Wednesday, 29 August 2018

29th August - Just In Case You Forgot, I'm Never Not Thinking Of You

This is just a reminder for those who loyally come here to see if there are any new posts (I thank you very much!)

I have wound down my walks around Four Marks, and have focused more on my trips in Hampshire, the United Kingdom and further a field.  If you have enjoyed my photography around Four Marks and want to see more please visit my "away" blog HERE

Most recently we have been travelling once again in Costa Rica, a beautiful country with so much wildlife, gorgeous food and wonderful people.


Monday, 16 July 2018

15th July - One Step, Two Step

The hot dry weather continues, and the garden has taken on a very Mediterranean feel about it.  The grass is parched dry and yellow, and the plants flourishing are the lavenders and rosemary.  The lavender at times, looks as if it is alive as the Honey Bees constantly move about the flower heads.  there has also been a significant increase in the number of butterflies about.  Mostly Small and Green-veined White there has also been the odd Meadow Brown, a single Gatekeeper, Red Admiral and Peacock.  A single Holly Blue took advantage of the damp floor when I cleaned my car on Sunday morning.  

I spent sometime watching the activity around the plants and with the evening light I was able to get some beautiful colourful backgrounds.  I focused on the lavender and the Honey Bees.

The colours coming from the golden leaves in the flower beds being blurred by the focus.

It was a case of pick a flower stem and wait for the bee to arrive, they did not take long.

I was really pleased with the final shots.

The evening sunshine was also highlighting some of the more spectacular plants in the garden.  This teasel flower head back lit by the sun against a dark spot in the garden.

While this Sea Holly flower head changes appearance depending on the background and angle of the sunlight.

A dark background

And a more colourful background.

As well as the Honey Bees there was a single White-tailed Bumble Bee.

And several Small Whites would come down, quickly nectar and then move on

The antics of the Blackbirds continue to entertain.  "Our" Blackbird has continued to feed his two youngsters, despite the fact that they seem much bigger than him, and also have the capability to feed themselves.  

They follow him about, constantly calling and when there is food about begging with open beak and flapping wings.  We put out the worms, and he takes them straight to them.

We have also observed him "sun bathing" on the shed roof, stretched out wings and tail flat on the roof, and bill open to regulate the heat.  This apparently helps the feathers, spreading the protective oils and also getting rid of parasites.

I must admit at times his plumage looks a lot better, but this is probably down to the lack of rain, and not having to go in and out of bushes.

I sat quietly in the garden after placing mealworms in places where it was a little more photogenic

This is the look that says I want some more!

Interestingly the female, the mother of the two youngsters, appeared in the garden.  She is identifiable by the curled tail feathers.

She was collecting meal worms and taking them away into the hedges.  "Our" male never followed, although they would tolerate each other at the dish.  Either he has totally rejected the brood or they weren't his.  After appearing for a few days the female has now gone missing once again.

With the high numbers of butterflies about I decided to set the moth trap once again.  Surprisingly the numbers were not great, but I did manage to find some interesting moths, and one that was brand new for the garden.

Here is the Poplar Hawk Moth, the previous one a few weeks ago flew off before I could photograph it, this one did too, but I managed one shot on my finger.

Then one in a tree when it did fly off.

A Ruby Tiger.

A Scalloped Hook Tip

Willow Beauty


And a Dusky Thorn

The brand new species for the garden was a Pale Prominent.

It has tufts at both ends which do make you wonder which way the head is., and elongate the body to make it appear larger than it is, and like a piece of dead wood.  A common moth in the south, the caterpillars feed on either Poplar of Sallow, neither of which can be found close to the garden.

With the forecast showing no sign in a let up for the dry, hot weather it will be interesting to see what state the garden becomes.

Friday, 13 July 2018

13th July - Like You, Nothing's Forever

Our young abandoned Blackbird that we were feeding stayed with us until Tuesday, when unfortunately Helen found it dead in the place where it would hide.  Its behavior became stranger and stranger, staying out in the open, and not attempting to shelter in the trees and bushes.  Towards the end it was struggling to breather, and would not really show any interest in the food we gave it.

The story while being sad also gives another insight into bird behaviour, a nd in particular that of Mother Nature.  The parent bird visibly ignored it, avoiding the begging and attempts to take food.  Does this mean that the parent knew it was ill, and decided not to waste time on the bird, as it was not right?  Nature can be cruel, but for good reason I suppose.  Never has the phrase "the survival of the fittest" seemed to come to life.

Here is one picture I managed to take when it was a little fitter, and actually sitting in the trees.  At least this little Blackbird will not be forgotten

There was more demonstrations of communication between the Blackbirds this week, unfortunately I wasn't able to witness it personally, but Helen was.  It involved on of the juvenile Blackbirds and "our" Blackbird.  The juvenile bird was in the garden and spotted Helen in the kitchen.  It flew to the back door, calling with the clucking call.  Helen put some worms out in the normal dish, but the youngster wasn't sure what to do.  So it flew off, calling, and after a short while returned, and straight after it appeared so did "our" Blackbird.

He then proceeded to pick up the worms and feed the begging juvenile!  So here is a case of the young bird going off to get its parent to come to the garden and then feed it.  How was the message relayed?  Was it just coincidence?  It is though fascinating to observe the interactions between the birds.

On another not the female has turned up today, and is taking the worms away again, so we can only assume that she has been brooding eggs, and that they have now hatched.  I can only feel sorry for "our" Blackbirds feathers, although he continues to feed the two juvenile birds.

Friday, 6 July 2018

6th July - It's The Simple Things in Life, Like When and Where

It has been a while, and I apologise to all those regular readers of my blog that come to the site only to see no new posts.  At the start of the year I started to wind down the time taken walking around Four Marks.  This has been partially due personal constraints such as work, the want to enjoy more of the county I live in, and unfortunately the changes that have occurred around the village.  The latter has had a big influence.  Farming practices have changed, the border strips ploughed up, wild flower meadows cut short, and of course any available piece of land being turned into a building site.  All this has definitely impacted the wildlife, and my enthusiasm to continue search around the patch.  You can though continue to follow my trips and photography on my other blog, "Away from Four Marks".  Here you can experience my trips throughout Hampshire and farther a field around the world.  The most recent post being my encounter with the "Imperial Majesty" in Alice Holt Forest.

The garden though continues to entertain, and the star attraction is the Blackbird families.  As regular followers will know we have been feeding a male Blackbird for some time now.  This is in fact the fourth summer.  It started when we noticed this bedraggled male Blackbird, and we felt by feeding mealworms it would help it regain its plumage.  The Blackbird became quite tame, and during the breeding season would even come into the kitchen to beg for the worms.

This year it took some time, but he eventually had a brood with a female who had similar plumage challenges.  They have raised two juveniles, but just lately we have not seen the female at all.  Our male though continues to diligently look after the two juveniles, and when we come down in the morning he is there on the lawn, and eventually on the back door step.

He looks quite dapper with his fluffy pantaloons.

Once again the plumage is suffering, and is a result of moving through hedges to get to the nest.  But to be fair he shows a certain amount of fluffiness before the youngsters came along.

At first we though his heart wasn't really in parenthood this year, as he would eat as many worms as he took away, the female scolding him when he took his time.  But over the last few weeks he has looked after those young birds completely on  his own.

There are different calls, he will cluck if he wants something and close to sunrise this will turn into a full alarm call along with wing and tail flicking.  When the two of them were feeding he would guard the dish and call with a high pitched whistle until the female appeared.  There was definitely communication between them.

Other behaviours we have noticed is the way he would allow the Robins to take the mealworms when they had young, but is not so comfortable with the House Sparrows who will even take the mealworms from his bill!  During the hot weather he will seek out the shade, taking advantage of the smallest shadow.

There have been close shaves though, one morning as he flew towards me he was chased by a Kestrel, the Kestrel pulling up as the blackbird flew straight into me.  The Kestrel has been around and we see it and a Red Kite over the garden.  In these situations the Blackbird will take cover in the trees, and watch the sky by tilting its head.  This is how he does it, but in this case there was no danger present.

One of his favourite spots is the bird bath the uncontrollable feathers getting a wash quite frequently.  He also like the perch behind the bath.

The two juveniles he is bringing up are different, this one is more brash and forward.  I watched it pulling at the grass today, so probably can feed itself but immediately begs when father is close by.

The other is much shyer and cautious, using the cover of the trees and bushes.

Here are both of them together.

But this year he is not the only Blackbird coming to collect food for youngsters in the garden.  There was another pair coming to the right hand side of the garden, the nest though over the road somewhere.  Again the female has gone missing, probably to moult and rest, and the male is bringing up two juveniles.  He is distinctly different from "our" Blackbird, although he is now showing signs of wear, and there is every possibility it could be an offspring of "our" Blackbird.

It will come and take mealworms, when allowed.  If seen there then ensues some posturing with both birds squaring up, and running alongside each other like a synchronised dance.  In extreme cases they will clash and feathers will fly as they jump up at each other.  In the most though they stay to their side of the garden as if there is an unwritten rule.

Just recently though we have noticed one of his juveniles sitting out in the open on the lawn, and even begging to "our" Blackbird for food.  It would also beg at its real father but the Blackbird seems to ignore it, concentrating on the other juvenile.  As a result we have started to feed this juvenile, and it will come to worms thrown on the lawn.  At one point I watched the father come in, and take the worms before the juvenile to get them.  The juvenile would then beg only for the father to fly off.

It looks in good condition, and can fly, but has the appearance of being a little slow.  In the mornings it seems to prefer to sit on the lawn or path over the road, right out in the open and vulnerable to the local cat, and even the Kestrel that is still about.  We have now started to usher it back into the garden, we are a soft touch

"Our" Blackbird is also not too keen on us feeding the  juvenile, and will rush over to interfere and attempt to take the worms we give it.  We don't know what will happen now, it is vulnerable, so lets hope it does manage to survive, if it does I think we will have two Blackbirds to feed this winter.

On the subject of mealworms, there has been a national shortage this summer due to the weather.  This has meant we have had to vary the diet supplementing what few mealworms we had with Moiri Worms which are huge, and Butter worms, which the pet shop told us were not good if you are watching your weight!

So far it has been a wonderful summer, and last weekend I put out the moth trap, and was fortunate to get a good catch of hawkmoths, including one that was new for the garden.  One disappointment was that the poplar Hawkmoth escaped me, flying off before I could photograph it.  First though some of the supporting cast:

A Buff-tip, the amazing camouflage allowing to look like a broken twig.  

I was also able to experience the camouflage working, as a Great Tit found some of the other moths close to the Buff-tip, but completely ignored the Buff-tip.

A Buff Ermine.

And a Shark, so called for the "fin" on the back of the thorax.

Now to the Hawk Moths, first out was a new moth for the garden.  I have been hoping for one of these for sometime, but when I thought I had caught one it turned out to be its slightly larger cousin.  This is the Small Elephant Hawkmoth.

Separated from the Elephant Hawkmoth by the lack of pink barring on the top of the thorax, and the fact that it is slightly smaller.

Fortunately I had also managed to catch an Elephant Hawkmoth to allow comparison.

Here you can see the stripes.

The fourth Hawkmoth was the Privet Hawkmoth, one of the largest.

I have posted quite a few pictures of this moth over the years, and it is quite impressive.

Here you can appreciate the size as it sits on my first finger.

Finally, this week Helen and I managed to get a walk through Old Down Wood in the early evening.  I was really surprised to find so many butterflies flying at this late hour.  The most numerous were the whites, with both Small and Large Whites all over the bramble, and Green-veined Whites gathering together on the exposed mud in Swellinghill Pond.

In addition to this I managed to see my first Gatekeeper of the year several Red Admirals and many Meadow Browns and Ringlets.  The biggest surprise of all though was a couple of White Admirals, again attracted to the bramble flowers.

Frustratingly I didn't have my camera with me, and had to resort to using my phone.  As well as the admirals there was also a pair of Silver-washed Fritillaries, again not the best photograph with my phone.

Other butterfly news was a Purple Hairstreak in the garden on Saturday which takes the list up to 28 for the patch.  It was most unexpected but very welcomed!

That is all for now.  I will continue to post here, hopefully once a month if there is something of interest, but in the meantime please do check the Away From Four Marks Blog, hopefully you will find something of interest there.