Tuesday, 23 October 2012

22nd October - Well You Can Ride On the Crest of a Wave

Sunday was a a very dismal day with mist and rain all day, Monday did not appear much different it was damp but very mild.  The garden was quiet, and I considered there was not much going on.  However when I went for a run at lunch time I noticed that almost everywhere there were groups of calling Goldcrests.  I noticed them along the footpath from Reads Field up to Oak Green, and then all the way down Alton Lane, and up Gradwell and Brislands

Normally I wouldn't have bothered posting this, but after reviewing the various web sites around the area I found that there had been a significant movement of Goldcrests on the day, and for once it was nice to observe that Four Marks had also witnessed the events that were occurring on the hot spots of birding along the south coast.

The mist lingered all day, and became a right pain for any one wanting to fly out of London.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

20th October - Then O'er a Mushroom's Head Our Table Cloth is Spread

It had rained all day yesterday, and I wasn't able to get out.  The morning dawned damp but dry.  Everywhere there was water drops and heavy dew.  The spider's webs looking like jewels strung on fine silk, and catching what little sun there was.

As well as the webs, the trees were covered in water drops, and the drops can be seen to refract the images that surround them.  This berry capturing the house behind it, but upside down.

We set off to walk around the woods and down into the paddocks.  The ivy along Lymington Rise was now looking worn out, and for once there were no insects on it at all.  We walked down Brislands, and as usual there were Jays around the oak trees, but of more interest was the flock of 17 Redwing that came from the hawthorn trees alongside the fields.

In one of the gardens there was another tree lit up by the spiders webs, and water drops.  This one looked almost ready for Christmas.

The bracken along Brislands is now dying back and looks brown and dead.  Where it was very high during the summer, the ground beside the hedgerow is beginning to return to the open area it was back in the spring.  The same can be said for the path into Old Down, it is now much more manageable as a path as you walk down it.

The wood is still very green despite the time of year, and this is mostly due to the number of Oaks.  The Beech trees are now golden, and in the light the leaves look wonderful.

The Larches will be the next to change colour, they are starting to go a light brown, and I couldn't help remember the beautiful lime greens of the spring as the new delicate leaves emerged.

We took the northern perimeter path,and almost immediately came across a patch of fungi.  They were scattered amongst the leaf litter and the dead stumps and branches.  This was the first patch, Stinking Russula a form of Russet Toughshank called Collybia Aquosa, which seems to be quite common in the wood, but they are normally found with oak and beech.  The pale colours and densely clustered mode of growth being distinctive, in addition the are seen from late summer through autumn.

The leaf litter was now quite a good area to search for fungi, something that has not been the case so far this autumn.  This is a Bare-toothed Russula Lilac Bonnet which looked very delicate with a pink tinge.

Some of the fungi were so small it was impossible to identify them.  This is I think a type of bonnet, but I don't know which.

I was able to get the camera down on to the ground to take the pictures at mushroom height which adds a little bit of drama to them.  These are Burgundydrop Lilac Bonnets, and with the nettles create their own little world.

We were now walking across the wood, and well off the path, the leaf litter was the best area to search, but some of the dead branches were also showing signs of small Staghorn fungi.  These are like corals on rock, growing upright and coral white,

The final find in the litter was this Grey Puffball Collared Earthstar that was now starting to die back having released it's spores through the hole at the top.  These are bizarre fungi where the fruit body starts life as an onion shaped "egg", then the outer skin splits and spreads into rays revealing the puffball centre.  The collared is the most familiar, but usually found in rich drained soils, which was definitely not the case where we found it.

There was no path now, and we came out of the wood, and walked along the side of the field.. It was a very still day, with hardly any breeze, and with that came silence.  This was then punctuated by the whistle of a train on the Watercress Line, and very soon it came into full view as it headed towards Alton.

Earlier in the year I had photographed the train in almost the same place, but then it was fronted by the yellow flowers of the rapeseed.  Today it was the dull browns of the tilled field.

We left the wood, and walked down through the paddocks.  A Sparrowhawk zipped overhead from the wood and flew off towards Ropley.  Just recently I have seen quite a few of this lovely hawk, it may be due to a good breeding season, or migrant hawks following the migrating birds, whatever the reason, it is wonderful to see them so often.

When though, we were out of the wood there was still some fungi about.  Dotted about the field were these small delicate little mushrooms.  They are Fairy Ring Champignions  Pleated Inkcaps, the field was full of sheep, so they may have grazed some of them.

A honk from behind us alerted me to something flying over, and I was amazed to see a lone goose flying in the direction of Ropley.  It was a Greylag Goose, and after the binoculars I managed to get a distant picture.  Number 84 for the year!

The walk up Andrews Lane was quiet.  We checked the fields and the tall trees but there was nothing.  We came out at the top of the path, and tried to locate a bullfinch that was calling but it decided to keep hidden.  As we walked by the side of the field we disturbed two Red Admirals, would these be the last for the year?

At the of the field path we paused to watch some movement in the Horse Chestnut.  The tree's leaves were riddled with the dead areas caused by the leaf miner moth caterpillar, and as we watched we could see that there were at least three Blue Tits pecking away at the leaves.  I have previously advised on the study that is looking into this behaviour, and this was the first time I had witnessed this behaviour.  Mind you it will take a lot of Blue Tits to help this tree.  The blue tit was very mobile, and it was difficult to get a clear shot, this was the best I could get.

As well as the blue tits, there was also Blackbirds feeding on the hawthorn berries, and a Chiffchaff feeding on flies from the ash trees.

The walk around the road and the farm revealed very little.  We stopped at the gate to check the field.  A Buzzard was on its usual position on the pylon, but I only saw it when it flew from the pylon to the wires.  There were about 50 wood pigeon feeding in the field, and we counted four Yellowhammers on the wires above the road.

The bramble in the hedge alongside the road had some flowers blooming, and we also found this Dog Rose in bloom, with a few drops of water on the petals

It was now early afternoon, but there was still signs of the morning dew, and the rain of yesterday on the leaves in the hedge.  I like this image with the water drops on the branch and the leaves of the dog rose, and if you look closely is that me or Helen in the water drops?

At the junction of Lyeway, and Kitwood I could hear thrushes from the trees.  Scanning around I found several Mistle Thrushes and some Redwings feeding on the berries.  I have read that the berries are not so plentiful this year, and that it is likely to be a hard winter for natural food.  This is early to be seeing thrushes stripping berries from the trees so maybe this it is going to be hard for them this winter.

With the thrushes was a pair of Magpies, you may have noticed that I have not posted any photographs of magpies, mainly because I am under instruction to only photograph two or more, a single is bad luck.  So here at last are a pair at the top of a conifer.

They are beautiful birds, and despite their reputation, which I think is unfair, I love watching them.

We crossed the field towards Old Down, and I was amazed to see a lone female Roe Deer just lying down in the middle of the field, casually looking around.

Rather than walk around the wood we decided to go into the wood and walk around the south perimeter path in search of more fungi.  Over the style, and onto the path and immediately the find of the day, a Fly Agaric Mushroom, probably the mushroom everyone can relate to.  We were really pleased to find this lovely mushroom here in Old Down Wood.

Think of any fairy tale illustration of elves or goblins sitting on or under a toadstool, and most likely the cap of such a fungus will be bright red with white spots.  As the name suggests it was formerly used as an insecticide, with pieces often floated in milk, to intoxicate and kill flies attracted by its aroma.  Most people though would also be aware of the poisonous reputation of the mushroom, although fatal reactions are rare.

Modern research has also shown that the two active ingredients' effect the brain and can inhibit fear and the startle reflex. This would corroborate theories that the ferocious Viking Berserker warriors used fly agaric prior to going into battle, bringing on the uncontrolled rage and fearlessness for which they were renowned.  Regardless it is wonderful to know that they are here in Old Down.

The wood was still very wet, and we quickly made our way out.  As we crossed the field I paused to take another photograph of the four trees along Brislands, that are now beginning to change colour.

In this photograph you can just make out the blue sky to the west, and again Four Marks seems to be just on the edge of the good weather.  The cloud moved west again, and the afternoon became quite dull. 

Coming out on to Gradwell, Helen found the final fungi of the day, this Beech Woodwart.  It starts with this lovely orange colour, and then becomes darker and eventually a black blob.

With evening coming on I took the chance to walk up the road past Plain Farm in the hope of finding owls again.  Once again I was disappointed, and only saw five buzzards and a sparrowhawk.  The hawk was probably interested in what was happening in the fields, and the wires above the hedges.  Linnets and Chaffinches collected on the wires from the field and hedge.

Back at home, the sun finally came out, only though to produce this wonderful October, Four Marks sunset.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

14th October - Yellow Eyes! Don't be Afraid

Another glorious blue sky today, but with it came the first real frost of the autumn, the cars were covered in the white frost, and they took some clearing early in the morning.  My father was staying with us so around mid morning I took him for a leisurely walk along the road past Plain Farm.  Over the last few weeks I have visited here during the evening, so it I felt it was time I had a look during the morning.

Once again coming around Lymington Rise the ivy was attracting the butterflies, there was not the numbers of yesterday, but there was still a few Red Admirals, and pleasingly a Small Tortoiseshell.

We strolled up the road past the farm, with House Sparrows calling and flying from the grain houses.  There was also a couple of Pied Wagtails calling from the roofs of the barns. 

As we came into the open of the fields Jays could be seen flying across the field from the trees.  I counted at least six different birds in the area.  Meadow Pipits would call as they flew over, and a Skylark could be heard singing, but out of sight in the big field to the left of the road.

Once again the wires over the hedge were popular, there were Linnets, with Chaffinches and Goldfinches.  As usual, as I tried to photograph them all they flew off, and left just these two chaffinches sitting there.

A little further on a Kestrel came over the hedge by the side of the road and glided over the field.  It paused to hover over the field on a couple of occasions, but as I went to photograph it decided to fly off, I later saw it was being chased by a Magpie.  Another nice silhouette shot of a falcon.

We carried on up the road, a Comma butterfly was sunning on the hedge, and blue tits called from inside the hedge.  Suddenly the contact calls changed to alarm calls and I managed to pick up a large raptor coming over the fence.  This time I decided to go with the camera, and see what I could get, it was definitely a hawk, and a big one at that.  Fortunately it came close, and the light was just right.  When I got home and looked at the images on the computer I focused on the underwing, and belly.  The barring on the belly in this picture looks very fine and in the light appears very white, while the baring on the wing seems to fade out towards the secondaries.

This would point to a possible Goshawk, but when I looked at the next image the barring is more complete on the wings, and I feel this is a female Sparrowhawk, albeit a large one.  I love the piercing look of the yellow eyes.

Excitement over, we turned back and made our way down the road.  As well as the tits, a Chiffchaff showed itself at the top of the hedge, and two blackbirds scolded from the other side of the trees.

The jays continued to fly across the fields, busily carrying the acorns to some hideaway.

A Pied Wagtail provided another identification puzzle at the barns, this one was calling and feeding on the roof top.  it is a very pale individual, but from the head markings I believe it is a juvenile Pied Wagtail.

As we pulled on to the drive at home, I noticed a Buzzard soaring above the house, and as I said yesterday I never tire of watching them.

13th October - So Straighten Up and Fly Right

It was a clear sunny morning, but quite cool.  There were still House Martins around the house, but I don't expect to see them for much longer, they are usually gone by the middle of October.  I was out early and as I came around the corner at Lymington Rise a single Red Admiral was already using the ivy leaves to warm up in the sunshine.  The sky was a very deep blue, and as I walked by the church the rising sun was catching the weather vane, and I was reminded of a similar scene back in January when I first set out on the year's quest.  This time two Collared Doves were sitting on the vane.

I walked up Brislands, and as usual the Jays were busy flying across the lane, and in an out of the oak trees.  I decided to check the bushes around the skateboard park.  The last time I had been here it had been a hive of activity, and with the early morning sunshine I felt there might be the chance of finding something.  The first thing I came across was a quite impressive fungi by the side of the path.  It must have grown over night because I can't believe if anyone had been at the park the day before they would have left it alone.  It is a Common Stinkhorn, and had grown to about six inches high.  I am certain they won't be allowed to stay long at this site!

There was quite a bit of activity, but this was mainly calling Magpies and Jays.  I could hear a Bullfinch calling, but it took a while to locate it.  Eventually it came out into the sunshine to show off the gorgeous pink red chest.  It sat in the sun, and i could hear it calling.

As I watched it, I noticed that there was in fact two birds, both males, in the tree, I can't recall seeing two males together like this before.  The other bird is tucked away to the upper left in this photograph.

Other than the bull finches there was little else about, and I decided to walk off leaving them continuing to make the weak "phew" call.

As the sun warmed up the trees along Brislands there was a lot more activity.  Robins were singing, and Blue and great Tits were active in the oak trees.  I watched this Nuthatch fly in and then move along the branch looking for somewhere to wedge a nut it had bought with it.  Unfortunately just before I took this picture it dropped it, so was off looking for something else.

There was plenty of movement around the hedges and bushes as I set off across the Gradwell footpath into Old Down, but this was mainly Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Linnets.  There was the odd call from a Chiffchaff, but after a wait to see if it would show, I kept going.  I crossed the field, and decided to take last week's walk in reverse, so I skirted the wood on the outside, and headed across the field towards Kitwood.

A Buzzard flew out of the trees on the edge of the wood and circled around me.  At first I was looking straight into the light, and could only see the silhouette, then as it came around out of the sun I was able to get a good view.

When I had reached half way across the field, I looked back at Old Down Wood.  The sun was gaining height now, and the light had become a little more watery than the golden glow of dawn, nevertheless the wood looked splendid, and I hope to get some lovely colours in the leaves by the end of the month, I just hope I don't miss it.

As I crossed the field by the road I became the subject of attention from the sheep, who obviously thought i was going to feed them.  They seemed to come from everywhere towards me bleating loudly.  Having escaped the sheep, I set off down Lye Way.  I stopped at the gate to the large field that looks over to the east, last week this was full of Wood Pigeons but today there were hardly any.  The Buzzard though was sitting in the same spot on the pylon.  Another was on the ground in front of the pylon, and I watched it fly up.

It perched above the other Buzzard for a short while then flew off up on to the wires, and that was where I left them occasionally calling out.

The wires and pylons were proving quite popular this morning.  This Yellowhammer was one of four that were on the wires.  They had been absent for at least three months, now I am beginning to see them frequently.  This one showed off the lovely yellow plumage in the sunshine, and against the azure blue sky that only autumn seems to bring.

As came up to the farm, I could hear a couple of Blackbirds scolding from the trees and a Chaffinch "pinking" away.  I walked around the trees in the hope that they had found something in the ivy, but I couldn't locate anything, so I decided to walk on.  The small pond was not quite in the sunshine, and there was nothing showing.  I walked alongside the field towards Andrews Lane. A Chiffchaff called from the hedgerow and briefly showed as it came out to fly catch.  The ivy was now in full sun, and this was a big attraction to the butterflies.  On one patch I found seven Red Admirals sunning themselves and feeding, and there was also a couple of Commas with them, but they seemed to favour the bramble and nettles.

I stopped to check the larches along Andrews Lane, but there was no activity other than yet another Buzzard calling form the nearby pylon.  They seem to be everywhere, and it is very hard to think that back in the late eighties to see a Buzzard away from the west country was a major event.  In fact I still recall the excitement of finding my first buzzard on my patch in Essex back in 1993.  Now they are commoner than Kestrels around here, and I would think from the increased numbers around this autumn they have had quite a good breeding season. 

Despite the frequency of sightings, I do not tire from watching them as they soar around the fields and woods, birds of prey add something to the country side, an apex predator evokes the drama of life being played out close to home.

As I always do along this lane I checked the paddocks the hedges and the fences away across the fields.  Ever since I found the spot I had hoped for some migrants here, but so far I only have the spotted flycatchers to show for the diligence.

At the house on the corner of the lane, a Pied Wagtail called from the roof top.  Over the last few weeks the numbers and sightings have increased as migrants pass through and flocks build up at roosting time.  This one was clearly enjoying the sunshine.

By now the morning was almost over, and things had quietened down.  As I walked up the paddocks towards Old Down, a couple of swallows flew through, and the rooks were calling from the fields as they flew around, but other than these it was quiet.  I decided to walk around the wood, and was surprised to see a female Roe Deer in the middle of the field at this time of day.  She watched me walk around the wood, and then just continued to graze showing no concern for me

I decided to walk into the wood, the perimeter path wasn't too bad, but as I came around to the crossroads it became very wet and muddy.  I decided to see if the owl had returned to the pine tree, and made my way through the bracken off the path.  There was no sign so I continued to walk on, and found what looked like a deer track, and some holes that looked like they may belong to badgers.  This may have to be somewhere to plant the camera trap next.

Back on the footpath I walked around the south perimeter path, checking for fungi of which there was none.  I am not sure where they have gone this year, there isn't the show we found last year.  I then re-traced my steps along the Gradwell footpath, and Lane to home.  Incredibly the ivy on Lymington Rise was covered with Red Admirals, I counted at least eleven, and around the corner there were at least three more feeding on the yellow flowers of what looks like a verbena.  I wonder how many days we have left of seeing these beautiful butterflies?

Monday, 15 October 2012

12th October - That'll be a Jay!

It was a sunny day following the rain of yesterday, and the Red Admirals were back, and could be seen sunning themselves on the south facing bushes and leaves.  A big surprise in the morning was a Jay that came to the feeders in the garden.  This is the first time I have seen one actually in the garden, and is maybe another sign of the increased numbers about at the moment.

There were some sharp showers around during the afternoon, but towards the evening they eased off, and I was able to get out for a walk.  I walked up Brislands with the intention of walking to Old Down, and then following the edge of the wood in the sunshine.  As I came to the cemetery, I noticed a Jay fly across the field and then up into the oak tree.  I have remarked before about the increased sightings of Jays this autumn, and if you ever wondered what they were up to as they flew across the road and up into trees, I can now provide an insight.

First they find an acorn in the oak tree.

Then they hold it on the branch.

Then they chisel off the cup

Hold the acorn up...

and swallow it

But it seems they don't swallow it, from this view it looks like they hold it in the crop, possibly to take it somewhere to hide or bury.

In the fields beyond the Watercress Line there were tractors ploughing the field.  While they were doing so they were followed by Gulls and Corvids.

Looking down the fields out to the west, the view looked stunning in the wonderful light of the setting sun, the shoots where the seeds have sprouted in the ridges of the field being lit up and looking a vivid lime green colour.

There were some gunshots to the north from the field beyond the railway line, and this disturbed the gulls and corvids, they flew up into the air and formed a huge flock.  As they settled the flock appeared to divide, and eventually the gulls moved off to the west in large groups streaming across the sky, and the corvids headed to the east.  I am assuming the gulls were off to roost on Alresford Pond, as it was now getting late, I thought the corvids may be off to roost too, but they then started to drift everywhere, probably not ready for bed just yet.

I carried on around the outside of the wood.  I paused for a while to watch a small group of Swallows coming across the field, they would make several passes, but didn't stay and continued off to the south.  Scanning across the field, I picked up a Sparrowhawk skimming the hedge along the footpath that goes down the hill in the direction of North Street.  It flew along the top of the hedge, and then up into the large oak tree.  Hopeful I may be able to find it perched and walked around the field and down the path.  When I got close to the tree, it was clear it must have carried on as there was no sign.  A Buzzard annoyed the sheep in the filed beyond the hedge, and as I made my way back to the wood, another small party of Swallows flew over, and a group of six Pied Wagtails.

The small Poppies are still hanging on along the edge of the field, and this one caught my eye as the sunlight caught the small and delicate petals making them translucent.

I scanned the paddocks, and then just stood for awhile watching the sun sinking away to the west.  As the sun went down, the air became much cooler, another reminder that the colder darker days of winter were approaching.  The sinking sun also produced a lovely effect on the distant trees and woods.

Looking at the sky I felt that when the sun finally did set it would produced quite an impressive sunset, so rather than get stuck here, I decided to walk quickly back through the wood while there was some light, and view from the footpath at Brislands. 

The trail through the wood was very dark, I was glad I had decided to go when I did.  It was made even more difficult by the wet and muddy pools.  I decided to come out of the wood before reaching the footpath, and I was glad I did, as I came across this young male Roe Deer standing in the field.  The sun was still out, and was putting a lovely glow around the deer, and also highlighted the insects that were still about and flying around the field.

I watched the deer for a while, conceding the fact that the sun was going to beat my efforts to get to the footpath.  Cloud had now built up, and it was going to prevent the colourful sunset  I thought we were going to get.  Away to the north, small groups of Jackdaws were making their way off to the south, and I managed to capture this group as they passed in front of the only piece of colourful sky.

I made my way back to the footpath, and down Brislands to home.  The sun though had one final effort left, and suddenly over towards Kitwood the clouds were once again lit up in a beautiful orangey red colour.

The cloud that had prevented the sunset was then gone, the sun well away to the west.  It suddenly felt very cold, but was a good sign for a perhaps a nice day to come tomorrow.