The cold weather continues, and on Friday morning we were treated to another short snow shower. The Pied Wagtail in the garden decided to wait it out by sitting in the tree and watching the flakes fall.
The snow didn't come to anything, and very soon the clouds rolled away and the sun came out. It stayed like that for the rest of the day, but cold with a very keen wind. The wind was responsible for keeping the frost away overnight, and Saturday started just as bright, and maybe a little milder. The Blackbirds seemed to enjoy the rise in temperature, and took the opportunity to use the bird baths. This small one regularly gets emptied as they thrash around ensuring they get completely wet.
I took the chance in the morning to tidy up in the garden, removing the leaves and planting three trees at the bottom of the garden. I could hear the Goldfinches and Blue Tits calling and scolding me as they cautiously approached the feeders. Some were quite happy to feed while I was outside, but others would just call from a safe distance. This Blue Tit slowly crept through the tree, keeping one eye on the feeder, and then every so often scanning around for any danger. Eventually it took a seed and then flew off.
With the sun still out, and it feeling quite pleasant we set off in the afternoon for a walk. The intention was to avoid the wet and muddy areas, so we walked along Brislands. The horse field opposite the recreation ground was covered in Blackbirds all taking advantage of where the horses have broken up the turf. In amongst the blackbirds was this lone Redwing, looking splendid in the winter sunshine.
The hedgerow alongside Brislands Lane is now all brown where the bracken has died back. Where the sun was catching the top of the hedge there would be little clouds of midges or gnats flying about in the warmer air. They looked quite magical in the weak light, in keeping with the season.
Although we were not going into the wood, we paused by the entrance footpath, to look across the fields. As we did so I noticed a flock of small birds coming down to drink in the puddles by the side of the road. When I managed to get on them I could see that they were Crossbills, with at least four of them being red plumaged males. They were quite nervous and flitted from the puddle and the nearby trees. Unfortunately the puddle was in dark shade, and the tree was in the open with the bright light behind it. This with the fact that the birds were not happy to settle made the photography difficult, but I did manage to get these pictures.
They then flew up to the oak tree behind us, and then almost as we turned around they were off away towards Gradwell Lane. In total I counted 21, which is the largest count so far. All the time they were around us they were constantly making their "chipping" contact call, and they continued to do so as they flew off.
We walked down the lane to the farm buildings. A little wren caught our attention as it moved about on the stacks of straw assembled outside the barn. It skulked about like a little mouse obviously finding some food in amongst the stalks.
As I watched the wren, Helen picked up a raptor high above us. It was a Sparrowhawk, and despite the fact that it was quite high up, it still looked special against the blue sky.
We turned up the lane to head towards Swelling Hill, but decided to take the footpath up to the west end of Old Down Wood. We have never walked this path before so it was breaking new ground. Helen pointed out to me what i thought were sheep, that in fact turned out to be, when I eventually saw them, a large flock of Wood Pigeons by the Watercress Line.
In the field alongside the footpath I saw a pair of Fieldfare. This was the first time I have managed to see them close this winter, and once again they looked superb in the winter sunshine.
After finding these two, I noticed that there was also a gathering of fieldfare in the trees in the hedge. They were coming up from the field and perching at the top of the branches. At this point I counted 16 in the trees.
As we crossed the field, the fieldfares scattered in front of us, and flew across the field. We counted 35 in total which was quite a good sized flock. As well as the fieldfare there was also a flock of small passerines flying around, and settling in the stubble. From the colours I felt they were probably Linnet and Yellowhammer, but we were not able to relocate them to confirm.
Sticking with the plan to stay away from the muddy wood we walked down through the Desmond Paddocks. The sun at this time of year is very low in the sky, and once again was picking out thousands of spiders webs lying across the grass. I have tried to understand what creates these, but all I can find out is that they are spun as protection for young spiders, and obviously to provide a food source for the young spiders. There does not appear to be one species that does this. The sheep did not seemed concerned.
We made our way up Swelling Hill and past the pond. Another horse field was proving to be equally popular with more blackbirds and wood pigeon, and with them was another thrush for the day, this time a Song Thrush.
As we approached the farm buildings there was some movement at the base of the wall, and we could see at least three Brown Rats by the side of the wall. There was a hole in the ground from which they were emerging, and they quickly ran off as we got close.
Looking into the barn though, one just sat and brazenly looked at me, as if to dare me to come and get it.
By now the light was getting even more gorgeous, and as we walked along Kitwood Lane where the trees and fields had dead or bare vegetation the sun turned it a golden brown.
Looking across the fields the low sunshine revealed even more cobwebs across the grass, this time lit even more in a golden glow and haze.
From Kitwood we headed to Willis Lane, and then up the footpath towards Alton Lane. Everywhere you looked the setting sun was sending golden light and transforming the fields and anything in them into something wonderful. The shetland ponies dark brown coats took on a golden glow as they fed in the field alongside the footpath
The rooks and jackdaws were collecting on the wires and the trees surrounding the field, and when a buzzard flew low across the field, and up into the trees they took an instant dislike to it, and proceeded to mob it as it sat in the tree. Everybody had a go, including two magpies. Eventually it flew off hotly pursued by the jackdaws.
With the buzzard gone everything calmed down, and they returned to sitting on the wires enjoying the final rays of the setting sun.
The field between Alton Lane and Blackberry is a real mess at the moment. All the trees alongside the edge have been cut back, probably to put a fence for the footpath to keep people off the main field, but greater damage is being done to the field by the tractors and other vehicles that are littered everywhere.
That aside though looking through the hedge the setting sun provided a lovely seen through the bushes and tall grass.
As we walked down Reads Field to home, the sun had finally set, but it's light had one more final act as it lit up a cross formed by two vapour trails in the sky. A fitting end to a lovely winter's day.