Friday, 23 September 2016

23rd September - Bury Your Head in the Sand

The garden has been very quiet through the week as a result of having to remove the feeders in an attempt to overcome the outbreak of Trichomonosis that had been affecting the Greenfinches and Goldfinches.  It was quite sad to watch thehealthy birds searching for the feeders, but it was for their own good.

Quiet in the garden during the day, but just before dawn over the last few weeks there has been a male Tawny Owl calling when the weather was fine.  This morning though, the "tu wooo" calls were acknowledged by a "keevit", the male having now been joined by a female, it will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming weeks.  The frustration is though, I know they are there, but can I find them?  Can I ....

Today was a lovely morning clear blue azure skies with wispy clouds and some lovely autumnal sunshine, through the morning the clouds bubbled up a little, but it was till nice at lunchtime.  These were perfect conditions for catching up with dragonflies up at the pond, so I took the chance and headed there.  As I arrived the Moorhens were feeding among the lily pads.  there were three adult birds and two juveniles.  This year they seem to be a little bit braver, and didn't just bolt for the vegetation when I got out of the car.


There were plenty of dragonflies about consisting of two species, the majority being Common Darters.  I counted twelve, and then realise that three of them were actually two as they flew around oviposting on the lilies and around the side of the pond, so there were at least fifteen darters.

They are confiding dragonflies and will happily settle on the ground allowing you to be able to get close.  In warm conditions they will settle on branches, but when cooler they will use the ground or similar flat surfaces to warm up in the sun.


The other dragonfly was a Southern Hawker, and these are always busy flying constantly along the edge of the pond and then out over the water.


Hovering and then turning instantly just like a small remote controled helicopter.


I sat watching the dragonflies and attempting top photograph when I heard a whistle, at first I dared to dream, could it be a Kingfisher, then instantly realised what it was, a Grey Wagtail.  It flew in across the road and then low over the water in that long undulating flight, and landed in the mud at the far end of the pond.


I crept around the pond using the Iris bed as cover to get closer.  Over the last two years Grey Wagtails have been seen through the winter, with juvenile birds arriving in late October, this was the first one I have seen in September.


Female and first winter birds are very similar and this may be a first winter bird as the breast is a little greyer.


It continued to chase after insects in the mud, and as I watched it I realised that this was one of only a few true water birds that have appeared here at the pond, the others being the regular Mallard and Moorhen, with occasionally Coot and Grey Heron.


I returned to the sunshine and the dragonflies. The Common Darters were still marauding the lilies, and in between would  have no problem in chasing off the much bigger hawkers.  After some of these excursions they would return to the grass to refuel the muscles.


As I waited for the dragonflies to come close I noticed the Pond Skaters on the water, and with a close look you can see how these deadly predators move around on the water, their feet just lightly denting the meniscus


I then spent sometime watching a female Southern Hawker flying with the abdomen pointing down and hovering over the lily pads.  It never dropped to the water though so I could not confirm that it was oviposting.


There were two males present and little scuffles would break out if one came too close, they would come so close you could hear the clash of the wings.

I followed one that would move backwards and forwards along the side of the bank, allowing me to predict where it would turn up.


It amazing to understand how fast the wings beat, these were taken with a shutter speed of  500th of a second, yet the wings are still a blur.


It would hover, bank rise and fall just like a helicopter, or maybe I should say a helicopter behaves just like a dragonfly as these wonderful insects have been around for millions of years, the oldest fossil being found in Bavaria, Germany dated over 155 million years old.


It was a fruitful 45 minutes spent here, around me there were Goldcrests, Nuthatches and singing Chiffchaffs, and there was the bonus of the Grey Wagtail. The sun was warm and I also had some great photographs of the Jurassic helicopters.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

18th September - Feels Like You Made a Mistake

Saturday was mostly overcast, and quite cool compared to the heatwave temperatures in the middle of the week.  This morning though the sun was back albeit under watery skies.

At about 6.15 this morning a male tawny Owl was calling from the trees at the bottom of Reads Field.  It was very vocal for about 20 minutes, but as it got lighter it stopped.

The garden over the last few weeks has been extremely busy with Goldfinches and Greenfinches, but there has also been a sadder side, there have been two dead Goldfinches, and two Greenfinches.  

There are no signs of any trauma so it is not clear how they have died.  However today a juvenile Goldfinch was easily approached and it didn't look very well , and I wonder if they have contracted Trichomonosis which causes lesions in the throat of the infected bird.  This makes it progressively harder for the bird to swallow its food. In addition they may also show signs of general illness such as lethargy and fluffed-up plumage, affected birds may regurgitate food.  As a result I have cleaned and disinfected the feeders and bird baths in an effort to counter the possible disease, and will stop feeding them for a while, this will mean any infected birds will not infect others.



We decided to go out this morning for a walk, but first went to explore the trees at the bottom of Reads Field in the hope of finding the early morning caller.  Unfortunately despite some extensive searching there was nothing showing, not even any white washing that normally gives away a location.  The oak, ash and sycamore trees are quite dense, and also have a good covering of ivy so we suspected it must be hidden somewhere within the leaves and well out of sight.

leaving the trees we headed out along Brislands in what were humid conditions, and it was a lot warmer than Saturday.

Once again there were plenty of Robins singing, and also quite a few in the bushes, which may signal the arrival of birds from the continent, here for the winter of just passing through.

As well as the Robins there were several Yellowhammers in the bushes.



As we crossed the field towards the wood the grass coming through the stubble weaved interesting patterns in the field.



Entering the wood we came across several Speckled Woods, again they appeared to be everywhere, including in amongst the larch branches.



We walked through the wood on the main path, with Speckled Woods all around us.  As we passed the crossroads we came we stopped at the bramble as a small orange butterfly flew up from the bramble and then headed up into the canopy.  I watched it for as long as I could but in the end it evaded me.  The flight was very similar to that of a hairstreak, and the only possible species could be Brown Hairstreak, but I was not able to get a good enough view.

We waited to see if it would return, and as we did I noticed some movement of birds in the trees.  I managed to see two Spotted Flycatchers high up in a Scots Pine, but then watched as they flew off, they returned but only briefly and were high in the trees.  A party of Long-tailed Tits moved through the top of the trees.



Then several Chiffchaffs also appeared calling as they moved through the top of the trees.



All the small birds were then joined by a Great Spotted Woodpecker that signalled its arrival with a call, and then appeared at the top of a tree, which I could just see through the branches of the the one in front.



It was clear the butterfly was not coming back, nor the flycatchers so we continued our walk to the west end, and then out into the field where two Small Whites were moving around the small brassicas growing.



We walked down through the paddocks and then up Andrew Lane.  The only birds about were the ubiquitous Woodpigeons and up to eight Magpies.  At thew top of the hill in the sunshine it felt quite hot, so as we walked down through the footpath to head back to Swellinghill we were grateful to the shade and slight breeze.

Once again there were plenty of Speckled Wood about on the edge of the field coming out of the hedgerow, and also two Red Admiral, one posing very nicely for me.



But that was the highlight as we crossed the field, and at the pond there was no sign of any dragonflies.  We walked down to Kitwood and on a large clump of Ivy that was coming into flower there were more Red Admirals, several bees and a single Painted Lady.



It has been a good year for Painted Ladies around the patch, with at least five individuals being seen.

That was the end of anything of interest, and so we headed home where I got the disinfectant and washing up liquid out to clean all the feeders and bird baths.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

16th September - The Edge of Ambrosia

This week had seen incredible temperatures for September, peaking in places at 34 degrees.  Thursday night though saw the heatwave break with severe thunderstorms that carried on through the night and was still rumbling early Friday morning.

Overcast conditions continued through the day, but by the late afternoon the sun appeared and I took the chance to walk around Plain Farm.  When I parked I decided to take a different route, walking along the road, then crossing the field on the footpath.  Despite the rain the field was quite firm, and despite the fact there was no path laid out the walk wasn't too bad.

As I walked into the second field I disturbed quite a large flock of Meadow Pipits that flew around, settling amongst the stubble and then flying up as I approached a little too close.


There was a strip of land that was growing wheat,m probably for the partridhges and pheasants through the winter.  As I walked through it I disturbed several small bitrds that I could not identify.  I then noticed movement in the stubble, and as I scanned the field I found two Wheatears.  I had hoped there might be something this evening, and it must have been a sixth sense that sent me on a different route.  I walked along the line of the wheat and was able to get closer and some acceptable photographs.


The second bird flew away from me, but the other stayed close.


As I tried to get closer both birds flew off, flying around me and heading back to the area I had come from.   I walked back, and of course they flew off once again, returning to the place I had just left.


I left them and walked on, disturbing Meadow Pipits and several Skylarks.  

Back on the main path I could hear Chiffchaffs calling from within the hedge, and had brief views, but they never stayed long enough to get a suitable photograph.

As I headed down the main path I looked back at he lovely light being cast by the setting sun.


The walk back to the car produced nothing of any real interest, a Kestrel flew ahead of me but the dominant bird was of course the Woodpigeons and as I reached the car I could see them sitting on the wires in the golden light of the evening sunshine.


As I pulled away to head home the sunshine on the Mountains Plantation looked quite spectacular.


A short visit, but it proved to be successful with the first Wheatears of the year.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

7th September - As Idle As a Painted Ship

After the heavy rain of Saturday evening the weather returned to more settled conditions, which in turn became humid temperatures and very little wind.  This was accompanied by overcast skies and the conditions together provided conditions that were something of nothing, neither one thing or the other.  Away from the patch these conditions have not been conducive to bring migrating birds to the ground, but as I looked into the garden this morning it was pleasing to see a Chiffchaff around the Buddleia, maybe a sign of some potential?



Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler identification is a challenge at the best of times and here you can see the main differences, the dark legs stand out clearly, and the primary projections are short, but also the primary tips are evenly spaced.



It didn't stay long, but was enough for me to want to get out around lunch time.  When I did manage to get out I walked from the pond, the skies still a whitish grey, and no wind to speak of.  Several White butterflies flew past me, and I could hear Bullfinch in the bushes, and away into the wood the call of what I assumed was a juvenile Kestrel.

As I walked into the wood I was struck by the silence, and the stillness, nothing seemed to be moved, all the trees and bushes were becalmed.  

The path wound past the tall thistles that were now well past their best, but what small flower heads remained were an attraction to the Carder Bees still.



And on the stems the patterned whorls of the Yellow lipped Snails stood out amongst the fading green of the stems.



Walking along the path I disturbed 3 Speckled Wood butterflies, one settled on a leaf allowing me to view it from a different perspective, producing a cross eyed view.



Walking further into the wood it became clear that there were a lot of Speckled Woods about, and most of them were in prime condition, and looking to duel with any one of them that came too close.  You could see them spiralling upwards in  a dance before one would break off and fly away.  I counted over twenty individuals, and that was probably an under estimate, the condition while not full sun, appeared ideal for them.



At the crossroads I headed west to the ash trees, and stopped to look out over the fields, again I could hear Kestrels calling but couldn't see them.

I turned back flushing more Speckled Woods, but these were probably the same ones that I had seen earlier.  There were also a few whites, mainly Large but these didn't want to stop for me.

I headed back to the pond, and walked around the edge, as I did so finally the sun broke through, and almost instantly things began to happen.  A southern Hawker dragonfly came off the bush, it must have just been sitting there all the time I was there, then a Red Admiral flew across the pond and settled in the Beech tree above me.



I was then buzzed by a smaller dragonfly that eventually, after duelling with another settled on the grass.  A male Common Darter, the first of the year.



From the leaf it flew around before settling on the dried out grass.



The sun wasn't out for too long, and I waited to see if the hawker would return, but it was probably settled somewhere else once again.  

As I hadn't been around the patch for a while, and the best chance of finding a migrant Wheatear or Whinchat would be around the fields and hedgerows, I decided to drive around Lye Way, and down to Plain Farm.  First stop was the entrance to the fields on Lye Way.  As I scanned over the green sprouting field I heard the call of a Raven, and looked up to see it at the top of the nearest pylon.



After a series of loud "gronks" it was off over the field and away towards Charlwood.



On a pile of rubble and chalk waste put close to the road to stop any one using or driving on the verge, a small Buddleia was growing, and had a few flower heads that were attracting a Large White butterfly.



I continued the drive around the lanes, but didn't come across anything of major interest, at the Lye Way bridleway on the overhead wires were three Mistle Thrush, the first for awhile, and along Hawthorn Lane I disturbed several Yellowhammers.

Back home it was the Buddleia once again that was busy in the garden, the sun was now out, and along with the constant movement of bumble bees a lovely Small Tortoiseshell was busy on the flower heads.



Again the brick wall providing the perfect background.



It has been reported as a being a difficult year for Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, but the second brood seems to have been more successful.



A little later two Small Tortoiseshells were joined by a Peacock.



And then came along a Red Admiral.


Again the lovely orange background.


Two Large White butterflies then came in to nectar.


But the stars today were the Small Tortoiseshells and as the afternoon sun began to sink the light became so much better, against the blue sky.


Beautiful colours and patterns


But possible better against the orange background and the dappled light.


The calm conditions didn't deliver anything unusual or of interest, but there will always be something that attracts the eye, and as the cloud burnt away, the insects and butterflies came out to play, today despite being becalmed the Buddleia delivered.