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.