Hedgehog in daylight at our Devon eco lodges

hedgehog We spotted a hedgehog taking a wander through the garden in the broad June sunlight. We hope it’s ok. It looks healthy enough, and soon retreated to the undergrowth. Apparently sometimes nursing females come out during daylight to find a drink. But if we see it again we’ll take more action. Meanwhile, there should be plenty of food about and all our mini ponds have ‘escape routes’.

insect architecture

wasp nestHere’s a pic of some natural architecture, which has unfortunately had to be removed from around the lodges. In general we’d leave wasp nests be (yes, that’s what it is), but we know from experience that come autumn when the wasps start to die off in large numbers we get a problem with dozy insects buzzing people. So when we find a nest, we deal with it. If it’s small enough, like this one, the simplest way is to knock it into a jam jar and pop it in the freezer. Winter comes early!

It’s beautiful though.

Cows return to help us with our conservation grazing

cows return 2015The cows are back for summer grazing. We’ve got 7 young ones this year, again from Higher Punchardon Farm, just up the road. They arrived on Wednesday and they’ll eat the grass on Lower Newland Moor (the turbine field) and Popehouse Moor, our Site of Special Scientific Interest. Their job is light ‘conservation grazing’ that will ensure the grass doesn’t overwhelm the diversity of flowers we have. And we hope their movement between the two parts of our farm will help spread the flower seeds around too. Our grass isn’t the lush stuff that dairy cows like, but these cross bred Devon Reds thrive on it. They are bullocks but only young. They’re easily scared off, but it you sit still in the grass they may come to sniff you out!

Hares on Popehouse Moor

Here’s a snippet or two from the wildlife camera, spotting some hares on Popehouse Moor in recent days. I love hares! A year or so ago we were lucky enough to have some leverets on the old manure heap. Lets hope the population is still growing.

Bees are buzzing in the old cob wall, Wheatland Farm

malehairyfootedflowerbeeThe solitary bees are back in action outside Ian’s workshop, where they nest in the old cob wall, in little tunnels. This brief clip shows a black female landing and entering. The main image is of a male – much yellow-er (image is from the USGS’s Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab’s photostream on Flickr – as I can’t get them to stay still long enough for a photo!). They are called hairy footed as they have distinctive hairs on their legs, which are used as visual signals during mating. Right now, the bees are busy visiting the early flowers we cultivate: lungwort, green alkanet, they even like aubretia. The flight season is only from the end of March to late May though. The females collect enough nectar to make a ‘pollen mass’ in each tunnel, onto which they lay a single egg. When we first came here a neighbour (a bee keeper even!) suggested we spray and kill them. But they’re never any trouble and to me it’s a real pleasure to hear them on the wing once more.

Swallows return, 2015

Swallows' return cake, 2015The swallows are back! An adult was swooping low through the farmyard yesterday at dusk. What a relief, we’ve been on tenterhooks ever since two were seen at ‘The Lymie’ 2 miles away (no, not spotted through beer goggles) last Thursday. Now we’re ready for this year’s cake….
We always make one when they return. The rule is that the first sighting on the farm (has to be verified by a second spotter, no cheating!) wins the first slice.

Swallows are so amazing. Here’s the video of them swooping through the hole in the barn door, shot back in 2013. We’ve fixed up the door since then, but still made sure there are gaps for them to get in and out.

Liz Swallow – we’re thinking of you and enjoying your namesake….
Alison T – I’m guessing this is another official sign of spring – I’ll look for a hash tag.
Brenda and Norman, our guests in Balebarn, we’re bring your slices round now any mo!

Baby hares

Aren’t they absolutely gorgeous! Tiny baby hares (leverets) on some rough ground. Probably only a day or so old, and it’s quite normal to find them alone. Mum should come back at dusk to feed them. She doesn’t stay with them for fear of attracting predators. She may even split them up in the coming days, and go to each in turn.

Frogspawn and tadpoles

Spring wouldn’t be spring without frogspawn and tadpoles. We’ve got some on the kitchen windowsill and that makes them easy to photograph. Here are a few video clips to show them developing.

Here they are, about a week later, just about to come out of their spawn

It didn’t take long, the very next day they were out of their spawn. You can see their little gills developing to absorb oxygen from the water.

The image at the top is a batch of them ready to be released into the pond.

Cows go home, autumn 2012

At the end of September the cows have to go home – partly because we only have summer grazing here (we want to protect the field) and partly because they’re due a TB test (fingers crossed). Here’s a short video of them being collected – on foot. Home for them is half a mile up the road at Fiona and Andrew’s farm.

Owl stopped turbine?

Owl stops wind turbine?…. not sliced or diced though.

The turbine has shut itself down a couple of times recently, and when we’ve gone to check it has reported a ‘vibration error’. After a few of the same errors we notified the engineer. When he came and climbed the tower he found the problem – regurgitated pellets, probably from an owl, on the vibration sensor inside the cowling. Apparently it’s not uncommon. Unfortunately they weren’t in a good enough state to keep and examine (or maybe dissecting pellets doesn’t immediately spring to mind if you’re a wind turbine engineer). But Nick’s a ‘country lad’ at heart and so I guess he has a fair idea what he’s looking at. I’ll not be climbing the 18m to see if there’s anything left up there…

He says it’s warm under the cowling and near the gears, and one turbine he serviced ended up having to put wire excluders on the opening to keep birds out!

January flowers

It’s only mid january, but already there are flowers out. The dotty daff is in bloom by the pond again, there are primroses in the garden and lungwort in under the hedges. I’ve even found a tiny violet in flower, tucked in at the bottom of the gatepost near our back door. I never clear out that little pile of leafmould, knowing the violet will flower there. But it’s not usually as early as this.

Meanwhile, Ian had dramatic news from the end of the drive – a sparrowhawk making a kill! It took and blackbird and Ian snapped a pic on his mobile phone – you can just see it, wings outstretched, holding the poor blackbird in the ditch. Looks tiny doesn’t it – it’s real, not a mock up though.
Sparrowhawk taking a blackbird

Autumn animals

It’s definitely autumn now, with leaves on the ground and the hedgerows going tweedy. This tiny newt has taken refuge in my polytunnel. I hope he survives the winter. The hedgehog fell into a drain and had to be rescued. It’s a young one from a late litter, and rather underweight to be heading into winter. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to feed him and warm him. But he was clearly nearly hypothermic they quite often don’t make it. There’s a heavy flower pot over the drain now, to stop the chickens dislodging its wire cover.
Baby hedgehog 2012

August flower and damselflies

Here’s a few more wildlife pictures from our Devon farm this August. I love these damselflies, so delicate yet so striking. And the yellow flowers with the red tinge are Wavy St John’s Wort – from the family herbalists use to treat depression. This particular species is pretty scarce, and it’s one of the plants that make our Site of Special Interest nature reserve ‘special’.

Of course there are butterflies everywhere at the moment. Here’s a beautiful peacock.

And there was actually a real peacock to be seen outside Otter Cottage the other day. We’ve no idea where it came from (or where it went), but it was certainly exotic.

A placid bee swarm

Last week we were just checking on the chicks, when Ian spotted a swarm of bees clustering around the base of one of the young apple trees. Oh no! We were hoping they wouldn’t swarm this year, and this one was going to be difficult to collect as it was so low. If you read the books, they say ‘collect a swarm by cutting the branch it’s hanging from and letting it fall into a cardboard box’. Not this one – and we really didn’t have time to deal with it.

But by chance Ian’s bee mentor, from nearby Hollocombe, had rung the day before about going through his own hives. We called him back and he offered to collect ours. Here’s a short video of the process. Rashid doesn’t feel the stings badly anymore, and prefers to work without gloves. And he doesn’t even bother with a veil until he starts disturbing the bees.

So if you think of bee swarms pursuing cartoon characters who have to leap into the nearest pond, have a look at this video and then think again!

When bees swarm they fill up with honey to fuel them in their search for a new home. This makes them remarkably placid. And anyway, they’re busy doing their own thing and not out to sting passers by. If you see a swarm don’t panic! If you know a local bee keeper call them and they will probably collect. Otherwise, the bees will sort themselves out sooner or later – the scouts are looking for a suitable home, and once they find one they’ll tell the others and the swarm will move off.

Orchids in flower again

Heath Spotted Orchids, Popehouse Moor, Devon June 2012The orchids are in flower on Popehouse Moor again, lots of heath spotted orchids and a smattering of southern marsh orchids. The cows are in to graze again too, but this year there are not many of them and there is a much bigger area for them to graze, thanks to scrub clearing and fencing (supported by the government’s Higher Level Environmental Stewardship scheme). So we hope the end result will be lighter and more extensive grazing over a longer period, maybe even spreading wild flower seeds between Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor (where the turbine is).

Buttercup spring

Yellow flag iris, Wheatland Farm, Devon 2012The fields are golden with buttercups this spring – even the lodge field which hasn’t had so many in recent years. Yes, they’re creeping buttercups, and yes, they’re a bit of a weed, but they are spectacular (and do give way to other flowers). Spring is the season for yellow – the flag irises are out in the pond too.

The cows return again

This week the cows returned – at least the first 3 young bullocks that will graze the wind turbine field (Lower Newland Moor) and the nature reserve (Popehouse Moor). These guys haven’t been out of the yard before, and were fairly frisky. But the ground was still too wet to drive the tractor and trailer across the lodge field, so they had to be driven across ‘by hand’. Good thing there were plenty of young legs to keep up with them! This was 7 May – just for the records.

And when they go back to Higher Punchardon Farm at the end of the season they’ll probably be herded the same way. Hopefully they’ll have settled down a little by then!

Reprieve from rain

We’ve had rain for several days now, and only the odd sunny interval, so today was a treat. And the insects were making the most of it too. I think they’re low on reserves after so much rain, and sometimes less likely to take flight, hence the chance to take a close up of this female orange tip butterfly on lady’s smock without out it fluttering away.
And I hardly ever get a picture of the deer, so here’s a more blurry but still notable pic!
Fallow deer at Wheatland Farm eco lodges, Devon

More nests and escaping hens

Sadly the dunnocks didn’t make it. No clues as to what happened but one morning no nest and no birds. What a shame. Still, there are other successes. This is probably a dormouse hibernation nest in a sedge at Plovers Barrow, the thatched cottage at the end of the drive that we’re managing this year. And it looks like it’s already been vacated – you can just see an exit hole. I didn’t prod and poke though as despite todays sunshine there’s bad weather on the way and the dormouse might still be having a lie-in.

Back on our own doorstep there’s a downy brown robin chick flying around the barn, still being fed, a wren has built a beautiful nest in the side of a bale of hay in the old hen house, and I think another wren has walled up an old swallow nest above my freezer and has moved in. It’s too high for me to photograph though.
Entrance to a wren's nest woven into a bale of hay
And of course the chickens are getting into full swing in unexpected places. They’ve taken to laying in some straw in one of Ian’s trailers.
Hens eggs laid in the back of the trailer

Nestlings and flowers

Amazing what a week does. Spring flowers are dotting Popehouse Moor now, with woodsorrel and carpets of primroses beneath the trees at the far end of the nature reserve and cuckoo flower on the grassland. And best of all, I’ve spotted a dunnock’s nest with young in the garden. They’ve nested in the sedge again, and I missed the beautiful blue eggs this year, but I’m looking forward to watching these youngsters hope around the place. I just hope they make it – they’re pretty low to the ground. I’ll have to put Muttley on guard against neighbourhood cats!

Blackthorn in blossom

Blackthorn in blossom on Popehouse Moor, Wheatland Farm, Devon
What a glorious spring it is being – even after the forecast said the sunshine would break. And now blackthorn is in full flower – my favourite spring blossom. Tiny, delicate, understated but there first, before the leaves break through on this prickly shrub. The insects love it, and it only flowers on old wood – a good reason not to cut your hedges every year. Hedges trimmed annually have something like 50 times less blackthorn blossom, and why would you miss this spring glory?