Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It is a phenomenal time of year in British woodlands and it is no exception at Scrag. The bluebells are now at their peak along with dog's mercury and primroses, lit through an increasing light green filter of the opening leaves in the canopy. Consequently with so much emerging at this time of year I am spending more and more time there and combined with so many teaching commitments this is probably why I have not updated the blog since 14th April, so I apologise for that. However, here is a synopsis of the past couple of weeks.
With the help of my friend Simon Tomlin, we re-constructed the small dam managing the small drainage
ditch on the east side of the wood. Historically this ditch has fed an ancient pond which has long since dried up. The aim of the dam is to back up the water so that it re-fills the pond. If the water level rises too much it will just flow over the top of the dam and continue on down the ditch into the stream. The dam I made in the Autumn was too temporary and somewhat porous, so once the pond filled up the water gradually seeped out. The new dam is constructed out of the clay dug out of the bottom of the pond site, so by both deepening the pond and adding this clay to a dam I have hopefully managed the water levels to provide a more or less permanent area of standing water. Fortunately, a couple of days of the heavy digging a heavy April shower provided enough water to put the dam to the test and you can see the result in the image.
The re-planted hawthorns and willows appear to be doing well, although it is early days. These are planted to 'scrub-up' New Meadow and create a barrier to trespassers. The 'scrubbing up' aspect is aimed to provide valuable foraging and nesting sites for migrant birds. Some of these migrants are arriving too, with Chiff chaff, willow warbler, blackcap and to add an iconic sound of spring, a cuckoo. If you have been listening to Radio 4's World on the Move series covering the global migration, you may realise just how far species like willow warbler have travelled to breed here, so providing good nesting territories for these tiny birds may mean that I get generation after generation travelling to and from sub-Saharan Africa solely to use Scrag Copse to nest.

Last Thursday, 24th April, I had Penny and Dave Green and Sheila Boughton over for a spot of badger watching. Before we trudged to the sett, we stopped off at the eastern fields to catch views of the barn owl hunting over the long grass. Amazingly, this male owl was then joined by a female, who hunted even closer to us and landed on the ground maybe no more than 12 metres away! During the viewing time both male and female returned to the box several times and on one occasion, the male carried a small mammal very determinedly to the box closely followed by the female which demonstrates pair bonding behaviour. I am now convinced that we have a pair of barn owls who are now attempting to breed and this is way beyond my expectations, having had no barn owl at all to now having a potential breeding pair. Once an owl selects a breeding site they are very loyal to that site for several years and indeed it can lead to repeated generations nesting in the same location for years. Therefore, I intend to leave them undisturbed, certainly through this crucial period of their first breeding season and I can only hope that we have many generations of these ghostly owls to come.
Finally, I leave you with an image of one of the footpaths through Scrag at this glorious time of year.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Badger Cubs!

What a fantastic badger watch I had on Saturday night. I was using the new badger watching chair, which used to be the deer shooting chair years ago, so my view was excellent being able to watch individuals move from one area to the next without losing sight of them. The elevated position also makes you feel less vulnerable and exposed and judging by the behaviour of the badgers reduces disturbance.
Initially, a single adult emerged, had a long scratch and shake as usual and then marched of with great purpose along one of the now very obvious badger paths. At this time of year, as the ground flora increases, badger paths stand out a lot more than other times. After a prolonged wait, it was magical to watch four lovely cubs playing and chasing each other relentlessly around the sett entrances. I didn't see them emerge, they were just there all of a sudden, noisy and very active. Two other adults then emerged and played with the cubs before moving away for some mutual grooming. Finally, it appeared that the dominant boar came on the scene. He immediately sat on top of the cubs, sometimes two at a time. This is dominant behaviour and serves to rub scent over the cubs to remind them of who is boss.
As it got darker, I used a high power lamp with a red filter attached and was very pleased when the badgers did not even flinch at the light. It gives fantastic viewing opportunities and I managed to watch for over 40 minutes. Although, there were cubs last year, these are the first brood to be born under my stewardship and I feel both honoured and very protective towards them. With the bad news that a cull is to take place in Wales I am concerned for badgers, they have suffered centuries of persecution and although it is clear that they carry bovine TB it appears that the spread of bovine TB is caused by the movements of cattle from herd to herd throughout their lifetime and that badger culling actually leads to an increase in TB.
On a brighter note, during the watch there were at least 3 tawny owls calling, males and females and as I left the eerie but very welcome sound of the barn owl screeching repeatedly from the field near the box. I can only pray that he has a mate and that full courtship is under way.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Goldfinches at last!

Yesterday I finally set up the new goldfinch hide. I have baited an area using a niger seed feeder and after about 3 months finally have a group of up up to 7 goldfinches using it continually throughout the day. Just by sticking a few old teasel heads into the ground around the feeder and lacing the heads with some seed has resulted in the finches transferring their feeding onto their natural food source. This consequently results in a more natural and pleasing shot. I managed to get this shot within 15 minutes of being in the hide. If you would like to hire this new hide and the general woodland birds hide, please contact me via the website www.daviplummerimages.co.uk