Friday, 9 February 2018

9th February - Running For Glory, Freedom To Fly

Winter continues, fluctuating between grey overcast and drizzly days, interspersed with cold spells and flurries of snow.  What has been missing has been the sun, and this has made the season very hard this year.  

This morning rain was lashing on the windows before dawn, but with first light it had eased away.  There was the threat of some blue sky, and maybe some sunshine, but it didn't last long as the clouds rolled back in and it turned bitterly cold.

As always the garden was full of birds, Goldfinches and Siskins squabbled around the feeders, and on the lawn the blackbirds squared up to each other for the prime area under the feeders.  The finches drop the seed which is then eagerly picked up quickly by the Blackbirds.  They have been joined recently by the Blackcaps too, but they were not about today.  The Woodpigeon numbers have also been increasing with at least eight lumbering around the garden today with their New York waddle.

The number of birds now aware of the mealworms has increased.  It is now not just one Blackbird, but at least three, maybe four and they all come when we whistle.  There are still three Robins, they usually wait in the tree as the worms are put out.

They have also taken to using the little ceramic bird feeder as they don't have to compete with the Blackbirds there.

But they do have to compete with the Long-tailed Tits, who have learnt very quickly, mainly through curiosity that the mealworms are available, and they fly to the ceramic pot and the tray.  This morning at least eight came through the garden on several occasions.

There was originally only one that would take them, but now many more have learnt that there is a nutritious meal available and they all fly in and they take the worm back to the tree where they hang on one leg to while holding the worm with the other and eating it

The Blue Tits were about in numbers.  Always making their way to the top of the trees.

Another small regular visitor over the last few weeks has been a male Goldcrest.  Usually announcing his presence by the loud calls coming from the bushes, he is a bundle of energy as he moves through branches visiting almost all of the feeders quickly.

As it flitted around the branches the bright yellow crest that gives it his name would flash in the gloom.

Siskins have been present in the garden this winter in record numbers, just today there were fourteen competing with the Goldfinches, and even though they are smaller they are still prepared to take on the bulkier cousin.

Another regular user that has been a very welcome sight this year has been a pair of Redpolls.  Today I only saw the one, a male, and he is beginning to develop the pinkish red blush of the breeding plumage on the breast and forehead.

In fact it was the Redpoll that led to an unexpected but very welcome sighting, for me that is, and not necessarily the birds.

In text conversation with Ian he remarked he hadn't seen a Redpoll this year, so in an effort to wind him up I decided to message when I saw this one.

I went to get my phone, and came back to watch the Redpoll as I sent the message to Ian, but looking out of the window there were no birds.  I did though see a shape in the middle tree that I thought was a Woodpigeon, but then suddenly realised that Woodpigeons don't have long yellow feet, with threatening claws on the end!

I have had Sparrowhawk in the garden,but they never stay, so once again I rushed to get the camera, and then walked back carefully to the window in the hope it was still there, and it was.  I was then able to get a lovely portfolio of photographs, concentrating on those incredible yellowish orange eyes.

She looked around constantly, had she arrived in an attempt to take one of my garden visitors, probably, the feeders are not just for the finches it would seem.

Close up they are amazing birds.

The windows sometimes shading the view as I moved to get a better view away from the branches.

Then another shake, and a look around then the body lowered and she pushed off form the branch and flew out of the garden, scattering a flock of Jackdaw as she left.

With the nights now drawing out, and the days getting longer hopefully there will be signs of Spring all around.  After this winter it can't come any sooner.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

6th January - If Music Be The Food Of Love, Play On

2018, a New Year, a new beginning once again.  The weather in the first week of the year has been quite volatile, heavy rain and strong winds at times, then today the temperature falling and skies partially clear.  After a trip to Oxford in the morning I had the chance to go out for a walk in the afternoon.  The cloud had returned and there was a watery sun just making it through the clouds.

Just before I left the house one of the two Red Kites that have been seen regularly lately was hanging over the gardens at the top of the hill.

Also in the garden today, the two Blackcaps, male and female, a Lesser Redpoll and a dozen Siskin.

As is always the way, the first daffodils were in bloom in Lymington Rise.

I turned up Brislands, and as I approached the horse paddock on the left I heard a thin call, and saw a small bird fly to the base of the huge oak tree.  I stopped and waited and it finally came into view, a Treecreeper.

In 2017 I didn't see one until the day after boxing day, so this was a nice surprise.

It worked the moss that covered the bark of the tree, searching for small insects and spiders with its very fine curved bill.

Along Gradwell there was a bit of movement, a calling Marsh Tit, then a pair of Nuthatches that did not want to be seen.

Then a Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared in the thinner branches.

I crossed a very muddy path into Old Down Wood.  In the bushes by the paddock there was a Robin, two Wrens and a very vocal Coal Tit.  I expected to see some thrushes in the field but all that was present was a single Blackbird.  However as I crossed the field a Song Thrush flew past me into the wood.

Walking through the wood I disturbed a Buzzard from a tree.  It flew around then appeared above me calling as it flew around the Larch trees.

Another bird that was not happy to be seen was a Jay, and despite all my efforts to get a clear view all I could see was the blue panel in the wing.

I crossed the field to Lye Way, and then walked to the pond.  However there was a family throwing sticks and stones into the water, so there was little chance of finding anything there.  Over the other side in the trees were a pair of Mistle Thrushes.

I walked back into the wood, and was pleased to see that a lot of the bramble has been removed, and the rides widened by the grass and scrub being cleared too.  This looking north from the Beech tree.

And then south.

Hopefully good news for the summer butterflies.

A little further on and I heard Bullfinches calling.  They were hard to locate but finally I did, two male birds feeding on the early buds in the trees.

If they were difficult to locate they were even harder to photograph as the camera kept focusing on the many branches and leaves that were around them.

Coming out of the wood a Kestrel was hovering over the field opposite.

Last week half the field was given over to grazing sheep, but today the sheep were gone.  Looking across the field I though it was fiull of stones, but in fact it was turnips that are scattered all over the field.  The sheep could be seen in an adjacent field, and as all the fields were growing turnips its likely they will be moved around quite a bit.

At the horse paddock opposite the turn for the recreation ground there was movement once again on the ground.  It was completely empty when I walked past earlier but now there were Redwing feeding amongst the grass.

The Redwing were moving from the field to the surrounding trees and then back to the field.

Then from the tree a flash of crimson red, as a Green Woodpecker appeared in the field, and searched around the tussocks of grass.

This was a typical January walk around Four Marks, plenty of mud, cold conditions and a little bit of excitement as I ticked off the first birds of 2018.  Three hundred and forty nine more days to go to find more interesting things..

Sunday, 31 December 2017

31st December - A Review of the Year 2017

January started mild, but delivered a cold snap at the end of the month.  The birding highlight of the month were large flocks of Golden Plover in the fields around Lye Way.  With the mild weather came early flowering Snowdrops, a welcome sight after the gloom of the mid winter.

February is always a difficult month for nature, the days are getting longer, and if the sun appears there are signs of spring, but the cold is never far away.  Around the patch there were lots of the winter thrushes, with Redwings the most numerous.  This is also a good time to see the resident Red Kites as they patrol the roads, garden and fields around the village.  The garden feeders were brightened through the month with male Siskins taking on their lemon green breeding plumage.

March saw the emergence of some early butterflies, with Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell being seen on the same day, the 9th.  Chiffchaffs were around from the middle of the month, while in Old Down Wood the Tawny Owl was back in its tree for the sixth year running.  Stock Doves were a surprise this spring with their whooping song being heard at several locations around the patch.  From the middle of the month the country lanes were carpeted with the lovely yellow Lesser Celandine.

The highlight of April was the return ten days earlier than ever before of the House Martins to Reads Field.  Swallows were also back and around the horse stables.  This year was excellent for Holly Blue butterfly sightings, and a pair of Firecrests were seen a the pond, yet another location for this gorgeous little bird.  Those two harbingers of spring appeared this month, the bluebells starting to appear, and the the bleating of lambs in the fields.

May sees the carpet of bluebells in Old Down Wood, a spectacle that never ceases to disappoint. In the garden the Blackbirds were busy raising their second brood, while at Swelling Hill Pond there was a first in the arrival of five ducklings.  Unfortunately it seems that they did not survive for too long.  A Tree Pipit was singing late int the month at the Mountains Plantation.

Old Down Wood in June replaces the blue of the Bluebell carpet with the spires of reddish pink Foxgloves.  Butterflies were once again early, this time the arrival of a Meadow Brown eight days earlier than seen before.  It took some time though to find the Marbled Whites.  Their habitat seems to be shrinking, with very few meadows being left to grow these days.  The long days of summer are an excellent time to see roding Woodcock in Plash wood, with at lease 4 birds being seen on one visit.

July is all about the butterflies.  Old Down Wood was dominated by Meadow Browns, with hundreds being seen along the rides and paths.  Specialties, though came in the form of the White Admiral, and Silver-washed Fritillary.  It is also a good time for the moth trap, and I was treated once again to the beauty of the Elephant Hawk Moth.

My walks in August were limited due to our summer vacation.  The butterflies continued to perform in Old Down, while the cereals ripened in the sunshine.

If visits were restricted in August they became difficult too in September, sadly I lost my Dad on the 16th.  I did though manage to get out.  Common Darters are best seen this month, and put on some spectacular flying displays along with Southern Hawkers at Swelling Hill Pond.  While a fly through Hobby was a nice surprise towards the end of the month

October saw the only new bird species added to the patch list this year, a very unexpected Marsh Harrier that flew over the village heading south.  Unfortunately there was no camera with me when I saw it!  The month itself was very dreary and mostly overcast.  Chiffchaffs and Swallow were with us until the middle of the month, with the Starling numbers building up towards the end of the month, the little groups to be seen flying around the houses just before dusk.

This year has been a very good one for the Red Admiral butterfly, and they were still about, on the wing in November.  There were several sightings this month, with the last being on the 19th.  Redwings were back this month too with their calls being heard at night as they passed through.  This autumn though was not a good one for finding fungi, with very little about.

December saw a cold snap, and even some snow mid month, this brought lots of birds into the garden, with a record count of twelve Siskin at one time.  Thee were also sightings of male and female Blackcaps, and the Redwings devoured the berries that usually stay until February.  With the cold clear skies there were some spectacular sunsets.

Whilst I haven't been out as much as in previous years there has always been something of interest.  I have been spending more time exploring the beautiful county of Hampshire, and of course our holidays further afield.  You can keep up with these trips here on the "Away Blog".

Here is my end of year video, the music is "Stand Still" by The Album Leaf

For now it only remains to wish you all a very Happy New Year

Saturday, 30 December 2017

30th December - Who's to Say Where The Wind Will Take You

The time between Christmas and the New Year seems to be completely different time to that in the rest of the year.  Knowing what day it is becomes a challenge, and everything seems to be totally confusing.  Today though is Saturday, although it felt like a Sunday.  Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, on a Sunday, and that will be totally challenging!

This morning though the weather was in complete contrast to that we have had this week.  It was sunny and mild with a fresh breeze.  Helen and I set out for a walk to try and clear out the cobwebs once again, and as we headed up Reads Field the wind was very strong.  We had decided to walk to Weathermore Lane, and then through Newton Farm and back along Kitwood.

Walking along the lane we came upon a flock of Long-tailed Tits with about a dozen moving through, calling all the time.

As we stood and watched the Long-tailed Tits a Nuthatch crawled up the trunk of a nearby tree, and then the mouse like Treecreeper appeared in front of me.

Amazingly this was a year tick for the patch, the first one this year.

The rest of the walk saw little about, we headed up Brightstone lane where a distant Great Spotted Woodpecker called.  Then turned into Headmore Lane, and on past the golf course and down towards the farm.  The one constant were the flocks of Long-tailed Tits.  Almost every 400 metres we would come across a flock, there calls signalling there presence.  This continued on the remainder of the walk, it makes you wonder how many there are in the area.

At the farm there were at least a dozen Pied Wagtails around the barns, and these were joined by a few Meadow Pipits.  In the bushes were Chaffinches, and despite scanning the trees and bushes for a possible Hawfinch I drew a blank.

We headed down the Lye Way bridleway, walking carefully through the mud.  At least two Buzzards flew over us, and then the "cronk" of a Raven as it flew over the path in front of us.  Its difficult to know actually how many there are in the area.

Above the trees was a large flock of Common Gulls, not sure where these had come from, or where they were heading.

Crossing the road to continue on the bridleway we came across another flock of Long-tailed Tits, and these were joined by Great, Coal, and Blue Tits.

We climbed the hill through the Kitwood Plantation, and then out onto the lane.  A pair of Bullfinches were calling in the hedge, and then flew out but never stayed long enough in full view.

We came down past the school, and then up Gradwell Lane.  At the Cottages a pair of Jackdaw were inspecting the chimneys, probably enjoying the warmth from the smoke.

Turning into Brislands a Goldcrest moved through the branches of the hedge in search of any small insect.

We had seen a Red Kite from the house as we left in the morning, and as we came up Brislands one appeared again above us.

It circled around above me, showing off the beautiful forked tail.

It then drifted away, and we walked on.  As we started to head down the hill towards Lymington Bottom I heard the call of a Rook, and looked up to see the Red Kite once again, this time being mobbed by the calling Rook.

There is never any aggression with a Red Kite when mobbed, unlike the Buzzard, maybe this is because it does not possess the talons that the Buzzard does.  Instead it would twist and turn to avoid the attention of the Rook.

Eventually the Rook considered that the Kite was not a threat, and let it drift away.  As we walked up Lymington Rise it came over us and headed towards the house, then moved away over the house and out towards the main road.  I then picked out another one over in the direction of Blackberry Lane.

Back home, the male Blackcap was about in the garden, and there was briefly a single Lesser Redpoll.  There have been two birds about, lets hope they are still around on Monday, they are not always a guaranteed year tick.

And that was the end of the year for me.  I haven't give the patch the same amount of attention as I have in previous years.  I have spent more time away around the county, where quite frankly the lure of more birds is too strong.  I will still continue to records the wildlife in 2018, but it will probably be on a reduced level once again.