven – one adult male (Scarface) and two adult females. One of the females had big, bouncing triplets and the other had a single cub who was much smaller and more delicate. I’m afraid that it is this littlest cub that I haven’t seen on the cameras for some time.

Over in the wood, it is a good idea not to lose concentration when you step through the undergrowth. After all, you would not want to put your foot in this, a very full Badger latrine:

The Dormouse is still using the nest box:

A Blue Tit actually went into the box with it several times:

The Squirrels continue to check the nest box out very thoroughly. Presumably they can smell the Dormouse in there and would eat it if they could get at it?

Sun rise yesterday, November 4th, and a Border Force vessel slowly patrols the waters below the meadows. This is the dawning of the day before England goes into lockdown and the day after the US election. Also looming is the need to support the dog through fireworks night tonight. What an emotionally exhausting week it has been.

October Storms

I have entitled this post ‘October Storms’ in a hope that the wild and dismal weather we have had this week will indeed be contained within October and we can have a fresh new start as November is ushered in next week.

Back in September 2019 a female Kestrel, born that spring, was ringed in the meadows, managing to take a chunk out of the Bird Ringer’s hand at the same time.

This autumn, we have been seeing a lot of a pair of adult Kestrels in the meadows and noticed that the female of the pair is ringed. This is almost certainly the same bird.

Survival of Kestrels is very dependant on the population cycles of their prey, particularly the Short-tailed Field Vole, and first year mortality of newly-fledged Kestrels can be as much as 70%.

I have tried to lighten these next photos as much as I can but they are still a bit dark – as I mentioned, the weather has been terrible. Here is the male eating a Vole:

We think that all the Kestrels we see here in the meadows have come from a nest in the nearby chalk cliffs. Four young fledged from this nest in 2019 and another four this year:

However, this year there was also a second Kestrel nest nearby, in the same section of cliff.

This is purely supposition, but what if the pair of Kestrels that we have been seeing in the meadows were the young parents of this second nest? The ringed female was born in spring 2019 and I read that female Kestrels can breed once they are a year old. It is surely a possibility and I would like to believe it.

I wonder if the Tawny Owl that is often visiting the meadows at the moment is also after rodents, or is it worming, like the Tawnies do in the woods? Here it is on the strip perch:

Last night, there was also an Owl on the ant paddock perch and I decided that it was a Short-eared Owl. It doesn’t seem to have the heart-shaped face and certainly looks to have short feather ears:

But we are fortunate indeed to have the Bird Ringer to check these things with because this is apparently also a Tawny Owl. But what a beautiful bird.

Sparrowhawks have been seen on the strip perch, but nearly always in low light:

The weather has been pretty uniformly awful this week but just occasionally the sun has broken through.

Tails of Magpies often appear surprisingly green when they catch the light in a particular way:

All this rain has meant the ponds are looking fantastic. Here is the wild pond being enjoyed by representatives of each of our three bully-boy bird species, Magpie, Crow and Sparrowhawk:

For a few days, an odd-looking ship, the Oceanic, was sheltering alongside the meadows, in the lee of the stormy weather.

It is described as a general cargo ship although we couldn’t help wondering why that bridge at the back was so high. It looked really peculiar. But then we saw photos of it on the internet with the type of load that it carries and it all suddenly made sense:

It seems that it is a specialist carrier of things that are very long and thin such as the blades of wind turbines.

We see a few Grey Wagtails on passage every autumn. This is not a very good photo, but I’m afraid that it is the best that I have:

And here is a winter visitor that we see most years – a Brambling. She’s been with us for several days now.

That Fox with the unusually black tail has made another appearance on the cameras. I would really like to see what that tail looks like in the daytime because it is so very much darker than the tails of our resident Foxes

This is a daylight shot of a different Fox that has a white tip to its tail. But perhaps this dark tail would also appear as deeply black under the infra red lights of the trail cameras:

The wood has been suffering in this awful weather as well. The really high winds of last weekend brought a tree down across the access track. Thank goodness for that battery powered chain saw.

The chain saw was also very useful in cutting up some of the wood that we have coppiced and it is now being brought back home to dry.

In order to entertain family and friends this winter, it seems that we are going to need to be outside, keeping warm with blankets, fire pits and wood-fired ovens. An ample supply of dried logs will therefore be extremely useful.

There is now a trail camera on the nest box in the wood that we found the Dormouse in and it is proving to be very interesting. The Dormouse is still in there and is yet to hibernate:

But. unexpectedly, the box has also had a lot of other visitors. So many Great Tits have been checking it out, or perhaps it is the same birds repeatedly:

Blue Tits have also been showing interest. Here is a Blue Tit queuing, waiting for the Great Tit to finish so that it too can have a look in:

Presumably the birds are prospecting potential sites for next year’s breeding season. However, I am not sure what the motives of this Squirrel are:

There is a lot of fungus in the wood at the moment. I struggle to identify it on the whole but I do know this oddly-contorted one – White Saddle fungus:

Back in the meadows, there is some of this Dog Sick Slime Mould (Mucilago crustacea):

Every autumn in the meadows there are vast numbers of this toadstool below, always seen in strong association with the pine trees.

I have unsuccessfully tried to identify it in the past, but this year I posted photos onto a nature identification group and have found out that it is the Bovine Bolete (Suillus bovinus).

There seem to be two different stories as to why it got its name. One is that it is the colour of a Jersey Cow. The other story tells of medieval knights who considered this toadstool growing in the pine forests to be of inferior quality to eat (preferring the Tricholoma species that are now considered poisonous) and so they left them for the cattle drovers.

One thing to look out for is that the Rosy Spike toadstool (Gomphidius roseus) is thought to be parasitic on the Bovine Bolete and can often be found growing alongside. I will be watching out for this now.

For a Border Collie, bred tough to be out in all weathers bringing sheep in from the hills, our dog is a bit of a princess about the rain. She much prefers to relax in the warm and dry:

Hopefully the weather will improve and we can all get out and about a bit more next week.

However, just as I was about to publish this post, a second national lockdown has been announced. Once again we are going to be keeping our heads down and trying to keep our spirits up. Although I am still trying to come to terms with this news, the absolute best coping mechanism that I know of to get through this terrible time is to immerse myself in the wonders of the natural world around me. For the next month and beyond, this is what I shall be doing.