Wednesday, 4 April 2012

3rd April - Drip, Drip, Drip. April Showers?

It had rained on and off during the afternoon, and the skies were full of dark ominous clouds, typically when there are showers they die out by five o'clock so I decided to risk it.  It was rather nice to see raindrops on the leaves, and the showers had given a different hue to the grass and newly developing leaves.

Yesterday I had reported on how there seemed to be a lot of Blackbirds around, and that I was concerned about how they would fare hunting for food with the dry, hard ground.  There were a lot around today as well, but today they seemed to be a lot happier!

I walked across the field between Blackberry and Alton Lane, then through the garden centre and down to Willis Lane.  In the fields beyond the garden centre, rabbits could be seen by the hedges, but this one just froze and lay in the middle of the field.  At first I thought there was something wrong with it, but it looks perfectly healthy, just completely scared.  It lay their for sometime before suddenly picking up the courage to bolt to the hedge at the edge of the field to join the other rabbits.

As I started to walk up Kitwood Lane it started to rain, and once I reached the cattle sheds I realised that it was quite a heavy shower and that I needed to take shelter.  As you can see the weather now is completely different from the wonderful sunshine we enjoyed for the last two weeks.

The rain continued on and off as I walked along Kitwood and then along Swelling Hill past the pond.  The pond is going to need considerably more rain to bring the water levels back to where they normally have been.  In the far corner were two Moorhen, the first time I had seen the pair, let's hope they nest.

Into Old Down, and by the entrance I heard my first singing Blackcap of the year.  It had to compete with a couple of Chiffchaffs, but the song was unmistakable.  The woods were very quiet, but the rain had brought out more colour than had been noticeable over the last few weeks.  The larch trees were especially green as were the Hazel leaves, the larch trees also providing an impressive sight with their tall, slightly thin trunks.

Another feature of the wood enhanced by the rain was the orange colouration on the trunks of the trees.  It is brighter mainly on the Larches, but can also be seen on the oak and beech trees.

I have noticed this for sometime now in these woods, but was not really sure what causes it, so when I got home I had to research it.  It would appear the culprit is an alga known as Trentepohlia.  It is commonly found as a algal partner with various fungi in lichens, but in its free living form it appears as an orange coating on the bark of trees.  It is a green alga, but appears orange due to the presence of carotinoid pigments in it's cells.  There are apparently many other algae that can be found on tree bark, but they are either grey or green and not so obvious.  The alga does not hurt the tree, the bark acts as a convenient location to live out it's life, it can be brushed off, but I think it adds to the colour of the wood, and if nothing else serves as an excellent talking point.

The rain drops also provided a nice feature on the lovely lime green larch leaves.  The larch is a deciduous pine, and every year the new growth provides a lovely display.

It was quite gloomy now as I walked out of the wood by the Gradwell footpath.  As I turned into Brislands I heard a strange call, it was like Bullfinch, but not something I had heard before.  There has always been a pair around this area for as long as I can remember (obviously not the same pair), so I checked the trees and straight away found a male Bullfinch.  It was the owner of the strange call, and it's behaviour was also very unusual.  The chest was pushed out and the head held back giving the appearance of a small headed, large bodied bird.  At the same time it would flick it's tail from side to side.  As I have said the light was very gloomy so photography was going to be difficult but I did manage to capture the "jizz".

It quickly became obvious the reason for the behaviour as a female came into view.  The male continued to hop from branch to branch calling and wagging the tail, while continuing to push out his crimson pink breast and sway from side to side.

Every so often he would jump up as if to mount her, but she wasn't that receptive to the idea, and would just move aside.  This didn't deter him though and he continued to sway and pout along side her.

Eventually she got fed up and flew off.  He sat around for a while as if trying not to look to upset by the put down.  Then he too flew off in the direction she had gone, probably to have another go at his wooing.  I have never seen this before, and it was amazing to watch.  I have never read of this courtship dance, or seen any footage of it.  This is probably due to the fact that these birds are normally secretive, living out their lives in the thickets.  I felt very honoured to have witnessed what is a special moment but rarely seen aspect of our resident bird life.

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