The storms of Sunday. and the showers from Monday had passed and we were left with a lovely autumn October day, sunshine and little wind. A bit of cloud developed in the afternoon, but as i set off later, I hoped the conditions would prove right for a special bird.
I drove down to Plain farm, and decided to walk in the opposite direction to that I usually take, I wanted to time it so I was around the farm as the sun was setting. I walked up Ropley Road, and then headed along Lye Way. The areas around the side of the road had proved good for fungi on my last walk here, and very soon I found a small clump of Porcelain Fungi on the trunk of a beech tree. Once again the conditions were dark, and the picture is a little grainy.
There were signs of fungi in the leaf litter, and I managed to find this Fly Agaric as it was just emerging.
In my last walk, I had found a Magpie Ink Cap, and I was looking out for them as I made my way along the lane. This is an ink cap, probably a Shaggy Ink Cap though, and not the Magpie. The ink caps are edible, but you have to get them early once they have emerged or otherwise you are left with just a mush of black ink, but it appears that has its uses and can be made into mushroom ketchup, I'll pass for now.
leaving the dark canopy of the beech woods I came across the more open areas of bracken and oak. The oak trees are still covered in acorns, but the oaks are not alone in having this bumper harvest, the Hazel are full of cobs, there are plenty of berries on the hawthorns and ornamental trees, and even the ash is covered in seeds.
Here you can see the oak on the left, and the Ash on the right
You may recall that I commented on this way back in August when I saw the amount of berries on the neighbouring Rowan trees, more recently there was the oak bough in Gradwell that had broken off probably due to the weight of the acorns. Well if you saw "Countryfile" last Sunday, you will know that this year is being seen as a Mast Year.
Mast years are a natural phenomenon where some trees species produce very large crops of seeds in some years, compared to none in others. Its not none why mast years occur, but they are thought to be various causes. Weather and climate can certainly affect fruit and seed production, but these trees also go through a cycle of mast years, with beech producing mast every five or ten years.
With so much food about the seed eating birds and animals take advantage and hoard the bounty for later in the winter. In a mast year there are though far more seeds than the population of predators can eat, and this means that more seed survive to the next spring to germinate.
With so much food available the wildlife that tends to feed on the seeds and fruit are more likely to survive the winter in comparison to other years, and breed the following season. This means that the populations of seed -eaters are likely to peak next summer, which in turn should be a bonus for their predators such as owls and kestrels. The other effect maybe that attendances at garden bird feeders in the area may not be as prolific while the weather is good, we shall have to wait and see.
I turned down Charlwood, and made my way towards the footpath to Plain farm. It was still and quiet, without even a singing Robin to accompany me. Woodpigeons flew over, but that was about all. The view though across the fields was worth it. There was some low cloud, that was thin enough to capture the evening sunshine in some lovely ways.
Shards across the fields to the west.
And some torn paper scenes looking away towards Ropley.
I climbed over the style and walked across the field, and into the adjoining field. In the bushes and hedge I could a couple of Chiffchaffs, and as I tried to locate them I flushed a group of Yellowhammers. They looked like they were settling in to roost, and as I watched several more birds joined them, flying in from the fields on both sides of the hedge.
As always I took the detour to check both fields in the opening, and I was surprised to find two content looking Roe Deer lying down in the centre of the field. They were unconcerned as I came out and into view, and just stayed there.
part of the hedge has been cut back here, and I could hear a number of different tits calling. I started to make "pishing" calls around the hedge and managed to gain the attention of a Great Tit, Blue Tit and a small group of Long-tailed Tits. This Great Tit seemed to be ripping the leaves apart, probably in search of small insects and larvae.
The Long-tailed Tits refused to show, so I walked around the other side of the bush, and then managed to get their attention. The light was quite gloomy so these are not the best pictures, but you can see they had become quite inquisitive and the strange noises they were hearing.
I walked down the path, with a few more Chiffchaff calling and Blackbirds rattling out alarm calls. By now most of the birds were settling down to roost, and you could see yellowhammers and linets flying over. At the gap in the hedge I scanned the field, the sides and middle strip of the field has been left, and there are some nice patches of rough grass and other plants, maybe in the winter these will be a big attraction, again I live in hope. On the other side of the path I could hear the familiar "clacking" of Fieldfare, and expected to see them flying over, but the calls belonged to just three birds perched on a wire away in the distance.
By the cottages there was some groups of Goldfinch and House Sparrows calling, but as I made my way down the hill there was very little else. I was heading towards the quarry, the light was dull, but the sun was starting to peak from below the cloud, and was giving the trees a golden tinge in the gloomy light. It was still nice and still, perfect conditions, would I be lucky?
I walked up past the quarry and out into the field, I could hear two Buzzards calling from the conifers, but I never saw them. I walked around to the barn and just scanned around the fields. There was nothing showing, but as I walked towards the road, I flushed two male pheasants. I really like this picture because it reminds me of the oil paintings you see in Stately Homes and Estates of shooting scenes, these two though were safe from me (it is also quite rare to see pheasants flying so high!).
I turned back and scanned the fields on the other side of the road. The maize had recently been harvested, and I could hear the calls of Rooks and Jackdaws. Suddenly they all flew up, and as if the message had been given headed off towards the north, probably to roost.
Despite the gloom I could still hear birds calling from the ground, in amongst the stubble, see if you can find it in this picture, there were four of them altogether.
From the entrance to the field i made my way back along the footpath, continually scanning the fields on either side. Suddenly out of the rough ground by the side of the footpath I saw a Roe Deer. She seemed to be checking it was clear, and looked straight at me. Once again the low evening sun adding a golden look to the scene.
She was joined by two smaller deer, and then set off across the field, as I moved to get a better view I spooked them and they set off at speed, the initial female leading the way with some huge leaps.
They eventually headed off into the copse down the hill. the sun was almost down, and to the west the moon was rising, and although not quite full it looked very large above the trees. I decided to photograph it, and as I did a flock of 35 Redwing flew over, click, perfect!
They flew around and then headed into the small plantation in the estate, they were probably going to roost and not moving through.
I carried on scanning with no luck, and came to the conclusion that my quarry, a Barn Owl, if you hadn't already guessed was just not going to show. By now it was very dark, and I walked down the hill towards the car. I could hear Tawny Owls calling, three individuals at least but for now no Barn Owl.
Just before I got into the car I did one more scan, and in the gloom I picked out two brown blobs in the field that could only be Brown Hares, my first sightings for some time. Honestly they are hares!
Despite the fact I couldn't find the owl, it had been a very enjoyable walk, some interesting fungi, a conversation with a flock of tits, a trio of athletic deer, and some Brown Hare at last. With the weather forecast as it is that may have to keep me going for a while.
Finally if anyone can come up with where the title for this blog comes from then well done!