One then flew of on it's own, and sat in the tree in Lymington Bottom, giving me my best views and photos of a Jay so far this year. A good start, what next?
The Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpecker were continuing their dispute along Brislands, the woodpecker made a brief appearance, and as soon as it did the nuthatches started to call and fly around the potential nest hole, and then the woodpecker. They seemed to be very intent on guarding the hole.
Into Old Down Wood and we were greeted with the now common call of the Chiffchaff. When we finally found the source of the song it was clear that the night had been cold, because the little fella was all puffed up and singing from a branch in the sunshine!
The colder temperatures of the last week appeared to have slowed down the flowering of the bluebells, and where I had predicted them to be in full bloom by Easter, I now think they will need another week or two to reach their peak. The sunshine though does create a lovely scene under the beech trees with the green of the bluebells, and the light brown of last year's beech leaves.
Movement in the distance alerted us to a pair of Roe Deer. This was a surprise considering the amount of dogs that had gone through the wood ahead of us. They were very cautious, and as we watched them, they watched us from behind the trees.
We walked around the wood and went to check on the Tawny Owl. As we approached it's usual tree, we could see it watching us, but as we got a little closer it flew off silently across the wood to the sound of the alarm calls from the songbirds again. Fortunately this time we were able to relocate it high in one of the pines. The light was good and I was able to get a photo of it in the sun.
We walked around to get the sun behind us, but struggled to relocate the tree that the owl was in. While all this was going on a pair of Buzzards called and circled above us. Looking around we noticed a large nest in a pine tree, that might be a Buzzard's nest, we will just have to see. Finally we found the owl, again in lovely sunshine, and I managed to get this shot.
After watching the owl for a while, we walked back to the track. The wood is mostly carpeted with Celandines and Wood Anemones, but if you look carefully you can find Wood Sorrel. This little clump was a lot pinker than some I have seen, and again was lit up beautifully by the sunshine.
As we came out of the wood along the Kitwood entrance footpath which cuts across the field, looking back, the style and footpath sign was highlighted against the trees and very dry footpath.
We walked along the road to the Swelling Hill Pond, which was also benefiting from the wonderful sunlight, the trees reflecting in the very low water.
The toad spawn was now gone and in it's place were tadpoles. There didn't seem to be too many considering the amount of spawn we had seen back in early March.
We checked the periwinkle bank, but there were no butterflies, just bee flies and honey bees. The may blossom is now starting to come out, and this provides a very nice photo moment if the birds pose, as this Blue Tit did.
Along the road from the pond some vetch were flowering early, this is Common Vetch, and obviously doesn't like the cold weather as the petals do not look too good.
We were going back into Old Down, but paused at the entrance to look at the newly flowering Yellow Archangel. This is similar to the white dead nettle, and again despite looking like a nettle, they do not sting. The flowers again like the dead nettle are hooded and bright yellow.
We walked into Old Down, and as we came off the style Helen pointed out a butterfly as it went past us. It fluttered around for a while before finally settling and allowing us to identify it. It was a Speckled Wood, and the first for the year.
The sunlight dappled shadows and light through the branches and new leaves, and I could not resist another shot of the newly emerging larch leaves.
We walked around the perimeter and there was bird song everywhere. The dominant birds though being the wren and chiffchaff. One snippet of song did get my attention though, and as it sang again I realised it was a Willow Warbler. When I have been in Old Down over the past years I have never heard one singing here, the only place I have heard one was in the field between Alton Lane, and Blackberry Lane. This then was an event for me. I managed to find it the bushes just outside the fence. It would sing and then fly catch as it moved through the branches. It did stay still long enough for me to get a shot of it, and you can see the lighter legs and longer wings in comparison with the Chiffchaff. A first for the year, and a first for Old Down.
The ash trees against the blue sky provided another lovely composition, with the white of the bark contrasting with the deep blue sky.
Nuthatches could be heard all over the wood, and every so often one would present itself for a photo. This was one of the best I was able to get.
Leaving the gull, we walked up Andrews Lane. Buzzards were making the most of the sun and were soaring around us. We paused to check the paddocks, and Helen noticed a Red Kite at the back of the field. It kept low, and soon went away from sight. We carried on up the lane, and suddenly all the gulls were above us and calling. Very soon it was clear why, as the Red Kite came back over, this time giving us some lovely views.
At the top of the lane, the footpath faces south, and we were hoping that there would be some more butterflies, the periwinkle again only had bees and bee flies, but a little further along a Small White flew by, finally settling on the periwinkle.
We were not the only ones enjoying the lovely weather, the lambs in the field at Lyeway farm were making the most of the sun. You could hear the odd bleats but most of the families were lying around just enjoying the sun. This lamb though was obviously not happy sleeping and wanted to wake Mum up, I wonder if it's name is Katie?
The Horse Chestnuts along Lyeway are at various stages of development, some are almost fully out with flowers, while others are just emerging. As the leaves emerge they fold back and give the impression of bats wings. It is lovely to see them so fresh, because back in the summer they were almost all infected by the leaf miner which kills off the leaves, and no doubt it will be the same story this summer.
The road side verge along Lyeway is currently covered with lots of small flowers such as the barren strawberry and violets. However in one area there was clump of tall white flowers. We had seen these at the weekend as we had driven through Sussex. Not being able to identify them straight away, some research resulted in an identification of a Cuckooflower.
Scanning the field at Lyeway I found a male Wheatear. It was too far away to photograph, but I was happy with the identification, you could not mistake that white rump as it flew off. Another bird I had hoped to find, but was not sure would turn up. I have regularily scanned these fields for weeks now, and at last I have a result. Now up to 69 for the year.
The field was providing some lovely compositions in the sunlight, the lines of the new seedlings coming through, and the clump of trees in the middle of the field.
A Great Tit posed nicely for us in the hedge just before we turned off to walk down the Kitwood bridleway, so I obliged it by taking the photo.
The bridleway faces south, like the footpath at the top of Andrews Lane and felt quite warm in the sun as it was also sheltered from the cool north westerly breeze. I felt it would be good for butterflies, and almost immediately Helen found a Holly Blue. It flew around for a while before settling on the ground. They normally keep the wings up allowing the chance to see the dark blue spots on the underwing.
Like the speckled wood, this was a first for the year, and it was quickly joined by a small tortoiseshell which did not settle but kept going through. With the warmth there were lots of bees flying around, and they would hover in front of us. They became a challenge and I wanted to photograph one in air. It was very difficult because once you had focused they would zip off. This was the best I could manage.
Buzzards have been everywhere today, and along the bridleway we had heard them calling. A pair then went into their display flight, soaring and gaining height before closing their wings and then diving down before pulling up and soaring again. At one time they came close and grasped talons, this photo was taken just after they had grabbed and unlocked.
Blackcap and Chiffcahff were singing in Kitwood Plantation, and we chased an Orange Tip butterfly around waiting for it to settle, which it never did. Helen wandered off the track looking at the flowers, and as I watched her I noticed a Buzzard perched on a dead branch about four feet from her. I couldn't believe it and told her to stand still, but she was not aware what I was photographing. Finally she realised and was able to see it. The bird didn't move it kept looking at us and looking all around it.
I couldn't believe the opportunity we had been given, but after a while, and the fact that the bird hadn't made a move or shown any concern over our presence, I began to feel the situation was not right. If you look at this photo you will see that the eye on the left side looks a little damaged, but the other eye was always bright and looking around.
I was now hoping that that the bird would fly off, but it didn't, it began to move up the branch but with no real purpose even when I started to walk closer to it.
Finally it jumped off the branch away from us, and attempted to fly, but didn't leave the ground, and it stumbled across the ground to another dead branch. I now realised the bird was not well, and walked closer. It made no effort to get away, and just lay on the branch with it's bill open, and it's tongue out.
Just after this photo was taken it stumbled forward with its head falling into the ground and its wings held out. The tail was also pushed up. Clearly the bird was not well and possibly dying. The euphoria I had felt when I first saw it and the the opportunity it gave to get some incredible photographs rapidly disappeared. We felt helpless not being able to do anything, although I am not sure what we could have done, there was no way I was going to try and pick it up! In the end we decided to leave it in peace.
If the bird was going to die a little piece of solace was that the bird had not died alone, we had been there with it. What was a mystery though was why was it unwellf? Was it old age? It seemed to be quite a healthy looking bird the plumage looking immaculate. Or was it poisoned? We will never know, I just hope it was not suffering as we watched it. As we walked away from the bird, we discussed how we felt about this. It was a very strange encounter, and while we were sad at the plight of the buzzard, we strangely felt honoured to have witnessed this, honoured that we had been able to share the time with such a beautiful bird.
We left the Buzzard and headed up the track past the Newton Plantation. Blackcap sang from the bushes along the footpath, and Marsh and Great Tit zipped about in the tree tops. We came out of the wood, and then walked around to the farm. On the edge of the footpath we found an unusal pink flowering plant, unfortunately I don't think it is a wild flower, and has probably made it's way from the farmhouse garden. As a bonus an Orange Tip settled on them, and allowed the opportunity for photographs. This is a male, and you can also see the lovely pattern on the underwing.
We walked through the farm and down past the Maryanne plantation. From there we crossed the field heading for the old Kitwood Bridleway. As we walked across the field I found a single Lapwing in the middle of the field. Again the distance didn't make for good photography, but from the record shot you can see it is a Lapwing, a bird that is very rarely seen in the fields around here. Previously I had seen one flyover back in January, so it was nice to be able to confirm a patch tick.
Along the rest of the bridleway, and through Lord's Wood there was very little new to see. The Chiffchaffs sang, as they have everywhere today. Out of Lord's Wood, we made our way up to Weathermore Lane. Blackcap had been singing in many places all day, but I had not been able to get good views of the male birds. Along Weathermore Lane a female was moving through the bramble and ivy, and finally popped up to give this opportunity.
We were quite tired now, and a cup of tea was calling as we walked down Alton Lane, and through the field to Blackberry. We had covered 10 miles of footpaths around the patch, and that didn't count the times we walked back and forth looking for something.
As a postscript to the events of today, I went back on Saturday afternoon to the the Kitwood Bridleway to see what became of the Buzzard . When I got there I don't know if I was pleased or sad that the bird was not there. Of course the fact the body was not there does not prove the bird recovered, the body could have been taken by a fox. However as I turned to walk away a Buzzard called loudly above me as it came over the wood heading for Dogford Wood. As it flew across the field, three other Buzzards came over the tree tops. The Buzzard joined them and they soared all together. Yesterday we only saw three Buzzards here, and the bird that came over calling was very pale, so who knows, did it recover? I would like to think so.