Monday, 30 April 2012

29th April - And the Rain, Rain, Rain, Came Down, Down, Down,

In rushing, rising, riv'lets.....

Since we came back from our walk on Friday evening, until the early afternoon of today it has not stopped raining. I can't remember rain like this for some time, I know we need it but I just wish it didn't have to come all in one month.  As the rain eased, and there were signs of the sun breaking through, I got itchy feet and wanted to go out for a walk.  It seemed others were feeling the same, and as I left a Buzzard flew low over the house, this was the first of many I saw on my short walk.  It would seem that the birds of prey were hungry, and that the rain had stopped them hunting.  Overall on the walk I saw at least two Sparrowhawks, three Kestrels, and six buzzards, all actively hunting or displaying.  The crows weren't too happy about this, and would do their best to annoy them, as this Crow did along Brislands.

Brislands Lane regularly floods at the junction with Lymington Bottom, but this afternoon, there was a considerable amount of water there.

The paddock opposite the recreation ground was sodden, and was full of Blackbirds, Thrushes and Starlings.  I took a picture of them, and then noticed something that was not a thrush.

In amongst the Blackbirds was a Green Woodpecker.  You will often see them on the ground, normally feeding on ants, but in this case with the ground so water logged I don't think there would have been many ants around, it must have been looking for the same food as the Blackbirds.

As I scanned the paddock I then noticed that there was in fact a pair feeding.  I have heard them calling all year, but this has been the first chance to get a photo.

As I left the woodpeckers, alarm calls went off, and Jackdaws were suddenly calling, as I looked around a male Sparrowhawk went through, upsetting all the feeding birds in the paddock.  It's attempt was unsuccessful, mostly due to the attention of the Jackdaws.  I took the Gradwell path into the wood, and around the horse stables a couple of Swallows swooped over the paddock, and were joined by a single House Martin.  The rabbits were all out feeding, taking the opportunity of the break in the rain, although some did look very wet.  They were totally unconcerned about the horses, even when the hooves came close.

The sun would come and go, and the clouds were building up once again, looking very menacing when the sun was out, but at the same time producing more dramatic skies.

The wood was also very wet, and this along with the strong winds must have been the contributing factor to the sight that greeted me as I came down the footpath towards the crossroads.  A Silver Birch had fallen across the footpath, this must have happened recently.  The tree had come out of the ground, and the soil around the roots was very wet, while at the bottom very dry.  This must have caused a very unstable base, and with the leaves coming out the wind just caught it and down it went.  This confirms the statements from the water companies about the water not getting into the ground, as the soil about 15 to 20 centimetres down was very dry.  The path was completely blocked, so it will have to be cut up, not sure who does that, I will have to wait and see.

I managed to get around the tree, and walked towards the West End.  More alarm calls alerted me to another Sparrowhawk that swept through the trees low and up into a larch.  As I tried to get closer, a dog started barking at me and it flew off, again starting more alarm calls.

The wind was quite strong now, and the trees were moving around and creating unsettling noises.  I stopped to look across the fields, and saw a Buzzard enjoying the uplift from the wood.  It soared and dived for some time in the wind, with the sun occasionally catching it and contrasting it against the dark sky.

The sun would also pick out the lush green fields looking to the south, and with the dark clouds producing once again another perspective on this lovely view.

The path was very muddy, and I made my way to the West End, and scanned across the fields, there was a significant movement of Swallows from the south west, I counted at least 15 in about 5 minutes.  I hoped for a Swift, but was unlucky.  Buzzards could be seen soaring in the distance over the trees, and a first summer Herring Gull flew through heading north.  In the distance I could see rain, so I decided to start making my way back, but not before capturing another lovely view of the trees with newly emerging leaves against the sunlit rape field.

The walk around the perimeter was difficult due to the mud, but in taking it slowly, it provided the chance to smell the wild garlic.  Plenty of flowers are now out, and they look lovely and fresh against the lush green foliage.

As I came out on to the main path leading to Brislands, looking back I saw another tree down across the path.  It would appear this one has come down because the base of the trunk was mostly rotten, Mother Nature's way of removing the old trees to give the new trees their chance.

As I walked out towards Brislands I noticed a Brown Rat on the path, as it trotted down the path avoiding the water all I could think of was rats leaving a drowning ship!

It had now started raining again, and I walked briskly along Brislands, the sun hadn't given up though, and provided a very nice rainbow over Gradwell Lane, I think I know where the end of the rainbow is falling!

Back at the horse paddock there were now even more birds feeding, Mistle Thrushes had joined the Blackbirds and Starlings, and were the first to leave very noisily as what I think was the same male Sparrowhawk from earlier came swooping across the field.  It was too quick for my camera, and it emptied the field completely.  It was clearly determined to hunt because as I walked along Lymington Bottom past the church it came low along the road, and then headed off low over the hedges to chase a Collared Dove.  The Dove saw it coming and managed to get away.

Only a short walk today, as the rain was now coming down quite heavily again.  The small window though had provided some interesting events and wonderful scenery once again

Saturday, 28 April 2012

27th April - You're a Little Late!

They have just said that this has been one of the wettest Aprils on record, and the amount of rain that fell this week was more than in the whole of December.  It was raining in the morning but the forecast for Friday was for sunny periods in the afternoon, I was optimistic at being able to get out later, and as it turned out Helen and I had a nice evening walk.

We set off across a very wet field between Blackberry Lane and Alton Lane, and then took the footpath past Garthowen.  Blackbirds were singing everywhere, and the Rooks were very busy at the rookery at Garthowen. 

In the field between Blackberry and Alton, a pair of Swallows quartered the grass, swooping low over the field, and sweeping back and forth.  Despite the fact they came quite close to us they were too quick and agile for me to get a photo.

We turned down Willis Lane, taking the chance to check the Lords and Ladies, there was evidence of the flowers being eaten, but we couldn't find any flowers.  Near the horses we found some cowslips, which have been difficult to find considering we are on chalk, and they seem to be flowering everywhere else, this is probably due to the fact that we do not have that much grassland that suits them.

As we walked towards Kitwood I thought the swallows might have turned up at Beech Farm, where they have nested for years, but there was no sign of them.  Again it was quiet along Kitwood, and looking over towards Dogford Wood, the clouds gave a very impressive view, somewhere it was going to get wet again.

If the weather in April has not be conducive to the incoming summer residents, it has contributed to producing some dramatic scenery.  From Kitwood we walked towards the pond, as we approached we could hear Blackbirds making a hell of a noise, and along with them there was a Blackcap that was very unsettled.  We could only presume there was an Owl somewhere that they had found.  We have heard them here so we know they are about, but we could not find the source of the Blackbirds concerns.  The water level in the pond is very high, probably the highest I have seen it for some time.  The lily pads are starting to develop, and also on the water's surface were a few pond skaters.

Leaving the pond we set of to walk through Old Down.  We knew it was going to be wet, but was hopeful that the main track was passable.  It was but you had to tread carefully.  What a difference a few weeks makes, in the middle of March the ground was like rock, now it is wet and sticky mud.  The Bluebells did not appear to have progressed at all, and you could see shoots with buds that were yet to flower.  I couldn't resist another chance to capture these beautiful flowers, and now the beech leaves were coming out in a lovely lime green colour which contrasts with the blue.

Another flower in the wood caught the eye, this was a Red Campion, the first I have seen this year.  The flowers seem to go through a colour season, starting with the white of the snowdrops, yellow of the daffodil, and the blue of the bluebells.  The next season is the red and pink of the Campion and Foxglove, and this was the first sign.

We came out of the woods and set off along Brislands, the clouds were closing in and it was becoming quite dull again despite the fact the sun was still quite high.  The clouds though did contribute again to a dramatic sky to the west towards Winchester.

As we walked along Lymington Rise I noticed a small bird flying above the houses, at first I thought it was a displaying Greenfinch, but looking closer it was a House Martin.  House Martins have nested around the estate for as long as we have been here, and I have been expecting them back any day.  In fact I predicted they would be here on the 23rd April, which is the usual date they are seen, so this year they are late!  At this time of year they seem to appear in the evening, it won't be until the middle of May when they start to seriously inspect the old nests, and the young ones start to build new nests.  For now I will have to make do with this grainy shot of the first House Martin of the year, I am sure I will get the chance to take many more, and  I will also have plenty of stories about the Reads Field House Martins.

In the garden at home a Greenfinch was singing.  There are concerns about the Greenfinch, due to the fact that they are suffering from a disease called trichomonosis, and large numbers of greenfinches are dying and the population is falling rapidly.  The number in the garden has been well down this winter, and I hope it was due to the mild weather and not this horrible disease.  At the moment we have about three pairs visiting, and this male was enjoying the evening sun, that had reappeared from behind the clouds.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

21st April - It's 5 O'Clock In The Morning

With the way the weather has been over the last week there was a risk of getting soaked during the day, and the last few days early morning has been the best time with sun and clear skies.  We had talked about a pre-dawn start this spring, so decided today was as good a day as any to give it a try.  The alarm went off at 4.45 am, and we were on our way by 5.00 am!

The birds were already singing, but these were mainly Blackbirds and Robins.  A Wren would holler out it's song every so often, and in between the Blackbirds, a few Song Thrushes could also be heard.  I am assuming these were all resident birds, that have been here all winter, and were probably nesting by now.  As we walked along Lymington Bottom, and up Brislands Blackbirds could be seen on roof tops singing away.

As we left the houses and walked alongside the fields, the bird song declined, there was not the expected chorus coming from the wood as we approached.  A Roe Deer ran along the field, and then into the wood at the footpath entrance, it's white behind catching our attention as it bounced through the field.

It was about 45 minutes until sunrise as we walked along Brislands but it was getting quite light, and it was possible to see the mist hanging over the fields.  Looking to the east the skies were also getting lighter.

As we entered the wood, there was bird song, but again mainly Blackbirds and Robins.  The Song Thrush though was singing from the same tree as yesterday.  We took the perimeter path to the east of the wood, it was still very wet, and the paths were very muddy.  In the lower trees both Blackcap and Chiffchaffs started to sing, the first change from the residents, it was now nearly 6.00 am, and the sun was almost up.

With yesterday's rain, and the overnight clear skies everywhere was very wet, the trees had raindrops on the branches, and the grass and fields were very heavy with dew.  As the sun rose the raindrops sparkled like jewels on the branches.

With the rising sun the mist enhanced, and mixed in with the the trees around the edge of the field, this produced some more lovely atmospheric views.

The mist also seemed to just hang above the fields, like a delicate blanket, but you could only really see it against the trees in the distance.  This view of the Kitwood footpath shows exactly what I mean.

The sun was now up, and with the mist came a golden glow, from the low angle of the sun.  As we walked along the perimeter to the south, we had to keep stopping to take in the lovely views.  Helen also managed to get the camera.

Blackcaps were singing all over the wood, just like yesterday, Tits could also be heard calling, along with the occasional Great Spotted Woodpecker, but other than that there were no other new songs or call.  We saw three more Roe Deer bounce across the path and disappear into the wood, but after that not much more.  We decided to leave the wood and have a look at the pond.  The mist was hanging over the water as we walked around the outside.  Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sang from the surrounding trees, while we also heard Goldcrests in the scrub at the back.  A Moorhen walked slowly around the water's edge, and as it was a little dark it was difficult to get a good view.  This reflected image though, I think looks quite nice.

The mist on the pond seemed to increase, and as we looked across the pond from the far side we noticed that a pair of Mallards had arrived and were sitting in the middle of the pond.  The duck, the mist and the reflections made for yet another lovely composition.

Swelling Hill Pond is the only real wetland on the patch, and believe me it isn't very big. Surrounded by trees it probably doesn't get seen from the air, and as a result does not seem to attract that many avian visitors.  This panoramic gives an idea of what I mean, it did look lovely this morning though with the mist and golden sunshine.

The sun was also lighting up Swelling Hill Road, and as we looked back as we walked back to Old Down, the road was transformed by the early morning sunshine.

The rape field was also getting the sunlight treatment, and looking south from the road at the wood entrance the yellow rape flowers were lit up by the morning light.  Again, you either love it or loathe it, and I am not sure what I think, but this morning it looked glorious.

This early morning excursion was turning into more about the scenery than the wildlife, everywhere we looked the sun was producing some fantastic scenes.  As we walked back into Old Down, the trees along the southern edge were lit up, and the newly emerging leaves picked out against the darker tree branches.

We took the perimeter track heading west, it was extremely muddy and quite hard going.  Keeping your head down to watch where you are stepping means you don't see what is going on around you, but the wood was still very quiet, not quite what I had expected for this time of year.  At the West End in the paddocks a mother cow was giving her calf breakfast.

In the trees along the hedgerow surrounding the paddocks, crows had gathered.  This was quite interesting as it in unusual to see so many crows all together, I originally thought that they were Rooks, but they weren't.

We followed the perimeter around to the north, and just before the main track headed into the wood and along another path in the direction of the crossroads.  Like everywhere else it was very wet.  With the sun behind us, the shadows and the bluebells looked very nice, so I couldn't resist another bluebell scene!

From the crossroads we walked in the direction of the Gradwell entrance.  These two pictures  give some idea of how wet the wood has now become, with the weather forecast for the coming week giving little chance of any change, the ground is only going to get wetter, good news for the thrushes and robins searching for food.

We headed down Gradwell, and I became excited by the sight of a bird on the roof of the old barn with the owl box, however despite trying I couldn't turn a Wood Pigeon into a Little Owl.  The opportunity to photograph birds had been very difficult due to the light, and the fact that they didn't seem to be about.  However along Lymington Bottom a singing Blackcap male presented itself, and allowed me to finally get a good picture of a Blackcap.  As you can see from the feathers on the throat, it was in full song.

We headed to home for breakfast, and wondered when the rain would return.  It had been a lovely walk for the atmospherics, but a little disappointing for the wildlife.

Friday, 20 April 2012

20th April - Spring Has Showered

For a change the morning was clear with sunshine and a little mist.  The previous days have seen heavy rain, and it has been impossible to get out.  This morning I took the chance very early on to walk around Old Down Wood to see what was around, and what had changed.

The first thing I noticed was how wet and muddy the tracks and footpaths were, water was lying everywhere, a symptom unfortunately of the clay and chalky soil.  This time of year the water doesn't soak in and usually just evaporates in the wind and sun.  I walked around the north perimeter, the bluebells still have some more time required to peak, but the floor of the wood is now very green, with the Bluebell leaves, the Dog Mercury, Ramsoms and now Solomon's Seal.  The Dog Mercury as I mentioned in a previous post has very inconspicuous flowers, and the sexes are separate plants so large patches can be either male or female, and they are then dependent mostly on insect pollination.

The Solomon's Seal have only recently started to emerge, being seen mostly on the northern perimeter edge.  These are plants that have leaves arranged alternatively in two rows on either side of the stem.  Hanging underneath them are small white and green tipped flowers, that look like bells.  The flowers are not that advanced yet, but there are few that can be seen at the moment.  The recent rain has left them looking a bit bedraggled though.

At the West End, I found a pair of Marsh Tits.  They originally flew past me and into the undergrowth, but I was able to get them to respond to the tape.  This one was extremely vocal in response, although it wouldn't come to close, preferring to scold me from a distance.  this was the first time I had found Marsh Tits in this part of the wood.  Unfortunately again today there was no sign of the Willow Tits.

The bluebells continue to hold a spell, and again I couldn't resist another opportunity to build up a picture.  The rain drops and watery sunshine helped once again.

I walked out towards the Gradwell entrance, and then back along the southern perimeter.  Blackcaps had definitely increased, today I counted at least 5 singing males, and I saw 3 females.  Every song seemed different, and warranted a close listen, just in case it could be Garden Warbler, but I was happy they were all Blackcaps. 

The Tawny Owl was in it's usual tree, and also had neighbours in a pair of Bullfinches.  The Bullfinches seemed to be totally unaware of the owl, and the owl was not concerned by either them or me, so I left it in peace to enjoy the sunshine while it could.

At the Kitwood footpath entrance I heard a Willow Warbler singing, my first for a couple of weeks.  I wasn't able to see it though as it was well hidden in the now well advanced leaves of the larch trees.  I walked around the perimeter to the main path then headed back to the cross roads, and out towards the Brislands entrance.  A Song Thrush was in full song in an oak tree, and probably has a mate nearby sitting on eggs.  I saw one earlier foraging on the leaf litter in the same location.

As I approached the style I noticed a small bird in the trees, the first good view was unhelpful, as it had it's back to me, and it's feathers all fluffed out.  Any ideas?

After a while I managed to get a better view, and it also decided to sing, which clinched the identification...

Apologies for more pictures of a Chiffchaff, and there is a good chance I have photographed this one before based on where I found it, but very soon all the leaves will be out, and all I will be able to get will be the song, and I think these little birds are gorgeous, and much better than their monotonous song.

With week being so wet and miserable there has been little else to report, however on Monday as I came home I noticed a yellow butterfly on the lawn, and as it setlled I managed to catch it and take it indoors.  It was in fact a moth, a Brimstone Moth.  I know these are considered quite common, but I don't get the chance to see moths that often let alone photograph them, so this was an nice opportunity.

The markings are beautiful, as are the soft hairs on the thorax and head.  It usually flies after dusk, but can be seen by day, and is mistaken for a butterfly

I would love to have a moth trap in the garden, but don't have the time in the morning when I work to empty it, so I shall have to wait, but it is definitely something for the future