New arrivals and returning friends

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Its incredible what changes a week can bring. Both the North and South Paddocks are a sea of yellow thanks to a bumper showing of buttercups and yellow rattle coming into flower. Since we spotted our first early purple orchid flowers on Tuesday, they are now springing up everywhere providing little jewels of contrasting colour during the ‘yellow phase’. Later in the summer the meadows will transition first to white and then to purple. There is something comforting about the way this pattern repeats year on year.

The new fedge is really shaping up with almost all of it showing vigorous growth. One or two of the stakes at the far end have failed, probably due to water competition with the large willow tree next door. Water management in general, has been a real challenge this week trying to balance a meagre supply between the two ponds so neither dry out completely. So much wildlife relies on these ponds for food and shelter it’s a big responsibility.

Our most exciting wildlife spot of the week came completely out of the blue. Kate and Stig were headed out to shop for provisions and spotted a roe deer hind close by, in the field next to the track. Closer inspection revealed a recently born fawn lying in the grass at her feet. We watched for ages while she looked warily at us and eventually began to move the fawn to a safer distance. It was very wobbly on its new legs so it was a slow escape. This will change quickly as the fawn will need to be completely independent by the time the rut begins in Autumn.

Fortunately, Bryan managed to capture the long lens shot as (typically) we had no cameras with us in the car!

In birding news, the rooks in Kate’s copse are making their presence felt, calling raucously as they go about feeding their young. Campers may not be missing this particular Greenhillock wake-up call! This week, we spotted our first moorhen chicks on the pond. We’re hopeful these will do well as our moorhen parents are very experienced and defend their young ferociously.

We now have nearly our full range of warblers on site – willow warbler (arrived just this week), chiffchaff, blackcap and whitethroat. Sadly, no sign of sedge warblers which used to be a distinctive sound around the house pond but have been absent for a few years now.

Since most departed for the Arctic a month ago, we were surprised to see and hear a skein of pink-footed geese flying North . Our list of bird species spotted on site since lockdown began now sits at 50 – not bad for armchair birding! In the last couple of days, we’ve been particularly enjoying colourful male siskins on the feeders.

More familiar but no less welcome, a brave blackbird is sitting on eggs in our bird food store. Since we are in and out of there constantly throughout the day, she’s proving to be a very dedicated mum. Bryan was delighted to discover a ‘secret’ blue tit nest hidden in a gate post, again somewhere we are all passing multiple times a day. Despite spending much time to trying to capture the parents nipping in and out with caterpillar food, we still have no photos which shows how good these tiny birds are at being hidden in plain sight.

This time of year is marked by the brief emergence of the swarms of mayfly, with their characteristic dangling back legs, as they mass over the ponds before laying their eggs. Insect highlight of the week, however, has been the appearance our first damselflies. These colourful indicators of early summer are a joy to watch as they dart between plants before settling to mate.

Take care and stay safe!

Creative Fencing, Ducklings and Tree Sparrows

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Mother Duck and Ducklings

Since we changed the use of our paddocks from horse pasture and grazing for sheep we no longer need our fences to be animal proof. For ages now we’ve had plans to start replacing our wire fences with more creative, aesthetically attractive and green options. Finally, in these strange times we have the time to work on some of these.

Early in the Spring, we got to work extending the ‘fedge’ around the Wildlife Pond. A fedge is a living hedge. It is created using freshly cut willow ideally harvested and replanted on the same day. Willow is a fast-growing tree and produces flexible, straight stakes perfect for making ‘fence posts’ from. You simply cut branches at a 45 degree angle, push them about nine inches into the ground and wire them together into a lattice. A drop of rain and our fedge is now starting to sprout vigorously.

The amount of fedge we can make is limited by how much willow we are able to harvest on site, so to replace the unsightly orange netting around the solar tower we deployed a different technique -hurdle making. We used traditional hazel combined with some of the older more twisted willow not suitable for fedging.  A hurdle is not living so will not grow and will need to be topped up each year. Ours is a bit rustic looking due to the shape of our branches but its much more appealing than what it replaces!

In birding news, we have seen increasing numbers of swallows flitting over the meadows and think we have at least two nesting pairs. We briefly disturbed a pheasant’s nest in the long grass in the Home Paddock hopefully not for long enough to prevent the hen from returning to her (surprisingly large) eggs.

At the Home Pond, at least three duckling survive from our first brood of mallards and mum is decidedly more organised about looking after them these days so fingers crossed they will all make it through to adulthood. The bird feeders are buzzing with diligent parents feeding young in the nest, species spotted include greenfinch, yellowhammer, chaffinch, blackbird and robin. We’ve had several good sightings of great spotted woodpeckers who are also nesting.

We’re delighted to have a flourishing population of tree sparrows at Greenhillock all busily nesting and feeding young. Between 1970 and 2006, numbers of tree sparrows declined by a massive 93 per cent in some areas of the UK. This was largely due to changes in farming practices which reduced seed and insect food sources and places to nest. Reduction in the amount of land left fallow over-winter, thus providing vital seed food throughout the year was also a factor. Through our conservation efforts we are proud to be part of the drive to halt and reverse the decline of tree sparrow and other seed eating farmland birds.

Take care and stay safe!

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More reasons to love dandelions

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Spotted in the South paddock this week were both male and female bullfinches and a pair of swifts, the latter returning to the meadows from their wintering grounds in Africa. Distinguishable from swallows by the distinctive sickle shape of their wings, swifts are rare and especially welcome visitors to Greenhillock.

At the beginning of the week the dandelion flowers in the North Paddock began to go over to seed heads and we were treated to the delightful sight of goldfinches balanced on them, feeding away. Amazing to think something as flimsy as a dandelion stalk can support the weight of a bird, they are incredibly light.

We caught our first sight of Mrs Duck’s much awaited ducklings last Sunday afternoon, Bryan counted eleven. A slightly impatient mum moved them all over to the pond during the course of the afternoon, with some of the smaller ones reluctant to make the giant leap from the raised bed to the ground. Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to see all eleven chicks since and have had to conclude that Mr Fox has been doing his worst but we are still hopeful of a successful brood.

Stig has had his work cut out keeping on top of mowing in all the paddocks and the car park this week. The hay meadow is really coming away. Flowers in the North and South paddocks are a little slower to appear mostly due to the dry April weather. We were delighted to spot large quantities of self-set yellow rattle in the South paddock. This has migrated from the North paddock where we sowed it in 2014. Yellow rattle provides strong competition for the more vigorous grasses and helps us keep the flowers prevalent in the meadows.

In domestic news, courgettes and cucumbers planted out in the new raised beds at the Tiny House and in the polytunnel all succumbed to the cold snap at the beginning of the week. Even some of the nasturtiums have been zapped! The propagator has been fired up once again for batch two and hopefully we will be more successful second time around. We celebrated Radley’s eighth birthday on Saturday with presents and treats for him and Islay and some fizz for the grown-ups. All very civilised!

Take care and stay safe.

Deer Visitor

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Writing this, hunkered down in the Tiny House on a rainy Saturday afternoon it definitely feels like we are in for a change in the weather. It’s funny to think how frequently in our normal lives the weather is an irrelevance but now as it impacts our outside time it is all important. Wandering in the North Paddock between storms the smell alone made it worth the rain. A heavy floral scent bursting with new life and incredibly uplifting. Its almost like Mother Nature knew we needed a bit of cheering up!

Spring continues at pace this week beginning with welcome return of the first swallows of the season. A pair have been prospecting various nest sites at the Tractor Shed and down by the Hub. Doubtless they will ignore all the purpose-built nest boxes in favour of making their own! I look forward to watching them flitting over the meadows catching midges with a G&T in hand soon (my hand not theirs!).

Other bird highlights this week have included numerous sightings of oystercatchers and a hearing, no sighting yet, of a lapwing. Both species used to be prevalent on farmland in the area but numbers have sadly dwindled along with the hedgerows and fallow nesting grounds. We are ever hopeful of adding them to our family of ‘ground nesting birds’ here at Greenhillock.

Queen carder bees have been out and about in large numbers. Easy to distinguish from other bumblebees from their fluffy, all-ginger appearance, carders are often the first to emerge in Spring. Bumblebees are classified by the Genus ‘Bombus’ which I love. It always makes me think of the ‘bombastic’ way they appear to defy gravity by being able to fly!

Our trio of Roe deer have been making themselves at home with one spotted snacking on the duck food down by the Home Pond in broad daylight. Speaking of ducks, we are eagerly awaiting the slappity slap of little duck feet. Mallard female, Mrs Duck, who elected to nest in one of the raised beds at the front of the house is on day 27 of incubation which we understand is the last day before hatching. She has been incredibly steadfast while sitting, refusing to leave the nest in spite of curious dogs, the robo mower and even a visit from the window cleaners.

Hope everyone is keeping well and safe!

Lapwing (left) and Oystercatcher (right) images from RSPB as we haven’t managed to take our own… yet

 

 

 

Spring in the Meadows

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Welcome back to Bryan’s blog, this week guest edited by Kate. Four weeks of solid sunshine last month were lovely for us as we cleared up the many cuttings left after our hedges’ severe winter haircut. However, a few days of rain have been wonderful (and much needed) for the meadows which are finally springing to life after a late start.

The birds have been busy pairing up and nest building, they are very appreciative of Radley moulting and providing a lovely fur contribution to their comfort! We have been much amused by the antiques of the pheasants as they squabble over mates and nest sites. The bird highlight of the week was a close sighting of a buzzard catching a vole in the North paddock.

Huge queen bumble bees began to appear in early April, quickly followed by Peacock butterflies. We were a bit concerned there wasn’t much for them to eat but fortunately the good old dandelions have seen them through and everything is beginning to come into flower. We have been enjoying regular visits from a trio of young roe deer, two hinds and a buck and badger-cam tells us we are having regular nocturnal visits down by the Home Pond.

Spring has definitely sprung!