Wednesday, 5 December 2012

5th December - Dark Was the Night, and Cold the Ground

We are now into the final month of the year, December, and the start of winter.  The weather has taken a change to cold, with frosty clear nights and snow flurries during the day.  Last night while running I came across a very confiding Tawny Owl in Gradwell Lane.  It was perched low on a tree branch and we both attempted to stare each other out.  I of course won, and the owl just dropped off the branch and glided away silently.

Since last weekend I have had the camera trap set up in Old Down Wood.  I retrieved it this lunch time and checked what it had captured.  There was nothing over exciting, a Rabbit, Squirrel and a Roe Deer put in a brief appearance, but the star of the show was this Tawny Owl that in the space of 25 minutes moved from the surrounding branches of the hazel trees to the ground where it was interested in something in the leaf litter.

Just after dawn we had a small snow shower, but  this cleared away and very soon the sun was making an appearance, it was though very cold. The garden today has seen plenty of activity and there are now two guardians, the Blackbirds that stand guard over the apples in the tree, and a male Pied Wagtail that chases off the smaller birds from the lawn.

It was mainly the female blackbird that protected the apples, and the main method of protection was to make sure there was nothing left!

The Collared Doves are always amusing as they fly around and feed together.  This pair were sitting in the small bird bath and appear to have had a row.

The first birds back into the garden after all the birds are scared off is always the Blue Tits.  There has been up to 10 individuals seen this autumn, which is by far more than in previous years.  They definitely like the apples too, and when the Blackbird's back is turned, they take over.

Every so often a flock of Long-tailed Tits come through the garden, swarming over the feeders and the fat feeders.  This shows three on the fat, but at one time there were six fluffy balls of feathers covering the feeder.

As the sun became more dominant after the early snow, the birds would take the opportunity to sit in the sun.  This Starling's plumage looked superb in the winter sunshine, showing the blues, greens, and browns within the feathers.

There was up to six goldfinches today, this one showed off the gorgeous red feathers on the face.  They are beautiful birds.

At lunchtime, as mentioned, I headed out for a short walk, but first I decided to drive down to Plain Farm to check the fields and trees.  There was nothing of any great note, but this collection of corvids in the main tree was quite impressive.

I made my way back to the pond, parked up, and walked into Old Down Wood.  It was very wet still and I walked around the south perimeter.  A flock of about twelve Siskin flew over calling, but they didn't stop.  I checked the the Tawny Owl site, but it was not there.  From there I retrieved the camera trap, and then headed around the main path to the centre of the wood.  It was deathly quiet, and very cold.  When it is as quiet as this a single sound seems to travel far, and I could hear knocking on wood but it took a while to locate.  When I did it turned out to be a Nuthatch, and it was really having a go at something on the branch.  It would almost leap up to hammer down on the branch, holding the head back as in this shot.

And then stabbing down with the beak keeping the eyes closed, and putting all its effort into it.

It turned out that it had wedged what looked like a hazel nut somewhere on the branch.  Every so often it would take a break from hammering, and then re-position the nut and try again.  As I walked around the wood I heard and saw two other nuthatches hammering away, probably up to the same thing.

There are still some green ferns in amongst the fallen beech leaves, and with the low sun they look impressive against the orange of the leaves, and the darkness of the tree trunks.

I made my way back towards the main path out to Old Down cottage, I hoped for some birds feeding in the larches, and found some but they were mostly tits, with the majority Coal Tits.  It is not until you see the Coal Tit with the other members of the tit family that you realise how small they actually are.  Not much bigger than a Goldcrest they were feeding noisily in the larches and amongst the lichen on the oak trees.

There was also a good number of Great Tits as well, making their presence known by a variety of calls.

Walking back towards the car and the pond, I couldn't help notice the holly tree which unusually for this year was covered in berries.  It looked very festive and all that was missing was the Robin and a bit of snow.

With it being clear and cold this evening I decided to go for a walk after dark.  I wanted to walk through Old Down, just to see if I could find anything of interest.  Armed with a strong torch and well wrapped up I set off up Brislands scanning the trees with the torch for owls.  I found nothing along the lane, but once into the wood I picked up two pairs of eyes in the clearing under the beech trees.  These were Roe Deer, and seemed unconcerned about me, and just stood an watched me.  Scanning around I located another pair of eyes, and then another.  Four deer in total, and then a bit further on I found two more lying down on the ground, and another two off in the distance.  A total of eight is the most I have seen in the wood at one time.

Pleased with the high deer count I continued to splash my way along the footpaths.  I walked through the clearing by the Kitwood path, and immediately located a tawny Owl in a pine tree, the torch light picking up the very bright eyes.  It just watched me and I left it in peace.  I walked around the perimeter path, and away across to the west I could hear a kind of scuffling and barking.  I turned off the torches and slowly walked closer.  Having got as close as I could I scanned the area with the torch, and immediately picked out two Badgers.  They froze for a fraction of a moment, then disappeared.  A result, I didn't expect to see that much and was very pleased as I crossed the field towards Gradwell.  Once on the lane a scan of the trees once again picked out another Tawny Owl.

Not a bad evening walk in the dark, eight Roe Deer, a record count, two Badgers, the first I have actually seen (the others were on the camera trap), and two Tawny Owls.  I will have to try this again.


  1. love the camera trap, interesting owl behaviour. Such a wonderful winter light to the pics, Goldfinch pic is great too, the colours are a great contrast all round.

    1. Just seen Sunday hants bird sightings..Tawny Owl seen by non birder, two days on the trot sitting by roadside..starting a trend here? Plus waxwings all round, surely one must turn up for you? It's that right place and time thing!

    2. I keep checking the starling flocks as they can look like waxwings but nothing yet. I got a little excited on sunday afternoon when I saw a flock of birds fly up into a tree and just sit there but they turned out to be redwing.


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