This morning it was clear and frosty, when I went out first thing it was just above freezing in the sunshine, but where there was shadow it was below. Still the sky was blue, and the sun low and bright, perfect conditions for a walk, and we set off down Lymington Bottom towards Lye Way, with the intention of going to Plain Farm and back.
On the grass by the path the frost was evident, with this single leaf tinged with the white fringed glaze.
We walked past the school and up the hill towards Kitwood. At the top of the hill there is always some activity in the leaf litter, Robins and Blackbirds digging about looking for small insects and worms. We scuffed up the litter to see if they would investigate. After a while a Robin appeared and looked down to where the leaves had been moved. Robins are known for appearing in gardens when they are being dug, and away from the their urban habitats they will follow cattle and way back foraging wild boar, waiting for them to turn up a little meal. This one sat in the sun, and just looked and waited.
Around the corner a fe,ale Blackbird was taking berries from the bushes in the hedge. She was though quite particular, and would drop a berry if it wasn't to her liking.
We turned down Lye Way and walked into the sun. It was now midday, but despite this the sun was very low in the sky, and sending long shadows across the fields. The light was also accentuating the green in the fields making it look very lush. Once again I was attracted to the pylons as they made their way off into the distance following the contours of the fields and snaking through the gaps in the trees.
We walked around the farm, breaking ice in the puddles as we went. There was little around the farm buildings, but in the fields amongst the sheep were a few Redwings and a group of about a dozen Common Gulls. The gulls were of varied age, here is a first winter and an adult together.
There wasn't that much about but it didn't really matter as it was a beautiful day, and it was good to be able to walk after all the storms and rain we have had. Helen found a Great Spotted Woodpecker in a tree above us, and after it gave us the run around, and we had waited to let a trail of 4 x 4 vehicles pass us it finally sat at the top of a tree in front of us.
Away from the woods it is quiet, and the only sound you hear is the cawing of a crow every so often. This one sat in the tree by the field calling and just after I took this picture it flew down into the field, and then sat there calling.
We turned into Charlwood, and checked the sun lit ivy, as it felt warm enough in the sun to tempt a hibernating butterfly out. There wasn't any, but the sun was encouraging a Great Tit to sing loudly from the tree above us. I tried to get some pictures, but as I focused on the tit Helen called out. She had picked up two Red Kites gliding past us. I managed to get a shot of this one as it passed over, not the best but a record. Funny I had the feeling it was a Red Kite kind of day.
The hedges were full of Yellowhammer, I counted at least twenty around us in the hedge and the gardens. This female posed very nicely for me in the sunshine at the top of the hedge.
The Great Tit had continued to sing above us all the time, and I finally managed to get a picture as it moved into a position where it wasn't obscured by branches.
Walking on to the horse paddocks they seemed empty, but by the small fence I found three Fieldfare. This one ventured away from the shadows to feed in the middle of the paddock. They have a lovely chestnut brown speckled chest which contrasts wonderfully with the maroon and grey upper parts.
The air was extremely clear, and away to the west you could see for a very long way.
We walked along the lane, the hedges now cut low enough that you could see into both fields, and as a result it did not feel like walking in a tunnel. We walked into the Plain Farm footpath, and looking across the field you could see frost where the sun had not managed to filter through. This is the first time I have seen frost at this time of day in our second winter spell.
Incredibly though with the frost away to the south, on the ground in the sunshine was a single flowering Dandelion.
After stopping for coffee we walked down the lane towards the farm. Bullfinches piped from the hedge and at one time there was a group of five in front of us. A large flock of about 30 birds flew around above the hedge. At first I thought they were Linnets, but as they came closer I could hear them call, and see their shape better and realised they were Skylarks
We moved to scan the field by the opening, and could see the skylarks fall to the ground. There were also Fieldfare flying around, and you could hear them calling. But of more interest was the group of twelve Lapwing in the field in front of us. We were looking into the sun so the picture is not the best.
Turning back a Redwing posed nicely in the hedge, and with it were Bullfinches and Yellowhammers.
A Kestrel had been on the posts as we walked down the lane, and as we got too close it would fly off. The call of a Grey Partridge turned my attention to the hedge on the right, I couldn't find the partridges, but was very pleased to see this Reed Bunting perched at the top of the hedge
The Kestrel had flown on away from us but ended up by the cow sheds. At first it sat on the pylon but then flew across the lane and sat on the pole looking down into the field.
At this time of year the Kestrel foregoes the hovering technique for hunting due to the amount of energy it uses up. With limited amount of daylight in which to hunt, it needs to save as much energy as possible. Our bird sat on the pole scanning the field it's gaze unrelenting.
All at once it flew down into the field but the attack was unsuccessful, and as it flew up its talons were empty. It flew away across the field, and up into the large oak tree. Once again we approached slowly, and were rewarded with some great views
We left it there and walked down the hill past the grain dryers and barns. It was quiet, no finches but a few blackbirds. Away over above the Mountains Plantation a Buzzard soared above the conifers, the winter sun picking out the white in its under parts.
We walked along the road instead of walking past the quarry. As we approached the parking area at the bottom of the footpath Helen asked me to stop so she could get a snack from my rucksack. I stood there waiting when a small bird flew up from the bushes in front of us and perched on the top of a dead cow parsley stem in amongst the tall grasses.
It was a female or first year Stonechat, a year tick on the 29th December! I couldn't believe it, and I definitely didn't expect it. It flew about, then settled on the pile of cow manure where it obviously found some insects.
This takes me to 84 birds for the year which is one less than last year, but with the new birds I have seen I am getting closer to 100 for the patch, no mean feat for a land locked waterless patch!
We walked along the road, which was still very slippery in places, as where there was no sun getting through the frost and ice remained. One car didn't appreciate this and skidded past us as we stood watching it pass us. We were going to walk along the Kitcombe bye-way, but before we turned off I looked across the field to the north, and saw a fast bird skimming the tops of the trees. It was a Sparrowhawk, and I just managed to catch it as it flew away higher after failing to surprise any potential prey.
We walked along the path, and looking across to Winchester Wood where the sun was now coming through the trunks of the trees. The hour was such that the light now was golden, and this was picking out the bracken beneath the trees
We turned up through Dogford Wood, and then on to Kitwood Lane, and headed home into the low sun. As we came around the turn there were plenty of House Sparrows in and around the ivy that covers the trees. I am not sure how many were in the ivy, but this cock was enjoying the last warmth of the sun.
We walked home in the sunshine, it was getting cold, but there were still Woodpigeons sitting high in the tree tops to get the warmth from the sun. Back home the garden was still busy with Blue Tits and Goldfinches on the feeders. We were also treated to a small flock of Long-tailed Tits, busying themselves as they flitted from feeder to feeder. As I cleaned the boots I could hear the strange call of a crow above me, and looking up one was mobbing a Buzzard.
It has been a wonderful day, probably my last outing of the year, I wonder what 2014 will bring?