Another lovely autumn weekend after some heavy rain on Friday evening, so it was off and out in the mid morning. Despite the sunshine the air was quite cool, but there was very little breeze. As we came around Lymington Rise there were five Red Admirals sunning themselves on the ivy. They really are beautiful butterflies, and get overlooked I think because they are quite common and are well known. They are very strong fliers, and these individuals are probably making their way south for the winter. They look in really good condition.
You could get quite close as they sat on the ivy.
In contrast along Brislands a Speckled Wood settled on the hawthorn bush. This individual looks a little worse for wear, it has probably been a long flying season.
We turned into Gradwell, to enter Old Down from the footpath by the paddocks. In the field opposite a pile of cow manure was covered in spiders webs. The webs were accentuated by the dew and it looked very strange. The spiders must be aware the manure will attract the flies, but they seem to have covered it completely.
A pair of wrens were flying around the paddock, and then one made its way along the fence pausing its search for insects with a few bursts of song. I always look across the fields here as it always looks perfect for small birds, but these were all there was today.
We walked through the wood, again in search of fungi, but there was very little about. A patch of russula I had seen on Thursday evening had all been eaten, and we found another group, in which the majority had been eaten except for these small ones just poking through.
The heavy rain from Friday has once again turned the wood footpaths into a quagmire, and walking was very difficult. Despite the lack of fungi the wood floor looks lovely now in contrast to the dead appearance of the summer. Almost everywhere is moss, and the delicate leaves of the wood sorrel. They will stay like this until late March next year when the lovely whitish pink flowers are one of the first flowers of the year.
We made our way to the west end footpath, and scanned across the fields. There was no sign of any swallows and house martins, which felt strange after the incredible numbers there have been over the last week. The house martins around the house also seem to have disappeared.
Along the edge of the field some small poppies are still in flower, as if they just do not want to give up this summer. We climbed the stile, and walked down the footpath through the paddocks. In the hawthorn bush a warbler called but never revealed itself, and a Comma butterfly flew past and settled on the nettle leaves in the sun.
As we walked down the path alongside the hedge, a small passerine flew up with a very flitty action. I thought it was different and watched it drop on to the hedge. All I could see was a black head, and I first though sparrow, but then as I got a better look I realised it was a male Stonechat. A tick, now a photograph, but that wasn't so easy. It stayed low on the hedge making it impossible to focus, and then it was off and just disappeared. We looked, everywhere but there was no sign, then Helen saw it fly past her and back down the hedge. This time it perched higher on the hedge, but the light was not brilliant.
As I tried to get closer for a better shot it was off again, back up the hill and onto the hedge again. This time in the sun, but still a little distant.
It was difficult to get closer, and as I did it would fly off like this.
In the end I admitted defeat at getting any closer, but was extremely please at getting my 83rd bird for the year, I hadn't expected Stonechat so it was a big treat.
We decided if there was Stonechat here it might be worth checking the larches and pines up Andrews Lane. We walked up the lane with the calls of warblers in the hedges, and two Skylarks flew over but there was nothing else. At the top of the path we walked along the side of the field, and found that there were lots of dead slugs by the side of the field. On closer inspection we could see that the field was covered in little blue pellets, which could only be slug pellets. I hope these are not harmful to other animals.
In the grass Helen found a Silver Y moth. They are wonderfully marked, and this must be one of the last migrants. It did not look very well, maybe affected by the pellets.
At the estate around the farm, there was a pond, but this had been filled in. There is still some water there, and is surrounded by hawthorn bushes that were in the sunshine. This appeared to be the perfect spot for the birds to feed and bathe. We saw House Sparrows and Chaffinches having a bath. A quick check on the House Sparrows did not find any Tree Sparrows, but I live in hope. The sparrows would sit in the bush to preen after their baths
Helen pointed out a yellowish warbler in the hawthorn, and when I got on it I considered this a Willow Warbler, from the colour and the length of the wings. It gave some very good views as it moved through the bush searching for insects.
When I looked at the photographs this evening, doubt crept in again, are the wings longer than the bird I photographed on Wednesday? Is it yellower? The legs are dark? I just wish it had some wing bars! It was much easier when they sang in the spring.
MORE: I have done some more research, and I now feel that this is a Chiffchaff but possibly of the race abietinus, which are regularly seen on passage. Unfortunately the bird did not call, but the rounder head, dark legs yellowish buff on the flanks and the fact that I did see a faint wing bar, from the information I have found may point to that race. If anyone has any thoughts comments I would appreciate them.
While watching the warbler, I came across this Goldfinch just sitting and enjoying the sun.
We walked along Lye Way, and then paused at the gates by what was the broad bean field. On the pylon sat a buzzard, underneath the "danger of death sign".
I found another sitting on the ground in the field, but more amazing was the number of Wood Pigeons in the field. A rough estimate count was probably in the region of 1000 birds. Everywhere you looked was a Wood Pigeon, it really was incredible.
We walked on, and I picked up a hirundine flying over the filed. After all the swallows and house martins of last week, and then none today, it was amazing to find that this was a Sand Martin. It flew off purposely towards the south.
We decided to cross the field to Old Down, and then take Gradwell and Brislands home. Rain is due this evening, and I felt it would be the right time tonight to hear the first redwings, as we crossed the field I heard the familiar "zseep" of Redwing, and looked up to see two distant thrushes flying north. As well as the redwing, there were also Meadow Pipits callingand flying over the field in the same direction
We walked around the wood, and on the path Helen found this Dor Beetle. It looked wonderful in the sunlight, it's legs and underside a deep metallic blue. The tips of the antenna were a bright red, and it kept moving these like some Star Wars fighting machine. When Helen picked it up to get a better look, it made a kind of buzzing sound, not loud but enough to hear, and to realise that it was not happy. She put it back on a leaf, but it wasn't happy there either and slipped off onto the ground.
It was a very beautiful insect, something that should be enjoyed but is probably ignored or even stepped on.
The rest of the walk home was quiet. The copper beech trees in the garden of the house by the recreation ground, has lost the copper look, and the leaves are now beginning to change. As the nights get colder and longer this will begin to accelerate in all the trees, and we are looking forward to some spectacular colours. I know someone who would have loved to see them.
Just to round off a good day, my prediction came true, when at 18.30 I stepped outside for a moment and heard the "zseep" call again and looked up to see five Redwings flying over the house!