Thursday, 31 May 2012

30th May - I Walk Out in the Flowers and Feel Better

The forecast showers and thunderstorms did not arrive and the evening was clear and sunny.  I decided that I would walk around the fields this evening, taking a change from the woods that by evening were quiet.  I took the footpath that went from Blackberry Lane through to Alton Lane but just before Blackberry I came across two young Blackbirds and an adult male.  The adult flew off leaving the youngsters, as I walked up to them the youngsters were a little unsure of me, and as I passed they left the path and hopped up into a nearby holly.  As I looked back the adult had returned to where he had left the young, and appeared surprised that he couldn't see them.  A few calls and the first youngster came out of the bush, and eagerly accepted the food.

From the Blackberry lane footpath  I walked into to the large field.  On the right hand side the horse paddock was full of buttercups, it is the same every year and is featured in the village web site photo gallery.  It is just one large sea of yellow, and it looks a more natural sight than a field of rapeseed.

As I walked up the main track I was alerted by the calls of a Crow, and saw a Buzzard drifting across the field.  The calls of one alerted others and almost immediately three crows set of to mob the intruder.  It is now a common sight, and Buzzards on their own, without their mobbing corvids is the rarity.

The main field the footpath goes through is left to grass and then mown around the end of June for hay.  The field in summer when left to grow becomes a wonderful meadow of wild flowers, that attracts butterflies and other insects.  It is always sad when the field is cut, because it looks wonderful with the different colours in the grasses and the flowers.  Unfortunately the field has been very popular with dog walkers and teenagers, and this means activity away from the main footpath, and as a result the owner is now taking action to ensure that the only route through the field is by the footpath.  Understandably, he is concerned that by walking in other areas the grass is worn down and the hay harvest reduced, his response is to cut the trees and bushes by the side of the fence, and soon I would imagine a fence will be erected to keep walkers to the footpath ensuring the field is not disturbed.  This will allow the meadow to flourish, but also reduce the opportunity to enjoy the flowers and insects.

Over the last few weeks the flowers and grass has grown significantly, and Common Vetch and Ox-Eye Daises can be seen amongst the grass and clover.  I couldn't find any butterflies this evening, a better time to search for them would be around warm part of the day.

Common Vetch

Ox-Eye Daisies
I crossed Alton Lane, and walked past the garden centre, at the gate to the next field, a large clump of nettles was brightened up by the pink flowers of Red Campion pushing through.  It shows the determination of both plants to survive as they both had grown to at least 1.5 to 2.0 metres high!

As I walked in the direction of Willis Lane at least one field was not fenced in, so there may be the chance to explore the meadow later in the summer, for now up to six Goldfinches were feeding on the seed heads of the grasses.

From Willis Lane I crossed over and followed the footpath to Hawthorn.  Once again the nettles were predominant, but this time it was Germander Speedwell that was growing through, producing a blue haze amongst the rich green of the nettles.  The Speedwell again showing determined growth, as typically these plants reach 25 cm tall, but to get to the light these were at least double that in height.

I made my way through the Newton Plantation and then came down the track to the Kitwood bridleway.  A pair of Red-legged Partridge burst out of the long grass by the track.  I wonder if with the farming methods being adopted around here, and the presence of the seed hoppers, we may manage to get Grey Partridge, I hope so.

One animal that seems to have benefited from the long grass left at the edge of the fields is the Hare.  I manage to see them on most visits these days.  This one was lying in the grass enjoying the evening sun.

As I tried to get closer it went from the dozy sleepy stage to leaping up, and running off.  In both photographs you can just see the size of the eye, and the extended peripheral vision it provides.  In total I counted seven as I walked along the bridleway.

From the bridleway I turned up the track to pick up Kitwood Lane, here I found my first flowering foxgloves.  The area had plenty, this being one of two to start flowering, later on there should be a really good show, and I also expect the same in Old Down Wood this year too.

As I walked along Kitwood Lane I checked the fields and the hedgerow bushes.  A Skylark sang above the fields, and another Whitethroat sent out it's rattle song from a hawthorn bush.  I made a mental note to check the fields more often over the next few weeks, if a Quail could turn up outside Bentworth last year, there is always a chance I could hear one around here.

When I set off this evening I considered walking along Alton Lane for a change.  When we run along there I am always checking for birds on the overhead wires, and for one bird in particular at this time of year, however I hadn't seen anything of interest so I decided not to bother.  I wasn't even considering this as I turned from the Kitwood Lane to head down towards the school, but as I looked at the bungalow on the right I couldn't believe it when I saw a bird on the wire.  It was just what I was looking for, a Spotted Flycatcher.  As I lifted my camera it flew up after a fly, but then went into the beech tree, where I saw it wasn't alone, and that there were in fact two.  I waited, watching them fly catching inside the tree, until at last it presented itself in a prominent position to get a photo.  It has been a while since I have seen one, I used to see them regularly when I lived in Essex but this was my first here in Four Marks.

Yesterday was a highlight with the ospreys, but for some reason these little birds really put a smile on my face.  While I was waiting for them to appear I noticed this Hornet hanging from the branch seemingly eating something, it was a way off and in the garden so I couldn't explore more

Still smiling over the Spotted Flycatchers I headed down the road, and almost forgot the reason why I had intended to come this way.  The Copper Beech tree along Brislands Lane stands out at this time of year from the Oak, Beech and Ash.  The view from here is lovely, and shows the beautiful foliage well against the other trees.  Fortunately I remembered in time and was able to take this picture in the evening light.

With May now almost over, we move into Summer.  My list of birds for the year stands now at 77, just three away from my target of 80.  Who knows what will happen next month.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

29th May - Would You Believe It!

I have continually talked up the possibility of a rare flyover this Spring, all around me there have been sightings of raptors, but nothing has ventured my way, until this evening that is.  While having a birthday celebration with the family, a search for a calling young robin proved unsuccessful, but my daughter then asked what were these two birds flying over.  Two large raptors were drifting in on a lazy flight from the south right over the house.  I knew immediately what they were, but had no time to get the camera. 

These were two Ospreys, their flight is distinctive, the wings held back as they flew over, and then as they headed north you could clearly see the dihedral angle the wings are held at as they undertake a relaxing flight.  An amazing patch tick, something which I had given up on, but secretly always thought there was a chance of.  The camera will have to be ready for when they return in the Autumn!  In the meantime here are two I watched last year on the west coast of Canada.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

27th May - It's Build a House Where We Can Stay

Another wonderful day, with full sunshine right from the start, I was awake at five o'clock so I can vouch for that.  Over the last few weeks the House Martins have put in short visits to fly around the larches, however this morning they were flying around the houses and spending time inspecting the eves and old nest locations.  We moved here late in 1993, and the following summer I was delighted to find that House Martins were looking to nest.  I think this was probably due to the availability of suitable building materials as the road was not finished, and the sand and cement left over from the building site was very much to their liking.  As a boy I had always wanted house martins to nest on my house, they nested at my school, and I can remember then swooping low over our heads and up into their nests as we ran around in the playground on a warm summer's day.  I had even tried to attract them to my old house in Oxford with a very basic nesting platform.  Unfortunately this didn't work, but the nesting platform still remains to this day, and I often wonder what the owners think it is!  I was thrilled to find them nesting at the back and front of our house in Four Marks.  That summer it was quite hot and dry, and to help them in their building, I even watered the road to provide sufficient mud for their nests.

Over time the love affair with these lovely little birds has waned a little, they do make a mess, plus the thought of painting soffits always filled me with dread, so the move to UPVC soffits was inevitable. The wooded soffits provided a better surface for the nests to grip to, and as more houses changed, the number of nests failing or falling down increased.  We have had nests since on our house, and we have seen birds fledge, in some cases just before the nest fell down, and we have had a nestling rescued after the nest fell.  The overall numbers succesfully nesting have fallen in the past years due I'm sure to these changes, which seems to be in line with the national status.

Over the last two years a pair have tried to build above our bedroom window, and on warm morning with the window ajar the endless chatter from the pair as they squabble over the build can wake you up.  They have not yet succeeded.

This morning I watched a pair on a house with wooden soffits, starting their build, so there is a little hope there.  They would swoop up and plant some mud, then the mate would come in and cling to the wall, and both would berate each other before one left to get more mud, returning to get the same verbals.  Fascinating to watch and listen to them.  They will always be the sign of the start of summer for me, and remind me of what always seemed like endless sunny and warm days at New Hinksey Primary School.

Later that morning I took my father-in-law into Old Down to try and see the Tawny Owl, unfortunately though the owl wasn't to be found, it's usual roost tree being empty.  It was lovely though walking through the wood with the birdsong, and the sunshine.  Just as we came out a Red Admiral drifted by.

26th May - Looking Up from Below

The warm weather continued today, the skies were a deep blue, and the breeze continued from the east.  I was hoping that the woods would provide some shelter, and that as the morning warmed up the butterflies would appear.  As I walked along Brislands, I couldn't help but admire the superb flowers on the rhododendron bushes, against the blue sky in the bright sunshine they look wonderful.

As I walked along Brislands by the fields a Yellowhammer managed to get a few notes out, but it seemed it was not happy with the breeze and stayed low in the hedge as it tried to sing.

The wood appeared to be a lot busier this morning, there was much more birdsong, with Blackcap, Robin, Blackbird, and Chiffchaff all singing as I walked down the path into the wood.  The search was for butterflies, so I kept to the open areas where the sunlight could get through.  A Small White flew through, and I also watched two Speckled Wood taking each other on, but they never settled.  I walked around to the bank of bramble hoping that something would be warming up on the leaves, there were no butterflies, but I did find this insect.  I have been trying to identify it, but with no luck so far.  If you do know what it is please let me know (now identified as a Scorpion fly Panorpa Germanica).

Jays were calling very loudly, and a Blackbird was also rattling out it's alarm call behind me so I set off to see if I could find what was disturbing them, unfortunately it went quiet, and I wasn't able to locate either of them, let alone what was annoying them.  I made my way back to the main track in time for a couple of male Orange-Tips to fly past me, again not stopping.  The other area where butterflies like to sun themselves was in the flower beds around the pond so I headed off to see what was there.  As I came out of the wood at Old Down Cottage, a Wren was singing, at first I struggled to find it but then located it on the thatch right above a window.  If he sings from there early in the morning, I bet he is popular, as he was really loud!

Walking along Swelling Hill Lane towards the pond I was fascinated by the flowers of the Cow Parsley and the Rape. They are both tall and against the sky the flowers look spectacular, so I had a go at photographing them from below against the blue of the sky.  I was quite pleased with the end result.

At the pond the water level had fallen again, but what was more apparent was the number of fish.  The warmer weather has brought the large carp to feed on the surface, but also there were plenty of smaller fish such as Roach and Bleak that I have never seen in there before.  As well as the fish quite large tadpoles were swimming around the edge, they have grown over the last few weeks but there were no legs developing on any I could see yet.

A couple of new visitors greeted me as I came around the pond, not sure where these two characters have come from, as I haven't seen them here before, they were not too concerned with me though, and they just sat on the bank.

I was right about the flower bed providing an attraction, but it wasn't to butterflies.  For the first time this year I found the delicate Damselflies flying around the periwinkle and the bramble.  These are Azure and Large Red Damselflies, and close up they look quite spectacular.  Damselflies are similar to dragonflies but the adults can be distinguished by the fact that the wings of most damselflies are held along, and parallel to, the body when at rest. Damselflies are also usually smaller than dragonflies and weaker fliers in comparison, and their eyes are separated.

Sadly, caught amongst the developing lily pads in the middle of the pond was a plastic carrier bag, probably as a result of the warm weather and "evening picnicking" at the pond.

I headed back into Old Down, and along the lane found a butterfly.  This one was blue and sitting on a holly leaf, any ideas?

Another butterfly was fluttering on the edge of the rape, as I got closer I noticed it was a female Orange-Tip, and it appeared to be laying eggs on the stem of the Rape.  It would flutter then settle and move it's abdomen to the stem, then fly off and return again quickly to repeat the act.

I checked the cleared areas again for butterflies, but I could only find this Speckled Wood.  This is a different view from the usual upper wing shot with the "speckles".  I had never realised how nice the under wing appears before.

Where the bramble has been cleared the Bracken is growing and they send up tall stems that make the area look like little tree plantations.  I was again fascinated by what this must look like from below, so I gave it a go.  I would say that for a small insect it must be like us walking through Redwoods ( for those who have seen Springwatch on Monday, I thought of this before they broadcast).

I took the opportunity to look in on the Tawny Owl, but this time much to my surprise there were two!  As I approached the usual tree, another owl flew out of a tree close by.  The other owl remained in the tree, and just looked at me as it had done when we first found it back in March.  Since then sometimes it would stay and sometimes it would flush easily, it made me wonder if they share the tree, and this morning the flighty one had taken the tree close by.  Anyway the owl watched me closely as I managed to get some very nice views.

With two so close together I wondered if there might be owlets around, but I couldn't find any, so I set off to walk home.  Passing the Kitwood footpath the scene looked lovely through the style and across the field.

Coming out of the wood I walked towards Gradwell Lane, looking north the five trees that I have photographed since the start of the year were now almost in full leaf.

While sitting in the garden in the afternoon, I finally managed to get the first swifts of the year as four flew over heading north.  Buzzards could be seen being constantly mobbed by crows as they soared away to the south over in the direction of the recreation ground.  A Hobby also put in an appearance upsetting the House Martins as it flew through, unfortunately it was much too quick to allow me the chance to get the camera.

Monday, 28 May 2012

25th May - What a Difference a Week Makes!

Last Friday I was wrapped up against the cold watching cricket, fast forward a week and the summer has arrived and it was back to the shorts and t-shirts I was last wearing at the end of March.  This evening we went for a walk around Old Down Wood.  There was a quite fresh breeze blowing as we walked along Brislands, disturbing the cow parsley that was now dominant along the road side.  As we walked into the wood it was also now taking over the entrance along with the nettles.

The woods were now covered in very thick foliage, with the beech trees pretty much in full leaf.  This made the areas under the trees dark, but interspersed with patches of sunlight that would pick out the odd piece of bracken and light it up.  We took the perimeter path to the west, the bluebells are have now mostly all died back, and it leaves the wood floor looking quite desolate.  It reminded me of the scenes after an event has taken place, either in a stadium or the streets, the remains of what was a wonderful experience and all that is left are reminders.

With the bluebells all but gone, it now remains for the smaller flowers to maintain a show.  Field Mouse-Ear, Archangel and Wild Garlic were doing their best.  Unfortunately our search for orchids again proved unsuccesful.  Away from the desolation of the bluebells there was a very nice patch of Field Mouse-Ear, that with the dappled sunlight looked like stars against the darker background.

With the easterly breeze the air was very clear, and at the west end you could see across the downs for a very long way.  A few Buzzard were soaring around over the tops of the trees, and every so often a swallow would fly low across the cereal fields that are now showing a significant growth.  We walked back down the main track, pausing to look at the fields, both of us never tire of the view looking south and west from the boundary of Old Down Wood, no matter what season, what weather, or what time of day it always looks stunning.  Those that live along Swelling Hill, and can take this view in every day are very lucky!

We were going to head back through the wood towards Gradwell.  There was little bird song about, and the wood sounded very quiet.  The sunlight continued to find it's way to the floor of the wood in certain areas creating some lovely scenes, this one looks like a staircase coming down through the trees.

We walked out of the wood at the Gradwell footpath, a Whitethroat was singing by the paddocks again, and the Swallows continued to fly out in a loop from the paddock, going around the fields, and back.  Walking along Brislands the Copper Beech proved an attraction again, contrasting against the new leaves of the Ash tree, and the beautiful blue sky.

Nothing special this evening, just a relaxing walk and the opportunity to wind down from a busy week, and to look forward to what promises to be a warm and sunny weekend.

Monday, 21 May 2012

20th May - Shades of Colour Brighten the Day

The weather has been pretty much the same for the last few days, mostly overcast, but warmer than the majority of days in May.  In the garden the feeders are being emptied regularly, with mostly finches such as Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Linnets being responsible, however on Saturday afternoon a pair of Bullfinches were feeding from them, and they were present again Sunday morning.  We see them in the winter, but I have never seen them during the spring or summer.  I didn't think anymore of this until after deciding to go out for a walk in the afternoon, I heard one calling as I reached the bottom of Lymington Rise.  I managed to see both quickly, then I found the male as it flew across the road and perched high up in the pine.  This must be the pair that visit the garden, so maybe they will stay around the area.

While still overcast, it was much cooler today, with quite a strong breeze.  As I walked down Brislands I noticed that the leaves on the oaks were now well developed, and made a lovely corridor as I looked up and down the lane.

It has been just over a week since I walked this route, and I was amazed how advanced the leaves now were.  The Copper Beech was also now out, and it always is an impressive sight against the greens of the surrounding oaks

I walked into Old Down by the Gradwell footpath, Swallows continue to swoop across the field and in the horse paddocks were plenty of rabbits.  As I started to cross to the wood a familiar scratchy song stopped me, and I found another Whitethroat in the hawthorn bushes.  It was difficult to see as it skulked low down keeping out of the wind.  In the wood itself the silence was deafening.  Hardly any birds sang at all,. every so often a robin could be heard, or a wren would sent out a call, but in general it was quiet, much like the wood in winter.  I walked around the perimeter, and then out along the main path to check the Tawny Owl.  It was sitting in it's usual tree, and appeared quite calm with my presence, so I turned away to go back to the main track.  As I did so I noticed a bird flying, and when I looked it was the owl.  Silently it had flown out of the tree without me noticing, not like the Wood Pigeons that make a hell of a racket when they fly out of the trees.

As I walked past the frogspawn pool I found a male Blackbird just sitting in the tree, it hardly moved and made no effort to sing, it's inky black plumage standing out amongst the greens and grey of the surrounding trees.

The wood now was quite dense, the Beech trees were in full leaf, and the nettles and bracken were growing very rigorously forcing the dead nettle and mouse ear to grow taller to allow the flowers to get some light.  The bluebells are now mostly dying back, and the leaves provide a yellowy look to the floor of the wood, in some places they look like they have been trampled.  Spring has been with us for some time now, the warm weather of March accelerating the process, and the cool wet weather recently slowing the process down, all of a sudden the woods feel like summer with the thick vegetation, and silence that comes with it.

I stopped at the fence to look across the field, in the winter I took a picture of the field and gate in the water drop, now the green and leaves dominate the view, with a beautiful copper beech standing out in the distance.

I walked to the west end and scanned around finding two soaring buzzards, but still no swifts, with a lack of tall old buildings I am dependent on a storm pushing them in as they hunt for insects, or just be lucky as one heads over, so far neither has happened, and I still wait for my first swift on the patch.  I walked the perimeter, and found another Early Purple Orchid, but nothing else.  A whistle from the railway line attracted my attention, and a steam train passed by, the steam contrasting nicely with the bright yellow of the surrounding fields.

Continuing on a long the perimeter path, I came across this White-lipped Snail on a nettle stem.  It stood out amongst the bank of greenery.  I learnt yesterday that nettles can adjust their leaf growth to ensure that every leaf obtains the maximum amount of sunlight, ensuring not just the growth of the plant, but also ensuring that anything below them does not compete because they can't get light.  As I wrote earlier the nettles are growing very vigorously, but this snail was taking advantage, as will the butterflies as spring turns to summer.

A Blackcap sang at the entrance to the wood in Brislands, and a Chiffchaff put in a short burst as I left the wood and walked towards home.  Along Brislands Lane, the Cow Parsley has grown quickly, and the white flowers looked lovely as they moved in the wind.

Over the last few days I have been looking at some of the sightings reported around Hampshire, and must confess to feeling jealous that the habitat around my patch just doesn't provide for the variety of species seen elsewhere, I had hoped that maybe the Osprey seen recently in Alresford could fly over but with no luck.  My list currently stands at 74, and when you see others getting well over 100 it can be a little frustrating.  Today it was very quiet, and I had been looking at the sky and hoping, but then as is always the way on my walks something happened to make me realise that it isn't all about large patch lists, and rarer birds, it is about appreciating what there is around you, and how beautiful the so called common birds are. 

As I reached the junction with Gradwell, a small bird flew up to the tree in front of me.  It was a superb male Bullfinch, and as I slowly lifted the camera I whispered to it to please stay put.  It did and below are the best of the shots I was able to get.  They are a stunning bird to look at, the beautiful crimson pink chest with the matt black cap which masks quite a big bright eye.  The bill is pretty substantial, and is the main reason these birds are not welcomed by fruit tree owners, as they like to rip out the blossom.  It would move it's head from side to side, and also stick it's chest out to emphasise the colour.  A really gorgeous bird that definitely brightened up a very dull and depressing day for me, restoring my faith in exploring and working this patch, thank you.

Leaving the Bullfinch I walked back down the lane, every time I walk past the cemetery, I notice the ivy growing on a stump, and think how nice it looks, so today I took a photo, I hope you agree

Just before home I heard a call from the trees above the village hall, and saw that there was a group of eight Jackdaws in the larch tree, even though they have paired up, they still like to group together, they regularly fly around the area as well.