Saturday, 27 April 2013

27th April - Top, Top, Bird!

For those of you who are interested I have started to post the events from our adventure in India

Just when you thought Spring was here, the weather turned once again.  Yesterday saw a lot of showers, and overnight the temperature dropped to near freezing, and when I set off this morning there was definitely a bite in the air. I walked along Brislands, and was surprised to see three Black-headed Gulls fly over. They are usually seen at the beginning of April, but not at this time of the year, another sign of the strange weather and late season.

I decided to walk around the playing field, as the bushes and hedgerow can sometimes attract migrants.  As I entered the BMX area a Blackcap was singing, and in the clearing a wren rattled out its song.  As well as the wren three Dunnocks were chasing each other around the scrub, clearly there was love on their minds.  Dunnocks though are promiscuous birds, so you can never be quite sure what is going on.

Walking back out a lovely Mistle Thrush was feeding on the football pitch.  The spots on the breast are very dark, and completely in contrast to the lighter brown of the Song Thrush.

As I turned back onto Brislands, I got the chance to compare the two thrushes as a Song Thrush flew up into the bush alongside the road.

As you can see they are completely different, the Song Thrush having brown gentle spots, and the overall plumage is browner than the grey of the Mistle.  I walked along Brislands towards Old Down, but once again decided to walk out into the middle of the opposite field.  Several Skylarks were singing overhead, and a Buzzard was disturbed form the area that has become a tip.
I walked back and into Old Down. 
Despite the time of year the wood was very quiet, probably due to the temperature, and strong wind.  I walked to the crossroads, and then around towards the east.  I heard a Chiffchaff singing but couldn’t find it.  I checked the owl tree, but it wasn’t there, I searched around the area, but there was no sign.  I made my way to the main path, then took the track towards the west end.  Where there was more light getting through to the floor of the wood the bluebells were beginning to come into flower.  It wasn’t many, but it was a start.  I estimate they will be at their best by the middle of May.

As I came around by the ash trees, and Great Tit was moving through the grass and bramble alongside the path.  It allowed me to get quite close.  They are quite striking birds, and we do not appreciate how lovely they look.  If this was a rarity, everyone would be drooling over what a stunning bird ot is., well it is a stunning bird, enjoy it!

I came out of the woods and walked down through the paddocks.  All was quiet, even the lambs were keeping quiet.  As always I check the posts and fences, and noticed something on the fence.  A closer look revealed that they were Swallows, and they looked very cold indeed

I walked to the road, then up Andrews Lane.  I scanned across the fields, but there was nothing, and at the Larches nothing moved other than Wood Pigeons.  Blue Tits called from the trees, but that was about all.  I came out at the top of the lane and walked alongside the field.  This time last year the rape was in bloom, today it looks like a cereal crop has been planted, but they have hardly grown.
The area at the top of the lane faces south, and I could hear at least one Chiffchaff calling.  I decided to stand and just watch, and I quickly located a male and female Blackcap, a little after the Blackcap burst into song.  As I watched the Blackcaps at least 4 warbler type birds flew up into the Horse Chestnut tree.  I waited and was able to get some good views of a Chiffchaff.

Then I found a Willow Warbler, but it was not so confiding, however you can see the pale legs, and longer wings in this photo.

I hung around the area for a while, and the warblers would call, and fly catch when the sun came out.  Every so often they would be a small snatch of song.  From here I took the road to Lyeway, and as I came to the “T” junction I thought I heard a Whitethroat sing.  There is a gate that leads to a footpath that crosses the field, but the song I heard was coming from the hedge.  I went through the gate, and walked slowly along the side strip.  A Whitethroat definitely sang again, and I searched the hedge.  A bird flew out, but it was not the bird I was expecting.  It had a bright red tail, and grey black, and flew up into the hedge, and flicked the red tail.  A spanking male Redstart, I couldn’t believe it, so now I had to get some pictures.  It was very flighty and kept its distance from me.  Every so often it would drop to the ground to catch something, and then would fly off away from me.  I would creep up taking photos as I went.
It never came close for a really good shot, but there is no doubting the bird.  One I had hoped I would find on the patch, but to get a male in spring is really special.

The Whitethroat kept singing, and I saw it briefly again as I walked back to the road, but I couldn’t get a clear view.  I decided to leave it and set off back down the road.  As I approached a small copse I heard a very feint bird call, at first I thought it was my phone, but finally I located the owner, another Whitethroat, and this bird was much more confiding.

In the same copse, there were at least six Goldfinches, a pair of Great Tits, and four Blackbirds.  The walk took me around the fields towards Charlwood.  As I walked close to the field I flushed a pair of Grey Partridges, the first time I have seen them away from Plain Farm, which is a good sign.  Chaffinches and Yellowhammers sang from the trees as I walked along Charlwood, but that was about it
I crossed into the Palin Farm area, and stopped to have a coffee, although I got the mix wrong and it didn’t taste that good.  After the break I headed off down the path, and Linnets were singing from the hedge and wires.  In the fileds there was quite a bit of a commotion being caused by Rooks and Crows.  As I watched a large black bird flew across the path carrying something.  It laned in the field, and I could see that it was a Raven, but I couldn’t see what it had caught.  As I picked up the camera, it flew off, and was mobbed as it flew away by a crow.

As well as the corvids, there was a pair of Lapwing flying around the fields, going back and forth across the lane and a Skylark flew up from the field launching immediately into song as it rose ever upwards.

I came by the tree in the field, and of course there was nothing there at all, but as I came past the tree by the workshops I noticed something amongst the branches,  It was a Kestrel, and for once it stayed still

I decided to spend some time in the quarry, birds were singing, there was a Chaffinch, and several Goldfinches, and a Chiffchaff at the top of the trees, and a pair of Song Thrushes chased each other through the bushes.  I had decided to check out the area around Colemore.  I had been given a tip that there was a good opportunity to see Little Owl.  It is moving a little further away from the patch, but I considered that if I walked from home to get there then it counted.  As I set off down the road towards the A32 I noticed a buzzard over the trees, but something made me look closer, and it turned out not to be a buzzard but another Raven.

To get to Colemore you cross the A32, and walk along Shell Lane, this goes under an old railway line, and then along a road that was lined thickly with Wild Garlic or Ransomes.  They were beginning to flower, and the scent of garlic was everywhere.  The detour did not prove to be successful, but it is a very pretty little village, and I did manage to capture an ahhh moment with this little fella

If I had looked at the map I could have followed the footpaths to East Tisted.  As it was I retraced my steps, sheltered in the railway tunnel from the rain, and then walked along the A32 and up the road to the Rotherfield Estate.
A Buzzard flew over the path as I walked towards Plash Wood, and as I walked through the wood, I disturbed two Roe Deer who ran off at some speed.  I then made my way to Newtown Farm, and around the path towards the plantation.  In the hedge near the houses a pair of Bullfinch called, however it was only the female that showed long enough to get a picture

In the field alongside the path as I walked down towards the road I heard the familiar twittering of Swallows, but with them were my first House Martins of the year.  There was about a dozen House Martins but I only managed to get one!

I went to look at the fence post which over the past few years has been a nest for Great Tits, there was nothing in it, but the location was a little higher than the path, and looking back over the field I saw a Hare that I could not have seen from the path.  It was having a wash, and then rolled over on the ground obviously rubbing itself in some scent.  It rolled back and forth.

Then it got up, and just sat and almost looked at me.

I carried on across the road, and along the bridleway.  The sun was warm here, as it was sheltered from the wind, but despite this there was no sign of any insects.  As I walked up towards Kitwood another Chiffchaff sang out.  Cock Pheasants and there mates were in the fields alongside Kitwood, but that was about all.  I took the footpath across the field into Old Down, but away to the north west the sky looked very threatening again, I was not sure I was going to get home dry.

Back in Old Down I checked from a distance to see if the owl was back, and he was, I could see an eye watching me.  I wonder where he had been, and how did he get back to the tree without attracting any mobsters?
It was now very dark and suddenly it started to rain, which quickly turned to hail.  Another sign of our wierd weather was the sight of the hail stones laying on the ground, normally they melt quite quickly, but the temperature today was so low they stayed for quite a while

The rain did not last for long, and I made my way back in the sunshine.  A long walk, but a good one,  several year ticks and a new top bird in a male Redstart, can’t be bad.

Monday, 22 April 2013

21st April - A Butterfly, the Birds and a Bee Fly!

After the heavy showers of Friday we were rewarded with a bright and sunny, if not cool, day on Saturday that resulted in a Brimstone Butterfly in the garden, and plenty of late evening bird song.  Sunday morning was my first opportunity to get out, but even though there was still sunshine, there were also signs of wispy high clouds to the west, the tell-tale sign of an approaching cold front.
There were blackbirds singing around the house as I set off, and the Starlings were gurgling from the rain gutters on several houses.  As I came around Lymington Rise I noticed this Robin with a beak full of insects for a nest nearby.  Probably still the first brood, this time last year it would have been the second.

I turned up Brislands and remembered that I had not recently taken a picture down the lane.  I duly did so, but other than the sunshine, there is still not a lot of difference, the oak and ash trees showing very little sign of leaves.

The horse paddocks had a single Mistle Thrush, and a couple of Blackbirds in it.  It still seems strange that the first bird I came across in the Khali Estate in India was a Mistle Thrush, they were quite common.  A Blackcap sang near the soon to be building site, but I couldn’t locate it, so I carried on past the Gradwell turn, and paused at the Nuthatch Ash tree, and almost immediately heard a Nuthatch calling from the top.  It was quite mobile, foraging in amongst the lichen on the branches, and knocking pieces off as it searched for food.

As I decided to turn away from the Nuthatch I noticed a bird fly up to a gate past on the other side of the lane.  It then exploded into song to announce the presence of a Wren.  I was able to capture it in full song, it’s just a shame the picture can’t deliver the Voice too.

Once again I wanted to see if there was anything of interest in Old Down Wood, the fields were again a different colour, the sun of the last few days drying them a very light brown.  Whatever crops have been planted look as if they have suffered in the cold weather, and are hardly developed at all.  From the edge of the field I noticed a butterfly rise up, it was a Small Tortoiseshell, and was quickly engaged in a duel with another before they parted, and one settled back to warm up in the sun on the bracken.
Before entering the wood I scanned across the fields and checked the pools of water for drinking birds.  There was a single skylark singing above me, and in the nearby hedges three Blue Tits were trying to decide who should go with whom.  Apparently the female Blue Tits are impressed by the brightness of a males yellow chest, as this is a sign of their ability to catch caterpillars.  These two were intent on scolding each other as the third one watched from a little distance.

Once again there was only a Robin singing at the entrance, but a little further on down the path I came across two singing Chiffchaffs.  I took the north perimeter, and followed the path.  The Bluebells and Dog Mercury make the ground a vivid green, and there are now signs of more leaves emerging on the hazel and hawthorn.  A male Blackcap burst into song right next to me, and after some searching I managed to locate it amongst the scrub.

Almost as soon as this one moved away another started up behind me.  The ear has to become accustomed once again to these songs, and I spent some time listening to them in the peace of the wood.  When the Blackcaps stopped you could hear the mewing cries of the Buzzards overhead.  One was very close by, but I could find it, as I came to a clearing I did see two fly over, again calling as they went.
At the West end I scanned across the fields and in the direction of the Watercress Line I could see several pairs of Buzzards circling quite high up.  At one stage there were five pairs in the sky, and a single bird that did not appear to be attached.  One pair was closer than the rest, and I noticed that one had something in its talons.  It was trying to impress the other bird by rolling and showing its catch as the other bird passed by.

This behaviour continued for a while, then the lone bird came in closer, and the unimpressed buzzard seemed to be more impressed with the loner, and drifted away with it, while the bird with the prize seemed quite dejected and dropped whatever it was holding a flew off in the other direction.

I decided to leave the buzzards and set off through the paddocks, as I did so two Swallows flew past me heading north.  Over in the fields with the sheep and lambs there was plenty of crows, but no sign of the Ravens.  I was going to walk up Swelling hill, and visit the pond, the sunny bank being a possible place to find some insects.  As I walked up the hill, Robins, Blackbirds and Wrens sang, and the calls of Great Tits came from both sides.  The hedgerows are still rather bare, and the hoped for Holly Blue on the holly trees did not happen.  As I walked up to the pond, the resident moorhen once again panicked and flew off towards the pool at the back.
Another Blackcap sang from the trees at the back of the pond, and a single Great-spotted Woodpecker was drumming somewhere in the oak trees.  I stood watching the periwinkle flowers on the bank in the hope that maybe a butterfly would drop in.  As I did so I noticed a bird fly up onto a moss lined branch.  It was a Treecreeper and it gave some nice views as it searched amongst the moss.

The Treecreeper then flew off to join another on the far side of the pond, probably a pair.  I could hear a bee buzzing around but couldn’t locate the owner, until finally it appeared on the periwinkle.  A White-tailed Bumblebee, it was very active as it moved from flower to flower.

As well as the Bumblebee I did find a single Bee Fly (Bombylius major), it was sunning on the bark of a tree, but as I raised the camera it was gone.  I only really noticed these insects last year, when of course I saw them in March.
Around the pond the water was quiet, and I couldn’t see any sign of Tuesday’s Toad mating.  I left the pond, and walked towards Kitwood.  Up to four male Chaffinches were singing in the lower branches of the trees as if they were all trying to outdo each other.

Instead of walking down the road, I headed across the field, and then around the outside of the wood, the bushes here are south facing, and there was always the chance of something, and there was always the chance of nothing, unfortunately it was the latter.  I crossed the field again and made my way to Gradwell Lane.  There was no sign of the Swallows from Tuesday, so maybe the resident birds have not arrived yet.
As I walked along Gradwell I saw a lone Jackdaw on top of the chimney, it would seem they have finally moved away from hanging around the rookeries, and started to think about nesting.  Chimneys are of course one of their favourite nesting sites.

As I came down Brislands on my way home I noticed another Tortoiseshell on the Celandines in the ditch.  As I photographed the butterfly I also saw a Bee Fly on the same flowers.  For such a large insect, very little is known of this family of insects.  They feed on pollen and can look quite threatening with the long proboscis, but they are harmless, and won’t be about for long so you have to enjoy them now.

Another welcome sight in the same ditch was a little patch of Wild Strawberry flowers.

Back home a single Peacock butterfly was sunning on the patio, but by now the sun was quite weak as the clouds began to roll in.  Spring is here, but it has a lot of catching up to do.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

16th April - It's Nice to Go Travelling...

It has been awhile I know, but we are back from our travels, more of which will be given when I finally finish processing the photographs.  Today provided the opportunity to get out and see if anything has changed since we have been away.  The trees don’t look any different with hardly any sign of leaves coming out, but as I walked down Lymington Rise I noticed a large carpet of Lesser Celandine at the bottom, very much a welcome sight, if not a little late.

I walked up Brislands towards Old Down Wood, as I passed the recreation ground I heard my first singing Chiffchaff of the year, but I couldn’t find the bird. The horse paddock was empty, with no sign of the thrushes that had been present at the end of March.  Ash dieback disease is a concern for this year, so as I passed the ash trees along Brislands I had a look at the buds.  For now these seem to be OK.

There were more Celandines at the junction of Brislands and Gradwell, but as I paused to look I heard a familiar song above me, and looking up I found the owner on the wires.  My first Swallow of the year, last year the first one was on the 15th April, so pretty much the same.  There was in fact two birds, the other flying around while this on quite happily sang away on the wire.

Once I came past the houses and the lane opened out into the fields I could hear Skylark singing from both sides.  As well as the Celandines here there was also many patches of Wood Anemones.  It is interesting as to why these are found here, perhaps at one stage the hedgerow was a lot taller and thicker, but now these delicate white flowers enjoy the full sun.  Once the sun moves off the flowers the petals close.

The fields had changed, they were no longer the brown lifeless patches of March, but were now showing the light green shoots that in the evening sunshine provides a lovely pattern away to the distance.  As I approached the footpath into Old Down, I noticed a Red-legged Partridge scurrying across the field.  I decided to walk around to the field to get closer, and as I did it ran away faster, they never seem to want to fly.

There is still no visible sign of the footpath across the field, so I decided to walk out, mainly to see if there were any more hirundines around.  The field was a lot dryer than the last time I had walked out here.  All I could find were singing Skylarks, so I headed back.  As I walked up to the opening I noticed a small bird fly up from the puddle and into the hedge.  A closer look revealed a male Blackcap the first this year away from the garden.

I walked into Old Down half expecting to hear Chiffchaff, but all that was singing was a Robin.  It wasn’t until I reached the turn off for the northern perimeter that I did hear one burst into a brief song, after which I could hear another bird call from behind me.  I managed to locate the first bird at the top of a willow tree.  As I did so it started to sing again, but was also quite mobile, and eventually it flew off.

As I walked around the perimeter I heard another 3 singing Chiffchaffs making a total of 5 so far in the wood.  The floor of the wood is covered with Bluebell shoots, by this time last year I was probably becoming a bore with the many pictures taken of the Bluebells, but this year there isn’t any sign of blue amongst them, I would imagine we will not see the beauty of these flowers until early May, but I do think the show could be something special this year.

Although the larger trees do not look as if the leaves are beginning to emerge, the Hazels along the edge of the wood do have signs of leaves arriving.  In the evening sunshine against the brown background of the bark, the lime green leaves look lovely.

The path was almost dry, which made walking a lot easier, and as a result I didn’t have to look where I was treading, which was probably the reason why I was able to see this pair of Roe Deer.  They stood perfectly still watching me as I got myself into a position where I could get a good view.  The female looked quite large, so maybe there will be fawns soon.

I stepped out of the wood before the turn, and watched a pair of distant Buzzards circling over the Watercress Line, as I came around the corner I found a small group of Violets on the edge of the wood in the sunshine.

I scanned across the fields to the west, then made my way down through the Desmond Paddocks.  As I walked down the paddock two Swallows skimmed across the grass beside me, and then headed off towards the west.  I checked the posts and the hedges for any signs of migrants, but all was quiet.  Looking back towards Old Down, I saw two Buzzards come for the wood, low at first but then picking up heights as they circled around the field.  The evening sun picking out their underside as they turned into the light.

Looking back down the paddock a Rabbit sat motionless, probably as a result of the presence of the two Buzzards.

In the fields to the west you could hear the bleating of lambs, they were a way off in the distance, but nevertheless in the evening sunshine the white of their brand new woollen coats stood out from the ewes.

I walked back up the hill, and went back into the wood.  I wanted to walk around the pond so I took the main footpath, and then walked around the western perimeter.  The ground was still quite muddy here, but in one open patch I was pleased to find a nice clump of Primroses.

Great and Blue Tits were calling from the Larches, and there was at least one Nuthatch.  I did wonder if I might come across the Willow Tits, but I didn’t even see a Marsh Tit.  I walked out of the wood, and then made my way to the pond.  A Yellowhammer sang for the wire, but as soon as I tried to get a look it was gone.  The water in the pond was quite high, and there was a significant patch of duckweed in the middle, but on the edges I could see ripples in the water, so I went to get a closer look.

I had felt that I was likely to have missed the toads spawning this year, but as looking in the shallow water and around the vegetation there was hardly any toad spawn at all.  There were Toads though, and they were spread about, mostly in pairs, and not the huge balls of toads we saw last year.  There was some spawn ribbons in the water, but not to the same degree as we had seen last year.

I believe that the spawning has only just begun, which would make it about 5 weeks behind last year.  In fact at this time last year I found tadpoles in the pond.  As I watched the Toads two Chiffchaffs called from the trees, and one greener warbler led me a merry dance as I tried to see it in the hedge by the road, it may have been a Willow Warbler, but I could not be certain.  A male Blackbird was foraging alongside a sun lit hedge; he probably has a nest with young close by, as I also saw a female carrying food by the road.

I then walked along the road, and took the footpath at Kitwood across the field and back into Old down, I wanted to see if my old friend was about, as it was a little late there was a chance he would not be there, but as I walked up to his tree, he looked down on me, watching my every move.  I know the picture always looks the same, but I can’t resist taking it.  Morris looked quite restful there, eyes half open, tolerating me.

Time was moving on and the sun was going down, As I came out of the wood I heard another two Chiffchaffs singing, and I made my way to the Gradwell path, and as I walked across the field swallows zipped past me.  I counted 11 in total, and they spent the time flying low over the field, and then banking up and around me.  It was very much like the last time I had seen them in October last year.  It is wonderful to have them back.

As I walked towards Gradwell, alarm calls alerted me to a pair of Buzzards coming from just above the tree tops.  They were struggling to get height, and as a result presented me with the opportunity to get some lovely shots.

As they tried to gain height they came quite close together in the air.

I left them drifting away towards Old Down, and then made my way home along Brislands.  The birds were all singing, I could hear Chaffinch, Blackbird, and Robin, and as I started down the hill I could see a Song Thrush singing from the top of a conifer, throwing its head back as it delivered the notes.

It had been a lovely evening’s walk, and it was lovely to see that at last Spring was finally on its way.  Yes it is nice to go travelling, but it is also so nice to be home.