Tuesday, 26 March 2013

26th March - Come Up and Be a Kite

The cold weather continues, and is remains grey and extremely dull with the biting easterly wind still with us.  As evening approaches the clouds have shown signs of thinning and glimpses of the sun.  Today I decided to take a later afternoon walk around Plain Farm and the estate.  I left the car at the bottom of the hill, and walked up, scanning as I went across the fields.  I was in two minds where to walk when I came over the cattle grid, was there the chance of a wheatear in the field, or should I just make my way down the footpath towards Plain Farm?

I decided to check the long grass, and as I moved towards the barn, I noticed movement behind the long grass.  It was a Barn Owl, flying low towards me.

I stopped and watched as it flew around, and then kept coming towards me.  It came past the barn, and flew around in front of me.  The light was bad, and the owl was quite quick.  It flew back towards the barn, and then turned to come at me again.

But this time it turned and went back into the barn.  I waited but it didn't come back out, so I walked around the barn and waited.  After awhile I decided to get closer to the barn, and as I started to walk towards the entrance the owl flew out and turned to fly over the wall, and into the holly and conifers.  I looked around the area but couldn't relocate it, all I could see were a pair of pheasants.

I had hoped to see the Barn Owl this evening but not as early as I did.  I left the barn, there was no other birds in the area, so I set off down the path to the farm.  Once again I disturbed a Hare in the long grass, and it sped off across the field.  From behind you can see the black markings on the back of the ears.  This allows other Hares and leverits to see them in the long grass.

Coming down the hill a Buzzard flew low across the field, and then gained height and began to soar over the trees.  I am sure it would have appreciated some thermals to gain the lift but there was nothing like that on a day like today.

The birds of prey just kept coming, as a Kestrel flew across the field, and then up into the tree by the drying barns.  It sat there watching the yard below it.

I walked up past the workshops, and scanned across the field and picked out a small flock of six Lapwing feeding in the grass.

By now there were some breaks in the cloud, and I managed to spot that rarity over the last few weeks, the sun.  You can just see the lower half of the disc in the centre of the photograph.

Scanning the field I picked up a distant Red Kite over the far field, it drifted along the tree line, and was joined by another, once again two together, is this a possible good sign?

The second bird drifted away and out of sight, but the first one started to head towards me.

It glided right over my head, and gave me some lovely views.  I make no apologies for the indulgence here, the Red Kite is one of my favourite birds, and to have such wonderful views so close to home is just amazing.  I just kept shooting away.

Finally it glided off over the workshops and down towards the road.  My attention now turned to some strange calls from the field.  After a few more calls I realised that it was a duck, and almost immediately a pair of Mallard flew up from one of the dips and flew around the field in front of me.  My first for the year!

The sun was having an affect on the birds, they were suddenly coming to life, with song and calls coming from the hedges and trees.  These House Sparrows were chirping away in the weak sunshine.

As I walked down the lane I could hear Fieldfare, but I couldn't find them, I ducked through the hedge to check the filed to the east, and disturbed a lone Grey Partridge, I came back to the road, and eventually found the flock of Fieldfare in the tree at the bottom of the lane.  They were calling and suddenly some more birds flew out of the bushes on the the other side of the road.  They are quite a large bird, and it is amazing how they can seem to disappear in the branches of the tree

As well as the Fieldfare there was a large flock of Yellowhammer in the hedge, I didn't realise they were there until they burst into the air calling.  One settled on the wire and allowed me to catch one.

The sun then returned to its world behind the clouds, and almost as soon as it did it went dark, and you could suddenly feel the cold again.  I walked down the footpath flushing a female pheasant.  Along Charlwood was more Yellowhammer, but by now the smaller birds were off to roost.  As I came down Lye Way towards the car I could hear the off Goldcrest call in the woods, and a Chaffinch was calling from the side of the road, but that was it.

I have refrained from referring to this time last year for this post, mainly because, this time last year I would have been thrilled to have had such wonderful views of Barn Owl and Red Kite.  We have to deal with the cards we are played, this year it wants to be cold now, and with that comes its own natural world, you just have to make sure you enjoy it while you can.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

24th March - Golden on a Grey Cold Day

The weekend has been bitterly cold, we have been fortunate here in Four Marks to have missed the snow that has hit many parts of the country, but we have not managed to escape the cold easterly wind.  The rain and sleet stopped mid morning on Saturday and since then it has been dry.  With some quite significant numbers of Wheatear being seen along the south coast, I was hopeful that I may manage to find one shivering in the middle of a Four Marks field.

As I walked along Lymington Bottom past the village hall, I noticed blossom on the path, the cherry tree was actually in flower, and I hadn't noticed.  Last year at this time the blossom was alive with bees, the same time this year and the blossom looks burnt and lonely, with not a bee or any insect in sight.

Ever hopeful that I might find a Chiffchaff I walked around the playing field.  At the bushes by the skateboard park there was a few Chaffinch and Goldfinches calling, and in amongst them was this female Bullfinch.  The picture is a little grainy due to the dullness of the day, and Bullfinch skulk from within the bushes, but she still looks quite impressive.

With nothing else around I walked back to Brislands, and across to the horse paddock, I could see movement at the far side, and as I scanned the field I could see it was full of Redwing.  I counted 78 in total, along with Blackbirds and a few Song Thrush.

As  I watched the Redwing, I noticed a Roe Deer come into the field from the far side.  It stopped to look around the field, probably as amazed as I was at the number of birds feeding.

The Redwing have been difficult to approach this winter, With any that are close enough flying off as soon as I raise the camera.   I tried again but this was the best I could get.

I carried on along Brislands towards Old Down.  As  I passed the Gradwell turn, I heard a Bullfinch call, and turned to find a pair in the tree beside me.  Again it was dark and dull, so the picture wasn't the best, but the crimson pink chest of the male bird does brighten the day.

Before going into the wood I walked along the edge of the field and then crossed where I consider the footpath to be.  The ground was very wet and it was very sticky, but I went a little way, trying to find the Skylark that was singing from the middle of the field.  I could not see it so it must have been quite high up, which means it must have been very cold, but it continued to sing.  I wonder how much energy the singing uses up, because it in this weather it will need all it can get.  It was the only bird song I heard all day!

As I walked back a large flock of Linnet circled around me, and scanning across the field I picked up a Red Kite drifting over towards the Watercress Line.

The colours in the field, and dull grey sky sum up the day, it looks dull and cold, and was very dull and cold.

Old Down Wood was silent, this time last year it was full of bird song, today it was empty.  Looking back at what was happening this time last year, there was sprouting Larch leaves and even a few bluebells, today all was cold and brown, no sign of any colour.  I read today this has been the longest winter for 50 years.  This time last year with the sun and warmth I was looking forward to the spring and summer.  However from the 1st April all that changed, and I think we have had winter weather for almost 12 months with a few interludes of sunshine, surely it can't continue.

The paths are still muddy and wet in the wood, and as a result people have been making other paths to avoid the mud, this is treading down the small green shoots of the Bluebells, and just making more mud.

At the West End I scanned across the field, I should have been hopeful of a stray swallow, but not today.  There was a pair of crows, and a few Common Gulls.  As I walked down through the paddocks I scanned through the gulls in the field.  They were mostly all Common Gulls, but I did find a single Lesser Black-backed Gull, and two summer plumaged Black-headed Gulls.

In a pen off the main field there was a few sheep with lambs, the first I have seen this year.  They must have had a shock when born, coming into this cold world, hopefully this year though it will get better for them, last year it just turned worse.

At the bottom of Andrews Lane, a pair of Song Thrush were feeding in the Shetland pony paddock.  They are a lovely bird.

I walked up Andrews Lane, with a few Blue and Great Tits calling from the trees and hedge.  They would fly low along the lane and then disappear into the hedge to get out of the cold wind.  This Blue Tit just sat there and allowed me to get quite close, it was not going out into the cold.

As I watched the Blue Tit I could hear mewing calls behind me, and I turned to see a flock of Common Gulls calling above me.  In the US they are known as the Mew Gull because of their call, and the fact that they are not that common.   I always find it fascinating the way gulls are named here in Europe, a Black-headed Gull, that has a brown head and a latin name that means laughing!

I walked out from the lane across the field.  I wondered if there was anymore gulls here, but as I came over the brow, I was amazed at the sight of so many Fieldfare and Redwing.  In order to get this view I had to take several pictures, but if you look you can see the dots that are the thrushes. 

I estimated at least a 1000 Fieldfare, and about 300 Redwing, along with Blackbirds, and Starling as you can see in this small section.

I scanned the flock, the fences and the posts to see if there was anything else, but I was not able to find anything unusual.

I went back to the lane, and came out at the top, and then walked through Lye Way Farm.  There was some Blackbirds around the old pond, but as I came towards the bend in the road I saw a large flock of birds go up against the grey sky in the field ahead.  My first thought was Wood Pigeon, but I felt I needed to get a better look.  As I approached the hedge they came around again, and I immediately knew what they were, Golden Plover.

I had been hoping all winter, and wondered if I might see them as I drove along the A31 towards Ropley one day.  This was a lovely find though, and a very large flock.  In the picture there is 170, but it was not the whole flock, so I estimate somewhere closer to 200 birds.  They settled into the field, and immediately became extremely difficult to see, as their plumage matched the soil superbly.  Some though were getting their summer plumage, and you could pick out the black bellies and throats.  It must be a bit like senior school when someone was a bit more developed than the majority.

A poor photograph, I know, but the best I could get.  As I watched then I noticed a Buzzard land in the field to the right of the plover.  Almost as soon as I got on it it flew towards them, low over the ground.  I waited expecting an attack maybe, or at least the plover flying off, but they just ignored the buzzard as it flew over them.  The buzzard must have eaten too many worms today.

Leaving the plover I walked down the lane.  The next field has been seeded and there are green shoots.  I scanned across it and could see anything.  There was what I thought a rock, or piece of turf in the middle.  As I walked along I realised that the hedge has been cut quite low.  Last year I could not see over it, today I could, and it was then I realised that the rock or turf was in fact a Hare, laying low to keep out of the cold wind.  I am not sure what is next to it, it looks to small to be another Hare, and would not be a leveret at this time, maybe it is a rock.

The rest of the walk was very quiet, I headed across the field into Old Down, checked that Morris was in his tree, he was, and then headed back home via the footpath between Gradwell and Lymington Bottom. 

Currently there is no sign of the cold weather ending, it is getting depressing, I need to find some warm weather somewhere.

Friday, 22 March 2013

22nd March - Of That Old Rookery

Another March day, another freezing cold day, there seems to be no let up in the wintry weather, but at least we are not alone, I have just come back from Germany and they are complaining there of a long dark winter, something unheard of.

This morning saw some brightness, but I didn't have a lot of time to take advantage.  In the garden, the robins are still waging war.  There are three birds, and one seems to like the edge of the lawn, while the other two see content to fight each other in the trees, I am assuming the battles are now over breeding territory, and not food, but I can't be sure.  This time last year they were nesting, but then everything is so different this year.  There was also three Dunnocks having a little bit of a spat, but it didn't last long and they quickly resumed their search for food

I made a quick trip up to the pond to see if there was or had been any activity.  There had, as I found some frog spawn in amongst the iris shoots.  Although I couldn't see the frogs I could see the water moving, and the odd occasional bubble!

There was no sign of the toads, either in the water or on the road.  There was some bird song, but this was mainly calling Great Tits, and Chaffinch and Greenfinch.  I would be expecting to hear Chiffchaff by now.

I left the pond and headed off to Alton.  I stopped along Alton Lane to check the rookery.  It was very noisy with both Rooks and Jackdaws calling.  The Rooks are nesting and the pairs can be seen buy the nests that have now been rebuilt.  The jackdaws gather on the outside of the rookery, and every so often the Rooks not brooding fly at them as if to chase them off.  They must have had enough now of their noisy winter neighbours.

The fields must be perfect right now for the rooks to feed the young when they hatch which will probably be early April.

I believe we now have two springs of extreme weather, the warmth and dry of last year, and the reverse this year with wet, snow and cold winds.  What is the normal weather here, and what will it become.  Migrants are trickling in, and I hope to get the chance to try and find some over the weekend.  Wheatear have been seen in Badshot Lea, and Ospreys have been moving through Romsey, so you never know, or at least I can hope that something comes along to brighten up this really miserable month.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

16th March - And Send It Soaring High Above You

The rain from last night was still with us in the morning, and it was heavy.  The morning started with me finally capturing the Wood Mouse in the loft.  I took it to the entrance at to Old down along Brislands and let it go.  It squeaked at me as I let I go, which I thought a little mean when the alternative could have been the little nipper!  I thought about a photo, but it was too wet, and it went like a bullet when I let it go.

The intention today was to go down to Titchfield haven, and I waited for the rain to ease before setting off.  When I did it was still raining but not as hard as earlier in the morning.  Hawthorn Lane was very wet and flooded in places, the water was also covering up the potholes which made it quite interesting.  As I came up to Plain Farm I noticed a large raptor over the trees, and then another.  I pulled over and could see that they were both Red Kites, the first time I have seen more than one on the patch.  I got out of the car, and manged to get a picture of one as it flew over me.

I waited and the second bird appeared and drifted towards the other, and they then circled above the trees and field.

As both Kites circled a Buzzard came into view, and joined the circling Kites above the field, giving me the opportunity to get a photograph of Red Kites and a Buzzard.  I have seen Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, but this was a bit special, with the Kites being the more numerous!

They drifted away, and I resumed my journey to Titchfield, details of which are here.

Friday, 15 March 2013

15th March - You're The Funny Little Frog

After the sunshine and cold of the week Friday started grey, damp and a little milder.  It was a shame that the sun had gone, but nice to have it feel a little warmer.  Early morning I looked out into the garden, and  saw a greyish brown bird sitting in the tree.  I knew it wasn't a Robin as it was much greyer, but I needed to get a better view.

It was a female Blackcap, and was sitting very still.  Eventually it moved a little and gave a better view.

She still feels the need to come to feed on the apples, and she looks as if she is fed up with winter too.

I took the chance at lunch time to check the pond, and Old Down.  The weather was closing in, and rain forecast so it was a case of take the chance when you can.  There was no sign of any toads or frogs around the pond, and nothing in the water at all.  The sunny bank is starting to flower, with purple periwinkle coming out.  All we need now is some sun to bring out the insects, this time last year they were all over it, and I had seen the first butterflies.

It would seem that everybody is comparing this spring with last year, and bemoaning the fact that this year is so cold compared with the heat wave we had last March.  A lot of that is probably because that was the last time we can remember having a decent spell of warm weather, quite scary really.

As I walked around the pond I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming.  I eventually found the bird high up in the branches.It is quite amazing how they can get the tone from such small and quite whippy branches.

Looking back across the pond, their was a brief spell of sunshine, and this produced a nice reflection of the daffodils in the water.

I decided to quickly pop into Old Down, as I walked along the road I noticed a brown shape in the field, looking closer I found that it was in fact two Red-Legged Partridges.  I have not seen them here before.  One scuttled off, but the other just sat still by the edge of the grass.

For once the wood was quite noisy, and it was also nice to find that someone had driven in and flatten some of the muddy patches making it easier to walk (however as I write this it is pouring again, so I suppose it will be a swamp once again!).  Bird song was very evident with Tits calling from everywhere, and Robins and Chaffinches singing from the bushes.  I made my way down the main path, then turned in, and found the small pool just off the footpath.  Last year this had been full of frog spawn, and it was the same this year, but it looked like this had been laid before the freeze, as the jelly was broken and the eggs were laying on the top.

We shall have to see if any survives.  Frogs should really check the weather forecast before they embark on such important activities.

As I walked along the path I could hear Marsh Tit calling.  It didn't take me long to pick out a pair in the larches, searching around the cones and catkins.  They were also very playful together and would chase each other, then pause to feed.

Morris was in his tree, and seems quite content just to watch me as I walked around the tree.  The feathers on his back look absolutely beautiful.

As I stood photographing him, it started to rain, so I made my way back to the main path, and eventually back to the car.  At the pond the Moorhen family were feeding in amongst the weed.  As usual when they saw me they were off, but I did manage to capture just one

The youngsters from last year are going to get a shock soon when the adults want to start breeding, and kick them out, but for now they are allowed to stay.

The rain was only a shower, but it looked like worse was to come.  This time last year we had singing Chiffchaffs, and Sand Martin over the house, but there i go again.  This year will be its own year, and will deliver its own experiences and surprises, I just hope they hurry up.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

12th March - Not a Bad Hare Day

Well the rain of the weekend has gone, but has been replaced by some of the coldest weather of the winter.  On Monday the north-easterly wind was bitingly cold, dropping the air temperature considerably.  I pity those reported Sand Martins and odd Swallow along the south coast, they must have had a big shock!

Tuesday afternoon the wind had eased and the sun was out.  Late afternoon I went for a walk around Plain Farm in the hope that maybe the owls would at least show.  I set off up the footpath onto the estate and noticed that there was a newly mounted Kestrel box on the small barn by the walled garden.  From there I headed down the track towards the plantation and immediately flushed a Hare from the longer grass under a large oak tree.  It shot off across the field, pausing once to look back at me.

Hares have not been so visible over the last few months so it was nice to see on in March, who knows I may be able to witness some Mad March Hare fighting, I missed the chance last year as I hadn't discovered them around here then.

I walked down the path towards the road with Pheasants calling from within the quarry.  I crossed the road, and flushed a female pheasant from the hedge near the owl field.  It was cold and quiet.  What bird life there was was low down in the bushes, and consisted of Chaffinches and Blackbirds.

As I came past the farm buildings I looked for the Kestrel in the dead tree, but eventually found it on the telegraph post.  As i approached to get a closer shot it flew off and headed across the filed to another barn.  It landed on the roof, and below it was another Kestrel nest box.  So who knows we may see the patter of tiny wings this summer.  It will be interesting if the Barn Owls nest as well, as the two species are known to compete for the same prey, the Kestrel usually lying in ambush to take prey from the Barn Owl.

I walked on and flushed a pair of Grey Partridge from beside the road, they flew off calling as usual and settled into the hedge on the far side of the field.

As usual I stopped to scan the tree in the filed for Little Owl, and as usual there was no sign of anything resembling a Little Owl.  Everything was seemingly perfect, cold, dusk, and near to breeding season, but they just do not seem to want to conform.

I walked on down the road, pausing to check the fields on both sides.  There were plenty of Wood Pigeon about, and I flushed a large group from under the game feeders.  Looking to the north on the other side, I found two hare feeding on the edge of the filed away in the distance.  It has been a long time since I have seen more than a single Hare, so things are definitely looking up.

All along the hedge there was quick views of small birds darting in and out amongst the branches, but as I reached the cottages I was surprised to hear a Yellowhammer in full song.  The cold weather not seemingly reducing his endeavour.  In the dead trees around the small copse I counted five Yellowhammer and again a collection of Chaffinches and Blackbirds.

I walked the footpath from the cottages, there was still snow lying under the hedges, where presumably it had been blown by the wind.  We did not get a lot of snow but it was very dry and easily blown about.  A Sparrowhawk flew past me, and quickly disappeared, and when I reached the bottom of the path a flock of about 20 Fieldfare flew over calling.  I checked the field to the north, nothing but a lone male Pheasant, and then rather than walk to the lane, I carried on around the edge of the field into Winchester Wood.  I was on another search for the other elusive resident around here, the Woodcock.

On the edge of the wood there was plenty of contact calls from Great and Blue Tits, and these quickly changed to alarm calls as another Sparrowhawk shot through the bushes.  This is a good time of day for them as the small song birds go to roost, they hunt low and scare them out of their roosts and then pick them off.

Another Hare came out of the grass in front of me and off into the wood.  Four on the day the best since June last year.  I tramped though the wood hoping to flush something but there was nothing, it was quiet cold and getting dark.

I made my way back to the car at the Mountains Plantation and as I did the setting sun came from behind the clouds and lit up the trees along the ridge.  As I recall the sun this time last year when it was distinctively warmer seemed a much stronger light, but with the cold wind today it still shed a weak shadow.

Looking back up to the estate the large oak tree was also lit up, and so after I took this picture a Buzzard called and drifted away to the east.

I drove back to Plain Farm to see if the Barn Owl would appear, while I waited for dusk, I walked back to the Little Owl tree, where the Kestrel was happy to show for me, but as usual no sign of the Little Owls.

Back at the road my wait for the Barn Owl was in vain, it didn't show, perhaps it roosted somewhere else today.  It was now very cold, but the wind had dropped.  The forecast for the rest of the week was for it to get warmer slowly, with rain at the weekend.  The winds go around the the south, so maybe there might be a hint of migrants arriving.  Everything seems to be about two to three weeks later than last year though.  I need Spring to come soon please.