Thursday, 6 September 2012

5th September - Of Sharp As a Whip, And Tough As An Ox

As is usually the way the schools go back, and the weather changes for the better.  Today the early morning was cool but clear, following a front that brought low cloud over night.  I managed to get out for a late afternoon walk, and when I set off the sun was still quite strong so I decided to take a route that took into account as many sun lit hedges as possible.  My hope was that there may be some migrants or insects enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun.  Just out of the house I paused at a verbena bush that had up to three Red Admirals feeding on the flowers.  The butterflies were staying to the side of the bush that was in full sun, and this allowed me the opportunity to get a view of the Red Admirals under wing, with the sun shining through.  A different view that emphasises the beauty of this butterfly.


The sun a this time of year produces some lovely light towards the end of the day, and the shadows and colours looking down Brislands Lane looked very nice.


As I came out of the tree lined lane and past the hedges the thistles were now all covered in seeds.  Along Brislands I disturbed a flock of 16 Goldfinches, and all around the patch where there were thistles the goldfinches were not far away.  The seeds are bursting out of the heads, and in the light breeze drifting about.


In the fields to the north there were large numbers of Wood Pigeon.  They are feeding on the grain and seed that has been left over from the harvest.  Crucial to them being able to digest the seed is water, and this Wood Pigeon was taking advantage of the pools that were around the field.


Instead of walking through Old Down Wood I decided to walk around the outside, a risky business these days.  The inside of the wood is dark and thick and not very conducive to finding wild life.  With the sun shining on the trees and bushes there was always the chance that this would be attractive to something.  I was hoping this would be a fly catching migrant bird, but what I found was a fly catching insect.

There were several Common Darter Dragonflies going back and forth in front of the trees,and were impossible to pin down.  I then found an Emperor Dragonfly that behaved in a similar way buzzing the branches and dropping low across the field.  Suddenly it swooped up and settled on a branch in one of the trees.  When I managed to get on it I noticed that it had in fact caught a fly, and was now devouring it.  You can just see the wings of the fly in the photo.


It was quite warm in the sunshine, and as expected I found more butterflies, with a Meadow Brown feeding on ragwort, and a Peacock taking advantage of a buddleia that was growing on the edge of the wood.



As I was watching the butterflies, I heard behind me the unmistakable "gronk" of a Raven, and I turned around to see one flying across the field, still calling as it headed off into the middle of the wood.  The view was into the sun but the silhouette was sufficient to confirm the identity.


At the west end of the wood I was drawn to a patch of ragwort that was providing a sunny platform to some hover flies.  The flies were yellow and black, and one had yellow and black stripes on it's thorax.


This is Helophilus pendulus a European hoverfly. Its scientific name means "dangling sun-lover" (from the Greek Helios, "sun", -phil, "love", Latin pend-, "hang").  It is a very common species in Britain, where it is the commonest Helophilus species.  What I like about this little insect is that it is sometimes known as the "Footballer Hoverfly" because the pattern and colour on the thorax looks like an old fashioned football shirt.  This one was also enjoying the sun and living up to it's name.

As I watched the hoverfly, the Raven continued to call loudly from a tree close to the edge of the wood.  I decided to try and see if I could get a view, and as I walked towards the paddocks a Red Kite came from above the trees and right over me, and off towards the paddocks.  I chased after it and managed to get a few shots as it circled above the cattle in the paddock.



It continued to circle around and without any effort gained height and drifted off to the south.  As I watch it I noticed it was not alone up there.  Flying around very high up were hundreds of hirundines (swallows and martins), there were the usual Swallows, and House Martins but I did manage to find a few Sand Martins as they seemed to prefer a lower flight path.  This shot of the kite shows a few flying with it.


Clearly these were not local birds and were moving through from the north west, and heading south.  Every so often a large group would come through flying low across the fields and then gaining height towards the south.  At the Paddocks the local birds were hawking around the horse and cattle, happy to just feed for now.

I walked up Andrews Lane, and checked all the bushes and fences, but to no avail.  I did find a couple of Chiffchaffs calling "hueet" from within the trees, indicating that they were probably migrants but that was all.  I walked up to the top of the lane, and then came down the side of the fields towards the pond.  Again I came across some more Chiffchaffs, finding them through the calls.  A young buzzard had been calling from across the field, and finally it put in an appearance in the trees along side the footpath.  It didn't stay long it was easily spooked as I tried to get a closer shot, and flew off over the field calling repeatedly.


The thatched cottage at the entrance to Old Down Wood is having some running repairs, as I looked at the work I wondered how long the skill will be around, and felt the need to take a photo to show the intricacy and skill of the work.


The swallows and house martins continued to occupy the sky, and another attempt produced this shot.  I am not sure it is an adult or a juvenile, but the distinct lack of tail streamers rather than worn ones would point to a juvenile.  However what this does tell me is that these birds were feeding,and that they do this by flying around with their mouth open like a basking shark.  The sun has caught the open mouth and highlighted it.


I walked across the field and back towards Old Down, the farmer was now beginning to collect the bales, and in doing so disturbing the wood pigeon.  As i walked towards the horse paddocks I noticed a Sparrowhawk heading across the field towards the wood.  I just managed to get the shot, again an unmistakable silhouette.


The bushes at the edge of the field near to Gradwell Lane were still in full sun, and I watched a few small birds fly catching from the edge.  As I watched them I saw something out of the corner of my eye that I thought at first was a cat, but looking closer I could see it was a Fox.  It was watching the tractor disturbing the wood pigeons, and had probably been trying to get closer to those feeding on the ground.  When it saw me it decided to slip off back into the hedge.  This is the first Fox I have managed to see this year on the patch.  I had caught a couple of individuals on the the camera trap in Old Down back in the Winter, so it was nice to finally manage to photograph one out in the open.  A really nice end to a very pleasant evenings walk.




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