All of a sudden, Fox cubs are appearing on the trail cameras. By the hide pond..
Over by the Badger sett:
At the peanuts:
And also in the wood:
Here are baby Badgers at the peanuts with a Fox. The mother Badger would never have allowed this a month or so ago:
One of the Red Mason Bee nest boxes is now completely full:
So we have taken it inside and wrapped it in a pair of tights, to protect it from predator attack, and it will now spend the summer under the stairs. During this time, the eggs will hatch and the larvae will feed on that lovely yellow pollen and, by September, will have developed into tough cocoons. At that point we will retrieve the box from under the stairs, extricate the cocoons, clean any predators away and put them in the fridge for the winter.
We also have a summer bee box, with tunnels of varying diameter to suit Bees that fly later than the spring-flying Red Mason Bees.
This summer bee box has now gone out in the place of the Red Mason Box:
We have had a Lepidoptera ecologist (Butterflies and Moths) visit us at the meadows. Below the meadows is a patch of vegetated shingle that is an extremely precious habitat for two very rare moths, the Sussex Emerald Moth and the Bright Wave. Working for the Butterfly Conservation charity, he came to assess the meadows to see if there is anything that we can be doing to help support these species.
In terms of the Sussex Emerald, the answer is that we can’t help – the moth needs vegetated shingle and simply having the right larval food plant and being close by is just not good enough. However, we may be able to help the Bright Wave and he will return in a month to see if he can find any signs of Bright Wave activity in our meadows.
I went down to the shingle with him to survey the Sussex Emerald larvae before they pupate on a week or so. The larvae mainly eat Wild Carrot but here is one on Ragwort:
Azure Damselflies are mating down at the pond:
But the mass emergence of Emperor Dragonflies, which has been such a feature of late May in previous years, has yet to occur.
May has been dry and the ponds are getting low and busy.
There are a lot of Starlings here at moment, a mixed flock of juveniles and adults. The juveniles look quite different to the adults at this point of the year:
The Green Woodpecker continues to entertain us with its bathing technique which always appears more like a suicide attempt:
Surely this is not normal?
In the wood, the Woodpecker babies were making an increasingly loud noise.
It is thought that baby Woodpeckers are really quite vigorous and would be a threat to anything investigating the hole and so this noise they make is a warning for predators to keep away.
However, is this strategy working, or are they unnecessarily calling attention to themselves? After all, we first heard the nest rather than saw it. Also, there was this on the trail camera:
When I went there today with my mobile hide, I found that the babies had fledged and the nest was silent. I was cross with myself for having missed them. The best that I can do, for this year at least, is a grainy image of a red-capped juvenile from the trail camera:
Another couple of photos from the wood:
And, thrillingly, a Buzzard at the wood pond:
The finale for today are a couple of photos of the Small Blue colony that is doing so well in the meadows this year. These are females on the larval food plant, Kidney Vetch:
The Great Spotted Woodpecker nest is getting noisier as the chicks get larger. I set up my mobile hide, secreted myself within and took a couple of photos of the adults coming in with food. I see the female has a ring on and is almost certainly the bird that was ringed here in February:
I am going to try again in the hide in a few days time – I am after a shot of the babies looking out of the hole as they impatiently await their parents’ return but they need to be a bit bigger for this.
Wandering around the sunny regeneration area of the wood, we were surprised to see several dragonflies basking because we always think of them being associated with freshwater rather than here in dry woodland. I suppose that the water element is all about reproduction and that they can go anywhere to feed.
Back in the meadows, the Bushnell trail camera, costing three times the amount of the Crenovas that we normally use, has, on the whole, failed to impress. However, it did excel itself recently with some lovely photos of this Fox:
When Foxes are out and about during the day, they almost always have an attendant Magpie accompanying them, scolding their every step:
This is another lovely Fox photo but taken on a Crenova:
The mother Badger has started bringing her babies to the peanuts. On this particular night, I had also put out some surplus meat in a tray:
Here is a screen shot from a video of the twins having a rough and tumble together:
This bit of hedgerow has got lots of webs in it:
These are the nurseries of the Bird-Cherry Ermine Moth. The caterpillars were contained within the webs:
This is all quite laid back by Bird-Cherry Ermine standards. Here is a photo from the internet showing what it can get like:
Continuing on the subject of moths, last autumn we spotted a Vapourer Moth nest in the bark of a Holm Oak:
These eggs remained unchanged throughout the winter but are now starting to hatch:
A notable thing about female Vapourers is that they are flightless. Therefore, because the females are either in the stage of egg, pupa, caterpillar or flightless adult stage, they will never move very far from this Holm Oak, attracting males in to them by pheromones. This would be a great thing to try to see if we keep watching this tree.
The caterpillars are still in their first instar stage at the moment. They get pretty wacky in subsequent instars and I hope to get some photos of this too.
For the first time this year, I am running a moth trap and properly recording and reporting my catches rather than using them as a training exercise for myself. This is one of my favourite little moths, the Spectacle who tries to create the illusion that it is much larger and scarier than it in fact is:
There is a new day-flying moth in the meadows now, the Burnet Companion, so named because it often flies with Burnet Moths (although these are yet to appear this year)
Small Blue Butterflies are flying in some numbers this year and across a larger area than we have ever seen before. I would like to think that this is due to us collecting the seed and growing on of lots of Kidney Vetch, the larval food plant. There is an abundance of it this year in the meadows and I have lots of small plants still in the greenhouse to be planted out in the autumn for next year (it is a short-lived perennial). Here is a Small Blue Butterfly laying her egg in the flower of the Kidney Vetch.
She only lays one egg per flower. This egg hatches and the single caterpillar lives in the flower during the summer and then pupates into the ground below over winter. I will be inspecting Kidney Vetch flowers and hoping to find Small Blue caterpillars as the summer progresses.
Still on the subject of eggs, these pale green eggs have appeared on some Yellow Flag Iris down at the wild pond:
We have no idea what these are and will keep an eye on them to see what happens next.
Late last summer, we cut the grass really, really low in one small area, raked it a bit to break the soil up and planted some Yellow Rattle seed. Yellow Rattle has super-hero status in flower meadows. It is parasitic on grass and so has the effect of knocking back the over-dominant grass, allowing meadow flowers to flourish. Having almost forgotten that we had even done that, we were very pleased to now see large amounts of Yellow Rattle growing in the area:
Our plan is to cut this area of the meadow towards the end of the summer and lay the green hay for a while over another area where the grass is growing lushly, hoping that Yellow Rattle seeds will fall out of the hay into the new section – more Yellow Rattle seed for free.
Another plant that has just come into flower is the Hoary Plantain (Plantago media), a chalk specialist. This is one of our favourite plant in the meadows and reminds us of sparklers.
Two final photos. The first one is of a green Viviparous Lizard – have never seen a green one before and here it is along with a more normal brown one. It has shed its tail at some point in the past (self-amputation) which is self defence adaptation to try to distract a predator. It can grow another one but, as you can see from the photo, it is not the same as before! The second tail is cartilage rather than bone and cannot be shed a second time.
And, finally, the Grey Partridge pair. Sadly not quite in focus, but a lovely photo of them, nonetheless:
We have been away for a few days. Whilst we were gone, the bird ringer, who was a professional wildlife photographer for many years, came up to take some photos of the particularly lovely Stock Doves that have been visiting the strip this spring.
While he was here, he noticed that there were at least three different Yellowhammers coming down to feed:
He took some fantastic photos that I couldn’t possibly hope to emulate and so I am pleased that he has given me permission to use them here.
He also came up with his nets and caught and ringed a Yellowhammer along with eleven Linnets and three Whitethroats:
I am not very familiar with Yellowhammer and I am surprised at how large they are.
Returning to the meadows today, we find that two additional species of butterfly had arrived before us. There were several Small Blues fluttering around the wild pond (we only saw a total of two individuals last year). The Small Blue is the UK’s smallest resident butterfly, the wingspan being about 20mm. Here is a male with a hint of blue on the upper side of his wings:
And here is a female who is dark brown with no suggestion of blue. Both sexes have pale blue wing undersides.
Also seen this afternoon was a Wall Butterfly:
Another butterfly in terrible trouble and so lovely to see.
We were pleased that there were no sign of dragonfly emergences from the wild pond yet and so we haven’t missed that. But on the subject of dragonflies, there was this lovely blue male Broad Bodied Chaser awaiting a passing female at the hide pond:
I am not very fond of Magpies and here is some evidence I put forward to support this view:
I like this photo below. I don’t think the fox was expecting to see the badger who is having a wash before bed outside the sett entrance at 4am:
In the wood, there was a new visitor to the pond:
As the nights get shorter, the chances increase of seeing a badger out before it gets dark:
Returning to the meadow I finish this evening with the twins:
These monsters, Emperor Dragonfly larvae, around 5cm long and voracious predators, are very active in the ponds at night. They live as larvae for one or, more usually, two years in the pond and then, towards the end of May, they emerge from the water and burst out into their adult form:
It doesn’t always go completely to plan. Last night one of the dragonflies was all crooked as it attempted to emerge:
We left it alone and hoped for the best, but in the morning it was apparent that it had never managed to disentangle itself:
By midday it had disappeared, presumably eaten by a bird.
This was all happening in the hide pond. When emergences start in the wild pond we will stay up into the night, put some waders on, and try to photograph the entire sequence, but this is what we have got for now.
There have been about fifteen Emperor emergences from this pond so far. There were also Azure Damselflies emerging:
Below is another species of Dragonfly larvae in the pond. My guess is that they are Broad Bodied Chasers but, since they always seem to have algae growing on their backs, they are difficult things to get a good look at.
We also saw plenty of newts swimming around last night. They are green in this pond – probably to blend in against all that blanket weed – and black in the wild pond with the much darker substratum.
The number of new Slow Worms that have arrived in the meadows has now reached about sixty:
This is an adult male who will be about twelve years old:
This is an adult female with the dark flanks. However, to be an archetypal female, she should have a stripe down the middle of her back as well:
The Red Mason Bees are going about their lives with gusto. Here is the much smaller, white moustachioed male mating with the larger female:
However, it was all a bit of a bundle because other males kept on trying to displace him and take over:
Once that is all successfully negotiated, the female goes on the build a nest:
This is a bee observation box with the wooden side temporarily removed for the purpose of taking photographs. She feeds her young on pollen rather than nectar. A pile of pollen is built, an egg laid on it and then a mud wall built to contain it into its own compartment. The eggs will hatch in their individual cells and the bee larva lives off the pollen store during the summer until it pupates in the autumn.
Yesterday the bird ringer came round the meadows and the wood to see if the baby birds in the boxes were ready to be ringed. It turns out that all the baby birds in the meadow were too tiny to be ringed, whereas all the baby birds in the wood had either already fledged or were too big and so couldn’t safely be disturbed without the risk of them fleeing the box before they are ready. This means that the wood was at least two weeks ahead of the meadows and our best guess is that this is because the meadows are so much more exposed with their relentless coastal winds at times.
It is always funny to see how much of the fluff from the dog’s ball is incorporated into the nests in the meadows:
Here is the White Helleborine (a type of Orchid) coming out into flower in the meadows. This is its third year.
The Broom Rape, interesting because it is parasitic on Clover, is starting to come up:
I never get tired of trying to successfully photograph these Green Long Horn Moths:
The water level has dropped in the wild pond but these baby Badgers are making it seem worse than it is:
I was still a bit uncertain as to whether it is a male or a female Yellowhammer that has been visiting and so have asked the bird ringer. It turns out that apparently they are surprisingly difficult to sex from first appearances. This is either a female or a young male, it seems. He is going to try to catch and ring it to find out for sure:
In the wood, the Woodpecker nest camera has shown that the babies are being fed by both parents. Here is the female with no red on her head:
And here is the male with a red nape:
One final thing for today is a most wonderful beetle that was flying around the regeneration area of the wood yesterday. It was quite large, although not by Stag Beetle standards:
It is the Red-Headed Cardinal Beetle. Quite widespread and its larvae feed on other insects beneath the bark of freshly dead broadleaved trees. It’s a very lovely thing.
We have an ecologist visiting the meadows every day at the moment to release Slow Worms that have been trapped on a nearby site that is to be developed. He is also the Kent County recorder of amphibians and reptiles and he was very interested to hear of the wood because he has no records whatsoever from that area. The nearest record he has is of Adders in a wood that is four miles away from our wood.
Adder populations have declined so terribly that they are said to be soon facing extinction in the UK unless action is taken. However, if there are Adders in the wood, then that is something that I really want to be aware of so that appropriate care can be taken such as not thrashing around in the undergrowth in flip-flops in the summer.
Whereas roofing felt is the best material to make sampling squares out of if you are interested in Slow Worms, corrugated tin is best for snakes and lizards. But in the past we have tried and failed to get hold of corrugated tin. However, now we have struck a deal with the ecologist – he has given us five tin squares to place in appropriate areas of the wood and in return we will submit the records to him of what we find.
The five tin squares went down today, along with an additional five roofing felt ones. We have been briefed to only lift the squares with a stick – Adders often also bask in the areas around the square. But I have to tell you that this might be the only time that I am actually hoping not to find the thing we are looking for.
Whilst we were in the wood, we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest in a Cherry Tree.
We first heard this nest rather than saw it because baby Woodpeckers always seem to make a continuous racket even when an adult is not around – how can that possibly be a good idea for them? In fact we think these babies must be quite young because we have found nests in the past that are much noisier than this.
A trail camera on a pole was wedged against an adjoining tree to see what was going on:
It will be interesting to see how this nest develops.
A couple of days ago, we found that one of the small but very heavy bird boxes had fallen off the tree it was nailed to and was lying on the ground on its back. We knew that this box had a nest with young birds in it and feared the worst. However, when we looked inside, everything was absolutely fine. The babies were still alive and the adult had extended the nest up the back of the box that had now become the new floor.
Even though a new floor had been built, the baby birds were still sitting within the original cup of the nest and so were on their sides and so we decided to put the box back up the correct way but to leave it on the ground.
We put a camera on the box and recorded many visits of the parents to what was now the third position of this box and so all continues to be well:
The male Bull Finch has paid another visit to the pond in the wood and so I am hoping that they are nesting somewhere in the area:
and there are some very sweet baby Rabbits hopping around these days:
The regeneration area of the wood, with its young trees, is much sunnier and warmer than the main section of the wood and it is here that the insect action is kicking off.
The tally of Butterflies seen in the wood stands at five species so far: Brimstone, Peacock, Large White, Comma and, seen today, Green Hairstreak:
Also now flying around this area in some numbers are these Cinnabar moths. Their underwings are a most glorious scarlet and this is all you see when they are in flight:
There were also these Soldier Beetles who expose their orange abdomens in flight:
And these Turnip Sawflys who also looked orange in flight. These flies were very sensitive to figures brandishing cameras looming over them but eventually I managed to get a shot:
The Tawny Owl is still regularly appearing on the cameras under the feeders hunting for worms. Not every night anymore but then I suppose this gets a less productive way of feeding as the ground gets drier and harder:
In the Silver Birch central core of the wood there is now an area of dense nettle that we want to tackle. However, there are also patches of wonderful ferns unfurling that make it all most beautiful:
Moving to the meadows, the Buttercups continue to delight us:
Two new Butterflies made an appearance here today, the Common Blue:
and the Brown Argus:
Sunglasses are required for the next photo of a male Orange Tip:
There are many Green Longhorn Moths flittering around the hedgerows with their ridiculously long ‘horns’ that make flying difficult:
Another Broad Bodied Chaser was basking around the ant paddock, its shiny wings telling the story that it has only just emerged:
In fact there have been three Emperor emergences already in the hide pond:
Last year this hide pond was at least a week ahead of the much larger wild pond and, indeed, there is no sign yet of anything happening there although there were several of these delicate Azure Damselflies around the wild pond area:
The Yellowhammer female is now a regular visitor at the strip. She appears early in the morning and just before dusk and I am hoping that this might suggest that she is sitting on eggs:
The photos below shows three other farmland species that we are hoping that feeding along this strip will support:
No Turtle Doves yet, though. Our fingers remain crossed.
One of the cameras on the strip faces East and it has been taking photo of sunrises over the sea for us to admire:
The small flock of Starling appear on many of the cameras throughout the meadows:
This hide pond camera has continued to capture the Green Woodpecker who loves to roll in the sand after bathing. I posted a series of photos about this previously thinking that it was extraordinary, but it continues to happen:
This year, I am planting some Nicotiana. This flowering plant of the tobacco family releases its scent in the evening in the hope of attracting moths to pollinate it and I am interested to see what comes along. In particular, I am wishing for the magnificent Convolvulus Hawkmoth, who is known to be partial to Nicotiana. I have never seen one of these but really want to!
The last photo today is of a pair of Mallards who paid a fleeting visit yesterday. I presume that this is not the original pair who visited every day for a while recently while their eggs were being laid and the male accompanies the female everywhere to protect her in her weakened state. They must surely have chicks by now whom they can’t leave. I hope this must is a different pair who are still laying eggs because the other conclusion that I don’t want to arrive at is that they have lost all their chicks and are starting again.
Here are our first new arrivals – fifteen relocated Slow Worm of varying ages and sexes. These have now been released into the log piles and we might expect more to be brought across every day for quite a while. Slow Worms give birth in July and the ecologist hopes to get most of them to us by then so that the young can be born here. Although they are reptiles and you might therefore expect them to lay eggs, the eggs are incubated inside the female. They then hatch still within her and so she appears to give birth to live young.
At last we have had a Yellowhammer feeding on the strip:
At first I thought that this must be the male that we heard singing in the hedgerow a few days ago but now, having looked in my bird books, I actually think that this is a female bird. This would be very good news should that male still be around (Yellowhammer match making).
Still a mixed group of Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove and Collared Dove coming down to feed on the strip. If I was an exhausted and hungry Turtle Dove, just having arrived from Africa and see this lot pecking around, I would certainly go and join them to see what all the fuss was about.
In fact, I might even come in like this Stock Dove did:
This thirsty and hungry bird did arrive on the hide roof this afternoon:
It is a homing pigeon and I am supposing that it is returning from the Continent. I hope that it continues on its onward journey safely.
The long lens for my camera is off being repaired at the moment and so this is the best photo that I have got of this Whitethroat that is singing his little heart out at the top of a Holm Oak every day. We think that Whitethroats would like to nest in the dense Bramble that grows near the tree. His song is a lovely little warble but one that sounds like it is being played on a scratchy old record player.
This ringed female Blackbird below was building her nest when I wrote the last post. Well, she has finished all that now and is probably sitting on eggs because these days she is rarely seen:
Now it is the turn of the Dunnocks to build a nest. Here is a ringed female Dunnock at work:
Here she is with her mate, who, I see, is also ringed:
The female alone builds the nest and incubates the eggs although both sexes feed the young birds. The nest will be being built in the dense, prickly undergrowth that there is near this gate and this is an internet photo of what the nest will look like:
Look at the gorgeous colour of those eggs!
There are also Starlings building a nest around here as well. They are cavity nesters and so may have found a hollow tree or something similar to use because they are not using the boxes we put up for them.
We have seen the first Dragonfly of the year – a Broad Bodied Chaser. I have scrutinised both ponds and cannot see evidence that it emerged from here, so it must have flown in.
On sunny days, there are now Butterflies fluttering along the hedgerows and amongst the flowers and grasses. Here are two Holly Blues on Hawthorn:
And a Speckled Wood on some Ivy:
The meadows in May are magnificent with their Buttercups.
This is an intriguing photo of a Fox carrying something along the cliff track:
Is it a Baguette or something?
We had a bit more rain and the gathering of wet Foxes at the peanuts was looking a bit like a pack of Wolves:
There is only one photo from the wood today and I will finish with that. It is great to see that the Tawny is still returning to worm in the same spot:
The work on building refuges for the relocated Slow Worms is now complete. One and a half tons of untreated timber sourced from a tree surgeon was delivered:
Today, in the pouring rain, the refuges were constructed by digging the bottom layer into the turf and then laying the turf on top of the completed pile:
It all looks a bit like a prehistoric landscape to me. The Slow Worms will start arriving in a couple of days and will be released into these structures to protect them while they get their bearings.
I have talked before about the St Mark’s Flies that are billowing out above the hedgerows at the moment. They hatch out on or around St Mark’s Day on 25th April and live for about a week:
They are here every year but do seem particularly abundant this year. In their short lives above ground, they are important pollinators, flying from flower to flower with their legs distinctively dangling down:
Then they mate…
And afterwards the females lay their eggs into the soil and die. The eggs hatch and the larvae live in the soil through the summer, pupate over winter and then, on 25th April next year, off it all goes again.
What is really fascinating is noticing the other species that are cashing in on this bonanza, the boom in the St Marks Flies being woven into their own lifecycles.
As the swells of St Mark’s Flies gather above the hedgerows, these Dance Flies are catching and killing them. Then, carrying the cadavers of the flies across their bodies, they await a female.
When a female arrives, the male offers her the dead fly as a gift and then mates with her as she eats it:
A female will not mate with a male who does not present a gift to her. All very interesting and wonderful to stand at the hedgerows watching this all going on.
While we were loitering along the hedgerows, we also spotted another iconic spring species, the Green Longhorn Moth (Adela reaumurella):
Many Green Hairstreaks were feeding and battling with each other amongst the Hawthorn. A small but beautifully iridescent butterfly:
About six months ago, there was a little spate of Foxes turning up on the cameras carrying large fish. We think that there must have been a new and naive night fisherman down on the shingle below who took his time to cotton on to why his fish catch kept disappearing. But cotton on he eventually must have, because there have been no Fox-with-Fish sightings for quite a while. However, the Fox got lucky again a couple of nights ago and here one is with a large Dog Fish, which may well be going back to the den to feed cubs:
Yesterday I picked up a carrier bag of electronics from one of our sons:
Loving this sort of thing, he has cobbled together a system to play loud Swift calls out of a couple of repurposed car speakers. It was all working well yesterday at his home and now all I need to do is to remember how to reassemble it once I am back at the meadows. Over the winter we have built and erected a pair of semi-detached Swift dwellings and playing these calls in the vicinity will greatly improve the chances of the box being noticed now that the Swifts are arriving back in the country.
Over at Gate cam, a pair of Blackbirds are building a nest. When I say ‘a pair’, it actually only one of them, a ringed female, who is doing all the work and I have a large number of photos of her with her beak full of nest material. The male is around too, although he isn’t assisting with the building work, which, I read, is completely normal:
I suppose the male is providing some protection while all this work goes on, although he is also doing a fair amount of posing as well:
There was also this lugubrious Green Woodpecker:
We have been hearing the melodious warbling of newly arrived Whitethroats along the hedgerows for the last week and now here is one on the gate:
It has been several months since we last had a Tawny on the perch in the meadows and we are completely delighted to see it again.
Also on the perch was this starling that is carrying something. I presume that they are nesting nearby but we don’t think either of our Starling boxes are being used by Starling this year (one has Great Tits in).
Having become traumatised over the last two summers with the struggle to keep the pond levels up without resorting to adding tap water (which would introduce unwanted nutrients), we vowed this year to take action whenever there was any rain being forecast. Rain was due today and so we have spread out a tarpaulin to increase the catchment area of the pond. Every little helps at this time of year:
The tarpaulin didn’t seem to faze the animals:
and in the end we had about 16mm of rain which is most welcome.
I end today with some gratuitous photos of baby Badgers: