The stoats are back in the garden

This amazing little stoat is peeping out of the Apex of the welly store room at Wheatland Farm’s Devon Eco Lodges. Seems like we weren’t the only people looking for Easter eggs in the garden this Sunday. Look at those eyes! This creature means business. The birds certainly know they need to look out. All hell breaks loose when the stoat is around, with blackbirds robins and great tits all shrilling their alarm calls and hopping around in the bushes where they think the stoat is. But sometimes they get it wrong, and an orange streak appears somewhere else leaping through the grass with the black tip of its tail showing. In fact, the stoats we’ve seen out and about look a lot more orange than this one, but probably the face is darker than the back – unless it’s a different individual.  We saw stoats often in May last year, but never got a picture. These were shot from the ‘balcony’ of Euan’s new treehouse.

 

Fingers crossed for the nuthatches which are also using the garden – they mud up their nest entry hole to keep stoats out, but I reckon the stoat could get in at the moment.

The orange tips are on the wing

April is when the butterflies start taking to the wing. This one is an orange tip – the males have the orange tips – and they are real heralds of spring. They are first seen about the time the cuckoo flower or lady’s smock appears – another early spring flower in the fields. Right now they are fluttering across Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor (the turbine field). On Popehouse Moor we’ve been finishing up some work on a ‘butterfly friendly clearing’ recently, but that’s more for the speckled woods and hopefully fritillaries.

The swallows are back for 2017

Yay! The swallows are back! George spotted one over Otter Cottage yesterday evening so now it’s time to bake the annual cake. That’s the first one on the farm for this year though they have been around this part of North Devon for a few days now.

Time to prune back the ivy so they can get into Ian’s workshop where they usually nest.

 

The pic is not this year of course – it’s only been a glimpse so far. These are young ones from a previous year’s nest in the barn. But if you want to play along with ‘spot the swallow’, test your skills on Geoge’s 20 second verification video…
Summer is on its way folks!

Here’s looking back to swallows last year, in 2015 and fledging in 2013.

Blackbirds are nesting in the ivy

blackbird chicks in the nest

blackbird chicks in the nest These blackbird chicks are looking pretty perky now. They’re in the ivy in the old farmyard at Wheatland Farm. The parents are frantically busy gathering food for them. We’ve been putting out dried mealworms (lots of protein) and keeping the teacup fat balls topped up (lots of energy). Soon we hope to see fully grown fledglings pestering their parents for food and begging to be fed out and about in the garden. I always feel a genuine empathy with blackbirds…

Meldon Reservoir to Black A Tor Copse National Nature Reserve and Black Tor

Black a Tor Copse and Black Tor make a lovely Dartmoor walk from Meldon Reservoir. We last did it in late March on a sunny day – gorgeous! Continue reading “Meldon Reservoir to Black A Tor Copse National Nature Reserve and Black Tor”

Cycle path clean up

This is Winkleigh cycle path, running from the sports centre back to the village and much used by dog walkers, kids going to the play park, and of course Maggie and Euan cycling from Wheatland Farm to school and back. It was relatively new when we first moved to Winkleigh, about 10 years ago, but the grass has been growing over it slowly ever since. We’d been looking at it for ages and wondering how wide it really ought to be, and whether it would be worth making an exploratory cut back to find the edge. So when we saw Andrew Ware, a parish councillor, getting stuck in with a shovel, it was time to join in. It took four of us a couple of mornings and now you could drive a coach and horses down it. A great improvement!

Foxy Loxy

It’s winter and the days are short, but this Fox is up and about despite the frost. Here’s just a few seconds of view on the wildlife camera as the fox crossed our nature reserve Popehouse Moor SSSI. One of our New Year’s resolutions is to be out in the empty hours more. Dusk, dawn, and maybe starlit nights too. But if you can’t make it out, one of the best places to spot wildlife is from the eco lodge verandas, or even while keeping cosy behind the big south facing windows.

The restored pond fills up at the eco lodges

The bothy pond begins to fill upThe new pond at our Devon eco lodges is filling up… Well, not that new. It’s part of what was the slurry pit system when Wheatland Farm was a working dairy farm. It was filled with junk when we first arrived, and after clearing it we let it get overgrown because we didn’t have time to make anything of it. Now we’ve dug the pond out a bit and sown some marginal plants around it. Next spring we’ll clear a better path. It’s just below the fishing pond and makes a lovely out of the way spot for people as well as wildlife.

There’s also an old circular concrete structure that we want to turn into some kind of bothy or folly… More on that as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, we don’t suppose the frogs and newts will need a proper path, so we’ll be keeping an eye out for new arrivals here. Frogspawn should be a near certainty.

How many ponds is that now then?
Well, there’s the fishing pond, the main wildlife pond, the woodland magic pond, the seasonal pond we hope to turn into a reedbed, a small pond below the withy, a pond in the gravel garden at the farm house, and the tiny ‘ironic pond’, complete with plastic duck and waterlilies by our back door. They do say that if you want to attract wildlife just add water.

Don’t try this at home kids!

What do you do at your eco lodge on a wet day in Devon? Try to set fire to the pond of course.

Well, OK, not the pond but the gas bubbling up from the ‘Magic pond’ on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (the best bit of our nature reserve farm). Here, the trees overhang the water and drop their leaves, which eventually rot down and give off something we think is probably methane gas. As the title says, don’t try this at home!

Check out other, perhaps more appropriate, things to do when it’s wet.

It’s on our long Wheatland Farm to do list to clear out the magic pond – though it’s not near the top I’m afraid. But if anyone feels like volunteering for a rather mucky task let us know. It involves cromes (long upturned forks) and probably wetsuits! And masses of mud. A task for the summer months we think. Smokers had probably better steer well clear…

Trumpkin time!

Wheatland Farm's Trumpkin
We’re all ready for Halloween! This year we’ve made our very own carved Trumpkins. This one even has demonic eyes. Another is two-faced and shows the morning after the election (not a pretty sight, and the kitchen is missing a carving knife). The guests in Balebarn Eco Lodge also made some great pumpkins earlier in the week and maybe there are more to come…

Big bike out: To North Tawton for cake at Kirsty’s Kitchen

Here’s a lovely and moderately strenuous ride that takes you to one of the best chocolate brownie cafes in Devon, and gives you the chance to work it off again afterwards. Continue reading “Big bike out: To North Tawton for cake at Kirsty’s Kitchen”

Small copper on scabious

Small Copper buttefly at Wheatland Farm's Devon Eco LodgesIan snapped this small copper on a Devil’s bit scabious plant on Popehouse Moor SSSI. Beautiful isn’t it! We haven’t seen many of these this year so it’s good to spot this one. They live in small colonies in grassland with only a few adults seen on the wing at any one time.

Wheatland Farm to Ilfracombe by bike

Another mighty bike ride – this time from Wheatland Farm to Ilfracombe.

[Maggie] Ok, so this was more of a challenge ride for George, who wanted something to beat the 40 miles he did 2 years ago (Barnstaple and back). This one had much the same North Devon route, and was about 50 miles, but unlike Barnstaple and Back it’s one way – so we needed Ian to pick us up from Ilfracombe (I’m not up for 100 miles yet… but it’s not 50 miles by car. More like 30). Continue reading “Wheatland Farm to Ilfracombe by bike”

Go cart joins the eco lodge bike fleet

Here comes the new go cart! Everyone should have a go cart hill in their childhood. George is the main technician on this one with a bit of help from Ian and some additions from Euan. Continue reading “Go cart joins the eco lodge bike fleet”

Recycling the plastic the council don’t

Recycling food plastic at Wheatland Farm's Devon eco lodges Since Torridge District Council don’t recycle food plastics (other than bottles) we save yours up and take them to the nearest recycling centre that can handle them – Okehampton for us. So thanks to all you lovely guests for keeping them clean and easy to deal with!

Vapourer moth

Vapourer moth caterpillar at Wheatland Farm Another fabulous beastie – a caterpillar of the Vapourer moth. It looks like it might even be starting a cocoon on the leaf. Euan found it on the wisteria – we’ll tuck it away again. The adult males fly at this time of year but the boring-looking females are almost flightless, and lay eggs on the cocoon after the emerging. The eggs overwinter this way, with a caterpillar developing in the spring. Stunning get up!

A new life for the ride-on

Refurbished ride-on toyThe toddler ride on toy has been given a new lease of life. It’s done many years of faithful service but the old plastic body had seen better days. So it has been reborn in wood, with some taps eyes, a blue smile, and new antennae.

Turbine blade replaced

Changing the blade on the wind turbine The summery weather means we’ve finally been able to change the blade on the wind turbine that largely powers our eco lodges. We’ve had the new blade sitting ready for ages now, but last time we tried, the ground was still too wet. This week a team winched the new blade into place.

The old blade developed a crack and was replaced under warranty. But it should still make a mighty fine dragonfly bench at the end of the turbine walk…. That’s a project for this summer. Let’s hope the weather holds.

The cows are finally back

Thankfully Andrew and Fiona’s TB movement restriction has finally been lifted and they have been able to move some of their cows to Wheatland Farm. Just in the nick of time for us as we need to be grazing Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor for 10 weeks over the summer. It’s this light grazing that maintains the flower rich grassland here, including the orchids in our earlier post.

So eight young cows arrived in two livestock ‘boxes’ pulled by tractors on Friday morning – just as Maggie was returning from taking Euan to school on the tandem. Often the cows are simply herded down the lane from Higher Punchardon Farm, but this time there weren’t enough people to manage that.

The summer task of ‘lookering’ begins now, ie checking on the cows everyday. They’re a bit skittish, but hopefully will soon get used to us. Apparently a handful of ‘cow cake’ is the trick.

Winkleigh Fair Saturday

Winkleigh Fair 2016Saturday was ‘Fair Saturday’ for Winkleigh – the end of a week of dog shows, cream teas, whist drives and other gentle English pastimes. The square was full of people eating chatting and of course pulling people over — in the tug of war. There were men’s women’s and finally children’s contests!

Orchids in flower

Every year we get a carpet of heath spotted orchids flowering on Popehouse Moor SSSI. Here’s a short clip of some of them in early July 2016. The are such a delight, and confirm our conservation grazing is working. This is one of the highlights of our wildlife year, so if you’re staying in the eco lodges do take a stroll onto Popehouse Moor (or ask us to take you for a guided walk). As well as the orchids it’s a-buzz with pollinating insects and nectar sipping butterflies. And if you can’t be here right now we still thank you for your visit at other times of the year – it’s your stays that make it possible to manage our small Devon farm for wildlife.

Thanks also to Natural England and the HLS scheme for ongoing support, and the Devon Wildlife Trust for always being on hand to offer practical advice.

Oak Eggar caterpillar

Oak Eggar larva - we think!Just look at this mighty beast! We think it’s an Oak Eggar moth caterpillar. We spotted it attempting to cross the road as we biked down a nearby lane. Crossing Devon’s lanes is usually pretty straight forward – but still Russian Roulette if you’re a moth caterpillar. We hastened this one on its way. If you find one do take care – the hairs make some people itch.

Oak Eggar and drinker moth caterpillars are amongst the commonest large hairy caterpillars people find in the UK, so that’s the obvious identification without asking an expert. There are some photographic ID sites online too. Butterfly Conservation has a page on the Oak Eggar and Wildlife Insight has a page with pics of the caterpillars.

Eggars get their name from the egg like papery cocoons the adult moths emerge from after their larval stage ends, and the Oak Eggar is so-named not because it is found on oak trees but because the cocoon looks like an acorn. Interestingly, the Oak Eggar overwinters as larvae and then feeds up in the spring, going into pupation in July and emerging as an adult from August. The adults are attracted to light so maybe we’ll be able to find one of those later in the summer!

Thanks for keeping food out of the bin

Many thanks to our Polish guests who left Balebarn Lodge this morning to fly home. It was great to see you enjoying the fishing, the bikes and the football. You were lovely recyclers, and we particularly thank you for keeping this lot out of the bin. Everyone over caters on holiday, and it’s not always practical to take the excess with you, but we just hate seeing food, often imported from far off places and grown by under-paid workers, ending up in UK landfill sites.

This lot will be put to better use. Looks like it’s baked beans for lunch for starters…

Watch our ‘slim the bin’ video from our environment page

Love your weeds!

Oxeye daisies

Oxeye daisies May and June are the months when we get the most from the ‘weeds’ growing in the old farm yard. These oxeye daisies have seeded themselves in the cracks and accumulated soil. They’ve been flowering outside Otter Cottage all month, and when they’re going over we’ll collect some of the seed and sow it in the meadow. Most of our gardening tends to be selective weeding these days. If it thrives and it’s pretty, then it survives – especially if it’s native.

And if you’re interested in mini-wildlife as well as flowers, the daisies are a great place to spot a stunning white crab spider laying in wait for an unwary fly.