Tuesday, 24 January 2012

23rd January - Night Visitor

I decided to take a short detour coming home to check out the farm at Lye Way.  I am convinced this is good for Little Owl, so I drove along the lane slowly listening to see if I could hear any calls.  Unfortunately my instincts did not prove right, but I will continue to look in the hope that I am right.  The detour did not prove a complete waste of time, as I did flush a Kestrel from the hedgerow, and it then flew alongside me down the lane, and further on towards Kitwood I found a Yellowhammer on the wires.  My total is now over 50!

When I got home I decided to check the camera I have in the garden on the pond, we have had some good clips of a wood mouse using the area around the pond.  Here is one of the best clips I have managed to capture todate, who knows I might yet get to see the Tawny Owls!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

22nd January - The First Snowdrops

The morning was dry, and bright with the occasional sunny periods, the wind though was still strong, and was blowing the trees around.  This morning Helen and I set off to explore the area to the east of the patch, the intention was to go into Weathermore, and head off to Brightstone lane.  As we walked through the village the House Sparrows were chirping, and this male gave the opportunity to see what a smart bird they are.  Typically overlooked this male was quite happy singing in the sunshine.

We walked along the footpath from Telegraph Lane and then walked east.  The wind was blowing the tall conifers around and it was difficult to determine the difference between the wind and the cars on the A31.

As we came out of the woodland the view to the north was quite stunning, the clouds and sun combining to send different colours across the landscape.

This was the first time we had walked along these footpaths, and probably wouldn’t have done had it not for the objective this year of recording the wildlife around Four Marks.  Looking back up the lane we were rewarded with a lovely scene as the sun lit up the avenue of trees.

We crossed the road and took the footpath around the field.  Eventually this turned into Lord’s Wood, the track passing by larch and other conifers.  The wood was not dense and we were able to see the tree tops where once again large flocks of Goldfinch fed on the cones.  The path turned down out of the woods, and as we did so we heard Crossbills.  We waited and hoped but were never able to see them, they were calling from well into the wood, but I was satisfied they were Crossbill.

We went the wrong way at the footpath intersection, but this allowed us to explore more of Lord’s Wood.  With the beech trees lining the outside there were quite a few tits, a nuthatch and a great spotted woodpecker in the trees, and I didn’t see the Buzzard in the tree until it flew off out of the wood and over the fields.  The floor of the wood had bluebells poking through, so it will probably be worth returning in April.  Once we realised we had gone the wrong way we turned around and eventually took the right track along Kitwood Lane, one of the fields had been of maize and the stubble had been left.  At the bend we crossed another stubble maize field and eventually came out on Headmore Lane.  From here we walked down Hawthorn Lane past the golf course.

Along Hawthorn we found our first clump of snow drops, the first for the year, but even more amazing was the snow drops found at the junction with Kitwood Lane and Hawthorn Road.  I had looked last week when I came down here but there was not a sign of anything, but in 8 days these snow drops had grown!

Along Kitwood Lane, we found another Great Spotted Woodpecker, but of greater interest were the Redwings that were feeding in the field.  They coud be seen coming from the trees by the roadside, and then dropping down frustratingly  into a dip in the field, there must have been at least 50 plus, with also the odd Fieldfare.

We made our way along Kitwood to the pond, and at last the Mallard had returned, when we got there it was sitting on the jetty, but dropped into the water.  That’s 2 water birds at the pond now, oh the excitement of it!  We walked around the pond but other than a dangerous hole and some more snow drops, there was nothing else to report.

More signs of spring were catkins along the roadside, not extensive but quite a few.

Walking into Old Down Wood we were greeted with another vocal tit flock, and further along we came across more Goldfinches.  While watching these Helen found a treecreeper, that was quite difficult to pin dowm.  I managed to get a few photos of it, this being the best.  It was only last year I managed to see a treecreeper on Alton Lane.  I had never seen one here in Old Down before, so perhaps that is a good omen for the rest of the year.

Going past the crossroads there were more tits, but this time the call was a lot different.  There was a pair of black capped tits together feeding on the tips of the branches quite close down.  From the call I knew they were Willow Tits, which is fantastic.  We had seen one last spring, and to see them here again this year is really good news.  The only disappointing thing was I could get a good photo, let's hope I get chances through the year.

Finally coming down Brisland’s towards Blackberry lane, a Redwing was very confiding as it ate the berries in the ivy, lit up by the now fading sunshine.  Three new birds today, I hoped to get to 50 before the summer migrants arrived but we have achieved that in January.  Who knows what will turn up!

Friday, 20 January 2012

16th - 20th January - Week Update

Very little to report this week, as I was away, however at 5.50 on Friday 20th, the Tawny Owls were calling again, both the "kevit" and woo calls indicating both male and female present.  I wish I knew where they were, it has to be the ivy!

In the garden the female Pied Wagtail is now sporting spanking brand new tail feathers, they look so bright compared with the rest of her plumage.

14th January - The First Frosts

Overnight had been clear and cold, and we awoke to quite a hard frost, but with lovely blue skies and a glowing dawn sun.  Helen was off for the morning and I took the opportunity to explore the patch.  I spent a little time around the trees at the bottom of Reads Field, trying to find the Tawny Owls, but there was no sign of them, however the ivy around some of the trees was extremely thick and there could have been anything in amongst it.

I intended to spend some time in Old Down Wood, and then walk around the pond, and across Kitwood coming back across the fields to Blackberry Lane.  The light was wonderful, and with the blue sky, and frost it was a very magical morning.  The sunlight also caught the weather vane on top of the church, and produced this lovely image.

The moon was still out, and I took the chance to photograph it again, the trees in the foreground giving some perspective. 

As I walked up Brisland’s Lane a Song Thrush was in full song, and allowed me to approach quite close, I love the way the morning sun glows on the throat.  The cold start had clearly had no impact on the fact that more song birds are singing to claim territory much earlier this year.

 There was quite a bit of activity around the cemetery, with Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits calling from the oak trees.  A blackbird was also getting quite worked up, and from behind a Robin was alarm calling.  Hopeful it might be an owl, I stopped to investigate only to find that the cause of the unrest was a pair of Jays.  They are beautiful birds, and I have wanted to get a good picture for some time, but they are not easy to approach, and these two were no exception.  Finally one stopped long enough to allow me the opportunity, and I was quite pleased with the result!

The sun was now beginning to rise above the trees and hedgerows, and providing some lovely scenes on the frosty fields and hedgerows, here are some examples:

Looking East from Brislands Lane

Brislands Lane

South towards Winchester

Rather than go straight into Old Down Wood, I walked on a little bit as Brisland’s begins to make the descent down towards North Street.  There were some more Jays calling from the tops of the trees, but what attracted me was some tapping.  It didn’t take too long to find the source,a Great Spotted Woodpecker was really hammering into a dead stump, so much so that for once it wasn’t interested in me and allowed some good views. 

You could see the wood coming off as it chiselled it’s way into the wood.  A pair of Nuthatches starting calling and they were joined by a large flock of mixed tits and finches and they all moved through heading off towards Old Down.  Finally the woodpecker became aware of me and flew off calling.  
The entrance to the wood was caught in the low sunshine, and all along the footpath was bird activity.  Robins singing, tits moving through and at the corner the woodpecker appeared again, along with another nuthatch.

 I walked through to the crossroads, and then headed north, to circle round and pick up the track that runs around the outside of the wood.  It was here last autumn that Helen and I found quite a good collection of fungi, but I was looking to see if I could find redpolls, in the tops of the larches.  It had been quite quiet, but as I walked on I could hear bird calls from the tree tops, and see small flocks flying around.  I decided to walk off the track and into the wood, checking the larch at the top, I found groups of Goldfinches, they were also extremely vocal.  These flocks would suddenly come together and there must have been well over a 100 present.  With a bit of patience I was also able to make out Lesser Redpolls and one or two Siskins.  As a result of this excursion into the centre of the wood I came across an area of water that may be interesting to keep an eye on for the future.  While you couldn’t really call it a pond, I am sure it attracts some wildlife to drink.
The "Hidden Pond"

I came out of the central area onto the main footpath, and decided to take the track to the fence to look out across the paddocks.  There was still frost about but where the sun had reached the frost had gone, and was covered with a sizeable flock of Black-headed and Common Gulls.  They were clearly feeding so maybe the frost and warm sun had forced worms up into the grass.

I left the wood and headed off towards Swelling Hill Pond, who knows a woodcock may have taken refuge.  I walked around the pond twice, but no sign of my target.  I did find a couple of Wrens by the water’s edge, and a flock of Goldcrests in the pines at the back.  The pond itself was frozen, but one of the ditches to the side had open water, and I was extremely excited to flush out a Moorhen! 

Walking back to the car park area, a very confiding Nuthatch was feeding in the ivy.  It seemed to fly into the ivy and then come out and hammer away at something on a branch close by.

After ensuring there was nothing in the surrounding bracken and bushes i headed off towards Kitwood Lane.  Fieldfare flew over from the direction of Lyeway Farm, and could also be found in the usual spot where Kitwood Lane bends.  At the farm the cattle were in the shed, and were joined by Robins, Dunnock and a Pheasant.  A white dove raised my hopes momentarily of Barn Owl, but I was soon brought back down!  As I turned away from the shed, a Grey Heron flew over, where it had come from I don’t know, I have never seen one at Swelling Hill pond but who knows.  A call from above also alerted me to a pair of skylark flying over and heading off towards the fields in Lyeway.

Raptors had been in short supply all morning, I had hoped for a kestrel, but there was no sign, but as I reached the edge of the woods a Buzzard called, came from above the trees and headed off towards the south.  I walked back up Willis Lane, and then took the footpath around the back of the garden centre.  The Rooks were very active in the trees there, and were calling and displaying in pairs by the nests, if this weather keeps up I suspect they will be breeding soon.  From here there was little more to note.  It had been an enjoyable morning, and a good start to the year.

9th - 13th January - The Moon is Not Only Cold

During the week commencing the 9th January, the Tawny owls have continued to call in the early hours of the morning.  Earlier in the week I noticed that the female pied wagtail was beginning to get her tail feathers back.  On the morning of the 13th it was clear that she had managed to grow about half of her tail back, and she was bobbing it quite proudly in the morning sunshine.

Helen called me just after 8.00 to tell me that I had to look at the moon that was still out.  In the same sunshine the Pied Wagtail was enjoying the moon was picked out superbly allowing a great opportunity to photograph it in the glow of the rising January sun.

8th January - The First Serious Walk

On Sunday the 8th, Helen and I took the chance to walk around the important sites of the square.  We started off in Chawton Park Wood, making our way there around the footpaths and down Boyneswood Road.

It is a shame to see the new housing going up here behind the old existing houses, somehow this just doesn’t look right, and you have to wonder about the planning guidelines that allow for this.  I know we need the houses, but surely they could be planned to make it look like a village and not jut a mess.
On reaching the wood car park, we were greeted with quite a few dog walkers, as a result we decided to follow the footpath going north on the east of the woods.  Almost immediately we came across a buzzard sitting on the fence post, it allowed us the chance to watch it before flying off to another post on the other side of the field.  As we walked on Redwing and Fieldfare called from the tops of the trees, and Robin could be heard singing.  The fields to the west looked very good for pheasant or partridge but nothing was found.

Looking towards Roe Farm

As we reached the northern limit the bird calls increased, and we were treated to large flocks of Long-tailed tits, Goldcrests and Blue Tits.  In addition Goldfinches were singing a kind of sub song, not quite a full song but completely different from the calls.  A couple of Nuthatches were also present giving good views as they called loudly from the top of the trees, and a Great-spotted Woodpecker was drumming towards the north of the area.

Moving down the bridleway was difficult as it was very wet and muddy.  Tits continued to call in the larch tree tops, and I found a small flock of Siskins, also the previously heard Redwing and Fieldfares could now been seen as they flew across the rides and around the tree tops.
When the bridleway was joined by another path we decided to turn back toward Four Marks, almost immediately after we did do we came across a calling Bullfinch that then flew across the path revealing it to be a male.  This area looked a good possibility for woodlark and potentially nightjar and woodcock in the summer so I will definitely come back regularly

Chawton Park Wood
Chawton Park Wood Looking towards Alton
From Chawton Park we walked down through the footpaths to the fields between Blackberry and Alton Lane, there was nothing much here other than the about 20 Rooks feeding in the field, probably from the rookeries in Alton Lane, no doubt with the mild weather they will be nesting soon.  Taking the footpath alongside the garden centre we found more corvids in the fields, and a few Wrens in the scrub, a sudden Robin alarm call alerted us to a Sparrowhawk that flew low past us at speed.  Crossing Willis lane and taking the footpath towards Hawthorn we disturbed more Jays and a Green Woodpecker.  Another Buzzard was seen by the horse farm at Hawthorn, and a Coal Tit was seen along Kitwood lane.  As we approached the turn on Kitwood Lane plenty of Redwing and Fieldfare were in there usual place at the edge of the fields and in the trees.

At Swelling Hill Pond I did hope for a duck or moorhen but was disappointed as there was nothing stirring. 

Swelling Hill Pond
In Old Down Wood though we were able to once again watch a sizeable tit flock of Blue, Great, Long-tailed, and Coal tits along with a pair of nuthatches.  There was no sign of last year’s willow tit, but while searching through a flock of Goldfinches and Linnets, I managed to find a superb Marsh Tit, its identity sealed by it’s call. 

Approaching the crossroads in Old Down Wood
Walking out towards Brisland’s Lane, a Mistle Thrush was feeding in the field, and a Song Thrush completed the hand of thrushes as we climbed over the style out of the wood.  Two more Buzzards circled over the fields as we walked the last few metres home.

1st - 7th January - The First Week

I was away from Four Marks on the 1st and 2nd of January, but was till able to catch up with Buzzard and Red kite on the 2nd as we returned home.  The weather was glorious and with the blue sky I was able to get some satisfactory shots of the Buzzard over the Rotherfield estate.  The Red Kite was not so confiding as it drifted off along the fields adjacent to the A32.  The garden during the afternoon had the usual suspects, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird, Starling and Chaffinch along with a very easily identifiable female Pied Wagtail which was without it’s tail.  However it continued to bob even though the tail wasn’t there.

On Friday the 6th, I managed to catch the female Blackcap in the honeysuckle, but it was only a brief visit.  On the feeders there were Linnets, Goldfinches and the House Sparrows.  On the ground we had Dunnocks, a Wren and in and out were a couple of Robins.  As usual the Wood Pigeons monopolised the trays in the trees and were joined by the regular pair of Collared Doves.  During the early hours of Saturday morning the pair of Tawny Owls were calling to each other in Lymington Bottom,  I wish I knew where these two were, although I have my suspicions that they are in the heavily ivy clad trees in the copse by the green at the bottom of Reads Field.  At some stage I will take the chance to check it out.


This year I intend to document the birds and wildlife around the village I live in. Four Marks is a village on the A31 south west of Alton in Hampshire. I have centred the patch on OS grid 6934, and taken a 5 x 5 kilometre square, which allows me to include Old Down Wood in the west, and a significant portion of Chawton Park Wood in the north. Rotherfield estate just makes it in on the south eastern corner of the square, while I can also have the opportunity to explore some of the farmland to the south of Medstead where I have never been before.

The main habitats are woodland and farmland. The woodland is mainly beech, with also good larch plantations in both Old Down and Chawton woods. There is one sizeable pond at Swelling Hill, but this could not be considered as a major wetland area. I am hopeful that the breeding season, and migration during the sprig will turn up some interesting species, but overall I think the start birds will be the raptors, with red kite, and hobby being the star attraction, but who knows I may find nightjar and woodcock, which would be really special. Overall If I achieve 75 species I will be very pleased, I will also document and track the number of butterflies that we are able to find, and of course anything else of general interest.