Back in 55 BC

An Archaeologist has come to visit the meadows

IMG_0119
Field walking in the adjoining ploughed field

In 55BC, Julius Caesar sailed over to Britain with a fleet of 80 ships. He arrived off Dover but didn’t like being overlooked by hostile tribesmen on the cliffs and so came around the corner towards Deal. However, the Britons tracked him by riding their chariots along the cliffs, including through our meadows which paints a captivating image in my mind. Where he finally decided to land has not been established to the satisfaction of all and there is an argument for saying that it was in the wet meadow alongside Walmer Castle, which may have been more of an inlet back then.

CONOLLY WALMER LANDING

The Britons put up a fight to try to stop the Romans landing but were eventually defeated and forced inland. Caesar would have set up some sort of camp nearby to protect his shipping because he didn’t intend to stay long and would have been trapped here if his ships had been damaged.

He returned again the next year, 54BC, this time with 800 ships, landing along the shoreline a bit to the north of here and stayed for a couple of months. Nearly 100 years later, in 43AD, the Romans led by Claudius landed for a third time and stayed for four centuries.

But it is that very first landing in 55BC that potentially has significance for these meadows. If it was indeed near here, then there may be evidence to be found.

We haven’t done any metal detecting this winter yet because we really should be coppicing in the wood if we have spare time like that. However, from now on, we will be  on the look out for lead Roman slingshot which is quite distinctive:

 

Unknown1
Internet photo of Roman slingshot

The Archaeologist who visited us last week hopes to return next year to do some geophysical work to look for ditches or other evidence of the potential 55BC Roman encampment.

There was a big collection of these larvae under one of the reptile sampling squares a few days ago. Pretty amazing that this would be happening in December, surely? And what on earth are they?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They were completely earth-coloured. They also don’t seem to have legs and so I am thinking that they are probably more at the fly end of things rather than the butterfly or moth end. However, more than that, I really don’t know, although I would love to. If they were butterfly or moth caterpillars, there are books to refer to or people I could ask but information is much less available for flies and other insects. I suppose I could have taken a couple of the larvae away to try to hatch them out in a tank but my chance of success has to be small with so little understanding of what they are and what they need.

I will keep these photos handy should I ever chance upon an entomologist.

There was also this Smooth Newt under one of the Reptile sampling squares:

IMG_6394

 

IMG_6410

All of our native Amphibians don’t actually hibernate through the winter but tuck themselves away somewhere frost-free and come out to forage when it is mild. This Smooth Newt is nocturnal and will be out and about looking for Earthworms, Slugs and other insects on the winter nights that are not too cold.

We continue to put peanuts on this stoney pinnacle at dusk:

Trail camera

I suppose what I am really hoping for is to see a Badger getting itself up there, but that is a long way from happening. However, the Foxes indulge me every night:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

In recent days there has been only one sighting of the Heron:

Trail camera

Again, it seemed very discombobulated by the anti-Heron string that we have set up around the pond. But we frequently have to repair these strings because they are chewed. We knew it was the Foxes doing this but only now do we have the evidence to convict:

Trail camera

There is now a small-mesh and a large-mesh cage up on the strip to preserve some of the seed for small farmland birds:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, it appears that the large mesh is mostly not safe from Crows:

Trail camera

 

Unfortunately there was dew on the lens but the ringed Kestrel has also been up to see what all the fuss is about:

 

P,L:F,24H,3

There have been many days recently that can by summed up by this trail camera photo, where the sky is darker than the sea:

P,L:F,24H,3

 

The weather has not been suitable for bird ringing, but we have been busy making a ‘lobster pot’ bird catcher to the bird ringer’s design:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The idea is to put seed down on the ground to get the birds used to the idea of that and then putting this cage down over the seed and hoping that they will go in but not be able to work out how to get out. Obviously the cage will be closely observed while it is down and any bird that is caught like this can be ringed and released.

Also, from the meadows:

IMAG0004
There are a lot of Long-Tailed Tits around at the moment
IMAG0027 2
Song Thrush and House Sparrow
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A patch of the convoluted White Saddles
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
White Saddle fungus

Over in the wood, there is a darker Pheasant that I don’t understand:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

Is this a juvenile male? Actually, I realise that there is much about Pheasants that I don’t understand. I presumed that we were going to see smaller, juvenile Pheasants over the summer but I don’t think we did. I will ask the bird ringer what’s going when I next see him.

Also in the wood:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Jelly Ear Fungus on dead Elder
M2E63L135-138R424B303
Beautiful Green Woodpecker
IMAG0231
Great Spotted Woodpecker on the new peanut feeder
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
An amazing bit of fungus growing on a rodent dropping on the trail camera in the Mustelid box

The bird ringer may not have been able to ring in the meadows recently but I finish today with some fantastic photos he took from a hide on a nearby reserve on the River Stour and has allowed me to include here:

FCE3C86B0E4A48868D4F664D1DEAD845

72DCBEBE25EB4FFDA4230223E63AFB36

EF57F3B2CA6140588219DE19E06A25BA

What a fantastic bird, although we could never hope to see a Kingfisher in either the meadows or the wood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half a Decade Ago

In a couple of days, it will be five years since we bought the meadows. That’s half a decade under our management. Looking back at some of the early posts from when I started this blog, I am amazed and embarrassed at how little we knew back then – five years of obsessively studying two meadows has worked its magic.

Here are the meadows on the day we took them over at the end of November 2014:

P1050919

And here we are at the end of November 2019:

Version 2

The first impression may be that there is not very much difference, but the wild pond down by the gap in the hedge, the new linear wood down the right hand boundary, the insect hotels and the mosaic areas of longer grass hopefully tell the story of wildlife-sympathetic management over the last few years.

The linear wood in the meadows was planted in the winter of 2017/8 and since then there have been two hot drought summers and it has been a bit of a struggle at times. But on the whole, it is doing alright:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A few of the trees have been lost but most remain.

An ecologist from the Kent Mammal Group has come to visit the proper wood to give us advice on how to find out if we have Dormice there and how to best manage the woods for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the end of her visit we knew a whole lot more about how Dormice live their lives. There are no records of Dormice in the immediate area. However, having seen the wood, she thought it was quite likely that we did have them – after all, they are nocturnal and live in the tree canopy when not actually hibernating and so they are easy to miss.

As a result of her advice, our plan now is to put out some Dormouse Footprint Tunnels in April in the Hazel-coppiced areas of the wood. Tape covered in an ink made out of a charcoal/oil mix is placed at either end of the tunnel.

doormouse_tracker
Internet photo of the equipment for setting up a footprint tunnel

Then we will have a bit of a learning curve to identify a Dormouse’s footprint but apparently they are very distinctive.

Honeysuckle is very important to Dormice, not least because they use the Honeysuckle bark to make their nests. Another job for next Spring is to plant more native wild Honeysuckle all around the woodland boundaries.

IMG_3846
An area of Honeysuckle in the wood

Establishing a rota of Hazel coppicing so that an area is cut every winter will mean that there is always Hazel of the right age producing heavy crops of nuts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
It’s hard work

It is completely wonderful that busy people will give up their precious spare time to come and help us with the wood. It also turns out that she is really interested in Bats and will revisit the wood next May to teach us to use our Bat detector properly and help us survey the wood for Bats.

We have a few ongoing projects at the moment. The first one is to deter the Heron to protect our amphibians in the pond. We made a grid of string across the pond, hoping to restrict the Heron to just one area:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, the Foxes repeatedly gnawed through the string. We have now put logs down so that the string on the banks is down at grass level and this appears to have solved the Fox problem:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When the Heron next arrived, it seemed very unsettled by the new set up and hasn’t now returned for several days:

Trail camera

However, we have the feeling that we may have won this current battle but we haven’t yet won the war.

We are putting seed down on the strip throughout the year to support farmland birds. Our second ongoing project is to stop this seed being quickly hoovered up by the big bully boys meaning that there is never any left for the small farmland birds that we are trying to encourage.

This cage below protects some of the seed from the Crows, Magpies, Woodpigeon and Foxes. After putting down the seed, very quickly the only seed that remains is under the cage.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dunnocks were the first birds to learn to enter the cage, quickly followed by House Sparrows and Robin.

Trail camera

There have also been Long Tailed Tit:

Trail camera

Stock Dove are difficult because they are excluded from the cage but we want to encourage them so we always also put seed down outside the cage as well:

P,L:F,24H,3
Stock Dove and Wood Pigeon

The cage has successfully protected some of the seed, try as they might:

P,L:F,24H,3

P,L:F,24H,3

P,L:F,24H,3

P,L:F,24H,3

Yesterday there was a Yellowhammer on the strip, although not in the cage:

P,L:F,24H,3

So, the cage looks like it is going to be successful and I have now ordered two more – another one with the smaller mesh that we already have, and one with larger mesh that should also let in Yellowhammer and Starling. They will arrive tomorrow.

The final project is a silly one – to get a good photo of a Fox on the stone pinnacle that we recently constructed in the paddock. I have been putting a few peanuts on it at dusk:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

P,L:F,24H,3

This morning I saw that they had left me a message, telling me what they thought of my stupid experiment:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have seen Blue Tits emerging from the Swift box which reminded us that the box is meant to be blocked off when the Swifts are out of the country. Before inserting some bungs, we put the digiscope camera in to ensure that the box was definitely empty:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This photo is on its side. The shallow scrape has droppings – presumed Blue tit –  but no nest:

PICT0017

The box is now blocked off and the polystyrene bungs will be taken out next May as Swifts start to return from Africa:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have some more photos from the meadows:

IMAG0011 2
Kestrel
Trail camera
Hierarchical shenanigans
Trail camera
A Fox wondering if it should exit now Scarface has turned up. 
P,L:F,24H,3
A Jay coming to see if any of those peanuts are left
IMAG0043 2
Crows

From the wood:

IMAG0011
I think this must be a female Pheasant seeing if it can use the new peanut feeder. It couldn’t.
IMAG0037
A Wren in the Mustelid box
M2E86L189-190R417B292
Two Jays having a bath. Hard to distinguish them from the autumn colours.
M2E83L178-179R417B308
A Goldcrest
M2E1L0-0R336B376
Two woodland Badgers

The last photos for today concern Calais. On a clear day, it is easy to see across to the white cliffs of France from the meadows using just your eyes. But, on a really clear day, it is possible to see Calais Town Hall clock using binoculars which is pretty amazing:

6742618293_f9dc698912_c
Internet photo of Calais Town Hall and its clock
IMG_6287
A photo from the meadows. The Town Hall clock can be seen on the left of the photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farmland Birds in Winter

Our son’s partner recently visited Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire as part of her environmental MSc. The RSPB are running the farm to show that it is possible to successfully produce food and make a profit whilst still being a valuable place for wildlife. Additionally, as they work out how best to do this, they are developing new farming practices to share with other farmers. Since they took over the farm in 2000, they have recorded a 226% increase in breeding birds and also have many times more wintering farmland birds.

0027.Hope Farm

One of the things that they are doing is ensuring that there are seed-rich crop areas to support birds through the winter and their approach certainly seems to be working –  in January 2001, Hope Farm counted 534 birds of 30 species. In January 2016, they counted 2,933 birds of 48 species. That’s a really heartening improvement.

I have been reading up about Hope Farm to see if there are things that we could be doing here in the meadows to help our birds through the lean times of winter. We are not growing crops for them but are continuing to put a seed mix down on the strip throughout the whole year.  However,  I am not sure that we are reaching our target audience:

Trail camera
Magpies, Woodpigeon and Pheasant
Trail camera
Crows and Pheasant

Most of the food is being quickly hoovered up by Magpies, Crows, Woodpigeons and Stock Doves and, once it gets dark, the Foxes move in to finish off anything remaining. The smaller birds do not get much of a look in and the large flocks of Linnets that were here through the summer have now gone elsewhere to find food, as they have disappeared every previous winter as well.

The Farmland Bird Indicator monitors the populations of nineteen farmland bird species and, from 1970 to 2007, there was an overall 48% decline. This 48% can be broken down by species in this interesting list below:

Tree Sparrow -94%
Corn Bunting -90%
Turtle Dove -89%
Grey Partridge -87%
Yellow Wagtail -73%
Starling -68%
Linnet -58%
Lapwing -58%
Yellowhammer -54%
Skylark -51%
Kestrel -35%
Reed Bunting -27%
Whitethroat +5%
Greenfinch +23%
Rook +41%
Stock Dove +55%
Gold Finch +64%
Woodpigeon +125%
Jackdaw +136%

Although this list is now somewhat out-of-date, we want to be supporting birds towards the top of this list with the seed that we are putting down in the meadows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With this in mind, a few days ago, we put this cage on the strip to preserve some of the seed from being eaten by the more dominant larger birds and give smaller birds the chance to get at it.

Trail camera
Looking promising – Crows peering in at the uneaten seed
Trail camera
A Badger trundles up but cannot get at the seed
Trail camera
The cage is supplied with short pegs to go into the ground. This Fox pushed the cage aside, pulling the pegs from the ground, and ate the seed.

Well, it is early days for this experiment. We have longer pegs or even screw-in pegs – I am sure that we will be able to stop the Foxes getting to the seed. However, of more concern is that we are yet to see a small bird go into the cage and I worry that they are finding the mesh size too small – there was an option to go for a larger mesh although I decided against it. But, should birds learn to go into the cage, my plan is to get a few of them and then be able to more effectively deliver seed to small farmland birds through the winter.

Another way to support birds over the winter is to provide bird boxes as sheltered places  in which to roost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We had a large number of boxes up around the meadows, some of which have been unused for several years. The lack of bird droppings in them suggests that, as well as not being used for nesting, they also are not being used as winter roosts.

Therefore, we have now transferred these boxes across to the wood to see how they get on there:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have also increased the variety of bird food that we are putting out in the wood:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Niger Seed and two ‘Squirrel Buster’ feeders: sunflower heart and peanut. The weight of a Squirrel on the feeder brings an outer sheath down to close off the dispenser holes.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Squirrel proof suet ball feeder

We have had fantastic news about the farm that surrounds the wood and that you can see in the background of the photo above. It has recently changed hands and the new owner is taking it out of agriculture and managing it for wildlife, planning to plant thousands of trees and creating a lot of new hedgerow. It is going to be so interesting to see how this project progresses over the next few years and how it impacts on the wood.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The wood, looking so very lovely at this time of year

At any one time, we have a lot of trail cameras in operation, all of varying ages and states of repair. Sometimes it feels like we are running a trail camera hospital here dealing with many patients with various ailments that need nursing along. Recently we decided to consign several of the worst cases into final retirement and buy some more.

The new camera in the Beech Grove in the wood is a Victure and only cost about £30. Although it may be of some use to keep an eye on what is generally about, its daytime picture quality isn’t terribly good and we wouldn’t buy another of these:

IMAG0018
Fox hunting rodents – the night time quality is not bad

IMAG0044

IMAG0085
Squirrel carrying a sweet chestnut kernel

Another of the new cameras is a Bushnell Core Cam with No Glow infra-red. This camera was expensive at about £200 and would be good to use for animals such as Deer that are sensitive to the low red glow that most of the cameras give out when taking an infra red picture in the dark. However, the downside is that the quality of the night time photo is not so good with a No Glow camera:

P,L:F,24H,3
Foxes taken with a Bushnell Core No Glow infra red camera
Trail camera
As a comparison, Foxes taken with one of our normal Crenova cameras

Having now tried several other makes and types of camera, we have returned once again to the opinion that we are best off with the Crenova trail cameras that cost around £70.  These cameras are reasonably cheap, reasonably reliable, of reasonable quality and we are very familiar with them, having got through many of them over the years.

The female Pheasant is still in the meadows and becoming quite a familiar figure:

IMAG0074

IMAG0082

IMAG0144

Trail camera

She doesn’t have the worry of being shot here and she is too large to have to be concerned about Sparrowhawks, but she does need to be very careful of Foxes:

IMAG0109 2

IMAG0110 2

IMAG0111 2

It seems that she has had another lucky escape because she reappears half an hour later:

IMAG0112 2

The Heron continues to turn up here far too often for our liking:

Trail camera

We have now strung a grid of string over the pond as a Heron deterrent to save our Frogs and Newts:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Heron will always land on the grass and walk into the pond. This string grid will not allow it to wade into the centre of the pond. We hope that it will be restricted to only one square of the grid and the amphibians in the other squares will be protected from it. At the same time, the Foxes and Badgers will still be able to use the pond for drinking.

Is this going to be good enough? We are not sure but we have put some cameras on it to see how the Heron copes with it the net time it visits.

This morning, however, we see that practically every string has been chewed and cut. The cameras didn’t catch anything red-handed but we have our suspicions:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Obviously we are going to have to have a small rethink.

Here is a Fox going over the gate at one o’clock in the morning:

Trail camera

and here is one eating some peanuts that I put on the new stone pile:

P,L:M,24H,3

Finally today, there is this large Gull. I am not an expert by any means on Gulls and got the bird book out to try to properly ID this bird:

IMAG0291

IMAG0312

My conclusion is that this is surely a second winter juvenile Herring Gull. These large Gulls don’t reach maturity until their fourth year and their feathers pass through many stages on the way there and this can be used to age them. Actually all very interesting and I must make more of an effort to spot and learn the differences between them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East Kent Birds

We have just returned from a trip to Mid Wales, specifically to try to see Salmon leaping up waterfalls to reach their spawning grounds, which is an early November wildlife spectacle. Sadly, 2019 has been the worst year ever for Salmon in the local rivers and we were unlucky this time. Only 350 Salmon were caught in the region this summer (hopefully they were then put back in alive). In the Salmon heyday, 20,000 were being caught each year. Whilst we were there, we also visited Gigrin Farm Red Kite Feeding Centre.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
500 wild Red Kites fly in at 2pm each day

In the winter, around 500 wild Red Kites descend on this farm at 2pm because food is put out at that time every day (3pm in the summer – Kites don’t understand British Summer Time).

IMG_5473
Red Kite
IMG_5909
A leucistic white Red Kite
IMG_5547
A Red Kite that has lost its tail feathers but seemed to be doing alright
IMG_6146
Some Buzzards also come in  – they are easier to photograph because they land and stay still.
IMG_6102
Two Buzzards

It was lovely to see these birds because here, on the East Kent coast, we have only very, very occasionally seen Red Kites and Buzzards. Red Kites have just not made it to East Kent yet. Buzzards have, however, and you can see them if you go a mere half mile inland. Perhaps they don’t come out to the coast because we don’t have the trees they need.

The Nuthatch is another bird that we don’t get in coastal East Kent and, again, this is probably because of the lack of trees.

The wood is nine miles inland as the Crow flies and, for the first time for a while, we put a camera on the feeder in the wood and were delighted to discover Nuthatches:

IMAG0626
Nuthatch on the feeder in the wood

This is a new species for the wood and is a bird that wasn’t coming to the feeder when we last had a camera on it back in the spring.

Unfortunately the feeder is too close to the camera to be in focus, but here are some of the other visitors:

IMAG0280
Marsh Tit on the right
IMAG0292
Male Great Spotted Woodpecker
IMAG0365
Female Great Spotted Woodpecker
IMAG1123
Always amazed to see the olive green colour on the back of a Chaffinch

 

We have had some wet and wild weather here recently. Here is the banana boat moored very close inshore to wait out the storm before attempting to get into Dover harbour. Dover is an important port for bananas:

IMG_4857

But in a window of calm, this beautiful female Bullfinch was ringed in the meadows last week:

Resized_20191106_125740

We were sitting out having a cup of tea in our coats and gloves and we saw a Kestrel being mobbed by a Crow:

IMG_4927
Kestrel on the left, Crow on the right

But then we realised that there were two Kestrels:

IMG_4934
Two Kestrels above the meadows

They then appeared to pass something between them:

IMG_4954

We don’t know what was going on but it was an exciting cup of tea.

We once again have a Heron problem:

Trail camera

Trail camera

It has been coming here a lot. Moreover, it is a full moon at the moment and it takes advantage of that to also fish through the night. Here is is at 1am this morning:

Trail camera

And Frogs are being caught:

Trail camera

Trail camera

It is such a relentless and successful hunter that we are going to have to implement our plans to deter the Heron and save some of our amphibians. Actually, the plans are currently a bit vague but are going to involve making a grid over the pond with string, making it difficult for the Heron to wade around from one area of the pond to another. We will get going with that over the next few days.

There is another large bird that has made the meadows her home for now:

Trail camera

Trail camera

Trail camera

Screenshot 2019-11-04 at 09.51.06

Screenshot 2019-11-04 at 09.51.21

IMAG0105

She has turned up on practically every camera around the meadows. The dog spotted her this morning and ran at her, trapping her in a corner. Thankfully the dog is only interested in chasing things, not killing things, so all ended well and the bird was unharmed. However, Foxes cannot afford to be so forgiving and there are a lot of them around here and so I hope she takes care.

Here are a few other lovely East Kent birds:

IMG_4922
Robin
IMG_4885
Mistle Thrush
Trail camera
Ringed Blackbird
M2E75L162-163R421B305
Beautiful little Wren

And I finish today with some East Kent Badgers and Foxes:

Screenshot 2019-11-04 at 13.10.21

Trail camera

Screenshot 2019-11-04 at 13.06.38

Trail camera

Trail camera

 

 

 

 

Out With The Old

The cutting of the meadows is thankfully nearly complete and we have moved on to the next autumnal job – the grand annual clearing out of the nest boxes.

Actually, a lot of the boxes were found to be empty this year but there were some Great Tit and Blue Tit nests:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And also some rodent nests , stuffed with leaves as well as moss:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As usual, fluff from the dog’s fluorescent giant tennis balls was liberally incorporated into many of the nests:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
One dead Blue tit, many chewed nuts from rodent usage and a lot of dog ball fluff
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Another dead Blue Tit and some more ball fluff

One of the boxes was empty except for this recently-dead Great Tit:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although it is sad to find these dead birds, these nests will have successfully launched a large number of fledglings this year. It’s just the few that didn’t make it that are left for us to see.

We have removed some of the boxes that have stood empty for a couple of years and will now have a rethink about where they should go – some of them may well be transferred across to the wood where all six of the small bird boxes we put up were used this year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of Blackbirds have arrived into the country recently. This male is very probably a continental bird – our resident male Blackbirds will have started to get yellow beaks and eye rings by now and their feathers would be more shiny:

IMG_4805

The brown primary feathers on the leading edge of the wings indicate that this is a young bird, born this year.

IMG_4809

Below is one of our resident males with the yellow beak:

IMAG0263

I can’t tell you much about this next Blackbird, other than it is enjoying itself:

IMAG0325

Some other photos from a ringing session this week:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Firecrest
image7 2
Blue Tit. Looks like she has her ballgown on.
image4 2
Chiffchaff

Below is an Ichneumid Wasp, Ophion obscuratus, which still flies throughout winter. There are several similar species but I think that the pale stripes on the thorax are diagnostic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ophion obscuratus

These wasps lay their eggs into caterpillars and the developing larvae live off the caterpillar, only killing it right at the end to ensure the food remains fresh. Charles Darwin saw the lifecycle of these parasitic wasps as being incompatible with a benign creator. He wrote: ‘I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars’.  Back in the 19th Century, they didn’t have climate change and many of the other problems that we are grappling with today, but there were certainly some other fundamental issues for them to be wrestling with.

This parasitic Wasp is a large thing – four centimetres from the antennae to the end of the abdomen. Here it is in side view:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Why on earth has it got such a precariously slender waist?

Here is another large insect that is still around at this time of the year:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis). This bug is a native of the USA but arrived in Britain in 2007 and is now spreading rapidly. It feeds on the sap of developing pine cones, causing the seeds within the cones to become malformed.  I cannot find reports of it becoming a pest in the UK, although it has become one in conifer plantations of its native Western USA.

Stock Doves are so often overlooked but see how absolutely beautiful they are: soft grey with blush-pink overtones, the friendly black eye and the surprising iridescence on their neck.

IMAG0083

Those black eyes of the Stock Dove are really lovely – compare it to the eye of a Wood Pigeon:

IMAG0083

Bathing in the same tray the other day is this young female Kestrel:

IMAG0099

IMAG0103
She looks like a Nightjar in this photo

 

IMAG0110

She does show us her right leg this time and we can see that she is indeed the bird that managed to take a chunk out of the bird ringer’s hand whilst he was ringing her here a few weeks ago.

IMAG0050 3

Here is another bird displaying a ring:

M2E70L205-206R399B408

I sent this photo to the bird ringer because I was not aware of him ever having ringed a Jay in the meadows. It turns out that he hasn’t – although he ringed an adult female in his garden nearby in April 2018 and so maybe this is she.

This photo below was a bit of a surprise:

Trail camera

We haven’t seen a Pheasant in the meadows for ages – certainly none this year. I have never noticed the white patch below their eye before. She is still here, actually. She was feeding on the strip at 7am this morning:

Trail camera

The appearance of a Heron, however,  is not a surprise these days:

Trail camera

Trail camera

The cameras on the meadow ponds have captured some other interesting sights:

IMAG0086
An unusual view of a Woodpigeon
IMAG0191
Starling
IMAG0033
A Green Woodpecker hunting for Ants
IMAG0050 2
Close up of a Crow
IMAG0009
Song Thrush

IMAG0297

IMAG0012

Here are two Badgers scent marking by anal rubbing – Badgers do this a lot:

Screenshot 2019-10-29 at 16.05.23

A fine looking Fox:

Screenshot 2019-10-29 at 16.00.55

I always love photos showing interactions between Foxes and Badgers:

Trail camera

I am going to finish today with Woodcock. Yesterday, while walking round the meadows, we put up three separate Woodcock that were resting up in the hedgerows. They migrate at night and the meadows will be the first land they come to after a long flight over water. They stop, probably exhausted, and spend the day quietly in the hedges while they recover, moving further inland once it gets dark again. However, they will need to feed up first before they go. We have two Bushnell trail cameras that we use in the meadows. These have a ‘Field Scan’ setting where they will take a photo at a fixed interval regardless of whether anything has triggered it. They can cover a much greater distance doing this because the trigger distance is quite limited.

We have never used the cameras on this setting before but we decided to give it a go to see if we could catch them feeding on the strip where there are many bare soil areas that they could easily probe for insects with their long beaks. It was getting dark by the time we got the cameras into position:

P,L:F,24H,3

It was a wet and wild night:

A,L:F,24H,3

I have gone through the results this morning and, sadly, no Woodcock to be seen. Along with Foxes and Badgers there was this but my best guess is that it is a Bat:

A,L:F,24H,3

However we will be still running this experiment over the next few nights as the Woodcock continue to arrive into the country, so you never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As The Clocks Go Back

P1150981

And so we begin the final day before the clocks go back and we fully lose our evenings to the dark.

The autumn migration is still going on all around. Today it seems that it is Black Redstarts that are on the move and are being reported on my Birdguides alert emails all over this part of the coast.

Below is a Robin, one of four ringed here a couple of days ago. Last weekend’s easterly winds brought in thousands of birds of all sorts of species from Europe and there is a good chance that this Robin is a continental bird. At Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, seventeen Robins had been ringed the day before and in the past some of these have been previously ringed in Russia and Denmark – you don’t necessarily expect your garden Robin to have travelled so far.

Resized_20191023_1200221

The patches of brown amongst the black of this male Blackcap tell the tale that this is a very young bird:

Resized_20191023_1201321

We now know that the Chiffchaff that was caught here earlier in the month and found to be already ringed, was ringed at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire almost exactly 24 hours previously. This is a distance of 150kms (or 93 miles) as the Crow or Chiffchaff flies.

As I closed my last post, I was off up to the mobile hide to see if the migrating Ring Ouzel was going to visit the meadows for the third day running. Needless to say, it was a no-show but I enjoyed myself anyway photographing the other birds that had bothered to turn up:

IMG_4544

IMG_4550

IMG_4655

Yesterday morning, the sun was shining and the meadows were a hive of bird activity. There were a pair of these Wagtails:

IMG_4587

I believe that these are White Wagtails because of the slate-grey on their backs. White Wagtails are the European subspecies ‘alba’ of the Pied Wagtail which are only seen in Britain on passage. The subspecies that breeds in Britain is ‘yarrellii’ which is a very black-and-white bird.

Great Tits and Blue Tits were checking out nest boxes, including two Blue Tits who appeared out of the Swift box – we don’t want them in there, we are really hoping for Swifts next year. I remember now that we are meant to have the holes of this box blocked up while the Swifts are out of the country. House Sparrows were back at the House Martin nest box:

IMG_4604

IMG_4615

There has been so much rain that all the trail cameras have become soggy and their lenses covered with condensation. But we can still just about see this female Kestrel, although she again doesn’t show her right leg to tell us if she is the bird that was ringed here a few weeks ago:

Trail camera

I recently went on a guided nature walk  in the grounds of Waltham Place near Maidenhead in Berkshire. This a biodynamic and organic estate where there is a completely inspiring passion for wildlife and I have come away with several ideas for things that I would like to do here. They have a large area of Comfrey and one of the gardeners rummaged around the base of these plants and brought out a caterpillar of the Scarlet Tiger Moth. Comfrey is the larval food plant for this moth and apparently they are always to be found there at this time of year, along with several other moth species too.

We have our own patch of Comfrey in the allotment area of the meadows:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had never thought to investigate the soil underneath these plants before and I found it to be absolutely alive with Woodlice and other invertebrates. A Frog and Smooth Newt as well had been attracted in by the dense, damp cover and all those insects to eat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have put another small load of hay near the Badger sett for the Badgers to use as bedding:

IMAG0011
Chiffchaff and the new load of hay

For several nights now, there have been many photos of this:

IMAG0058

We changed this camera to video as it got dark and found that the Fox was just using its lofty perch on top of the hay pile as a viewing gallery to watch the Badgers as they went backwards and forwards from the cliff path to the peanuts.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are working away at getting this hay pile underground:

Screenshot 2019-10-23 at 19.09.28

Screenshot 2019-10-23 at 19.09.53

Screenshot 2019-10-23 at 19.11.04

Screenshot 2019-10-23 at 19.11.16

Going into the difficult days of winter, our resident foxes are looking good and long may that last:

Trail camera

In my previous post I was talking about the coppicing course that we went on and I now realise that I was misspelling the subdivisions of a coppiced wood as ‘coup’ instead of ‘coupe’. Yesterday we made a start coppicing our own wood:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If we do have Dormice living on the wood, then they like to hibernate in the centres of these hazel coppice stools and so we tried to be careful of this.

We had chosen to start on a particularly large and overgrown stool and it took us ages. However, once it was done, a patch of sky could be seen above us and now light will be hitting the wood floor:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a lot more to be done to complete the section of the wood that we have in mind to be coppiced this winter but we have until the end of February until the birds start to nest.

In the regeneration area of the wood there are several Spindle trees that are loaded with berries this year. These berries are eaten by birds and other wildlife but are poisonous to humans:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Mustelid box in the wood has been visited by all sorts of things – this time it was bird – maybe a Dunnock?-  that hopped in. No Mustelids yet though.

IMAG0047

The Bushnell trail camera trained on the deeper pond in the wood is giving us clear photos with lovely intense colours. It was three or four times the cost of our other cameras but I think it was probably worth the outlay:

M2E45L71-74R429B301

M2E52L91-92R431B297

M2E52L93-95R431B298

M2E53L97-98R429B300

M2E74L160-161R421B305
Male Sparrowhawk
M2E74L159-160R422B302
Male Sparrowhawk flying away

M2E72L151-152R427B299

We had the opportunity last weekend to visit the enormous new scrape that is being dug by the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory.  A new hide is also to built shortly. This year Slow Worms were transferred to the meadows here from nearby land that is to be developed and the developer made a sizeable donation to this project as part of our agreement to rehome these reptiles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The RSPB is also creating a new reserve close to this scrape and so this whole area will become a large and fantastic sanctuary for birds. It will be so interesting to see how this all develops over the next few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coppicing for Beginners

We have just returned from a coppicing course in the beautiful Malvern Hills. In 1884 an Act of Parliament was passed to protect the area from ‘Encroachment’ and the west side of the hills in particular, with its sweeping views out towards Wales, is still absolutely lovely.  The woodsman who was running the coppicing course has been granted a nine year lease to manage one of the woods on this western flank of the hills. It is divided into eight sections – or coups – each roughly half an acre of Hazel coppice with Oak standards. One coup gets cut down each year on a rotational basis.

Here is the coup he cut last year and so the small Hazel coppice stools are currently only one year old:

IMG_4391

But we were going to be starting the cutting of the eight year old coup:

IMG_4366

This is some of the equipment we were using:

IMG_4390

The poles with the hooks at the end were the ‘Slashers’ used to clear the undergrowth around the coppice. Loppers were then wielded to continue the clearing of the ground. Once we could get at the coppices, they were cut with bow saws, although I personally much preferred using a pruning saw.

IMG_4516
A Japanese pruning saw that we bought off him
20191018_144347
Demonstrating different styles of bill hooks – he uses these mainly for cleaning up the cut coppice poles to turn them into saleable products such as hedge-laying stakes, bean poles and pea sticks.

IMG_4382

Cutting just a few stools of the coppice very quickly created a large clearing in the coup. Managing the coups on a rotational basis like this ensures that there is always one part of the wood which is in the right phase of development to be used by the great variety of species that thrive in coppiced woodland.

I had intended to take many more photos but unfortunately it rained for most of the day and I had to keep my camera out of the wet.

IMG_4378

There is something very calming and good for one’s mental health about spending an entire day working outside in the wood. We had no shelter from the elements – the lease prohibits any tarpaulin to be erected – but somehow that didn’t matter when you are either working hard or warming up by a ‘comfort fire’ with a hot cup of tea.

IMG_4360
This fire stand was made by a blacksmith to the woodsman’s design

 

IMG_4380
Tea making in the wood

In just one day we have learnt a lot and now return to Kent with new-found confidence to tackle the overgrown Hazel coppice in our own wood. We are also bringing some other ideas back with us such as this large heap of rotting coppice poles. Apparently a fantastic numbers of Beetles have been seen emerging from this:

IMG_4363

 

We have always had a thing for Ring Ouzels. In fact, twice we have gone out with a nature guide onto Dartmoor specifically to see them, driven on by the knowledge that a few pairs nested in remote valleys on the moor each summer. However, on both occasions, we were unsuccessful and we have since learnt from our guide that, sadly, Ring Ouzels now no longer nest on Dartmoor. They do still breed in upland areas further north in the UK but they are in steep decline and are in a whole lot of trouble.

We did eventually see one very briefly on Dartmoor two years ago – a beautiful male as he migrated through – but that is the only glimpse we have ever had.

So, how jolly exciting is this then?:

Trail camera
The feathers look more like scales on its tummy
Trail camera
The classic Ouzel white bib is only partly formed on this juvenile bird

Trail camera

This is a first-winter juvenile Ring Ouzel on its way out of the country on migration but we presumed it stopped in for a drink with us just as it was getting dark the day before yesterday

But then it was back yesterday as well, same place, same approaching-dusk sort of time. Hopefully it spent the day  fuelling up on all the berries that are dripping off the hedgerows at the moment:

Trail camera

Trail camera

We all know that it won’t be back a third time, but I have set up my mobile hide and will spend a couple of hours in there with my camera this evening just in case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Poor weather has stopped the bird ringer spending as much time in the meadows as he might otherwise have done but he has now caught and ringed two Firecrests. Much rarer than Goldcrests, these little birds have a black eye stripe and a more intensely-coloured crest. The Firecrest below was already ringed:

P1150934

When the bird ringer subsequently went through his records, he discovered that it was he who in fact ringed it on 27th October 2017 here in the meadows. Two years later, here it is again in the very same place.

Getting on towards the end of October and there are still bands of Swallows swooping over the meadows. They have got a long way to go and it is getting late in the year- they surely need to get a move on:

IMG_4421

IMG_4446

We have been seeing a lot of the Green Woodpeckers recently. Perhaps they are more active now that the soil is softer and they can more easily probe it for ants.

Trail camera

Trail camera

The softer soil also makes it more easy for Badgers to dig for worms, of course:

Screenshot 2019-10-13 at 20.34.34 (2)

I think the photo below has wonderful composition and would make a good painting, if only I had any skill in that area:

IMAG0099

I have finally got  a photo of the faces of all three of the female and young Badgers to confirm that none of them are the adult male, Scarface, who has a heftier skull. Therefore, I can now confirm with reasonable confidence that the sett currently contains four Badgers once you add in Scarface.

Trail camera

Last summer I harvested seed from the Kidney Vetch that was growing in the meadows. Kidney Vetch is the larval food plant of the Small Blue – a rare Butterfly that we have a little colony of here. Kidney Vetch is a short-lived perennial and has a tendency to have some very poor years which then lead to subsequent crashes in Small Blue numbers. It all seems very precarious and I have an on-going project to greatly increase the bank of Kidney Vetch growing here so that every year there will be lots available for the Small Blue caterpillars to eat.

I germinated the harvested seed and, throughout this summer, have been growing the plants on. Now they are ready to be planted out into the meadows:

IMG_4292

IMG_4296

IMG_4298

The plants have gone in by the wild pond which seems to be a bit of a focus for our Small Blue colony. Fingers crossed that next year will be a good year for these lovely, tiny Butterflies.

We have recently acquired a small load of York stone from a local garden centre that was closing down:

IMG_4521

This stone has now been made into a Reptile refuge in the Ant paddock where we have always seen a lot of Lizards:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

It is very charming to see mossy tree stumps in the regeneration area of the wood being used as comfortable perching posts by the Squirrels who must be carrying these spiky Sweet Chestnuts quite a distance because there aren’t any of these trees in this area:

IMG_4250

IMG_4239

 

 

IMG_4259

IMG_4262

Pretty much every mossy stump had a Sweet Chestnut husk on it – I must put trail cameras on a couple next autumn to try to catch them at it. It is a time of great plenty for Squirrels in the wood at the moment and here is one with a Hazelnut:

M2E73L155-156R426B300

All this rain has meant that this autumn has become a fantastic year for fungus around here. I am busy photographing it to try to work out what it is but am finding it difficult. One of the reasons for this is that it often looks very different when it first comes above ground to when it has been up for a while. Here is a clump from a week ago that has come up near the entrance to the wood

IMG_4195

Now, a week later, this same clump looks like this:

IMG_4393

So, even though I don’t necessarily know what these Toadstools are, they are lovely things and I will finish today with some more that have recently appeared in the wood:

IMG_4401

IMG_4405

IMG_4396

IMG_4397

IMG_4218

IMG_4284

IMG_4229