Friday, 30 March 2012

29th March - Like a Bird on a Wire

While sitting in the garden at lunchtime, I heard the familiar alarm calls of the Blue Tits and Robins, looking around I couldn't see anything that could be worrying them.  All of a sudden a female Sparrowhawk came out of a neighbour's conifer tree, and flew up and around the house.  This time I didn't have the camera, but managed to get hold of it as the bird continued to spiral and climb high into the blue sky.

The shots are distant, because it went high, very quickly, but they are of a Sparrowhawk, and it is a start.

Even as the hawk continued to rise to become just a tiny dot in the sky, the Blue Tits continued to call their alarm warning.

I debated whether to go out this evening, the weather was the same warm and sunny, and I doubted whether anything had changed, but in the end I decided to go, and I am very pleased that I did.

There are still a few footpaths in the south west corner that I haven't walked so I set off through the woods again with the objective of exploring these.  Walking along Brislands I noticed at the junction with the footpath opposite Gradwell that the "deer" was still sitting on the track!

The hedgerows are now starting to show signs of different flowers emerging.  I noticed these blue flowers close to the bushes and out of the sun.  It is Ground-ivy, and despite it's name is not an ivy, but related to the mint family.  The flowers are extremely delicate with a small purple spot on the lower lip

Once again at the entrance to the wood the Chiffchaff was singing, it likes to sit in the sun and sing, so I took the path at the field edge.  Although still a little bit flighty it did let me get close enough for some more photos.  In the photos the legs look quite pale which is one of the identifiers for a Willow Warbler, but if you look at the wings they are quite short and that is a Chiffchaff trait, plus the fact it kept calling "Chiff Chaff", which does help to nail the identification!

I followed the main track in the hope that the open space may provide some butterflies, but the only ones around were a couple of Peacocks sunning on the ground near the bramble.  I did though find a Red-tailed Bumblebee, that was paying intense attention to the bluebell flowers.  the Red-tailed Bumblebee is very common around chalk land, and is also a frequent visitor to gardens.

I walked through the wood and out across the Desmond paddocks, instead of turning up Swelling Hill I crossed over into Andrew Lane, and walked up to the bridleway.  We had obviously been looking for primroses in the wrong place, as the sides of the bridleway were covered in clumps of Primroses.

Once past the metalled road the bridleway opens out and looking north west there are open paddocks that are calling out for migrants.  A quick scan today revealed nothing other than rooks and crows, plus a soaring buzzard overhead.  I the evening sun though it look extremely idyllic, and I couldn't believe I hadn't been there before.

The Buzzard paused in its soaring to rest on the power lines that crossed the fields, the only blight on this area.  I am beginning to build a collection of perched birds on power lines, as I couldn't resist this opportunity.

While watching the Buzzard I heard a "gronk" call from behind me, I turned to see two Ravens overhead, unfortunately I could not get a picture as they disappeared over the tree tops as I tried to focus, continuing to give the characteristic "gronk" as they went.  I scrambled up the bridleway to see if I could relocate them away over to Ropley, but couldn't find them.  I thought I might be lucky with Raven on the patch, but didn't expect it today.  Now I need to find them again and get the picture.

The Bridleway comes out and turns east alongside a field.  This field was of rape,and the distinctive yellow flowers are just beginning to come out, a sure sign that spring is here.  Despite what you may think about the heavy planting of rape across the countryside, it does make for a really lovely scene.

The aspect here was perfect for the evening sun, and I paused at a periwinkle bed, and was delighted to find my first Orange Tip Butterfly for the year.  these hibernate as pupae, so the warm weather eventually brings them on to the wing.  This one really gave me the chase around as I tried to get the perfect shot.

As I chased it around it would attract the attention of up to four Small Tortoiseshells, and a Large White, both of which were also firsts for the year.  I would imagine due to the aspect this little area will be good for butterflies in the summer, and will be well worth keeping a check on.

From the grazing fields around Lyeway farm, you could hear the bleats of new born lambs, these were the first I have found in the patch, although there have been some close by in Chawton for sometime now.  This one doesn't seem to be that young, but is clearly enjoying the evening sun, and the warm weather, let's hope it isn't in for a shock soon.

Once again I checked the pylons as I walked down Lyeway, and found a Kestrel this time, it was scanning the field and dropped quickly to the ground only to return almost immediately to it's look out post.

A scan of the fields only produced a few crows, this one was quite close and allowed me the chance to get a photo to compare with the Rooks and Jackdaws.  As you can see the crow is all black, with quite a substantial beak.  Now all I need is to find the Ravens again!

The kestrel that had been in the pylons, flew over my head towards Swelling Hill road.  Once again the presence was signalled by the song bird alarm call.  It is amazing how you quickly become tuned for these calls, and immediately look for something different.  It flew to a conifer tree, and just as I arrived it decided to fly off again.  However with just one shot I was lucky to get this really nice flight shot as it leapt from the tree top, as it flew off the alarm calls rang out again, and as it flew over the field it was dive-bombed by a small bird.

In the bushes along the roadsides and in the woods you can usually find either Great Tits or Blue Tits, normally in pairs they will call repeatedly to each as they work the branches and trunks.  This behaviour is obviously linked to feeding but by doing so together must have something to do with courtship bonding.  These two though were really having a go at each other, and have now clearly fallen out, as the back to back pose indicates!.

I headed down Kitwood towards the school, in the road verge the Lords and Ladies are beginning to flower, not fully out yet as you can see, but they will be soon.  This one will not have long to go.

Another sunny evening drew to a close, and I was glad that I had decided to go out.  Raven was a big surprise and takes me to a year list of 66 for the patch, ever closer to my target 80.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

28th March - Endless Sunshine

I took the opportunity at lunch time to go up to Swelling Hill Pond to see if the periwinkle bank had attracted any more butterflies.  The bank was in full sun, and there were bumblebees and bee flies, but no butterflies.  I did though surprise the Moorhen, and finally managed to get a picture just to prove it does exist.

With no sign of any butterflies I headed off to Old Down Wood to see if there were any there.  As I walked down the track a spot of orange attracted my attention, and as I crept closer I could see it was a Comma, my first for the year here on the patch.  It allowed me to get closer as it soaked up the warm morning sun.  A lovely bright Brimstone male flew by, but never settled, and headed off into the wood.

The Comma hibernates as an adult butterfly normally amongst dense vegetation and tree roots, and can sometimes be seen following warm mild weather during the winter.  It gets it's name from the characteristic white "C" shape found on the underside of the hind wing, as can be seen in this photo.

The sun was warming up the broad bramble leaves, and this was proving an attraction to Peacock butterflies, in total I counted three Peacocks and five Brimstones.  Needless to say the Brimstones just kept on going, but the Peacocks were up for showing off their beautiful markings.

The warm sunshine has accelerated the flowering of the bluebells, and where the sunlight can get to the wood floor you can now see clearly the bluebells coming through.  Cooler weather is forecast for next week, but I think we will have the wood fully carpeted by Easter.

I walked a little way into the wood, and could hear Buzzard calling above me.  The finches and tits were calling from the larches, when suddenly again the chatter turned to alarm calls, and looking up a Sparrowhawk flew over, it then began to flutter, climb and dive as it produced a lovely display.  Sadly the trees and branches prevented a photo, but I will get one soon.

I walked back to the pond, but was only able to find another Brimstone.  I did though manage a first for the year as I found a small clump of Primroses.  We have been searching for these for sometime, but we have been careful to distinguish between cultivated and wild flowers.  These were definitely wild ones, growing beneath the holly bush.  Primroses along with daffodils hold a special place in our family.

A quick check of the Lyeway fields revealed only singing Skylarks and Yellowhammers.

In the evening I set off back very briefly into Old Down, I came in from the Gradwell footpath, where the path is now well defined and very dry.

Away in the distance I found a soaring buzzard, and by the time I had reached the wood it was spiralling above me.  It seemed to cover quite a distance in a very short period of time, and it carried on going, enjoying the evening sunshine, as it searched the fields.  In the wood the light continues to fascinate me, the dappled shadows highlighting the developing colour on the wood floor.

Walking the perimeter track I noticed a new flower amongst the wood anemones, the leaves are very delicate and clover shaped, or trefoil, while the flower itself is white but with clear pink veins on the petals.  They are Wood Sorrel, and like a dry shady position, usually on rooting vegetation, which was exactly the habitat I found them in.

I wanted to walk along Kitwood Lane, so came out of the wood taking the footpath across the field.  The evening was very clear, and the light was wonderful.  I stopped in the middle of the field and took a panoramic view looking towards the village.  In a few weeks time the trees will be covered in leaves as Spring fully arrives, and the different colours of the new vegetation will stand out, but for now I just enjoyed the view.

Walking along Kitwood I noticed another blue flower, these were very small, and are Germander Speedwell.  It would seem we are well on the way to entering the blue flowering season.

Long-tailed tits are birds that you just want to photograph, but they never seem to stay still long enough to get that perfect shot.  This evening though, one was very happy to allow me to photograph it as it perched on a branch in the evening sunshine.  I hope I did it justice.

Another bird that seems to shy from the camera in the countryside is the Linnet.  This one was singing at the top of an oak tree.

It happened with Treecreepers and Red-legged Partridges, and now it seems to be happening with Kestrels.  I was only recently thinking how difficult it was to seem them within the patch, with buzzard and sparrowhawk being much more common, so I was pleased to find one yesterday.  As I came up to Kitwood farm I flushed another from the tree by the road, and it flew up into the next tree and just scanned the field.

I always check the cattle sheds here, the cattle were out and there was movement beneath the straw.  A Brown rat shot across the shed and then turned to watch me, as I waited I saw at least three.  Rats always get a bad press, but these were where you would expect them to be and were not doing any harm.  After looking at me for a while it shot off along the side of the shed.  With it being dark in the shed, I was using a slow speed, so the effect was not intentional, but I like the image the blurred rat gives, it probably hides the fact it is a rat!

At the Kitwood Plantation, I dropped down to the bridleway.  As I walked down the track, a pair of Jackdaws suddenly called, and following that alarms calls sounded as a male Sparrowhawk flew across the track.  I wasn't sure if the Jackdaws had seen it from above the wood, and alerted the other birds, or the Jackdaw's calling spooked the Sparrowhawk, if it was the former then it only goes to emphasise the amazing eyesight and vigilance they have.

I made my way up the bridleway past the Newton Common Plantation, and then headed around the footpath to Newtonwood Farm.  Rather than going on into Plash Wood I turned to walk back down past the Maryanne Plantation.  Before I reached the plantation I noticed four duck flying up from the bottom of the valley.  They were two pairs of Mallard, the largest count I have ever had!  I checked the valley, and noticed a small dew pond, which was probably where they had come from.  As I looked a Roe Deer came out of the wood and made it's way towards the water for a drink, ever watchful and alert as it went.

I walked back down Hawthorn, and where the fields have been ploughed and drilled there were plenty of corvids and Pheasants.  The jackdaws though preferred to forage in the grassed areas.

While the pheasants walked slowly and watchful across the open soil.  The sunlight seeming to emphasis the red wattle and golden plumage.

At the Garthowen rookery all was relatively quiet as the Rooks continued to sit on the nests while partners would chatter alongside.  It was a far cry from the noise and activity at the beginning of the month.  I commented then that it was thought the Rooks nest early to take advantage of the softer ground at this time of year, so I hope the recent dry weather does not impact there ability to feed the young once they do hatch.  For now though, the scene was one of calm, interspersed with some calling and wing stretching in the evening sunshine.

As the sun finally began to set I couldn't resist this shot of a bandy legged Starling singing away from the roof top against a wonderful orange sunset sky.  You long for this weather never to end, but you know it is just too good to be true!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

27th March - There's a Kite Out of Control on the Breeze

Yet another glorious day, clear blue skies and endless sunshine.  The chaffinch was now outside my office window, and is really into it's stride.  The head is thrown back with the beak wide open and the throat just ripples as it send out it's song.

I set off early evening down Brislands once again towards Old Down, perhaps in the hope that something new has turned up.  I could hear Chiffchaff singing from the entrance, and decided to walk along the sunlit side of the field.  This proved successful as I finally managed to pin down the Chiffchaff and get some photos.

Further in another was singing, this one was not in the sunlight but I still managed to get a reasonable shot, as it mixed fly catching with singing.

In the main track a red Admiral flitted about and gave the briefest of opportunities when it settled.  This was my first for the year.

Coming out of the wood I took the footpath down alongside the field towards Lyeway.  All the Wood Pigeon suddenly burst out of the field where they had been hidden by the growing brasicas.  There must of been around 150 to 200 pigeons in the flock, and after flying around for a while they settled into the trees alongside the field

I wasn't sure what had spooked them but it quickly became apparent as a Red Kite drifted over from the east.  It spiralled around and gave some superb views.

I have never walked this footpath before, so it was all new to me.  Looking to the west with the setting sun, the view over Ropley was enhanced by the misty appearance of the trees and hills.  It really is beautiful countryside around here and we are very lucky living here.

Another surprise though, was in one of the fields to the west.  It was covered in birds, and at first I thought they were Lapwing, but they turned out to be thrushes, and Fieldfare at that.  I counted 146 in total.  there may have been a few Mistle Thrushes too, but with the light it was difficult to clearly identify all the birds.  The picture here shows a portion of the field and there are 28 Fieldfare, I can't recall seeing so many late in the year.

I walked back along the road from Lyeway Farm, and was able to get this Yellowhammer sitting on the wire.  Since the warm weather Yellowhammer calls and song have been everywhere, and they are definitely a common breeding bird around the patch.

Lyeway twists and turns with hedges and telegraph poles, and again in the evening sun can look impressive.

On one of the telegraph poles I noticed a Kestrel.  It sat for a while and then sprang into the air and flew off across the field, as the alarm calls from the song birds rang out.

Wood Pigeons were still flying around the fields, but one remained on the ground.  Taking a look I couldn't see the white neck ring, only a green band, and it was also slighter than the bulky Wood Pigeons, once I realised that this was a Stock Dove and not a bird you see every day, it was off, and all I managed was this flight shot.  If you look though you can see the neck