Crossing the Channel

A few racing pigeons drop by the meadows every year on their way back from the continent. One this week was particularly tame and surprisingly came into the conservatory and had a walk around inside whilst we were having a Pilates lesson in there. I fed it some seed and a broken up suet ball and it spent a long time feeding up before continuing its journey home.

Pigeons have been raced across the Channel for 125 years, the birds being released from points in France and Spain and completing the up to 500 mile trip in a few hours, mostly returning home on the same day that they are released. But it seems that the world of international pigeon racing might be about to become collateral damage of Brexit. Post-Brexit animal health regulations, due to have come into effect in April, require the birds to have a certificate signed by a vet and also to be in the EU at least 21 days before release. The birds would not be exercised during these three weeks and would lose a lot of condition. The implementation of these regulations has now been postponed until October but at the moment the future of cross-channel pigeon racing is looking bleak.

Racing pigeons being released in France to fly back to the UK. Animal rights organisations argue that cross-channel racing is cruel and results in the loss or death of hundreds of birds. Photo from BBC News
Is this the last summer we will be seeing these birds here in the meadows?

The weather has been hot and sunny although mainly with a delicious sea breeze here which has taken the edge off the heat. You always know that summer is in full swing when the Darters arrive.

Common Darters flying coupled up around the pond
Then the tip of the abdomen of the female is dipped into the water to lay an egg
When the winged ants start taking to the air, the sky is filled with Black-headed Gulls making the most of the bonanza
The sky was filled with something different on Monday when a Police helicopter spent several hours hovering above the meadows and surrounding area, driving the dog quite mad. Apparently a record number of 430 migrants crossed the Channel and landed on British shores that day, and we think that around 20 of these landed near here. More landed again on Wednesday and we had a visit from the Police to enquire if we had seen ‘anything suspicious’
The baby face of a young Jay
The raspberry legs of a young Stock Dove
Once again, we see adult Woodpigeon feeding each other crop milk. At least this is what I presume they are doing…
… which in this case was a precursor to mating. I read that Woodpigeon have two to three broods a year, two eggs being laid each time. The parents then take it in turn to sit on the eggs
This colour-ringed female Herring Gull with ring code X9LT has been visiting the meadows for many months. Her mate still waits for us every morning as we arrive to put out seed but we presume that she is currently busy with a nest on the white cliffs because her appearances are now much less regular. I am hoping she will bring her chick up as well before too long
Six Spot Burnet Moth on Kidney Vetch
The second brood of Small Blue Butterflies has started to emerge
Male Gatekeeper with his distinctive pair of white spots in the forewing
Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on Ragwort
Bumble Bee on Sunflower
In the wood – the Great Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens). You can’t necessarily tell from the photo but this fly was enormous – one of the largest flies in Britain with an ivory-white band across its middle. Common Wasps build their nests down abandoned rabbit burrows and other such holes in the wood and this fly enters those nests, either undetected or accepted by the wasps, and lays her eggs. The fly larvae then live off the wasp larvae and general nest detritus.
An image from back in 2018 when a Badger had broken open a wasp nest and we were able to look inside. The nest had Volucella hoverfly larvae inside it and we could see that they also attack adult wasps. The whole thing was absolutely fascinating
This branch is a favourite place for this Buzzard to sit and observe what’s going on down on the woodland floor
It is good to see this Squirrel Buster feeder doing its stuff – the weight of the squirrel causes the outer sheath to slide down over the feeding ports and so the animal can’t get at the food. This is the first time for a long while that a camera has been trained on the feeders in the wood. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were visiting but sadly I didn’t see the Marsh Tits, Coal Tits and Nuthatches that have been regulars in the past. I wonder why they have gone and if we can get them back?
A single fledgling Bullfinch has appeared

Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, just up the coast from here, recently raised a lot of funds to double the size of its scrape and to build a second hide. This project was finished just as the country went into lockdown last year and has only recently opened to visitors. We were excited to see it at long last and went there this week.

Approaching the new hide
The spacious new hide. We had it to ourselves
Looking out over the scrape from the new hide
A Lapwing – surely one of Britains most beautiful birds? Lapwing chicks successfully fledged on the scrape this year
Several families of Tufted Duck were also raised

Sitting in a hide is immensely relaxing, putting everything else on hold for a while while you spend some quiet minutes observing nature. I am so pleased that we can once again get ourselves along there to see what’s about.

Up in the Woods

Back in Berkshire again this week, we walked the dog up into Ashley Hill Woods. I first remember this Forestry Commission wood from when I went on an infant school trip there, not so very long after it had been clear-felled in the early 1960s. Thankfully, since then it has been more sensitively managed and is now a beautiful place – probably my all time favourite wood and one that I have done a lot of dog-walking in over the years.

At the top of the hill is a Giant Sequoia, forty-four metres high and dwarfing all the other trees around it. I suppose that this tree must have been spared in the clear-felling.
A different order of magnitude to all the others

We have been watching this Red Kite nest on Ashley Hill for several years now. It is much larger than it was when we last saw it a few months ago, so hopefully this means it has been active this year. Red Kites are famous for weaving plastic and other bits of human detritus into their nests.

Hiding under a shady roof of Bracken, we found a thriving colony of Common Spotted Orchids:

Another old haunt of ours in Berkshire is Carpenters Wood and we also visited there this week. It is nearly the seventy-seventh anniversary of when a Halifax bomber, with seven men on board and loaded with bombs destined for France, crashed into these woods. There is still the disquieting sight of a large crater at the crash site:

A plaque at the site says: ‘Tread softly because this is hallowed ground’ and that exactly describes how it feels.

A Comma, from Berkshire…

Back in our own wood in Kent, the wet summer so far has meant that the undergrowth is distinctly more rampant than normal and we are slashing and hacking back nettles and bramble to remake our woodland paths. A battery powered hedge cutter seems to be working best for this.

The new part of the wood is densely planted and badly needs thinning and so, in the autumn, our first job is going to be some selective clearing. We are going to prioritise English Oaks and clear space around them so that they have a better chance to become sturdy, beautiful trees.

But because we are not confident that we can recognise these young Oaks once they no longer have leaves, this week I have started to identify suitable trees and tying red rope around them. It’s a shame that it wasn’t yellow, but I was singing the song to myself anyway.

Fresh bark on the ground below a birch, alerted us to look up and notice that Grey Squirrels have been up to their old tricks again and are stripping bark:

Fresh stripped birch bark on the ground….
….and yes, the tree is completely bare of bark at a height of 3m and above. At least this isn’t at ground level so the bottom part of this tree will hopefully still survive. That stripped part and above will now die though.

I am so looking forward to the successful end of the trials that are currently underway to test a contraceptive that can be delivered to Grey Squirrels via hazelnut spread in a specially designed box. UK Squirrel Accord is a partnership of environmental, wildlife and forestry organisations working towards making this happen and it is definitely something that we would be very interested in for our wood as soon as it becomes available. It seems a humane and perfect answer to a big problem.

A female Large Skipper in the wood. I also saw a Silver-washed Fritillary but it was very jittery and I failed to get a photo even though I crept carefully towards it, applying my best bushcraft skills
Buzzards are such bulky birds with chunky feet and legs
Fox in a woodland scene
Bullfinch still visiting this pond daily
I do not know what is going on here!
A Nursery Web Spider guarding her white egg sac which is protected by a web, within which the spiderlings will live once they hatch
This is a Scorpionfly (Panorpa communis). In the male as above, the end of the abdomen is swollen and held over its body like a scorpion’s tail earning these insects their name…..
The female does not have the swollen end to her abdomen…
…but both sexes have a long, downwards pointing beak. These insects feed on small invertebrates in woodland margins and rough grassland

Back in the meadows, a young Blackbird appears on the gate…

…and then the ringed female comes to feed it. This female was photographed here carrying nesting material for so many weeks, it is wonderful to discover that it all that work led to a satisfactory conclusion:

I think this is a different Blackbird family down by the wild pond:

Fledgling Blackbird with its father

Although we often catch glimpses of Wrens poking around in the vegetation, it is rare that the trail cameras get photos of them. What a long beak they have:

The camera taking videos along the cliff edge captured these two fledgling Jays with fluffy white bottoms:

We spotted a large and rather extraordinary fly feeding on Wild Carrot that we had never seen before – Nowickia ferox. Its larvae grow within the caterpillars of the Dark Arches moth:

It had a strange white face:

This is another large fly, Myathropa florea. This hoverfly is irresistibly drawn to the revolting-smelling buckets of Comfrey fertiliser that are brewing away. She is looking to lay her eggs in there, from which rat-tailed maggots will develop. These maggots get their oxygen by sticking their tails above the water surface and so have no need of clean water. However, this has reminded me that I must sort out some lids for the buckets.

The extraordinary colours of the Green Bottle fly
I have seen mating Marbled Whites before but never where there is such a size discrepancy. The male is so small compared to the female
Here are the two vixens that had cubs this year. One-eyed vixen on the right.

And finally, some shipping! One evening this week two ships dropped anchor alongside us, both blue and white with yellow funnels. The THV Patricia feels like an old friend. She is operated by Trinity House and comes here to look after the buoys and lightships guarding the notorious Goodwin Sands that lie just offshore.

THV Patricia with her funnel, painted a delicate shade of primrose

The second ship’s funnel was a very different yellow:

Cefas Endeavour with her sunshine yellow funnel

Cefas Endeavour is a fisheries research vessel, owned by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), and she supports their activities such as monitoring fish stocks. She was designed to minimise underwater noise to reduce fish disturbance.

A little further up the coast in Sandwich, The Open Golf is being held at Royal St Georges golf club this weekend, postponed from last year due to Covid. Over thirty thousand people a day are flocking to the area for what is expected to be a very hot and sunny weekend. We shall be keeping our heads down, enjoying the weather and looking at nature, with the odd peek at the television to see who’s winning.

Meadows, Mange and Marmalade Flies

Our local beach, now in high summer

This week we revisited the National Trust land by the South Foreland Lighthouse, high up on the chalk cliffs north of Dover. In 2017, the Trust raised a million pounds to buy the 178 acres of land which had been intensively farmed since the Second World War. They are now restoring it to natural grasslands and wildflower meadows and in some areas they are planting a ‘bumblebird’ seed mix to provide seed for the birds through the winter and nectar for pollinators in the summer.

The land at Wanstone Farm which was acquired by the National Trust in 2017. Photos from the information boards on site

The Trust are still farming the purple section at the top of the photo above but are leaving a very wide conservation strip at the edges of the agricultural field:

The wide conservation strip running around the edge of a field of barley
One of the information boards showing before and after photos of the field margins, although actually they are now much larger still. They were certainly very meagre before
Looking towards to the South Foreland Lighthouse across the top of the land that has only been grassland since 2018
Corn Bunting in the 2018 grassland area. The UK population of these birds fell by 89% between 1970 and 2003 and I had never seen one before and was surprised how large they are compared to other buntings
Another Corn Bunting in the agricultural field margin. The vegetation in both the 2018 field and the agricultural margin didn’t really look much different to our meadows so maybe one day we will see a Corn Bunting here
There were Skylarks everywhere as well
Walking back for a cup of tea and a piece of cake at the Pines Calyx cafe in St Margarets
The Pines Calyx at St Margarets – a building built of chalk with a lovely green roof, and one that has the lowest carbon footprint of any wedding venue in the UK. We got married there ourselves, in fact.
The Old Gentleman giving us a hard stare through the french windows

The Old Gentleman Fox has started to come up very close to the house at dusk. One evening when I went out to take some photos of him, he was waiting by the back door and came in when it opened.

The bizarre sight of the Old Gentleman coming in through the back door

This is all wrong and I know that the dog would violently object which would not end well for the fox because he is such a frail little thing. From now on, I will exit the house at dusk from a different, see-through door so that I can be sure that he is not around and trying to come in when I go out to put the food down by the wild pond.

He is continuing to lose fur at an alarming rate, even though I am approaching the end of a three week mange treatment using Arsenicum sulphur on honey sandwiches. He also sounds like he has catarrh on his chest and a bit of a cough.

He has lost fur along his right flank over the past few days

I have once again approached the Fox Project charity to ask for their advice and guidance. It seems the cough will be either ringworm or lungworm and I should buy some Panacur granules to add to the sandwiches. They have also advised that I add some fox ‘infection stop’ medicine to deter secondary infections getting a hold in the sores on his skin. Other than that, it is a question of giving it a bit longer to see if the mange treatment starts to work. If it doesn’t, the final resort is to see if we can catch him in a cage and get him into a wildlife hospital for treatment. Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.

As I was going through the images from the camera at the hide pond, my attention was drawn to several photos where a pair of House Sparrows were repeatedly hanging around a clump of water reed:

Male sparrow perched in the reeds and female on the rocks

But when I saw this next photo, I realised what they were up to – hunting emerging dragonflies that were clinging to the reeds while their wings hardened up

I expect that the dragonfly prey was taken to the nest in the Swift box from whence the family of House Sparrows is cheeping noisily and both female and male adult bird are working hard to get food in to their chicks:

There is a very generous amount of space in that box for them. Elsewhere in the meadows we do have a sparrow terrace with three boxes in a row since sparrows like to nest communally. The central nest has its hole facing the front and there is a hole at each end for the side boxes. However, sparrows have never shown the slightest interest in it, even though we have tried several different locations:

The sparrow terrace, several years old now but never nested in

It is, however, being used this year for the first time, although not by sparrows:

We found the nest of a Nursery Web Spider:

The white egg sac in the centre with already a few hatched babies, all surrounded by protective web tenting. The female is on guard near the nest while the the spiderlings are young

The female carries the white egg sac around with her until it’s nearly time for the eggs to hatch, at which point she stops and builds the nursery web around the sac to protect the young as they emerge.

I had intended to continue to watch this nest as it developed but, in the middle of the week, there was a day of gale force winds. The nursery web, strung as it is between bits of foliage, was badly buffeted and pulled apart by the winds and is sadly no more.

Male Blackbirds, so dapper in their shiny black breeding plumage earlier in the year, are now looking distinctly worse for wear and are starting to moult

Bringing up a nestful of chicks through to fledging is really hard work and takes its toll on the parents – but here the young birds now are, successfully launched into the big wide world:

Young Blackbirds

This Sparrowhawk looks like she has got her head on the wrong way round. What impressive rotation:

She has been on this perch a lot this week:

A juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker – so unusual to see these birds in the meadows:

A male Kestrel:

An Essex Skipper Butterfly:

A male Ringlet Butterfly:

You might wonder why that Butterfly is called a Ringlet, until you see the underside of its wings:

There were an lot of these hoverflies around and, when I looked them up, I learned that they are the Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), and that they are Britain’s commonest hoverfly:

The background colour of this hoverfly is highly influenced by the temperature that the larvae develop in, those developing in the hotter summer are much oranger than the darker flies in the spring. This aids temperature regulation because a basking hoverfly with more dark pigment will absorb sunshine better and warm up quicker. The larvae of these hoverflies eat a wide variety of aphid species and, as such, they are the gardener’s friend.

One morning we found this dead Leopard Moth on a windowsill. A large and striking-looking moth:

A Robin’s Pincushion gall on Dog Rose – a growth distortion caused by Diplolepis rosae, a gall wasp, whose larvae develop within the protection of the gall.

In the wood, these Male Ferns are absolutely magnificent:

We have found our third orchid species in the wood with the discovery of this Pyramidal Orchid:

The pair of Bullfinch are daily users of the pond and I am assuming that they are nesting nearby:

We put a camera on this Tawny Owl box to see if it was being used and incidentally caught this Buzzard perching up:

It turns out that the box is indeed being used, but unfortunately by squirrels rather than owls.

I finish today with the sunflowers in the allotment – I haven’t grown sunflowers since the children were small. Back then, the object was to try to grow the tallest sunflower in the class but these days my priorities have changed and the ultimate goal is to see birds feeding on the seeds once they ripen later in the summer. However, in the meantime, they are bringing us a lot of pleasure:

Bison in the Blean

This week we joined a small group on a Kent Wildlife Trust walk around West Blean Woods, near Canterbury. These woods are only about twenty miles from the meadows but are on acidic clay rather than our calcareous chalk and that makes a big difference to the plants and animals to be found there. The Trust are going to be introducing European Bison into West Blean next year as part of a wilding scheme and also to help them manage the wood.

They hope that the Bison will provide a nature-based solution to the problem of properly managing such a large area of woodland. These big and heavy animals are ecosystem engineers – they will knock some trees over, creating fallen deadwood and, because they eat bark in the winter, this will kill trees resulting in standing deadwood, both of which are really important for biodiversity. Their browsing will also keep the vegetation open and naturally coppiced.

European Bison bull. From Talks Presenters 09 at English Wikipedia.

Thousands of years ago, Britain would have had Steppe Bison roaming the land – a species that is now extinct. European Bison are similar, although they themselves were hunted to extinction in the wild in 1919. A small number, however, remained in captivity which included only two males and it is from these two bulls that the whole of the current global population of 6,000 has grown. Bison are highly susceptible to problems caused by inbreeding and so great care has had to be taken to avoid this.

So, six Bison are arriving at Blean woods next year from populations in Continental Europe, including one bull and one mature female. Five very large paddocks are being created for this small herd which the Trust hopes will slowly grow in number over several years. Iron Age Pigs, Highland Cattle and Konik Horses will also be managing the wood although only the pigs will be in with the Bison.

Land in the first paddock that we walked around. All the fencing has been ordered and work will start in the autumn.
Some ponds were created in the paddocks last winter as a water source for the Bison
Even though the pond is only new, it already has Grass Snakes
The snake can open its mouth up in an unexpectedly enormous way
This land has been cleared for the fencing to go up, although work is currently stopped for the bird nesting season.
Two paddocks are going to join at this point with a tunnel for the Bison to pass through. The tunnel will be at ground level and the track will be ramped up over it. It is hoped that these ramps will also provide a viewing platform to allow the public to see the Bison as they approach the tunnel.

It is a very exciting and ground breaking experiment and is about to kick off in earnest in the next few months. I am so pleased that we got the opportunity to have a look round first before it all starts.

The Blean is home to a thriving population of one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, the Heath Fritillary. We were there on a sunny, hot day and we saw so many of them:

Cow Wheat is the larval food plant of the Heath Fritillary. It is an acidic soil specialist and is partly parasitic on the roots of nearby plants
Wood Ants are an important part of the ecosystem. Interestingly, the Cow Wheat plant attracts Wood Ants to it by producing a sugary liquid from glands at the base of its petals. The seeds of the plant look very much like the ants’ cocoons and so the ants carry them back to the nest, thus dispersing the seed.
We also saw a White Admiral Butterfly in the Blean
This bank in the foreground, with a second one towards the back of the photo, are the remnants of the Radfall, a medieval droveway through the wood, used to move livestock to and from the fertile coastal grazing pastures. The banks and ditches formed boundaries at the edges of the Radfall, preventing the animals from wandering into the woodland and browsing valuable coppice shoots
Valerian flowering below the white cliffs

Down at our local white cliffs on Monday, it looked like the family of Kestrels were ready to fledge. There were four young in there:

Four young Kestrels in their nest in the cliff – you can just see the eye of the one at the very back

When we got back from the Blean on Thursday, there was an adult and two juvenile Kestrels soaring and calling over the meadows and so it looks like they have now fledged:

This summer could not be more different to the previous one and we are certainly enjoying not having to water the pots and allotment.

A slow meander around the meadows noticing the minutiae always turns up something of interest:

This snail has a lot of growing to do before it fits its shell
Interesting to see its alimentary canal and also the dark spot at the end of its tentacle, which is an eye. There is a lens in that eye but it can’t focus the image with it or see colours. It can however, judge different intensities of light
Scabious is now flowering in the meadows and is so popular with invertebrates. I also have lots planted in pots around the house
Sicus ferruginous. This sinister-looking fly with its curled abdomen is a parasitoid of various bumblebees
They are often to be seen paired up
Crab spider lurking on a grass head
This is the caterpillar of the Six-spot Burnet Moth….
The Burnet caterpillars then form these pupae on grass stems….
…and then hatch into an adult Moth. This is the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth
After a really slow start to the mothing year, I am now finally getting large and interesting catches in the trap. There were five of these spectacular Privet Hawkmoth one morning
The Magpie is another beautiful moth
All the work that the adult Blue Tit has been doing to raise its family has clearly been taking its toll. Blue Tit fledgling on the left.
We were amazed to see this Goodyear Blimp come silently over. Launched from Calais, this is its first visit to the UK for ten years, to advertise an event at Brands Hatch.
I like this action pose from the male Herring Gull

I was back in Berkshire this week to visit my father and, as usual, parked near the church at Little Marlow to go birding at Spade Oak Nature Reserve. I love this little church – it feels so quintessentially English

Saint John the Baptist Church at Little Marlow, the photo taken over Easter when it was beautifully decorated. The church dates back nearly a thousand years to the 12th century which is pretty hard to get your head round

We always walk round the churchyard first to see what birds are about but this time all our attention was riveted on this newly built insect hotel:

This is a thing of beauty as well as being a fantastic sanctuary for wildlife. I have an extreme case of Insect Hotel Envy.

Tying the Knot

There was a very concerning weather forecast for our daughter’s wedding last weekend but in the event we were lucky. The reception was in a marquee on our lawn but there was a magical little bar set up in the meadows that worked so well towards the end of the evening. With only thirty of us, it was a small but perfectly formed and joyous celebration to launch them on their married lives together.

The morning after

But as a result of all this celebrating, we have once again missed this year’s Green Woodpecker fledging in the wood and this photo is the best that I can offer you:

Trail camera photo of one of the chicks shouting out of the hole

We actually did quickly nip to the wood the night before the wedding but found the birds had already left the nest, although we could still hear them nearby. We did, however, find this dead Mole:

I was surprised to see that Moles have quite long tails
What amazing claws

I didn’t know much about Moles and so I have read up about them. They have a system of permanent deep burrows forming a network that is hundreds of metres long with tunnels at different depths, the deeper ones being used during droughts and when it is cold. Many generations of mole will use these permanent tunnels to find their earthworm prey, which they store alive but immobilised in chambers.

In the wood, the Moles will be predated by Tawny Owls, Buzzards and Stoats and the young ones are particularly vulnerable as they disperse away from their mother’s range above ground during the summer. I wonder if this dead Mole is a dispersing youngster, although that doesn’t explain why it hasn’t been eaten.

Molehills in the wood. These hills have no opening to the ground surface and are formed during the excavation of the permanent tunnels. Beneath each molehill there is a sloping tunnel through which the soil has been pushed to the surface.

Other photos from the wood:

Father and child
A sweet young Rabbit
This trail camera took a photo of the first amphibian we have ever seen in the wood. A Frog in the new pond. Frogs are a pioneering species, finding new ponds to colonise ahead of any Newts and other predators that eat their tadpoles
Young Crow, fledged but still being fed by a parent

Crows have fledged in the meadows as well:

There is a flock of about forty young Starlings now working the meadows:

And a young Stock Dove on the left:

After all the recent rain, the ponds continue to look really full and healthy – unprecedented for late June.

We found a Sparrowhawk kill up on the strip. There was still much meat on the bones and so we put a camera on it in case the Sparrowhawk came back.

A Collared Dove victim of a Sparrowhawk

But it was the Crows and Magpies that arrived to peck over the carcass

But, unexpectedly, a House Sparrow also came to gather up some of the feathers.

Yellow Rattle is parasitic on grass and helps knock it back, giving meadow flowers more of a chance to thrive. Three or four autumns ago we sowed a test area with Yellow Rattle seed as a bit of an experiment. It is far too densely planted but there is no disputing that the grass has been disadvantaged and the area can now function as a seed bank for the rest of the meadows.

The area of thickly-planted Yellow Rattle in the first meadow

We got the tractor out to cut a section of the first meadow to become a car park for the wedding weekend:

The tractor shaves off the tops of any anthills, creating bare earth patches into which new plants can get a hold. Now that the Yellow Rattle has finished flowering in the test area, we collected some of the seed to spread over this newly cut section.

Collecting Yellow Rattle seed to spread onto the newly cut car park

Although we have planned to collect and spread this seed for several years, this is the first time we have got round to actually doing it and it feels good.

Last autumn I planted Sweet William in the allotment to use as cut flowers. These are old fashioned plants but they have been fantastic and I have been cutting them for months now to put into jam jars to bring in to the house.

Samantha Jones Photography
The Sweet William patch still flowering strongly at the end of June. It is a short-lived perennial plant but usually grown as a biennial in this country

One afternoon this week I was picking some strawberries in the allotment and saw a Hummingbird Hawk-moth on the Sweet William. I ran for my camera but this is the best that I could achieve before it flew away:

I had already decided to plant more Sweet William this autumn but now that I know that Hummingbird Hawk-moths like it, I shall certainly be growing some every year.

A gathering with the correct two metre distancing at peanut time:

Here are the two vixens that have had cubs this year. They seem very comfortable together and are presumably part of a family group:

One of this year’s cubs
The One-eyed vixen with Stock Dove prey
There is a beak right at the top of this picture – perhaps this Fox was being bombed by a Magpie?
Love this one

Some other photos from the meadows:

The extraordinary Ruby-tailed Wasp, a parasitoid of mason bees, hanging around the bee box and looking for an opportunity
This Broomrape is more yellow than the normal Broomrape we have here that parasitises Clover. It is possibly the Bedstraw Broomrape?
Pyramidal Orchid
Thank you for letting me know that this plant is Sainfoin. Apparently it produces loads of nectar and flowers on right into September and so is great for pollinators
Six-spot Burnet Moth caterpillar
Dusky Sallow caterpillar amongst the meadow grasses
The Common Malachite Beetle
Breeding season still going strong for Woodpigeon
Demanding young Magpie
Yes, the ringed female Blackbird is still carrying nesting material…
…but perhaps this is for on-going nest repairs because here she also is taking in food for chicks
This Emperor Dragonfly larva has crawled six feet from the garden pond and up the side of the house in order to emerge as an adult
I have been trying to get a photo of this for ages. This is the male Herring Gull who waits for us every morning to put seed down on the strip. He and the dog are not the best of friends – she barks at him and he repeatedly dive-bombs her. It’s part of the daily routine
We saw our first Small Blue Butterfly on 22nd April last year, although we would normally expect to first see them in May. This year, however, it was 24th June.
Small Blue on its larval food plant – Kidney Vetch
Marbled Whites have arrived….
…and Essex Skippers……
…and Large Skippers with their wing checkerboarding….
…and finally Meadow Browns

This photo of a Kestrel with a mouse in his large yellow feet reminded us that we had taken our eye off the ball down at our local white cliffs:

We went down this week to take a look:

Perhaps the Kestrel hunting in the meadows is the father of these chicks?

At least two Kestrel chicks this year

A bit further along, there were two adult Peregrines perched near their nest high on the cliffs:

We stopped to watch a recently fledged family of Whitethroat:

The adult Whitethroat feeding a cranefly to its chick above
A just-fledged Whitethroat
Some splendid Pyramidal Orchids down there
Viper’s Bugloss

I finish today with mating Hedgehogs on our son’s lawn in Berkshire. Previously unaware that he even had Hedgehogs, he now hopes to raise awareness amongst his neighbours and perhaps they might even be persuaded to set up a Hedgehog highway network within the gardens so that the Hedgehogs can get in to forage. These animals are in such desperate trouble that they need any help they can get.

Out and About

Now that the country stutters forward in its return to normality, I have resumed my fortnightly trips back to Berkshire to visit my father. Whilst there I always try to go birding with a friend to the Spade Oak nature reserve near Marlow – a flooded gravel pit, next to a sewage works but always with something of interest.

Great Crested Grebe on nest
Two of the three well-used Tern rafts
The sign of Woodpecker predation on a wooden nest box
There were lots of Mallard families in and around the lake
Male Banded Demoiselle

This time our visit was a little bit more interesting than we had hoped for when we spotted a Greylag Goose entangled in fishing line under a low hanging Willow, but too far out in the water for us to reach.

It is just possible to see the line stretching out to the goose

We phoned Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital and, within the hour, a volunteer had arrived to assess the extent of the problem:

Within three hours, permissions had been sought and received and a rescue team arrived and launched a boat onto the lake although by then we had left. It was all a success and the bird was taken back to the hospital for treatment.

How absolutely wonderful it is that there are organisations to call on like that for wildlife emergencies – they are one of my favourite charitable causes.

Back again in East Kent, the Swifts continue to bombard the nest boxes but, so far as we can tell, they are not going in:

I have managed to establish that there are three Fox cubs in the meadows this year. The one-eyed vixen has twins:

The One-eyed vixen with her blue left eye and her two cubs

And the other vixen has a single cub:

The camera up by this second vixen’s den has been catching her bringing in prey. Often it’s not possible to see what the prey is but there was no mistaking this Rabbit:

Look at the Old Gentleman now. He is just starting to be able to put some weight on his bad front paw but all the fur has gone from his tail. I have treated him for mange twice this spring and am hoping that this fur loss relates to before these treatments. If I see the fur loss area spreading, I will have to contact the Fox Project charity again and see what they suggest. He’s such a worry.

There are two just-fledged Magpies being very demanding in the meadows:

One of these birds has a fledgling bird here

The ringed female Blackbird is still building her nest, of course. It has been weeks now. The nest must be very close to this gate because I have so many photos like this:

And the pair have been mating, so are laying eggs:

Other photos from the meadows this week:

It’s a good year for the Broomrape – a plant needing no chlorophyll because it is parasitic on Clover
The Holm Oaks are in full flower
I am not yet sure what this pretty vetch-like plant is, but the bees love it
A mixed gang of adult and juvenile Starlings working the meadows at the moment
Unusual to see a Wren so out in the open like this
Woodpigeon are still at the nest-building stage too
This is quite a surprising photo. These are both adult birds and my guess is that one is being fed crop milk by the other because it has been sitting for hours on the nest incubating eggs
I include this photo because it highlights the difference between the Stock Dove’s eye in the foreground and the Woodpigeon behind.
A lovely pair of Collared Dove
A new feeder with sunflower hearts has gone up in the ant paddock. We put a camera on it to see what birds were using it…
Badger going about its business
Monster from the deep

Over in the wood, I went to collect the camera that is trained on the Green Woodpecker hole and could hear the young softly churring within. They have hatched! We hope to go and digiscope the nest in the next few days to see if we can get get some better quality images now that the adults will be going backwards and forwards with food for their chicks.

Meanwhile, Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks have already fledged. One of the young has a Cormorant-like technique to dry off after visiting the bath. It was pictured doing this several times so perhaps the water is too deep for it and it is getting over-wet.

The courtship display of the male Pheasant involves spreading out his tail and pulling down his wing towards the female:

Male and female (behind) Bullfinch amidst the flowering Bugle
Cherry Ermine Moth caterpillars on Spindle
Very excited to find this vigorous White Helleborine growing in the new section of the wood
A Teasel with its water-collecting buckets at the leaf bases

We visited our local chalk cliffs again this week. Our suspicions that Peregrine Falcons are nesting there this year were confirmed when we saw one coming back with prey, its calls echoing around the cliffs:

Its arrival back at the nest was greeted with the excited noises of its chicks so the eggs have hatched.

Another adult was sitting close by:

The cliff-nesting House Martins were also busy taking food to their young:

We think this is a recently fledged Rock Pipit – it had all the feel of being parked somewhere by its parent:

I had my camera on the correct settings for flying Peregrines so was perfectly prepared when these Spitfires came over unexpectedly. Both have been adapted to take a passenger for a flight of a lifetime along the white cliffs

No Mow May has now finished when the country was being encouraged to leave its lawns uncut for the benefit of pollinators and other invertebrates. I have to say that I like the look of a wilder, more flowery, lawn especially if it is set off by a neatly cut edge or path.

Some friends have gone a stage further by removing an area of their turf from their lawn last autumn and sowing a mixture of annual and perennial meadow flower seeds.

It looks spectacular and is busy with visiting bees.

We are about to have a marquee up on our own lawn for our daughter’s wedding next weekend, postponed from last September and now with only a fifth of the number of guests. I will have to wrench my attention from wildlife matters for a while and focus on the matter in hand…

Here At Long Last

Our local Swifts arrived back on Bank Holiday Monday, 31st May, just as I had given up all hope. Since then they have been frequently and vigorously dive-bombing the boxes much to the concern of the nesting House Sparrows within. All four Swift boxes are currently occupied by House Sparrows but I read that Swifts will eject the Sparrows if they decide that they want to nest there so we will just have to see what happens.

It is so completely joyous to hear their screams, look up, and see a squadron of them shooting through the meadows and around the house. They also spread out and feed high in the skies above. These birds have had a battle with the weather to get here this spring, so let’s hope from now on things improve for them.

Another special experience is to sit by the pond at dusk at the end of a warm calm day, surrounded by the gentle sounds of the meadows winding down for the night, while at the same time something truly astonishing is happening in front of your eyes.

The late spring bank holiday is around the time each year that the largest dragonflies in Britain, the Emperors, emerge from the depths of the pond and undergo a remarkable transformation. It all begins when a larva climbs out of the water and clings on to a reed:

The larva is large – about 8 cm in length
Before too long, the adult dragonfly starts to push its way out through the thorax
It can all look a bit alarming
The emerging adult starts to bend over backwards as it comes out
At this point, the action stops for a while as the dragonfly gathers its strength to reach forward and flip itself over
Once it is the right way up, the wings are still compressed and fluid needs to be pumped into the wings to open them up
Even though the wings are now full size, it is several hours yet before they are hard enough to use for flight. The emergences start in the early evening so that it is dark when the dragonfly is vulnerable like this, but it is ready to fly away by dawn.

Emperors are known as colonisers of recently dug ponds and, when the ponds here were new, we had over a hundred of these Emperor emergences at the end of May every year. Now we only get a handful, but they continue to be a highlight of the wildlife year for us.

Happily photographing dragonflies
A just-emerged Broad-bodied Chaser with its discarded larval case below

Broad-bodied Chasers generally emerge before the Emperors and so are already now busy mating and egg laying.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser laying eggs into the water
The male resting up at the side of the pond awaiting the arrival of a female

After all the dragonfly admiration I had been doing, I was a bit shocked to see one in a Blackbird’s beak:

Surely this bird wasn’t going to try to get that dragonfly down the throat of a chick? This time last year, it had been hot and sunny for weeks and the ground was baked hard. There was much concern about how birds such as Blackbirds were managing to get worms out of the ground to feed to their young. Now it couldn’t be more different and every day I am seeing a selection of glorious photos on the cameras such as the one below. This is one thing I don’t have to worry about this year – baby Blackbirds are getting enough food.

I have lost count of how many weeks I have been posting photos of this ringed female Blackbird collecting nesting material. What on earth is going on? Is she building several nests?

A possible reason might be that her nests keep getting predated, perhaps? If so, here is one of the top suspects:

I think this might be a Woodpigeon egg, but Magpies will be on the look out for all sorts of nests

A lot of bird seed gets put down here and we definitely do see Rats:

A young Rat

But rodent populations here always seem to stay in a healthy balance and perhaps we have the foxes to thank for that:

This is the mother of the single cub. I always worry when I see rats being eaten in case they have been previously poisoned but if the rat was caught here it will be alright. This vixen has been treated for mange and I think I can now see fur growing back on that tail.
Her lovely cub, wet in the rain
The cub stretched out and enjoying the warmth of the sun

Towards the end of the week, we have seen two cubs together. The One-eyed Vixen also had cubs this year and I wonder of this is our first sighting of her young:

The Old Gentleman fox, still with his bad leg, and a Magpie

Only one Magpie chick has appeared in the meadows so far this year:

Chick requesting food

The female Sparrowhawk came down to the pond to bathe and this Magpie probably got a bit of a shock. No bird would ever want the gaze of a Sparrowhawk on it like this:

Other interesting photos from the meadows this week:

A male Sparrowhawk with a white eyebrow
A rare sighting of a Hedgehog
A Sawfly larva climbing a reed in the middle of the pond
There has been heavy dew some mornings this week
We have noticed that a lot of the buttercups have little snails in the flower although we don’t know why
A Crow with a beakful
A Woodpigeon, pink with the sunrise

One day this week we organised a dog sitter and took ourselves out. Our first stop was Orlestone Forest in Kent where we hoped to see the Grizzled Skipper butterfly. Unfortunately we didn’t spot one but we saw plenty of these Speckled Yellows – a day-flying moth that we had never seen before:

We also saw this Green Tiger Beetle, another new species for us:

For our second destination, we crossed over the county border and visited Rye Harbour, a Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve. We were hoping to see Little Terns nesting on the beach but once again we failed. We saw plenty of Avocets though:

Avocet with shrimp
Little Grebe

We were very charmed to see a Ringed Plover trying to impress a female with his courtship moves:

A good opportunity for me to revise the difference between Ringed and Little Ringed Plover. These are Ringed Plover with their orange beaks with the black tip (Little Ringed beak is all black) and no orange eye ring.

A Turnstone was very unimpressed with all this disturbance and gave the courting Plovers a piece of its mind:

One of our daughters has recently moved to East Kent and now is volunteering for Kent Wildlife Trust as a guardian of the River Stour. This weekend a group of the volunteers went out in Canadian canoes to collect litter from the river.

This is half of what their canoe collected

Beavers now live in the River Stour and I finish today with our daughter’s wonderful photo of a Beaver lodge that they paddled past whilst collecting litter. Who would have thought we had wild Beavers in East Kent.

New Arrivals

The cliffs stretching southwards towards Dover at a very high tide

On a visit down to our nearby chalk cliffs this week, we discovered with joy that the small colony of cliff-nesting House Martins have at last arrived and are building their nests. This same overhang of the rock had a nest last year, although it was then washed off by the weather over the winter. Now it has been rebuilt using around one thousand beakfuls of mud:

This puddle is replenished by waves breaking over the sea wall at high tide and beak marks can be seen in the wet mud as the birds gather it up to build their nests.

The same puddle from last year, taken by the the Bird Ringer:

Lots of noisy Fulmars nesting
Rock Pipit on the sea wall

We didn’t see Kestrels this time but talked to a birder who had seen the male coming in with a vole shortly before we arrived. The female Kestrel emerged from the nest to eat the vole and so is presumably still on eggs or with very young chicks. Excitingly, we also think we saw a Peregrine fly into a cavern in the cliff. It all happened so fast and we hadn’t quite gathered our wits but we will be watching for this now.

It is the time of year when Fox cubs start emerging from the protection of the overgrown hedgerows and cliff where they have their dens. In anticipation of this, we put cameras close to places where historically there have been dens to see if we could see the cubs as they emerge. Up at the top of the second meadow, at 7pm one evening, the female comes out to see if the coast is clear:

Then the male and their single cub emerge:

The male is attentive of every step of the cub’s inaugural trip out onto the big wide world:

Here is the same cub bouncing along behind its mother a couple of days later:

A different camera caught the vixen making her way back to her den with a Wood Pigeon

This morning we came across a freshly-eaten fish skeleton in the grass:

When I went through the videos taken overnight near the Badger sett, I saw the mother fox carrying a Dogfish at 1am..

..and a probable Whiting at 2am and it was the skeleton of this second fish that we had found. There was possibly a naive or inattentive fisherman down on the beach last night.

The Old Gentleman Fox seems forever in the wars and now he has hurt his front paw. How can he catch prey when he is hopping along on three legs?

He may be in a bit of a state but he is unprecedented here for how tame he is

This next photo is from the depths of winter in mid December. The Mahonia was flowering enthusiastically at this time of year and was being visited by a stream of Buff-tailed Bumblebees. These bees often attempt a winter generation here in the south of the country, fuelled by such winter-flowering garden plants.

Very cheering in dull and drab December and a wonderful scent as well

This same Mahonia is now covered in berries that birds find delicious. I put a camera on it to catch them at it:

There were many visits to the plant by Blackbirds. However, eating the berries does have a distinctive side effect for them:

Blue droppings all around

By providing insects with food through the winter and then supplying birds with delicious berries in May, surely Mahonia is worth considering for any wildlife-friendly garden?

We saw some Goldfinch probing open old Dandelion heads with their beaks to get at the seeds:

There is also a little group of fledgling Goldfinch around – they have colour on the wings but still with a brown head.

Song Thrush are well known for eating snails:

But here is also one with a mouth full of worms, hopefully to feed to young:

Song Thrush at the Badger sett

Other photos from around the meadows this week:

You know it is Buttercup season when your footwear and the dog’s white paws are coloured yellow
Our fourth and final Swift box has now got House Sparrows nesting in it as well. No box is left available for Swifts although we are still playing their calls up into the sky. Perhaps this is irrelevant anyway because we are yet to see any Swifts come close to the boxes and there seem to be very few around
Slow Worn shedding its skin
There are so many Slow Worms and Lizards under the sampling squares this year. Perhaps they are having a good year or maybe it has been cold and they are needing to warm up
This magnificent female Sparrowhawk came in for a drink
The smaller male
There has been canoodling on this same gate…..
….followed by some nest building
The homing pigeon is still with us. Perhaps we are now its new home
I have just been seeing the male Grey Partridge on his own for the last couple of weeks and hope this means that the female is on eggs.
Fledgling Yellowhammer
And fledging Magpie still with a bit of a gape and a short tail.
Small Yellow Underwing Moth.
Green Long-horn Moth
Cantharis rustica
Chrysolina banksii. Mainly a coastal species feeding on ribwort plantain leaves
The Large Narcissus Fly (colour form equestris). This fly is a bumblebee mimic whose larvae grow in daffodil bulbs and other wild narcissus plants

We rarely see Deer in the wood but a Roe Deer has visited this week:

This is the first time we have seen a Roe Deer here and he is very different to the Red Deer we saw a few times last summer:

Red Deer hind last year
The absolutely enormous male Red Deer male last year

Another family of Fox cubs have started exploring in the new part of the wood:

Adult Fox carrying Squirrel prey
Buzzard

And finally a wary Rabbit in the wood – potential prey for both the Fox and the Buzzard!

Where Has Spring Gone?

We had been hoping for some marvellous May weather this week but the reality was that we mostly got cloud and rain topped off with some very strong winds on Friday. Where has spring gone? We would like it back please.

It can be so very windy here. This swinging bench has fine sea views but it makes the meadows look like a garden rather than a wild space and we want to move it but, because of its weight, this would be a several-person job. Despite it being so heavy, it was blown over three times this last winter, such are the winds coming in off the sea.

Fox and swinging bench amongst the buttercups

The Badgers, with no young this year, seem to be keeping a low profile. However, the Foxes are very much in evidence as they work hard to find food for themselves and for their cubs.

The new camera position up near a Fox den, has been giving us some lovely photos of a pair of Foxes, both of which I recognise as my regulars. No cubs have been seen up there yet though:

This same vixen was also down by the Badger sett carrying prey. Wood Pigeon perhaps?

There has been an occasional glimpse of a cub down by the Badger sett but it is very elusive at the moment.

Last week we put two additional Swift nest boxes up because we had House Sparrows nesting in the original box and we wanted vacant homes to attract Swifts in. But within a day, one of the newly arrived boxes was occupied by a male House Sparrow, cheeping loudly to attract a female to come and nest in it with him:

It seems that he has been successful because this week there was this:

We have seen a few Swifts soaring high overhead, but none have been observed flying close to these boxes, having been brought in by the calls that we are broadcasting up into the skies.

These next two photos show that, unlike species such as Blackbirds, both male and female House Sparrows are involved in building the nest.

A view of the meadows out across the hide pond. This pond doesn’t get much attention but it is packed full of newts, and dragonflies love all that open water:

A beautiful Stock Dove at the hide pond

Although it is only 100m from the wild pond, it is very different and does seem to support a noticeably distinct ecosystem.

The wild pond

Here is the second of this year’s young birds. It always seems a cause for celebration when birds with vulnerable, open-fronted nests like Robins manage to avoid the attentions of the Magpies and successfully fledge young.

A just-fledged Robin

We are learning a lot about Herring Gulls by watching the pair that have adopted the meadows as their own. Although the male is around every day still, the colour-ringed female hadn’t been seen for about a fortnight – presumably because she is sitting on eggs. I read that the clutch of 2-4 eggs is actually incubated by both parents for around 30 days and vegetation is added to the nest throughout that time. The female did turn up one day this week and she continues to collect nesting material:

The colour-ringed female Herring Gull

I am hoping that they will bring their young here in due course and I’m looking forward to seeing them.

Here is a selection of the invertebrates we have seen this week in the meadows:

The Caterpillar of the Yellow-tail Moth
A Wall Butterfly
A Common Blue
A Brown Argus
Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis)
A Click Beetle (Agrypnus murinus)
Broad-bodied Chaser
Pine Ladybird on a Pine tree
We have been watching a Wasp Spider cocoon since we discovered it just before Christmas. The little spiderlings look like they are getting ready to leave the shelter of the cocoon and venture out into the meadows

In the wood, there are two Fox cubs and they are such different colours.

The same camera caught these three lounging Badgers one night. I love it.

In this next photo, the female Green Woodpecker is looking out of the nest hole as the male approaches. Initially I wondered why he was looking all agitated but then I noticed the Squirrel right at the top

Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) is a plant that grows so freely in the wood that we no longer pay it much notice. But it does have a really interesting pollination mechanism that I wanted to try to photograph. But when I wandered around the wood looking at these plants, I failed to find a single flower that had not been nibbled by rodents – apparently they really like them.

The flower of the Lords and Ladies puts up a purple poker which gives off a smell that is irresistible to flies:

The nibbled purple poker

Arriving at the flower, the flies crawl down into the bulb at the bottom and are trapped there by downward-pointing hairs.

The poker in this plant has been completely eaten, but you can see the hairs at its base that trap the flies in the bulb

The male and female parts of the flower are in the bulb and the imprisoned flies will get covered in pollen from the male parts. But those hairs that were trapping the flies then wither away, allowing the flies to escape. They will subsequently visit another flower and once again get stuck within its bulb, this time transferring the pollen they are carrying onto the female part of the flower and fertilising it.

The female parts of the flower within the bulb.

This pollination method clearly works very well because Lords and Ladies is a very abundant plant in the wood, with so many stalks of luscious red berries in the late summer. Birds eat these berries, thus dispersing the seed.

This morning there seemed to be the possibility of some better weather and we took the opportunity to visit another iconic orchid site in East Kent, Bonsai Bank. Here we saw a Lords and Ladies purple poker that put those in our wood to absolute shame:

This is what they should look like

We had been hoping to see the Duke of Burgundy butterfly. We had seen him here before and he flies in May but the sun was scarcely out and we didn’t see a single butterfly of any species, let alone the rare and exciting Duke.

Lady Orchids and Early Purples growing in good numbers at Bonsai Bank

Bonsai Bank is in an area of Kent that used to be famed for its hop growing and there are still many signs of that today with the tall, thin hedges around fields which provided shelter for the hops. But English hop farming declined in the 20th century when beer brewers started using hops in pellet form from China and the USA. Also, lager became popular which uses far fewer hops in in its manufacture. One of the loveliest features of Kent’s hop-growing past that can still be seen are the oast houses, once used as kilns to dry the hops, but now mainly converted into homes:

Two oast houses seen on our journey to and from Bonsai Bank this morning

It looks like spring might be returning next week – I do hope so. Only one more week of May left and there is so much we want to do.

The Magic of May

Yockletts Bank is twenty-three hectares of beautiful ancient woodland on a valley side in the North Downs. It is now a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve, famous for its orchids, and we visited it on an overcast and cold afternoon this week.

Our route to Yockletts Bank took us through Dover. The cruise ship Disney Magic is now a very familiar sight, having been moored up there since the start of the Covid crisis, and apparently her schedule is still cancelled until August.

There isn’t any parking at the reserve but there was a really uplifting bank of spring flowers where we managed to pull the car off the road.

The Lady Orchids at Yockletts Bank are numerous and magnificent but they are terribly scarce plants and this part of Kent is absolutely their stronghold in the UK. They are woodland plants, liking to grow on fairly steep slopes, often close to Yew.

The flower of a Lady Orchid – the ladies are wearing spotty crinolines with burgundy bonnets
A fine Lady amongst the Cowslips
…and with Bugle

The Lady Orchids were the main attraction of the afternoon but there were more orchids and other interesting plants too:

Early Purple Orchids
Early Purple Orchid with its wonderfully spotted leaves. This orchid is more common and widespread than the Lady
Early Purple
Fly Orchid
The flower of the Fly Orchid
Common Twayblade
The Twayblade flower
White Helleborine, not yet in flower
Fantastic spreads of Wild Garlic. The smell was wonderful.

Although the reason for our visit was the orchids, the highlight of the afternoon was actually hearing a Turtle Dove purring nearby. We have only heard Turtle Doves sing twice in the UK and both times it has been at Yockletts Bank. This reserve is somewhere to go to truly experience the magic of May.

Buttercup season has arrived, bringing its own magic to the meadows:

Buttercups and a Whitebeam just coming out into leaf

Fox cubs are starting to explore away from their dens on the cliff and are now turning up on the cameras:

The first sighting of a cub on Thursday

The tummy of the one-eyed vixen tells the story that she is feeding cubs:

The starey-eyed vixen stretches and yawns. Love the way that tongue curls up at the end.

The Old Gentleman’s fur is falling out in such vast amounts that surely all can’t be well. I have decided to start another week of mange treatment for our resident foxes here and this old boy will be so easy to get medicine down.

His tail is looking really quite bald in places

We have redeployed a couple of cameras to places we know are close to fox dens to see if we can see the cubs as they venture further afield. It was interesting to see the starey-eyed vixen coming and going into the hedgerow right at the end of the second meadow which is 200m from where we usually see her.

On one warm evening this week, we went out after dark with torches to look for the caterpillars that feed at night to avoid being eaten by birds and other daytime predators.

Many caterpillar species adopt this strategy – but of course we failed to find any. We did, however, see these odd things below, gathered together in the shallow water in the wild pond:

They were quite big – about 5cm in length – and they were sticking their breathing siphons up to the water surface to get air.

We thought that they were leeches but its turns out that they are Soldier Fly larvae of the genus Stratiomys. I don’t know anything about Soldier Flies but I will research them because it would be now be satisfying to also spot the adult flies.

One morning, seven Broad-Bodied Chaser Dragonflies hatched out from the hide pond – hooray, Dragonfly season has begun.

This week, we have spotted several species of Butterfly for the first time this year:

The Common Blue are out

And a Burnet Companion, a day-flying moth

We found two distinctly blue beetles in a compost heap and they turn out to be quite exciting – they are the Blue Helops Beetle (Helops caeruleus), a species that develops in decaying Oak and is very local to this part of the country.

From the beginning of May, we have been scattering seed onto a rotavated strip of ground as part of Operation Turtle Dove. The seed attracts many Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove and this crowd of birds will hopefully interest passing Turtle Doves. The strategy has clearly worked for this Homing Pigeon who has been with us for most of the week and is still here, although surely someone somewhere is expecting it back home by now:

Homing Pigeon ringed on both legs

Yockletts Bank might have Turtle Dove but sadly none have been seen here yet.

After discovering that both sides of the original Swift box were occupied by nesting House Sparrows, two new boxes have been hurriedly purchased and put up so that they are available for any Swift to nest in should they wish. This does make the house look slightly eccentric but we are hoping that it will all be worth it. However, despite playing loud calls into the sky all week, no further Swifts have been sighted.

The day after the new boxes went up, we were rather exasperated to see this:

A male House Sparrow was clearly delighted to see that a new home has been put up and is cheeping loudly in there to see if he can interest a female to come and nest in it with him.

This is the third blog post in a row that I have included photos of a ringed female Blackbird collecting nesting material. Just how large is this nest? She has been showing up on several cameras:

And a Song Thrush is also collecting lovely wet mud from the pond for her nest:

Other photos from the past few days:

The yellows and reds on a Yellowhammer
This Crow has found a bit of baguette from somewhere and is dunking it in the water to soften it
A Magpie with angel wings
A pair of Chaffinches
Our first baby bird of the year this morning. I’m calling this a fledgling Starling but someone please correct me if I am wrong – I’ve never seen one this young and fluffy before
Mating Woodpigeon

There may not have been any baby Badgers in the meadows this year, but here is one in the wood, already looking quite grown up:

I am so pleased that the Green Woodpeckers are nesting once again in this Cherry tree and we plan to see if we can digiscope the comings and goings once the chicks have hatched to get some lovely crisp images:

I have called this post The Magic of May, but I see that the month is already halfway through – can it not slow down? There are two spring-flying butterflies we want to make trips out to see this month as well as some more orchid sites. So I am hoping for some sunny days over the next couple of weeks so that we can fit all of this wonderful nature exploration in.