Monday, 25 February 2013

24th February - Birds of a Feather

Winter decided this week to remind us that it has not left us yet with a return to cold winds and snow flurries at the end of the week after sunshine and signs of spring at the start.  We had a weekend away in Norfolk, details of which I will post soon, but I had the chance Sunday afternoon when we got back to take a walk around the patch.

With the return of the bitterly cold weather around the middle of the week, a Grey Heron was once again patrolling the area, not doubt in search of an unfrozen garden pond.  As I walked along Lymington Bottom and then up Brislands it was very quiet.  By the reserve site, a Bullfinch called and I walked up on to the open ground to see if I could find it.  The land has been cleared a bit, and it looks like they will be starting work here soon. 

The Bullfinch was not being cooperative so I continued up the lane.  At the horse paddock I expected there to be a few thrushes, but there was nothing, not even a Blackbird.  The only thing I could find was this Rabbit sitting by the side of the field.

I was heading for Old Down Wood, and as I came out of the cover of the trees a snow flurry started.  Looking across the field, it had been lightly ploughed, and had attracted one or two Rooks.  They appeared to be arguing with each other, and little spats would start up and one or two would fly off, circle around and then return to the filed somewhere else.

The work in the field was also attracting the attention of some gulls, and a couple of adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew over circled the filed, but then continued on their way.

The ground in Old Down was frozen, and it was quite pleasant to walk along the paths without slipping and constantly checking where to put your feet.  I was in two minds where to actually walk, but as I reached the cross roads I decided to go left and away to the larches.  It was very quiet, and I would stop every so often to see if there was anything calling.  I would occasionally hear a blue tit, or the weak call of a Goldcrest but other than that nothing.

I decided to see if the owl had returned.  On our last visit there had been signs but nobody home, today though there was someone home.  As I approached the tree I disturbed a lone Roe Deer, that shot off away into the middle of the wood.  The Tawny Owl took on the familiar stance of slowly turning its head and then opening its eyes to look at me.  I suspect that it has a partner nearby sitting on eggs.  I didn't manage to find them last year, so I hope this year is more successful.  The picture below looks like all the others I have taken of this bird, it was there today believe me!

I have decided to name him Morris, I am sure both of them will be pleased.  The last walk I had with him was to try and see this owl last May, we unfortunately didn't see him, which was disappointing as Morris was determined to make the walk into the wood regardless of whether it was going to tire him.  Sorry Morris but I prefer owls to seagulls.

I left the owl, and walked along a path around to the perimeter, at last there was some activity in the trees, and I found a small group of tits and goldcrests in the pine trees.  As I searched for them I also heard Crossbills chipping above me, and I looked up to see a flock of 25 flying away in the direction of the pond.  Turning my attention back to the wood I found a Treecreeper searching through the moss on the trunk of a tree right in front of me.

It would make its way up the tree, and then drop to the base of another and start the process all over again.

I made my way around the path to the main track, and then headed back towards the crossroads again.  I then decided to walk to the west end and took a short track to the perimeter.  At the fence I looked out over the fields, it was cold and again there was some snow in the air.  Away over the fields smoke from the houses drifted up into the air.

A group of Long-tailed Tits entertained me for awhile, and as they moved off I noticed another tit in the trees, it called a few times, with a nasal buzz, and as I managed to find it I could see it wasn't a Great Tit.  The throat bib was quite large for once and I think this may be a Willow Tit, but I couldn't be sure as it was dark.  I managed to get some photos and this one is the clearest after enhancement.

I finally started to make my way towards the west end, and paused to check the wild Daffodils, they are still in bud, and do not look like flowering just yet.  I scanned across the paddocks once again, and this time was amazed to find some quite large flocks of Thrushes in amongst the sheep.  As well as the thrushes, there was also a good sized flock of Lapwing.  I made my way down the path to get closer, and then walked to the fence to get a better view.  The thrushes were still there, the majority being Fieldfare, the rest Redwing.  The Lapwing though had moved, and I had to scan around.  I found them again in another field, and counted 43 in total, my largest count

I moved again to see if I could get closer.  But when I came into an opening they had gone, I scanned around and found the flock flying off towards the west, I couldn't see anything that would have disturbed them, and I was quite away from them so they were obviously very nervous.

It was very difficult to be able to show the quite incredible number of Filedfare in the fields, they seemed to be everywhere and in eavery field.  This gives some idea.

It was difficult to count them all, but by counting groups, and using that to estimate the numbers I settled on a conservative count of around 500 Fieldfare, and 200 Redwing.  They were also quite flighty, and would move between each field, the "chak-chak" calls being heard as they set off.

I scanned all the fields for the Lapwing again, and found a small group amongst the sheep.  I had hoped there might be a few Golden Plover, but my lucjk today didn't extend that far.  Finally I left the paddocks and returned to the wood.  It was much darker now, and the woods were silent.  I came out at Gradwell and walked the footpath to Lymington Bottom.  There was nothing in the fields or around the owl box. 

The wind had picked up again, and I made my way briskly home, spring starts on Friday, I hope someone has told the weather!.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

16th February - Everywhere You Look Around

After a cold week, Friday saw a day that was a little warmer after a frosty start.  The House Sparrows in garden though, seemed to appreciate the sunshine, and were collecting on the ivy and and in the honeysuckle, the males chirping in the sun.

Saturday morning was not frosty, nor did the forecast mist appear, so we decided to head off and walk around the woods.  We have not been in Old Down for a while, mainly because it has been so quiet, but with the warmer weather we felt we should make the effort to wade through the mud.

As we walked along Lymington Bottom it was clear the birds were much happier.  You could hear Robin, Great Tit and even Chaffinch singing, and up in the larches the Jackdaws were pairing up.

As we made our way up Brislands a Song Thrush was in full song from the top of a tree.  Their song consists of a set of notes being repeated just to make sure you hear them.

As we approached the Old Down footpath, a flock of 13 Crossbills flew over us heading back across the field, their chipping calls being unmistakable.  A Chaffinch was singing in one of the large oaks, but it was very difficult to locate as it sang from a position well in the middle of the tree.

Sadly at the entrance to the wood somebody has fly tipped a load of old plaster board.  This is the first time I have seen tipping like this along the footpath.  There is plent on the other side of the lane, and is probably the reason why the footpath is closed off there to allow it, there is always a smouldering bonfire too.  This farmer has been very active in stopping people walking on the buffer zones by the side of the fields, but seems quite happy to allow tipping.  I hope it doesn't grow and become a complete eyesore.

It seemed a completely different place as we walked into Old Down, bird song was everywhere, with calling Great and Blue Tits, some Long-tailed Tits, and the lovely song of the Robin.  A Song Thrush could be heard as well, and I was amazed to hear the sub song of a Redwing.  There was a group of about six in the trees along side the path, and one was trying to sing which is unusual at the best of time, but very in February.

The paths were still very muddy, and we made our way around the north perimeter path.  You could see where the snow had flattened everything, but also the Bluebells were progressing nicely, giving us that feeling of optimism, that the dark, silent days of winter are neary over.

There was even some flowering plants coming through.  These are Dog Mercury, and the small lighter coloured buds are the limit of its flowering, very soon they will be everywhere.

There seems to be quite a few fallen birch trees, and with them a considerable ampunt of dead branches.  These are quickly covered with a black fungus called King Alfred's Cakes, because they look like burnt cakes, something that the historians tell us Alfred never did.

The woods seem much greener this year, undoubtedly due to the amount of rain we have received.  All the fallen trees, and the area around the base of the trees are covered in a lush green moss.  It reminds me to a degree of the rain forests we visited in British Columbia, without of course the bears!

Some areas are very wet, and some are dry, these being usually around the beech trees, and in one spot we came across some wild Daffodil shoots that were coming through, I would imagine these will be flowering by the end of the month.

We walked up to the cross roads, and waded through the mud.  We decided to take an alternative route through the Sweet Chestnut trees as it was much drier.  The leaves from last year still line the wood floor, but they have now become very pale.  In places a different moss from that on the trees was pushing through.  It looked very delicate and has a feathery appearance, with a gorgeous lime green colour.  It contrasted beautifully with the colour of the dead chestnut leaves.

We walked to the south perimeter, and made our way to the Gradwell footpath, stopping every so often to rest from the mud, and to check the tit flocks.  As we watched the Great and Blue Tits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming in the trees.

From the wood we walked down Gradwell to the footpath that crosses to Lymington Bottom.  Alongside the lane were clumps of Snow Drops.  I got down low to get a photograph from below to try and show the lovely green markings inside the petals of the flower.  They are so delicate and another sign of winter beginning to pass through.

I do not recall walking this footpath while I have been writing this blog.  It is not a long path but passes through fields we can not easily access.  The reason today was that in the week Helen had heard Little Owl in this area, and we looking to check it out.  As we crossed the first field we flushed a brown bird from the hedge.  At first we thought owl, but as I got on it I could see it was a Sparrowhawk.  It sat in the tree, and I managed just two shots, which turned out to be quite good.  The second shows it about to fly off, and it did and ouit of sight.

The next part of the footpath went by a horse paddock and the top of one of the house's gardens.  In one of the trees there was an owl box, but searching the area we couldn't find any sign of the owls, but we did see this Buzzard quite happily sitting on the roof of the summer house.

While we stood and watched the trees there was the constant chatter of Magpies.  There was a group of 10 birds hanging around the hedge, they were clearly paired up as they would stay close to one another.  Here are five of them, I think that means silver.

From there we made our way to Lymington Bottom and home.

The afternoon was quite sunny, and as sunset approached I decided to give Plain Farm a walk around, the light was lovely and it was quite calm, it could be just right for a Barn Owl appearance.  I walked up the lane, and the low sun lit up the wall and hedges producing a lovely scene.

It was a bit early for the owl, so I wandered up the lane to see if there was any sign of the Little Owls.  I keep being told they are there, but they never seem to want to show for me.  Looking down the lane towards the cottages I noticed the Kestrel sitting on the pole, watching the field.  With the orange sky lit by the setting sun, and the wires appearing white, the picture with the silhouetted Kestrel is quite atmospheric.

I walked back down the lane to check the filed in case the Barn Owl appeared.  At the drying barns, I paused to check some Chaffinches in the trees at the back, and noticed something fly up in the barn.  It was the Barn Owl, and it flew up and sat oin one of the bales.  It was dark in there and impossible for the camera, so I edged closer to get a better look.  As I did so it flew off again, and disappeared into the back of the barn.   I lost it then, and I think it must have flown around the barn with cows, as they made quite a bit of noise.  I waited to see if it would reappear, but it didn't, but I did manage to flush two Grey Partridge from under the small brick barn.

Finally I left the farm, and drove along Lye Way.  At one point I had a male Sparrowhawk flying at car level alongside me.  It perched up for a while, and I stopped to look at it.  Unfortunately the camera was in the back, and I couldn't reach it, but it was soon off again, and out of sight.

The sun was now almost set, and the sky behind the trees on Lye Waty was a bright orange with a red firey ball.

I dropped off at the footpath on Gradwell, and had a look to see if I could hear or see any owls.  A Tawny Owl called in the distance, but that was all.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

8th February - A Ghost That We Know

The forecast for the weekend looked awful, and the only opportunity to get out was on Friday afternoon.  The garden has been quiet all week, but with the colder weather over the weekend there was some activity.  The most notable being four Robins in the garden.  There does seem to be a pair together now, as I saw two Robins feeding together on the feeder.  But two were clearly squaring up to each other in the trees, with both of them pushing their red breasts out at each other before one backed down.

Any way back to Friday, it had been sunny all morning, but as the afternoon dragged on the clouds rolled in.  It was cold though, and there was the threat of snow in the air.  I started off at the bottom of the road leading to Plain Farm.  Once again there was little activity around the drying barns, the Chaffinches, and Sparrows seem to have moved on.  I walked up the road, and took the time again to scan the tree, as usual there was nothing.  I walked past the barn and paused to scan the fields.  As I looked across I flushed a Hare from the long grass, and it set off across the field.

  As I followed it across the field I noticed some brown lumps amongst the green.  A closer look revealed these lumps to be birds, and little more detailed look revealed them to be Redwings.  I counted 47 in the field, which is the largest count so far this year.  This photograph, while not very good, shows you what I could see.

As I walked down the footpath, I flushed some partridges.  I never saw them, just heard them as they flew off behind the hedge.  If I had to guess I would have said they were Greys, as they are usually here.  I walked to the field, and as I came into the open, a Buzzard drifted across the field, and away over the trees of Winchester Wood.

I had seen the Kestrel earlier on the telegraph poles, but it was quite flighty and avoided the camera.  I scanned the field and noticed a couple of male pheasants squaring up to each other.  They were quite a way off, but i took particular notice because one was almost Black.  It reminded me of the blue pheasant we had seen in Wales last year.  They never actually fought, the black one backing off into the wood.

The sun had begun to peak through the clouds once again and looking back across the fields towards the cottages at the bottom of the lane, the light was producing a lovely winter's scene, it would have been much better with a Hen Harrier in it!

Walking along Charlwood Lane there seemed to be Yellowhammers everywhere.  They were on the wires and in the hedgerow.  The males were brightening up a dull afternoon as they flew from wire to hedge.

I did look twice at this one, because it looked quite dull and I thought it might have been something else, but it turned out to be a female Yellowhammer.

The sun was low now, and was picking out the larches and beeches in Dogford Wood.  Contrasted against the lush green of the field it made for another lovely view.

Walking past the woods I would hear different calls coming from the trees and bushes.  My first reaction is Great Tit, then it calls again, and again, and I think "is it?  I should check just in case", and I do and it is of course a Great Tit.  They have many varied calls, and some can be quite unusual.

A little further along Lye Way I stopped again to check the fields and trees in the distance and was amazed to see the number of Wood Pigeon in the trees.  I would estimate there must have been thousands.  You can see them here a little grey dots.

They were moving from the trees to the field, and there must have been the same number feeding on the ground.  They have to be the most numerous bird around here, they were not phased by the bird scarer that kept firing, they didn't move at all.

It was sunset yet, but it was quite gloomy.  I made my way up the footpath to the estate, pausing to scan the fields.  A covey of Red-Legged Partridge scurried across the path, and I could hear Buzzards calling.  I walked to the quarry, and then down the path to the car.  Scanning across the fields I saw a creamy white shape lying by the side of the hedge.  I couldn't make out what it was, and hoped it wasn't what I thought it could be, the Barn Owl.  I walked up the road to see if I could see it better.  I don't know what made me turn around but I did to see the Barn Owl flying across the far field.  I stopped, tried a few photos but the light was poor.  I changed the ISO setting and tried again as it flew towards me with that wonderful gliding silent flight.

As you can see it is a very grainy picture, but no matter, what a beautiful bird.  It flew into the field, and I managed to get another shot as it flew past me.

It flew around the field like a ghost in the gloom, suddenly it flew up and dropped to the ground.  Stayed there for a while, and I could see it looking around with its wings out stretched on the grass.

Finally it flew up, and made its way into the corner of the field on a fence.  I took a few shots but it was very dark.  As I watched it I could see it was swallowing as it threw the head back in the characteristic way.  Once it had swallowed what ever it had caught it stayed on the fence.  When I got home I found that I had managed to capture some very grainy pictures of it holding what looks like a vole.

It sat for quite a while, and I alternated between camera and binoculars.  This was the best I could get.

Finally it flew off and away around the back of the farm building.  As a result of finding the owl, I thought I would drive up the lane to see if I could now find the Little Owl, but as usual no luck.  The Grey Partridge were calling from the field though and they sounded quite scary. 

The Friday window had proved to be quite successful after all, and with the bad weekend weather it was welcome.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

2nd February - He Sang So Loud, Sang So Clear

Rain overnight, but a clear sky in the morning, and a cold north wind.  Katie had sent me a text to say that she had seen the Barn Owl at Plain Farm around 6.30, so I decided to start there and search the area.

When I arrived the light was wonderful, it was picking out the green shoots in the fields, and highlighting the moss on the tree branches.

I walked up the hill and then along the footpath towards the Rotherfield Park.  In the long grass Yellowhammers called while keeping well out of sight, a few would fly up and head across to the Holly trees, but they didn't show for long.  As I walked along the path I flushed a covey of ten Red legged Partridges, and the scurried across the muddy field.

There was quite a bit of activity in the trees and amongst the holly.  Great Tits could be heard calling, and Blue Tits were flying back and forth at the top of the trees.  I had read in the week that Chaffinches start to sing about now, and this was confirmed to me as one sang a sub song from the top of a larch tree.  It didn't quite manage the full run up and bowl, abut it was nearly there!

I walked down past the quarry, and looked across the field, normal service has been resumed, after the lack of Wood Pigeons last week, they had returned and a large flock were feeding in the middle of the field.

As I came down the hill and started to cross the road, something spooked them and they flew across the road and over my head, there must have been about 300, and I could hear the sound of their wings as they flew over my head.

As I walked up the road to the farm I flushed a male Sparrowhawk from a tree and it flew off to the usual alarm calls from the small birds.  Unusually there was not much activity around the drying barns, a few Chaffinches called and there was also a few House Sparrows, but nothing like the numbers I have seen here before.

Lone trees look spectacular in full leaf, and with autumn colour, but I think they look dramatic in the winter when they have bare branches that show the splendour of their shape and size.  This Oak looks amazing against the blue sky and wispy white clouds.

I always check the trees from a distance to see if there is any sign of a Little Owl.  There wasn't but I did pick up a Buzzard perched in the bush to the right of the tree.

A Kestrel flew across the road and perched on the wires, a little further on I flushed a covey of 12 Grey Partridges, they flew off, and I couldn't find them again.

At the end of the footpath I scanned across the field, and found a large flock of Rooks and Jackdaws.  At first they were feeding, but then they started to get spooked, and started to fly around.

Eventually they all left the ground and flew off into the trees at the back of the wood, and stayed there.

As I watched them I heard a Green Woodpecker call from behind me, I turned to see it fly across the field, and perch up on a telegraph pole.

It explored the pole, and then flew off to the next one, and after that the next one again.  I wonder if there is an attraction or it just uses them for a rest?

I walked along the road to the houses where there was quite a bit of activity.  The sun was obviously encouraging the songbirds, and as well as the Chaffinches and Greta Tits a Greenfinch sang its ZZZZZ call from the top of a tree, I watched to see if it flew around in the fluttering display flight, but it decided that was a bit too much at the moment,

A Blue Tit posed for me nicely in a tree by the side of the road.

I wanted to check Winchester Wood for Woodcock, and spent some time following the trails, there was no sign of Woodcock, and hardly any bird life at all.  I did disturb a lone Hare, and there were Roe Deer everywhere, but that was all.  The trees did look nice though with the sunlight streaming through them.

I wondered if all the woods were so quiet, so I stopped of to walk through Dogford..  It was, but again the the trees were providing a lovely scene.

The trail at the end of Dogford wood almost reaches the Kitwood footpath, all I had to do was climb the fence and gate and I was on it.  Looking across the field, the pylons once again looked quite spectacular.

From the wood I drove up to the pond and parked, I was going to look in Old Down, but as I got out of the car once again I disturbed the Moorhens on the pond, and they were off.

The walk into Old Down was treacherous, with mud and standing water, but once in the perimeter path was relatively dry.  There was as well bird calls, but they were mainly tits.  A Treecreeper appeared in front of me, but quickly disappeared to the other side of the trunk.  A little further on I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and it flew up into the larch in front of me.

There were more woodpecker calls in the trees, and I watched a pair fighting, and chasing each other off.  There was some drumming, but I think that was more about looking for food than display.

Along with the woodpeckers, I watched a pair of Grey Squirrels chasing each other through the small branches at the top of the larches.

I stood still for a while listening and hoping there would be some finches, but I heard nothing.  I don't know where they have gone, there isn't even any Goldfinches now, they seem to have left for the gardens, and the bird feeders.

As I stood there I noticed some movement low in the bramble.  As I picked the bird up I noticed a black cap. and grey brown back.  I have seen Willow Tit here, and I hoped.

But as it turned around I could see the back of the neck was light, and the bib under the beak was quite small.  If this had been a Willow Tit the back of the neck would almost certainly been the same colour as the back, and the bib larger and more of a distinct triangle.  It was a Marsh Tit, and just to confirm it called at me.

I had seen quite a few Roe Deer to day, but as I made my way back to the main path I came eye to eye with one, and had my closest view.  We watched each other for a while, then it was off through the bramble and bushes.

Despite the quiet of the wood, and the lack of birds there are signs of spring.  The trees and bushes have green shoots, and on the ground the Bluebells are begining to push their way through the leaves and mud.

In the afternoon we went off to Portsmouth for some shopping, the journey home meant that we were coming past Plain Farm just after sunset, and we were rewarded with the wonderful sight of the Barn Owl flying around the field next to the road.  We were able to pull over and watch it cross the road, and then fly around the filed on the other side, and then fly out of view into the wood by the farm buildings.  No camera, but wonderful views, I think I may be seeing more this year, and hopefully with the camera.