The Royal Gunpowder Mills is such an amazing place for wildlife. All year round it offers a variety of habitats which attracts so many different species of bird. One of my favourites is the Kingfisher which has had plenty of mentions in the past, but many birds don't get much of a mention like the Spotted Fly Catcher, Tawny owl, Cuckoo, Black Cap, Reed Warbler and so on. I can't include all of them as it would become a bird column and not a nature column and the birds certainly seem to outnumber the rest of the wildlife.

Over the last couple of years I may have mentioned the Kestrel, having seen it regularly but not located where it could be nesting. This time I have found where it is nesting, in the hollow of a tree on Queens Mead. I have seen a pair of them regularly arriving and calling to each other. It’s been a bit difficult to get photos due to the amount of leaves on the trees. Kestrels do not build their own nests, but will use previously owned nests of crows etc. They also like ledges and nesting boxes, perhaps in the future we can provide a nest box. Kestrels don't hold a large territory; so long as food is abundant they are happy to have neighbours. Their diet consists of small mammals, birds, worms and insects. Here's a photo of one, a big long distance, but close by to its nest.

The deer have cast their antlers now and look rather smart with their spring coat. They are all putting lots of weight on from grazing the fresh grass which is packed with sugars. I can see where they have also eaten the tops off the stinging nettles. I wonder if it aids digestion! I often find antlers on the ground, but this time I actually found a pair a few feet apart. That's the first time I've found an actual pair from the same head!

The deer are very relaxed at the moment and have been enjoying the carrots that I bring in for them. Here's a photo of a deer with one antler. You can see why I rarely find a pair of antlers together as they don't normally fall off at the same time.

A few weeks ago I put a camera out to try and capture any Otters coming through, but unfortunately after 3 weeks I have no sightings, but I will continue to monitor the waterways. I have seen a grass snake in the water which is where they find a lot of their prey, mostly taking frogs, toads and small fish. They will also eat small mammals and birds, here's a photo from a few years ago.

Our resident swans hatched 9 cygnets this year. All of them seem to be doing well. I bought some swan/duck food and if I see the cygnets I get a couple of scoops and soak it in water to soften it for them. This year I have seen Egyptian Geese on a regular basis. These birds were kept as an ornamental species, but managed to escape into the wild and have successfully bred in England. They are very distinctive looking and so is their call...quite noisy. I was recently surprised one morning to find a pair of them with 7 goslings trying to find their way to the water. It's quite possible that they nested at the Mills and I have since learnt that they nest in trees which explains why I saw one fly out of a tree a while back. I gave them a helping hand to get down to the water as one of the goslings’s got stuck on some bramble. As soon as they got into the water our male swan arrived looking very cross! He wouldn't let them pass for about an hour. Eventually they moved off and I haven't seen them since. Here are some of the cygnets the day that they hatched and mother goose with her 7 goslings.

I'll keep looking out for more wildlife and hopefully next time I can report on how our Barn owls are doing and whether they have any young this year.

Julie Matthews
Mills Nature Conservationist