Tuesday, 31 December 2013

31st December - And We All Started To Sing...

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?  I don't think so as there are so many memories that shouldn't be forgotten and as another year comes to an end, its the perfect time to look back and reflect on what the year has delivered.  It started over New Year just like the weather we have now mild wet and windy weather, but without the destructive storms.  By the middle of January it had turned cold, and there was snow.  The cold weather seemed to last for ever, and spring was probably five weeks later naturally than the previous year.

It wasn't until the middle of April that things started to warm up, and signs of life began to show.  The Bluebells in Old Down were as ever spectacular, and lasted much longer into May.  Spring migration saw my first Redstart, and singing Firecrest in Old Down.

June saw sightings of Roe Deer kids, and Woodcock roding over Plash Wood, and Hares in the fields all around the patch.  The summer though finally arrived in July with a long spell of warm weather, and plenty of butterflies.  Four new ones this year, White Admiral, Small Copper, Common Blue, and identified later in the year, Essex Skipper.

I discovered moths during the summer, and my trap in the garden produced some really beautiful insects, the highlights being Elephant Hawk Moth, and Poplar Hawk Moth true beauties.

Into September, and there was another Redstart, a new bird in a male Whinchat, and plenty of Spotted Flycatchers.  The local birds of prey, have put on a good show all year, with some really good views of a pair of Red Kite.  The highlight though was a Honey Buzzard late in September over Old Down.

There was a large influx of the winter thrushes with Redwing arriving early at the end of September.  and the mixture of dry and damp weather through September and October produced some good fungi finds. 

Into November and there was a massive change in Old Down, with many trees felled and removed leaving plenty of open space, and dead wood.  What happens in the spring with these changes remains to be seen, lets be positive and hope it brings much new life.  Elsewhere building development on Brislands Lane has lost us a wonderful butterfly field, but then twenty years ago local people were probably saying the same about the field my house is in today

It was a mast year, and there was plenty of seeds and berries everywhere, oak trees bent with the weight of the acorns, and the storms took their toll on many old trees.  With the acorns has come huge flocks of Woodpigeon, and with them has been regular sightings of Peregrine through the end of the year.  A big surprise though 3 days before the end of the year was a Stonechat at Plain Farm.

Throughout the year I captured many photographs of Brislands Lane showing the changes that occur through the year.  Putting these all together in a video, and showing them to a beautiful piece of music for me is a fitting way to close the year.

A Happy New Year to Everyone, and please may I find that Short-eared Owl!

This post has been quite popular, so if you were wondering the piece of music is by British Sea Power, and comes from their amazing soundtrack of the the DVD From The Land to the Sea Beyond, which also is well worth watching.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

29th December - And Now the End is Nigh

This morning it was clear and frosty, when I went out first thing it was just above freezing in the sunshine, but where there was shadow it was below.  Still the sky was blue, and the sun low and bright, perfect conditions for a walk, and we set off down Lymington Bottom towards Lye Way, with the intention of going to Plain Farm and back.

On the grass by the path the frost was evident, with this single leaf tinged with the white fringed glaze.

We walked past the school and up the hill towards Kitwood.  At the top of the hill there is always some activity in the leaf litter, Robins and Blackbirds digging about looking for small insects and worms.  We scuffed up the litter to see if they would investigate.  After a while a Robin appeared and looked down to where the leaves had been moved.  Robins are known for appearing in gardens when they are being dug, and away from the their urban habitats they will follow cattle and way back foraging wild boar, waiting for them to turn up a little meal.  This one sat in the sun, and just looked and waited.

Around the corner a fe,ale Blackbird was taking berries from the bushes in the hedge.  She was though quite particular, and would drop a berry if it wasn't to her liking.

We turned down Lye Way and walked into the sun.  It was now midday, but despite this the sun was very low in the sky, and sending long shadows across the fields.  The light was also accentuating the green in the fields making it look very lush.  Once again I was attracted to the pylons as they made their way off into the distance following the contours of the fields and snaking through the gaps in the trees.

We walked around the farm, breaking ice in the puddles as we went.  There was little around the farm buildings, but in the fields amongst the sheep were a few Redwings and a group of about a dozen Common Gulls.  The gulls were of varied age, here is a first winter and an adult together.

There wasn't that much about but it didn't really matter as it was a beautiful day, and it was good to be able to walk after all the storms and rain we have had.  Helen found a Great Spotted Woodpecker in  a tree above us, and after it gave us the run around, and we had waited to let a trail of 4 x 4 vehicles pass us it finally sat at the top of a tree in front of us.

Away from the woods it is quiet, and the only sound you hear is the cawing of a crow every so often.  This one sat in the tree by the field calling and just after I took this picture it flew down into the field, and then sat there calling.

We turned into Charlwood, and checked the sun lit ivy, as it felt warm enough in the sun to tempt a hibernating butterfly out.  There wasn't any, but the sun was encouraging a Great Tit to sing loudly from the tree above us.  I tried to get some pictures, but as I focused on the tit Helen called out.  She had picked up two Red Kites gliding past us.  I managed to get a shot of this one as it passed over, not the best but a record.  Funny I had the feeling it was a Red Kite kind of day.

The hedges were full of Yellowhammer, I counted at least twenty around us in the hedge and the gardens.  This female posed very nicely for me in the sunshine at the top of the hedge.

The Great Tit had continued to sing above us all the time, and I finally managed to get a picture as it moved into a position where it wasn't obscured by branches.

Walking on to the horse paddocks they seemed empty, but by the small fence I found three Fieldfare.  This one ventured away from the shadows to feed in the middle of the paddock.  They have a lovely chestnut brown speckled chest which contrasts wonderfully with the maroon and grey upper parts.

The air was extremely clear, and away to the west you could see for a very long way.

We walked along the lane, the hedges now cut low enough that you could see into both fields, and as a result it did not feel like walking in a tunnel.  We walked into the Plain Farm footpath, and looking across the field you could see frost where the sun had not managed to filter through.  This is the first time I have seen frost at this time of day in our second winter spell.

Incredibly though with the frost away to the south, on the ground in the sunshine was a single flowering Dandelion.

After stopping for coffee we walked down the lane towards the farm.  Bullfinches piped from the hedge and at one time there was a group of five in front of us.  A large flock of about 30 birds flew around above the hedge.  At first I thought they were Linnets, but as they came closer I could hear them call, and see their shape better and realised they were Skylarks

We moved to scan the field by the opening, and could see the skylarks fall to the ground.  There were also Fieldfare flying around, and you could hear them calling.  But of more interest was the group of twelve Lapwing in the field in front of us.  We were looking into the sun so the picture is not the best.

Turning back a Redwing posed nicely in the hedge, and with it were Bullfinches and Yellowhammers.

A Kestrel had been on the posts as we walked down the lane, and as we got too close it would fly off.  The call of a Grey Partridge turned my attention to the hedge on the right, I couldn't find the partridges, but was very pleased to see this Reed Bunting perched at the top of the hedge

The Kestrel had flown on away from us but ended up by the cow sheds. At first it sat on the pylon but then flew across the lane and sat on the pole looking down into the field.

At this time of year the Kestrel foregoes the hovering technique for hunting due to the amount of energy it uses up.  With limited amount of daylight in which to hunt, it needs to save as much energy as possible.  Our bird sat on the pole scanning the field it's gaze unrelenting.

All at once it flew down into the field but the attack was unsuccessful, and as it flew up its talons were empty.  It flew away across the field, and up into the large oak tree.  Once again we approached slowly, and were rewarded with some great views

We left it there and walked down the hill past the grain dryers and barns.  It was quiet, no finches but a few blackbirds.  Away over above the Mountains Plantation a Buzzard soared above the conifers, the winter sun picking out the white in its under parts.

We walked along the road instead of walking past the quarry.  As we approached the parking area at the bottom of the footpath Helen asked me to stop so she could get a snack from my rucksack.  I stood there waiting when a small bird flew up from the bushes in front of us and perched on the top of a dead cow parsley stem in amongst the tall grasses.

It was a female or first year Stonechat, a year tick on the 29th December!  I couldn't believe it, and I definitely didn't expect it.  It flew about, then settled on the pile of cow manure where it obviously found some insects.

This takes me to 84 birds for the year which is one less than last year, but with the new birds I have seen I am getting closer to 100 for the patch, no mean feat for a land locked waterless patch!

We walked along the road, which was still very slippery in places, as where there was no sun getting through the frost and ice remained.  One car didn't appreciate this and skidded past us as we stood watching it pass us.  We were going to walk along the Kitcombe bye-way, but before we turned off I looked across the field to the north, and saw a fast bird skimming the tops of the trees.  It was a Sparrowhawk, and I just managed to catch it as it flew away higher after failing to surprise any potential prey.

We walked along the path, and looking across to Winchester Wood where the sun was now coming through the trunks of the trees.  The hour was such that the light now was golden, and this was picking out the bracken beneath the trees

We turned up through Dogford Wood, and then on to Kitwood Lane, and headed home into the low sun.  As we came around the turn there were plenty of House Sparrows in and around the ivy that covers the trees.  I am not sure how many were in the ivy, but this cock was enjoying the last warmth of the sun.

We walked home in the sunshine, it was getting cold, but there were still Woodpigeons sitting high in the tree tops to get the warmth from the sun.  Back home the garden was still busy with Blue Tits and Goldfinches on the feeders.  We were also treated to a small flock of Long-tailed Tits, busying themselves as they flitted from feeder to feeder.  As I cleaned the boots I could hear the strange call of a crow above me, and looking up one was mobbing a Buzzard.

It has been a wonderful day, probably my last outing of the year, I wonder what 2014 will bring?

Saturday, 28 December 2013

28th December - Loves Horses And Her Boyfriend Too

Much calmer weather again this morning and there was even a frost early on the required car windows to be scrapped.  As the sun came up the garden was once again full of Goldfinches, and then Starlings.  As the sun crept slowly above the distant trees the birds began to sing, Great Tits were calling "teach-er" from the bushes, Robins could be heard in full song, while the Starlings were providing plenty of different sounds from the mew of a Buzzard to what sounded like "wake up"!

Around mid morning I put on the wellingtons and headed off along Brislands to go and inspect Old Down Wood.  I was interested to see if the opening up, and thinning out of the trees had allowed more storm damage.

As I came past the development land I noticed a large bird gliding towards me.  It was a Buzzard, and it came close over me in what was lovely light.

As it came over me it turned, banked and the feet dropped and it appeared to look at me, and I got the sense of what it's prey must see just before the talons strike.

It is not usual to see a Buzzard this close to the houses, and it must have been attracted by the earth movement here, that has probably turned over some earthworms, and easy meal for a Buzzard.

I carried on along the lane, and just before the lane opens up into the fields I could hear a Nuthatch above me, looking up it was quite close and stayed in the light to allow me to photograph it.

The sides of the lane have been cleared of all the dead bracken, and the hedges trimmed.  This gives the feel of a more open walk, and you can see into both fields.  The water that was present on Boxing Day has receded a little, but the lane is still flooded at the entrance to the wood.  The path leading into the wood is also very wet and muddy.  There are still stacks of tree trunks waiting to be taken away.

I made my way through the mud, and felt carefully for the depth of some of the water in the ruts.  These ruts cut across the footpaths, and as a result alternative path and tracks are being created as walkers look for ways to walk through the devastation.  

There was bird song in the trees, mainly Tits and Goldcrests with the occasional chipping from a Nuthatch.  If you stand still and watch you will see the movement, and I quickly located a pair of Goldcrests and a small group of Long-tailed Tits.

Movement on the bark of a tree caught my eye, and a Treecreeper came into view, if for only a brief moment.

I wanted to check the Owl tree,but had to walk well out of my way to find a place with which I could cross yet another huge rut caused by the vehicles that are ploughing through the wood.  I eventually found the tree, and there was a bird in it, but not the owl.

Now on the official footpath heading towards the Kitwood entrance, the area to my left has been cleared of many Larch.  There are still some left, but they are very tall with leaves and branches at the top.

Subsequently, the storm just before Christmas has had a devastating effect, and looking across I counted as many as twelve Larch that had been Free Fallin'.

Up close you can see the sandy nature of the soil, and the short roots that were probably the reason these were blown down.  They were all laying in the same direction, the direction the winds were blowing in.

I picked my way through the broken and fallen branches, and followed some of the tracks to the main footpath.  A pair of Marsh Tits called above me, and this one came out on to a branch to give a better view.

Just as I was leaving the wood a Robin burst into song close to me, and continued to do so while bobbing as if concerned by me being so close.  I just love the way it seems to be looking at me intently.

I left the wood, and then crossed from Gradwell to the footpath that leads to Lymington Bottom.  As is usual here there were plenty of Magpies in the field.  I do not know what the attraction is, but regularly there are at least six birds if not more.  A Bullfinch piped at me as I made my way through the mud, and then along the road to home.

Back home we waited as the clouds built up to see if it would rain.  The intention was for both of us to go out.  In the garden a Coal Tit was a visitor to the feeders, my fifth tit of the day

There has been a single Redwing hanging around the garden for a few days.  I have seen it at the top of the trees and flying over.  It is as if it knows there is food in the garden, but is unsure whether to come in, and just watches from afar.  I saw it in the conifers two gardens away, just looking.  It may need some cold weather to tempt it to make a move, as they are timid, and the Blackbirds would definitely not be happy with its presence.

The cloud moved away to the east, and the sun came out so we set off, heading towards Telegraph Lane, along  the footpath behind the A31.  A Bullfinch again piped away as we walked along the ally, and I managed to find the male as it climbed the branches of an apple tree, always a special sight.

We made our way to Weathermore Lane, which was a little sticky, but for once very quiet with very few calls or sightings of birds.  We turned up the road rather than attempt Lord's Wood, and then turned at the crossroads walking past the golf course.  Looking away to the west it was possible to see Old Down Wood, and to the left you can see the impact of the forestry "management". 

We turned off the road and headed towards Newtown Farm.  The wind picked up around here and it felt a little colder.  The Maryanne plantation was quiet, and it wasn't until we came to the open fields that we saw any birds.  These Starlings sitting at the top of the dead tree in the sunshine.

There had been Woodpigeon flocks flying past and above the trees, but as we walked around towards the Kitwood footpath a huge flock came off the ground on the edge of the field.

There have been many around this winter, and it appears that they have been gorging on the vast number of acorns.  Now the acorn shell is poisonous to some animals, and narcotic to others.  It seems that the Woodpigeon has been affected by the the amount available, and the many dead pigeons or piles of feathers I have seen are as a result of them being doped up, and out of it on the ground, and easy prey for buzzards and other carnivores such as foxes and stoats.  We even had one fly into the dining room window yesterday, and although it seemed to recover there was a dead bird on the patio this morning.

We headed down the path, and in front of us was another free fallin' tree!

We negotiated our way around the tree, and cross ed the road onto the bridleway.  We then came across yet another victim of the storm, this time though it was an already dead birch tree.

This was in fact the dead birch that last summer had a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest in it, and before that I have photographed the adults going in and out.  We went to have a close look, and found the nest hole opened up.

I was expecting it to be quite messy, but in fact it looked quite clean, and roomy, amazing to think the woodpecker hollowed all this out.

We walked up to Kitwood Lane, then walked along the road past the farm.  There was little bird song, and the only sound you could hear was that of the chain saw, as people cut up the many fallen trees.  At Kitwood Farm there was a huge beech tree that was probably going to keep a log burner going for some time.

As we walked down towards the school a flock of Linnet flew up from the field, and flew around with their bouncing flight.

We turned up Gradwell, and again there were five Magpies at the gate to the footpath, and Rooks feeding in the field.  It was very quiet after that, and with the sun now covered buy cloud  it was beginning to get quite gloomy.  As we made our way home along Brislands the only bit of interest was this Squirrel in the tree by the entrance to the recreation ground.

It is quiet, and its as if the land has gone to sleep now, waiting for the regeneration that the new year will bring.  With all the changes we are going through right now it promises to be an interesting one.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

26th December - The Sound Of The Trains In The Distance

Another storm went through last night, not with the intensity of Monday, but more rain has made the ground very wet.  The morning dawned quite foggy, but you could see the sun and parts of blue sky through it.  I managed to get out by the middle of the morning, by which the mist had lifted, and the garden was bathed in winter sunshine.  A cock House Sparrow sat in the branches of the tree in the garden enjoying the weak sunshine.

As I walked down Lymington Rise bird were singing around me, I could hear Great Tits, Greenfinches and Robins in full song, the sun having woken them up and reminded them that we are now into the season where the days get longer.  Woodpigeons sat high in the trees taking advantage of the sunshine.

The overnight rain was still evident in the the trees and on the hedges, they shone like jewels or maybe Christmas lights as the low sun picked out the water drops

Along Brislands there were Blackbirds and Song Thrushes feeding amongst the damp leaves and mud on the side of the road,  This Song Thrush was so involved in feeding it allowed me to get quite close.

It was still clear as I passed the playing field, but once I came past the houses it as clear (or not) that there was mist still down the hill towards Ropley, once again Four Marks had cleared before the area around us.  The trees were still surrounded in mist and I could not see Old Down Wood.

I needed to decide what to do, was it going to be fogy all the ay down Brislands, was it too muddy in the wood to get through the paths?  I decided to walk on down Brislands and avoid the wood.  As I walked past the entrance I could see a Robin feeding in the mud by the path.  In the mist the shape and movement was unmistakeable.

There were birds calling above me, and I could see them moving from branch to branch.  I could make out a Jay, and I could hear Chaffinch but it was very murky, and looking up into the tree tops, the mist produced a strange image.

I walked on down the hill, hearing only a Wren calling from around the barns.  Looking across the fields it was still very misty.  In the distance I could hear the trains on the Watercress Line, the mist bring their sounds closer.

Turning up the lane towards Ropley I could hear crows, and found this pair sitting at the top of a tree that was just emerging from the mist

Once again the low sun was picking out the water drops on the branches of the hedges, with the added mist it looked very dramatic.

A little further on  heard the familiar piping call of a Bullfinch, I called back and very soon I could see three birds in the hedge.  In the end there were five birds and I saw two reddish pink males, but it was this female that showed the best as it crawled to the top of the hedge to see who the stranger was calling.

By now the mist was almost lifted and I could see across the fields.  I stopped to look at a small group of Common Gulls, as I stood watching I heard the call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and turned to find this female at the top of a pole.  I watched it pull something out, so the effort was worthwhile.

Here are the Common Gulls that were feeding in the field.

One of the reasons for walking this way was to see how the Beech trees had faired in the cut along Swelling Hill.  As I started the climb there were Nuthatches calling in the trees and both Blue and Great Tits would flit around calling every so often.  Some of the smaller trees close to the edge of the cut had fallen, and there had been a major clear up of what was more than likely a mess just before Christmas.

The other worry here is the overhead power lines, but it would seem these had been spared this time.

I made my way to the pond, it was very full, and walking around the path was very wet and muddy.  In one tree there was a series of spider webs highlighted by water droplets.

I checked all the edges of the pond for snipe, but as usual found nothing.  But just as I was making my way to the road I saw a bird soaring over the distant trees.  As it came closer it was clear it was a raptor, and a little closer it revealed itself to be a Sparrowhawk.  It circled above and allowed me the chance to get some photographs in the lovely light.

I left the pond and walked along the road.  The horse paddock on the righ had some flooded patches, and around the edge of one a Pied Wagtail pecked at possible food by the water's edge.

Robins sang in the sunshine, and Blue Tits and Nuthatches called from the branches over hanging the road.  I decided again not to go through the wood, and walked towards the school.  Looking across the field there were still signs that the fog was lingering away to the north despite the sunshine here in Four Marks.

I turned up Gradwell, and flushed several Robins, and this Dunnock that decided to sit in the ivy, and for once posed nicely and I managed to get a good picture of avery over looked bird.

I looked across the field with the sheep and noticed something sitting on a post.  It was a Buzzard sitting in the sun.

AS I watched it flew off and headed across the field.

It passed me, and went across the road and then up into the hedge on the other side looking out into the fallow field towards Ol d Down Wood.

I took the footpath towards Lymington Bottom, I could hear Bullfinches again and several Redwing.  This one sat in the tree for me.

I made my way home in the sunshine, but couldn't help wondering how long it would last.  There are more storms coming, I just hope they are not as severe as those just before Christmas.