Saturday, 30 November 2013

30th November - All Of The Day

The weather turned cold overnight, but was not as cold as I had experienced in Germany this week.  My first snow of the winter and below freezing temperatures duringthe day in Munich.

I set off in sunshine, and as usual the Starlings were making the most of the sun in the larches, on Reads Field, chattering away as they sat on the branches.

A little further on along the back lane a single rook flew up into the tree above, me and fro once was not concerned by me photographing it.

The intention today was to walk through Weathermore, to Lords Wood and then around to Plain Farm and home.  I haven't been through the Weathermore area for sometime, and I was hoping I may be able to find the elusive Redpolls.

The path undulates, and as a result you get the chance to look directly into the trees.  It creates a lovely scene and with still some leaves around a colourful one too.

Blackbird, Robins, Dunnocks and a Squirrel were rummaging in the leaf litter on the path, while around me in the branches were Great  and Blue Tits, and a Nuthatch.  The Nuthatch would call, drop to the path, take a seed from the ground then return to the tree to hammer away at it to open it.

The last time we had been here there was plenty of fungi, but today there was none to be seen.  There is a turn that takes a path down towards Chawton.  I walked a little way along the path scanning the tree tops, and listening for bird calls.  I did find some birds at the top of a Larch, but they were all Goldfinches, and there was no sign of any Redpolls.

A Squirrel caught my eye, running through the branches of the larches before diving into its drey.  I don't recall ever seeing one go into a drey before, it just seemed to bury its way in.

  Along the side of the field, Coal and Blue Tits foraged, while Chaffinches called out as they flew up into the branches of the beech trees.  Another Nuthatch called from the oaks, and this one was a little easier to photograph.

I returned to the main path, and carried on towards Lord's Wood.  The trees on the edge of the wood  that falsl away down towards Alton have lost a lot of their leaves, but in places there was still some colour, and despite the lack of rain, and the cold weather the grass still looks very lush.

When I reached the road I could hear tapping on metal, and scanning around the filed I found the source.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker had taken a liking to the tin nailed to the top of a pole.  I can't believe it was after food, perhaps it just liked the sound it made.

Lord's Wood is always muddy, but today it wasn't as bad as I have seen it.  Walking along the bridleway several Goldcrests were calling from the trees, and I found a pair of Marsh Tits.  Along the path a Robin watched my progress, looking for any food I might overturn as I made my way along the path.

At the gate to Kitcombe Lane there were more Goldcrests, and I looked in the top branches, but again there was only a few Goldfinches.  As I walked up the lane, in the hazel tunnel a patch of orange brown leaves stood out.

The path was very dry, and as a result I managed to find two types of fungi.  This one is a Chestnut Dapperling.

While this is a Meadow Puffball, and by the hole at the top has recently released it's spores

I left the lane and headed out across the field.  There was a small flock of Pied Wagtail, with a couple of Meadow Pipits as well feeding in amongst the small shoots.  As usual as I got closer they would fly up and then settle about the same distance ahead of me.

A Buzzard came low across the field, and then out towards the plantation.

It was then joined by another and they drifted up above the trees circling around and then drifted of towards the north.  

The promised sunshine and blue sky had not materialised, and in places the sky looked quite grey and threatening.  Every so often huge flocks of Woodpigeon would emerge above the trees.  I am not sure what has spooked them, it may have been the distant gun fire.  The population around the patch is incredible, it must be well in the 1000's.  You can see them sitting on the tops of the trees, as if waiting for the signal to all move and take over the world!

Crossing the stile I walked past the horse paddock.  Two Mistle Thrush were feeding amongst the horses, and unusually amongst the thrushes were five Goldfinch.

I turned off and walked down the track where the trees have been cleared.  I stopped here and had a coffee while watching a pair of Wrens fighting over a fallen tree for territory.

After coffee I headed towards the farm.  There were only two Pied Wagtails amongst the cattle which was unusual, but as I headed towards Plash Wood suddenly a flock of eight appeared and one posed very nicely on a post for me.

The wagtails were also joined by a nice sized group of Meadow Pipits, and they would fly with the wagtails on to the fence, and then back into the field.  I had the chance to look closely at the pipits.  Normally I dismiss them as little brown jobs, but on close examination they are quite smart and neat little birds.

I disturbed a few Pheasants along the footpath to Plash Wood, and as I turned in I heard a Marsh Tit call but I couldn't find it.  I was hoping to find the Firecrests again, so I set up in the location I have seen them and waited an watched.  In the background I could hear gun shot, and shouting, and as I watched a Roe Deer shot past me.  Just as I was going to give up, I noticed a small bird fly across the path.  Yes it was a Firecrest.  I set my self up and managed to get my best pictures yet.

Satisfied, I left them, and made my way along the path.  I could now both see and hear what was going on, there was a line of beaters walking through the wood banging and calling to flush out pheasants.  They had dogs too, which would scrabble away under the bushes where the sticks and beaters couldn't get.  When I reached them I walked the line with them, and as we walked along they flushed a Woodcock, which gave some lovely views, but was too quick to photograph, a Hare, and eight Pheasants, the last of which didn't make it, I saw it fall as the shot rang out.

Reaching the footpath I headed down towards the A32, then back up towards Plain Farm.  As I scanned across the open park I saw a large raptor that could only be a Red Kite.  For the first time I watched it fly and perch up in a tree in the middle of Plash Wood.  It was some distance away, but you can see it is unmistakeably a Red Kite

I continued on up the hill and at the cross roads I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling, and as is normally the case I found it at the top of a dead branch.  By now the sun had finally come out, and it looked quite smart against the blue sky.

From the walled garden I could hear the chattering and tinkling of Goldfinches.  A Kestrel flew past and flushed a few, and I saw them settle at the top of a large leafless tree.  Scanning through them I found at least two Siskins, but again no Redpolls.  It was a large flock, and I counted 57 birds in total.

A stop at the pond revealed two female Chaffinches bathing in the shallow water, no doubt taking advantage of the sunshine that had warmed the day.

I walked to the quarry, and then across the road to Plain Farm.  Last winter there was a good sized flock of House Sparrows and Chaffinches by the large barns, but so far this winter nothing.  They installed a new grain dryer during the spring, and maybe this is more efficient and there is not so much grain about, and the birds have moved somewhere else.

The fields were quiet, and by the cottages I could hear the chatter of House Sparrows.  On the wires there were a few Yellowhammers, but surprisingly I could only find one Linnet.  I checked out the field, scanning as always for that Hen Harrier or Owl.  Turning back I noticedsome birds in the hedge, and thinking they were Yellowhammers I wasn't going to look properly.  I am glad I did as this Yellowhammer was actually a first year Reed Bunting, a late year tick.

Bullfinch had been teasing me all day, calling from inside the hedges or trees and never showing.  I would look and wait, then give up.  This one though gave the slightest opportunity.  Can you see it?

I checked the beech trees for Brambling but couldn't find them, which was a little annoying.  It is about this time of year that birdwatchers start to think about next years list, and start to hope that the late year birds will still be there in January.  I hope the Brambling haven't gone, we shall just have to see.

After a break for more coffee I headed towards Charlwood.  Instead of walking along the road I decided to take the path across the field.  I have never walked here before, and after yesterday I can not see me bothering again, it was very open and quiet.  I wished I had taken the road.

I walked around Lyeway, and looked to see if I could find the Little Owl.  There was no sign, and in fact very little about in the fields and hedges.  At Thrush Corner a solitary Fieldfare was perched at the top of a Leylandi conifer, the only one I saw throughout the day.

The sun had sank behind the clouds again during the afternoon, but as I walked along Lymington Bottom to home, it came out just before sinking into the west.  The light was incredible, and where the trees still had leaves it turned the already orange colour even more golden.

I had been out all day, and it had been fruitful, the Firecrests are always magical, a really good view of a Woodcock, a perched Red Kite and of course a year tick in the form of a Reed Bunting.  But above all I was out in the countryside enjoying the best nature could provide.

Monday, 25 November 2013

24th November - Bonfires, Mists, But Bluebells and a Butterfly?

Saturday had been clear blue skies and plenty of low November sunshine and cold, but by the evening the clouds were rolling in from the west, and this produced yet another spectacular sunset.  Fire reds and deep purples stretched out across the sky as if way off towards the west a raging fire was burning, probably all those hasty predictions regarding the state of English cricket!

The evening was cloudy with a light drizzle, but the morning dawned dry, a little cloudy with a few breaks of blue sky, but a cold wind.  After breakfast we set out, this would be the first time Helen had seen the changes in Old down, and I was interested in what she would think.

As I came out of the house a Red Kite drifted across my line of sight in the distance, a good omen?  Coming up Brislands, we could see that the development work had started.  Where the trees had been removed was now a fence with the welcoming sign, KEEP OUT.  A digger had ploughed a track through the grass, and turned over new soil which was of major interest to the Blackbirds and Robins, but also there were up to six Pied Wagtails and four Meadow Pipits feeding on the soil.

Looking down Brislands, you can see it's winter plumage developing fast.

We carried on down the lane, and decided to enter the wood from the Gradwell entrance, this has proved the easier of the two main paths in, as the work there doesn't seem to have created the mud bath that exists around the Brislands entrance.

We walked around the perimeter, making our way as best we could along the track, diverting every so often to avoid the fallen trees.  It doesn't look like there has been a further felling in this area, but for Helen it was a big shock to see both the openness of the wood, and the carnage of cut branches and leaves littered all over the floor of the wood.  Initially it is a shock, and that was how I felt when I first saw it, but now I am trying to see the benefits, and look on the bright side.

The floor is covered in leaves, hazel, beech and the fine golden needles of the larch, every so often we would come across patches of fungi, pushing through the leaves, and covered in the larch needles.

These are Fiery Milkcaps, that are just past there best, the caps can reach 10 to 12 cm across.  A little further on a fallen Silver Birch trunk had these spectacular Birch Polypore emerging through the bark.

With the cold, came that wintry silence that seems to envelop the woods at this time of year.  If you stopped and listened though there would be the distant call of a jay, or the seeps of Goldcrests high at the top of the trees.  There were not as many birds about as the previous weekend though, maybe the cold had focused their efforts into searching for food rather than calling.

We came out onto the main path where the impact of the clearance is probably more dramatic.  Where once you could not see the fields in the distance they can now be seen.  In the spring it took some effort to get to the right position to look at the buzzard's nest, but now it stands out quite clear from the main path, I doubt they will use it again next spring, it looks much too open now.

We trampled our way through the branches and debris to try and find the perimeter path, once on it we made our way to the main path heading west.  A few Chaffinches were around the beech trees but that was about all.  We turned back up the main path to look at the beech tree area, somewhere in the spring that looks wonderful with its carpet of Bluebells, this is a reminder:

This is the scene today, a wider angle but you can see the holly bush in the distance, the concern is that with all the debris and broken branches from the trees that have been removed, will we be able to appreciate the bluebells?  Will they even manage to make their way through the amount of dead wood?

The path was open, and surprisingly dry, but at the cross roads we had to negotiate the mud caused by the tracks.  We headed towards Old Down cottage.  A tit that had all the right signs of a Willow Tit again was close to the path, it had very white cheeks and a good sized bib, but when it called it was clearly a Marsh Tit.  As I watched it another appeared, looking very similar, but it too called and confirmed Marsh Tit.

We left the wood and headed towards the pond.  As was the case today it was very quiet, there was nothing on the water, just the reflection from the last golden yellow leaves on the beech tree.

There was a small group of fungi in amongst the leaf litter by the side of the road, some were past there best, but this one was just emerging.  I think it is a Stocking Webcap.

We headed on towards the Thrush Corner, where it was quiet, only a Robin singing.  Around the corner, and past the open fields, the only thing of note was a Buzzard that Helen picked flying up from the ground, probably looking for earthworms.  They must be easier to catch, and definitely easier to swallow than rabbits.

This autumn has been one of the most colourful around here that I can remember for some time.  It was late arriving, but once here it has been quite spectacular.  There are still pockets of yellows and orange around, mostly attributed to Oak trees.  here is a case in point as I looked from Kitwood Lane towards Dogford Wood.

The leaves on the oaks never seem to fade away, they seem to always be there then one day they will just have gone, and we will have bare trees, until the green shoots appear late in March.  The Oak always seem  to beat the Ash into leaf, while the Ash trees always seem to be bare before the Oaks.

We walked down to the main road with very little about other than another Buzzard sitting in a tree, the woods were quiet and still.  We headed up Willis lane and along the footpath towards the garden centre.  By the Shetland Pony field a pair of Wren were flitting around by the fence posts, but every time I raised the camera they were off.

Instead of going through the field towards Blackberry, we walked down Alton Lane, something we do not usually do, mainly because we run it during the week.  There were long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests calling from the hedges, and in the fields amongst the sheep was a small flock of Common Gulls, pecking at the disturbed grass.

A little further on a flock of Jackdaws and Rooks doing much the same as the gull.

Just before the cross roads at the bottom of the hill we stopped to watch a small flock of Redwing in the horse paddock, and disturbed a Green Woodpecker from the ground.  It flew off and away out of sight.  we turned up Lymington Bottom, and then took the footpath towards Gradwell.  As we reached the stile a Bullfinch called and a beautiful male flew over our heads and onto the hawthorn bush.  As seemed to be the way today I managed to get a photo, then it was off, but when I checked it seems the bird was just that little bit ahead of me.

There was a good sized flock of pied Wagtail in the filed again, feeding among the grassy hillocks, I counted 21.  With them were also five Meadow Pipits, their numbers seem to be increasing, which is an encouraging sign.

We headed up Gradwell, checking the trees for any sign of an owl, and listening for any bird that might have found one.  Suddenly a Robin called in alarm, and a kestrel flew across in front of us, and then up onto the roof of a house.  We couldn't get a clear look so we made our way through the hedge, and I was able to see it better.  It looks like a male, as it sat watching from the apex of the house.

Finally it saw me and flew off across the field.  We made our way back home just in time to miss the drizzle that started and stayed with us during the afternoon.  After the embarrassment of the cricket, I had a premonition to avoid the football, and that turned out to be the right decision. 

With this being my 200th post I had hoped that the cold weather might have turned something up today, but it had been a quiet walk, with nothing out of the ordinary.  However, just recently I have read after recommendation "The Butterfly Isles" by Patrick Barkham, a lovely book.  In it he stresses the difference between the Essex Skipper, and the Small Skipper, and it got me thinking that maybe I had overlooked the possibility of finding an Essex Skipper, and decided to look back through my photographs from the summer.  Lo and behold on the 16th July I had photographed what had identified as a Small Skipper on the development land in Brislands.  But if you look the clubs on the end of the antennae are very dark, almost black, a sure sign this is not a Small, but an Essex Skipper.

On the same day, I also photographed another Small Skipper, and here you can see the light brown clubs on the antennae, which distinguishes it from the Essex.

So in the middle of a dark, damp and cold November, I can add another butterfly species to my list on my 200th post!

Friday, 22 November 2013

22nd November - The North Wind Doth Blow

On Tuesday the trees looked splendid with their leaves a glorious red and orange.  This morning everything looks different.  After a couple of days of rain and quite strong northerly winds the leaves are scattered to all four corners of the garden, and the trees are now looking like they are in their winter outfits.

For now they still manage to look splendid, a final reminder of the splendid colours we have had this autumn to accompany the incredible harvest of seeds and nuts.  As they lie there though I can't help but keep thinking I am going to have to clear them up.

Highlights of the week since Tuesday were another Red Kite seen over the garden on the 21st , and I followed a male Sparrowhawk along Lye Way on my way home the same evening.  This morning a flock of 14 Fieldfare flew over Reads Field, chattering away as they passed.  In the garden there was a small flock of five Long-tailed Tits, and a little more action on the feeders with Blue and Great Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and two Linnets present, plus a pair of Pied Wagtail on the lawn

The weather looks to be still and dry over the weekend, perfect for more raptors?