Clear skies overnight mean only one thing at this time of year, a frost, it wasn't a hard one but there was frost on the car windscreens as i set off from early in the morning. I was walking down Lymington Bottom to meet Ian who was going to come with me around the patch today. There had been some bits and pieces through the week, a flock 30 Stock Dove on Thursday, and a Peregrine over the house on Friday, so there was every chance we might find something today.
As I walked down the road the early morning sun caught the golden brown leaves.
I decided to take the footpath to Gradwell, I had flushed a Woodcock earlier in the week, and I wondered if it may have returned. I didn't find the woodcock, but in the sheltered spot the first real frost of the winter had taken hold.
The hedge along the footpath was iced with frost, this Dog Rose leaves looking lovely in the early morning light.
I met up with Ian, and we walked around the filed to pick up the footpath into Old Down Wood. There was a large flock of small birds flying around the field, and eventually they flew into the hedge which allowed them to be identified as Linnets.
As well as the Linnets we could hear Skylark, and a few flew up from the ground to be joined by more, then even more. There was a flock of about 25 plus, and rather than move away as the sightings have been doing they flew around the field as if they were happy to stay. This would be the largest flock I have seen here before.
The Hawthorn trees were full of berries and as a consequence there were plenty of Redwing about. We could hear them calling as we walked up, and then watched them fly into the trees.
It has been a very good autumn for Redwing, with very good flocks all around the patch. This was to be the first of quite a few sightings today.
We walked into the wood, and navigated the fallen tree branches and sawn stumps. The clearings do now provide good opportunities to watch the trees, and the best approach is to stand, listen and wait, and pretty quickly tits will arrive or appear. As we stood watching we could hear Goldcrests and tits, the usual species Great, Blue and Coal, but there was also an appearance from a Marsh Tit, and this quickly became at least four birds. As is usually the case the tit flock attracts others and we could hear and see Nuthatch, and we found this Treecreeper creeping slowly along the branch like a little mouse.
The Goldcrests also came close, this one reacting to my bird caller.
With many trees now gone, and the area opened up we could see well, and were able to pick out movement in a holly tree. Looking closer there were Redwings feeding on the berries, something again I don't recall ever seeing, usually I hear them flying over.
Having crossed the muddy main path we walked to the perimeter and looked out west towards Ropley. There was a little mist on the hills in the distance, and smoke curling upwards in the still cool air. The autumn colours standing out against the blue sky, and highlighted by the low November sun.
The walk around the perimeter was difficult, fallen trees and the wreckage from the forestry work had blocked many parts of the path, and as a result we had to fight our way around through p[laces that were not conducive yet to walking. A pair of Roe Deer burst out in front of us, probably a female with this years youngster. They bounded off into the wood, and were then followed by a border collie that came out of the trees.
Once on the main path the walk didn't get any easier, the tractors were now cutting a path along the main track, and it was very muddy. This area was one of the darkest in the wood, in the summer it is so dark nothing grew. Look at it now:
There was plenty of light, lots of Ash and Hazel have been removed, and come the spring the wild flowers will wonder where they are. It may look like devastation right now, but I am beginning to see signs that the habitat will benefit lots of the wild life.
We came out at the west end, and looked out across to the Watercress line. The woods in the distance were glorious in their golden yellows and browns. While a mist hung over the horizon.
We headed down through the Desmond Paddocks, and with the low sun we had to shield our eyes to see. The low sun though did highlight the spiders webs that were floating from the hedge in the hope of catching a passing insect.
We made our way up Andrews Lane checking the paddocks and fields, but other than many Woodpigeon, and Magpies it was quiet. Redwing and Chaffinches flew over, and Blue and Great Tits were in the hedgerow.
The footpath at the top of the lane faces south, and the sun was warming the trees. There were a few insects about, a bee flew past and you could see flys on the ivy. The trees were of interest, and Ian went to take a leaf from one to aid with identification, and flushed a bird from under the tree. It burst from the leaf litter and as it went around the tree and away I could see again the rufous brown body, and the long bill of a Woodcock!
Then to add to the moment a butterfly flew strongly past us, a Red Admiral, and as it flew away from us you could see the red and white in the wings as they took it away off towards Swelling Hill. Everything had happened so quickly and it was impossible to photograph, so I had to settle for a Goldfinch feeding on some of the dead seed heads on the waste ground in front of the barns.
We took the turn towards Lye Way, and the view down the lane and beyond into the filed was enhanced again by the November sun.
A small flock of gulls flew out of the field to the south, and settled amongst the sheep. I counted eight Black-headed Gulls, and twelve Common Gulls. They were either preening or looking to feed as they moved amongst the sheep.
The Oak and Beech trees along the road were attracting Chaffinches, Goldfinches and more Redwing. We could hear the Redwing flying over, and as usual they would settle in the the top of the trees before making forays into the berry laden bushes.
Along Charlwood there were more finches, but the highlight here was this lovely Comma butterfly. This one did pose very nicely for me, and I was concious that this maybe the last butterfly picture of the year, so I made the most of it.
We took the chance for a coffee break as we entered Plain Farm. Jays could be heard in the trees along side the fields, and finches continued to fly up from the edge of the field. Along the main track we heard Bullfinch, but only managed to see this Yellowhammer.
The walk through the farm was very quiet, a Buzzard lingered for a while over the field, but that was about it. We walked down the road, and then across and past the quarry. Coming through the wood it was still quiet, and it wasn't until we reached the end of the footpath near gate that there was some activity. Long-tailed Tits called from the avenue of trees, and this Robin called from the gate post.
Walking down through the park we were faced with a huge movement of Woodpigeon. We had seen them moving all day, and were not really convinced this was visible migration, and that these were just part of the huge resident population.
Beyond the Woodpigeon, Ian picked up a tighter flock of birds in the distance. These turned out to be a flock of 30 lapwing, always a good record here.
Having reached the bottom of the park, we turned and made our way back up the main path towards Plash Wood. As we walked up the main ride the trees looked superb.
I hoped that the Firecrest I had seen in the summer were still here, and sure enough as we reached the spot we heard them calling, and pretty soon they were showing themselves. I think there were at least three birds. I think these are the prettiest British bird. The fiery orange red crest,the gorgeous white eye stripe and the olive green back, and their size for me is an absolute winner. Enjoy..
We watched them for awhile, then moved a little to watch some Goldcrests and Blue Tits in a nearby tree. As I looked up to the top of the trees the silhouette of a familiar bird flew into view, a Peregrine Falcon. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise with all the Woodpigeon about, but to see one two days running was amazing for here. We tried to get a view where I could photograph it, but it closed its wings in and put it's foot down and was away. As we came out of the wood, across the field, Woodpigeons were all above the trees in the Maryanne Plantation.
Raptors have been in short supply today, and that the only falcon we had seen was a Peregrine was amazing
We walked along the neawly laid path, and as we approached the farm several Meadow Pipits flew up out of the field. One very obligingly perched on the gate for a photo opportunity
Around the barns there was a sizeable flock of Starling, at least 50 plus, and about a dozen Pied Wagtails. Chaffinches also called and flew out of the straw and manure.
What was a maize field was now clear, but there is a strip left in the middle that has seed and stubble. The telegraph wire passes over it, and a flock of Linnets were using this as a perch to drop from to feed in the field.
The farm will get subsidies for leaving this strip of land, and you can see how this benefits the birds, who knows it may provide an attraction to the sort after Corn Bunting.
We made our way down the hill, looking along the footpath, the Beech trees once again providing a lovely frame.
There were more tits along the footpath, and a Buzzard that was on the wire, flew off to a conifer to pose in a more natural position.
Crossing the road we took the Kitcombe bridleway. Away in the distance a bird sat on the pylon wires, at first we thought this was a Peregrine, but as we got closer it became clear it was in fact a Buzzard, we were confused by what looked like a white collar.
As we walked along Kitwood, more tits were in the hedges. Last winter the woods and hedges were silent, but this year they are alive with birds. The place to see them last winter was around houses and garden, but with the plentiful natural harvest this autumn the birds are everywhere.
I thought we might find some Fieldfare on the corner of Kitwood, and sure enough as we approached I could hear the familiar call. It the tree was a good flock of Fieldfare.
They left their perches in the tree and dropped down to the hedge where there were plenty of Hawthorn berries to protect and of course eat. This area is definitely earning the name I have given it of Thrush Corner.
Coming down the hill towards the school we finally managed to see the falcon I had expected to find today. A Kestrel was perched the top of a conifer.
As we got closer it flew off. I said goodbye to Ian in Gradwell and made my way back to the footpath to Lymington Bottom. The cows that had been in the field in the morning were gone, and in their place was a large flock of Pied Wagtails. I counted 32 in the grass, and as I tried to get a photograph of them they all flew up calling madly.
As they flew around me still calling I saw the reason they had been spooked. A Sparrowhawk flew across, once again a very familiar silhouette.
The wagtails settled back into the field once the hawk had continued on its way, and I made my way back home. The sun had gone, and the skies were now grey, and the cold was evident. It had been a lovely day though with some very special birds, and it was nice to share them.