Thursday, 15 August 2019

13th August - Guess Who Just Got Back Today?

Recent headlines from the United Kingdom Media:

“Large clouds of painted lady butterflies are being spotted across the UK and Ireland - and experts believe we are seeing a mass emergence that happens every 10 years.”  BBC News

“Millions of painted lady butterflies seen across UK in once-in-a-decade phenomenon.” The Independent

“'Millions' of Painted Lady butterflies set to arrive in the UK this summer.”  The Daily Telegraph

“Prepare for invasion of the painted ladies.”  The Times

“Millions of Painted Lady butterflies expected to start arriving in Britain.”  Reuters

“Britons urged to help record influx of painted lady butterflies.”  The Guardian

And many have been seen up and down the country, but up and until today they have been far and few between around Four Marks, until today.

On getting home this afternoon and wandering into the garden, I noticed a large butterfly flying forcefully around the garden, and heading for the row of buddleia that are in my neighbours garden, but the branches and flower heads extend well into mine.  It settled on the flower head, and although I was 99 percent certain of the identification, on settling all was confirmed, the first Painted Lady of the year.

It then became clear that there was not just one, but two, the other butterfly closer and lower down.

This was a pristine individual, and probably not one of the recent "invasion" but the offspring of one of the earlier arrivals in the year, freshly emerged.

They are a very photogenic butterfly, and when settled on buddleia allow you to get very close.

Another then appeared making the total now three Painted Lady's in the garden, the highest number I have ever had.  The third individual was a lot paler and with some damage on the rear wings, but still able to strongly fly and duel with one of the others.

Of the three two were pale and showed some damage in the wing, while the other was much brighter coloured and with perfect wings.

All these photographs were taken with my new Canon M100 mirrorless camera with a 55-200 mm lens.  I have been very impressed with the quality of shot produced.

With the sun out I decided to go out for an early evening walk, it has been some that I haven't done for some while.  From the house we walked down Lymington Bottom and then up Brislands Lane towards Old Down Wood.  The sun at this point then disappeared behind the building clouds, its always the way.

The entrance to Old Down looks very overgrown, and back to how I remember it when I first started writing this blog back in 2012.

We took the main path through the wood to the crossroads.  The sun had returned and was filtering through the leaves on the beach trees, turning the bracken and bramble below a silvery white.

The paths through the wood have lost the openess and on either side bramble and bracken has taken up space as the trees have been removed.  Light is always a premium within the wood at this time of year due to the canopy, but where it does get through now there has been a explosion of bracken and the crawling bramble bushes.  In one open place a Comma flew around before landing on the leaf of a Hazel tree.

As we headed to the exit on Swellinghill a single worn and pale Meadow Brown arose from the long grasses and made its way across the bracken.  

Leaving the wood we stopped at the pond.  At the back of the pond a female Mallard with two juvenile ducklings spotted us and swam towards us in the hope of maybe some food.

Strangely this was a significant sighting here on the pond.  I have seen young ducklings before, but they have never managed to survive.  These two are the first that I can recall ever reaching this size.

The rest of the walk was completed without anything of further interest, however back home, later in the evening a male Sparrowhawk zipped through the garden.  Fortunately for all our song birds it was not successful, but a warning that they are about.

Hopefully there will be more Painted Ladies about, and maybe a few Red Admirals and Clouded Yellows, which would be nice

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

23rd July - It's Been a Long Time Since I Rock 'n' Rolled!

Yes it certainly has!  As a result I thought I should share some of the activity that has been going on in the garden this summer.  Once again both the Robins and Blackbirds have been busy raising broods, probably on the back of the prodigious amount of easy food available.  Our Blackbird is still with us and has paired up with a stunning female this year.  They are currently on their third brood, with at least three juveniles having fledged successfully so far.  We do have another pair that visit the garden and they two have probably had at least two broods although we have not seen any of their young in the garden.

Here some lovely images of the Blackbirds over the last few weeks.

Our Blackbird male starting to look a little worse for wear once again

A close up showing the distinctive crossed mandibles of his bill.

Here he is calling with a high pitched single note, he tends to do this to alert the female to the fact that there is food available.  It is similar to an alarm call, but probably a little lower in pitch.  He can also produce this call with a beak full of mealworms

There is definite communication between the two, this can vary from a reassuring clucking noise, that they usually use when they want something, as if to alert us to the fact they are there.  The long drawn out rattle is another way of letting one or the other know there is something available, or just to get attention.  He sometimes uses this as he flies off, probably again to say here I come, we like to think its a thank you!

There are confrontations with the other pair that come into the garden, and both he and the female (the female is very dominant and boisterous) will run at the other blackbirds, and in extreme cases fly at them to chase them away.  Sometimes this is accompanied with a rattling call, and he will also chase them while again having a bill full of mealworms.

Here he is scurrying back to the food bowl after a confrontation.

This is the female bird, she was around in the winter as we can recognise her by the pattern on her bill and her large size.  Prior to pairing up she would confront our Blackbird who would back off, she still dominates him today, and has become a lot tamer coming to the bowl when we are there, and calling for food from the fence, but never venturing as close as her mate.

A very impressive lady.

Going back to the communication, I had added a log to the garden and placed some seed in it.  I noticed that the female found this after a time but there was no sign of the male.  Shortly after she flew off the male came into the garden went straight to the log and the food.  Had she informed him is some way?  Or had he been watching from a hidden place?  A part of me likes to think it was the former although my head says it was probably the latter.

As you can see she patrols the lawn with the complete air of authority.

The first brood of the year produced one successful fledging, the second delivered two youngsters.

They would constantly follow their father around calling for food.  At this time the female was sitting on the third brood, but appears to play no part once they have left the nest, that is all down to the male.

They beg, he feeds.

Then one day he just ignores their calls and begging, and gradually they disappear from the garden.

With his plumage in the state its in regular bathing is very important, and he will come to the bird bath frequently, but while the condition of the feathers are probably improved it doesn't seem to change the appearance.

There that's better!

We like to think that maybe the other Blackbird was one of his offspring from previous years.  Here he is.

But his breeding duties seem to be starting to have an impact on his plumage.  And he has a distinct light spot just in front of the eye

The Robins have been just as productive, with two pairs having three broods each.  I have not been able to confirm the exact number of fledged birds but there were at least three from the pair nesting on the left hand side of the garden.

One of the Robins is easy to identify (not easy with Robins), it have a small set of white rump feathers earning it the name "white bum"  As the season ends his feathers have taken a battering and he lost a significant number of tail feathers.

His (I just assume he is the male!) nest was on the right hand side of the garden, and he would fly in from the right into the tree opposite the kitchen.  This he would do if we called or opened the door, or if he sensed movement in the kitchen.  He would then perch in the sam spot in the tree and stare us out!

An alert stance when he knows the food is coming out.

He would use the cover of the tree a lot more once the feathers started to wear, moving very quickly to the bowl and back.

The Robins are not as vocal as the Blackbirds, but if they were looking for us to put food out they would use a form of sub song to get our attention.  The high pitched contact call is also very similar to that of the blackbirds, and this is used as an alarm call if a Red Kite or worse a Sparrowhawk comes over.

Here are two of the other Robins that I can definitely identify, the firs one unfortunately now beginning to lose feathers around the eye.

Just recently this Robin has become a little bolder than the others

Finally one of the fledged youngsters that like the Blackbirds would beg for food from the parents.

But it just isn't the Blackbirds and Robins that keep the garden busy, I have introduced some old logs around the lawn and these have proved an attraction to a couple of Nuthatches.

Here a classic Nuthatch pose

They also like to take advantage of the bird bath close by.

Juvenile Great and Blue Tits have also been frequent.

While sitting quietly one afternoon I was surprised to see a family group of Wrens turn up, not sure where they had come from or where their nest could be but it was a nice surprise.

They were very mobile, this one turning up on next door's roof.

Red Kites (who would have though twenty years ago that these could be called a garden bird!) also drift over regularly and like the smaller birds they are looking worse for wear as a result of the breeding season, the tail and flight feathers having taken some rough times.

Finally there are always the Goldfinches, they power through the sunflower seeds in the feeders, with both adult and juvenile birds present.  Their arguments over the perches on the feeders punctuate the calm of the garden afternoon, then the raucous calls are replaced with the charming tinkling of their calls as they fly off or fly in.  Here an adult takes the opportunity to have a drink from the bird bath.

Yet another breeding season passes us by, we have to wonder how much longer "our" blackbird will be with us, he must now be at least five, even six years old, we can only hope.  Getting attached to wild animals isn't always a good thing, but it has been a wonderful experience to watch and observe the behaviour.

Friday, 29 March 2019

24th March - The Wind Is Pushing The Clouds Along

A beautiful morning continued through out the day, the air was full of the sounds of spring, bird song everywhere, and as I walked down Brislands Lane butterflies, the Brimstone could be seen fluttering at speed along the edge of the road and across the yellow Celandine.

Coming out into the fields as I headed towards Old Down Wood, the Skylarks were singing on either side of the lanes, to the right a field of Rape, and on the left greens hoots yet to reveal what crop they are.

On the verge in amongst the yellow Lesser Celandine were patches of Wood Anemone, a delicate white flower with lovely golden stamens.

Just before the entrance to the wood a Wren was singing from the Oak trees.  Every cell of it's tiny frame rattling out its song.

Walking into the wood the Pussy Willow was flowering, and back lit by sun against a dark background.

A little further along and another Wren creeping through the bushes.

I headed on towards the Kitwood path, checked once again for the Tawny Owl but there was no sign of it either in the tree or any droppings on the bark.  I have to now assume it has either moved on or more sadly either it or its mate has passed away.

On the southern perimeter path there were singing Marsh and Great Tits.  Goldcrests called from the Larches, and the Chiffchaffs were singing, with one coming close.

Reaching the main path I headed to the north, with the wide open ride there were many Brimstone about, but as is usually the case at this time of year they would not stop.  A darker butterfly flew over my head and as I followed it it settled on the pussy willow flowers.  As it nectared it turned the wings to capture the warm sun rays.

I have seen many exotic butterflies all around the world, but for me there is non more exotic than a freshly emerged Peacock in Spring.

At the crossroads a Brimstone dallied over the crisp dry fallen leaves.  I stood, watched and waited and finally it settled in the sun taking in the warm sunshine.  Unlike the Peacock it doesn't settle with open wings to sun, but angles the closed wings.

Pairs of Long-tailed Tits could be seen searching through the bramble, probably looking for a suitable nesting place.  Long-tailed Tits are one of the earliest nesters and build a beautiful delicate dome shaped nest of spiders webs, lichen and moss.

Coming out of the wood at the west end I could see the smoke of a train on the Watercress Line.  I stood and waited to see the train emerge from the cutting.

The Watercress Line is currently only running between Alresford and Four Marks while the new bridge is built at the Butts in Alton.  It is also a stirring sight to see as the steam locomotive brakes through the trees.

I walked down through the Desmond Paddocks, as I crossed the road to head up Andrew Lane I heard the calls of Mediterranean Gulls above me, looking up I found a lrge flock of Gulls kettling up on a thermal

I estimated about 20 Mediterranean Gulls based on the pure white wings and black hood.  The other gulls were mostly Common Gulls.  There had been some tractors in the fields, and they were tilling the ground so this probably was the attraction.  Here a definite Mediterranean Gull, the first time I have seen one in the area at this time of year, but I suspect they move through as the pre-breeding groups break up on the south coast.  fir more on this see here

There has been some considerable work along Andrew Lane, with a large house, probably a grand design being worked on.  The path is now quite easy to walk, the ruts all leveled out.  I had hoped for maybe a Swallow around the stables but nothing was moving at all.

At the top of the lane I walked along side the field where a couple of Crows could be seen.  At the Periwinkle bank I found a couple of Bee Fly nectaring on the Periwinkle flowers

I walked around to check the fields along Lye Way, there are fields of sheep, but no lambs yet.  I was hoping maybe for a Wheatear, but apart from singing Skylark above it was devoid of any bird life.  

As I walked back I sensed something above me, looking up I saw two Red Kite looking at me!

They both came very close, hanging in the air above, to the extent that I had to reduce the focal length on the camera to get them in to the frame

No matter how many times I have this experience with Red Kite it never fails to excite, they are a fantastic bird and I also never tire of watching or photographing them

I made my way back down the footpath through the field, and popped into the pond, around the back there were Treecreepers, Marsh Tit, and a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Heard but not seen were my first singing Blackcap, a couple of Chiffchaffs, and Stock Doves in the garden of the house nearby.

My attention was taken once again by the pussy willow flowers against the black background of the trees

I made my way back home through Old Down once more, there were plenty of Brimstone, and as I left the wood a Comma flew past to complete three butterflies.

It had been a lovely walk, absence is good for the patch, and it was lovely to be able to see everything waking up in the warm late March sunshine.