Saturday morning was not frosty, nor did the forecast mist appear, so we decided to head off and walk around the woods. We have not been in Old Down for a while, mainly because it has been so quiet, but with the warmer weather we felt we should make the effort to wade through the mud.
As we walked along Lymington Bottom it was clear the birds were much happier. You could hear Robin, Great Tit and even Chaffinch singing, and up in the larches the Jackdaws were pairing up.
As we made our way up Brislands a Song Thrush was in full song from the top of a tree. Their song consists of a set of notes being repeated just to make sure you hear them.
As we approached the Old Down footpath, a flock of 13 Crossbills flew over us heading back across the field, their chipping calls being unmistakable. A Chaffinch was singing in one of the large oaks, but it was very difficult to locate as it sang from a position well in the middle of the tree.
Sadly at the entrance to the wood somebody has fly tipped a load of old plaster board. This is the first time I have seen tipping like this along the footpath. There is plent on the other side of the lane, and is probably the reason why the footpath is closed off there to allow it, there is always a smouldering bonfire too. This farmer has been very active in stopping people walking on the buffer zones by the side of the fields, but seems quite happy to allow tipping. I hope it doesn't grow and become a complete eyesore.
It seemed a completely different place as we walked into Old Down, bird song was everywhere, with calling Great and Blue Tits, some Long-tailed Tits, and the lovely song of the Robin. A Song Thrush could be heard as well, and I was amazed to hear the sub song of a Redwing. There was a group of about six in the trees along side the path, and one was trying to sing which is unusual at the best of time, but very in February.
The paths were still very muddy, and we made our way around the north perimeter path. You could see where the snow had flattened everything, but also the Bluebells were progressing nicely, giving us that feeling of optimism, that the dark, silent days of winter are neary over.
There was even some flowering plants coming through. These are Dog Mercury, and the small lighter coloured buds are the limit of its flowering, very soon they will be everywhere.
There seems to be quite a few fallen birch trees, and with them a considerable ampunt of dead branches. These are quickly covered with a black fungus called King Alfred's Cakes, because they look like burnt cakes, something that the historians tell us Alfred never did.
The woods seem much greener this year, undoubtedly due to the amount of rain we have received. All the fallen trees, and the area around the base of the trees are covered in a lush green moss. It reminds me to a degree of the rain forests we visited in British Columbia, without of course the bears!
Some areas are very wet, and some are dry, these being usually around the beech trees, and in one spot we came across some wild Daffodil shoots that were coming through, I would imagine these will be flowering by the end of the month.
We walked up to the cross roads, and waded through the mud. We decided to take an alternative route through the Sweet Chestnut trees as it was much drier. The leaves from last year still line the wood floor, but they have now become very pale. In places a different moss from that on the trees was pushing through. It looked very delicate and has a feathery appearance, with a gorgeous lime green colour. It contrasted beautifully with the colour of the dead chestnut leaves.
We walked to the south perimeter, and made our way to the Gradwell footpath, stopping every so often to rest from the mud, and to check the tit flocks. As we watched the Great and Blue Tits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming in the trees.
From the wood we walked down Gradwell to the footpath that crosses to Lymington Bottom. Alongside the lane were clumps of Snow Drops. I got down low to get a photograph from below to try and show the lovely green markings inside the petals of the flower. They are so delicate and another sign of winter beginning to pass through.
I do not recall walking this footpath while I have been writing this blog. It is not a long path but passes through fields we can not easily access. The reason today was that in the week Helen had heard Little Owl in this area, and we looking to check it out. As we crossed the first field we flushed a brown bird from the hedge. At first we thought owl, but as I got on it I could see it was a Sparrowhawk. It sat in the tree, and I managed just two shots, which turned out to be quite good. The second shows it about to fly off, and it did and ouit of sight.
The next part of the footpath went by a horse paddock and the top of one of the house's gardens. In one of the trees there was an owl box, but searching the area we couldn't find any sign of the owls, but we did see this Buzzard quite happily sitting on the roof of the summer house.
While we stood and watched the trees there was the constant chatter of Magpies. There was a group of 10 birds hanging around the hedge, they were clearly paired up as they would stay close to one another. Here are five of them, I think that means silver.
From there we made our way to Lymington Bottom and home.
The afternoon was quite sunny, and as sunset approached I decided to give Plain Farm a walk around, the light was lovely and it was quite calm, it could be just right for a Barn Owl appearance. I walked up the lane, and the low sun lit up the wall and hedges producing a lovely scene.
It was a bit early for the owl, so I wandered up the lane to see if there was any sign of the Little Owls. I keep being told they are there, but they never seem to want to show for me. Looking down the lane towards the cottages I noticed the Kestrel sitting on the pole, watching the field. With the orange sky lit by the setting sun, and the wires appearing white, the picture with the silhouetted Kestrel is quite atmospheric.
I walked back down the lane to check the filed in case the Barn Owl appeared. At the drying barns, I paused to check some Chaffinches in the trees at the back, and noticed something fly up in the barn. It was the Barn Owl, and it flew up and sat oin one of the bales. It was dark in there and impossible for the camera, so I edged closer to get a better look. As I did so it flew off again, and disappeared into the back of the barn. I lost it then, and I think it must have flown around the barn with cows, as they made quite a bit of noise. I waited to see if it would reappear, but it didn't, but I did manage to flush two Grey Partridge from under the small brick barn.
Finally I left the farm, and drove along Lye Way. At one point I had a male Sparrowhawk flying at car level alongside me. It perched up for a while, and I stopped to look at it. Unfortunately the camera was in the back, and I couldn't reach it, but it was soon off again, and out of sight.
The sun was now almost set, and the sky behind the trees on Lye Waty was a bright orange with a red firey ball.
I dropped off at the footpath on Gradwell, and had a look to see if I could hear or see any owls. A Tawny Owl called in the distance, but that was all.