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

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.

A Bird In The Hand

After weeks of wearying north-easterly winds, there has finally been a shift to south-westerlies, bringing with them some much needed rain. One night this week there was a storm with wild gale-force gusts battering the meadows for several hours.

On two of the calmer mornings, the bird ringers swung into action. They were particularly targeting Yellowhammer and they caught seven of them. It is such a privilege to be able to see these birds up close when in the hand:

Male Yellowhammer
Female Yellowhammer
Male Linnet
Female Linnet
Female Starling. She has a brown iris whereas a male’s eye would be all black. Also, at this time of year, the base of her beak is buffish and a male’s would be pale blue
A very smart male House Sparrow
A male Whitethroat. At this point, the only way they knew he was male was because he sang as he was released back into the hedgerow

Over the long Covid winter, we watched a lot of natural history Zoom talks, including two given by the Kent Bat Group. Although we still don’t know much about Bats, we did learn that they sometimes use log piles to roost in during the summer – yet another user of log piles that we hadn’t previously considered. There is a ready supply of logs from the wood and so, whenever there is space in the car, some are brought back to enhance the meadow habitat. One of our sons visited recently and he was put to work helping to build a log feature right at the end of the second meadow.

As well as being good habitat and shelter, I think this is also a thing of beauty.

The trolley that is being used to carry the logs is new and is already proving itself indispensable – the dog hurt her leg and it was converted into a temporary invalid carriage for our pampered princess.

There are two projects underway at the moment for our summer visitors. Across the country, Swifts are now returning and it is time to once again turn on the loud Swift calls. Our other son built us a sound system which plays the calls up into the sky to bring in passing Swifts so that they notice the nest box that we have on the side of the house. Over the last two summers this has been very successful in attracting in Swifts to the box but they have not yet nested here and we are hoping that this will be the year.

The good news is that we could still remember how to rig up the sound system and that it is working. But the bad news is that we failed to get round to putting polystyrene bungs into the nest box entrances to stop other birds nesting in it before the Swifts return. This has turned out to be a significant error because we noticed that House Sparrows are already nesting in both sides of the box.

The male House Sparrow of the pair that are nesting in the right hand side of the Swift box. Another pair is nesting in the left hand side as well. House Sparrows are red listed birds and we are pleased to have them nesting in the meadows but we really wanted Swifts in this box. We do have Sparrow nesting boxes elsewhere for them, in which, of course, they are showing no interest.

We decided that rather than giving up on the Swift project for this year, we would take decisive action and buy two more Swift boxes with express delivery and get them up as fast as possible to try to retrieve the situation.

Two new Swift boxes arrived and waiting to go up

The second project for summer visitors is the scattering of supplementary seed onto the rotavated strip of meadow in an attempt to attract and support Turtle Doves. By spreading the seed thinly and widely, Wood Pigeon and Stock Doves are now spending a lot of the day pecking over the area and it is these birds that will hopefully interest the Turtle Dove enough to come down and see what all the fuss is about.

The pair of Grey Partridge and many other birds are also enjoying the seed:

We have now seen Swallows and House Martins, and a visiting daughter spotted a single Swift fly over the meadows. So we went down to our local chalk cliffs this week to see if the House Martins that nest on the cliffs there had arrived. But they were still not to be seen and actually neither were the Kestrels in evidence, although presumably they are quietly sitting on eggs tucked away in holes in the rock. We were very pleased to spot this female Wheatear though:

This image is digiscoped and is much sharper than the ones I managed with my camera

And the Fulmars were noisily carrying on as normal:

The Herring Gull pair in the meadows have now started collecting nesting material. I wonder where they are nesting? I am not aware of any Herring Gull nests in the area:

Blackbirds are still building their nests as well:

And the Crows are also nest building. A couple of the houses down on the seafront are having building works at the moment and it looks like the Crows are purloining their roof insulation. I have had a lot of similar Crow-with-roof-insulation photos this week:

I would also love to know where the Tawny Owls are nesting…

Enviable neck flexibility

…and if the pair of Kestrels we see here are the ones nesting in the nearby white cliffs:


This looks like Stock Dove courtship to me, but it seems that he is failing to impress:

Other photos this week from the meadows:

You can just make out that this Sparrowhawk is holding prey in its right talon
Sparrowhawks like to hunt from this gate
Willow Warbler passing through to places further north and west to breed.
The Old Gentleman is in heavy moult and is looking even more of a wreck than normal
I get the chance to have a very good look at him most evenings
These two vixen look very comfortable with each other. I recognise them both – the one-eyed vixen with her blind left eye is on the left and the other Fox with the starey eyes is the one that I recently treated for mange.
The one-eyed vixen
The starey-eyed vixen
The same two Foxes at peanut time with a Badger
The handsome male Fox, distinguishable by the downturn of the end of his tail
Badgers and Foxes are never at ease with each other. I could feel the tension in this video
We have found another place where a Song Thrush has been bashing snails open on stones.
The caterpillar of the Yellow-Tail Moth on Alder Buckthorn. This species spends the winter as a caterpillar, but tucked within a silken refuge until April. It can then afford to feed out in the open because of those irritant hairs.
We saw a Painted Lady in the meadows this morning. All the Painted Ladies that are still in the UK at the onset of winter do not survive and so, every year, the country is repopulated by migrants flying in across the Channel
Woodlouse shedding its exoskeleton. It moults in two stages. First the back half is shed and then, a day or two later, the front half falls off as is happening here
Euleia heraclei, a picture-winged fly
Mating Craneflies, Tipula vernalis. The more fleshy female is above and she will go on the lay her eggs in the soil which will grow into leather jackets, beloved of Starlings and many other birds
We are having a particularly stupendous year for apple blossom in the orchard this year

In the wood, I do now think that Green Woodpeckers are nesting again this year in the cherry tree hole:

The female with a black moustachial stripe
The male with red in his moustache

At the moment we have a roving camera in the wood. On every visit, we move it on to a different nest box to see what birds are nesting in it. We are hoping for Marsh Tits, but so far are almost exclusively getting Great tits.

This box is in the new section of the wood:

Great Tit taking moss into the box
There were many photos taken of Great Tits going in and out of the box
But also several visits by a pair of Blue Tits over the few days that the camera was on this box. I suppose the Blue Tits are still prospecting for nest sites and seeing if this one was available. We shall have to put more boxes up for next spring.

This is a different box but it also had Great Tits nesting in it:

Having determined that there was no adult around, we peeked inside the box and found nine lovely warm eggs:

There are Marsh Tits in the wood and they do apparently use nest boxes and so we will continue to move the camera around all of the eighteen small boxes just in case.

As the meadows roll through the year, waves of different plants come to prominence and then fade back as another one has its day. This all kicks off with the Buttercups and these are starting to build to their beautiful crescendo right now:

At the same time there is another unstated yellow plant flowering, Black Medick. It might be small and easily overlooked next to the showy Buttercups but it is a heavy-weight for the insects.

Green Hairstreak on Black Medick

Our trips round the meadows are starting to take so long, surrounded as we now are with all this wonderful blossoming nature at long last. Today, we didn’t even need our coats!

A Murder Most Foul

There are many suggestions as to why the collective noun for Crows is a murder but, after the events of this week, we have our own ideas.

There has been a sustained, vigorous and noisy turf war amongst Crows being fought in the skies above us for several weeks now. Some days ago, I intervened to break up a lynching where three Crows had a fourth pinned to the ground as they set about attacking it. This has now culminated in finding a dead Crow lying on the grass, having almost certainly been pecked to death by a mob of its own kind. Surely a murder of Crows.

We put a camera on the dead bird and saw that other Crows kept visiting the carcass over the next couple of hours to further jab at it and pull it around.

Eventually, as dusk started the draw in, a Fox took the bird away. Things have been very much quieter since then and so perhaps that was the last battle in the long war and the matter is now irrevocably settled.

A Crow has found a honey sandwich that had been overlooked by the Foxes and is dunking it in water to soften it

Every day the pair of Herring Gull are waiting for us as we arrive and we are charmed by the companionable chuckling noise they make to each other. One morning we arrived unexpectedly early before the gulls were there, but the male soon spotted us and flew in from wherever he had been hanging out.

The cages are all askew because they have been rearranged by Badgers overnight

Once landed, he threw back his head and made that loud, characteristic ha-ha-ha-ha cry that Herring Gulls make. This was clearly to let his mate know that we had arrived and were about to dispense seed, because very quickly she joined him from the other side of the hedgerow. It was so heart-warming to see how they look out for each other like that.

The females is colour-ringed

My friend the Old Gentleman Fox isn’t much around at the moment but there are generally three other Foxes now waiting for the peanuts and sandwiches each evening, all probably having to provision cubs at this time of year.

The Fox on the left is the one that I have recently treated for mange. The One Eyed Vixen is in the foreground and I see that she has mange again now, for goodness sake. The Fox at the back is a very handsome fellow

The handsome Fox has a bit of a lion’s mane and lovely black paws:

An atmospheric Fox photo early one morning
A nice Fox stretch

Here are some other photos from the meadows taken over the course of this week:

Still no Badger cubs in the meadows, or actually the woods either, but we are seeing adults out and about in daylight much more as the days get longer
Four Slow Worms of assorted ages, heating up under a reptile sampling square
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we have seen a Hedgehog in the six years we have been here
Adult and young Rat that appear to be living down the Badger tunnel which feels like a stupid decision but seems to be working for them
Mating Crane flies
A Wren taking wool for its nest
Another Blackbird nest is under construction in the meadows. The females build the nest alone
Tawny Owl flying the meadows at night
The pair of Grey Partridge are still going strong and its lovely to see them
Mating Woodpigeon
Song Thrush preparing to bash this snail against the flint stones to break it open

May is prime orchid time and we hope to get out and about this month to visit some of the fantastic orchid sites of East Kent. In the meantime, an Early Spider Orchid has appeared on our lawn to whet our appetites:

Cowslips are at their very best in the meadows at the moment:

And the Apple trees are blossoming in the orchard, showing all those exquisite shades of pink:

Spear Thistles form enormous rosettes in the grass

The only orchids we have ever found in the wood is a little group of Twayblades but this colony seems to be thriving:

Our wood is fantastic for Primroses but less so for Bluebells and it is not carpeted in them as some woods are. It does have a few, however:

My brother, who lives in North Somerset, sent me a photo of a Purple Gromwell that he saw there in his local woods and I include it here because it is such a rare and special plant and one that used to grow in Kent. But it no longer does and it is now only to be found on the limestone of the Mendips, South Devon and parts of Wales:

Back in our wood, both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers seem to be inspecting the hole in a cherry tree, although I don’t think either are visiting often enough to be actually nesting there. I thought that Great Spotted Woodpeckers never used the same hole twice and so I am surprised at their interest in it:

The male Great Spotted Woodpecker is in the hole looking out, while the female approaches
Green Woodpeckers were looking in this hole on several occasions this week
The camera also just caught a confrontation between the Green Woodpecker and a Squirrel further down the tree

Great Tit and Blue Tit having a fight:

And another Blackbird nest is being built in the wood:

What a glorious time of year it is in the allotment, full of promise and with the rhubarb starting to poke up above the ground. This is perfect timing just as we are reaching the last bag of last year’s roasted rhubarb in the freezer.

Historically, juggling freezer space has always been stressful as the gluts of fruits and vegetables are harvested over the course of the year. But we hope that this problem has now been solved by installing an additional freezer in the hide, and we are looking forward to it being packed to capacity with home grown goodness. It is difficult to beat a gooseberry crumble in January, lighting up those short, dark days with memories of a sun-soaked summer.

The Summer To Come

For the first time in a long while, both of us were away from the meadows one night this week meaning that no peanuts and sandwiches were put out at dusk. It twangs my heart strings to see on the cameras that, as we were happily drinking wine in our son’s Berkshire garden at dusk, there was a little gathering of Foxes back in Kent waiting for their sandwiches which never arrived. I wonder how long they were lingering and hoping before they gave up?

But, by the next night, I was back on duty and normal service had resumed.

Five minutes after I had scattered the peanuts and retreated. Surely that Magpie is not thinking of coming down to the ground amongst five Foxes?

There is a long-ago but just remembered way of living where it was possible to go away on holiday and such fabled days are rumoured to be returning soon. These animals have become rather indulged over lockdown and I need to ready them so that I can leave the meadows this summer with a clearer conscience.

We have had yet another week of cold north-easterly winds blowing in off the sea that continues to slow down the onward march of spring, although we have seen Green Hairstreak and Small Copper Butterflies newly out this week. Two mornings were foggy, with the Dover foghorn atmospherically sounding through the mist up from the south.

The Herring Gull pair in the fog

But what fun we have been having with a wool dispenser that we put out in the meadows with a camera on it. Crows and Blue Tits are still pulling out nesting material:

And now Great Tits have started as well. The wool is a mixture of different colours and I was interested to see that the Great Tits were selecting the darker hues:

The summer visitors will be arriving and starting to build nests soon and maybe they too will use this dispenser.

A House Sparrow with a feather suggests that they are also busy finishing off a nest somewhere:

And Magpies have been building nests for weeks:

Song Thrushes appear on the cameras every day:

But this week we found a Song Thrush’s anvil – a stone used by the bird to smash open snail shells:

Then, this morning, we have found a second anvil, still wet with snail juice. The bird had used a stone that was securing a camera’s tripod legs to stop it blowing over:

When I looked at the pictures taken by that particular camera, it had captured the moment the Thrush found the snail:

I subscribe to Birdguide alert emails which tell me that a few Turtle Doves have started arriving in Kent. Bags of special Turtle Dove seed have been delivered from the RSPB and Operation Turtle Dove to be put out on the rotavated strip for eight weeks from the beginning of May. The hope is that the seed will attract in Pigeons and Doves as an advertisement to a passing Turtle Dove that this is a great place to be. Should they decide to come down and take a closer look, the supplementary seed will then help them feed up and get back into breeding condition quickly after their migration.

Turtle Dove seed arrives for our fourth year of Operation Turtle Dove. One additional bag still expected
A group of Stock Dove. Now that Turtle Doves have started arriving, I’m going to have to take better care to check out all of the Doves as I go through the trail camera footage.
Collared Dove

This photo gave me a bit of a shock when I downloaded it off the camera. Perhaps the prey she has got is a partly plucked Blackbird?

Sparrowhawk with prey
Bedraggled Jay after a bath
One of the Crows here with a very distinctive domed head. Crow wars are still continuing unabated.
The dome-headed Crow and his mate
Sweet Rats drinking
I was pleased to find such a beautifully marked small fly. It is one of the picture-winged flies, Tephritis neesii
A gorgeous female Tawny Mining Bee. We have identified several of their nests around the meadows now.
There are ten species of Pond Skater in the UK, some of which are difficult to tell apart. These are possibly the long-winged form of the Common Pond Skater, Gerris lacustris
Green Hairstreak on Alexander seen for the first time this year
Walking amongst a forest of Alexanders. We have operated a zero tolerance policy on Ragwort for several years and last year we also started controlling Wild Parsnip with its irritant sap that was spreading alarmingly. This spring we have additionally been hitting Alexanders hard because it is a worryingly successful plant at propagating itself. Its flowers are very popular with insects though and so the ideal time to remove the plants is after the flowers fade but before the seeds set.

It was also foggy in the wood this week. On three different occasions the Buzzard was perching in this exact spot at the top of this photo. This is near the feeders and so I wonder if it is waiting for Pheasants and Squirrels?

The magnificent bird then visited one of the shallow baths but found it dried up:

But it did find water in this deeper pond and twice came to bathe this week:

There have been more amusing Jay bathing photos in the wood as well. They don’t seem very waterproof:

This Chiffchaff is probably a newly arrived summer visitor…..

…but all of the winter visitors are yet to leave. The Woodcock have gone but this Redwing is still here, although perhaps it is waiting for its northern breeding grounds to warm up a bit more before it starts on its way.

For more or less the whole of April I have been on tenterhooks awaiting the arrival of this year’s baby Badgers above ground. Yet here we now are at the 24th and still they have not been glimpsed. In previous years we have had clues as to their existence – some years the mother carries her young above ground to a different burrow and in every previous year I have caught sight of the mother’s undercarriage at some point and seen signs of lactation. This year there has been nothing and I am now wondering if perhaps there are no young. After all, the family had four youngsters last year and maybe they need a rest.

But then again, they could be waiting until this cold wind finally stops blowing. In the meantime, I am really enjoying the allotment. The Tulips grown as cut flowers are ready to bring into the house, and also to give to visitors to spread the joy.

Our daughter’s wedding, postponed from last June, is now going ahead on a very much smaller scale this summer with the reception hopefully being held here in an open sided marquee. This is a big incentive to keep on top of everything to try to get the meadows, allotment and garden looking at their absolute best for then. My big worry is not so much rain as the wind, but we will have to wait and see.