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!