It’s That Small Blue Time Again

May is surely the most glorious of months, filled with the delicious promise of the summer to come. In the sunshine of this week, we have been delighted to welcome Small Blue butterflies back to the meadows. Each year we forget quite how small they actually are, and are surprised afresh to see such miniature things. The British population has dropped nearly 50% since the 1970s, and their range has considerably contracted, but numbers are currently thought to be stable. They are rare and special little butterflies, but in this part of East Kent there is a minor hotspot of them. The larval food plant is Kidney Vetch and I always try to make sure that there is plenty growing here for them to lay their eggs onto.

This is a blade of grass that he is resting on – they really are very tiny. The wingspan of the male above can be as little as 16mm. Like the butterfly itself, its latin name, Cupidus minimus, is also very pleasing
The underwings are pale blue with black spots
But the upper wings are dark. Although, as here, the males do have a scattering of blue scales

Other butterflies have also been newly seen in the meadows, flitting about in the sunshine this week:

Brown Argus. Another diminutive butterfly, but a bit larger than the Small Blue
The Small Heaths are out now too
A Purple Bar moth, out flying by day

Nest building is continuing in the meadows. We were watching a robin nest being built in a worryingly open position at the bottom of a shrub in the garden

This nest is not well hidden at all
The female lays one egg a day, usually first thing in the morning, until the clutch is complete with 4-6 eggs. She then starts sitting on them for thirteen days until they all hatch together. Three eggs so far here
I should not have taken this photo. I subsequently read that, whilst still egg laying, robins are notoriously liable to abandon their nest if they think it has been discovered. I felt guilty once I learnt that and, although I did get away with it this time and more eggs were subsequently laid, it was a valuable lesson learnt. Sadly all did not end well though. Once five eggs had been laid, but before the female started incubating them, they completely disappeared, having been discovered by a predator. I suspect a magpie of course

There has been a lot of blackbird nesting activity as well. As with robins, it is the female that does all the nest building:

The bird can scarcely be seen behind this leaf she is carrying

The male maintains a presence in the vicinity and is generally on guard although I am not sure what is going on here:

Before dawn one morning, a pair of Song Thrush were mating in the grass in front of a camera:

Two magpies, the scourge of our nesting songbirds

The magpie on the right is very distinctive with its facial feather loss, possibly caused by mites. You can see its ear which is lower than might be expected

One night a hedgehog walked the entire length of the meadows south to north along the side of the cliff. It was caught on four separate cameras during this journey, until it reached this water dish at the northernmost extremity:

At this point, there is a hole under the fence back onto the cliff and I presume this is where the animal then went. Hedgehog sightings always a cause a stir around here since they are so very occasional with no more than one or two a year.

Fox amongst the buttercups

There have been more sightings of the One-eyed Vixen’s single cub. So far there just seems to be one fox cub in the meadows this year:

Playing with its mother, the One-eyed Vixen

The baby badger twins are also being seen out and about a bit more:

The adult male in the daylight:

Broomrape, parasitic on clover, is starting to make an appearance:

One thing that we hadn’t properly realised before coming to the meadows was how different every year is. One year something can be in complete abundance, only to be scarcely seen the next. We have found that this is generally not something to worry about because, the year after that, it will be back again. This is Empis tessellata , a predatory dance fly. At this time of year it is normal to see a male Empis tessellata, perched in the hedgerow, holding his St Mark’s fly prey as an offering to a female so that he can mate with her while she eats it:

But not this year. Usually in late April and early May there would be clouds of these St Mark’s flies around the hedgerows, flying with their legs distinctively dangling. This year, however, there have been hardly any. We have barely seen any Green Hairstreak butterflies either, whereas ordinarily the meadows are a good place for them. We have missed both of these species very much and hope to see them back in good numbers in 2023.

We walked down to our local white cliffs this week to see if the cliff-nesting House Martins had returned from Africa and were busy building their mud nests under the overhangs and into the crevices of the vertical chalk faces. But no House Martin was yet to be seen and only the forlorn footprints of last year’s mud dwellings were clinging on to the cliff:

There was one nest that looked freshly built, but no House Martin visited it whilst we were there:

This is surely a newly built nest

Last year, it was only really at the end of May that things got going there, so we will return in a couple of weeks to see if there has been any progress.

Linnets were definitely nest building though:

Linnet gathering nest material

We saw this very large and hairy Drinker Moth caterpillar crawling through the long coastal grasses:

And this was a lovely green beetle:

Cryptocephalus aureolus

There are quite a few Early Spider Orchids flowering down there on the vegetated shingle:

Over in the wood, we wanted to get another no-glow trail camera on the owl box. Our options were very limited and it felt imperative to keep disruption around the box to a minimum, and so this skewed view below was the best we could do in the circumstances. We hoped to get photos of the young owls when they start branching and, pleasingly, this is now what we are getting. An owlet peers out of the box:

This next photo is a screenshot from a wonderful video where the adult landed at the box with a vole. Having piqued the chicks interest, the adult then flew up to a nearby branch still holding the prey, as if to lure the chick out of the box to get the food:

And then it happened. The young owl came out of the box and started hopping around the branches and even flew short distances

Eventually the small owl safely returned to her box.

When we bought the wood three years ago, we never dared to hope that we would have the privilege to watch something as special as this.

At another point, a sparrowhawk landed in the vicinity of the box. She wouldn’t take a Tawny owlet, would she?

In the last post, I was wondering if this unidentified bird was a Nightingale. I had never seen one before but it seemed to fit the description:

The bird ringer tells me that this is actually a Reed Warbler that will have been passing through. Still a new species for the wood list, but not as exciting as a Nightingale.

A Nightingale would be more robin-like with a rounded head, a definite rufous tail and a pale eye ring. Well, I will keep looking:

Image of a Nightingale courtesy of Commons.wikipedia.org. The rounded head and pale eye ring are apparent in this photo but not really the rufous tail

The fox cubs are growing up. It is difficult to say how many of them there are any more because they are only ever seen singly or in pairs these days:

They are wandering further from the den and are now turning up on other cameras around the wood:

This buzzard, with a lot of white on it, appeared on several cameras in the wood this week:

I finish this week with the cherry tree that has quite a few woodpecker holes in it. We have a camera trained on this tree and, earlier this year, it caught Brown Long-eared Bats roosting in the hole. But now there is something else interesting going on. A bright yellow fungus is billowing out of a high, upper woodpecker hole:

This is chicken of the woods, a sulphur yellow bracket fungus. It got its name because the fungus is meant to taste like, and have the texture of, chicken meat. What an amazing thing – I look forward to seeing how large this fungus gets as the summer progresses.

The Junipers of Samphire Hoe

This week we walked the dog at Samphire Hoe, a seventy-five acre country park at the bottom of steep chalk cliffs near Dover. The land here has been reclaimed from the sea using the chalk dug out when building the channel tunnel in the 1990s and it is really interesting to visit such new land that is still very much settling in:

The iconic lighthouse memorial at Samphire Hoe

Juniper grows on the steep and inaccessible cliffs behind the hoe:

Inspecting the cliffs for Juniper
Juniper bush growing high on the cliff

Britain only has three native conifers – Scots Pine, Yew and Juniper – and there is much worry about Juniper. It has declined in the south of England for a variety of reasons and needs urgent conservation work to understand the problems and put them right where possible.

We got talking to a park ranger there who told us a lot of very interesting stuff about the human history of the place. He has initiated a project trialling different ways to propagate new Juniper trees from the few existing, accessible Junipers that are growing wild in Kent. He showed us his little group of fledgling trees behind the visitor centre. But not only is Juniper very slow growing, it has the additional complication that it has male trees and female trees. This male one seemed to be doing very well though:

But most of his trees are absolutely tiny still:

Juniper likes chalk downland and so last autumn we bought four bare root Juniper trees from the Woodland Trust and planted them in the meadows as an experiment. These trees are probably not pedigree Kent thoroughbreeds like at Samphire Hoe, though, and we also now realise that we do not even know the sex of them. Nonetheless, these small trees all seem to be doing alright and are now showing signs of new spring growth and so hopefully we will eventually get a chance to find out which are male and which are female.

One of the newly-planted Juniper trees in the meadows

Six species of orchid now grow at Samphire Hoe, but the place is best known for its Early Spider Orchids. As the land matures, fewer are growing there though – from a peak of 11,500 in 2012, there are now only a few thousand but they were at their best for our visit:

This Hoary Cress was introduced to the country when its seeds were contained within mattresses that had been packed with straw on the continent to transport injured soldiers back home from the Napoleonic Wars. When the mattresses were dismantled, the straw was given to a farmer in Margate to spread on his land. The seeds germinated and the plant has been growing here ever since:

These Brown-tailed Moth hairy caterpillars are what Cuckoos love to eat, being able to tolerate their irritating hairs:

Back in the meadows, there are always a lot of woodpigeon, each of which must represent a substantial and easy meal for a sparrowhawk. We saw this sorry sight as we took a stroll round after lunch one day:

The feather shafts still had their pointed ends and so had been plucked out by a sparrowhawk rather than bitten off by a fox

We had probably disturbed the predator at her work and so, in the hope that she would return to reclaim her prey, we brought across a couple of cameras that had been on baby badger duty elsewhere. But after a while, the One-eyed Vixen, out for a stroll herself, came across the pigeon and took it off with her:

It looks like this unfortunate pigeon might well have been the bird that was sitting on the nest that we found last week. We had been hoping to monitor the progress of this nest but it has been forlornly unattended ever since. After a day or so, the eggs disappeared as well, no doubt discovered by crows or magpies:

The ill-fated Woodpigeon nest

Here is one of the culprits, although this is the smaller male Sparrowhawk with his brown cheeks. It would have been the much beefier female that would take a pigeon:

A while ago I finished treating the One-eyed Vixen for her mange with a course of Psorinum, and have since been scrutinising photos of her to see if she seems to be getting better, or continuing to get worse.

The One-eyed vixen in the foreground and her mate at the back. In the middle is another vixen who we think is their daughter from a previous year.

This is the third year that the One-eyed Vixen has brought up a family in the meadows and, each time, she has caught mange although I have been able to cure it. Now, even though it does look like perhaps there is short fur growing back in the bald patch, I have lost my nerve and started her on a course of Arsen Sulphur. This is an alternative cure for fox mange that has worked wonders in the past. Whereas the Psorinum is only a week’s course, the Arsen Sulphur needs to be given for much longer and so these foxes will be getting medicated honey sandwiches at dusk for a while yet. They will be pleased about this because they absolutely love them. Both these medications and dosages have been recommended to me in the past by The Fox Project, and can safely be given even to lactating animals.
The One-eyed Vixen with her blind left eye

This is the first glimpse this year of fox cubs in the meadows. This young fox was trying to get its father’s attention:

It then tried to bite his tail:

The cub seen by day. Looks to be older than the ones in the wood

The baby badgers continue to be a bit elusive this year, despite my best efforts. The twins are now being allowed up above ground for a limited time each night, watched over by their ever-attentive mother:

A robin is making her nest at the base of a shrub in the garden and I watched her as I sat at my desk:

It was difficult not to call attention to herself with so much activity – she certainly caught my eye and I was not alone. Before long a Magpie arrived and stood menacingly on the top of the shrub she is nesting in:

This does not augur well. To my mind, there are way too many magpies round here.

A few other photos from the meadows this week:

A Redwing, on its way up to the far north to breed
The first Small Copper of the year
Common Carpet Moth, often out flying by day
Three Yellowhammer – camouflaged amongst the buttercups
Haven’t seen a Kestrel in the meadows for a while
Lovely shot of his tail feathers

Over in the wood, I am finally starting to calm down after the exhilaration of finding Tawny Owl chicks in the nest box last weekend. The bird ringer sent me this photo that he took from the top of the ladder once he had safely returned the chicks to their box:

No doubt this is one of their parents at the nearby pond:

We are delighted that there has been so much bird ringing in the wood this spring. This is the third Marsh Tit that has been caught and ringed:

The down curved beak of a Treecreeper:

Treecreepers have stiff tail feathers to push against the tree trunk for extra support:

A Mistle Thrush is a new species for the wood:

There is also a potential and very exciting second new species seen this week although I am still waiting for the bird ringer to confirm – could this possibly be a Nightingale below? I think it is, myself, although I have not seen one before:

This action shot is of a confrontation between two Blackbirds. The female on the right is carrying nesting material in her beak:

The fox cubs are becoming more reddish and less snub-nosed:

They are now on solids and here is one with a rabbit:

Hedgehogs are gathering in our daughter’s garden in the North Downs. Pleasingly, the animals are using the hedgehog house put there for them:

And four of them have been seen in the same shot:

Our son and his girlfriend have now reached Africa on their world trip. They had just arrived in Tanzania when they saw these birds hopping around the airport carpark:

These are Superb Starlings. Our European Starlings can look pretty colourful themselves when the light hits them at the right angle:

One of the two pairs of European Starling that are nesting in the meadows this year

But it does have to be admitted that their colours are not a patch on their fancy cousins from East Africa. I am looking forward to what else we shall see of African wildlife over the next few weeks.

Bank Holiday Owlets

Today was definitely a red letter day, both for us and the wood. For a while now we have had some tantalising suggestions that Tawny Owls might be nesting in one of the boxes that we have put up. A trail camera on a pole nearby has produced an occasional photo of an adult owl in the box and, excitingly, on our last few visits we have been hearing tapping coming from within.

We met the bird ringers in the wood, one of whom is licensed to handle owls. However, although he has a lot of experience ringing Barn Owl chicks in the Stour Valley, he had never before ringed a Tawny.

As soon as we approached the box, a net was put over the opening in case there was an adult bird in the box that would try to fly out.

The ringer climbed the ladder wearing his safety specs to protect his eyes should there be an adult in there. Peeping carefully into the box, he saw two fluffy owlets within. Here is the first owlet coming out:

This first chick out of the box was the larger of the two. The length of her hind claw told us that this was a female.

A ring was put on the bird:

Although the young birds sat very calmly, they were clacking their beaks from time to time which was the source of the tapping noise that we had heard coming from the box.

Various measurements were taken while the chicks were in the hand. The second owlet was noticeably smaller yet was heavier, apparently because it had more recently eaten. The flight feathers were still encased in sheaths:

As were the feathers around the beak:

The larger female chick is on the left below. It wasn’t possible to sex the smaller chick using the length of its talons because it wasn’t yet old enough:

The female chick:

Then the chicks were placed safely back into their nest.

It really was a most special and memorable day.

Reculver Towers

This week we drove north up to Reculver near Herne Bay – not very far away but somewhere I had never been before. The iconic twin towers of St Mary’s Church, Reculver have been used as a navigation marker at the mouth of the River Thames for centuries.

The Romans built a fort here in AD200 and then, in the 7th century, an Anglo-Saxon monastery was constructed on the same site. Over time, this became the Reculver parish church until the 19th century, when coastal erosion became a problem and the structure was largely demolished, other than the twin towers.

Present day remains at Reculver showing the coastal erosion problem from an information board on site

The clifftop path here is a busy spot for dog walkers and cyclists, but we needed to be down on the beach for what we were looking for, and we had that more or less to ourselves.

Sandy cliffs stretching west towards Herne Bay from Reculver. We want to return soon in the afternoon when the cliffs will not be in heavy shadow

There were signs that many invertebrates had been making use of the soft, sandy cliffs but it was too early in the year for there to be any activity:

The thirty turbines of the Kentish Flats wind farm, eight miles out to sea

This is what we had come to see, the largest Sand Martin colony in Kent:

But even though I stood and watched for a while, there was nothing going in or out of the nest holes. Perhaps the birds were not back yet from Africa?

A short distance further along towards Herne Bay, however, the sky suddenly became alive with Sand Martins. This second, much smaller, colony was right up near the clifftop:

That distinctive brown band across the chest distinguishes them from other hirundines

Having seen what we came for, we found a path to get up and walked back to Reculver along the clifftop. Even though the meadows at the top are well frequented with humans, Skylarks were singing and Sand Martins were everywhere. We saw our first Whitethroat of the year with its scritchy-scratchy song:

A Black Oil Beetle lumbered across the path in front of us, although it played dead when it realised it had been spotted. What an amazing thing it is:

These animals have an interesting life cycle. This female, bloated full of eggs, will soon dig a hole to lay all her hundreds of eggs into. Once the larvae hatch, they climb up the stems of flowers and wait amongst the petals for a suitable mining bee to visit that could be its host. They attach themselves to the fur of the bee’s back using special hooks on their feet, and get carried back to the bee’s nest.

The beetle larva then lives off the bee’s store of pollen and nectar until it emerges from the nest as an adult. Although the south-west of the country remains a stronghold for them, all four species of British Oil Beetle are unfortunately under threat due to loss of wildflower-rich meadows and decline in their mining bee hosts.

Meanwhile, over in the wood, this blurry image was actually quite exciting:

A Brown Hare runs across the woodland clearing.

Hares are most commonly seen in grassland habitats and at woodland edges such as this, and their simple nests are above ground rather than underground in burrows as with rabbits. But they are less frequently found where there are lots of buzzards and foxes and so, although it was lovely to see this one, we might never expect good hare numbers here.

A buzzard in the wood this week…

…and action from the fox den:

We are still not sure what is going on in the owl box. As I stood under it to download the photos to the computer, there was repeated soft tapping coming from the box. Could that be young owlets I was hearing – or was it baby squirrels? The camera did have this photo of an owl flying out of the box, presumably alarmed by the nearby squirrel climbing the tree:

But that was its only photo of an owl – it is all very intriguing. We are now awaiting the return from holiday of the bird ringer who is licensed to handle owls and who is going to open the box to look inside once he is back.

One thing we know for sure is that squirrels are nesting in the former woodpecker hole this year:

Squirrel at the hole
A whole lot of grass stuffed into the hole

A large number of birds have been ringed in the wood this spring, including five Great Spotted Woodpeckers. This female, with her lovely red under-feathers, was very feisty and drew blood from the other bird ringer as he attempted to hold her so that I could take these pictures:

The woodland floor in the regeneration area is a beautiful mass of bugle spires, wild strawberry and foxgloves at the moment:

In the meadows, the breeding season is well underway. The Woodpigeon are nesting:

Feeding crop milk to the adult that will have been sitting on eggs
The Woodpigeon nest with two eggs. We can see into this nest and so hope to follow its fortunes as the spring progresses.

The Herring Gulls are nesting too:

And the Blackbirds:
Magpies are still carrying sticks around, despite having started building their nests as long ago as January:

A photo of some of the black-and-white animals in the meadows. An Ashy Mining Bee and our border collie dog would complete the collection:

Magpies like to escort foxes around whenever they can:

A beautiful Speckled Wood on the last of the Blackthorn blossom:

A Wall Butterfly

Late to the party, some of the beech trees are only now breaking out into leaf.

Beautiful just-opened beech leaves with their burnished edges and grey furriness

A badger trundles its way home at dawn this morning:

I was hoping to be able to give you a fluffy grand finale this week with some photos of the baby badgers, newly allowed up above ground by their mothers. But they are proving most elusive this year and currently this is the best that I can offer:

Hopefully, by my next post, I will be in a position to offer some better images of these adorable bundles of fun and fur.

Easter Round Up

Last autumn I planted some crown imperial fritillary bulbs in the garden. Whilst these are arresting and wonderful plants in their own right, what particularly interests me is that they are the only plant in Europe to be pollinated by a bird.

The plant is native from Turkey across to India and is bird pollinated across its entire range. Here, it is only Blue Tits that are exactly the right size and shape to make contact with both the male and female parts of the flower and thus pollinate it. They access the flowers from below, holding on to the central stem until launching themselves upwards into the bells. The plant produces plentiful amounts of nectar and this is sucrose-free so that the birds can digest it. Interestingly, the nectar of other species of fritillary, pollinated by bumblebees rather than birds, does contain sucrose.
Blue tit in the wood last year

I would absolutely love to see Blue Tits visiting the crown imperials and so have put a camera on them. Possibly it might take the birds a few years to realise that this resource is here for them, but I’m prepared to wait.

We put thirty Dormouse nesting boxes up in the wood earlier in the year and the Blue Tits there must be delighted with the sudden influx of potential nesting sites! This weekend we went round with the licensed ecologist on the first of the monthly monitoring visits and found that fourteen of the boxes had Blue Tit nests in them at various stages of construction. One even had a clutch of eggs already, discreetly hidden under a layer of feathers.

Box 11 with a bird nest of moss, hay and feathers within. A yellow duster blocks the hole as the lid is edged sideways to peer in

There were no signs of Dormouse activity in any of the boxes this time but they will be checked again next month.

We have discovered that there are six cubs in the fox den in the wood. Although the average litter size for foxes is four to five, bigger litters are not uncommon:

Night-time suckling
The cubs are now starting to be seen out during the day, but stay very close to the den:

As I was crouching down beside this camera with my computer to download the photos, one of the cubs came above ground. It visibly jumped when it saw me, not two metres away from it, and retreated back into the mouth of the burrow to stare at me from there. A very memorable and special moment indeed.

The cubs are ridiculously sweet, the colour of the earth with a reddishness about the face as a sign of what is to come. Some of them have a white tip to the end of their tail.

Thermoregulation in the young cubs is not great and so, when not busy exploring the world around the burrow, they huddle together to keep warm awaiting the return of their mother:

A ball of cubs

Although the cubs themselves are not yet on solids, the adult foxes are bringing prey back for each other.

There has been lovely weather all week, bringing the wood alive with spring butterflies. Orange Tips visiting the bluebells, Peacocks, Speckled Woods, lots of Brimstones…

A female Brimstone, the males being lemon-yellow

… and we followed a Green-veined White as it worked its way along the woodland path from violet to violet:

This young rabbit stayed still long enough for a photo:

An Easter Bunny

A Brambling sighting was a first for the wood:

Every spring a pair of Bullfinch have arrived to raise a family:

A Marsh Tit has been coming to the wool dispenser to collect wool and I wonder if it is nesting in one of the bird boxes? Last spring we moved a trail camera on a tripod from box to box to see what was nesting within each one. It was exclusively Great Tits and Blue Tits back then, but who knows what we shall discover this year.

Marsh Tit about to collect some wool

Across in the meadows, the Smooth Newts are very active in the ponds at the moment. The bellies of the females are swollen with eggs and the over-attentive males are making nuisances of themselves.

Not a great photo but the female is lighter with a rotund abdomen

It surely can’t be very long now before the badger cubs come above ground. Yet again, the babies have been carried around between burrows a few times this week:

The Blackthorn blossom in the hedgerows cannot fail to lift the spirits, with the Hawthorn yet to come:

And the fruit trees are in glorious flower in the orchard. Pear blossom:

And deliciously pink apple blossom:

Dark-edged Bee-fly enjoying the flowers…

..and in profile showing its tufty long fur and spindly legs:

A lovely image of a hedgehog in our daughter’s garden in the North Downs. What a shiny, wet nose it has:

At this time of year, there is an endless list of jobs to do in the garden and allotment, and the beautiful Easter weather has got us out to get some of these ticked off.

Getting the first early potatoes in

In one corner of the allotment, the rhubarb leaves are starting to thrust themselves up above ground and, from time to time, we stop by to note the progress, dreaming of the rhubarb crumbles to come.

Bats in the Wood

There has been some bat excitement this week and it all started with this photograph:

Intriguing night shot from a trail camera looking at a woodpecker hole. The hole is just below the thin branch near the top

There are four bats around the tree, including the one perched at the entrance to the hole. The ears suggest that these are Brown Long-eared Bats, which tend to live in light woodland and typically roost in trees. They do indeed have the most fantastic ears.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Ernst Haeckel – Detail of the 67th plate from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (1904). Brown Long-eared Bat

The ecologist helping us with the Dormouse monitoring is also a bat expert and she told us that bat tree roosts are very transitory at this time of year, when they have recently awoken from hibernation and before they have properly settled down. We met her at the wood that same evening just before dark to try to catch them emerging from the hole.

She arrived with a lot of high tech and expensive equipment. These bat detectors were very good, showing the frequency of calls of any passing bat and also saving the data so that it can be reviewed and properly analysed later.

Two infrared floodlights and a sophisticated IR camera were trained on the hole. Even when it got completely dark, that camera had a remarkable view as if it were still daytime:

We then waited for it to get dark. The Pipistrelles are the first bats to emerge at dusk and soon we had a Soprano Pipistrelle feeding along the track behind us. It was light enough to still see it by eye and, for the first time, not only could I watch a bat but I also knew exactly which species it was, which greatly increased my appreciation of it. Before long there were several Soprano and Common Pipistrelles flying around us.

Barracuda1983. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Common Pipistrelle

But we were waiting for the Brown Long-eared Bats and they don’t come out until it is properly dark – around 45 minutes after sunset. And then, on cue, there were five Long-eared Bats above our heads – seen by the bat expert but but we beginners could see nothing. The bat detectors, however, recognised their quiet, lower frequency calls. Bats make their echo-locating calls in order to hear the reflected sound back, and Long-eared bats with their enormous ears don’t need the sound to be very loud to still be able to hear it.

But we hadn’t seen these amazing bats emerging from the hole in the tree that we were monitoring and, in fact, subsequent review of the camera footage showed that they did not come out of there. The manner in which they were flying, though, apparently suggested that they had just emerged very close by – perhaps even from another of the several holes in that same tree.

I wonder if the bats had looked in the woodpecker hole and decided not to go in because there was a woodpecker in there? The birds are definitely still interested in the tree:

Two Green Woodpeckers at the tree

It was really enjoyable evening although a shame, of course, that we didn’t get photos of the bats emerging. There are now plans to try to spend another evening in the wood with bat detectors once the monitoring season is properly underway from May.

In the meantime, we are now inspired to install our three new Kent bat boxes in the wood. With open bottoms, these wooden boxes with recycled plastic coverings are self cleaning and, once up, can be left alone for many years.

Elsewhere in the wood, we have a camera looking at a fox den. It seems that I was wrong last week when I said that one of the foxes using the den was heavily pregnant – even though she is definitely stout, I now see that she is lactating:

Lactating vixen

And her tiny cubs have already been born:

The cub is so dark at this age
A tender moment between a parent and cub
Two of them at least

The camera on the owl box has captured some more visits of a Tawny Owl to the box but not as many as might be expected if a bird was sitting on eggs in there. I have had a thought – perhaps the nest itself is located elsewhere and this box is being used as an occasional roost for the bird that is not busy incubating the eggs?

Other interesting photos from the wood this week:

Redwing remain with us for now. It is probably still quite wintery in the far north where they breed, so they shouldn’t arrive there too early
Woodcock, however, have gone. This one, though, was seen this week and has possibly stopped off briefly on migration
A male pheasant displaying to a female by pulling his wing down and trying to look huge. I think she actually does look a little impressed
Sometimes Buzzards just look like they are wearing a pair of brown trousers
One of the bird ringers spent a busy morning ringing on his own in the wood. He ringed over forty birds, including a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Coal Tit and, thrillingly, two Nuthatch which are rare in our part of Kent. He also saw 8-10 Crossbill fly over which is a new species for the wood

Over in the meadows, the baby badgers have once again been moved, and in the same direction as the last two times. My latest theory is that, underground, these mischievous little cubs are crawling away from their nursery and the mother is having to repeatedly return them, doing so overground where there is more space to carry them. Here is the first cub:

Nine minutes later, a second one is carried across:

Foxes and badgers live in close proximity here and yet they largely manage to completely avoid each other. On a recent wild night, however, the roar of the wind meant they couldn’t hear much else as both a badger and a fox tried to use the hole under the fence at the same time. The badger initially jumped back in surprise:

The fox was also shocked and its knee jerk reaction was to hiss:

But then the badger, having taken stock and remembered she was the top dog, charged at the fox who strategically withdrew backwards:

What fun. I love to observe the interactions between these two species as they are forced to rub along together.

An altogether more peaceful badger scene:

The One-eyed Vixen has once more caught mange and I have just finished giving her, and our other foxes here, a course of medicine delivered in nightly honey sandwiches which they love:

The One-eyed Vixen in the foreground with fur missing from her back

Now we wait with our fingers crossed to see if the hair loss continues or if the treatment has worked and her fur starts to regrow.

On this same camera this week, there was a Tawny Owl on the ground. It is unusual to see a Tawny Owl in the meadows:

I suppose owls do need to go down onto the ground to catch their rodent prey but I can’t help but worry for them after we got this photo in November 2021 of a fox carrying an owl:

Other photos from the meadows this week:

One of my favourites – the Tawny Mining Bee female. The rich colours of this bee are always a showstopper for me
Magpie with a snail
A Woodpigeon collecting sticks to build a nest
The crows are further advanced in their nest building and are now lining theirs with soft wool from the wool dispenser
We have only ever once before seen a Red-legged Partridge in the meadows. We do regularly see the native Grey Partridge here but unusually haven’t seen one this year yet
The two-year old Herring Gull with something to say for itself
X9LT, the female of our pair of Herring Gulls here
Our lovely pair of Herring Gulls enjoying a moment of tranquility together

In our daughter and her fiancé’s garden in the North Downs, the hedgehogs have awakened:

I wonder if they will get hoglets this year? I do hope they do.

I finish today with a photo of our dog with one of the cowslips which, like little yellow chandeliers, are lighting up the meadows this April.

Spring Matters

There are two trail cameras in the vicinity of the badger sett in the meadows and every spring we are treated to fleeting glimpses of cubs as they are moved between burrows. We think that, in all likelihood, the different tunnels do connect under the ground, but that it is just easier to move the young if they are brought up above. It certainly then means that we are treated to early, tantalising cameo appearances of the little cubs that will soon be joyfully romping around the meadows.

Here is our first sighting of this year’s baby badger, tiny and hairless, at ten days old on February 21st:

We then had to wait until the cub was thirty-five days old before we saw it again, now much grown, on 18th March:

This week, on 28th March, it has been moved again. Now forty-five days old, the mother badger was struggling to stop the cub from dragging on the ground:

There were two surprising things about this. The first was that the cub was being moved in the same direction as last time. But the second, bigger surprise was that, this time, there was a second cub that was moved fifteen minutes later. This second one was carried facing its mother which worked better without the cub’s legs sticking out forwards – but that did mean that we didn’t get such a good view:

Two days later, on 30th March, the plot thickened further. Now, a single cub was carried in the same direction that the other two had been a couple of nights earlier.

This baby badger seems smaller and easier to carry. Perhaps the answer is that there are two different litters, one with one cub and the other with two?

I have looked in my records for the dates that the young badgers have been officially allowed above ground in previous years: 7th April 2017, 17th April 2018, 16th April 2019 and 23rd of April 2020. Last year there were no cubs. So we have a little while to wait yet before we get to see them properly and solve the mystery of what on earth is going on.

All across the meadows are shallow little pits where badgers have pawed the ground to get at the earthworms that make up 70% of their diet. On a damp and misty morning this week, we realised that every single one of these holes that we looked at had a spiderweb strung across it as a sort of pitfall trap. There must surely be several thousand of them.

The web highlighted by water droplets in the mist

But what are the spiders hoping to catch in these webs? Possibly ants, ground beetles and other invertebrates bumbling along the ground and falling by accident into the hole and thus into the clutches of the spider?

Depressingly, the One-eyed Vixen seems to have got mange again and has now lost a patch of fur on her back:

This will be the third year in succession that I have had to treat her for mange. In the past, I have sought advice from The Fox Project charity and, as previously suggested by them, have started a week’s course of medicine-laced honey sandwiches that go out at dusk with the peanuts. She is an easy fox to treat since she is always ready waiting for the peanuts and so fingers crossed this will once more be successful.

The One-eyed Vixen’s handsome mate at the badger hole.

Another year of being Red Mason Bee guardians is commencing. The bee cocoons have arrived in the post and are now out in the release box, ready to hatch:

The cardboard tubes that we hope they will nest in are in position above the release box:

All we need now is some warmth to get things going.

Bird nesting season is always an interesting time in the wood and this year particularly so. There has been another photo of a Tawny Owl in the nest box:

It is now impossible for me to not be excited about this. Typically Tawnies lay their first egg around the third week of March, with chicks hatching thirty days later and fledging around the end of May. I feel like I should whisper this question: Could there already be eggs in this box?

The buzzard has also been sitting on the horizontal branch where we see it a lot. In the summer before we bought the wood, buzzards nested at the top of one of the tall silver birches here. However, this nest has long ago been blown away by the winds and the birds have made no further attempts to nest in our wood. There is a lot of buzzard activity here, though, and I feel sure that they are nesting in woods nearby.

The camera looking at this box is old and slightly temperamental so we decided to replace it with a newer, hopefully higher resolution one, and set it to take videos.

The new camera going up into position

We have another camera on a pole looking at a cherry tree where Green Woodpeckers have nested for the last two years. It seems that something intriguing is going on here as well.

As we approached the tree, there was a scurrying noise such that the claws of a squirrel might make as it scrabbled up a tree. The dog heard it too:

On reviewing the camera footage, we saw that a squirrel had been carrying nesting material up the tree:

The woodpecker nest hole is just below that skinny branch coming off the trunk

Because this tree currently has no leaves, we could clearly see that there isn’t a squirrel drey being constructed up in the branches. There are, however, many old woodpecker nest holes in this tree and one entrance is really quite large. Could the squirrels be nesting in here? If so, they would be very close neighbours of the woodpeckers:

We attached another camera to a pole and trained it on the possible squirrel nest.

The cherry tree and its two paparazzi cameras looking at different holes

On returning to review the cameras, we can now confirm that squirrels are indeed nesting in the large, higher hole:

Nesting material going in
There was a lot of squirrel activity in and out of the hole

The Green Woodpeckers also came to look in this squirrel hole from time to time, possibly to check out the neighbours…

…as well as only occasionally looking into the hole they traditionally nest in. Perhaps they won’t now nest here this year – after all, squirrels are major predators of young birds in nests.

As we step around the wood, the dog always carries out an in depth investigation of every one of the numerous rabbit holes that we pass. But one burrow in particular called for extended scrutiny this time and it was difficult to get her away. Once we did, though, we noticed that there were pheasant feathers at the entrance – the dog had possibly found us a fox den:

A very active-looking hole with a wodge of feathers at the entrance

Having established that squirrels were definitely nesting in the cherry tree, we have now moved that camera onto a shorter stick and trained it onto this potential fox den to see what we got.

This morning we visited the wood again. I went to check the camera and how about this for the first shot?

A fox sticks its head out of the burrow at dusk

One of the foxes using the den looks to be pregnant:

We will leave this camera here for now to see if we can see cubs emerge this spring

In the meadows, there have been an alarming number of rabbits seen in the mouths of foxes recently, but this has only ever been seen once on the cameras in the wood. The wood does have both foxes and rabbits:

However, there are less foxes and more rabbits than in the meadows, and these rabbits have so very many burrows to escape down if being pursued. The woodland also has good numbers of pheasant and squirrels as alternative prey for the foxes. All these factors must lead to there being a very different ecological balance in the wood which is probably good news for the rabbits.

Another rabbit lost in the meadows this week

Since birds are currently busy building their nests, we have set them up a wool dispenser in the wood. The dog’s food arrives frozen, insulated by wool blankets, and it is this packaging wool that we have teased apart and stuffed into the wire box to be reused by the birds. This dispenser is proving very popular with the Great Tits and Blue Tits and it is nice to think that their babies will be sitting cosily on the dog food wool in due course.

We have set a wool cage up in the meadows as well:

A Horse Chestnut tree unfurling new leaves in its own inimitable fashion

One of our sons, travelling the world for a year with his girlfriend, has spent the last two weeks on the Galapagos Islands but has now reached Peru. He sent us a photo of this enormous blue wasp:

It is difficult to judge the scale of the photograph but these blue-black Tarantula Hawk Spider Wasps are around 5cm long – one of the largest parasitic wasps in the world. They use their sting to paralyse Tarantula spiders and then drag them off to their nest. A single egg is then laid on the unfortunate spider, which then hatches and the wasp larva feeds on the still living prey. Luckily these insects rarely sting humans without provocation but, when they do, their sting is among the most painful of all insects. One researcher has described this pain as ‘immediate, excruciating, unrelenting pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except scream’. 

I am enjoying being sent selected natural wonders from Central and South America without having to leave my comfortable armchair. Soon they will be moving to Bolivia, and then on to Florida en route to Africa. More wildlife wonders no doubt await….

A Day for Mothers

It is Mothers’ Day here in the UK and a time to celebrate the unconditional love that mothers have for their children and acknowledge the sacrifices that they inevitably have had to make for them. We know of two mothers in the meadows so far this year. In this photo from last week, a badger moves her cub between burrows:

The other mother is the One-eyed Vixen, with her blind left eye, who has returned to her former svelte self – there will now be a litter of cubs safely tucked away somewhere. Foxes often utilise unused badger setts and there are certainly plenty of those on the cliffs:

Her mate is a very fine fellow indeed with a distinctive dip at the end of his tail:

Here he is bringing another rabbit in to feed his family this week..

…and one more as well:

This is him yet again, out and about during the day, with a pair of magpies keeping him under close observation:

It is perhaps a case of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer. The fox is in the magpies’ personal space and they are watching his every move.

Here, the magpies are with him again, but this time they are hoping for an opportunity to get at the nightly peanuts. I deliberately wait until it is heavy dusk before putting these out so that I do not feed magpies, but even so it looks like I was too early ..

..although if I go later, I keep the foxes hanging about and they have better things that they should be doing:

Every evening I attempt to get the balance right.

There is a camera looking at a new badger hole in the meadows. We have noticed before that rats often utilise badger tunnels and this week they have been seen in and around the entrance of this new one:

The camera has also been taking photos of Peacock butterflies basking on the bare soil of the diggings which will be at a much higher temperature than the surrounding vegetated ground:

In fact, we decided to measure this temperature difference with an infrared thermometer:

The result was really quite amazing – the grass was 16° C but the bare soil was 28° C.

Under a reptile sampling square it was even hotter at 31° C. This week lizards have emerged from hibernation and are to be found warming up in this heat:

Slow worms hibernate in holes under the ground and the entrance to one of these tunnels is very obvious here:

So fond have we become of Herring Gulls these days that we now find ourselves admiring other gulls when we are out and about. This pair, with the larger male in the background, was down on the beach and they both look so very similar to Chuckles and the colour-ringed X9LT that we see in the meadows. If it wasn’t for the lack of that orange ring, I’d have thought it was them.

This next gull is being seen in the meadows at the moment. Herring Gulls are long-lived birds and take four years to fully develop their adult plumage and start to breed. I think this must be a bird born in 2020, the grey in its wings now starting to replace the mottled brown feathers of a juvenile gull:

Before the storms of a month or so ago, there was quite a flock of Yellowhammer building up. Sadly, numbers now seem to have dropped but it is lovely to hear them belting out their distinctive song from the hedgerows these days.

Four is the maximum number seen on the cameras at the moment

This bird looks so much like a racing pigeon, that I was sure I was going to see rings round its ankles. There aren’t any though, so it must be an odd-looking feral pigeon passing through.

Until last autumn, we would always see several racing pigeon each year, stopping for a quick rest during a race back from France or Spain. I believe that international pigeon racing was going to have to stop in the UK last October due to European regulations concerning movements of livestock – but I haven’t been able to find out if that actually happened or if a last minute exemption for racing pigeons was negotiated. We shall have to see if any of these birds turn up this summer.

It is rare to see a Wren taking a bath here:

The charismatic Bee-flies are now hanging around the meadows, on the look out for mining bee nests to parasitise. This is a Dotted Bee-fly with black spots on its wings:

It has been beautifully sunny all week, although the keen north-easterly breeze blowing in off the sea is a constant reminder that it is still only March. Nevertheless, we been working in the garden and catching up on jobs in the meadows.

One of these outstanding jobs was to build an insect hotel in the paddock using wood from the winter coppicing work and other assorted things that were lying around. We under estimated how many logs it would need, though, and didn’t have enough to quite get to the top:

But there are plenty more logs available in the wood to finish this masterpiece off in due course. I do love an insect hotel.

In the wood, there is a camera on a pole looking at this Tawny Owl box:

The Beech grove owl box in the wood

There has been some recent and exciting owl activity around this box and I’m pleased to say that I have another image of an owl going into the box to show you:

There have also been many photos of a buzzard sitting on the horizontal branch in front of the box:

It is always the same bird. Elsewhere in the wood, a different camera has also often been seeing this bird, perched up in a hazel coppice:

We do have a second camera on a pole – this one is looking at the cherry tree that woodpeckers have nested in for the last three years. It is not taking many photos but here is a Green Woodpecker at the hole:

I’m not sure what is going on with that Squirrel but I view it with suspicion.

A female Blackbird has been collecting wet leaves from this mini pond for about a fortnight so far. I suppose that wet leaves stay where they are put more and are easier to weave into her nest:

Moschatel, or Townhall Clock, grows well in a damp patch of the wood:

For the last photos today, I am taking you off to the lovely village of Wye in the North Downs, where one of our daughters lives and where we went today for Mothers Day lunch. We accompanied them down to the nearby River Stour where they test monthly water samples for phosphates and nitrates as volunteers for Kent Wildlife Trust:

It is really good to know that a group of volunteers set aside time in their busy lives to keep an eye on water quality at set points along the river like this.

I look forward to hearing more about what all these results will reveal about the health of this lovely river.

The Helpful House

Each morning, at first light, a pair of Crows like to sit on their thrones on the roof of the house to survey their kingdom:

They call loudly and energetically from here, proclaiming that this is their land and anyone brave enough to question that fact can expect a fight.

However, Chuckles the Herring Gull is not prepared to accept any such nonsense from a Crow:

X9LT, the colour-ringed female gull

But it is not just as a lofty Crow perch that our house makes itself useful to wildlife. In places, it has Kent hanging peg-tiles on its walls and, getting old as they are, more seem to have fallen to the ground every time we look. We are going to have to do something about this eventually but, in the meantime, House Sparrows are enjoying the cavities that the lost tiles create.

This hole looks occupied and from inside the house I could hear that something was in there:

I loitered outside for a while and saw this female House Sparrow come out:

Should we ever get round to replacing the tiles, we will consider putting up some nest boxes on this side of the house to compensate the Sparrows for their loss.

Another aspect of the house has a jolly assortment of Swift and House Martin boxes up:

All of these boxes are nested in by Sparrows rather than the birds they are intended for, but a new nesting season is just beginning, so who knows?

Although badger cubs don’t officially come above ground until April, in mid February we saw a ten day old cub being moved from one burrow to another in its mother’s mouth:

This week, the cub was moved again. It is now thirty-five days old and much bigger than the last glimpse we had of it:

There seems to be just one cub this year and we are looking forward to getting to know it better when it is allowed properly above ground in about three weeks time.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease has caused a catastrophic crash in rabbit numbers across Europe in recent years and we do not often see rabbits in the meadows. But there is a small community of them in a neighbouring field and sometimes they do venture under the fence to us.

Peering through the hedgerow to photograph a rabbit eating grass in the next field. There is a small warren in amongst that dense bramble behind

This week we saw a sweet baby rabbit and its parent in our meadows:

But seeing rabbits here makes me worry for them since the densely vegetated cliffs allow for a thriving population of foxes and other would-be rabbit predators. As if to nicely illustrate the point, there was this photo one evening:

Twenty minutes later, the fox returned with just the hind legs and tail of the rabbit:

In the last post I mentioned a distinctive Magpie, with feathers lost on his face, that has been building a nest here:

It could be a mite infection that has caused this feather loss

The Bird Ringers set their nets up in the meadows this week and caught and ringed two Magpies, one of which was this very bird:

Great to get an opportunity to see him up close. You can just make out the ear hole behind the eye

They also caught a very smart Chaffinch, born last year. He had long wings, suggesting that he is an over-wintering continental bird, now about to leave the UK to return to his breeding grounds:

A Brambling was seen this week that is also on his way back:

As are these Starlings too:

Every day there continue to be more photos on the trail cameras of Magpies carrying sticks and mud:

We first saw a Magpie with a stick in its beak here on 24th January. One of the Bird Ringers can see a Magpie nest being built from his back garden in Folkestone and tells us that his birds started before Christmas.

This bird is now wearing a silver ring

Other photos from the meadows this week:

A Peacock on Blackthorn
A Comma feeding on Wild Plum blossom
A Blackbird with an ivy berry
The Phoenix, a two-masted brig, went past the meadows this week. Built in 1929 in Frederickshavn, Denmark, she began her life as an evangelical mission ship. She is now available to hire for events or to be used in films
A view over Dover Port this morning. Three P&O ferries, The Spirit of Britain, The Pride of Kent and The Pride of Canterbury are laid up on the cruise ship berth following the dramatic and depressing events of this week. All three of those ship names seem very ironic right now
The collateral chaos on the M20 resulting from the P&O ships being out of action

One morning this week, we walked the dog under our local white cliffs and enjoyed watching the Kestrels there. As a bird flies, the meadows would only be two minutes away from these cliffs and so surely these must be the same birds?

There is quite a lot of Goat Willow growing in the wood and it is not a tree that we had ever properly appreciated before. But when we visited this week, the catkins on the male trees had turned yellow with pollen and were alive with visiting bees. There were so many bees at work that their drone could be heard from some distance away – it was wonderful.

In the mature part of the wood, the catkins had only been produced right at the top of the tall trees, but on the smaller trees in the regeneration areas, they were lower and we could get a better look. The bees appeared to be mostly Honey Bees.

Clearly Goat Willow is a fantastic resource at this time of year and, from now on, we will give these trees their proper respect.

It was a really nice day with the sun shining strongly onto the newly coppiced area that we finished working on at the end of February:

Finishing off the last bit of coppicing at the end of February

It was extremely pleasing indeed to discover butterflies basking in the heat of this new clearing:

Brimstone in the newly cleared area
A pair of Comma were also appreciating the warmth, although they often broke off from their basking to fight each other, spiralling together high into the sky

We return to the meadows for the last photo today. 2022 is the year of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative has been running since October to encourage the planting of thousands of trees across the land to mark this auspicious anniversary. It runs until the finish of the tree planting season at the end of March and then restarts in October until the end of the year.

This week we planted a Beech tree in the meadows to commemorate Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne:

Planting a tree always feels momentous and I can’t help but imagine what this tree, and indeed the meadows themselves, will look like in 70 years time.

The Progress of Spring

A few fresh, spring sprigs brought into the house, guaranteed to lift the spirits

Our son and his girlfriend, continuing their travels around the world, have now reached Ecuador and spent some days in the Amazon jungle. Here are some of the wildlife wonders that they have seen:

A pair of extraordinary Crested Owls. These birds are nocturnal and mainly eat insects but not much more is known about them, it seems. They have chosen a great place to roost here
A magnificent Scarlet Macaw
These parrots are licking the clay from the cliffs – called geophagy, eating the clay neutralises the quinidine and other toxins contained in the seeds and nuts of their daily diet, making them easier to digest
A clearwing butterfly

The UK has around 59 species of butterfly but Ecuador has 4,000 and that thought makes me want to jolly well pack my bags, get on a plane and go and see some of them. But – wait – there has been some warm spring sunshine here this week and our insects are tentatively starting to emerge. Perhaps there is no need for me to go anywhere – we have been delighted to welcome back a few early butterflies, some bees and hoverflies to the meadows.
The first mining bee of the season – a Yellow-legged Mining Bee male, I think
The hoverfly Eupeodes luniger on a daisy flower. There are several similar species but E. luniger is likely to be the one that is out and about this early in the season

We had been watching for the reawakening of the reptiles and it was yesterday, 12th March, that Slow Worms came up from their underground burrows. We haven’t seen any lizards yet.

The grand magpie nest building project is continuing apace:

I have realised, however, that there is now a second magpie nest being constructed. One of the birds that has recently been seen carrying sticks is very distinctive, with feathers lost from his face, and he is not one of the pair that has been building since January:

This idiosyncratic magpie has recently started building a nest

A magpie breeding territory is apparently twelve acres, and is held throughout the year. Perhaps the meadows, at only six acres, contain the junction of two separate territories both with a nest? We don’t know where either of these two nests are, but continue to try to work out what is going on.

Crows also build new nests every year but the pair here are yet to start. This is perhaps a crust of bread below that is being dunked into the water to soften it – we see these intelligent animals doing this sort of thing a lot:

A group of around twenty Stock Dove have been with us all winter. They are such lovely birds and we here in the UK are custodians of 60% of the global population, so we need to make sure we take care of them:

A Stock Dove courtship bow, but the female seems far from impressed:

A flock of House Sparrows has also been with us throughout the winter and remain here still. Hopefully they will be staying for the summer to breed:

A soggy House Sparrow flies away after his bath

A pair of Collared Dove are daily visitors. I was surprised to see how black and white, almost magpie-like, the underside of the tail of these birds is:

We don’t get Starlings here in the winter at all. But, every March, groups of Starling arrive from across the country, awaiting favourable conditions to fly back to their breeding grounds in the more northerly parts of Europe. Some years we have seen very large numbers indeed, but this is the most that have appeared on the trail cameras so far this March:

A rare sighting of a Tawny Owl in the meadows last night. Is it carrying something?

Our male Herring Gull, Chuckles, continues to have problems with an interloper on his patch. Chuckles always trumpets with his neck outstretched, while the new gull bends its neck down to call:

In this photo from last week, the two adult birds are adopting these same postures:

Over in the wood, we have been getting the rest of the Dormice nest boxes up so that they are ready to be discovered by the animals when they emerge from hibernation shortly:

Box 15 – halfway through the job

Sadly there has been no further action at the owl nest box. However, a Tawny did come down and drink at this pond on four nights this week:

Buzzard by the owl box
Sparrowhawk in the pond

The Bird Ringers visited the wood with some students who they are training. The students are teenagers which is great because it feels so important to inspire a love of nature in the younger generation. The group caught and ringed forty-four birds over the course of the morning, including a Great-spotted Woodpecker and two Marsh Tits:

The last photos for today are of the view out to sea on this spring Sunday morning. Two bulk carriers, Alda and Aspri, both of which have been here for several days waiting to get into Dover port, atmospherically flank the Dover lifeboat:

The Dover lifeboat, The City of London II, is presumably out on a training exercise. It is impossible not to have great respect for those brave volunteers who put themselves in danger and freely give up so much of their time to rescue others.