Friday, 31 August 2012

30th August - But there's a full moon risin'

The first chance to get out again after last weeks quiet excursion.  This time I intended an evening walk around the Plain Farm area.  The weather had been good all afternoon, and despite the fact that there were some dark clouds to the north I felt confident enough to leave the house without a cover for the camera.

I took the footpath up the main road to the estate and as I did I couldn't help notice the patterns that were now appearing in the harvested field.  Where the seeds had grown, they were contrasting with the stubble and soil.

The sun was still out but as I turned around I noticed how dark the clouds had become, against the greens and yellows lit up by the sunshine the sky looked very threatening, surely it wasn't going to rain!

Needless to say it did, slowly at first, but it became steadily heavier and I was forced to take cover by the small chalk quarry opposite the Plain Farm road.  I waited here patiently (having learnt this from Costa Rica) for a while, frantically trying to cover the camera with my coat.  After a while it eased, so feeling confident that the camera was in the dry I set off up the road towards the farm.

The cows in the field didn't seem to have my confidence as they were all sheltered under the large oak tree, but I was not to be deterred and I continued around to the fields.  On thing of note was the presence of a rolled up mist net, someone must be ringing here, and it would be good to find out who.  A little further on and the rain returned, and I had to shelter once more in the open barn at the end of the lane.

I intended to walk across the fields and through what was the rape field, however the field had now been ploughed and there was no room left for a footpath, and no sign of a track across the field where the footpath should be.  Again I wasn't going to let that beat me, so I lined up the footpath signs with my binoculars, and set off across the field.  The rain now had eased, and as I came on to the harder ground where the rape had been I noticed something move ahead of me.  Watching closely as I made my way towards it, i suddenly flushed a small bird with an unmistakable white rump.  As it flew off I got on to it, and could see it was a Wheatear.  It flew off low, then gained height and headed towards a dead tree which I thought it was going to settle in, but it didn't and then flew on and eventually perched high on the edge of an oak tree.  I quickly took a photo not knowing what it would reveal, but back home it does confirm Wheatear if not a little distant!

I do not recall ever having seen a wheatear perch so high in a tree before, I am used to seeing them on posts or on the ground, so I walked around the hedge to see if I could get a better view.  It had started to rain again so I covered the camera and moved into a position in which I felt I would be able to see it, but I couldn't relocate it.  While I looked I heard the unmistakable teu-huhu call.  Redshank, but where as I scanned across the trees I saw a distant bird fly off to the north.  It called again then dropped out of view.  This was totally unexpected, I just didn't expect to find a Redshank here, but the call was classic.  If you had told me on January 1st that the 80th bird for the year would be Redshank I just would not have believed it.

Unable to find the wheatear I set off back across the field towards the car.  There had been very little about, and the rain had not helped, but I still managed again to find something.

When I got home typically the rain eased and the skies cleared enabling some lovely views of the full "Harvest" moon rising.  Helen and her sister Jackie can see "Auntie Viley in the shop" in the full moon , a scene from their childhood, but despite her efforts to show me it is difficult for me to see what she means.  Its lovely that this scene will be preserved for ever in the moon, but sad that no one will ever realise.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

22nd August - You're All Alone And So Peaceful Until...

Over the last few weeks we have been far away from the patch touring Costa Rica, a fascinating country, with amazing wild life.  We had a wonderful time, with many experiences some of which we were able to capture, and at some stage will share.  Now we are back I was eager to see what had been going on around the patch.  First thing this morning I awoke to the  song of a Robin, it was singing the melancholic winter song, a sure sign that everything is now changing, there was no other bird song, which makes the Robin's song even more distinctive.

The most immediate change was that the House Martins have fledged and the nest is still in place, the birds are still flying around the houses and I will be looking to see if they will attempt a second brood.  In past years they have still been feeding young into October.

The first chance we had to get out was this evening, and as we were putting on our boots the clouds were looking very ominous, despite the threat of rain we headed off, I think Costa Rica has made us accept rain as something to live with!  We walked along Brislands heading for Old Down Wood, and as we passed the cemetery a Hobby flew past at high speed.  The shape was unmistakable, but it didn't stop to oblige me, and disappeared over the trees away to the east.

The first change noticed was the appearance of some cyclamens in the road side.  These may not be wild flowers but we do see quite a few in this area every year, but normally not until October at the earliest.  They are usually found under the hedges in the dull and dark areas along with the ivy.  This clump was very early and another indication of how the weird weather patterns have affected the natural world this year.

When we left the fields were still full of their cereal crops, with the improved weather we had while we were away we expected the fields to have been harvested, and sure enough as we walked past the fields we saw many bales of straw scattered across the field.  The sky was quite black away to the east, and this emphasised the rich yellow straw of the bales and the stubble producing a nice image.  Some people find these bales disturbing, but I love the way they decorate the landscape.

The road side verges were also looking very different, we still have the towering willow herb spikes, but the thistles have all now gone to seed, and the fluffy seed heads are beginning to dominate, all I need now is a the charm of goldfinches to brighten them up.

As we walked into Old Down Wood, one thing struck us, the silence.  There was no bird song, and it was very dark, the trees and bushes looking tired, the colours of spring and summer now becoming dull and exhausted.  This time of year everywhere seems like it has had enough of the excesses of summer, and just needs a rest.  The berries have yet to fully arrive to brighten the bushes, and the birds are quiet as they complete their moults.

We walked through to the west end without seeing much and then walked down through the paddocks.  The odd swallow drifted through, I was not sure if these were the resident birds from the farm or swallows on the move.

Looking across the fields there were more bales scattered around, but interestingly these were arranged in a more organised way.  Six bales were lined up together rather than scattering them randomly.  I am not sure why they were laid out like this, maybe it helps in the collection.

We walked up Swelling Hill Road, huge beech trees are on either side of what is a cutting and in many cases the trees have roots exposed and the soil being worn away under the trees.  I haven't noticed this before, and unfortunately it was just too dark to get a picture, but I will definitely be back to keep and eye on it.

We stopped off at the pond to shelter from the rain, and found a family of Moorhens in the middle on the lily pads.  There was four youngsters, and as we approached they made a dash for the reeds but were unsure if they had to swim, or walk across the pads, it reminded me a little of the Jacanas we watched on holiday.  This is the first time I have seen juvenile Moorhens here, so it was of interest, and of course they are one of my two resident water birds!

The pond looked very dirty and covered in a scum, but interestingly the scum did not sit on the top of the water, and was not disturbed by the rain drops, you could also see it moving like sifting sand, it was very strange and I have no idea what was causing it.

The rain was also making some lovely patterns on the lily pads and I couldn't resist this shot of the rain drops on a leaf.

Just recently a large tree fell down at the pond blocking the path, The tree still lies there and sadly today we also saw some more damage.  The small jetty that goes out across the water was broken, the support that held the sleepers having been broken.  This little jetty holds some special memories.

The picture on the left is the jetty as we found it yesterday, the picture on the right was taken about 15 years ago, and shows me with my family, my Mother and Meg .  My daughter Katie was pond dipping with a net, and declared that she was going to catch a fish, to which we all laughed, but then she put the net in the water and promptly pulled out a fish!  Sadly that was the last time with Meg, she was a very special dog, I can also hear my mother laughing as I remember what happened.  I hope that it is possible to repair the jetty, I would hate to see it go.

The rain was easing, so we headed off back towards home.  In one of the gardens a Maple tree had leaves that were already showing some autumn colour, again an early but welcome sight amongst the tired greens that we currently have.

We walked back around Gradwell, it was quiet, and it will be interesting to see what turns up over the next few weeks as we head towards autumn.  If I am going to add to my bird total, I think I will have to focus on the more open areas away from the darkness of the woods, and hope that something drops in.  As the year so far has shown, if you look there are things there to see.  Its nice to be back though.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

1st August - A Carapaced Moon Predatory Silhouette: Another Victim...

The intention this evening was to go down to Plain Farm, and then walk anti-clockwise around the loop, timing the walk back down the lane to coincide with about 8.00 to 8.30, the time we had watched the Barn Owl on Monday.  That was the plan, but it didn't work out.  The evening wasn't as forecast, the cloud had come in and it was threatening to rain, as we arrived at the parking spot, it looked very dark.  As we got out of the car I noticed a white bird coming around the copse near the maize field, and immediately knew it was the owl.  It flew across the lane and into the field.  At first we thought it had gone into the trees, but then we saw it coming along the hedge, and it then began to fly around the field in hunting mode.  In the rush from the car to the field, and to get the first photos I didn't notice I had left the ISO at Monday evenings 6400 so unfortunately the first pictures were very grainy, but they show exactly what the owl was up to.

Suddenly it hovered, and then dropped into the grass, this allowed me to reset the the ISO to something a little more slower, and hopefully less grainy.  It stayed on the ground for a while, and then was off, flying past us and around the field again.  At times it came quite close, and we had superb views. 

I am now convinced this is a male, it is very light, and there are very few spots on the chest or around the head and neck.  After awhile it flew over to the corner, and perched on the fence rail.  It was always turning the head though, focusing the sound into the facial disc.  The it was off again, and this time gave a really close fly past.

I really like this picture as the slight blur on the wings shroud the head, emphasising the stillness and concentration as the owl looks and listens, it also shows the formidable talons!

I looked into the myths surrounding the Barn Owl, and why most of the literature depicts them as an evil bird. It would appear the owl had a sinister reputation probably because it was a bird of darkness, and darkness was always associated with death. The Barn Owl being white was probably even more sinister, projecting the image of a ghost as it flew around the buildings.   During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the poets Robert Blair and William Wordsworth used the Barn Owl as their favourite "bird of doom." During that same period many people believed that the screech or call of an Owl flying past the window of a sick person meant imminent death.  Up until the nineteenth century it was customary in England to nail a dead Barn Owl to the house door to ward off evil and strangely lightning

My post title comes from a poem written by Cynewulf who was an Anglo Saxon poet from the ninth century.  he apparently wrote religious poems.  I could not find the context of this line, but once again it depicts the ghostly appearance and its hunting stealth.

After another rest it was off again, flying with that ease and silence that you only see with a Barn Owl, it then put on a display of the hunting technique, twisting and turning the head to focus on the sounds in the grass while almost hovering.

After dropping to the grass again it came back up and lazily made its way to the corner of the field, but this time went over the hedge, and we watched it fly up the lane and out of sight.  We set off to see if we could find it, but there we were unable to relocate it.  It was still dark, and the bull in the field watched us from his position close to the tree.  He looked really threatening and imposing as he stood there along side the tree silhouetted against the sky.

As usual a couple of hares were by the hedge, and while we were watching the owl, the cries of young buzzards could be heard from the woods.  We decided not to pass the bull, and that we had just seen the highlight of the evening, and as there was work to do, we headed back to the car and home.  We are going to be a bit busy over the next few weeks!