Sunday, 10 December 2017

8th December - Frosty Wind Made Moan

At this time of year the garden is probably the best place to watch the birds, the feeders bring them in close, and you don't have to pursue the moving flocks through the woods.  With the weather turning cold the birds are quite frequent as well.

Goldfinches are the most numerous, with my four feeders holding four on each port at times.  Greenfinches and Siskins have to wait their turn, nipping in when a Goldfinch  decides it has had enough, which is not that often.

Blue Tits have been about in good numbers this year, with a maximum of six birds being seen at any one time.  This individual took the time to sit in the midday sunshine.

In the sunshine today there was activity overhead with the calls of Redwings, and I am sure there were one or two feeding on the berries in the tree opposite the house, but I was never able to see them.  The Blackbirds though were busy devouring the red berries.

In the trees by the berries were a flock of House Sparrows.  They have taken up residence in the conifer hedge, and you can hear their chatter all through the day when the sun is out.

This cock bird was also taking in the midday sun.

On the roof opposite my office a pair of Jackdaws were walking over the roof.  I have often wondered how the lumps of moss have managed to get on the drive, and watching these two it was suddenly apparent that the Jackdaws dig into the moss and flick it about in the hope of finding bugs.

A good sign it is colder and that the birds are looking for easy meals is the number of Starlings visiting the garden.  This morning there were plenty coming through.  Their favourites are the fat balls and nibbles, but they also enjoy a good bath, throwing the water everywhere.

As the sun fell in the sky it became a lot colder, and the birds were starting to prepare to go to roost and keep warm through what could probably be the coldest night of this winter.  Small groups of Starlings can be seen flying around the roof tops, and settling on the TV aerials.  These two took on a golden hue in the setting sun.

Back in the garden a flock of Long-tailed Tits came through, they are regular at this time almost every day, the maximum number has been ten, and they feed together on the fat balls and the nibbles feeders.

Our tame Blackbird, took its time but eventually returned to the garden in October, it would be really interesting to know where he went, we thought he had gone for ever, but he is definitely back.  Without the pressure of feeding young he is not as confident, but will come when called and will sit in the tree while the meal worms are put out.  Feeding time is early in the morning and just before dusk.

Today he took his share of the worms, then was off leaving some for our other tame bird the Robin.  In the morning both will sit ion the tree waiting for us, and the blackbird, while objecting to the presence of any other Blackbird is happy to let the Robin have its share.

 Finally the sun set with that cold yellowish orange light that for me is a sign of a frosty night.

Hopefully if the cold spell continues we will start to see some of the more unusual birds such as Brambling, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers coming to the feeders.

Monday, 6 November 2017

5th November - Come On Show 'em What You Are Worth

We have been away once again, this time a trip to India, full details can be found here on the Away Blog

As we arrived back last Sunday this has been the first weekend where we have had free time for a long while.  Yesterday the weather was damp and quite dreary, but this morning the sun was out and the sky was a lovely blue.  Yesterday driving to Basingstoke the trees and road looked dull and dirty with the rain and cloud, this morning it was a bright and fantastic colours, the perfect weather for an autumnal walk.  Just as we were about to leave Helen called out for me to see a male Sparrowhawk perched at the top of one of the trees in our garden.  There have been up to six Blue Tits at any one time on the feeders, and once again the presence of the small birds has brought in the predator.  he was gone though as I tried to get a photograph

We decided to head off in a different direction, walking up the hill towards the footpath that runs between Blackberry Lane and Alton Lane.  As we walked a Red Admiral passed over our heads.  Walking down the footpath there was very little about, no sight or sound of Redwing and Fieldfare, just the odd warble of song from a Robin.

From the footpath we turned up Alton Lane heading for Telegraph Lane, a Buzzard flew low across the open field, and drew the attention of a Rook, the Rook wasn't really that interested and left the hawk to head towards us.

 It came around the fir tree, and as it saw us banked away and then returned back across the field

 We walked down Weathermore Lane, and then to the bridleway.  It is the first time I have been here for some time, and was quite shocked to see the clearance of trees that has taken place, providing a huge open space with saplings planted, hopefully to bring in some diversity amongst the trees.

We walked along the lane with marsh Tits calling above us, and Bullfinches too.  Other than that it was still very quiet.  rather than walk through Lords Wood we walked up Brightstone lane.  In the hedgerow another Red Admiral was sunning on the bracken leaves.

Red Admirals in November is becoming a regular occurrence, and on the walk today we definitely saw four different individuals.

At the cross roads we turned left and headed on past the golf course and then to the right to walk down to Newtown Farm.  They have changed the fields around, what was once pasture is now planted with winter wheat.

And where there were fields of maize over the last few years the field is now set out for pasture with sheep in the far distance, and signs indicating that cattle would be moving around too.

As we reached the stables a few Meadow Pipits flew up calling and settling on the fence .

Always a good spot for Pied Wagtails a smart looking male was sitting on the barbed fence with the perfect background for a black and white bird.

 In fact it was such a good composition I took some more.

We carried on past the barns and the stables and then around past the cottages.  Rooks and Jackdaws were covering the fields, and every so often they would fly up in a black cloud.  As we turned to walk down towards Lye Way the colours in the trees and bushes alongside the footpath looked splendid, autumn is well and truly here now.

We walked on, taking the bridleway, and then up the hill to Kitwood.  The fields here had held maize through the summer and with them now harvested the Rooks, Jackdaws, Woodpigeons and Pheasants were feasting on the fallen corn.

I hoped for some thrushes at the corner with Swellinghill road but there was nothing about.  The clouds had rolled in and the wind had picked up making it quite chilly.  With nothing much of interest so far we decided to head down past the school, and on towards home.  The forecast was fro the first frost tonight, maybe it is not just autumn that is here, but winter is not too far away, what will it be like this year?



Sunday, 15 October 2017

15th October - And Fly A Diamond Night

The weather has become very mild and unseasonably warm over the last few days, but unfortunately without clear blue skies.  Heavy cloud has draped itself across the south, and at time this has become mist and fog.  The wind has been somewhere between south and south westerly, and to cap all this we are told we will get the remnants of a hurricane early into next week.

So what effect has this had on the wildlife around Four Marks?  Well very little to be true.  The one noticeable feature though is that the leaves are changing and falling quite quickly, this being a little earlier than in recent years.

I decided to walk through Old Down with the objective of looking for fungi.  As I walked along Brislands I could hear, and had brief views of Jays as they foraged in the oak trees.  Coming out into the open as I walked towards Old Down, seep calls above produced four Redwing heading to the west.  The fields were also busy with Meadow Pipits, and I could also make out the sub song of one or two Skylarks.

Mixed in with the Meadow Pipits were Yellowhammer, and a small group settled in the tree alongside the road.

Walking through the woods there were groups of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests calling from the tops of the trees.  I took the north perimeter track, but it quickly became clear that there was hardly any fungi about other than the bracket fungi on the fallen branches.  There has been a distinct decline in fungi here over the last three years, in fact after the forestry work.  Its disappointing, and difficult to understand why.

I could hear the begging calls of a bird of prey coming from the adjacent field, and stepped out onto the edge of the wood to get a better look.  As I did so I could see the long and lazy wings of a Red Kite lifting up from the field.  It has recently been ploughed and was probably providing some earthworms as an easy snack.  I followed the Kite as it spiraled up from the ground.  This is an immature bird, from this year's brood, and was also probably the owner of the begging calls.

It spiraled, taking it out against a background of the fields

Gaining height.

Then one became three, with two other birds coming from the other direction.

The fields over towards the Watercress Line were being ploughed and drilled, and the kites drifted in that direction to join the many Gulls all looking for an easy meal.

I walked back through the wood, and up the main path which is now overgrown.  Because the farmer has ploughed to the edge of the wood, where the footpath should come out it means walking through the soil.  People have now created another path which comes out close to the stile leading down into the Desmond Paddocks.  As a result the main path is not walked that much and the bramble and nettles have taken over.

Past the Ash trees and leading up to the crossroads, the path opens out a little more.

As I turned towards Swellinghill Pond a Buzzard drifted over the tops of the trees.

At Swellinghill Pond there were now only four Mallard, so this year there does not seem to have been the build up we have seen over the last three years.  The pond was very quiet, a typical autumnal scene.

I walked down the lane, turning towards the school.  As I walked into Gradwell a Red Admiral was feeding on the ivy.  There had been quite a few Red Admirals about today, all on the wing, but this was the first settled one.

As well as the Red Admiral the other notable insect seen today was the Hornet.  In Old Down there were several about, buzzing past showing off the yellow and red colours, and looking quite big.

I continued to hear the raucous calls of Jays above us, why is it such beautiful birds have such an ugly call?  The Jays were not alone in collecting the acorns though.  Walking through the woods you could hear rustling in the leaves, and every so often movement through the branches.  The Grey Squirrels are busy at this time, and as I came along Brislands towards home one took the time to sit on a branch above me.

Despite the heavy cloud the sun was trying, and every so often there would a brief spell of sunshine, but during the afternoon the clouds finally rolled back and there was blue sky.  The Red Admirals were still about, and with the sunshine became attracted to the buddleia flowers in the garden.

There was also a Small Tortoiseshell that didn't stay, but a Large White that did.

As well as the butterflies there were also bees and this White-tailed Bumblebee was also taking advantage of the nectar in the buddleia.

October continues to be yet another strange month.  It is not just here locally that it seems to be quiet, the autumn has not been that productive around Hampshire.  It just seems that all the good stuff is on either side of us, and we are being missed.  Winter is now not that far away, the Tawny Owls are calling in the early morning in Reads Field, and pretty soon the garden will be full of birds on the feeders.  

Monday, 9 October 2017

9th October - The Violets Explode Inside Me

A weekend of two halves, wet and windy on Saturday followed by a calm, warm and sunny day on Sunday.  Saturday saw me braving the elements at Farlington Marshes, where the best bird of the day was a Red Kite over the house when I returned home.  Through the last week the Swallow has remained at the horse paddocks on Alton Lane, last being seen on the 5th, while the calls of Chiffchaffs have continued with even one in the garden on Sunday.  The Roe Deer continue to graze in the field alongside Gradwell Lane.  Despite some extensive listening over the last few days there has not been any sign of the autumn's first Redwing, I am sure though that it will not be long before their distinctive call is heard.

A feature of the garden over the last few days has been the large flock of Goldfinches that have been present.  As ever they will collect in the surrounding trees and then drop down to the feeders.  On Saturday afternoon the feeders were all occupied with sixteen birds using the available perches, while in the trees I counted 23 birds making a total of 39 present which is the largest count I have ever had.

Monday saw a return to the gloom and was mixed as well with a drizzly rain.  The Starlings have been building up in numbers, and the odd few can be seen flying around the houses and settling on the TV aerials at dusk.  This morning, I noticed for the first time that they have acquired their winter plumage, the entire plumage densely sprinkled with yellowish-white spots.

The attraction this morning were the last remaining berries on the Rowan.

Once again the weather is not helping in bringing in the birds, but there are signs that we could be in for an Indian Summer into next week.

On a late afternoon run, there were Redwings calling over Telegraph Lane....winter is coming!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

3rd October - Take Those Golden Wings and Learn To Fly Again

Today we said goodbye to the man who has had the most influence on my life.  In all aspects, my education, my sporting success, and my love of the outdoors.  We will all miss him so much, but my Dad goes to be with my Mum, and I know that somewhere they will be watching over us all.

When we arrived at the house this morning, and pulled back the blinds, there in full bloom was a single red rose, through out the summer I have not seen a rose flowering in the garden.  A coincidence I know but a lovely one.

Mum and Dad rest in peace, love you both very much

Sunday, 1 October 2017

1st October - So I Can Shed My Leaves And Let It Blow Through Me

It has been a strange September, normally we are treated to a warm dry spell, but this year it has been a real mixture, with warm, cold wet and dry spell.  Around here it needs the warm and sunny weather to bring something out, and  this month I have only been able to get out on one of those days.

The month though, did end with a good sighting.  While out on one of our walks on Thursday I noticed a bird of prey over the houses as we walked around Badger Close.  At first I thought it was a Buzzard, but something about the way it was flying was not as you would expect from a Buzzard.  There was a long tail, plus long wings, not the bulky type you would see in a Buzzard.  I ran up the hill to get a better look, and as it banked away with the wings in a classic "V", I could see the pale colour on the head and the leading edge of the wings.  It was a Marsh Harrier, and it drifted away to the south and finally out of view.

Of course no camera, or binoculars but the identification was solid for me, and another bird of prey to add to an impressive list locally, and a new bird for the patch.

As well as this surprise there have been sightings of Swallow all week, and the continued calls of Chiffchaffs in the trees.  The House Martins in Reads Field all seem to have now moved on, and we are left with the small groups of Starlings whirling around the rooftops, attempting murmarations just before dusk

Today though was the first of October, a new month and hopefully a little more productive.  The weather though was not playing ball, and we awoke to rain.  In fairness we had been expecting it as the warnings were that we would be getting the remnants of Hurricane Maria.  Remnants was probably right all we had in the way of wind was a brisk southerly.  By midday the rain had stopped and I took the chance to pop out to start the month off.

As I walked along Brislands there was a breeze, but it was a mild wind.  It was though blowing the leaves about, and it now felt like autumn was well and truly with us.  These overcast conditions though, once again, seemed to keep everything quiet.  There was the odd sequence of Robin song every so often, but apart from that very quiet.  As I reached the junction with Gradwell a Jay called from the Ash tree on the corner.  Always a shy bird this time of year is the best time to see them as they are caching acorns to see through the winter.

As always the Jay managed to hide in amongst the leaves and I was nable to get a better view.  Leaving the Jay another animal collecting nuts ran along the top of a gate, this one a Grey Squirrel, and it was carrying hazel nuts.

As I reached the entrance to Old Down, several Meadow Pipits flew over calling, and heading out into the middle of the field.  Scanning out across the field I could see a Buzzard drifting lazily above what was probably the A31.  As I stood watching the Buzzard, I heard scuffling close by and this cock Pheasant appeared looking quite smart.

The walk through the mud in the wood could have been made a little more easier if there had been anything to see or even hear.  It was though almost completely quiet.  Normally I would hear the call of a Wren, or the song of a Robin, or a Blackbird would fly across in front of me, but today, all I heard were two calls from an invisible Chiffchaff.

From the wood I headed to the pond, as I approached I could see two Moorhens on the water, and walking around the outside I first found six Mallard.

Then a little further round another two.  There were six drakes and two ducks, the ducks seemingly paired up.  This is now the highest count here, eight.  The high numbers usually peak around the this week of October, so there is still time for the numbers to build up.

Again it was quiet around the pond so I walked on, and came across a patch of trees where there were repeated Chiffchaff calls, and also those belonging to Blue and Great Tits.  I decided to stand and wait to see if something would show.  I had some brief views of the tits, but I was hoping to see the warblers.  One flew out to catch a fly, but disappeared back into the leaves.

Finally I managed some brief views of a Chiffchaff as it moved through the branches.

I waited but I was not going to get a better view, and as it had started to rain again.  Walking on I headed back down toward the school.  In the field were Woodpigeons feeding, and another Pheasant close to the hedges.

I turned up Gradwell, again in silence, and in fact all the way home I can't recall any bird song or calls at all.  The dry spell though had come to an end, and the drizzle had returned, so I should be thankful that at least I had some time out.  Not much to show for it though, and I hope October does not continue where September left off.

Friday, 22 September 2017

22nd September - To Stoop, To Scorn, And Knuckle Under

At last I was able to get out with the sun shining.  The morning started clear with a deep blue sky, and a little chilly, however by lunch time clouds had bubbled up, but there was still a good amount of blue sky about, and with that plenty of sunshine.

The garden has been very quiet all week, this is as a result of taking in the feeders due to the birds being sick.  The Robin is still about, but still no sign of our Blackbird, I am afraid we have to assume he has gone, maybe away, or maybe just gone.  It is sad, but we like to think he was looked after over the last year.

Out and about this week there have been Swallows around the fields, and House Martins around the houses in Reads Field.  In the trees the calls of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers have been regular but with few actual sightings

I drove up to the pond, at this time of year when the sun comes out there is quite a show of dragonflies around the pond.  Out on the water were a pair of Moorhen, and on the far bank the Mallard numbers had increased by one.

As I scanned the edge of the pond, I realised that the mallard numbers had in fact doubled as there were two more hiding in the iris bed.

There were dragonflies about, Common Darters coming over the water and onto the bank where they would settle on the grass.

They are commonly seen warming up on seats and boardwalks, taking advantage of the heat generated by the wood.  This one though was settled on a fallen leaf.

I decided to walk along the footpath that runs close to the field all the way up to Lye WAy.  The sun aspect was very good and with the ivy now flowering there was chance of butterflies and maybe some warblers.  As I walked I could hear Chiffchaffs calling, and even breaking out into song in places.

One or two butterflies passed me, from the size I assume these were Red Admirals.  I reached some tall oaks and ash trees that were covered in ivy.  Butterflies were visible at the top of the trees, settling on the leaves and taking in the warmth of the sunshine. I picked out a Comma.

And a Speckled Wood.

The Red Admirals were the most numerous, with about 5 seen around the ivy.

They stayed at the top of the tree though, never coming down closer.

Chiffchaffs would appear and fly through the branches, they were also singing and calling, but never settled in view for an acceptable photograph, this was the best.

The warm weather was not just bringing out the butterflies, a Hornet was attracted to the hawthorn berries.

As I looked up at the ivy hoping that the chiffchaffs might appear I noticed a falcon overhead.  From the shape it was clearly a Hobby, and flew slowly over my head.

This was the first of the year, and while they have been seen almost every year on passage in the spring and autumn, I have never been able to get a good picture, today was different.

The sun didn't help in this case, the Hobby flying into it, and making it impossible to track as it headed off towards Ropley.

Satisfied at last with a good bird, I walked on towards Lyeway.  Here I walked around to the fields where there was a good collection of gulls feeding in the recently ploughed field.

There were Black-headed Gulls, Herring and Common Gulls of varying ages, and a solitary Lesser Black-backed Gull.

I scanned for any chance of Wheatear, but other than a single Meadow Pipit there was nothing about.

I walked through the farm, and then along Lye Way towards Kitwood.  A Juvenile Kestrel came out of the line of trees along the bridleway, and flew off towards the south.

Again flying through the sun!

I turned towards the pond, where I was hoping I could spend some more time trying to photographing the dragonflies in flight.  The Common Darters had been joined now with two Southern Hawkers.  They fly alongside the edge of the pond, and patrol a territory, darting to chase off anything that came into the area.

The darters were still about, and one pair were coupled.  The hawker was not happy with them being close and there would be battles as the hawker chased them off, and the darters fought back.

The Darters tended to spend their time further out over the water, and with the Hawkers about could not be seen settling on the grass on the bank.

Back home there was a Small Tortoiseshell on the very sparse buddleia flowers, and a Comma on one of the flower head spikes of the Scabious.

I have been sparse in my walks locally, mainly due to the lack of interest, but as is always the case it just takes one event to reignite the interest, and today the arrival of a Hobby has started that process, lets hope that there are a few more through to the end of October.