Saturday, 25 February 2012

25th February - Siskins, Redpolls and Frogspawn

This morning started very murky with a slight drizzle, and mild.  Helen was out for the morning so I was off to Chawton Woods, and then we would do the south path of the square in the afternoon when she came back.  From the car park I set off towards the west perimeter and then walked down the main bridleway.  There was very little bird song, and it wasn't until I reached the intersection that I actually began to hear birds.  There were a few Goldcrests in amongst Coal Tits.  The Coal Tits were feeding on the larch cones and were extremely busy as they moved around pulling out the seeds.  The light wasn’t good but I managed to get a few shots of them.

From here I headed down the path in the direction of Alton.  There is currently quite a bit of forestry work going on in the wood, and there were large tracks visible in the ground where the heavy equipment was moving the logs around, this made some of the tracks very muddy.  As I came into an area where there were stacked logs the bird song became very distinct and loud.  The activity was in the tree tops, and with the light it was very difficult to identify the birds, but it was clear they were Siskin and Redpoll.  At best you would only get a silhouette as you can see from this photo.

The logs had obviously been recently cut, and the smell of pine was wonderful, and with the incessant calls from the birds it made for a lovely atmosphere.  The cut logs also provided a nice composition.

The day was changing though, and all of a sudden the cloud burnt off, and the woods were bathed in sunshine.  The sun is still quite low, and as a result it provides a lovely glow to the woods.

The bird song had moved towards me and with the sunlight it was now easier to identify the birds.  The flocks were of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, but there were also a few Goldfinches as well.  They were still very high up in the tree top which made photography very difficult.  However these were the best shots I could get, but you can see the difference from earlier in the morning.

I now headed into the wood, walkingthrough beech trees up to the northern edge.  There was a flock of Chaffinches feeding on the ground, but they seemed to be upsetting a Mistle Thrush that was call very loudly.  I couldn't understand why this would be, and then realised that there was another Mistle Thrush, that was obviously not welcome.  These pictures show the posture and aggressiveness of the calls.

A wood at this time of year is still extremely dormant, and you can sense that it needs to wake up.  However the sunshine can still pick out the many different colours that exist, but are hidden under the overcast skies of winter.  This time of year is comparable with late June for bird life, you are waiting for the new influx of migrants to arrive, so now is time to other aspects such as the colour on the bark of these trees.

I took the perimeter trail that Helen and I had walked in January.  There was another Rookery along Roes Down Road that I hadn't been aware of.  There were not many nests but it will be interesting to see if it develops any further.

I was fascinated by the change in the fields against the trees compared with the photo I took in January.  The green has gone to be replaced by a straw colour.  Check it out.

This is the time of year to see Hare, so I continued to check the fields, but with no luck.  I did though find a small group of Roe Deer, one stag and two hinds, they drifted apart so I was only able to get two together.  Once again as in the video from yesterday you can see the antlers covered in velvet.

Back in the car park, ther were a pair of Nuthatches calling, one came very close and gave some very good views.

From here I drove around the south part of the square, in the Rotherfield estate I found a Kestrel sitting on the power lines, I tried to get closer but it flew off onto the pylon.  Suddenly it flew down on to the ground and appeared to be eating an earthworm.  It then flew back to the pylon.

Two Buzzards were circling above the woods, and another was seen sitting in the trees along Lyeway lane, with e one seen in Chawton that was four different birds in the morning.

After lunch we set off towards Telegraph lane and out into Weathermore Copse.  Once again there were Siskins and Redpoll in the tree tops, as we walked down the track towards Brightstone Lane.  Down the track the calls of Buzzards could be heard, two were souring above us and another was calling as it flew low across the field.  This was going to be the highlight of the afternoon as in total we saw twelve Buzzards around the patch.  Bumble bees were also about with one paying particular attention to Helen, but there were no butterflies.

We walked into Lord's Wood, and again there was lots of Siskin and Redpoll.  Buzzard were again calling above and we had five circling above us coming close over the trees.

As we came out of the wood I saw four more above us but on closer inspection found that one was in fact a Red Kite!

Along the Kitwood track the sun was catching the spiders silk as it blew from the branches, my attempts to capture it with the camera was not succesful though.  We walked across the fields down towards Headmore Lane.  As we walked past the horses a pair of Red-Legged Partridges ran across the field, a welcome addition to the year list. 

At the bottom of Kitwood Lane in the garden of the farm there was small pond alive with frogs and frog spawn.  Interestingly there was no similar activity in Swelling Hill Pond!  This photo was taken through the bush

The one bird to be most noticeable today had to be the Great Tit.  Everywhere you went they were calling and moving around in pairs.  It would not have been right to not have had a picture of one today, and this was the best one that captured fully their behaviour all day.

We came through Old Down Wood with nothing of note around, as we came up Brislands a male Sparrowhawk upset the Robins and Blue Tits as it flew close to the trees.  It avoided my camera, but provided us with a four raptor day, which for this patch is quite impressive.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Third Time Lucky!

I retreived the camera this morning, and decided to bring it home with a view to finding a new location over the weekend. 

The decision to relocate was based on the fact that there had not been much from the last session.  I hoped that this one would turn up something different and it did.  At last I manged to get two clips of a Badger.  Once again they seem to either hear or see the camera start up and they look straight at it.  The clips were short, but confirm we were right about the owner of the tracks.

As well as the Badger there was a great daylight clip of a Fox and a very close encounter with a male Roe Deer.  The deer has a good set of antlers developing, and as it is so close you can see the velvet covering them as they grow.

The attached video is a compilation of the best clips from the session

24th February - Warming up!

Yesterday was an extremely mild day, the warmest so far this year.  The temperature when I left work was 17oC but in Four Marks it had fallen to 15oC.  It is staying light quite late too and on my run this evening 3 Pipistrelle Bats were flying under the trees on Gradwell Lane.  They are usually seen early in the spring when the weather has been mild, so this was no surprise.  The name Pipistrelle apparently comes from the italian "pipistrello" which means bat, so flying around me was a "Bat Bat"!  The Tawny Owl was quite vocal too, calling from the trees in the field to the north of the lane.  I managed to catch a quick view as it flew low over the field into the trees well to the back.

This morning the skies were cloudy although still quite mild.  Before dawn a Blackbird was singing very well outside the bedroom window, and was joined also by Robin and Dunnock.  The real dawn chorus can not be that far away.  I took the opportunity to retreive the camera early on, before the dog walkers arrived.  At the gate I could hear skylark singing high above the fields, I could make out two birds but couldn't see them.  Just down the lane there was a lot of activity along with bird song.  High in the trees there was quite a sizeable flock of Redwing and Fieldfare, and along with quite a few Goldfinches they were the main source of the song and calls.  The thrushes were very nervous and were very reluctant to let me approach, flying off into the field where a good number were feeding.  I did manage to get these shots though.

Walking into the wood a Bullfinch was calling from the hedgerow.  There appears to be quite a good number of these around this year.  Yesterday afternoon at work I watched one devouring the newly opened cherry blossom.  I hoped that this morning it would stay long enough for the photo opportunity but it resisted all attempts.  I had to be satisfied with this Blue Tit, who along with a pair of Great Tits were collecting moss in the field.

I collected the camera, deciding to bring it home and relocate in a new site over the weekend. I walked through the area checking for more paths but only found a pile of pheasant feathers, the remains of someone's dinner.  I took the diagonal path back to the gate and was rewarded with another sighting of the Willow Tit.  It was calling low in the bushes close to the path, and flew up right in front of me giving great views.  But again as I tried to get a photo it just wouldn't stay still and the opportunity passed when it finally flew off.

When I got back to car it was clear now that there were more than 2 Skylarks singing, in fact I managed to count 7 in total, as 5 came acorss the field.  I found two singing in the air above the field, and captured this record.

This time of year they tend to squabble over territory and I have seen them fighting on the ground.  The 5 were chasing each other so maybe that is the situation here.

I decided to check the rookery on Alton Lane.  Last night there had been a sizeable flock of Rooks and Jackdaws heading from Alton lane towards the roost in Chawton Park. I wondered if there was any activity around the nests.  When I got there it was clear that there was, as Rooks were flying around and calling from the side of the nests.  I watched one individual bring in a twig which was left in a nest.  They were clearly at the stage of repair and maintenance, as there were no birds actually in the nests, and the fact that they were still heading off to the roost indicated that they were not yet ready to lay.  Rooks are one of the earliest nesting birds, it is thought that this is due to the fact that they can easily get food for the young while the soil is relatively soft.  The main diet is earthworms and invertibrates, and these would be very difficult to obtain later in the season. 

There is something about Rooks that I like, they are not an attractive bird, although in the right light their plumage takes on an iridescent blue hue.  It must be the character and interaction that I find interesting.  Any way here are some shots, hopefully I can get some more in better lighting.

There is always some confusion over the identification of Crows, Rooks and Ravens.  The Rook has the white bill and white at the base of the bill, while the Crow and Raven are all black.  Rooks are very social and are typically seen in groups, while Crows are usually seen at most in pairs.  The Raven is significantly larger than both of the others, with a very heavy bill.  The Rook in flight is similar to a Raven, but the tail is rounded where the Raven has a very prominent pointed diamond shape tail.  These days there is every chance that I may get a Raven fly over, they are seen on the downs so I will keep a good look out on any solitary corvid.

Monday, 20 February 2012

20th February - More Video

I picked up the card from the camera this afternoon.  There was activity with Deer and Fox contributing once again, but not the quarry I was after.  I will give it another go over the next few days but after that I will probably look for a different location.  On the way into the wood I saw a Treecreeper and Nuthatch.  It would appear that the Treecreeper is a lot more common than I first thought.  I suppose this has something to do with the attention I have been giving the patch.

While the videos were not as good as I had hoped for I thought I would post this one.  Altogether now aah!

17th February - Early Morning Old Down

A dreary damp morning, but still mild, I took the chance first thing in the morning to take the camera back to the wood, I am hoping that I can capture the owner of the tracks, so we will have to see what happens.

When I parked just off Brislands, I got out of the car to a considerable amount of bird song, however the one that caught my ear was that of the Skylark, it was singing away high over the field to the north, despite searching I couldn't find it though.  In the woods the Great Tits were doing there best to confuse me.  I was always told that if you heard a call that you did not recognise then it was probably a Great Tit, today was definitely the case.  A drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker also caught my attention, and as I searched for the bird, it was clear from the calls that another was close by.  Suddenly all hell broke lose and 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were calling loudly and chasing each other through the trees.  This was the second time I had seen this behaviour, and was probably something to do with either territory or mates! 

A flock of Blue and Coal Tits came through along the hedgerow, calling constantly and definitely showing signs of pairing up.  Coal Tits are deceptively small.  I think the black cap makes them appear much larger than they are.

In the wood I came across the remains of a Woodpigeon, all that was left was a collection of feathers scattered around a small stump, so I am assuming the woodpigeon had been the meal of a Sparrowhawk.  It seems a bit of a mismatch in terms of size, but I did see a Sparrowhawk with a Woodpigeon last year in the middle of the road at Lyeway, so I know they are more than capable.

Having sorted the camera out I headed back to the car, and was surprised to see four Robins on the path all close together.  They did not seem agitated and allowed each other to feed.  Normally in situations like that at least one Robin is the agressor. 

Back at the car I finally managed to find the Skylark high above the field singing in full voice, as I watched I noticed three birds fly into the trees, I thought they might be Meadow Pipits and as I tried to get closer for a better look they confirmed their identity as they flew off into the field calling.  As I tried to locate them I noticed quite a few birds in the field.  These were mostly Redwings, but along the side of the field Chaffinches and Goldfinches were dropping from the trees on to the ground and the dead seed heads.  I scanned through them in the hope maybe of a Brambling but with no joy.  Still the Goldfinches looked superb.

I drove back down Gradwell, still hoping the Little Owl would re-appear but with no luck.  In Alton Lane the Rooks were gathered around the nests in the rookery, I could really see if they were seriously starting to nest yet.  So I will check later next week when I have more time.

Friday, 17 February 2012

16th February - Lyeway

It was a lot milder today, the temperature up to around 12c at midday, so it was no surprise when Helen told me she had seen a Brimstone on the way to Basingstoke this afternoon.

On the way home tonight I decided to come home via Lyeway Lane again. As I came along the lane, a Sparrowhawk came out of the bushes, and flew alongside the car, I was doing around 25 mph and the hawk easily pulled away from me. It turned into the main trees and flushed a large flock of Fieldfares, I didn't see the hawk again, but the Fieldfares flew across the field towards Lyeway Farm. I found the Fieldfares in the trees outside the farm buildings, I counted 33 in the trees. The photo is a little distant, and the quality isn't brilliant as I took it with my phone but it shows some of the birds that remained once I had tried to get too close.

I carried on along the lane and around the bend I flushed a Buzzard from the telegraph pole it flew off over the field towards the farm. I tried to see if the Little Owl was about near the crossroads, but a tractor was trimming the hedges, so there was little chance.  When I ran later in the evening I didn't hear or see any owls. In the morning I had heard one from the house, and we also have a Starling that has obviously been influenced by the local Tawny Owls and Buzzards as it does a very good impression of the owl's "Kevit" and buzzard call around about 6.00 in the morning!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

15th February - Kites

With the snow all gone and the temperatures back to a normal UK winter, the garden has gone quiet, which means that there must be sufficent "natural" food available.  A pair of Long-tailed Tits came to feed on the fat blocks, and the odd Linnet could be seen on the seeds, but a part from the regular four Blue Tits it was very quiet.

The one highlight today though was a Red Kite that glided slowly past the upstairs window as I worked.  It drifted around the house, then across the garden and off to the south.  The last one I had seen from the house was back in June, but this one gave the closest views yet. 

Strange to think that when I started birding the Red Kite was the one bird I wanted to see, now I seem to see them all the time.  It involved diversions when on business trips to Mid Wales, and I remember the thrill when I finally managed to catch a glimpse of my first one soaring over the RSPB reserve at Dinas.  Now I see them along the A34 on the way to Oxford, in Oxford, and now over my garden.  I will never tire of them though, the way the forked tail moves to control the glide, the richness of the rusty red against the slaty blue head, they are beautiful birds.

Friday, 10 February 2012

The "Package"

So to the package.  I had positioned the trip camera in the wood, in the hope that we could find something.  I was amazed to find the disc completely full with Fox, Deer and Rabbit.  Here are a couple of the best short videos.  I will be trying again in the hope that I can find the owner of those tracks we found

The last one is straight from the studios of Fox News!

10th February - Redwing Feeding Frenzy

There was more snow overnight, although only about a couple of centimetres it once again brought the birds into the garden.  Of most interest was the flock of Redwings attacking the berries on the tree across the road from the house.  They would move across the garden to the tree, attack the berries and then fly back for a rest.  They gave some excellent photo opportunities as they fed.  From these pictures you can appreciate what a beautiful bird they really are.  They have the habit of resting with their bill pointing up at 45 degrees, this shows the lovely markings on the chest and throat, which maybe why they do it to hide in the trees.  Here is a selection of the pictures I took.

Practising for "Comic Relief"!

Blackbirds were quickly in on the act too, much to the dislike of the Redwings, who would chase them off dispite being the smaller bird.

In the garden the regulars were putting on a show, a Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming, but I never saw it, and more of a surprise was the Chaffinch in full song during the afternoon.  I managed a nice shot of a goldfinch, they seem to have ignored the niger seed and look to feed on the sunflower seeds.

The Blue Tit with the feathers missing on the side of it's head has become affectionally known as "Richard" after the character in Boardwalk Empire.  It was back again today feeding well and showing signs of the feathers returning

 As the sun set Helen and I went off for a walk.  We went into Old Down Wood as we had to pick up a "package", more of which later.  It was very quiet, and getting cold, so after retreiving the "package" we headed back down past the pond and school and turned up Gradwell Lane.  As we did so a brown bird about the size of a thrush flew out of the trees and up the lane.  The Blackbirds were clearly not happy and were calling loudly, as we came closer to have a look we managed to flush the bird from the ivy.  As it flew off it was clear it was a Little Owl.  It flew off over the field and across the road into a tree at the bottom of Alton Lane.  We were able to see it from the road but when we went for a closer look we flushed it once again.  Not able to locate it we set off back up GradwellLane.  But once again the Blackbirds calling drew our attention back, and their on the top of the electricity pole sat the Little Owl.  The Blackbirds wouldn't give up though and chased it off again across the field and then graddually up the Lane.  We lost it when it flew into the conifers.  This was a big surprise and unexpected here, I had hoped to find one by the farm.

Monday, 6 February 2012

6th February - Setting the Trap

I had a look in Old Down Wood late afternoon.  At the gateway I could hear Bullfinch, but didn't actually see them until I reached the footpath fork.  One male looking superb, with it's cherry red breast, and two grey females.  As they flew off their white rumps flashed through the trees.

Finch flocks could be heard all through out the tree tops but I couldn't make them out.  After a short walk I headed back to the car.  At the gate the Bullfinches were back, along with a pair of Nuthatches calling to each other.

Went for a run later and the Tawny Owl was calling along Gradwell Lane.  Helen, coming up behind though not only heard it but saw it in Brislands Lane.  It must have come across the field, and flew into the trees.  Disturbing it once again it gave a very close view as she went past.

The snow is almost gone now, and the trap is set...

Sunday, 5 February 2012

5th February - Snow (Hey Oh!)

Snow fell from early evening on Saturday, but by the early hours of Sunday morning it had turned to rain.  We woke Sunday morning to a misty white scene, it was no where near as cold as previous mornings, but the snow brightened the dull weather.  However the snow cover was definitely not to everyone's cup of tea!

Helen and I decided to checkout Old Down Wood. The snow was very wet and was thawing quite quickly, leaving plenty of water on top of the still quite frozen ground.  The road too was very wet with plenty of quite deep puddles

We walked into the wood, and decided to take the track around the outside path parallel to Brislands Lane.  The walk was difficult as the melting snow was was making it slippery on top of the frozen ruts.  The snow was not too deep under the trees, and the Blackbirds appeared to be everywhere amongst the leaf litter.  Other than these the first part of the walk was quiet.  We scanned the fields in hope of something but could only find a few Common Gulls flying around.  Yesterday at Bransbury Common we had seen Hares in similar habitats, but not here.  As we came to the furthest point of the wood, something was running quickly across the field, I hoped Hare, but it turned out to be a Roe Deer, I managed to get a few shots, and  this was the best, it seemed to have been spooked by something, there had been gun shots earlier maybe that had something to do with it.

After scanning the fields and paddocks to the south, we walked back into the woods.  The area here is dominated by elder trees, some were dead but others were definitely alive, however the dead trees were covered in Jew's Ear Fungi, they definitely look like ears but where the Jew bit comes from I don't know.  According to the books they usualy gather in large amounts especially favouiring Elders.  Against the light the fungus looks translucent, and quite beautiful.

The bird life had been quiet, but along the path we could hear Goldcrests, but for once they were not in the tree tops but on the ground.  They were moving very quicky amongst the moss and leaf litter.  We watched them for a while but had to move on when a couple walking along the path decided they wanted the whole wood to hear what they were talking about!

The trees in this area were mostly covered in snow on one side of the bark, as a result they produced a lovely scene with the orange appearance of the bark, and the rich brown of the dead beech leaves.

The mild winter up to now was probably the reason why the bluebells are very advanced, you can see them all over the floor of the wood under the trees.  The snow seemed to enhance them on the floor.  I have seen snow and bluebell flowers, I hope that is not the case this year.

We turned of the perimeter track and continued on into the wood, mainly because of other walkers, this proved to be very fruitful, because we found tracks in the snow that were definitely those of badger.  They came from and could be found leading to an area of dead trees and leaf litter.  They clearly had been digging and stripping the dead bark in the night.  The tracks continued along the main footpath, and we even found some further on in another area of the wood.  The snow had revealled their prescence something I had never realised before.  The tracks are quite distinctive, and easily picked out from the mainy dog tracks around

In the area to the east of the wood we came across lots digging and over turned leaf litter.  It soon became apparent that this was caused by Redwings as we disturbed a large flock and they took off to the tops of ther trees.  The fields around the wood were sparsely covered by snow, but this managed to creat a lovely scene against the very wintery trees along Brislands Lane.

We continued on around the perimeter, stopping to check the tree tops for Redpoll and Sisken, and then the floor of the wood for Thrushes.  The footpaths criss cross through the wood, and lead out over the surrounding fields.  In the summer you walk through the cereal crops that have been sown, today there was no doubt as to where the path went.

We decided to come out of the wood, and check out Swelling Hill Pond, but this proved to be very quiet, the sought after Woodcock just not there.  We went back into the wood to finish off the perimeter walk.  Stopping at a gate to look over the fields and paddocks Helen pointed out the refracted view of the gate in the water drop on the tree branch, here is a view of the gate and fields beyond upside down in a drop of water!

We walked out of the wood, and back down Brislands Lane, the cold was now beginning to bite, so we were looking forward to a warm up and a cup of tea.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

4th February - Garden

I saw the blue tit this morning, feeding with another on the feeder.  We were also treated to up to 6 Goldfinches and 5 Linnets.  All the birds enjoyed the bird bath, and it required repeated trips to melt the ice.  Late afternoon we had a sprinkling of snow, and the female Pied Wagtail looked quite sad as it stood in the middle of the lawn with the snow falling.  I wonder if the snow will come to anything? 

Friday, 3 February 2012

3rd February - The First Real Cold Snap

The cold still persists, and at long last the birds are returning to the garden, but still not the same numbers as last year.  Snow is forecast Sunday so we will see what that brings in.

The female Pied Wagtail was present early on, and whilst the majority of her tail feathers have grown they do not seem to be at full length, as you can see from the photograph the outer feathers seem to be shorter, and not fully in place.

The video camera is on the bird bath for the time being, and it demonstrates how much the residents use it, as they arrive at the bath and look quite puzzled when they find it frozen.  This Blue Tit though was lucky as it found some water that hadn’t re-frozen and enjoyed a drink.

Of note this morning was the presence of 3 Rooks, normally I only see them flying over, but today they actually ventured into the garden.  I was unable to catch them in the garden but did manage a shot of one through the window scavenging from some food that had been dropped in the road.

While trying to photograph the blue tits, I noticed this individual. 

It would appear that the feathers have been stripped from the left side of it’s head around the eye.  It looked very strange to begin with, more like Richard from Boardwalk Empire!.  The bird did not seem to mind, and was feeding well from the feeders along with the other tits, but it must be cold for it right now, at least I will be able to see if it keeps coming.