The morning started quite overcast with some drizzle, but by mid morning the sun was pushing through. We were late out but had decided to take on a long walk taking in some of the areas not recently visited. Today is the start of the meteorological autumn, and there definitely was a fresh feel to the air. As we got ready the House Martins wheeled around in the air above us, avoiding any attempt to get a collection of them in the shot, I did manage one. I am still not sure if our House Martins have a second brood, there is a lot of activity around the nest.
We walked towards telegraph, and then took the footpath to Weathermore. The woods here, while quiet had much more activity than in Old Down, probably as a result of their being more light, and the fact that it was mixed trees rather than the dominance of Beech you get in Old Down. We came across this old log that was covered in fungi. They are Oyster Mushrooms and were all over the old tree trunk.
Small tit flocks could be heard among the tree tops, but across the field the loudest bird call was that of a young Buzzard. I manged to locate it perched in a dead tree, it called repeatedly as if to the parent birds, but at no time did any appear, finally it flew off across the field, but continued to call as it did so.
We walked along the track towards Brightstone Lane, like all the hedgerows we have passed recently they appeared tired. There was some honeysuckle flowers in amongst the hawthorn, and also a white flower that we did not recognise. As seems always to be the case, once I looked the species up it turns out it is quite common. It is Common Meadow Rue, and is found in hedgerows at this time of year. The flower is dominated by the stamens, which gives it a feathery appearance, and despite looking like a small honeysuckle is not related, and is actually a member of the buttercup family.
We walked around the inside of Lord's Wood, there was quite a bit of bird activity, and it was quite refreshing to stand and watch and listen as a party of Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits made their way through the branches of the birch trees, they were also accompanied by a pair of Goldcrests and a Nuthatch. Silver Birch is the dominate tree here, and they provided a much brighter and open environment that seemed to suit the birds, There must have also been plenty of food available.
We came out of Lord's Wood and walked along Kitcombe Lane. The lane forms a tunnel of Hazel, and the Hazel Cobs are just coming into harvest. Squirrels could be heard in the tops of the trees, and one, probably a youngster, was not as proficient a climber as some judging by the noise and thump it made as it fell out of the branches. The Hazel tunnel and the light made for a nice scene once again.
Leaving Kitcombe Lane we walked across a footpath to Headmore. The footpath goes through a field, and then just before the road a series of bramble bushes. Butterflies had been in short supply so far, but a solitary Meadow Brown made its way across the field, and Helen found this second brood Holly Blue on the bushes
From Headmore Lane we branched off and walked past Newtown Common and towards the farm. The fields had just been harvested and there was large flocks of Wood Pigeon and Corvids feeding amongst the stubble. Every so often they would fly up from the field onto the roofs of the barns, or into the trees. As we walked past this huge flock of Jackdaws, Crows and Rooks flew out of the trees, calling loudly and flew away from us. The behaviour was similar to that displayed at the roost sites. It would seem that one or two individuals would decide what the flock does, and off they follow.
Most of the fields have now been harvested and left to stubble, as we walked towards Plash Wood we noticed a good number of Mistle Thrushes coming off the fields and flying up to the trees. As they flew to the trees they would call with that nervous chatter. As sign of autumn and winter in this typical thrush feeding behaviour
Leaving the Mistle Thrushes we took the track through Plash Wood, another sign of the changing seasons was the colours within the bracken. Many areas were now turning brown as the leaves died off.
As we approached the end of the track the path becomes a little more gravel, and I spotted this Dor Beetle scurrying towards the safety of the grass. The Dor beetle is one of our largest dung beetles. These dung beetles get their name from their rather unattractive habit of eating dung. Both the larvae and the adults eat their own weight of dung every day. While this may seem a strange choice of diet, there is little competition for it, and they do perform a vital cleanup role in the countryside. These beetles normally frequent grazing pastures, where they dig out a nesting tunnel under suitable dung and line the nest with dung for the larvae to feed on. But they can also be found in woodland where they use decaying fungi or rotting plants as a breeding habitat. Not sure what this ones preference was as it had a choice of both.
Our walk then took us towards Plain Farm. Unusually there were no Hares to be seen, and it was quiet as we walked around the field edges and down the lane towards Plaindell, and Charlwood. The one butterfly we came across was this rather splendid Small Tortoiseshell. From it's condition it probably had just emerged, and now has to feed to build up reserves before finding a suitable hiding place to hibernate over the winter.
At the far end of the lane we came across some more bird activity, this time though it was warblers with Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and a single juvenile Willow Warbler found in the bushes and fly catching from the branches. The Willow Warbler was quite yellow in colour, indicating a juvenile bird. As we sat and took a rest I noticed some hirundines above us, looking closer it was clear that these were Sand Martins. I counted about five before they headed off to the south. On the telegraph wires was a group of Goldfinches. They would fly back and forth between the wires and the teasel and thistle seed heads along the side of the lane.
We made our way towards Lye way crossing the fields (via the footpaths!). Moths are not easily found, but I noticed this Silver Y on the bracken, and took the opportunity to photo it. It is a silver-grey moth with white y-shaped mark on the forewing, as you can see it the picture. Probably the UK's most common immigrant moth, it can occur in any month, but usually most numerous in late summer into autumn.
With the lack of wild flowers around the road sides, any flower quickly attracts attention. The Wild Carrot for some reason acts like a magnet for small flies and hover flies, and every flower head seemed to have it's own little gathering. It appears that the flower attracts insects for pollination by a small red centre that tricks the insects into thinking there is already an insect present and in they flock. There is nectar for them, but not in great quantity
Another plant that was conspicuous but for a completely different reason is the Dandelion. I have posted the picture here of the seed head because this summer they have been a complete rarity. I have commented before on this, but at this time of year you would expect to find them everywhere. I cannot find any reference to similar observations, but I did find out that flowers such as dandelions have a habit of closing up in the wet weather to protect their pollen from the rain. With the amount of rain we have had over the spring and summer this could be the reason as to why there are no seed heads, they just didn't get the chance to pollinate. Over the course of a nine mile walk we saw at most, five seed heads.
Another plant suffering is the Horse Chestnut. I have referred before to the The Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner moth caterpillars that eat the leaves while hiding inside them, so damaging the leaves and causing them to turn brown and making the tree appear as if autumn has come early. Now however there is a study looking into whether birds such as blue tits may be eating the caterpillars. People are being asked to look at leaves to see if there is any leaf damage as a result of birds digging out the caterpillars. For more information go here http://www.conkertreescience.org.uk/. This is the current state of some of the trees around the patch.
We came down Lye Way where the combine harvester was busy in field. You would think that the driver could keep in a straight line!
Our final discovery of the day was of a growth appearing on the dog roses in the hedges, it looks like wool or fibres wound around the branches.
Once again some research has determined this to be a common appearance at this time of year. It is caused by the Bedeguar Gall Wasp, and the gall is sometimes referred to as a Robin's Pincushion. The gall is made up of many of the wasp's larvae in special compartments within the gall. Apparently the gall is more likely to be seen than the wasp.
Finally as the sun set in the evening it produced a beautiful purple sunset, a final reminder today of the fact that we are heading into autumn, a season of mists, of colours, and over the past years a season of some very dramatic sunsets in Four Marks.