Sunday, 30 September 2012

29th September - He Rocks in the Tree Tops

We had hoped to get out yesterday evening for a walk, but the rain came and that was a non starter.  This morning it was clear and bright, and Helen and I set off in the early morning.  The Starlings were enjoying the early morning sunshine again as we left.  There numbers seem to have increased around the village, and I can see them flying around in groups from the office window.  These four are in winter plumage, probably young birds.

Someone else enjoying the sunshine was a Red Admiral on the verbena bush on Lymington Rise.  There has been quite a few of these really beautiful butterflies around at the moment.  they will soon be migrating south as the cooler days approach.  We saw eleven individuals on this walk, they are attracted to the ivy that is now in full blossom.

As we walked up Brislands, we could hear the calls of long-tailed tits.   They seem to be everywhere at the moment, and I am constantly hearing and seeing them in the garden.  This one came out and sat on the power line, not somewhere I have seen them before

Not to be out done this Blue Tit also decided to show itself off on the power line too.

We walked into Old Down by the Gradwell footpath, as we crossed the field it was hard to believe that the field earlier in the week was covered in swallows.  There was not a sign of them this morning, just corvids and wood pigeons.

One of the reasons I wanted to go through Old Down, was to see if there were any fungi beginning to emerge.  This time last year had proved to be quite fruitful along the perimeter path.  Almost immediately once we had entered the wood we found Stinking Russula growing around an old stump.  It was covered in slime, and had been eaten, so we assumed the slugs had been through here overnight.  It gets its name from its smell, but I didn't bother to see if this was correct.

A little further on along the path we found this Yellow Club Coral Fungus on a small tree stump just off the path.  It is a quite common fungus, found mainly in deciduous woods, and looks very delicate with the blunt tipped yellow stalks.

When we came across these Common Puffballs we thought we were in for a good fungi day.  They originally have spikes on the fruit bodies, but these soon fall off leaving the black spots.  They could easily be overlooked as stones.

After the puffballs the footpath was bare, all that we ended up finding were these Stump Puffballs.  They are normally found on dead or fallen birch trees, and when they first emerge as can be seen in the left hand picture, they are white, but they quickly change to the olive brown colour you can see in the right picture.

One feature of autumn is the lovely light brought about by the lower sun.  As we looked out from the Kitwood entrance style, the footpath was transformed into a ladder by the greens and browns of the field.

Inside the wood the light was special too, and where the sun got through it would light up the moss, and sorrel leaves on the wood floor.  This clump of moss with the flowering stalks looked lovely as the sun caught the tiny fronds.

One of the features of the wood at this time of year is the song of the robin, they seem to be singing everywhere, as once again they establish their winter territory.  Its comes across as a sad song mostly because no other bird is singing, and the robin sounds so alone.  This individual wasn't singing but was getting rather agitated and was using the footpath sign to show us it was not happy about something, its either that or it was drawing our attention to the fact that is was posing with the holly - too early yet!

We walked around the pond, but only managed to disturb the moorhen family and to hear a few chiffchaffs calling from the trees.  We headed towards Kitwood, and then took Kitwood lane.  It was quite warm in the sunshine now, and where the sun shone on the ivy, it was covered in insects like this.

On one clump we counted five Red Admirals, and you could also hear the "hueets" of chiffchaffs, but as usual they didn't show for long.

We walked down the lane towards Hawthorn, and then along the road to the "Posts" footpath.  I have noticed over the last few walks the large number of Jays about at the moment.  As we walked along the road three flew over our heads, and I had seem them almost everywhere this morning.  I know this time of year they are active as they collect acorns and other nuts, but for some reason this year the numbers seem to be very high.  Maybe this is due to a good breeding season, or an influx from abroad.

As we walked up the footpath we could hear the cries of a buzzard, and looking to the north we saw this individual being mobbed, mainly by jackdaws.  From the cries it sounded like a young bird that wasn't to happy being mobbed, it will have to get used to it though.

Once again the "posts" failed to deliver, and we came off the path and walked up through the garden centre.  A trickle of swallows made their way across the field, chattering as they went.  It would appear that all along the south coast significant numbers have been counted as tehy and their house martin cousins start the daunting journey south.

The rooks were once again calling loudly from the trees in which the rookery was this year.  I don't know why but I really like rooks, I love the way when they are vocal they throw their heads up and push their tail feathers out.  They have a certain character, and I can watch them for ages.  This individual was calling loudly at the others in the tree opposite it, and just kept at it, while the others again ignored it.  It would be interesting to know what the purpose of this is.

This Speckled Wood was sunning itself on the tree trunk.  I know I keep showing the same butterflies, but there is not going to be many more very soon as the colder weather comes.

We crossed Alton Lane and walked through the field.  I was hoping that there would be some activity at the bottom of the field, where I had seen some warblers on Tuesday evening.  The sun was on the bushes, and sure enough as we approached I could here the calls from the ivy and hawthorn.  This time though the birds were happy to show themselves, and I managed to get these shots.  These are all Chiffchaffs, I have poured over the photographs as I wasn't 100 percent sure, some did show a greener plumage, but for me the length of the primary tips identifies them as Chiffchaffs as they are quite short.  In total we counted at least five birds here.

The ivy on the bushes as we walked up the footpath was again covered with bees, flies and the off Red Admiral.  This Comma looked stunning as it fed, and warmed itself in the sunshine.

A close look at the ivy showed it to have like a sticky secretion, which had a very pungent smell, this was obviously the attraction for the insects, and with the sunshine it produced some lovely shadows and colours

As we walked home, we wondered how many more of the sunny days we would have now before the temperature falls and winter approaches.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

25th September - When They Leave Capistrano

The penultimate Costa Rica post is now live here, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did on the day.

There had been showers on and off all day, but I was hoping these would die away into the evening.  The evenings are now getting shorter, with sunset just before 19.00, it might be a good time to start counting Tawny Owls calling as they look to establish their territories.  I also hadn't given up on the hedges, so I decided to walk down through the garden centre again, and follow the path around to Kitwood and then Old Down Wood.

As I set off it started to rain again, but only briefly.  At Blackberry Lane I noticed this young Wood Pigeon picking up grit in the middle of the road., note the lack of white bars on the side of the neck.

It seemed to me a risky business, as despite the set speed limit this road attracts many fast cars, and frequently we see piles of feathers.  As one car approached, the pigeon laboured up into the air and away from the potential danger.

I took the footpath down to the field and at the bottom came across a flock of tits calling from the pine tree and hedge.  As I waited they made their way past me, moving quickly through the branches.  This Long-tailed Tit paused long enough for me to get the photo, but what with it being very dull, and the fact that the birds were obviously on a mission it was difficult to get any other pictures.

As well as the Long-tailed Tits there were Blue and Great as well, plus at least three Chiffchaffs, and a pair of Chaffinches.  The Chiffchaffs were calling once again as they moved, and on perched very close to my head before realising the mistake and flying off.  I walked on, but turned back when I heard more calls, and managed to see a greener warbler which I am assuming was a Willow Warbler, but from now on it will be worth checking each warbler species carefully.

I walked up the hill to Alton Lane, and crossed to the footpath past the garden centre.  The rooks were busy calling again, it appears they group around the rookery site at this time of the evening.  I had seen them here on Monday along with Jackdaws a little later in the afternoon than today, so they must be beginning to roost together.

As I watched the rooks there was an amusing episode going on.  This Rook appeared to be calling loudly at others in the a tree close to it.  Perched on the edge of the hedge it would throw its whole body into the calls, and would gesticulate to the others.

The Rooks in the tree it appeared to be calling at just didn't move but appeared to look back at the rook with amazement.  In the end the lone rook flew off, as if in disgust.

There were a few more warbler calls as I walked along the footpath.  I counted for the walk this evening 11 separate calls, probably chiffchaffs and at least one willow warbler.  I took the footpath down through the field, alongside the fence.  This is a relatively new routefor me, so I thought I would post exactly what the area looks like, and why I am convinced at some stage this autumn, something is going to be found perched on the wire or posts.

I walked down the footpath, and despite the wishful thinking there was nothing other than a wren calling, and the odd blue tit, never mind, plenty of time yet!

I crossed the road, and walked through the field towards Kitwood, the sun was sinking now, and it was getting quite cool, and the sun was setting behind dark clouds to the west.  I saw a group of birds on the telegraph wires and thought at first they were swallows, mainly because I had seen some around the fields, and that is what they do in the autumn.  As I got closer I could see they were Greenfinches, and as I watched more birds joined them on the wires.  It would seem that greenfinches have done rather well breeding this season.  There are many juvenile birds feeding in the garden at the moment, and the majority of these birds were juveniles.

I decided against walking to Old Down past the pond, and decided to cross the field to the wood.  I am glad I did, as I would have never expected the sight that greeted me as I climbed over the style into the field.  The field was literally covered with swallows, they seemed to be everywhere flying low over the stubble.  I soon found out the reason, as the footpath was covered in manure.  It was quite dark now and photography was difficult, plus the swallows were so fast it was very difficult to get a shot to represent the sight.  While this is a little blurred it gives an impression of what was going on. 

I decided then on trying to capture the individuals, and these were the results.

As well as the swallows there were House Martins too.  I recorded an estimate of 300 plus on the Hampshire Birding site, but I had probably under estimated, when you consider the size of the field and the fact that everywhere you looked there were hirundines then it was probably higher.  I say hirundines, because as well as the House Martins I also managed to locate at least three Sand Martins which was nice considering the other birds I have seen this year have been very high overhead individuals, they also became my latest sand martins ever.  The House Martins were also given a close inspection in case their rumps showed the slightest pink tinges, but they were all a bright white.  It was an amazing sight, and I do not recall seeing so many hirundines so far inland away from any water ever before.

It was now dark, and as I walked towards the wood, I noticed some dark shapes on the edge of the field.  It was the Roe Deer family I have been trying to catch up with.  I had seen them a few weeks ago while out on a run, but now I was able to photograph them.  The young deer still have a white rump that shows very conspicuously as they run.  The mother was watching all the time as I walked closer, but the youngsters seemed quite happy to feed.

I walked through the wood, and for some reason it didn't seem as dark, despite the trees.  There were quite a few bird calls, mainly goldcrests but chaffinches and linnets too.  The recent rain had once again turned the footpaths into mud, and it was difficult going.  I turned right and headed out at the Gradwell footpath.  When I set off I wondered if there may be calling owls, but there was nothing in the woods, perhaps it is still a little too early.

A passing shower caused me to wait at the entrance to the wood, and I watched the swallows and house martins still swooping over the field.  I am beginning to build up a collection of silhouetted photographs of birds of prey, answers on a postcard if you know what this one is.

The rain eased and I made my way across the field towards Gradwell Lane, the sun was setting over the fields off to the west, and as it did it caught the still many swallows flying around the field, You can just see them in this picture.  I wonder where they will roost?

Monday, 24 September 2012

22nd September - It's Just Me Pursuing Something I'm Not Sure Of!

The morning was as forecast, clear blue skies but a very cool north westerly wind.  Unfortunately I was not able to get out in the morning, and was therefore not able to test my theory from yesterday.  All around though tits and goldcrests could be heard calling from the gardens, this though was probably due to the cold start.

When I did get away I decided to follow a route that took in sunlit hedges.  The ivy is coming into bloom now and attracting lots of insects, and is usually the place to find warblers.  I drove to the garden centre, parked and set off down the footpath.  In the gardens I could hear goldfinches, but the only birds I could find were Greenfinches.  This young bird and adult called from the top of the tree.

As I entered the field I heard the "hueet" of either a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler.  I stood and waited, and got fleeting glimpses of what from the dull colouring was probably a Chiffchaff.  You would first see the leaves move, then a bird would fly out of the tree and back so quickly that I never had a chance to photograph.  In the spring they were happy to sit and sing, announcing there presence, but now it is all about fuelling up, and the concentration is on feeding.  It continued to call, and I watched more short appearances as it worked its way along the hedge.

As I walked along the footpath, I heard at least four more individuals, but could not locate them.  I took the footpath down the field to the road.  My theory was if there were any overnight visitors they may use the many fence posts that are in place along the path.  Again there were lots of calls from the bushes, and one or two short sightings, but not the lingering pose I was hoping for. 

I stood and waited as the birds called around, one chiffchaff did land on the fence wire, but was gone almost as quickly as it arrived.  I did though manage to find a Willow Warbler, looking quite splendid with it's lemon green plumage.  As I stood and watched the field and fence, small white butterflies flew across the field, pausing at the dandelions.  Over the last few weeks it has been dry and sunny, and at last this year there are more of these flowers around, and now we can also see a few more seed heads.  For me this supports my theory that the wet summer had prevented them from pollinating.

As well as the small whites, a Small Tortoiseshell flew past me, the orange colour standing out against the lush green grass.  In the field across the road there was a huge collection of Rooks and Jackdaws.  They would pour from the field up to the hawthorn bushes.  In the fields they must have been feeding on left over grain, but once they were in the hawthorn, they were feeding on the berries.  I don't recall seeing Rooks eat berries like this.

As I watched the birds in the hedge I didn't realise that the fields behind them had a large flock as well.  All  of sudden there was a lot of calling and commotion, and Jackdaws, Rooks and Crows burst up from behind the hedge.

I walked back up the footpath and through the fields to the car.  As I approached the garden centre i stopped to look for a bullfinch that was calling, I couldn't find the owner of the call, but I did find a male Blackcap, just like the warblers it remained totally elusive, only giving small glimpses of the black head.

I drove down to Plain Farm, and took the footpath up the road to Rotherfield.  The bull sign was back, but I couldn't see any sign of him, or for that fact any of his girls.  The grass was quite short, and once again Small Whites were everywhere.  I counted at least ten, they appeared to be attracted to the yellow flowers, this one feeding on a small dandelion.

I walked around the back of the plantation, and came down past the quarry.  Here there were a lot of calls from Blue and Great Tits, and I stopped to see if there was anything else.  The tits made their way through the bushes and trees, and as I suspected there were a few warblers with them.  I manged to count 3 chiffchaffs, and another willow warbler, but would they stay still and enjoy the sun!  They were feeding and foraging constantly with the odd foray out of the ivy to fly catch.  I watched for some time as the calls circulated around me, and the birds defied my efforts for a photograph.  In the end I came away with this picture of a Speckled Wood butterfly, that did its best to hide from me in the grass.

Walking from the quarry, I crossed the road, and headed up the road past Plain Farm.  It was all quiet in the farm, and as I walked past five Red-legged Partridges scurried past me and off up the path.  I managed to photograph four together, the most I have been able to capture so far.

I walked past the farm, and came up the hill.  The sky was beginning to turn watery, and the sunshine was becoming diluted, as a result it became rather cool.  In the field to the left of the road I heard the familiar call of a Meadow Pipit, as I looked for it some small birds came up out of the grass and flew off, as they did they all called, they were Meadow Pipits.  They flew around me and across the road to the other field.  The group gained in size to eight, and then they settled back in the field where they had come from.  These are the first I have seen since the winter, and eight was a reasonable size flock for here. 

Away to the west the sky began to look a little threatening, and with the large tree silhouetting on the horizon, shadows spread across the fields caused by the building clouds.  The field was also occupied by a bull that watched me menacingly as I walked past (or was it my imagination?).

I checked the fields in the hope that maybe there might be a raptor.  There was one but not what I was hoping for as a large Buzzard flew up from behind the hedge, and then lazily made its way past me.

The odd "hueet" would come from the hedges as I walked along the road, but I could find the owners.  At the old barn I disturbed several Blackbirds, which alerted me to check them closely should they have white throat markings.  They were just blackbirds.  Even though the sun was now very watery out of the wind there was some strength left, and these flies were covering the telegraph pole as they enjoyed the final rays.  The larger fly is obviously different, but despite some intense searching I can't identify it.

Another insect enjoying the sun, was a Comma butterfy, all my previous photographs of this gorgeous butterfly have been with the wings closed, and views only of the underwing, today though I managed to get one to show the upper wing, which with the shape of the wing, and the vivid orange colouring is extremely beautiful.  It had been a good day for butterflies, as well as those I have mentioned, I saw two red admirals and two large whites.  They will become scarcer over the next few weeks.

I walked to the end of the footpath, and scanned the fileds once again.  Everything looks perfect for a wintering Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl, but today as with all other visits there was nothing except a single Great-spotted Woodpecker clinging to the side of a telegraph pole.

Rather than take the road back to the car, I decided to re-trace my tracks down the footpath, and then cross the two fields.  I stopped to watch another Blackcap, and of course it teased me with a brief view.  At the old barn, I heard another repetitive "hueet" call, and waited to see if the owner would oblige.  The call was coming from within the ivy that was covering the building.  As I watched the Chiffchaff came out of the ivy, and flew into the elderberry bush behind.  Finally though the bird sat still.  I could get the clear shot, but I manged to catch it hiding behind the branches.  My persistence had paid off, and after I managed to get the photo it was off, calling as it went into the hedge behind the house.

I walked back across the fields, even though there was no visible trace of a path, someone has to start one!

I am finally getting close to the end of the Costa Rica posts, the latest from the Arenal Volcano is here

Saturday, 22 September 2012

21st September - Hear Him Pickin' Out a Melody

It had been overcast all day and the forecast was for evening rain, so when the sun started to shine in the afternoon I decided to pop out to make the most of it.  I decided on the usual walk, and as I came around Lymington Rise a Green Woodpecker came up from the lawns.

I don't normally bother with the squirrels, but I was fascinated watching this one make itself across the road on the power line, and then down the pole.  It watched me all the way, stopping and starting as it gradually made its way into the cemetery.  The agility and speed with which it did this was amazing.

A little further on I also found two swallows sitting on the power lines, they were busy preening, one looked quite dirty, I am not sure how it would get so dirty, as they do not spend time on the ground.

As I watched the swallows I noticed a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by House Martins.  The Sparrowhawk gave as good as it got, but decided enough was enough and flew of to the south.

I am sure these are resident birds from the horse paddock in Gradwell Lane, but as I made my way along Brislands I could see many swallows and house martins flying low across the fields.  There must have been over a hundred of them flying back and forth low over the field, and then they would split off, and make their way over Old Down to the south.  It was getting late so I am not sure where they intended to roost, or whether they would keep going, I suppose it would depend on the weather.

I walked around Old Down on the outside, and looking out across towards Ropley, the sky was full of gulls.  This maybe a result of the slurry being spread on the fields now, but for the second walk running I don't think I have seen so many.

A familiar knocking alerted me to a young male Great Spotted Woodpecker in one of the oak trees, it was really hammering away at a dead branch, and had chiseled a good sized hole.

The sky was beginning to look quite threatening now, and I decided I should change my plans on where i should walk.  Looking to the west the sun was getting lower in the sky, and the darker clouds were producing quite a dramatic scene.

I turned back into the wood, and followed the main path through to the south side.  A further sign of autumn was the the golden leaves on the beech tree in the middle of the wood.  Only a patch of leaves were changing, the rest staying green and contrasting the orange and yellows.

I came out of the wood and walked towards Kitwood.  The pond was quiet except for the Moorhen family feeding in the corner.  The fallen tree has now been cleared and you can walk around the pond again, but the jetty is still broken.

Crane flies and midges were everywhere, there was no wind, and you would find patches of these insects just under the tree branches.

I walked along Lymington Bottom, and was again alerted to a woodpecker.  This time it was the "Chick" call, and another Great Spotted Woodpecker.  It took a while to find it as it was right at the top of a pine tree.  It sat there calling, I never understand why they go so high on thin branches, maybe it has something to do with territory.

As I reached Lymington Rise I found yet another Great Spot, once again at the top of a pine.  This one didn't stay and flew off quickly.  By now it was very dark, and there was rain on the way.  The weather though looks good to produce maybe some migrants tomorrow, so fingers crossed the may be something about.