The Annual Cut Commences

The annual cut of the meadows has now begun in earnest, although we are having to choreograph the work to fit into pauses in the rain.

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The much smaller first meadow is now completed and work on the second meadow has started. Several bits have been left long and one area has been cut really hard to leave patches of bare soil because we want to sow wildflower seed there.

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The triangle to be sown
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This area is cut really low, exposing soil in places.

We bought the seed from Emorsgate:

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I love looking at their website – it is even possible to buy a seed mix taken from the Prince of Wales’ famous wildflower meadows at Highgrove. Although that would not be appropriate for our soil conditions here – we have bought EM6F which is a seed mix of native perennials for chalky soil.

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Emorsgate EM6F wildflower seed – perennials for chalky soil

We have also added in some additional Yellow Rattle seed, a plant that is parasitic on grass and so knocks it back, allowing the flowers more space to flourish. Cutting the meadows and taking away the arisings year-on-year also reduces nutrient levels and discourages grasses but Yellow Rattle is another tool in the flower meadow toolbox:

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Yellow Rattle seed

All the cut grass was piled up near the gate into the meadow and over the next few months we will work at getting that away through a combination of taking loads down to the recycling centre and bagging it up and putting it out for the fortnightly green waste collection. We did deposit some down by the Badger sett to see if they would want to use it for bedding. We suspected they would.

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The pile of freshly cut hay near the Badger sett

The next morning there was a grassy trail leading from the pile to the the hole under the fence, beyond which the Badger sett lies:

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The trail then led along the cliff path towards the sett:

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In fact here they are, the beauties, caught red-footed:

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Harvesting from the pile….
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…under the fence and onto the cliff path….

 

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…and down to the sett

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A couple of days later and the hay pile had all disappeared underground:

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I love the thought of them now sleeping on freshly cut, sweet-smelling hay.

In a previous post I mentioned an experiment we were planning to see if Yellow Rattle has the same negative effect on Tor Grass as it does on other meadow grasses. We have Tor Grass along the northern boundary of the meadows and it is starting to spread slightly which concerns us because it can be a bit of a thug. We also have a few isolated clumps of it and we selected one of these on which to conduct our experiment:

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A clump of Tor Grass
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Closer up, showing what a coarse, vigorous grass it is.
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Starting to cut into the clump

At this point of the proceedings, a Lizard was spotted just in front of the tractor and so a rescue mission was successfully carried out:

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The meadows are generally cut quite high meaning that small mammals, amphibians and reptiles like this Lizard that live amongst the grass would normally be expected to survive. But in this instance we were going to be cutting the grass really short to sow seed onto it and so we were happy to have spotted and rescued this little thing first.

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The grass cut low..
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..and then even lower to expose the soil.
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Yellow Rattle seed was sown
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The experiment completed for now.

We have marked where the patch of Tor Grass is and we will monitor it next year to see how it gets on.

One area of the second meadow has quite a lot of Creeping Thistle which is another plant that we would like get under control. Therefore, we are also going to sow Yellow Rattle there to see what happens. I know we can’t expect Yellow Rattle to be our knight-in-shining-armour for all our problems but there seems nothing to lose from having a go.

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The area with a lot of Thistles is cut very low prior to sowing Yellow Rattle.

This is quite interesting. In the photo below, the grass on the left hand side was cut last autumn. However, the grass on the right hand side has been left two years since it was cut. The right side is much browner because of all the anthills that have had an additional year to develop and grow.

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The bird ringer has been back and was busy ringing mainly Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. He also got a Robin control – a bird that had been previously ringed elsewhere. He has now had three controls in the past two visits and we await information on where and when they had been ringed before.

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Goldcrest

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There are a lot of berries of various sorts now adorning the hedgerows ready as an autumnal feast for birds. This Mistle Thrush rather fancied these Rowan Berries:

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This beautiful Kestrel came down for a bath:

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At no point in the sequence of photos do we see her right leg to tell if she is the bird that was ringed here a couple of weeks ago.

Green Woodpeckers are regular users of the bathing facilities:

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Magpies are very enthusiastic bathers – no wonder these little ponds need topping up with water so very often.

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Below is another keen user of the ponds, although an altogether less welcome one having seen it eat hundreds of frogs and newts here earlier this year. So, here it is back again but we have formulated a plan to stop the same wholesale slaughter happening again next frog-mating season and so we are not unduly worried:

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The Badgers here are pretty much strictly nocturnal and it is only in the very short nights around June that we stand a chance of seeing them in the light. But here is a Badger out of her sett in the middle of the afternoon:

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I find this slightly alarming because surely something was wrong for her to have done that.  But all seems well again now and so the reason for this most unexpected appearance remains a mystery.

The owner of our local, friendly garden centre is retiring after many decades of running his plant sales and landscaping business. They have done a lot of work in these meadows over the years including digging both of the large ponds and it feels like the end of an era. However, on the plus side, he is now clearing his land and we have relieved him of these assorted bits and pieces of York stone which we will use to build some sort of wildlife structure as a project over the winter:

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Included amongst the stone is this one:

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It has been suggested that this stone is from some sort of Roman water system but I don’t think there is necessarily any sound basis for this speculation. From time to time an archeologist visits these meadows and we will see what he thinks when he is next here.

The wood is looking completely glorious at this time of year.

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There are now so many Toadstools. I have tried to identify them but I’m afraid don’t have a lot of confidence in my IDs – it’s difficult!

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Coprinus silvaticus
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Not at all sure
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Brick Tuft? (Hypholoma lateritium)
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We have a lot of Silver Birch Trees and so were expecting to see these Fly Agarics – nearly always associated with Silver Birch.

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I love this photo of wood Badgers:

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I finish today with a series of photos that I just want to entitle ‘Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area’ We have moved the Mustelid box to the wood where we thought we would be more likely to get a Stoat or Weasel. So far we have had Mice, Voles, Shrews and once a Squirrel came in. It is positioned in dense undergrowth but not that far from a small warren:

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So, after that introduction, here are the photos:

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For the last couple of days this adorable young Rabbit has been spending an awful lot of time in the box and even sleeping in there. So what will happen now if a Stoat or Weasel did now decide to take a look in? This sweet young Rabbit would be a sitting duck, that’s what. Always so much to worry about.

Wild Beekeeping Special

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All through last winter, one shelf of our fridge was taken up with Red Mason Bee cocoons. They were being stored at the right temperature and humidity to keep them safe and healthy ready for their triumphant emergence in the spring.

In late March we put mixed-sex batches (the male cocoons are smaller) out into the release box and waited for them to hatch and fly away:

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Although I have photographed this release box on the ground, it was positioned on a post about five feet off the ground, facing south.

The idea of the several small batches is that not all your eggs are then in one basket should an unexpected patch of bad weather blow up and kill all the newly hatched Bees. However, in the event, the cocoons remained for ages in the release box without hatching and so I did end up putting them out altogether because I started worrying that I was going to run out of springtime.

But most of the cocoons did eventually hatch – the whole thing was a success and we are now filled with a bit more confidence to do it all again.

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The Red Mason Bee observation boxes also went back up in late March, ready for the Bees to make their nests within.

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These boxes had been thoroughly cleaned from last year. Then boiling water was poured over them followed by a drying out in front of the Aga and they even then went into the freezer for a month. So I was pretty confident that these boxes were clean! The outer casing was painted with a non-toxic varnish although the inner wooden blocks were not touched:

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This is a tiny pot and it was very expensive (about £25 I think). There has to be a cheaper alternative.

They also had an insect barrier grease spread on the gaps and cracks to minimise the chance of parasites squeezing their way in via the back.

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The Red Mason Bees mated (the smaller male, with the white fur, on top)

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Although this turned into a bit of a mass bundle with other males trying to be involved as well:

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Once mated, the females started building their nests in the observation boxes. Eggs were laid on piles of pollen and wet mud used to wall each egg off into a separate cell.

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This is from a different observation box but I have included it here because it does show the nest structure well. We no longer use this box because we think that, if entirely encased in glass, moisture cannot dissipate and the nest fails.
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The observation box with the side panel temporarily removed

Meanwhile, the parasites gathered in the vicinity looking for a chance to get their eggs onto the piles of pollen instead. Some of the parasites were really beautiful such as this Ruby-tailed Wasp:

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The Bee eggs hatched into larvae that ate the pollen and grew:

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Once the Bees stopped flying at about the beginning of June we took the boxes inside, wrapped them in tights so that predators couldn’t gain access and kept them under the stairs in the cool and the dark to see out the rest of the summer.

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This year, we also had some different Summer observation boxes which went out once the Red Mason Bee boxes came in. These boxes have tunnels of different sizes for summer-flying Bee species.

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These summer boxes also went in tights under the stairs as the summer came to an end.

Now that it is October, it is time to harvest the cocoons and clean them up. The two Summer Bee boxes are on the left in the photo below. These species spend the winter as soft larvae rather than hard cocoons and so we can’t remove parasites without damaging the Bees. We will have to leave these boxes as they are and just bring them out next spring so that the Bees can hatch out.

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However, the earlier-flying Red Mason Bees have now formed hard, dark-coloured cocoons that can be safely handled.

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As well as the cocoons, there is the mud used to build the walls, some unused pollen and a lot of parasitic shenanigans, despite all of those precautions we took.

We used narrow wooden coffee stirrers to push the cocoons out of the wooden blocks:

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and put them in batches into a bucket of tepid water. The cocoons float and everything else sinks:

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Once they were scooped out of the water, we sand-cleaned them by shaking them in sand vigorously for a few minutes:

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We gave them one last dunk to wash off the sand:

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and then they were rested on some kitchen roll before going into the cocoon fridge storage box:

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Actually, I have ordered a second one of these Humidibee boxes so that the cocoons won’t be so densely packed once it arrives:

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And here is their home for the winter, our fridge:

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My feeling is that we had fewer healthy Bee cocoons and more parasites this year but I am sure that it varies greatly from year to year and is dependant on all sorts of factors.

But good to have got that all done for another year and already looking forward to seeing them hatch out next spring.

Best Ringing Day Yet

You have to be good with mornings to be a bird ringer – the best catches are usually soon after dawn. However, yesterday the bird ringer had been giving a talk in London until late the night before and only arrived after 9am in the meadows to set up the nets. But even so, he had a very busy morning with a lot of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests:

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Chiffchaff
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The same bird being ringed
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Male Goldcrest (intense orange as well as the gold in the crest feathers)
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Coal Tit – an usual bird for these parts

He also had two ‘controls’ – a Chiffchaff and a Blue Tit. This is the word used when a bird has been already ringed elsewhere. Once the bird ringer has submitted his ringing data to the BTO, he should find out where and when these birds were previously ringed.

During the morning a Goshawk flew over – yes! A Goshawk. Sadly I personally missed this but I am told that it flew north to south over the meadows, was mobbed by Crows, and then turned round and went south to north. What an amazing bird to go in at number 73 on our meadows bird list (only two species added this year so far: Alexandrine Parakeet back in January and now Goshawk)

We went to a talk last night at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory on Urban Peregrines. The man giving the talk also knew about Goshawks and we learnt that now is the time that young Goshawks (and Peregrines) start dispersing away from the nest area, sometimes flying long distances.

We don’t have a photo of yesterday’s Goshawk but here are a couple from the internet:

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But the excitement didn’t stop there. A group of House Martins were noticed flying over the meadows and so a net was put up along a gap in the hedgerow and their call was played on a loudspeaker. Soon, the sky was filled with them. At this point of the year, when House Martins are gathering to migrate, they become extremely responsive to the call of other birds of the same species.

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The sky became filled with House Martins

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Before too long, many of them were in the net:

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These mist nets have been well designed so that the birds become entangled but are not in any way damaged and all these birds were quickly processed, ringed and released, completely unharmed. Because there were so many of them, all that was done was a quick check of their age and a ring put on so that they could be off and away as soon as possible. They were all juveniles, born this year. So, just to be clear, that means they are all setting off on an immensely long journey across continents and mountain ranges to winter in the forests of the Congo Basin, none of them having done it before and with no adults to guide them. Completely amazing.

There were also some stowaways going along for the ride:

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All the birds will have these blood-sucking Flat Flies  (or Louse Flies) on them.

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These will normally be tucked in amongst the feathers but they have emerged out of the plumage here because the bird had stopped flying whilst in the net.

These flies are members of the Hippoboscidae family. With poorly developed wings, they are unable to fly and their survival depends on the repeated use of a nest by the host. Their emergence from their pupae in last years nest is synchronised with the return of the breeding birds in the spring.

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However, I have to tell you that these things were jumping off the birds and onto the bird ringer. He was very blasé about it but, if I didn’t already know that ringing was not for me because of the early mornings, this business with these Flat Flies would have knocked any budding desire to ring birds right on the head.

In the end 37 Martins were ringed and released and, in total, the bird ringer processed 96 birds during the morning. I say morning, but he was still here at 4pm.

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In the early afternoon, this schooner sailed past:

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This is the De Gallant, a sailing cargo ship. The concept behind this ship’s visit is exciting, inspiring and feels right out of the eighteenth century – the idea is that the community bands together and preorders food from various different suppliers from far off lands. These foodstuffs are then delivered using the power of the wind. In this case, a shop in Deal called Smugglers Records has organised the ship to moor off Deal beach and bring the food ashore. Because the food is bought in advance, the financial risk of the voyage is covered.  With the goods being collected directly from the ship or from whoever organised it, distribution and storage costs are low. People are encouraged to buy in large quantities to last a long time or to join together with others so that several kilograms can be delivered in a single hessian bag, thus reducing packaging waste.  Isn’t this all a wonderful thing to be doing? Smugglers Records are having a community party to celebrate the arrival of the ship – Deal is such a great town.

The ponds in the meadows are now starting to look more normal after all the rain that we have had. The plants in the hide pond were put into the pond in a hurry so that Dragonflies larvae could climb up them. Now that all of that is over for another year, we realise that the appearance of the pond is not very artistic and more should be done to make it aesthetically pleasing. But at least the blanket weed seems to have gone for now.

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The wild pond looks great and we haven’t seen the Heron for quite a while:

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But it is the small shallow ponds that continue too be more popular with the birds:

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I finish today over in the wood where the female Sparrowhawk has been visiting the pond there regularly to take a bath:

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A magnificent but scary bird.

 

 

 

Autumn Rain

Since the weather broke a week ago, we have had 69mm – nearly 7 centimetres – of rain and there is still more being forecast. We really needed this rain and the ponds are filling up nicely but it has meant that we haven’t got on with things as much as we might have liked.

The new Tawny Owl box has arrived:

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We have bought this box from the RSPB and it particularly appealed because it has the hatch for the birdringer to get in and ring any babies that might hopefully one day be nestled within, but who knows. However, we did decide to add some roofing felt to the top for added protection against the elements:

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The bird ringer has advised us where best to site the boxes and this one is going in the lovely copse of mature beech

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Here it is in position.

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It is facing into the wood which is contrary to all advice that I have otherwise read but it can always be moved again in a few years should this position not be successful. If the photo is taken from a bit further away, we can see three skinny Silver Birch in the centre here that we are now going to take out so that there is a clearer fly zone in the front of the box:

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We haven’t done much cutting down of trees yet and even these small Birch are going to represent a bit of a challenge for us. Our previous lumberjacking to date has only amounted to one Hazel coppice stool soon after buying the wood.  But that stool has now started to grow back beautifully:

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We intend to cut sections of the existing coppice on a rotational basis each year. In this way, there will be a mosaic of coppice at various stages of development always available for wildlife to utilise whatever stage it requires.

One species that would benefit from this type of woodland management is the Dormouse. In my quest to discover if there are Dormice in the wood, I have been looking at teeth marks on chewed nuts found on the woodland floor:

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Hummm. Well, Dormice leave smooth edges with no obvious tooth marks and I think that I can see some tooth marks on these nuts, but it is difficult for me as a novice to be sure.

Another thing that Dormice require of a habitat is wild Honeysuckle. I thought that our wood didn’t have much of that, but yesterday I discovered that in one particular area it is growing quite well:

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I think these tangles of plant climbing up though the trees is wild Honeysuckle, although it has lost its leaves by this stage of the year.  Honeysuckle is also the larval food plant of the exciting White Admiral Butterfly and we did see one of these near here back in the summer.

We also put a second Tawny Owl box up yesterday. We have moved this box across from the meadows where it had remained uninhabited for a few years:

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This is a very heavy woodcrete box with no ringing hatch – any temporary removal of young birds for ringing would have to happen through the roof. This box is sited overlooking a small clearing in the wood:

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Now that some rain has fallen, I am hoping that the wood will start sprouting fungus.

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I got the books out and tried but failed to identify this large toadstool above.  I even have doubts about the one below, which looks like it should have been so easy to pin down. I think it is Meadow Coral (Clavulinopsis corniculata):

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It is not just birds using the ponds in the woods. Rodents also use them a lot such as this Wood Mouse:

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and here is one of the beautiful young Badgers in the wood:

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At the meadows, following the sad loss of one of the young Badgers who was killed by a car last week, I have been trying to take stock of the remaining Badgers to ensure that there are indeed now still four of them. I can easily recognise the male, Scarface, but the females and young are more difficult to tell apart and ideally I would like to see them all together so that I know for sure. I think that none of these Badgers below is Scarface which would mean that we do still have four in total but it would have been better if they were all showing their faces nicely to the camera:

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Scarface’s neck continues to be covered in burrs:

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I suppose he lives a more solitary life than the others and doesn’t indulge in so much communal grooming and that might be the only thing to get these things out of his fur. It would be difficult for him to do this on his own.

The patch of brighter green grass to the right of the path below is Tor Grass (Brachypodium pinnatum)

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We have always had Tor Grass growing along the northern boundary of the meadows but now we have noticed with unease that it appears to be spreading. There are several large isolated patches like the one above and, moreover, it is spreading into the meadows from the boundary. The path in the photo below runs up the northern boundary and the greener, courser grass to the left of it is Tor Grass where there didn’t used to be any. The path itself and the small bank to the right of the path is also mostly Tor Grass.

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Tor Grass has wildlife credentials in its own right – it is the larval food plant of the Large and Essex Skipper Butterflies, for instance –  but it does love calcareous grassland and tends to start to take over, resulting in an overall decrease in biodiversity.

The Yellow Rattle plant is parasitic on meadow grasses and we have had great success with it this year in the area of the meadows where we had sowed it. We do not know if it would also be parasitic on Tor Grass but we are going to experiment to find out! We shall sow Yellow Rattle onto one of the isolated patches of Tor Grass, having first cut back the grass hard, to see if the Rattle weakens it next year.

I found a scientific paper on Tor Grass where they were trying out different cutting regimes to try to control it and it concluded that twice yearly cutting and taking away the cuttings did definitely disadvantage it.

However, although it is reassuring to know that it is controllable, we do not want to cut absolutely all of the Tor Grass here because we would knock out our population of Large and Essex Skippers. Also, at the moment, when the sun comes out, there are hundreds of thousands of Ivy Bees working hard along the hedgerows:

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Ivy Bee on flowering Ivy

These Bees build their tunnels in this bank along the northern boundary below, down into the soft soil amongst the Tor Grass. The bank faces south and is warm and dry.

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Ivy Bee diggings amongst the Tor Grass

So, it has been raining a lot. The appallin’ tarpaulin (as it has become affectionately known) has been down for several days now to increase the catchment area of the wild pond:

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But in-between the wet bits, there has been some sunshine. There have even been some Butterflies out basking..

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Small Copper
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Speckled Wood
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And signs of autumn all around:

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Spindle and Old Man’s Beard
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Bramble fruit and Alexander seeds
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The Robin’s Pincushion (Rose Bedeguar Gall) caused by the Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae. The Wasp lays up to 60 eggs on the Wild Rose and the resulting larvae release a chemical that causes the Rose to produce this abnormal growth which then protects the larvae over the winter. Adult Wasps will emerge from the gall in the spring.

The birds have been keeping a bit of a low profile in the bad weather, but there are always Magpies about:

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I make this twelve Magpies

And the male Sparrowhawk has been around as well:

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It has been far too windy to put ringing nets up but we are aware that there has been a big movement of Chiffchaffs and Crests going through.

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A migrating Chiffchaff

Having longed for rain for so long, I am of course now already fed up with it and hoping for dry, calm October days.  Then we can get on with the annual cutting of the meadows and other autumn jobs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Year for Voles

It has been a very good Vole year in this part of the country and the Barn Owls of the Stour Valley here in Kent are still busy raising second broods. We knew that the Barn Owl boxes in the wood had not been used for first broods this year, but were they being used for second ones?

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The two Barn Owl, the Tawny Owl and the Kestrel box in the wood were checked yesterday. A dolly on a pole blocks the entrance hole of the box so that any young cannot disastrously exit the box while the side door is opened.

However, all the boxes were unoccupied. A couple of the boxes have become partly obscured by leaf growth and we need to sort that out, but the main reason why none of these boxes has been used may be that they went up too late. Apparently the birds will be scouting for available nesting sites from as early as the autumn before and these boxes didn’t go up until February.

We are also putting up two further Tawny boxes – one moved across from the meadows and I have ordered a new one as well. On the subject of Tawny Owls, the bird ringer has recently been on a BTO Owl ringing course and he is going to attempt to ring the Tawnies in the wood this winter using a sound lure. I am already looking forward to this.

The Tawny is still visiting the shallow bath in the woods for a nightly bath, although now that we are having some proper rain for the first time for ages, this might become no longer necessary:

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We found a Tawny feather on the wood floor and you can see the it is really built for silent flight rather than as a protection against the elements. I don’t think that Owls are very waterproof:

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Below are two more large boxes that are in the meadows and have not been used, apart from by a Squirrel:

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The left hand box is a Little Owl box. The bird ringer has heard Little Owls calling from the vicinity of the meadows and so we know that they are in the area. This box has now been moved a few feet down the tree to make it more visible. Apparently we had it unnecessarily high.

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The right hand box is a Kestrel Box. Although we do see a lot of Kestrels in the meadows, we are close to fantastic nesting possibilities in the high chalk cliffs, so why would they use this box? We have decided to move this box to the wood.

Here is a Kestrel having a bath in the meadows and it is perhaps the same one that was ringed here a few days ago. It looks like it to me, although the ring was not visible in the photos:

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The hide pond has got so low that it is only possible for the birds to access the water using a ramp that we built. Here is a Sparrowhawk doing just that:

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In the late summer drought that might just now be ending, many birds were using the water.

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What a powerful beak on this Crow

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Linnets coming in
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Four birds, four different species

There was more ringing in the meadows yesterday and a lot of Goldcrests were caught. Some bird species are very sexually dimorphic with males and females looking markedly different to each other. But in others, such as in Goldcrests, this is more subtle.

Here is a female Goldcrest. The feathers of her crest have been slightly fanned out before letting her go to demonstrate that the feathers are all gold:

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The male, however, has some incredibly intense orange feathers at the margins of the gold crest although this orange might not ordinarily be very visible:

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This intense orange goes a step further in the Firecrest where the entire crest is this colour. There haven’t been any Firecrests caught here yet this year, but a few were caught last year and below is a photo from back then. The Firecrest also has the black eyestripe and is a much rarer bird.

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We had been needing rain here for quite a while. The wild pond was beginning to look like an African mud wallow:

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Heavy rain was forecast and so the tarpaulin went down to try to magnify the effect of whatever rain we got:

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There is also the roof of a log pile that was built by the pond so that rain falling on the roof can go along a buried drainpipe into the pond:

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In the end we got 25mm of rain in a day:

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The drainpipe coming off the log pile roof into the pond. This surely helps a little but it is a large pond and that is only a little trickle of water

I like this photo of a Fox that was taken by the camera looking at the baking tray bath:

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The same camera that has been capturing Badgers taking the reed piles off for bedding:

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Although, those reeds are very difficult to get under the fence onto the cliff path:

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In the wood, I saw an Oak leaf on the ground that had these galls:

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These are silk button spangle galls caused by the Gall Wasp Neuroterus numismalis. Each gall contains a single Wasp larva which spends the winter on the Oak leaf on the ground and the adult Wasps emerge in the spring. Here is an internet photo of what the adult Wasp looks like:

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I’m afraid that I cannot put this off any longer. I have to tell you that we have lost one of the young twin Badgers. Here it is yesterday, dead on the road that runs below the meadows

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This is horribly upsetting. Ever since coming above ground in April, these young Badgers have been a complete delight – they were so playful together and the remaining cub has to be feeling the loss of its sibling keenly.  Here are some photos of these cubs from the archives:

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Long suffering mother watching her cubs play

I see so many Badgers dead on the side of roads in this area and I suppose that this might be an indication that there is actually a healthy population of them around. But it is also an indication that Badgers have very little road sense – one trundled straight out in front of my car once, years ago. I managed to stop in time but it was very, very close.

I have to try not to be too upset and take comfort from the fact that this lovely young Badger’s life was short but very happy.

 

The Eye of the Kestrel

What a complete privilege it is to see a wild raptor in such detail:

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I think that the eye of this bird, a female Kestrel born this year, is magnificent.

The bird ringer was catching a lot of Goldcrests in his nets this morning and thinks that this Kestrel was trying to predate them when she herself got entangled.

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Along with the Goldcrests, he was catching Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps – in total about 35 migrating birds and he is coming back tomorrow:

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The bird ringer also rings at Sandwich Bay, a few miles further north, where, last week, a Wryneck was ringed:

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This amazing bird is in the Woodpecker family but doesn’t climb up tree trunks like many other Woodpeckers – this bird eats ants on the ground. It’s a heavily protected, rare bird and the UK only sees a few of them on passage in the autumn.

We have been away for a week and there was a lot of catching up to do on our return.  For instance, the four trail cameras in the wood had close on 7,000 images to go through. There had clearly been a lot of heat and little or no rain and the shallow, painters tray bird bath had quickly completely dried up. Here is the Tawny Owl in the wood when there was still water in the bath:

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But the next time it visited, there was none:

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Trail camera

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I feel like I have let it down. However, I would still like to be able to go away from time to time and so I am going to see if I can source painters trays that are deeper but still have the gentle slope which is proving so popular as a bathing terrace.

It wasn’t only the Owl, there were many, many birds that visited the bath only to find it empty. Here is the female Woodpecker that was ringed here back in the spring and she then successfully raised a brood of young in a Cherry tree in this wood:

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This Squirrel got in just before the water completely disappeared:

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We have moved the mustelid box to the wood now and we are hoping to attract a Weasel or Stoat in. No mustelid seen yet though, just various small rodents and this somewhat larger one:

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It looks far too large to get in through the tunnel.

The deeper bath in the wood has not had to be topped up since we initially set it up and, indeed, it still has plenty of water in it. There were several visits of the Sparrowhawk:

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and this juvenile Green Woodpecker:

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Its wings and tail seem so short in this image.

Back in the meadows, the painters trays were being topped up from time to time by the bird ringer while we were away and so they fared better. These are all Linnets:

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Pretty much every morning in our absence, this bird came a-visiting:

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We have spoken to the reptile and amphibian ecologist who was bringing the Slow Worms here over the summer and the plan that we have come up with is to encircle the pond with string about six inches from the ground in January and February. This is when the Frogs gather in large numbers to mate and when this Heron ate hundreds of them here earlier this year. The Heron doesn’t land on the water – it lands on the grass by the side of the pond and then walks in and so the circle of string at its knee height will hopefully deter it without harming it.

The reeds that we pulled out of the pond have all now disappeared underground. Here are the last bits being taken down:

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I would like to know about the Dormouse status of our wood. Dormice are terribly scarce these days but Kent is the best place for them in the country.  I do not yet fully understand what Dormice require and so, therefore, what we could be doing  to manage the wood for them.  We do have Hazel coppice, though, and I know they need that. One of the autumn projects we have planned is to find out if they are already here and, if not, what we can do to attract and support them. There are several more exciting autumn projects being considered but I will tell you about these in future posts..

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The Slow Worm mitigation scheme is now complete. Slow Worms were being rehomed here from a small piece of land about half a mile away that is going to be developed.

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Slow Worms under a sampling square this morning

The whole process has no doubt been very expensive for the developer and has taken over a year because of hibernation, but 104 Slow Worms have now been released into the ten new log piles that were especially built in the meadows to take them:

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After a long summer of transferring the Slow Worms, once the ecologist carrying out the work had visited the redevelopment site five times and found nothing under his sampling squares, he was then able to declare the project complete. But he will still be coming to the meadows to monitor their progress here for a number of years.

Now that the project has been signed off, the developer has made a sizeable donation to a nature conservation charity on our behalf.

We are continuing with our autumn jobs. By far the biggest of these is to give the meadows their annual cut, although many areas are left uncut each year on a rotational basis. The new Slow Worm release area will be completely left alone for this year and then only a third will be cut each successive year.

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Cutting the strip

Another autumn job was to clear vegetation out of the wild pond. Phase One of this job has been done which has resulted in the return of a magnificent but unwelcome visitor, who is after our frogs and newts:

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It was back again this very morning

The reeds that were removed from the ponds were stacked nearby, as photographed by the trail camera looking at the baking tray pond:

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A Chiffchaff resting up as it migrates. Reeds stacked in the background.
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A Blackcap, another migrant, taking a bath in front of the reed stack. It has to be a Blackcap, but its beak does look very odd – maybe a trick of the light or a bit of leaf?

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This stack of reeds, however, has now disappeared underground as the Badgers use it as bedding material:

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Badgers hunt for food and almost always eat what they find where they find it – they rarely carry food. Their young are suckled until they are old enough to go out foraging with their parents and food is never brought back for them. The only time we have ever seen these Badgers with food is when we occasionally put out eggs and they carry them back to the cliff path to eat:

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Scarface, showing the scar for which he is named above his right eye. It was very noticeable when he first arrived a couple of years ago.

Here are a couple more photos of Scarface just as it was getting dark. He’s a powerful looking animal:

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This comedy pose, being demonstrated by one of the female Badgers below, is often used when they they want a jolly good tummy scratch:

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Community gathering outside the sett last night

A Badger in the wood, who has been digging for worms in the mud:

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A Sparrowhawk having a bath in this same wood pond:

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And a Tawny Owl having a bath in the other wood pond:

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We recently had a gathering of fellow woodlanders at our wood. We share lots of wildlife between our woods and it is great to also share information and ideas:

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Back in the meadows, the Ivy Bees have emerged, beautifully timed to coincide with the flowering of the Ivy:

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I have also been photographing Butterflies in iconic autumnal settings:

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Speckled Wood and Sloes
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Red Admiral and Old Man’s Beard
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Red Admiral on flowering Ivy
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No Butterfly here, but a lovely display of Blackberries

All of a sudden there are a lot of these Turnip Sawflies (Athalia rosae) around – the very distinctive hunchback shape of them and their bright orange colour makes them unmistakable:

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There are still large numbers of Linnets:

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And House Sparrows:

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A crow looking sweet and cuddly?:

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Rarely are Rats seen on the cameras. Perhaps there are just too many predators around. However, one has been appearing recently down by the Badger sett:

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And this Fox has the look of leisurely waiting for it to reappear. Love the crossed legs:

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I was so excited about this last bit – this year is the ‘Year of the Predatory Fly’ for us. In fact, I don’t think we knew that there were such things as predatory Flies before, but we have photographed several different species here this year and they are really fascinating. Today we saw the creme de la creme of predatory Flies – the Hornet Robberfly (Asilus crabroniformis). It was so shockingly enormous that at first I thought it must be a dragonfly:

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Hornet Robberfly with fly prey

I read in my book that they have body lengths of 18 to 28mm and this one had to have been up at the 28mm end of things. It is a rare and declining fly found in scattered parts of southern England, but the distribution map does not show it being found in East Kent.

I didn’t get long to try to get a decent photo of it before it took off with a low, loud buzz and it and its unfortunate prey item were gone – but I did get my picture and I will record this sighting on irecord so that it can be officially logged.