Thursday, 23 May 2013

22nd May - "And Where, and Where ... is the BATMAN?"

It has been quite gloomy by day, but as is usually the way the skies cleared around the late afternoon and the wind dropped, and it was quite a pleasant evening if not a little cool.  I have been looking for the opportunity to get out and try the new toy I received as a birthday present, and this evening looked ideal.  I set off at just before 20.00, and headed for the pond.
When I arrived the car park was full of anglers, but they hadn’t been fishing, they had started to clear the weed from the centre of the pond.  I spent some time talking to them, and discovered some interesting facts about the pond.  Firstly it used to be a large bog, and it is spring fed from over in the west corner, where there is a well.  It was first cleared in the seventies, but does require maintenance.  I was told the overall depth is about six feet, but there is a layer of silt between one and two feet deep.  There are plenty of Smooth Newts, and maybe Palmate, but there has not been any sign of Great Crested Newts.  Of the fish, Carp are the most numerous, but there are also Roach and Rudd, and some Pike.

As I stood talking a pair of Mallard fed amongst the duck weed, the first I have seen here all year. Also I just had to take a picture of the wonderful reflection in the water caused by the late evening sun.

Leaving the pond I walked along towards Old Down Wood, looking back the moon was now quite high in the sky over Lye Way Farm, and not far off the full phase.

As I entered the wood the sun was still high enough to light up the bluebells, but in the time I had walked to a good position to take some photographs, it had dropped below the trees and the opportunity was gone.  I walked around the main path, it was still a little early for bats, but as I walked on I was alerted to the calls of Blackbirds and Tits.  I followed their alarm calls walking through the undergrowth.  It took me to the south side of the wood, but as I made my way, I had to stop to photograph the low sunlight picking out the trunks of the Larch trees, and turning certain parts of the bark golden.

In the end the Blackbirds achieved what they wanted and I saw a Tawny Owl come out of the top of an Oak tree close to the main path towards Gradwell, and fly over my head and off, still being pursued by the Blackbirds.  I wasn’t able to see the owl up close, but I was able to enjoy more of the sunlight turning this time the beech leaves golden, it looked like autumn had arrived early.

Looking down the main path, the larches were lit up again, with the same golden glow, it really was magical.

The sun was almost set now, it was just gone 20.30, and looking across the filed from the wood towards Brislands lane the sun was on fire behind the trees that line the footpath.

I walked back to the main path, and switched on my toy, a bat detector.  It works by picking up the echolocation sounds the bats use to communicate and to locate their prey as they fly around.  Set the frequency to 45 kHz, and walked along the main path towards Old Down Cottage.  As I past the big Beech tree it started clicking, and looking up I could see bats above me.  From their size and the frequency at which I was picking up the clicks these were Pipistrelle Bats.  These are the commonest and most widespread of British Bats, in summer they are normally found roosting either singularly or in small groups in the crevices of buildings or trees.

The calls would range between 45 and 65 kHz, at the top end they were clicks but at the lower they would sound more like slaps.  They flew around the openings in the trees and just under the canopy.  As they came into the clearing I tried to capture them on film, this is the best I could get.

I left the Pipistrelles and walked out of the wood heading back to the pond, coming out, I varied the frequency dropping it down to the lowest at 20 kHz.  I immediately got a call which was more of a chipping sound than a click, I couldn’t see any bats around me, but as I came into the open I saw one over the white house.  It was quite large compared to the pipistrelle, and from the size and the frequency of echo I considered this to be a Noctule Bat.  These are one of the largest bats, and are normally found flying quite high above the tree tops.  It is a widespread species.  They are primarily tree dwellers in the summer, living in rotten tree holes and woodpecker nests.

At the pond I picked up some more Pipistrelles flying around the bank under the trees and even flying out over the water.  The detector opening up a whole new experience in watching these mammals as they zipped around me in the now gathering gloom.  The sounds were different here, and would range from slaps around 45 kHz up to higher wetter clicks at about 65 kHz.  Listening to recording of both the Common Pipistrelle and the Soprano Pipistrelle I believe the bats around the pond were in fact Sopranos.  The two have only just been separated as distinct species, with the Soprano being more likely to be found around water and wetland.

I wanted to explore some other areas so headed off to Winchester wood.  The bat detector did not pick up any bats, and I didn’t get any response to playing a Nightjar call, but I did manage to hear and see a roding Woodcock as I came into a clearing.

My final stop was Weathermore Lane, there are a lot of bat boxes here, and I was picking up calls between 450 and 80 kHz, but it was now dark and I didn’t have any torch strong enough to help locate any flying around.  I suspect the majority were Pipistrelle again, but I will have to come back here, better prepared another time, I am sure there are some other species here

Monday, 20 May 2013

19th May - Green's The Colour of the Sparklin' Corn

The weather has turned cooler again, but as I write this the young Starlings are calling from the nest in my roof, the Blackbirds are combing the lawn for worms which they are taking somewhere, and at last the Blue Tits seem to be busy go and to and fro from the nest box next to my office window.  It would seem that nature can’t wait for the real spring to arrive, it has to move on.
It was a busy weekend but I took the chance for a walk Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t put myself through the football, I just knew it was going to end how I wanted it to, but then as a Spurs fan for all my life, you come to terms with these things!
It had been drizzly and cold in Southampton, but when we got back to Four Marks the sun came out, and despite a cool wind it was very pleasant as I walked along Brislands Lane.  Little pink flowers have been appearing recently in the grass and along the banks by the roads.  This is a member of the geranium family commonly known as Herb Robert, but also known Red Robin, Death come quickly, Storksbill, Dove's Foot, or Crow's Foot.  Herb Robert was used as a remedy for toothache and nosebleeds. Freshly picked leaves have an odor resembling burning tires when crushed, and if they are rubbed on the body the smell is said to repel mosquitoes. It was carried to attract good luck, and due to its association through name with storks, to enhance fertility.

At the horse paddock I stopped to see if there was any sign of the Roe Deer again, when one just walked into view.  It stood looking around the field, and then reacted to a sound from somewhere. 

It walked up to the fence and tried to go under, but ended up jumping over and away.
I walked down to the Brislands entrance to Old Down, and then in my one man campaign to restore the missing footpath, I walked out into the field.  I could hear Skylarks all around me, but they never came down into the field. The field is a mess with a patch of oilseed rape off to the west, a bare patch in the centre, and what looks like a cereal crop where I was standing.  I scanned around to see if there was anything in the field, and flushed a pair of pigeons.  They didn’t seem right though, a lot slimmer that the usual Wood Pigeons, and sure enough they were in fact a pair of Stock Dove.  They flew around and came a little closer.  The photograph isn’t wonderful, but you can just make out the lack of white neck patch, and the dove like appearance of both birds

All along the side of Brislands Lane, and the down the path into Old Down Wood, the plants are growing at last, nettles and Cow Parsley getting taller, the parsley beginning to flower.

Taking the main path through the wood the bluebells were still out under the beech trees, the light enhancing the newly emerged leaves.

The floor of the wood around the trees was quite dark, but there were little clumps of bluebells picked out by the sunlight.

I walked down the main path, and over the crossroads.  I wanted to find the buzzard nest I had been hearing so much about recently.  The nest was high in a larch tree, quite a substantial construction.  I waited to see if any one returned to or left the nest.  A Buzzard called in the distance but there was nothing moving on or around the nest. 

I moved on out of the wood and along the road to the pond.  The Bogbean is now all around the edge of the pond, and on the little island close to the patch of Iris there was a small group of Red Campion flowers

I decided to walk along Lye Way in the opposite direction to that which I normally did, and this provided a different view on the fields.  As I looked across the main large field, the small copse in the centre was full of the many colours of the new leaves of the different trees and bushes there.  It contrasted well with the monotonous green of the field.

I was surprised I hadn’t seen or heard many Yellowhammer as I walked along the lane, they are usually everywhere here.  This splendid male was the only one I saw.

At the gate to the field I saw a Whitethroat fly up into the air in full song, then fall away to come back down in the hedge by the side of the field.  It then continued to sing from the branches.

There was a large flock of Swallows by the farm, and Goldfinches could be heard in the trees by the buildings.  I walked along the footpath towards Andrew Lane, hopeful that there might be some butterflies about.  There was in fact two male Orange-tips, and once they had sorted each other out one settled on a mouse-ear flower.

As I walked down Andrews Lane, I checked all the suitable sites for Spotted Flycatcher, but there was nothing about.  In the hedge alongside the lane there was a very nice Comma butterfly.

The pastures at the bottom of the lane were covered in buttercups and daisies, they create a blur of colour.

As I walked up the Desmond Paddocks towards Old Down, the yellows of the buttercups and dandelions looked spectacular against the blue of the sky, and the green of the grass and hedges.

The footpath has been diverted slightly to keep dogs away from the cows and their calves.  I went through the gates and then up and over the style towards Old Down.  On the edge of the wood there were two Peacocks and a couple of Large White Butterflies.  I walked along the main footpath, the bluebells were still out here, and the wild garlic is in full bloom and the scent is lovely.  The other flower out was the Lords and Ladies, and I finally managed to get a picture of the petal with some back light.

I came up the main path alongside the min patches of bluebells.  I wanted to get some different pictures today, and started to concentrate on the areas of flowers highlighted by the shards of light coming through the beech trees.  Hopefully these work.

I checked on the owl, he wasn’t in, I will have to go back at a different time of day, the walk along the south perimeter was quiet, and as I crossed towards Gradwell several swallows were flying around the horse stables.
Along Brislands the light was now very nice, and I took another picture looking down.  The leaves are now almost complete.

I walked home listening to the song of Blackcap at the cemetery, and Blackbirds and Song Thrush along Lymington Bottom.
The India blog is now almost complete, if you haven’t yet seen them, check out the Bee-eaters, they are truly wonderful.

Monday, 13 May 2013

12th May - (Nothing But) Flowers...and a Kite!

Up to the weekend the forecast for Sunday was that it was going to be the better day of the weekend, so the jobs were done Saturday, allowing for a nice walk in the sun on Sunday.  Well there was sun, but very early, and very quickly the clouds rolled in, and the breeze picked up, and it was quite cool as we set off along Brislands.
The trees had developed much more in just a week, and looking down the lane again you could see the difference.

It was quiet as walked along the lane towards Old Down.  At the entrance a pair of Blackcaps was in the trees by the mobile pylon, the male singing from time to time, the female chipping in with a few “tacks”.  Robins sang as we walked into the wood, and there was also the song of a distant Chiffchaff.
It wasn’t only the leaves that had moved on this week, the bluebells had too, and with the overcast skies they were looking very blue on the north perimeter path.
The bluebells however were not the only blue flower in the wood, under the trees and in amongst the dog mercury there was plenty of violets, although when I looked at this photograph I wished I had found some better specimens!
The bluebells dominated the scene everywhere we walked.  You could also see little trails where probably deer had walked, some of the leaves being knocked down.  However at one point there was a set of wheel tracks leading through the flowers, doing a lot more damage, we followed the tracks and it seemed to have something to do with collecting wood from a fallen tree.  This panorama was close to the turn in the path at the west end of the wood.

When we reached the site of last week’s Early Purple Orchid, it was nice to see that another had grown up alongside it.  Last year there were two, and so it shall be this year.

The bird life was quiet, which probably had something to do with the time of day.  Every so often though you could see a robin, perched low on the branches watching the ground fo a tit bit.

The Wild Garlic is coming into flower, and where the bluebells are absent there are now group of of white flowers producing a different scene

With the flowers coming out comes the scent, and every so often you would walk through a patch of garlic scent.
We turned back along the main path, the Bluebells seemed to prefer the areas close to the edge of the wood, this is probably due to the availability of light.  Closer to the path were Solomon’s Seal and Dog Mercury, and this created a lovely green contrast to vivid blue patches.

Everything was now in full swing, and catching up with last year quickly.  Another plant that we saw a lot of last year was Wood Spurge, and we found a clump of these a little further along the path.  The leaves produce the effect of going on forever, as you look down on them.

The sun had now all but gone, but this had the effect of brightening the delicate greens of the beech leaves, and the blues of the Bluebells.  Looking along the path produced a lovely sight

We turned to continue along the main path and as we came up the hill we were greeted with this sight.

We were not alone in appreciating the bluebells; there were others in the wood too.  While I welcome the interest I wish people would stay on the established paths, and not walk through the Bluebells damaging the plants, it is the same as picking them, which is something people would now not do.  The views from the path are wonderful, and there is no need to tramp into wood to get closer.

We continued through the wood, past the crossroads, and onto the owl tree, Morris wasn’t in, but there were plenty of recent signs to indicate he has been there very recently.  We walked around the southern Perimeter listening to the calls of Buzzards above us but we only were able to get short glimpses as they flew over.
A grey bird in the scrub caught my attention, it never called but I could see it was a Tit.  I wondered if it could be Willow Tit, but looking at this picture I thought Marsh Tit.

Then it turned and I confirmed it was indeed a Marsh Tit. 

A little further Helen saw a pair by the edge of the wood. 
The challenge recently has been to try and get a picture of the Lords and Ladies flowers.  It seems that as soon as they appear they are eaten.  We found this one just off the main path, for once in immaculate condition.

We left the wood, and walked down to the pond.  We didn’t walk around, but stopped to look at some white flowers growing amongst the Iris.

It is Bog Bean, and is apparently commonly found in acid bog pools, which was a surprise, as I wouldn’t have thought this pond was acidic, but maybe it is in the shallow muddy areas.  The flowers are white and spikey, but come from pink buds.

Apart from a few surface feeding Carp, there was very little else about, so we continued down the lane towards Kitwood.  A Whitethroat sang from the hedge alongside the road.  At the farm, the cattle were in the field, and I found a Swallow sitting on the wire here, I thought this might mean they are settling to nest here, but as we walked on there was three flying around the filed, still its early days yet.

By the entrance to a horse paddock on Willis Lane we had found our first Cowslips last year.  This year there was quite a few clumps here, and they were quite substantial too.

We turned off Willis Lane and took the path towards the garden centre.  The fields were full of Rooks feeding and every so often a swallow would zip past as it was attracted to the insects that were flying around under the trees.
In the field next to the garden centre I picked up a large bird drifting across from the east.  It was a Red Kite, the first one I had seen since March.  As it glided past us we could see the damaged tail and secondary feathers, probably an indication of possible breeding damage?

After treating ourselves to an ice cream (on a cold day!), we walked through the field to Blackberry.  What a mess that field is, the posts are going in, so soon there will be a fenced footpath, I just hope there is no more damage to the field, the trees and hedges have taken a pounding.

Just after got home the rain came, the forecast is for it to be cool again through the week, we need some prolonged warm weather to bring out the butterflies, I still haven’t found a Holly Blue, and their flying season is running out.

Finally I have been making good progress on the India trip blog, check it out here.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

7th May - Never Mind I'll Remember You This Way

Today was another glorious day with the temperature into the twenties; there were though wispy clouds around.  I decided to make the most of the weather and made my way down to Plain Farm.  There was a sign at the cattle grid stating that there was a bull in the field, so I made sure I was alert as I walked up the hill from the cattle grid. 
I checked out the barn, but there was no sign of any owls being present, hopeful thinking maybe.  Leaving the barn I walked along the footpath to check the bushes and grass.  A Mistle Thrush called from the top of a horse chestnut tree, and chaffinches and robins sang from the garden. Coming back a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was sunning itself in the longer grass.
A Blackcap sang from the bushes by the small pond, and as I got a little closer I could see quite a bit of activity at the edge of the water.  I could see a female Blackcap, and a pair of Chaffinches, but they stayed in the bush.  A Blue Tit was a little more adventurous and came down for a wash, but was scared out of the way by this Coal Tit that was very brazen about having a really good bathe; it didn’t seem concerned about anything.
As I walked around towards the quarry a male pheasant made its way sedately across the field, for once there were no females around, so maybe he had some that were sitting on eggs. 

As I walked down the path at the quarry an Orange-tip flew past me, so far this year they have evaded my attempts at getting a good picture, and whilst this one did pause on a dandelion, it still is not what I want.

Behind the butterfly was a small group of Cowslips, always very nice to see, and not that common around here, despite the chalk.  There isn’t any areas that they are normally associated with like open grassland.
The quarry itself was very quiet with only a single Chiffchaff singing.  I left it calling out, and headed down the path towards the farm.  The odd Swallow would sing out as they flew across the path by the grain dryers, and House Sparrows and Chaffinches were calling from the bushes.  As I came up the road towards the workshops, I could see plenty of Swallows, and probably House martins around the cow sheds, and some were also on the ground in the mud.  As I got closer I was able to identify about six House Martins amongst a flock of approximately twenty Swallows.  I waited to see if they would return to the ground, but began to attract the attention of a rather large bull, that seemed to think I was interested in his cows, so I decided to move on.
Walking along the lane, the sound of House Sparrows was everywhere, they is a very large flock here, and they seem to be doing very well.  I walked by the hedge but could not find any more butterflies.  Turning into the field, I noticed a lapwing quite close to the edge of the field.  It is not usual to get close to them as they are very flighty.  This one watched me cautiously.

Then did what they normally do, flew off!

I have now seen at least three pairs in this area, and I am hopeful that they are nesting.  Leaving the field, I turned back to the other side and ducked through the hedge.  A pair of Grey Partridge was feeding along the edge of the field, and I was able to get some nice views.

I walked along the lane to the cottages listening to the songs of Linnets, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches.  At the waste ground there was once again quite a few House Sparrows, mostly males chirping away amongst the bushes and old machines.  Along the footpath I could hear Whitethroat and Blackbird, and at the end a Willow Warbler was singing.  I wasn’t sure if there was more than one as the song came from different areas, but I finally managed to find at least one bird.

I walked across the field to Charlwood Lane, and a Chiffchaff sang, or called, (I am never sure whether they do sing?) from the trees by the edge of the field.  Along Charlwood lane there was another good show of Dandelions, but also in abundance was the Field Mouse Ear, a small white flower that has petals that look like mouse ears, apparently.

A repetitive call from the trees at the end of the field stopped me, I was sure it was going to be Nuthatch, but there was an element of doubt, which soon disappeared when I saw the Nuthatch on the branches calling.

By the horse paddocks a Yellowhammer was singing from a fence pst, the evening sunshine picking out the yellow breast,

From there I made my way to Lye Way, and back towards the car.  Birds sang from the open areas, but as I walked along past Winchester Wood it was quiet.  I was thinking how this always seems to be a dead wood for wild life, and that my attempts to find anything here have always ended with nothing, when a Buzzard flew up the road towards me and into the wood.
Back at the car I looked across to the west, and could see that the feint white clouds were becoming more substantial, a sign that a cold front was approaching, and with it probably rain overnight and tomorrow morning.  The good sunny weather was not going to last.

As I scanned across the fields to the east I saw a Hare sitting in the sunshine making the most of what was left this evening.  I hope it doesn't go away for too long.