Friday, 30 November 2012

30th November - Did They Sing a Million Blessings

Having been away it was different to wake up to clear skies and a frost, and not to hear the dripping of rain.  The moon had just gone past it's full stage, and was now low in the sky first thing in the morning. 

As the sun came up the garden became busy.  The apples I had put out a few days ago were all gone, so the trees were replenished, and almost immediately were set upon by the blue tits.  The blue tits were also active in the tree outside my office, this one looking quite quizzical.

As I watched them pulling apart the lichen on the branches I noticed that one looked quite familiar.  The area around the eye was bare of feathers, and I have to assume this is the same bird we had seen at he beginning of the year, while the feathers did not seem as bare, they did show the same pattern.  Once again the bird we came to call "Richard", seemed not to be bothered by this, and even came to the feeder just outside the office window.

In the back garden the female Blackcap was back, slipping slowly through the tree towards the apples.  She is still very wary of the other birds, but usually by the end of the winter they are quite up to standing up for themselves.

I have removed the dishes from below the feeders because the pigeons and doves were using them to both hog, and eat all the seed.  There is one small feeder that still has one though, because I use this for the mixed seed.  This Wood Pigeon was determined to use the feeder though despite the fact it was far to big to fit on.  It some how managed to hang on the dish, and twist its head to get at the seed.

At lunch time I set off for a walk through Old Down Wood.  I parked at the pond which was frozen, and without the fallen tree.  The entrance to the wood was very muddy and wet, and as I walked though it, I disturbed a group of Blackbirds feeding in the leaf litter.  A Robin also appeared and seemed to watch me as I walked through the mud and leaves, probably waiting to see if I would turn over anything interesting to eat.

 I walked around the southern perimeter track, and there were a few Blackbirds again on the path, but also quite a few Song Thrushes and the odd Mistle Thrush.  The wood was very quiet as I made my way around the path, and then into the centre, with only the song of the robins to be heard.

From the centre of the wood, I walked back towards Old Down cottage, just beyond the beech tree I heard a tit call, and was pleased to see a Marsh Tit in the bramble.  It didn't stay long, and was quickly off across the path.  I decided to wait and see if it would reappear, and tried "pishing" to see if that would attract it.  The Marsh Tit didn't show again, but many others did.  First was a party of Long-tailed Tits, hanging in the larch branches calling continuously.  Against the sky they were difficult to photograph, this one looks like a fluffy pink blob.

Next were the goldfinches, quickly followed by a group of Siskins, the first ones I had seen in the wood since April.  They were very busy feeding on the larch cones, hanging upside down in an attempt to get to every possible seed.

There were also a few Chaffinches about, and when I saw a flash of red I assumed it was a chaffinch, but it looked and behaved differently so I decided to get a closer look and was very pleased to find it was in fact a male Crossbill.  I had only heard them at the start of the year, both here and in Lord's Wood, so I was very pleased to finally see them, and best of all get some pictures.  I counted in total six birds, two splendid red males and 4 females.

I watched the crossbills for quite awhile, then realised I had better get back.  I made my way out of the wood, again watched by the robin as I walked through the muddy bit.  I decided to have a quick walk around the pond, just to see if the cold weather had brought in a woodcock, but it hadn't.  The tree that had fallen last week, had been cut up and moved, but the stump was there and it was possible to see the age rings.  I estimated that the tree must have been around 140 to 150 years old, incredible.

As I drove home and passed the school I noticed a Kestrel sitting in the tree at the bottom of Alton Lane.  It was in perfect light, and seemed quite at ease.  I managed to get quite close, and with the angle from below the branch I was able to get some lovely photos.

Back home the garden was still busy, for once a Goldfinch perched in the tree, and not on the feeders.  It gave me the opportunity to get a nice picture without the feeder making it look staged.

A little later I noticed a superb male Bullfinch on the feeder, I did get a few shots of it on the feeder, but it flew off, and then fortunately landed in the honeysuckle, and again I had the chance to capture it in the open.

Waxwing Update:  They have been seen in Winchester, Badshot Lea, and Eastleigh.  They have also been reported from Sussex and Surrey.  The trees are loaded with apples, I just hope they see them.

I have also posted some pictures and updates from a recent trip to the Azores here.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

25th November - Into This World We're Thrown

Yesterday saw torrential rain for most of the day, coming back from a trip to Southampton the road that takes you past Plain Farm, and then joins with Hawthorn road was almost unpassable due to flooding.  All the lanes we resembling rivers, depositing soil and leaves as they met the main roads.  However as we came past the Rotherfield footpath, a Red Kite circled the fields, unconcerned by the heavy rain.

Today the morning started bright and sunny, but with a fresh breeze, but nothing like the high winds we had during the night.  We decided to stick to the roads and lanes, as everywhere else was likely to be very wet.  We set off down Brislands, and all around there were reminders of the previous days storm, the lane was flooded in places, and twigs and branches could be seen along the road side.  Brislands Lane just before the path into Old Down was completely flooded still.

We walked down the lane, past the footpath, and on in the direction of the A31.  This is usually a good spot for thrushes and finches, but today it was very quiet.  At the cowsheds we could he quite a few House Sparrows chirping, but as I got close to the hedge they would stop, move away \nd they would start again.  We tried to see if we could find them, but they must have been so far into the hedge it was impossible to locate them.  We left them, and as we walked off they started up again.

At the bottom of the hill we turned left, and headed back up the incline.  The hedges are now quite open, and it was nice to get a different view of Old Down Wood.  Normally we are looking from the wood out across to the west.  Today I was able to get a shot of the west end.  As I did I disturbed a group of four Red-legged Partridges, and they flew into the shot.

As well as the hedges being open, they are also now covered with Old Man's Beard.  In the watery sunshine they would stand out like silvery strands on the branches of the hedge.

A little further on we reached the footpath that leads from Old Down, and once again I was able to get a different perspective of the wood.

With the storm yesterday, and the heavy winds overnight, I had expected to see some gulls in the fields this morning.  We did find some, but not as many as I had hoped.  They were mostly Herring and Common Gulls, and did not settle for long. 

A Kestrel flew up from the field, and began to hover, dropping and then flying closer to us.  Against the grey sky it looked lovely as it banked to allow the sunlight to catch the under wing.  As we watched the kestrel, a Buzzard drifted across the field, upsetting the gulls.

We saw three different individual kestrels on the walk today, there seems to be more around at the moment.

Checking the fields for different corvids, I noticed a buzzard on a post being mobbed by a magpie.  As I watched it fly off I noticed yet another above the tree tops of Old Down.  This is a distant shot, but I like the patterns in the now leafless trees, especially the way the ivy has covered one.

We walked up Swelling Hill, and made our way towards the pond.  As we approached Helen pointed out that the jetty that had been broken had been fixed, it is good to see it back, I would have hated if it had to have been removed, as it holds so many memories.

The pond has seen some drama this year, with fallen trees and a broken jetty, but just when you thought this was now behind it we walked past the pond, and noticed another tree down, this time by the main track.

This was an old oak, and I wonder if it came down last night.  Covered in ivy, this had probably contributed to the downfall of the tree, but we also noticed that there was plenty of fungi too. 

This is Bleeding Oak Crust, which is commonly found on dead oak trees. 

This is Jelly Ear, or Jew's Ear, and could be seen all over the tree trunk.  As well as these there was some Chicken of the Woods, and lots of rusts and slime.  The question is did the tree die and the fungi grow, or did the fungi kill the tree?  Whatever the answer, the tree was down, and will have to be cleared like the others that have fallen this year.

While we inspected the tree it started to rain.  We had hoped it would have kept away today, but we were not to be lucky.  We walked down the road towards Kitwood in the rain, and almost Helen picked up a large bird over the trees, as it came over I could see it was Red Kite, and I tried to get a photograph, but I had to get the cover off the camera, and it was quite dark, and all I ended up with was this blurred image, but I think it looks quite atmospheric.

By the time we reached Kitwood the sun came back out, and with the dark clouds to the north, the fields and trees looked lovely.  In addition there is also the feint presence of a rainbow.

A little further on there was quite a collection of finches on the ground in the field.  They would fly up from the ground and into the bushes and trees.  A little further on there was also a few Redwings and Fieldfares doing exactly the same thing.  The finches were all Chaffinches, and despite some extensive searching I could not find the elusive Brambling.

We carried on down Kitwood, wood pigeon were feeding in the horse paddocks, and for the second week running a Green Woodpecker posed on a telegraph pole for me, although this one was a little bit further away.

We made our way to Willis Lane and as we turned into Telegraph, I noticed a large bird coming up from the field, a closer look, revealed this to be Grey Heron.  The field was quite flooded, and there was a large group of Crows and Rooks in the field as well.  I wonder if the Heron was able to find suitable easy food in the field.  They are known to have very catholic tastes, and I am sure they wouldn't overlook an earthworm or two.  I watched it fly off, and was able to get another very grainy photograph of a Four Marks Heron.

Telegraph Lane is one of the highest points in Hampshire, and the prove this there is a trig point in the field which is measured at 215 metres above sea level.  The trig point stone though seems to be a little worse for wear.

It had now started to rain again, and it looked like it would be settling in again for the afternoon.  As I watched the rain fall over the filed I was quite glad that we are so high up, and that we do not have to live with the worry many have of flooding. 

We walked back home desperately searching for the waxwing, that have got now as far as Badshot Lea, there is still time for them to make my year list.

Friday, 23 November 2012

23rd November - But it's All Right Now, I Learned My Lesson Well.

The past few days have seen some horrendous weather with high winds and almost continual rain.  The morning though saw a quiet spell, with some blue sky, sunshine and a much calmer wind.  As a result the garden became quite busy with the birds visiting the feeders and bird baths.

The starlings are the only regular users of the ground feeder, they are not phased by the cage and move in and out without any concern.  There was also much interaction around the fat blocks.  This individual was watching a pair fight over the feeder.

A female Blackcap was a nice visitor, we have been getting a pair of Blackcaps coming to the feeders for the last three years.  They like the apples and the fat blocks.  The female is usually the first to return in the winter, the male will hopefully turn up soon.

The blue tits were everywhere again, so it was nice to be able to watch this Great Tit.  They really are a striking bird with the dark black stripe down the chest and belly.  I remember when i was living in the USA, the excitement generated when a great tit turned up at Cape May, and how it was described as an "awesome looking" bird.  It is and we here in Britain don't appreciate it.

As the sun came through the thin clouds the Blue Tits ventured away from the feeders and up to the apples on the branches.  This one looks like it is making a statement of ownership by putting its foot on the apple.

This Greenfinch looked splendid in the November sunshine.  This is probably the best shot I have of one.

With the sun out, the attention moved away from the feeders and to the bird baths.  First up for a dip was this blackbird.

A male House Sparrow tried to get in the bath while the Blackbird was washing, but got chased away.  However when the blackbird was finished the sparrow took full advantage.

A little later he was joined by a female Chaffinch who seemed to be fascinated by the antics of the sparrow.  The sparrow seemed to be quite happy to let her watch.

A Robin was singing from the trees next door, and there a short skirmish as two appeared in the garden.  One flew off, while the other just sat in the tree.

The roof of the house next door is a popular place as many birds use it to scan the garden to see if it is safe to come down.  This Pied Wagtail flitted from the lawn to the roof several times before settling to feed.

But the Collared Dove just sat and watched its partner as it tried to negotiate the feeders.

Goldfinches are now a very common sight not just on the niger feeders but also on the main sunflower seeds.  This one was stretching its wings after a lengthy feed, showing of the lovely yellow in the black wings.

With all this activity I wasn't surprised when a Sparrowhawk flew through the garden, it scattered all the birds and the garden became quiet and still once again.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

17th November - The Birds are the Keepers of our Secret

The day started with a new visitor to the garden, but not one that I had wanted.  We have been here 19 years, and have had feeders in the garden for that amount of time, and this visitor has never come anywhere near us, but this morning it was on one of the bird feeders when I came down to the kitchen.  The identity of this visitor?  The dreaded Grey Squirrel.

By the time I had got the camera it had left the feeder, but you know that they just don't forget.  When we lived in New Jersey they were a constant challenge, and invariably they won.  I know this one will not forget, it will be back I'm sure, at least the ground feeder and cage will now prove to be invaluable.

It had rained overnight, but by 9.00 am it was dry and brightening up.  I had the day so set off to see how much of the patch I could cover.  I walked down Brislands, and came across a Jay by the entrance to the recreation ground.  It sat on the fence and preened in between watching the ground below it in the cemetery.

Eventually it dropped down and foraged amongst the grass, they really are a very beautiful bird with the azure blue wing patch and the crimson pink plumage.

In the horse paddock, a kestrel sat on the temporary fence.  Blackbirds seemed to be unhappy about something, but I wasn't sure if it was because of the kestrel, or something else.  In the paddock there were two Song Thrushes feeding with the blackbirds that were not upset.  The kestrel decided to leave the fence and fly up into the the hawthorn tree by the edge of the field, and this allowed me to get a bit closer and to get a better shot.

It stayed in the area, and I saw it a little bit later as I walked down Gradwell.  At the horse paddock I disturbed a Green Woodpecker, and it flew across the paddock and settled on one of the fence posts at the back of the field.  All year I have scanned these posts and this was the first bird I had seen on them.  I took this shot just to record the event.

Green Woodpeckers will stay on a post for ages, and I have often thought this must be really boring for them.  As I walked along the path towards Old Down I had hoped it would stay and I could get a better view, but it decided that it was boring and flew off.  A buzzard was in the ploughed field, probably chasing earthworms, and there was a small flock of linnets flying around as well.  The footpath is there, but only as a result of walkers crossing the field, it was very wet and sticky as I made my way into Old Down.

The Four Trees once again looked different so I took the picture to add to the collection.

Taking the perimeter path I came across a size able flock of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests.  I stopped to watch them, but they never gave a clear opportunity for a photograph.  I made my way to the Kitwood footpath, the path was there, again as a result of walked, but very faint.  I headed back into the wood and decided to see if the Tawny Owl was in its usual tree.  I was in luck, it sat there in the pine watching me walk up.  I quickly took some photographs and then left it in peace, it was wonderful to see it back.

Leaving the owl, I took the very wet path past the tadpole pool to the main footpath, from here I headed into the wood, and then down towards the west end.  I had hoped that after finding the tit flock there would be some more birds, but it was very quiet.  As I came out of the wood at the west end the sun came out and lit up the woods beyond the Watercress Line.

I walked through the Paddocks, and it the fields beyond there was a small group of gulls.  I checked them closely, because last week there had been a significant flock of Mediterranean Gulls reported from Cheriton, but these were all Common Gulls.  I tried to get closer but they decided that they would fly off.

From the paddocks I walked up Andrews Lane, again very quiet, but I did come across a Nuthatch calling from the top of a Hawthorn tree, after a very quick battery change I finally managed to get the shot.

When I paused to check the Larch trees at the top of the lane, looking back the sunshine, and the dark clouds produced a lovely contrasting picture.

From the top of the lane, I walked around Lyeway, and headed towards Plain Farm, as I came out onto the main road there was a group of seven Blackbirds in the field, these were quickly joined by at least five more from the hedge.  All of a sudden blackbirds seemed to be everywhere.  I walked through the hedge and checked the field.  At the edge of the field yellowhammers were all over the field, and I watched them as they went from the hedge to field.  I estimated that there must have been well over 30 birds.  In amongst them I managed to find one female Reed Bunting, and four Skylarks.

Walking along the lane I could hear Redwing flying over, as I got nearer to the barn, I managed to find one calling from a bush.

There were Chaffinches around as well, and I took another picture with what I thought to be a chaffinch, but when I got home and looked closer I found it was actually a male Bullfinch, they seem to get everywhere.

The hedgerows and bushes along Lyeway still have leaves, and as a result still have some colour.

I took the short cut along the footpath to Charlwood Lane, and as I got close to the road, I heard the familiar call of the Green Woodpecker, checking the trees I could see nothing, and then it appeared from the blind side of the telegraph pole.  At last a good picture of the very elusive Green Woodpecker.

Coming on to the fields at Plain Farm more redwing flew over calling.  I thought at the time how there have been good numbers of redwing so far this autumn, but as yet no Fieldfare.  But then as I thought it I saw a flock of thrushes flying towards me, and as they came over they called with the unmistakable Fieldfare call.  There were nine of them, and they kept going leaving me with only this record flight shot of two.

A little further along two Mistle Thrush were in a dead tree, and along the lane the Linnets were once again collecting on the wires, moving from the fields and back again.  In this picture they look like music notes, I wonder what the tune is, "The Birds"?

As I walked along the lane I could hear bullfinches calling, and I would flush them out of the hedge, only for them to fly a short distance in front of me.  I counted four males, and three females, which is the largest count so far.  When they flew into the hedge they would bury themselves into the bush not giving much of a view.

I checked out the tree in the field, but there was no sign of the reported Little Owl.  A little further on a Kestrel was perched on the wires.

They seem to spend as much time watching fro prey from perches as they do hovering, but then to prove me wrong this one was off and flew over the field behind us to hover!

The tree I had just checked for Little Owl, looked quite impressive against the grey clouds as I walked down the lane.

I had looked once again for Grey Partridge, prepared this time with the camera ready, but they were not there, and the feeder had been moved.  As I came down the hill to the main road, I saw a group of partridges, but was disappointed to find these were just Red-legged Partridges.  The disappointment though was tempered when I realised that there was in fact ten present which is the largest count so far.

I walked around the estate and apart from a Buzzard it was very quiet.  From here I set off for the beech wood at Charlwood.  I searched Winchester Wood for Woodcock, but failed miserably to find one.  Back along Lyeway Lane the Yellowhammers were all over the place.  They would gather together in the trees.  This was a group of twenty two birds.

I now walked back towards home along Lyeway Road.  As usual I stopped to look at the field, but for once there were no buzzards and it was very quiet.  As I turned to walk on I disturbed a bird from the tree next to me, and as I got on it I realised that it was a Sparrowhawk, and had been sitting in the tree as I looked across the field.  It flew across the field to the west, and finally settled in the trees about a quarter of a mile away.  I took this shot, but couldn't help wondering what I could have got.

A little further on I disturbed another kestrel, and it flew up into the tree above the road.  I could hear a car coming, but was able to get this photo, probably the best of the day.

From here I walked around Kitwood and made my way home on circuitous route.  I had been out for over six hours, and it was nice to have been able to concentrate on the birds today.  When I got home I was pleased to see that the ground feeder had been used, lets hope the squirrel keeps away tomorrow.