Tuesday, 17 April 2012

15th April - Swallows and Bluebells

After the cloud and rain of yesterday, the morning dawned with clear skies, sunshine and very cold temperatures.  We set off on the long walk this morning, with the hope that the sun would bring out something of interest in the sheltered spots, where the cold north wind didn't cool things down.  Before we left this male Starling was enjoying the sun on the TV aerial, it was in full voice, and in the sunlight you can see the beautiful, iridescent feathers.  Once again a common bird, that we probably do not appreciate as much as we should for their lovely plumage.

We took the Gradwell entrance into Old Down, and the chance to look for any activity along the hedgerows.  There wasn't any, and this pretty much set the scene for the rest of the day.  Looking north across the field the four trees that have provided a nice subject throughout winter, were beginning to show signs of colour.

The wood was once again quiet, with the odd Wren singing, and occasional Chiffchaff, however today with the sunlight it didn't feel like winter.  The leaves are coming out on the smaller beech trees, and with the recent rain the vegetation and grass was looking very lush, something the sunshine picked out quite nicely.  We checked the Tawny Owl, which was present in its usual tree, and then walked around the southern perimeter.  Buzzards were calling overhead in the area of the nest.  With the growing leaves the nest is now not so conspicuous, and could probably be used later in the season.

We came back to the centre of the wood passing the small pool where we had found the frog spawn a few weeks ago.  With the rain the pool looks much more accommodating, and we could see the tadpoles swimming around.  There was no sign of development yet, and it will be interesting to record how long this process takes, as we are pretty sure when the spawn was laid.

Yesterday I remarked how the overcast conditions helped the bluebell colour, but today with the sunshine, I have to admit that was probably me trying to make good from a bad day.  In the sunshine the bluebells looked gorgeous, and you have to remember they still have a good way to go before they are all fully out.

We headed down the main footpath towards the west end, and found small areas where the Ransoms were just beginning to flower.  These are sometimes known as wild garlic because of the smell as the flowers come out.  I am also informed that the flowers can be used as a garlic flavour.  They do look very striking in amongst the green of their leaves and the Dog Mercury.

On the subject of Dog Mercury, I have noticed them increasingly covering the wood floor over the last few weeks, and have been waiting for them to flower.  However I have now found out they are flowering, and have very small yellowish green flowers on the stems.  This is why they are known as "Dog" Mercury, because they are very much I am afraid to say, an inferior flowering plant.

At the far end of the wood, the "west end" as I like to call it, the clear air provided an incredible view for quite a distance.  The rape is just beginning to come out to colour the landscape now.  This is the panoramic view that greets you as you come out of the shelter of the wood and stand on the edge of the field, beautiful.

The sheep in Desmond paddocks now have lambs, and there were also a few calves with the cows.  Of more significance though were the two Swallows that were flying around the field.  Despite my best efforts I was not able to get a record, and they headed off towards the west.  I thought they might have lingered around the cattle, we checked when we got to the lane but there was no sign of them.  Still the first for the year (not counting Verona), and a little late this year, but always welcome.

The walk up Andrews Lane did not produce anything other than the usual soaring buzzard.  My hunch that the sheltered south facing banks proved wrong this time, as all we could find was a singing Chiffchaff.  The wind was now quite brisk, and was in our faces as we walked down Lyeway.  It was nice to see the contrast between the two different fields, lit up by the sun with the rape on one side, and what now looks like some form of cabbage.

From Lyeway we turned off on to the bridleway, and again despite the shelter, the sun was not enticing anything out.  What was nice though was a group of four Lapwing over the field.  They appeared from the north east, and flew together across the field to the centre, and then began to go into the display flights with lots of calling.  This continued while we took a break for coffee, and as we walked the length of the bridleway.  I was so fascinated by the display I missed a Sparrowhawk that Helen saw as it buzzed the hedgerow quite close.  I have identified this field as being of potential for Dotterel, so it was nice that it has been an attraction for Lapwing, we can but hope, there is still time.  These shots are very distant, and do not do the aerobatics justice, but they are a nice record.  Once again though, just after I commented on the fact that I rarely see Lapwing here, two pairs turn up. 

Keeping up the theme of courtship display, a little further along the bridleway the buzzards put in an appearance.  This time there was only a pair and they were originally sitting on the pylon.  From here they set off over the field and up and over the wood.  There was much more cloud around now, and this was helping the soaring.  They would both gain height and then drop with their wings held close.  At one stage coming very close as they passed each other.

In keeping with the day the woods, and hedgerows were extremely quiet, with just the odd Great Tit calling or Blackbird foraging in the leaf litter.  We walked up the track towards Newton Farm, and then took the lane past Marylane Plantation.  Always an event, a drake Mallard flew past us down to the pond, and seemed to go onto what little water there was.  Reluctant to attempt the walk across the field we walked around the lanes to enter Kitcombe Plantation from Brightstone Lane.  There is a horse stud here, and we found another two swallows swooping low over the fields.  This time I did manage to get a record shot.  The first Swallows of the year.

A pheasant in the field was having a stand off with another, and would pop it's head up from the long grass to call at the other bird.  It was quite comical to watch.

We walked down the lane, and a Robin singing close by insisted on being photographed by presenting itself right next to me.  I was only to happy to oblige, they are lovely birds.

At the bottom of Kitcombe Bridleway, where the footpaths meet the sun, when out, would light up the track with a line of blue from the bluebells.  There was quite a bit of activity here, with finches feeding from the path, but as has been the case today, nothing out of the ordinary.

Lords Wood is so much wetter than anywhere else, with standing water and boggy patches.  I am fascinated as to why this should be as it is on a hill, and slopes away on both sides.  The soil is very peaty, and acidy, and not the usual chalky soil, but the water has to come from somewhere, as even during the dry spell it was still very damp in the wood.  We made our way with difficulty out of the wood, and then up Weathermore Lane.  The finches continued to use the path for drinks or even hidden food.  Just past the footpath turn off, a group of tits produced a pair of Marsh Tits.  Their call was unmistakable, and they also responded to the tape which gave me a very good opportunity to photograph.  Over the last week I have been asked about the Willow Tit sightings I have made.  Unfortunately I have not been able to get others to see them, and as we did yesterday I will continue to look in the hope that I can photograph them.  These photos will help then in identifying the differences between the two species.

Ever since noticing the abundance of Lords and Ladies Plants all over the patch, we have tried to find one in flower that was not damaged by frost or eaten.  Today we finally found one just as we come off Weathermore Lane.  You can guarantee that we will see them everywhere from now on!

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