Tuesday, 31 July 2012

30th July - He Flits in Moth-Dreamed Elegance

Just as we settled after dinner the telephone rang, it was my daughter Katie and very excitedly she told me "it's here, it's flying around the field".  It took a few moments for me to register what she meant, but once I had understood I was off for the camera and binoculars, Helen grabbed a cardigan, and we were on our way.  I wanted to get there as soon as I could, but I was conscious of mad dashes in the past for birds, and the inevitable consequences, so as we approached the field at Plain Farm I was relieved to see the unmistakable shape in the far corner.

Katie was there wildly pointing it out to us, and we left the car and made our way to the edge of the field.  She first saw the bird about two months ago, and despite walking the area, and driving around early in the morning, and late in the evening we have not been able to catch up with it.  This evening though it was quite content to sit in the corner of the field, and allow us to watch it.

At last we had caught up with the Barn Owl.  The light was quite gloomy so I needed a very high ISO speed, which I knew would make the photos grainy.  The first attempts from the gate were not good so I walked down a bit, and managed some from a distance.  It seemed unconcerned by the traffic passing by, so I decided to get a little closer, I climbed the gate and moved a little way into the field.  It was perched on a fence that ran across the field, and was studying the long grass in front of it.

From the paleness and the lack of spots around the neck I would say this was a male bird, although I am not sure on the age.  I am sure they have nested here, but I think this looks a little too mature to be a juvenile, and is probably the adult male.  As I watched, it became very focused on a spot in front of it, moving it's head, it was then off, flew up and then twisted to lunge down, feet first into the grass.  It stayed hidden for a while, then flew up out of the grass trailing the legs.  At this stage I thought it had been successful with its hunt.  But on close inspection the claws were empty, but who knows it may have been eaten on the ground.  It then headed off across the rest of the field through a gap in the trees and out of sight.  The area behind the trees is full of barns, and this is probably where it likes to roost.

We have lived around here for nearly 20 years and driven by this spot on so many occasions, and never before seen a Barn Owl.  By the law of averages if they had been here then surely we would have seen them.  I have mentioned it before but I feel the way the farm is managed here it is a major contributor to the wildlife around this area.  It can't be a coincidence that we now have Hares and Barn Owls, two species that have struggled over the years because of loss of suitable habitat.  I am now very hopeful for the autumn passage, who knows what will turn up.

Again the end of the month turns up the goods, I thought July was going to be dire, but with the butterflies last week, and this owl, it has not failed to deliver.  I am now on 79 species of bird for the year, one off my target of 80 with five months to go.

An interesting point about the Barn Owl, when searching for a suitable title for this post I noticed that the majority of lyrics or poems about the Barn Owl depict it as an evil and ruthless killer, only very rarely can you find a line that actually celebrates the beauty of the this bird.  This must have something to do with it's ghostly appearance and the screeching call that can be heard at night.  We will be back here over the next few months, and I hope that I can get a few better pictures that allow me to celebrate the beauty of the Barn Owl

Sunday, 29 July 2012

29th - July - The Darkness Closes Around Us

We took a break from the patch yesterday and visited the court of the emperor, for the full story go here.

Encouraged by the events of yesterday we decided to go out into Old Down Wood this morning, hopeful that we would miss the rain.  As we reached the crossroads with Blackberry Lane and Brislands I noticed a Goldcrest doing a hummingbird impersonation in the Eucalyptus.  It would fly at the hanging leaves and attempt to hover.  On a closer look I could see its bill was full of insects and in the nearby conifer we could hear the repetitive calls of young goldcrests so it was clearly under pressure to get food.

Along Brislands a young Robin perched on a gate.  Still in it's juvenile plumage it appeared quite confident, sending out it's alarm call as we passed.

We headed towards the wood, and the field to the north had been harvested and once again looked nice and open.  In the middle of the field we saw a pair of Roe Deer.  At first we thought they were startled, as they run off, but it turned out the male was chasing the female, and that the female was not to pleased about it, standing her ground to confront him.  This behaviour seems a little early, but then who knows what is the right behaviour in this mixed up weather year.

.As we entered the wood I noticed a blush of red in the fields away in the distance to the west.  This is quite late and another sign of the influence of the recent wet weather.

For the first time in a while we took the perimeter path to the west.  The first thing that struck us was the darkness, and then the lack of any colour.  Some bracken was visible, and the Dog Mercury around the edge of the wood had theirleaves pointing desperately to the light that made its way in to the wood from the edge.

In fact as we walked along the path you could see the nettles as well bending to reach out towrds the light.  This movement is called photo-tropism, and the bending is caused by the light reducing the growth hormone in the side of the plant closest to the light.  Plants are also affected by gravity to ensure they grow up right.  This is similar to the light effect, with the growth being subdued by the effect of gravity, this is known as geo-tropism.

Within the dark we did though find a new flower, mostly growing on the edge of the wood some could be seen a little way in  This is the Nettle-leaved Bellflower, and if you look the leaves do look like a nettle.  The flowers on this plant were a little lighter than those growing outside the wood, probably again to the lack of light.

Another sign of the change in seasons was this mushroom  It is a Wood Mushroom and is usually seen from early autumn, oh well!

We popped out at the west end footpath to look across the fields.  The clouds were looking dark, and it felt like the forecast afternoon rain was going to come early.  Along the edge of the field was a small group of poppies.  Helen said what I thought, they looked like to picture that hung on the wall at my parents.

It had just started to rain so we walked back into the wood, checking for any other different paths, as we reached the crossroads the sun came out, and rather than head back we decided to go and check out the pond.  The grasses here were looking very delicate, the photo does not do them the justice they deserve, but you can see the small seed heads that capture the breeze and give an almost misty effect.

With the sun back out, a few butterflies could be seen on the grass, and in the bushes.  Aside from the regular meadow browns, it was nice to see a Green-veined White.  I haven't seen one here for a while, and this one posed nicely.

Speckled Woods were quite abundant along the path, I counted five which is one of the largest counts in the wood this year.  This one was taking the opportunity to enjoy the brief spell of sunshine.

We managed to make it out of the wood, when it started to rain again.  It looked quite dark so we suspected it may be setting in for awhile, so we headed back into the wood to take advantage of the cover.  It did indeed rain, and we had to shelter several times as we made our way back to home.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

27th July - She cried, 'Look! Who's that HANDSOME man?'

The hot warm weather broke in the morning and we had a few heavy showers up to lunchtime.  By the late afternoon it was dry again, and the sun came out.  I set off to walk to Old Down, hopeful that the butterflies of yesterday would still be about.  I walked down Brislands and decided to go into the wood from Gradwell.  I haven't been along this path for awhile, so I thought It would make a change.  As I walked through the field I noticed that the view of the four trees along Brislands had changed again, so I took the photo, it is nice to watch the changes through the year.  The wheat here is not quite ripened yet, and some are still quite green.

To my dismay the wood was quite dead, I think I only saw one meadow brown.  The Jays were in the same spot, and there was a small group of Blue Tits with a single Great Tit, but apart from that nothing.  I walked out through the footpath by the thatched cottage.  I could see some butterflies in the field by the road, so I climbed over the stile to investigate.

There were plenty of Ringlets and Meadow Browns, plus a few Marbled Whites, this one sat quite nicely on the thistle, I want to make the most of these lovely marked butterflies as they will soon all be gone.

I chased a few gatekeepers but again they were not very obliging, and there were also small whites amongst the bramble bushes.  I paused to tie up the lace on my shoe, and as I did I noticed movement by the edge of the rapeseed field.  Looking closer I could see that there were tiny Toadlets making their way through the grass and off into the rape field.  As I walked along the edge I kept seeing them hopping off into the rape forest.  It reminded me of the time in March when we watched the toads mating and laying spawn in the pond, these must be now making the journey from the pond to who knows where, and then at some stage in their life they will be back to spawn in the pond they have just left, amazing.

I decided to walk around the field up to Lyeway.  The edge of the field was quite thick with grass and thistles, and along with the usual butterflies there were also bees.  This one caught my eye for the golden spots on the abdomen.  It turns out it is a common Wool Carder Bee, but then I have never looked at bees in detail before this year, so they are all new to me.

The going was quite difficult, but helped by the fact there was quite a lot to look at.  This Large Skipper was a nice find.

As the path came close to a hedge I noticed some orange butterflies, they were Gatekeepers, and finally one stopped and perched long enough for me to get a good photograph.  I know from now on that they will be everywhere, and will sit waiting for me to photograph them!

I came out onto the road at Lyeway, and started to make my way back.  The Horse Chestnut trees here are beginning to show the brown spots of the disease caused by the leaf miner moth.  You can see the contrast in the growth of the new leaves against those that emerged in the spring.  Very soon the trees will look like autumn has come early which is a big shame

The verge and hedges had just been cut as I walked down Lyeway, and this meant that the flowers had gone.  There were some white butterflies around plus the off gatekeeper, but other than that it was very quiet.  At the junction with Kitwood Lane I checked out the paddock with the sheep.  There were quite a few Thrushes in it with Mistle Thrushes everywhere.  This may be worth keeping an eye on during late August and September for wheatear and possibly redstart.

The walk from here to home was uneventful, but very warm and humid, I hoped that we did not have any storms this evening, as the opening ceremony could do with out any natural intervention, as it was it was an incredible event.

Friday, 27 July 2012

26th July - A Gorgeous Opal Crown Sat On His Head

By mid day it was quite warm, so I decided to go to Swelling Hill Pond to see if the warmth had brought out any dragonflies and butterflies.  After seeing the Emperor Dragonfly last week I wanted to try and get some pictures in flight, and as I turned up I could see one hawking over the lily pads.  As well as the dragonfly there were plenty of Azure Damselflies around the edge of the pond, and on the bramble on the banks, a few small white butterflies also drifted through.  I set myself by the edge of the pond to photograph the emperor as it flew past.  I had to switch between manual and auto focus as the dragonfly circled around the pond, but I was pleased with the end product.  This is a male Emperor Dragonfly, and in the sunlight the the abdominal segments stood out as a vivid blue, unfortunately this doesn't come out too well in these pictures, but I feel they do portray this magnificent insect in its element.

Leaving the pond I walked over to Old Down Wood, on the approach a pair of small orange butterflies were around the hedge, I could see they were Gatekeepers but they wouldn't settle.  A first for the year they are much later than last year, and I was beginning to worry that they were not going to be around.  I left them and entered a very warm wood.  It was still muddy but not as bad as it has been.  A few Meadow Browns circled around the brambles, but ahead I saw what I hoped would be about, a single Silver-washed Fritillary flying back and forth in a sunlit area.  I waited as it kept circling around me and dropping close to the bramble leaves only to fly off again.  Finally it landed on an emerging hogweed flower, and I took my chance.  It is quite a large butterfly, and a very strong flyer.

I walked through to the crossroads, and then headed off to the west checking the bramble areas lit up by the sun.  As usual there were plenty of meadow browns, and I was surprised to see a Marbled White fly through.  Turning back another silver-washed fritillary few across and around the track, this time not stopping.  It was time to make my way back, and as I walked along the lane, another Gatekeeper teased me but refused to sit still. 

Late afternoon it was still very warm and I went back to Old Down to see if the butterflies may have slowed down a bit.  Walking from the pond a Gatekeeper continued to tease me as it flitted around the beech hedge, I gave up in the end, convincing myself I would find another more confiding individual when it cooled down.

As I walked into the wood I disturbed a large dark butterfly with white in the wings, I couldn't see it clearly but it was quite big, and I assumed it to be a white admiral.  I waited for awhile but all I saw was meadow browns.  I walked on and immediately saw a nice big orange butterfly in front of me.  As I got closer I could see it was a Silver-washed Fritillary.  Once again it flew very strongly over the bramble that was lit up by the sun.  As it did so it was suddenly joined by two others, and I watched them going around and up and down engaging in little duels every so often before swooping down towards the leaves.  One did settle, and gave this lovely tantalising view against the green of the beech and bramble leaves.

Not only did the silver-washed engage in duels with each other, but every time they came close to a flower with a meadow brown nectaring on it the meadow brown would take off and chase the larger butterfly away.  I stood and watched the fun for a while, then decided to walk around to the crossroads.  A pair of jays were calling loudly, and a wren and robin both called out in alarm.  The jays flew off as I walked by and everything calmed down after that.  I walked down the west footpath, and when I came to the main bracken patch I saw another orange butterfly but this time without the vibrancy of the silver washed.  It was also more inclined to settle, and when I got a good look I could see that this one was a Dark Green Fritillary.  It was turning out to be a good butterfly day at last!

As I walked back up the path another Emperor Dragonfly appeared, flying around the trees but fortunately this time it settled on the leaves of the tree, and I was able to photograph it as it sat in the sun.

This one I identified as a female, the abdominal segments having brown as well as the turquoise blue.  It breeds in still waters, of which there are plenty in the wood, and also likes areas of thick vegetation, exactly the conditions we now have in Old Down.

Today was turning out to be a success, so I decided to try my luck down at Plain Farm.  As I drove there I could see that the farmers were making the most of the warm weather, some of the fields had been harvested, and mown for hay.  One or two small haystacks were also starting to appear.

As I got out of the car the thistles in the filed were an attraction for Marbled Whites.  The thistles look really impressive with the purple flowers contrasting against the sage green sepals and leaves.  This one looked very impressive as it caught the evening sun.

I walked through the farm yard, and up the hill.  The verge lining the lane was now densely covered in hogweed, thistles and some ragwort.  Ringlet butterflies seemed to be everywhere.  Whereas before it was the meadow brown, the ringlet was now by far the most numerous.  I started to count them but gave up, there must have been in excess of a hundred along the verge.  This picture gives an idea of how thick and tall the grasses and flowers are.

I finally managed to get a Gatekeeper to sit still, allowing me to at last to record the first of the year.  I saw a few more a little later but they were not so confiding.

I waded into the grass, and started to flush Small Skippers from the small thistles.  At first they were difficult to follow, but I finally managed to get a few sitting on the grass seed heads, which allowed me to get a few shots.  Small Skipper was the first for the year as well, and the first I have found around the patch.

From the lane I took the footpath through the rough ground.  As I walked through field it was hard to imagine that only a week ago it was raining heavily, and that it hadn't stopped since April.  It was hot and dry in the field, and reminded me of times birding in Spain.  The filed was full of thistles, teasel and ragwort.  Butterflies were everywhere, but mainly Large and Small Whites, the Large Whites preferring the thistle flowers while the Small Whites were attracted by the ragwort.

As the sun became lower the teasels became back lit by the evening light, giving a lovely seen across what is basically waste ground.  The area I assume from some of the platforms in the trees is probably being left for the game shooting, and I did manage to startle a few pheasants as I walked through it.

Another feature of this area was the number of Hares I saw.  I know I keep going on about them, but every time I walk through here, they catch my eye, or I find something else amazing about them.  This time I counted 14 individuals between the rough ground, down the lane, and even in the area where I parked the car.  These are a few images taken as I stumbled across them.  Don't you just love those long floppy ears!

Just over a week ago I was wondering whether the summer was going to produce anything from a wildlife perspective, it was wet cold and miserable.  The highlights for July were looking more like low lights, and I had lost the enthusiasm to go looking.  However some warmth and some sunshine has transformed that.  Today was a very special day, some stunning shots of the dragonfly, the amount of butterflies, and the lovely flowers, exactly what I expected from a summer's day when I set off on this journey back in January.

25th July - Everbody's Happy

Another dry day with lots of sunshine, and the temperature rising quickly in the morning.  Early on I noticed some movement around the bird bath, and thought at first it might be mice, but looking closer I could see that they were juvenile Greenfinch picking up food on the fround below the bird bath.

Other juvenile birds in the garden seemed to be making the most of the sun, probably because they have only experienced the wet and cool weather.  This young Blackbird had just had a bath, and was enjoying the sunshine to dry out.

As well as these two, we are now seeing lemon coloured Blue Tits using the feeders and also the bird baths, and the Robins are now back looking quite splendid in their new feathers. 

The young House Martins are becoming much nosier too, and are now being fed much more often.  I am hoping they will start to look out of the nest soon, and that the nest is strong enough to last until they fledge.

This afternoon there was a considerable amount of alarm calls coming from the House Martins, and when I went out I saw that they were mobbing a couple of young Magpies that were on the lawn opposite.  The calls and the dive bombing eventuially chased the Magpies off, and the House Martins returned to their feeding duties

Monday, 23 July 2012

22nd July - You're My Butterfly (Sugar Baby)

Another dry warm and sunny day, if we are not careful it will be too hot, and the rails will buckle and there will be chaos at the Olympics.

No matter, Helen and I went for a late afternoon walk and decided to have a look in the field off Brislands where there will soon be built around 160 new homes.  The field at the moment is covered in grass and thistle, and as we walked in we found quite a few butterflies, at first the common Meadow Brown, but as we looked around it was clear that there were others.  A large orange butterfly caught the eye, and it turned out to be my first Comma since March.

The entrance was quite a sun trap, and here we were able to find Large Skippers amongst the meadow browns.

Sometimes it is wrong to assume that the dark brown butterflies are all just meadow browns, if they seem smaller it is worth checking as they may be a Ringlet as was the case with this one.

We set off to Old Down hopeful that the warm weather may have brought out some more butterflies.  As we entered the wood from Brislands the angle of the sun was such that the Hogweed were lit up against the dark of the bushes surrounding them.

We walked up and down the main rides checking the sunny patches, but once again it was just meadow browns.  I did manage to find a large butterfly that was flying high in the canopy, when I got on to it with my binoculars i could see it was a White Admiral, but it never came down, and flew off into the oak canopies.  They are about then, it is going to take some patience to capture them.  As if in consolation a Red Admiral posed on the bramble, quickly followed by a Peacock, which like the Comma, was the first for quite awhile.

Unable to find anymore butterflies we left the wood and headed for the pond.  Here we were entertained by the adult "DJ" ducks antics in the road, and by another Emperor Dragonfly hawking around the sunlit areas of the pond, again not giving any photo opportunities.  From the pond we headed back home.  Where the field off Gradwell had been cut for hay there was two Kestrels and a Buzzard hovering over it, obviously waiting for some tit bits to appear.

It had been a wonderful weekend, the first dry one since the last week of May, and very welcome, I wonder how long it will last.