Thursday, 28 June 2012

27th June - And In The Sky, The Larks Still Bravely Singing

Another grey day, but humid and slightly damp, it wasn't as cold as it has been, but the weather is still depressing.  The feeders in the garden are being used a lot just recently.  Up to now it has been adult birds coming in to hopefully get an easy meal, while they take time from hunting baby food, but just recently we have started to see juvenile birds coming to the feeders with the adults.  The Goldfinches have done well, and this youngster is obviously learning from the adult.

The adult Goldfiches don't look too worse for wear following the breeding season, in fact the feathers look quite sharp and new, so maybe it has already moulted.

Other finches that are regulars are the Linnets and Greenfinches.  It is nice to see that the Greenfinches have bred succesfully, they currently need all the help they can get.  This juvenile seems to prefer the cover the tree provides, and was content to feed for quite a while.

The garden is full of unsuspecting relationships, as the finches use the hanging feeders, both Woodpigeon, Dunnocks and Blackbirds patrol the grass beneath them to pick up the seeds the finches discard.  The juvenile Blackbirds have quickly learnt this trick from their parents, but they are very wary of the Woodpigeons.

Unfortunately the Blue Tits have not fared as well as the Goldfinches, this individual looks like it is just about ready for a well earned vacation, probably at a spa to recuperate!

As I have frequently said this month, June is the quiet time, the time the birds raise families, and hopefully the flowers come into their own, and butterflies and insects are a plenty.  This year has not seemed too be the case though, butterflies are far and few between, and the flowers seem to have been choked by vigourous nettle and grass growth.  However at the weekend as we drove out of the village I noticed a field with poppies growing in them just on the edge of the patch.  This evening was the first chance I had to go and get a good look, and hopefully they would provide a bit of colour to brighten another very dull day.

The poppies were growing in a rapeseed field that was now turning to seed, they skirted the outside of the field but a few patches could be also found stretching through the middle.  Poppies thrive on disturbed ground and can tolerate high amounts of lime. The plant also produces millions of seeds and the seeds can lie dormant in the ground for years until disturbed.  It must be about 5 years since I last saw poppies in this particular field.  Over the last few years they seem to have rotated around the various fields in the area.  It is difficult to say what actually happened to cause them to flower in this field this year, but it is lovely to see them against the drab grey June skies.

This one was taken looking south with Old Down Wood in the background (as seen on BBC South Today News!).

With the bluebells gone and the poppies having such a short flowering season I endulged myself with quite a few photos, they do make for a stunning sight.

This field also runs alongside the Watercress Line, so must form quite a lovely view for the passengers as they ride up and down the line.

Leaving the poppies I walked across the field footpath into Old Down.  The wood was extremely dark, and thick with nettles, grass, bracken and bramble.  Only 2 months ago the wood was light and carpeted with bluebells, sorrel, celandines and dog mercury, now it looks completely dead with no vegetation on the ground beneath the trees.  Despite the dark Chiffchaffs could be heard singing still, and every so often a Wren would announce itself as I walked by.  I disturbed a Roe Deer, and was pleased to see it had a fawn with it, but it was so dark I didn't see it in time to sort the camera out to compensate for the light.  I am pleased I did manage to see the pair at last though, the fawn is quite big now, but still with it's baby spots.

I took the north perimeter track which was very muddy, as a result I completely missed the Buzzard sitting in the tree until almost on top of it whereby it just flew off though the trees to the accompaniment of alarm calls from the songbirds. 

I left the darkness of the wood, and walked down through the paddocks, Swallows hawked the recently mown grass while rooks and crows foraged amongst the drying hay.  I walked up Andrews Lane, scanning the fields for anything interesting, but it was extremely quiet.  At the top of the bridleway it was quite damp and muddy, but this seemed to be ideal for slugs, they were everywhere.  They were all Black Slugs, or Black Arions as they are also known.  I became fascinated with slugs last year when on holiday in Vancouver Island.  There they have large yellow Banana Slugs, and I was amazed to find out that these Black Slugs can also be found in British Columbia.  Both the Banana and the Black Slug are members of the family Arionidae, The slug covers itself in a thick foul-tasting mucus which serves as both protection against predators as well as a measure to keep moistLike other members of the family Arionidae, the black slug has a pneumostome (breathing hole) on the right side of its mantle through which it breathes. You can see this quite clearly in the photo.

I walked back along Lyeway, with it being very humid, the hedgerows were full of the scent of Honeysuckle.  These climbers seem to have benefited from the damp weather and are flowering throughout the woods, but nowhere was the perfume so strong as along the hedgerows of Lyeway.  The bees were also very attracted and every clump would hold many bees, but sadly no butterflies, where are you all?

Back in the winter I took special trips along Lyeway looking for Yellowhammer, I shouldn't have worried.  This evening the song of the yellowhammer seemed to be everywhere, from the top of telegraph posts, from with trees, and on the top of the hedges "a little bit of cheese" would ring out, sometimes a distant bird completeing the song of another.  I particularly liked this individual, as he popped his head up from within the hedge.

The electricity pylons and power lines were an attraction for many birds, a pair of Kestrels perched on the pylons while the power lines had quite a few different species.  Wood Pigeons being the most numerous users, but there were also smaller birds perched on the lines, and I was amazed to find that these were mainly Greenfinches, along with the Yellowhammers and Blackbirds.  Scanning the power lines I picked up what was only my fourth Swift of the year, the other three being a group seen over the house.

From Lyeway I checked the garden at Kitwood once again but there was nothing moving, so I took the long walk back past the school and to home.  There is not much of June left, and the signs are that there may not be much improvement for July, still it pays to be positive, there are White Storks flying around West Sussex, who knows they may find the fields around Four Marks an attraction!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

20th June - Take Time Whan Time Cometh, Lest Time Steale Away

To find out what we have been up to since the beginning of June you can pick up here on our walk around West Cornwall.

The last two days have miraculously been dry, and relatively calm, today was supposed to be almost summer like, but the early morning sunshine gave way to building clouds from mid morning.  From my office window I noticed the House Martins flying around the house, and when I checked the eaves I found that over the last two weeks they have been very busy building what seems to be a very substantial nest.  Over the last few years, nests have fallen before the young fledged, and just as they did fledge.  Other dramas have included House Sparrows taking over the nests with some really aggressive fighting between both species.  At one time we saw the Sparrow dangling the House Martin by it's wing from the nest, so it will be interesting to see how this one fares.  As I watched the nest one of the adults dropped out.

I will be keeping a watch on the progress, and I am sure they will make sure I know they are around with their little "presents" on my car.

June is very much the quiet month from a birding perspective, there are usually lots of young birds around, but with the thick vegetation, it can be hard to find them.  Migration is now over, and without the luxury of estuary or even a sizeable piece of inland water new birds are going to be very difficult for the next few months.  The main opportunity is going to be from fly overs, so my walk will ensure that I have good access to the sky.  With the birds taking a back seat my attention now turns to butterflies.  With the cold, wet spring and summer we have had, they haven't been that numerous, but I thought with the warm weather today I should take advantage and have a look at the fields to see what was about.  The forecast for the rest of the week was for a return to the cold wet weather so I decided to pop out at lunchtime to check the fields.

In the field between Alton Lane and Blackberry Lane there are quite a few Ox-eye daisies, and amongst them were quite a few Meadow Browns which were my firsts for the year.  Because of the circumstances surrounding the owner of the field I did not venture from the footpath, so these long distance shots were the best I could get.

There were other insects flying around, but it was impossible to identify them.  I also saw some small butterflies that were either skippers or blues, but I can only speculate as to what they might have been.  While walking up and down, a Buzzard called loudly from the next field, and drifted over but pretty much stayed in the area.  I have seen Buzzards here regularly which made me wonder if they are breeding close by.

The field behind the garden centre was my next hope. This was not fenced in, and I hoped I could get closer to the flowers to really see what was about.  But as I walked down the footpath through the garden centre, I could hear machinery, and when I reached the field, I realised that this farmer had decided to make hay as soon as possible!

So no luck here so I then set off for Old Down to see if there was anything moving there.  I walked in from the thatched cottage entrance and walked around the the large bramble patches on the main footpath  The bramble was in flower, and in sunlight, but there was no sign of any butterflies, just bees.  When I walked back towards the pond I did find one butterfly, a Speckled Wood that sat on the ground for me, but overall it was a disappointing return.

On the way back to the car I walked around the pond, the water is now becoming covered with pond weed, which makes it look quite a mess.  Tadpoles were still to be seen along the edges, and every so often a fish would splash the water.  A couple of fishermen were sitting patiently and staring at their floats.  It made me think of the fishing trips I did as a boy on my local gravel pits.  They were run by the local club, but I never caught anything in them, and I wondered if it was the same here.

Where the irises were in sunlight they became an attraction for damselfies.  The majority were I think Azure Blue Damselflies, and these two were obviously enjoying the warmth.

At Kitwood I stopped to check the garden to see if the Spotted Flycatchers were about, but again there was no sign.  When I found a pair at the end of May I was convinced they would be present for the summer, but that seems to have been wishful thinking.  There was though quite a bit of activity, with young blue tits calling from the surrounding trees, and this recently fledged Nuthatch.

It was calling continuously, and I could hear others around the area as well, but never saw a parent.  If you watched this year's Springwatch you would have seen the antics of the young Nuthatches, the take away information there was that almost as soon as they fledge they set up their own territory, and defend it.  This one was clearly making a case for its patch while alerting the parent that it was hungry!

The sun did return during the afternoon, but later in the evening when I set out again, the cloud rolled back in, but it was quite humid and still.  I walked through the fields again and down past the garden centre crossing over Willis Lane and up to Hawthorn.  There were still a few Meadow Browns around, but distant, and the Buzzard appeared again, this time being mobbed by crows as it carried what looked to be a small bird.  My thoughts earlier about there probably being a nest close by, being very much reinforced by seeing the buzzard with prey.

Along the lane from Willis to Hawthorn, I was amazed at the number of song birds along the footpath, blackbirds, song thrushes and wrens were in the bushes and the trees were full of blue and great tits, plus at least two singing Yellowhammers.  While all this was going on Chiffchaffs seemed to be singing everywhere.  I am not sure if it is because I am looking more this year, but there seems to be a lot more Chiffchaffs in the area this year.  I read this week on the Portland Obs site that they have seen a marked increase in songbirds this spring.  They could not determine whether it was due to the weather or numbers were just higher.  It certainly looks that way with Chiffchaffs in Four Marks.

As I walked around the Newton Plantation I scanned the skies, other than three buzzard there wasn't anything, but as I looked at the trees I noticed what looked like smoke rippling off them.  if you look at the photo you can just make out the grey shaded area.  I am not sure whether this was insects or pollen being blown out, but it looked quite fascinating through binoculars.

Walking down the path I could hear Great Tits calling, and then the concentrated sound of young birds.  Last year we had found a Great Tit nest in a metal fence pole, and once again this year they had used the same site.

The pole is fully open at the top, and has two sets of wire threaded through it.  I looked in and could not see anything.  The adult enters from the top, but how it gets down is a mystery, the other mysteries are how do the young keep dry when the adult isn't there, and how do they get out when they fledge?  I waited a while to see if I could catch the adult going in, but didn't wait too long for fear of disturbance.

A little further down the path a movement of brown caught my eye.  It turned out to be a female Roe Deer.  It stood perfectly still looking at me, again I waited to if there was anything with it but nothing else appeared.  Check out the size of the thistles behind her, they must be at least eight feet high.

From here back to Kitwood revealed nothing else.  There were no Hares in the field, but that could have something to do with the Buzzards calling above.  At the corner on Kitwood, that  I know as Fieldfare Corner, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling.  I scanned the trees but could not find one calling, but looking a little closer I did find this juvenile sitting still on a branch.  I think the adult was calling because of me, so I quickly took a few photos and then moved away watching.  Sure enough the adult did finally pass food to the youngster who continued to remain still on the same branch.

Rather than take the road, I walked across the field to Old Down.  I didn't go into the wood, but walked around the outside.  Swallows were skimming the tops of the wheat, and a Tawny Owl called from the thick conifers, but despite a search I couldn't see anything. 

I walked home along Brislands, and when a Kestrel flew over a Bullfinch called, and then presented itself in the hawthorn tree.  It was quite murky now so this is a little grainy, but I could not resist the opportunity to photograph this beautiful bird yet again.

Lets hope the summer returns quickly, and the butterflies take off.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

16th June - I Guess It's Because I'm Greener than Green

Today I set off to walk around the patch for the first time for two weeks, we have been away walking the Cornish coastal path for the first week of June, and then business and the awful weather have kept me away until now.  The last time I walked the patch the weather was grey, and today was not a lot different, aside from the wind.  It wasn't as strong as we experienced on the cliffs in Cornwall, but it was enough to spoil the morning.  The gusts would blow through the trees, and make them move quite severely.  It's difficult to convey the movement, but you can see the bend in these trees.

I walked along Brislands, and was pleased to hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing.  A male Bullfinch called from tress by the cemetery, and then teased me with glimpses as it flew from the trees to hedge and back again.  I heard another further down the lane, there are at least four pairs in the area, which is really nice.

It is amazing to see the changes that have taken place in two weeks, the cow parsley flowers that was very evident along Brislands have now all gone, the bracken has grown very tall, and along with the grass, the sides of the lane are completely covered with vegetation.  It is really difficult to imagine this is the same place that celandines and sorrel grew about 2 months ago.

The cereal crops in the fields on either side of Brislands are very well developed.  I think this is rye, but I am open to be corrected.  However I think it makes a very nice composition close up.

A skylark was singing above the field, and I watched one drop down into the field.  When they drop it doesn't necessarily mean that is where the nest is, they will run along the ground to reach the nest to confuse anyone watching.

I entered the wood, and walked along the main track.  I expected it to be wet, but it wasn't too bad, I was also interested to see what the recent high winds and storms had done, but I couldn't find any significant damage, which was good.  Blackcaps and Chiffcahffs were singing, and every so often a wren would rattle out a song, but it was very dark and overgrown.  This is a very quiet time, from now until the middle of August the potential for any new birds will be difficult, I will have to keep my eyes on the skies.  This time of year I turn my attention to butterflies, but with today's weather I had no chance, the wind and cool conditions keeping them well out of the way.  The only real change from when I last walked trough the wood was the Foxgloves, they are now flowering and the spikes could be seen everywhere, forming small "foxglove forests".

Looking closer I found some insects that were flying, as bumble bees were visiting the foxglove flowers

On one of my last visits the Tawny Owl had not been in it's favourite tree, but when I checked on it this morning it was sitting in the usual spot.  I didn't disturb it, and left it to snooze, and walked down the track to the tadpole pool.  There were a few tadpoles with legs, and it is amazing to think that when we first saw the tadpoles there in March we were concerned it would dry up!  The movement in the water wasn't confined to just the tadpoles, on a closer look I found a newt, looking again I could see there was quite a few.  Looking closely, I think these were female Smooth Newts, this one was just laying at the top of the water, it was dark, and it is difficult to photograph, but it does show the newt.

It is amazing where newts come from, they turn up in my garden pond, and there is no water anywhere close.  As a boy I used to catch newts and bring them home, I remember having a tank of newts and then one morning finding that some how they had all escaped, I was distraught these were my pets, and they were gone.  As a result of my loss, I was allowed to have a rabbit, which was my first true pet.

I have mentioned the Larch, Oak , Ash and the Beech trees in Old Down Wood, but I have forgotten the other significant tree, mainly because without the leaves it is easy to pass them over.  However now in full leaf they look lovely, and the leaves are wonderful when contrasted against the dark branches.  These are the Sweet Chestnut, and come the Autumn there nuts will mix with the Beech, to form a very crunchy carpet.

I left the wood and walked to Swellinghill Pond, the water is once again higher than normal, and the Irises are beginning to look a little tired.  I don't know what I expected to find but I walked around to have a look at the periwinkle bank, thinking that maybe a butterfly might have been on the leaves, nothing there, but I did find a family of ducks resting on the bank.  These are "dinner jobs" I know, but I though the young ducklings looked so gorgeous, even though they were now in adult feathers.  I am amazed to where these have come from, because three weeks ago the parents were on their own on the pond, and there was no sign of ducklings.  Despite their feral hybrid background, I still think they are gorgeous.

I walked back towards Kitwood, no flycatchers in the garden, so I continued down past the school.  In the gardens, birds could be seen feeding young.  Magpies seemed everywhere, and the young now are difficult to distinguish from the adults until they beg for food.  I also saw a juvenile Robin being fed in the grounds of Belford House, it clearly was having a wine to the parent for food.

Another bird that could be heard was the Jackdaw, at the five lanes crossing, I knew there was a nest but I was never able to see the birds to be able to get a photo, there were there today, but flew off as I passed.  A bit further down Lymington Bottom I saw this bird sitting on a chimney pot, and with the straw sticking out of the netting I suspect there is a nest there too.

The weather was awful today, and I hope that the forecast for the week is better and the wind abates.  Hopefully I will be able to get out during the week to check some of the other areas around the patch to see what has changed there too

Friday, 1 June 2012

1st June - Maybe a Black Bird For a Grey Day?

I had to look twice this morning as on the fence post was a very unusual looking bird, however on closer inspection it became clear that it was in fact a fledgling Dunnock.  I can't say I have ever seen one before, it does look a little bedraggled, and I wouldn't say it's cute, but I am sure its mother loves it!

It has been grey and still all day, so as I went for a walk this evening I wasn't expecting much.  Along Brislands I watched a Blue Tit disappear into the eve on a house, waiting I saw it come out and heard the young calling.

In the wood, it seemed even darker, probably as a result of the grey clouds and the dense leaves that were now all out on the trees.  A Chiffchaff sang, and the odd Wren burst into song but apart from that it was very quiet.  I walked around to the pond, and here the water appeared very black.  The Irises had flowered significantly since Saturday, and reflected well in the inky water.

The Lily pads are developing well in the middle of the pond, and the Moorhen was making the most of the weed and insects that were gathering around them.  For once it was not nervous of me as I walked by.

The water close to the banks was full of tadpoles, but the fish that were sunning themselves last Saturday were no where to be seen.  I walked down the road in the direction of Kitwood, with the intention of spending some Tine to see if the flycatchers would show.  As I reached the junction with Lye Way, a small bird flew up to the wires.  I wasn't sure at first what it was, but as I got closer I could see it was a warbler, but not sure which one.  It flew from the wire into the tree close by, and I was able to get closer still, and it became clear that it was a Chiffchaff.  Never mind, it did look quite smart in the bush with the blossom.

Waited at the bungalow garden for a while, but was not able to find the Spotted Flycatchers, I walked around the footpath at the back and this too drew a blank.  I am sure they will be still there, and hope that maybe they nest.

As I walked down towards the school I scanned across Old Down Wood.  I picked up a raptor soaring in the distance, and immediately picked up on a forked tail, and thought Red Kite, but something did not seem quite right.  The tail was short, and when it soared it behaved like a buzzard.  I tried to get some photos, but every time I came off the bird with the binoculars I couldn't locate it with the camera.  It gained height and as it did I could see the forked tail, but the fork was not as pronounced as those I have seen on Red Kites.  The wings were also not as long.  Because I know there are resident Red Kite in the area it is difficult to discount them, but something about this bird said it wasn't a Red Kite, and it wasn't a Buzzard.  As it gained height I hoped it would drift towards me, but unfortunately it drifted away to the north.  My heart was telling me Black Kite, but my head was saying you can't be sure, and I couldn't.  I will just have to wait to see if any are reported in the area, that might help my conscience.  Anyway, I shouldn't be greedy, I have already had one good raptor tick this week!