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.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

17th September - Look At Me, I Am Old, But I'm Happy

Another grey and overcast morning, at times it was misty, and there was even some drizzle about.  Through out the week Helen and I have been walking around the village in the evening, these walks were "at pace" as we like to say, and without the camera.  On one walk we came across a pair of Roe Deer in the field off Gradwell, and heard plenty of contact calls from both Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers.  THis morning then when there was a little mist and some drizzle about I thought maybe there might be something about.

We set off up Reads Field,and along the footpath to head down towards Blackberry, and across the field towards Alton Lane.  Other than the melancholic songs of the Robins it was very quiet, not a single warbler call at all.

We crossed Willis Lane, and admired the Highland Cow that was looking very relaxed in the field by the footpath.


It had been a long time since we had walked the path between Willis and Hawthorn Lane.  There had been some changes, and like a lot of the footpaths around the patch today the footpath was fenced in.  I am not sure why this has become the case, but it does away the beauty of the area, you feel now that everything is fenced in and that nobody trusts you.  Before we could walk down through the field but today we were ferried close to the edge of the field.

We came through the gate and walked down Hawthorn Lane.  Some of the trees are already showing signs of autumn, the recent cold spell probably having an impact.


As we turned up Kitwood I noticed a different shape at the top of a dead tree, the shape then called to give away a Great Spotted Woodpecker.


A large flock of Long-tailed Tits were very vocal in the hedge, and I stopped to watch as they flew across the road into the trees.  As well as the tits there were several warblers, the calls led me to believe that they were Chiffchaffs.  The warblers moved quickly through the leaves and were impossible to catch with the camera, and only one Long-tailed Tit posed for me.


At last there were more calls along the hedges, at least one call belonged to a Willow Warbler, but the rest were Chiffchaffs, and they were fly catching, but hiding in the leaves and then darting out to drop back quickly.

The fields alongside Kitwood are all full of ripening maize, the first time I have seen it grown in these fields.  Another difference here was that there was a boundary left to flowers, and in places there was still some summer colour.


We walked on with still the Robins singing on both sides of the road.  At the pond there were two adult and three juvenile Moorhens, the highest number I have seen here, it would appear the adults have had a successful year for a change.

There were also three Mallard, the first time for awhile that there have been more than the pair.  The edge of the pond was littered with feathers which shows that there probably have been more ducks about, and that they are using the pond for their moult.  Hopefully numbers will build up again as we go into October.


There were also two fisherman, one with the longest rod I have ever seen, it reached well over the middle of the pond!

We walked into the wood and took the perimeter path.  Almost immediately we came across some fungi.  The path here is always a good place to look in September.  A dead Silver Birch had several Birch Polypore brackets showing, and looking quite impressive.


A little further on there was another bracket, this time a Beefsteak.Fungus.


Other than these there were not many other species about.  The usual places where I would expect to see some fungi were empty, maybe it is not going to be such a good year for them.

We crossed the field and headed towards Gradwell.  As we walked along the path by the edge of the paddocks a large flock of small birds flew up in front of us.  We stopped to watch them, and could see that they were all Chaffinches.  The mystery though was what they could be feeding on.  All we could find were fallen Crab Apples and Elder berries all on the floor, not what I would expect Chaffinches to flock for.

A pair of Jackdaws were sitting on a chimney breast, and one had an acorn that it was holding with its foot and hammering away at with its bill.


As we came close to home I felt I had to photograph one of the singing Robins.  They are the main feature of the countryside at this time of year.  Their song sounding melancholic, mainly because they are the only bird in song at this time of year.


Back home the garden has been full of Goldfinches and Greenfinches, but unfortunately like last year, they seem to be falling to the disease Trichomonosis once again.  The signs are lots of seed on the floor.  The birds appearing to be very fluffed up, and very easy to approach.  The only way to address it is to bring the feeders in and make sure everything is clean.  The feeders need to be kept away for at least two weeks.  The Goldfinches seemed to be a bit bewildered that there were no feeders about, but it is for their own good.


It is yet another reminder that you have to keep both bird baths and feeders clean.  I have invested in the RSPB easy clean feeders, you just twist them and they come apart, no screws, and a very quick and easy way to ensure you clean them.

The other garden news is that we have not seen our Blackbird since coming back from our holiday.  There have been very few blackbirds about, but our favourite seems to have gone, where we don't know.

And finally, one of the reasons for the reduced coverage over the summer, has been dealing with a major family issue. This weekend we lost another loved one.  He has been a major influence on my life, and was responsible for introducing me to nature and outdoor life, I can remember cold winter days fishing on gravel pits outside Oxford, and us both watching the electric blue of a Kingfisher as it zipped past us. Over the last five years he has not been himself, he missed my mother so much.  Yesterday he left us, peacefully.  it was unexpected, and happened very quickly, but now he is at peace.  I miss both so much

Sunday, 10 September 2017

10th September - September And The Trees Are Restless, Wind Chimes Blow In The Dark

Early morning there was some sunshine, but this gave way to overcast clouds, and a fresh breeze.  I haven't been out locally for well over a month, so it was with interest Helen and I set off this morning.  It was though necessary to put warmer clothes on, where has the summer gone?

As we walked up Brislands Lane a pair of Collared Doves were sitting together on a TV aerial.  I much prefer looking at these doves than the bulky and common Woodpigeons.



Another sign of a rapidly approaching autumn were the Cyclamen flowers around the cemetery hedge, a spot where they appear every year.



We headed up Brislands with the melancholy sound of the Robin's song were with us all the way.  The only other bird song came from the calls of Rooks and Jackdaws.  The wood was very quiet, the odd call from a Chiffchaff, and a few flocks of Long-tailed Tits was about all we heard.  The vegetation looked very tired, and in places the leaves are starting to change colour, but we are still a long way off from them falling en mass, but some were drifting about on the breeze.

We headed west, and I hoped for maybe something around the ash  trees, but again nothing.  It wasn't until we came to the field at the west end that we heard anything, this time the call of a Buzzard overhead.  Coming out of the wood, the Buzzard flew past us.



Walking down through Desmond Paddocks the calls of Buzzards continued from behind us over the top of the wood.  These were probably this year's juvenile begging relentlessly to parents to feed them.

Walking through the paddocks there was a large flock of Rooks and Jackdaws settled in the field, they all took off as we passed and settled in the adjoining field with the sheep.



We walked up Andrews Lane, with the brief call of Jays as they searched
 for acorns, and more Buzzards above us.  Blue and Great Tits were in the hedges, but there was no sign of any swallows at the horse stables.

Looking out across the paddocks we could see Swallows and House Martins high over the trees, but that was it, not even a Magpie, which are usually here.  Further up the hill and there were many House Martins around the old house.  Where the track was rutted with canyons created by the rain, it has all be evened out, making the walk so much easier.

At the top of the hill in the field with sheep grazing there were swallows swooping around the sheep.



These Swallows lacked the tail streamers seen on the adult birds, and were probably juvenile birds.



We walked on towards Lye Way where there were more Swallows, and of course a large flock of Woodpigeon.  But in amongst the Woodpigeons was a single Stock Dove.  This is the first time I have managed to find Stock Dove around the patch at this time of year.



As we walked down Lye Way back into the village it started to rain, this was a little earlier than we had expected, and fortunately it didn't last too long.  The walk back though was very quiet, the highlight being a distant Pheasant in the field opposite the school!

It has been very quiet in the garden, and very quiet around the village.  It would seem that I have not missed too much with my enforced break during August, lets hope things pick up soon.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

6th September - An Apoplogy

I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be if you follow a particular blog that has been posting regularly, and then suddenly there is nothing.  I vowed when I started this blog that I would at least try to keep it regular with posts as often as possible.  Over the last month though I have gone quiet.  This is due to several factors, one we have been away on holiday in Costa Rica, the results of which can be seen here on my Away Blog.  The other factors have been the draw of other locations in Hampshire, again the results of which will be available soon on the Away Blog, and of course the weather.  

I hope to get back to regular posting this month...please don't give up on me!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

1st August - I Feel Clean Again

It seems as if warm, hot summer has left us, and we have drifted back to the usual British summer with heavy down pours, cool conditions and very little sunshine.  This has been one of the reasons for the lack of activity over the last weeks of July.  The start of this week saw a couple of days of sunshine, but nothing like the warmth we have been experiencing.  It did though provide an opportunity to get out for an evening walk, and while I can't say there was much about, there were a few signs that things are changing already, and that the seasons is starting to change.

Rather than walk through Old Down as we had been doing we decided to head along the lanes, we thought the wood might be a little wet after all the recent rain.  On Monday we walked along Lymington Bottom to the school, and then up to Kitwood and the pond.  I have noticed small Ink Cap fungi appearing on the lawn at home, but they were nothing like the parasol Mushroom we found along the side of the road.  It hasn't yet unfolded into the typical parasol shape, but will do so soon.


It would seem that the very dry and warm conditions through June and early July, followed by the rain towards the end of the month has sparked the emergence of many fungi quite early this year.  We came across several different types in all phases of development, with most already half eaten.  Another early sign was the stalks of Lords and Ladies covered in orange berries.  Along the side of the road the brambles are also covered in many ripening Blackberries.

We walked on past the pond and down the hill towards Gilbert Street, and then turning back to come up Brislands.  Despite the coll weather and time of day there were still butterflies about, Large and Small Whites, Red Admirals and one or two Speckled Woods were seen.  A Yellowhammer sang from the wires, and we could hear the begging calls of Buzzards in the woods.

The fields were full of ripe cereals.  It would seem that these are now ready for harvesting, and across the fields towards the Watercress Line a combine harvester was throwing up spumes of dust as it made its way through the field.

Looking up hill Old Down Wood looked splendid in the evening sunshine and the blue sky.  The usual summer tiredness that becomes the leaves on the trees being held back this year by the sudden amount of rain to fall.


As we made our way along Brislands toward the crossroads with Gradwell a Buzzard was hovering over the fields, clearly searching for possible prey to satisfy the continuous calls of the young birds from the surrounding trees.


On the following day, the start of August we walked again in the late evening, this time taking a route down from Blackberry Lane to Alton Lane.   The footpath here crosses the open field, but is now fenced in.  This year the grass has not been cut, and there is plenty of thistles and flowers.  We could see butterflies, and tantalisingly a few Common Blues, but I could not get close enough to photograph them.  As we walked down towards Willis Lane there were Meadow Browns, a Comma and more Red Admirals.  We walked along Kitwood and then back through Old Down, where again Buzzards were calling, but there was nothing else to catch the eye of the camera.

Back home in the garden, we have had a good show of Oxford Ragwort, and as a result these have attracted some visitors.  On the yellow flower heads were several yellow and black striped caterpillars.  These are the larvae of the Cinnabar Moth.  Interestingly this is known as a day flying moth, but I have never seen one in the garden, but they definitely must have been here!  The yellow and black stripes of the caterpillars are a warning to any predator that these caterpillars are not good to eat as a result of eating the poisonous ragwort.  The caterpillars will pupate in the autumn, and the cocoons will spend the winter on the ground emerging as adults the following June.



There have been lots of words in this post and few photographs, and this now is to become even more as things have finally changed in the garden, breeding has now definitely finished, and the number of adult birds visiting has significantly reduced.  All of the birds that have raised young this year were starting to look a little tatty and with faded feather colour.  This comes about as a result of frantically having to feed young chicks and squeezing in and out of hedges.  At the end of this busy time the adult birds take stock and start the process of renewing their feathers, or as it is better known, moulting.  The individual birds tend to hide away at this stage while they moult, in order to avoid predators at a time when they are less manoeuvrable on the wing, and contain their energy which allows a focus on the feather replacement.

Despite the resilience of the feathers, and the fact that birds do keep them under constant care through preening and bathing, they do discolour, wear out or become damaged.  A full grown feather is a lifeless structure, and unlike our nails and hair that grow continuously the worn feathers have to be replaced.  The old, worn feathers are loosened from their follicles and are eventually pushed out by the new feathers.

In the small song birds these feathers do not just drop out at the same time, the large flight feathers of the wings and tail are moulted in a strategic sequence, depending on the species, but in the main flight feathers are replaced from the innermost to the outermost feathers.  Water birds such as ducks shed all the feathers at once, and can remain flightless, it is at this time the males assume the drab or “eclipse” plumage similar to the female to aid camouflage at a vulnerable time.

Due to our regular feeding of both the Robins and Blackbird in the garden we have been able to observe how they behave at this time, and this does vary between the different species and even the same species.  The Robins have only just seemed to have disappeared, and in their place we have seen the speckled juvenile birds coming to take the worms.  Of the Blackbirds, our favourite and tamest bird has been showing a different behaviour now for the last three weeks, and there is clear evidence of feather moult, most recently all the tail feathers have gone.  We only see him first thing in the morning and later at night, he still comes to the whistle though, but is extremely nervous, creeping under the hydrangea pots and refusing to come out into the open.  He will eat the worms and once had enough he flies off calling after again creeping around the hydrangeas.  There are also two other Blackbirds that are in various stages of moult but are not so cautious and will often be seen in the open

I did some research and found a paper on the internet written in 1969 by D.W. Snow in Bird Study called “The Moult of Thrushes and Chats”.  Here a study by the BTO found that the average time for a full Blackbird moult was around 80 days, conversely a Robin was shorter at 50 days.  Ninety six percent of the records showed that the given dates of the onset of moult were in June and July.  The timing of the moult though was most immediately affected by the date of its last nesting attempt.  We believe this year our bird raised successfully three broods.  The nesting attempts is dependent on weather and the availability of food, so the good summer up to now and our supplemental feeding has been a factor on this success.

In the timing of the moult no difference has been found between the sexes, but younger birds do start their moult earlier, probably again due to breeding success.  It may very well be then that the more confident Blackbirds are younger ones that have already been through a moult.  Food also can affect the timing of moult too, with seed eaters taking longer than insect, and bug eaters, here the chitin found in the food providing a valuable resource for feather development.

Clearly eighty days is for the full moult, and the nervousness and hiding will not last for the whole period, we would expect to see our bird looking resplendent in his new feathers towards the end of August.  It is also at this time we can expect to hear the song of the Robin as they emerge from their moult with bright orange breasts, and the urge to establish or take back territories from this year’s juveniles.

With August now upon us we will start to see the movement of migrants as they start the long journey to their winter grounds.  Already there are good numbers of Swallows collecting over the fields along Gradwell, and the contact calls of Chiffchaffs can be heard in the hedges.  Who knows what this year will turn up.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

18th July - A Rub Dub, Just Relaxin' In The Tub

The heat returned on Monday, lots more sunshine, and afternoon temperatures up to just below 30 degrees.  Another feature of the day was the emergence of millions of flying ants all around the country.  Even weather radar was picking up the clouds as they emerged from the ground.  Helen and I decided to go out late afternoon for a walk, and as we set off from the house there were still plenty of ants about.  This had not gone unnoticed by a Green Woodpecker that came up from the grass, onto a small tree, and then flying away from us.  Not one of my best photographs but I had to find someway to mark flying ants day.



It was to be the usual route, along Gradwell and then into Old Down across the fields.  In the paddocks before crossing the field was a Song Thrush which appeared to still be feeding young as it foraged the grass along side the hedge.



In the woods as we came into an area of sunlight the Meadow Browns and the Gatekeepers were still around in good numbers, however new as a very smart Peacock on the bramble flowers.



Along the main path towards Swelling Hill the long grass here is attractive to the skippers, and I found an Essex Skipper resting on a dried grass stem, the first of the year



While there were plenty of Gatekeepers about and it is easy now to overlook them, this one sitting with wings open on the seed head of another grass.



Red Admirals have also been around in good numbers this year, they could be seen chasing other butterflies up into the canopy, but would also come to rest on the bramble leaves in the sunshine.



They have a very powerful flight, and as they pass you their white marking flash against the dark background of the trees.

As we walked along the path it is best to keep checking the bramble as butterflies continually fly up.  While watching the Gatekeepers fly away I noticed one deeper orange butterfly continuing to sit in the sun.  Slightly smaller, and with more markings it turned out to be another first for the year, the Small Copper.



Along with Small, Large and Green-veined Whites, in the short time we had walked through the wood we had seen eleven species, and this soon became twelve when I found a Large Skipper.



Just before the way out of the wood yet another Red Admiral basked in the sunshine.



There was very little else about as we walked home.

On Tuesday through out the day it was warm and humid, but as is the way in this country, the heat was to spark off thunderstorms.  Early evening they had not arrived in Four Marks, but the blue skies had been replaced by a blanket of grey cloud.  It was though still very warm and humid.

From inside the house, with all the windows open I could hear the contact calls of Long-tailed Tits, and as I came down stairs I could see a group of at least eight juvenile birds around the feeders.  Then they moved to the bird bath, and along with juvenile Great Tits, Blue Tits and a single Coal Tit, they started to approach the water.  It was clear they wanted to bathe, but a combination of wariness, and perhaps experience contributed to quiet an amusing situation.

By the time I had got my camera the Coal Tit had moved on, but the Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits were still around.  The Blue Tits were a little more confident and adept at washing.



Showing the long-tailed Tits what they need to do.



It seemed the Long-tailed Tit knew it had to bend down and shake itself, what it didn't seem to understand was the need to do it in the water.



By the side of the bath they were settling on the perch, and it looked as if they were taking turns to use the diving board to jump into the water.



Three of them lining up to get yet more instruction on how to bathe.



The Blue Tit has that surprised look as if to say what was that!



Finally they realise that to bathe you have to get into the water.



Another joins in, and there are now four around the bath.



They don't stay long, and returned to the tree, while a Blue Tit returns and are joined by a juvenile Great Tit.



But another two return, under the watchful eye of the Blue Tit, and end up looking like a pair of drowned rats.



As well as the stills I did manage some video, but as always as a last thought so all the main action was over.  But at least you get some idea of how cautious and uncertain they were, and also you can see another trying to wash out of water.



While all this was going on the Robin sat looking at us in the tree, expecting us to put out the mealworms!



The rain finally came, but the tits all stayed in the trees going from feeder to the leaves.  The thunderstorms arrived with a vengeance during the night with plenty of lightning and loud thunder accompanied by some torrential rain.  This year the summer has been very good and the storm didn't seem to make you feel down. it was almost welcomed, and enjoyed.  That may not be the case if the good weather has gone, but somehow I don't think so.