Wednesday, 15 February 2017

14th February - Is It The Sound Of The Leaves

Following the gloom and cold of the weekend, yesterday was clear and bright with sunshine and an acceptable temperature, almost as if the worst was over and spring was just around the corner.  As I came home last night the Starlings were singing from the nest spots on the gutters, and away in the distance a Song Thrush was ploughing its trade from the top of a Silver Birch tree.

When I woke up this morning it was to the grey and dampness that we had endured last week, but with one difference it was definitely milder.  Once again the garden was busy, the pair of Long-tailed Tits beat the Blackbird to the mealworms, and the three Robins continued their arguments over who actually does own which part of the garden.  On the Robins, it is interesting to watch the interactions.  Despite the fact that the hedge Robins seem now to be a pair, there does seem to be some recognition problems, with what I assume is the male looking to chase the female away, only for her to stand her ground until the male realises and then allows her to feed.  The Shed Robin though is mercilessly chased away by both birds, and it skulks off to sing from the tree to gardens down.

A notable return to the garden today was the female Blackcap, the first time she has been around for a few weeks.  A poor shot of her hiding in amongst the branches.


Even more notable was that she was then joined by not one, but two males, with them squabbling over the feeders along with the goldfinches.

Just as I thought to myself that the Siskins were becoming more common garden birds than the Greenfinch, a male Greenfinch appeared.  Over the last few years the numbers visiting the garden has definitely declined, and what was once an overlooked bird is now something special for all the wrong reasons.

We still have plenty of Woodpigeons about and at one stage I watched a Woodpigeon chased violently around the garden bu a Blackbird, I was not sure why, but the Blackbird was clearly annoyed by the pigeon, and wanted it gone.

A much more gentler alternative to the Woodpigeon appeared, a pair of Collared Doves that proceeded to feed on the rooftop of a neighbour's house.


At one stage through the morning the cloud lifted and we were treated to the slightest hint of blue sky and some sunshine.  It  didn't last though and the cloud became both thicker and darker through the afternoon.

Drifting over the trees at the back of the house, I was alerted to a Red Kite by the calls and grouping of jackdaws and Rooks.


It seems that the gardens must be a good source of scraps, as it would drop swiftly down and out of view as if checking out any possible item, then appear again to be mobbed by the Rooks.


these aren't the bestshots, the gloom meaning that they were quite grainy and not well defined.  But they capture the jizz and grace of this supreme glider that controls everything with the twisting angles of the lovely red forked tail.


 Then slowly it drifted away as if grazing the tree tops as it passed.


hard to appreciate that when I started this blog in 2012 a sighting of a Red Kite was still a major event, through the years since then the sightings have been come more regular, and the behaviour of the Kites has changed, they are less wary, and more prepared to visit the gardens as a source of food.  This is the closest this one came though.


 Boycie and Louise arrived late afternoon so we went out for a walk.  It was quite dark though even accounting for the time, the cloud by now quite thick. As we walked along Lymington Bottom a Song Thrush sang again from the tree tops, hidden away in amongst the branches I could not find it, all I could hear was the repetive notes that echo around on February days like this.

On the school playing fields there was a small group of Redwing feeding in amongst the turned over grass, probably left over from an impromptu football match.


At the top of Kitwood the bare branches reveal a monolith of a nest belonging to the magpie.  A pair have nested here every year.  The nest consists of a bowl in the traditional way but also with what looks like a bower above it to provide protection.  This one still looks to be in good condition, the lack of strong winter storms meaning that it has not been damaged.  The owners should be able to move back in quite quickly when the urge to breed arrives.


As we headed towards Swelling Hill more Song Thrushes were singing, and in the bare branches of the trees lining the side of the field more Redwing were sat before heading off to roost with the whispery calls.
 


A pair of Mallard could just be seen at the back of the pond, the light there much too dark for acceptable photography.

As we headed down Swelling Hill Lane the Snowdrops now in bloom, brightened the scene.


More Song Thrushes  sang as we walked on, and above us you could hear the calls of the Redwings as they headed into the bushes and trees to roost.  We turned up Court Lane, and passed by a single Buzzard sitting on a branch in the trees.

Out in the fields were at least five Red-legged Partridges.  any movement would blur the picture in this light, so I was fortunate to capture this one individual as it paused in its bid to get away from us.


On the roof of the cow sheds at the bottom of Brislands was a Kestrel, peering down on to the ground in the hope that stray mouse or vole would come out of the barn.  As we headed own towards Lymington Bottom I could hear the first Blackbird in song for the year, maybe there is hope that spring is just around the corner.  The walk though did reinforce my belief that away from the gardens there is little to really see as everything strives to survive at this time of year.

Last post I promised some photographs from my travels away from the patch, go here to see the bird that I have been hoping for all winter.

Monday, 13 February 2017

12th February - Angels Have No Thought

February so far has been cold, dull and gloomy, with mists, drizzle, snow, sleet and frost.  Not the kind of weather that is conducive to long walks around Four Marks.  Once again the wildlife goes into itself, silence falls on the woods and fields, this week even the Song Thrush has curtailed its singing, while the robins bravely sing under the street lights in the morning.

It is too the gardens once again the attention falls, as the feeders provide a source of easy food.  The Goldfinches continue to swarm through out the garden, their tinkling calls continually heard as they fly down from the surrounding trees, and they back again after consuming the sunflower hearts as well as depositing many on the ground below.  This though suits the Blackbirds, Chaffinches and Woodpigeons who regularly patrol underneath the feeders to pick up the spent seed.

Today saw a smart male Bullfinch appear, the first for awhile, and of course at the time when I didn't have the camera ready.  I di though have access to the camera when another missing visitor returned, a male Blackcap.  I had only just said I hadn't seen the red headed female for awhile when this smart male appeared on the feeders.


It joined the male Siskin on the feeders, and unlike the female, was quite aggressive to the Goldfinches when they tried to move in.


Most of the time though it sat it the middle of the tree, and as I watched it seemed like it was trying to sing.


Our Blackbird still comes to the mealworm tray, although he is a lot more wary than he has been, which is probably due to the many other male Blackbirds that have arrived in the garden.  He, though is the only one that comes to the tray, the others keep back.  The Robins too come to the tray.  There are now three birds, the Hedge Robin now has a mate, and they both come to the tree together, and take it in turns to go to the tray.  The Robin on the shed side will look to feed from the tray, running the gauntlet of the other two.  If they see it it immediately is chased away.

This is I think the hedge female waiting her turn.


At this time of year the Robins start to pair up, and they will tolerate each other in the territory.  The male will still sing, but not as frequently or profusely as it has been doing prior to pairing.  Typically if you hear a Robin in full song at this time of year it is because it is still trying to attract a mate while still proclaiming its territory.

The Siskins are still regular visitors with at least two males and a female coming to the feeders.  Despite their smaller size they are still prepared to fight off the Goldfinches, the tactic being to lunge at them as they sit on the feeder perches, from the branches close to the feeders.
 


The one big surprise has been the behaviour of a pair of long-tailed Tits.  At this time of year, when its cold, they would normally still be in large flocks, but we now have regular visits from a pair of Long-tailed Tits, and what is more they appear to know when the mealworms are about.

Today I watched as Helen went out to top the tray up.  While all the other birds flew off, the Long-tailed Tits stayed close in the tree.


Once she had left they made their way through the branches, and almost imediately to the tray.


They both did this one after the other and went straight back into the safety of the branches with their prize.


A mealworm must be quite a substantial meal for a little bird, especially at this time of year when food is in short supply.  I also wonder if this pair are soon to start nest building, if so it would probably be near by, because they have quickly come to recognise that this is an excellent source of food.

Once in the tree they then hang from the branch on one leg, while clutching the mealworm by the other like a Sub to eat.  This isn't the best of photographs but you can see what is going on, and also you can see how tiny their legs are, like a piece of black cotton hanging from the branch.


Another bird missed was a Red Kite that drifted over, but it was an interesting hour watching the goings on.

Elsewhere in the county there was some good birding down on the shore around Keyhaven, further details can be found on the other "Away" blog later, and also earlier today I finally caught up with that enigmatic winter visitor, check the "Away" blog later in the week to see the results, absolutely stunning!

Friday, 27 January 2017

27th January - In the Dark Time of the Year

A very cold week, with plenty of daytime fog.  Today has seen the fog lift, and overnight there was some rain that froze as the skies cleared at dawn.  One highlight of hthe week has been that the Song Thrushes have started to sing, on both Tuesday and Wednesday I saw two birds, one in Lymington Bottom and the other along Brislands in song at the top of the Ash trees.  Another first year sighting was a Moorhen that scrambled across the road by the frozen pond, it was clearly searching the leaf litter along with the blackbirds for food.

The garden too, has turned up a first for the year, and the first for some time, the last time one was present was January 2015.  A female Blackcap, resplendent with a chestnut red cap was seen at first on the feeders, and then in the tree.


She would wait her turn with the Goldfinches


And while she did she went through some very vigorous exercises and flapping her wings.


However when finally she did make a move back to the feeders she was not greeted well.  This male Siskin clearly not happy she was moving in.


Last year's mild winter did not force the Blackcaps into the garden, prior to that they had been regular winter visitors with at least a pair turning up.  We shall have to see if she is joined by a male as the winter goes on.

Up to now I have only been able to catch the Siskins on the feeders, but today they treated me to some shows in the branches which always look better in the photographs.

This looks like a first winter male just beginning to get its adult plumage.


Here you can see the fine bill, that while being a seed eater allows it to take advantage of fine seeds such as thistle, and pine cones.  It is slightly finer than that of the Goldfinch.


Here a more advanced plumaged male.


The black cap distinguishing it from the heavier, and stockier Greenfinch


We have had at least four individuals in the garden, and I hope these, and the Blackcap stick around over the weekend as it is the RSPB Garden Birdwatch.  So if you have the time to give an hour watching your garden please do so it is for a good cause, and a very enjoyable way to spend your time.

Monday, 23 January 2017

22nd January - No Flag or Uniform

Yet another cold day, clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine, I headed out a little later today, it was a good evening last night!  As I walked along Brislands it felt a little warmer than when I was out yesterday, but still in sheltered spots there was frost.  I turned into Gradwell in the hope of seeing the large flocks that had been present yesterday, but could only find a large flock of Chaffinches that flew up from the edge of the field and into the surrounding trees.

I turned uphill towards Kitwood, and as I passed the house opposite the school I was scolded by a Wren that sat out in the open on the fence.



A little further on a Nuthatch called from the trees above the road, as it constantly searched the lichen on the branches.



I headed out along Lyeway, into the sunshine which was very bright with the sun being so low in the sky at this time of year.  Out in the fields, a few gulls were circling the field, and there were several brown lumps casting shadows that stood out amongstthe short stalks of the crops.


These were brown Hares, and I counted six "lumps" spread out across the field, the highest count I have had here, previously the high numbers are normally around the fields at Plain Farm.

A little more scanning revealed three Lapwing also in the field.  These two approaching one of the "lumps".


From nowhere the number of gulls seemed to increase.  There was a few Black-headed Gulls, but at least 15 Common Gulls, they circled the field constantly looking down, very much in the same way a barn or Short-eared Owl would.  Sometimes from a distance this behaviour can lure you into thinking there is an owl hunting.


The ever increasing circles brought them closer to the camera.


For some reason I had ignored the field on the opposite side of the lane, and when i turned I noticed it was full of birds too.  At first I thought they were thrushes, but then could see that they were actually Golden Plover.

Using the hedge as cover I was able to get quite close to the birds as they fed.


In total spread out across the field I managed to count 160 in the field, for once they were all actively feeding rather than just grouped all together in a roost.

As a car went past several of the birds were spooked and flew away from the hedge calling.


A small group flew around calling, and then headed away to the south and the fields on the other side of the farm.  The remainder continued to feed but a considerable way away from the camera, and also into the sunlight.

I carried on walking, stopping every so often to scan the fields.  A lone Buzzard sat on the lower metal of the pylon, scanning the area too.
 

Around the farm buildings there were Pied Wagtail and Chaffinches, and in the fields at the back of the barns I could hear Fieldfare, while I could see Redwing feeding out in the open.

Another flock of twelve Lapwing were at the back of the field, they were as ever very flighty, a low flying Woodpigeon putting them up.  They circled and split up, nine headed out across the field and away while the remaining three returned to the field, dropping to the ground in that floppy style holding the wings high as they settled.


The call of another Nuthatch caught my attention, and I turned to find the owner of the call sitting high on a branch above me.


In sheltered south facing spots the catkins were already showing on the hazel trees, the sun turning then a lovely golden yellow.


I decided to walk around the fields to Andrew lane, I don't very often do this circuit in this direction, normally choosing to come up the lane.  The different direction showed me some very different views, this looking down the lanes as I descended.  The frost still present where the sun was unable to reach


As I approached the paddocks I was presented with another different view.  Looking across the valley I could see the path leading to Old Down, and the finger post just visible by the stile.  I wondered why I had not noticed this before and realised that when I stop at the gates to look over the fields and paddock the view is obscured by the trees.  It was only because i came down the hill to the gate that I was able to see it.


As I passed the houses I could hear once again the chuckling of Fieldfares, but I could only see Redwing in the trees.


The Redwing were feeding on Rowan berries, the same berries that are outside, or were outside my house, they are all gone now.  The berries were draped over a wall, and were present on both sides.  It was on the other side of the wall as I approached that the Fieldfare were feeding, and I finally managed to see them.


At the bottom of Andrew Lane there was a large gathering of Magpies. I had seen several when scanning over the paddocks, and here there were at least eight present on the ground and along the fences.  However at the bottom of the land there was another large gathering, mostly in the trees. 


They were then joined by a group of Rooks, and from the commotion that started up I wondered if they had found an owl or something in the trees.  I walked around to get a closer look but couldn't see anything, and as I arrived all the birds flew off.

I turned back and started to walk up through the Desmond Paddocks towards Old Down.  The field was full of Fieldfare, their chuckles being hear every so often as I disturbed them as I passed by.  I counted at least 115 feeding there.

I walked through the wood, the frost in the ground now coming out which made walking difficult as the top of the path was slippery mud on top of a frost hard base.  I stopped to look out across the paddocks and away to the west and the now dropping sun.  The air was full of mist, not a good sign for the evening and rush hour tomorrow.
 

As I reached the crossroads I heard the calls of a Marsh Tit, and quickly found it in amongst the bushes along with a second bird.


As I walked east towards the Gradwell exit the sun was behind me, and sending long shadows and golden light.  Every so often this would pick out a dead frong of bracken and turn it into a thing of beauty.


As I walked along Gradwell towards the turn into Brislands I stopped to check the field.  Earlier when I had walked past it had been empty save for a few Blackbirds and a lone Buzzard in the tree.  Now it was covered in Redwing, moving with that methodical searching approach that involves a stop and start technique, the stop usually resulting in a stab to the ground.  I counted 87 birds in the field.


Brislands takes you once again on an west to east path, and the sun shines straight up the lane.  This time it was catching and highlighting the lighter green on the underneath of the Holly leaves, casting some lovely patterns against the much darker upper waxy leaves.


I walked home with the chattering and whistles of Starlings from the tops of houses, mostly the television aerials.  Those that were not singing away were flying around in small groups as if trying to get a murmuration going.

Another lovely but cold day, this afternoon providing a contrast to the walk I had yesterday morning.  The cold weather is set to continue, albeit with maybe freezing fog through the early part of the week.  A continued spell of cold weather can have an adverse effect on the wildlife here, with birds setting off to find slightly warmer climes, and an easier search for food.  Hopefully this won't be the case too much, and just maybe new visitors might appear from the even colder areas, we shall have to see.