Monday, 21 May 2018

15th - 20th May - Feel The Rain Like An English Summer

I decided that I needed to go and see what the Bluebells were like in Old Down, I haven't been in there for some time, and as the weather was lovely this evening I thought I would take a look.  My walk took me down Brislands Lane where I was serenaded by several Blackbirds and a few Robins. The leaves are now all completely out and everything looks splendid in the evening sunshine.

As I left the houses the field to the south of the lane was full of rape and shining bright yellow in the sun, It was though probably past its best now, with the blooms fading a little, but still quite spectacular.

It is quite a while now since all the forestry work in the wood.  Straight after that the ground was clear and the flowers could be seen quite easily.  Since then though with the extra light the bracken and bramble has flourished, and it is hard to see through to the floor, and as a consequence where there were carpets of bluebells these have now been engulfed by the tangle of bramble.

 I walked through to the crossroads,and then turned to the east, a detour to check if the owl was about, which it wasn't, and then back onto the main path.  What bluebells there were are now past there best, so I decided to check on the other side of the wood.  here there were a few more, and in a slightly better condition.

Sometimes it is better to view the bluebells under cloud cover as the sunlight seems to wash out the blue.

 Along the edge of the wood they were perhaps still at their best.

As I walked out of the wood i was taken by the trees above me and the leaves against the sky.

The path that leads to Gradwell Lane takes you through the Rape field.  Probably not ideal if you suffer from hay fever, but nonetheless impressive


Coming back along Gradwell Lane a male Orange Tip butterfly flew past, and then flew around as if looking to land.  After an age it finally settled and I was able to get in close to photograph it.

Another insect that is still about is the Bee Fly, this year due to the cold spring they have been very late emerging.  A cross between a bee and a fly this little insect has a very different approach to egg laying, flicking the eggs from the oviduct into the vegetation or holes.  I videoed this one, I don't think it was egg laying, but the down draft from the wings was clearing away small particles of soil.

 With the sunny weather holding over the weekend, I decided to put the moth trap out for the first time this year.  Whilst there was nothing really spectacular, it was nice to start to look at the moths once again.

This is a Pale Tussock, a moth I have regularly caught over the years.

This one again a regular in the garden, the White Ermine.

While this one is not so regular, the Figure of Eighty so called for the mark on the side that looks like the number 80.

Other moths present but not photographed were Brimstone, Clouded Border and the Flame Shoulder.

The juvenile Robins are still present, and are now getting their adult plumage.  This will put pressure on them as the parents will not want them about.  Both fledglings have become quite brazen in coming for mealworms which presents us with a problem, as they may become too dependent on these easy hand outs, but it is lovely to see and feed them.

Of the other garden nesting birds the Starlings sound like they will fledge any day, and while the Blackbirds seem to have been feeding birds, there has not been any sign of fledglings in the garden.

On Sunday the House Martins were starting to re-build the nest under the eaves that fell down over the winter.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

2nd May - Month of May, Everybody's in Love

For the first time since I have been writing this blog I have missed a complete month.  During April we were away in Sri Lanka, details of which can be seen here, and that combined with the awful late spring weather we have been having and the fact that I was in Germany for the short heatwave, have not really made it conducive for any wildlife watching.

So far I have Seen only one Swallow around the village, this passed through in the late afternoon of Tuesday the 24th.  never a truer statement than one Swallow doesn't make a summer!  Of the House Martins, that last year arrived ten days earlier than their usual timing, there has not been any sign, and with the current weather and forecast I don't expect to see them before the end of the coming weekend

Butterflies have been far and few between, a single Peacock on the 21st is the sole total so far this year, but I must admit I didn't go looking during the short heatwave as I was away in Munich a the the time.

The resident birds though have started breeding, singing Song and Mistle Thrush and the Blackbirds signal the fact that there must be nests nearby, and in my garden one pair of Blackbirds and both pairs of Robins have been taking mealworms away to presumably feed to nestlings.  Interestingly our tame Blackbird has paired with a female that has a damaged tail, and as yet it doesn't seem that they have bred, they both come to feed, and do not take anything away with them.  The tame male though, will call the female when worms are put out.

Of the regular migrants aside from the House Martins and Swallows, Chiffchaffs have been heard singing along the lanes, and there are also a few Blackcaps in song.  I have also heard in the middle of the night, Tawny Owls calling.

Around the fields there are lambs, but they don't look very happy about it, they need the sun to bring out the best in them.

So with very little seen recently here are some reminders of what should be about, and the hope that soon the weather will behave, and we can enjoy a proper spring before it merges into the summer doldrums.

By now Swallows should be lining up on the overhead wires around the stables....

While not a common summer visitor, by now I would have expected to have heard the lovely trilling and cascading song of the Willow Warbler.

By the way there was an explosion of blossom just after the mini heatwave in the middle of April, but that has now been virtually blown away by the recent high winds and rain.

There are Lambs about but as yet they have not been able to enjoy conditions such as these.

And butterflies such as this Small Tortoiseshell have been as common as rocking horse faeces.....

 There are pockets of Bluebells about along the roadside, and I hoipe that with the forecast dry and bright weather this weekend I can get the chance to enjoy the annual bluebell event in Old Down Wood, along with as well a few Early Purple Orchids.

So it is a case of waiting, today the rain falls and the temperature is struggling to get anywhere near double figures, surely spring has to return soon?

Friday, 16 March 2018

16th March - A Bundle of Snow

After a couple of weeks with the promise of spring, we are facing yet more wintry weather.  Today though the sun is out, the temperature is in double figures, and the birds are singing.  In fact both Robin pairs seem to have nests and maybe even young to feed.  When they come to the mealworms they will eat one, then take of with two or three in their beak.  One goes to the left and the other to the right.  Lets hope the cold snap doesn't have bad consequences for both.

As I passed through the kitchen this morning I looked out to the feeders as I always seem to do, and saw a Starling feeding on the patio, but just to the right of it was a very pale and pink bird that I immediately recognised as a Redpoll, but also realised that it was not like the Lesser Redpolls of which there have been up to four in the garden.  It was much paler and appeared larger than the Lesser Redpolls.  I immediately ran upstairs to get my camera, praying that it would still be there when I came down.  It was still about

The taxonomy of Redpolls is difficult and unsettled, with several different very closely related forms of Redpolls which have been considered as anything from one to five species although some studies favour distinct three species

The species are:

Arctic Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni)
  • ·         h. hornemanni (Greenland Arctic Redpoll)
  • ·         h. exilipes (hoary Redpoll)

Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea)
  • ·         f. flammea (mealy Redpoll)
  • ·         f. islandica (Icelandic Redpoll)
  • ·         f. rostrata (Greenland Redpoll)

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret)

But this is certainly not definite. Global lists currently support either two species (Common and Arctic Redpoll) or a single species (Common Redpoll).  Most recently, genomewide analyses found differences in gene expression but no genetic divergence, suggesting that plumage forms have originated recently, within a single interbreeding lineage, and do not represent species boundaries to separate them.

So what did I have in the garden, from the pictures and behaviour  was this a Mealy Redpoll, or Common Redpoll Acanthis Flammea Flammea?   Interestingly the genus name comes from the Greek Akanthis a name for a now unidentifiable bird.

The bird was much paler than the Lesser Redpolls with the upper parts being greyish white, and lacking any buff colour, while the underparts were paler, and where there was streaking this was well defined.

From the rich pink flush on the breast and forehead this was a male.  The bill was yellowish with a fine conical shape.

It moved over the patio with a slow creeping style very reminiscent of a feeding Snow Bunting, searching for, and finding seeds under the grass that met the edge of the slabs.

The rump was also distinctive, at first I thought it was a pale white, but I could see as it crept away from me that it was in fact pink.

As it crept away from me, I moved to the next window where I could view it head on as it worked along the edge of the grass.

Another feature that stood it out from the Lesser Redpolls were the flared white feathers from the sides over the coverts.

Here you can see the shape of the bill, and pale underparts and the defined large streaks

But this behaviour was strange, it appeared to be trying to swallow

The Helm Guide to Bird Identification refers to two whitish tramlines down the back, and in this view these are clearly visible.

Looking back through Hampshire bird reports the last reported Common or Mealy Redpoll was in 2014, there was a single report from Crookham Village on the 10th March.

Here though it has buff brown coloured sides to the head, in the Mealy this should be lighter and more grey.

When I reported it I was not 100% certain, I read up on the identification and reviewing the photographs I was still not 100% certain.  Also the problems with swallowing was not a good sign  In comparison here is one of the Lesser Redpolls, and you can see the similarity with the head colour and markings.

The Mealy stayed for about 15 minutes, and did not return when I was looking through the day.  

On Saturday I saw it again and there were more pointers to Lesser Redpoll, in fact I think the bird is diseased, and has trichonomosis, while it doesn't stay when I approach it is very lethargic, and constantly throws the head back as if trying to swallow.  The Goldfinches I have seen diseased seem to plump up and look bigger, and unfortunately everything points to this with this Redpoll.  Time to clean and bring in the feeders!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

3rd March - Are You Warming Up?

Yesterday was cold with frequent snow showers, this morning though it was much brighter after overnight snow.  By the time we were ready to go out there were signs that the sunshine was possibly going to break through.  Snow is always nice on a weekend when you don't have to go anywhere, which was exactly our situation.  We decided to make the most of it, and walk the lanes, go through the woods, and then finally end up at the Treehouse for a coffee.

We set off around 10.00 and walked up Brislands Lane.  The snow was melting, and it was slushy around the roads, but there was still plenty of the white stuff about to ensure we would be walking in a winter wonderland, and across the fields there were monochromatic views.

Under the hedges you could hear the sound of leaves being turned over, and the reason would be a Blackbird or Song Thrush digging through the leaf litter.  Despite the cold weather there were also Robins singing in places.

Coming out of the houses and into the field a single Lapwing flew towards us, something I didn't expect to see as there had been reports of a large movements of Lapwings south.

I was told as I hadn't experienced it but the wind was very strong, and the snow had been very dry.  This combination produced a lot of drifting, the snow being blown off the fields, and collecting around the hedges lining the lane.

Looking across the fields you could see green through the snow where the wind had blown it away.

What I thought to be a leaf blowing across the lane in front of us and into the hedge was in fact a Wren, and we stood close to it as it worked its way around the base of the tree, inspecting every crevice in a search for small insects and spiders.

From the tree trunk it made its way through the snow just under the hedge, again coming very close to us.

We turned into the Old Down entrance where there were some significant drifts coming off the field and blocking the path.

The drifts were quite deep, and as I tried to make my way through them I fell.  In my effort to protect the camera I ended up rolling around and unable to easily get up.  In the end I rolled over to the fence, and used a post to leverage myself up, much to the amusement of Helen, who managed to find an easier route without any difficulty.

Looking back as we walked down the path you can see how high the drifts were.

The sun was now out, and with it came more bird song, Great Tits were very vocal, and we could also hear singing Dunnocks and Robins.  We reached the crossroads and turned to the left, I wanted to see if there was any sign of the Tawny Owl, but as we walked we heard one call from a completely different place.  Unusual to hear them at this time of day, but with the weather how it has been nothing is unusual at the moment.

All the main paths were covered in snow, but the ground was frozen, and it was nice and easy to walk.

As I suspected after hearing one call there was no sign of the Tawny Owl.  We took the path to the main footpath, passing more calling Great Tits, and also a pair of Marsh Tits.  On the main path a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in one of the Larch Trees just off the path.  We stood and waited and eventually it showed on the side of the trunk, using one of the broken branches to drum on.

We left the wood and walked to the pond.which was frozen all over, and as is always the way when a pond is frozen ot was littered with broken branches.  It would seem it is a natural reaction to always try and break the ice.

A little further round there were sledge tracks leading from the picnic area down across the ice, madness.

We walked around the pond, with changing views as we did so.

Then the more traditional view with the jetty in the foreground

We were about to leave the pond when I noticed the pair of Mallards on the ice.  They had probably been on the bank and as we came to close walked out onto the ice.  The ice provided a lovely background, and shows off the beauty of the drake.

As we moved away the drake stopped to watch us.

The water under the jetty was not frozen, and it appeared as if the pair were heading towards the open water.

We left the Mallard on the ice, they never went to the water as we watched.  We headed off, and as we turned to head down hill at the junction with Kitwood Lane a Red Kite appeared above our heads, cue camera.

I never tire of watching this beautiful raptor.

It drifted away to the south, and we walked down the hill.  The snow covered field held a very large flock of Woodpigeons once again, although you can't see them in this picture.

As we reached the bottom of the hill, a small covey of Red-legged Partridges could be seen on the edge of the field.

On a hedge close to the school a Song Thrush sat.

The snow was melting now quite quickly, and the roads were much clearer than they had been first thing in the morning.

We walked up Alton Lane, heading for the Garden Centre.  From a way off we could hear the calls of the Rooks.  The rookery at the nursery is in full swing, and birds could be seen flying around carrying sticks for the nests, but it was likely that birds were also sitting on the nests already.

 We stopped at the Garden Centre for a coffee, then headed back home across the fields.  A Lapwing flew up from a field that was without snow.  I can only assume all the snow was blown of the field by the wind, but it did look quite strange surrounded by all the white.

Once home I spent some time topping up the feeders.  During the afternoon three Red Kites drifted across the garden, at one point one of the birds dive bombed another over us.

 They seem to like the garden areas, and you can only suspect that maybe someone is feeding them.

 With three birds close together it was no surprise that they were calling to each other.

Late afternoon saw rain arrive, and the snow melt was accelerated, I suspect that when we wake up in the morning it will be almost all gone, and hopefully we can start to think of spring once more