Saturday, 29 June 2013

29th June - Their Time is Now

Once again I have been away this week, but it seems that there has not been much changing.  The weather has been unsettled, and all the media are saying summer is at least three weeks late.  However it always seems to be like this in June now. 

The Blackbird in the garden seems to have abandoned the nest it built, but on Friday afternoon I was amazed to see first one young Blue Tit come to the nest box outside the office window, and then it was joined by two others, one of which I think was a very tatty adult, as the other two begged for food.  Whether these were the birds from the box, I can't be sure, but it does make me feel they did fledge.

After the wet cold weekend we had last week, we were all looking forward to better weather.  Saturday morning started dry, with some sun, so we decided to set off for a good walk.  The Starlings next door are busy on their second brood, and are very noisy.

The House Martins continue to re-build the nest at the front of the house, but it does look very untidy, I hope they intend to tidy it up.

We walked up Reads Field, and then along the footpath, a Jackdaw was busy attacking the moss on one of the roofs, but stopped to pose nicely.  I just love their pale blue eyes, they stand out against the soft grey of their necks.

We headed down the path to Alton Lane, there was a family party of Long-tailed Tits calling from the surrounding trees.  This adult looked exhausted, as it perched in front of us.

The fence that is being built in the main field to enclose the footpath is now well under construction.  We stopped to look into the paddock alongside the field which every year is full of Buttercups.  This year though there were other flowers present

Orchids.  The buttercups are poisonous to the horses, and in years gone by they would graze here, and would not eat the buttercups.  This year there have not been any horses, and it seems the orchids have benefited.  I went and had a close look.  I think they are spotted orchids, but there are many variations and they could be both heath and marsh orchids, it is very difficult to distinguish, and the petal patterns vary considerably.

It was lovely to see so many, and after the decimation of the large field, and the restrictions on walking over the field it was nice to be able to get close to these lovely flowers.

We walked on past the garden centre, and through the two fields.  In the grass I saw a couple of Meadow Brown Butterflies, the first of the year but I couldn't get close to them.  A little further on there was a treat in the horse paddock, three Shetland pony foals, they were quite playful, and would run around together skipping and kicking their feet.

We crossed Willis Lane and walked up the path towards Hawthorn Lane.  In the sunny area of nettles there was at last quite a few insects about.  These tiny moths, about a centimetre across were everywhere.  I think they are a type of Pug.

There were also a couple of Meadow Brown butterflies and one posed very nicely on the flower of a Green Alkanet, which despite the name has lovely blue flowers.

Another insect attracted to the flowers was this fly, it is Empis digramma, as well as taking nectar they also like to hunt smaller flies in thick vegetation.

There were plenty of bees about too, this is (again I think) an Early Bumble Bee.  Its lovely yellow body contrasting with the blue flowers.

In amongst the nettles were spikes of red flowers.  They were also very attractive to the bees.  This is Hedge Woundwort.  The leaves are very similar to the surrounding nettles.  They can grow to just under a metre, and are found in woodland and hedgerows.

We walked up Hawthorn Lane, and found the first Speckled Wood of the day.  It settled high up in a tree, and I was able to picture it from below, which provided a unique aspect.

A little further along a Chiffchaff was singing, but it appeared to be having a little bit of difficulty with the order of the "chiff" and "chaff".  It finally came out into the open, but still continued to struggle with its song.

We turned off and walked past the Maryanne plantation and headed for Newtown Farm.  A Garden Warbler sang from the tall Ash trees alongside the road.  We did manage to see it eventually, but it did not stay in the open long enough to photograph.

In the grass land alongside the field, we found the first Large Skipper of the year, things were beginning to look up for the butterflies today.

We walked around the farm, and along the hedgerow.  Where the sun was on the flowers and leaves of the plants there were at last lots of insects, Bumble and Carder Bees, and plenty of hover and true flies.

We walked down the hill, and had a very brief glimpse of a Roe Deer by the side of the field.  At the bottom of the hill we crossed the road and carried on along the Kitwood Bridleway.  It was even more sheltered here, and the insects were everywhere.  I saw this little weevil, Apoderus coryli walking over the nettle leaf.  They are apparently found in Hazel trees of which there were a lot nearby.  I love the way it appears to be goose stepping a funny walk across the leaf!

Other insects included this moth hidden away amongst the leaves.  This is a Silver-ground Carpet.  It is a little bit of a  fuzzy picture but I was lucky to get the shot because seconds later it was catapulted off the leaf and away!.

The bridleway is always difficult to walk because of the ruts and muddy puddles, but the south facing aspect makes it a good place for butterflies and other insects, and we saw more Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods, and at least another two Large Skippers.  The best find though was this beautiful Cinnabar, a day flying moth that can be confused with the Burnets.  The Cinnabar though has only two spots on the back wings, and is a lovely pink.

We finally came off the bridleway, and walked up Lye Way, and then off in the direction of the Pond.  When we reached the pond we were amazed to find it covered with a swarm of midges.  In places they looked like smoke as they moved across the top of the water.

They were a big attraction to others though, and we watched a female Emperor Dragonfly fly around the pond, darting up and down, and left and right as she caught and ate the flies.

Chiffchaffs sang from the trees around the pond, and on the banks there were Azure Damselflies copulating, and in amongst hem the occasional Large Red Damselfly.

We left the pond and walked to Old Down Wood.  The sunny glades had a few butterflies, but nothing different to what we had seen all day.  Chiffchaffs were singing as were Wren and of course the Robins.  We walked through the middle, and then back along Brislands.  The sun was now out, and the re was plenty of blue sky.  Looking back down Brislands once again the scene looked different.

The forecast for the week looks encouraging, dry with sunny spells and more like the temperatures we should expect.  Lets hope they are right and summer is finally here.  I must admit with what we have seen today, it finally feels that way.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

19th June - Few Birds Are So Much in Esteem For the Table As These

An update on the House Martins, as I suspected they are starting to re-build the nest after yesterday's disaster, lets hope it turns out to be stronger if they finish it in time to raise another brood.  As I watched the House Martins this evening a Swift flew overhead, my third sighting this year!

It was very humid today, with sunshine through the middle of the day, but overcast and still conditions returning in the late afternoon.  Over the last couple of weeks I had wanted to get out with the bat detector, and to see if there was anything else of interest around at dusk, but the weather had not been suitable, tonight though the conditions appeared just right.

I set off walking up Kitwood path, from the main road. and heading towards the Newtown Plantation.  The Buzzard that had perched so gingerly on the power lines yesterday seemed to be still there this evening, it did seem a little bit more relaxed, if indeed it was the same bird.

As I walked up the path, Blackcap sang from the bushes and a few swallows flew low over the field.  The plantation was very dark, despite the fact that there has been some tree felling, and several large trees have been removed.  I checked the bat detector, because it was so dark, but there was nothing about.

I walked around by the farm, and close to the farm buildings were a pair of Hares.  I also flushed another from the side of the path, and a way off in the distance on the other side of the field there were two more sitting still.  I headed off down the path towards Plash Wood.  Under the tall dead tree alongside the path there were droppings on the ground, and quite a few pellets, when I broke these apart Ii could find small bones and a lot of brown fur.  I suspect the tree is used as a night time perch by an owl, but which species I am not sure.  It was now about 20.30, but it was quite gloomy.  Away to the west the sun was sinking into the horizon, and there was some sign of red in the sky.  Any photographs i take from now on were going to have to be with a very high ISO

I passed the entrance to the wood, and walked out to the edge of the field.  I could see three brown marks in the field, and checking closer could see they were Roe Deer.  This one kept stretching its neck and looking up to the sky like a "sky hopping" whale!

The other two seemed much closer, and I think one was sporting some small antlers, but it was difficult to make out in the gloom.  I suspect they were yearlings or sub adults wandering the fields.  The two approached the single deer, and I wondered if they might be some issues here.

But everything was calm, and they turned and walked away, using the tracks of the tractor wheels to make it an easier route through the wheat field.  After a while they paused to look back at me.

One feature of the evening was the constant noise from the nearby A32 of motorbikes.  If you look in the above photograph you can see one just passing the barn.  From the noise of the accelerating engines, I am absolutely certain these bikes were not doing the national speed limit.

I left the deer, and walked back towards Plash Wood, and took the track along the main ride.  A Chiffchaff sang from the small willows, and there was a family party of Nuthatches calling from the top of an Oak tree.  As I walked on I heard a familiar song from close to the path, it was Firecrest.  I stopped to find it and quickly picked it out at the top of a small Silver Birch.  It was extremely dark in this area, and what with the gloom and the mobility of the bird it was almost impossible to get a good photograph.  This was the best I could manage, but from the bill and outline you can see it is a Firecrest.

As I watched this male singing and moving through the trees I noticed that there was another close to it, and when I managed to get a good view of this one I could see it was a female, and it was carrying food.  The female disappeared, but the male stayed in view, so I decided to leave them, and continue on in my search for the intended evening's quarry.  As I walked away I could still hear the song.

By now the sky had cleared of cloud, through the trees the moon could be seen rising to the west.

I walked down the main ride, and then took a side path.  Song Thrush and Robin were competing against each other with their song.  For volume the Song Thrush won hands down.  A Tawny Owl also called from deep in the woods, a bit of a mixture of "keevit" and "twhoo".  After that I could hear a Blackbird scolding, so the owl had probably been found.

I came back out on to the main ride, and almost immediately found what I had been looking for.

A roding Woodcock.  Woodcock are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and rarely active during the day unless they are flushed, when they fly off with a whirring wing noise.  Their flight is some what bat or owl like, and while they fly fast and direct when migrating in woodland they fly erratically with a twisting and fluttering action.

Between April and June the male performs a courtship display flight called 'roding' at dusk . It flys over the treetops with flickering wings and downward-pointing bill, and utters several deep croaks followed by a sharp squeak.  It was the squeaks that alerted me to them as I walked along the ride.  I believe there were at least four different birds here, as they flew over and then another would be seen coming from a different location.

The sounds that they make can be measured, although I wasn't able to pick them up on my bat detector as the frequency was too low, but from the corresponding spectrograms it is possible to reliably identify individual birds, and therefore use the counts of roding birds as an indicator of the population. 

I had met a person earlier that evening who was conducting just that study and he told me they had counted 18 birds in this wood alone, but their efforts to catch them in mist nets had not been so successful and they had only caught two.  He also told me that they were likely to be about from about 21.15, which was spot on.

The Woodcock enjoys a place in British history with it considered to be a real delicacy over the years, and a recipe features in Mrs Beaton's books (hence my title today).  The Woodcock is also mentioned in Shakespeare's plays, normally around its supposed surprise and ease at which it was caught  in "gins" or "springes".  The surname Woodcock was also associated with a fool or simpleton due again for the manner in which it was caught.  An old folk name for the Goldcrest was the "Woodcock pilot" because of the mistaken belief that the birds rode in the feathers of migrating woodcock.

I walked up and down the ride for a while watching and listening to the birds as they flew above me, but then it was getting very dark so I decided to make my way back.  As I came on to the footpath, the detector started up, and I could see Common Pipistrelles flying around the the trees, the call being the slapping sound on the detector.

Almost immediately I also noticed two more Woodcock coming at me from the Maryanne Plantation on the other side of the field, and as I walked a little further two Woodcock together came out of Plash Wood, and headed across the field in the opposite direction.  This time I was ready, and although they are grainy, and not pin sharp, it captures the moment, and the jizz of these evocative birds.

.I carried on walking back to the car, continually scanning for both bird and bat.  I saw the unmistakable silhouette of a Red Kite gliding above the trees in the distance, but there was no sign of any owls, and the only bat I came across was another Pipistrelle by the large barn.  I did though flush another two Hare from the field.  Coming down past Newton Plantation I found three more pipistrelle where the footpath goes into the dark, and as I drove past the primary school a Tawny Owl flew across the road in front of me.  Quite a successful night missing only a Barn Owl, but there will be other times to seem them I am sure.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

18th June - Make You Want To Move Your Dancin' Feet

First some more bad news, after the unknown fate of the Blue Tits, and the fact that I decided to allow myself believe they had fledged, I was hopeful for the House Martins.  To have them nesting has always been a joy, if tinged with annoyance as they mess up the lounge cowl.  It goes back to my time at school in Oxford when they nested around the school buildings, and my attempts to attract them to our house with an improvised nest box.  Today I was thinking that they must have hatched eggs by now, so it was devastating when I came home this evening to find the remains of the nest on the drive.

Five nestlings died in the fall, they were not very old, a couple of days at the most for two.  I suspect the increased in and outs to feed them was just too much for the nest and it gave way.  The soffits are UPVC, and when we had these fitted I didn't think they would return, and it would seem the adherence quality is not as good as the painted wood.  The parent birds were still going to the site of the nest, and they will probably re-build and hopefully try for another brood before the end of the summer.

It has been warm and muggy today, but annoyingly overcast, however by early evening blue sky was nudging in from the south east and I decided rather than go for a run I would take an evening walk around Plain Farm.  I parked up at the bottom of the lane to the estate, and as I got out of the car I noticed movement by the field gate.

A Red-legged Partridge, and quite close for once, the blurred edges you see are actually the bars of the gate.  As I walked up the lane I scanned both sides, all that was flying around were Wood Pigeons, and I could hear both Yellowhammer and Chiffchaff singing.  As it was still I was hoping that there may be a good number of Swallows and House Martins feeding near the trees, and that this might attract the attention of a Hobby.

As I approached the cattle grid, I could see the unmistakable profile of a Red Kite flying towards me.  It never came close but just gently drifted off to the east over the tree tops.  I haven't seen one for a while so it was good to catch up with one today.

I continued up the path,and up ahead in front of me was a Swallow and a falcon, but not the one I was looking for.  However it was interesting to watch as the Kestrel tried to hover and hunt, the Swallow kept mobbing it until it moved away from and across the field.  I have not seen a swallow mob a kestrel before.

I walked up to the small pond, the Damselflies were mostly all gone, but there were a few still flying around, and even some pairs still mating.  These are Azure Damselflies, and were flying around before resting on this reed.

I left the pond as there were no butterflies about, and headed off to the quarry.  As I walked along the track I disturbed several grasshoppers, but couldn't locate them, but I also found some moths.  The smaller species just didn't stop, but this Silver Y Moth did.  This is the first I have seen of this day flying migrant moth this year.

The sun was out now, and for early evening it was quite warm, what a difference a little bit of sunshine does to you!

As I walked down to the quarry off the main track I saw a butterfly that wasn't white!  It was my first Speckled Wood of the year, it also look as if it has just emerged as it was in perfect condition.

I walked into the quarry to check on Woodpecker hole number three.  It was ten days since I had found the nest, which had some quite noisy nestlings, and I wondered if they were still there.  It was quiet as I walked to the watch point, and it was clear as I scanned the hole that the birds must have fledged.  It was also very quiet in the quarry which was unusual so I left and headed up the road towards the farm.

Whitethroat sang from the hedge, and Wood Pigeon again exploded from the Poplars.  On the subject of poplars (which we weren't, but it provides a link!), the wood from these and Yew were used to make Longbows in Tudor times.  I learnt this at the wonderful new Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth.  If you get the chance to go it is a fascinating way to spend an afternoon, wonderful time.

Back to Plain Farm, I scanned across the fields, and found a single Lapwing at the back, alongside the hedge, and it was flushed off by a Hare that was wandering slowly along the edge of the field.  The grass is getting long and providing cover for the birds and animals, however this one seemed quite relaxed as it lay in the grass enjoying warm sunshine.

From the length of the ears, and the black marks you can see it is a Hare.  The black marks are there to allow young to see then as they move about in long grass.  These black markings visible for behind only are also found in the big cats such as Lion and Tiger that typically inhabit long grass, for the same reasons.

Linnet and House Sparrows were around the houses, and could be seen drinking from the large puddles.  A Swift flew over my head and out of sight, the number of sightings this now matching last year's two!  Whitethroats played hide and seek in the hedge, they are now turning out to be quite common around the hedges along the lanes on the patch.  On the telegraph wires were Yellowhammer and more Linnets.

At the small copse at the end of the lane I could hear a family party of Blue Tits calling from the Oak trees.  There was a lot of movement, mostly by the adults as they rushed around to feed what look like well developed juveniles, that maybe should be feeding themselves

As I came off the lane and walked along the path, another Whitethroat burst into song, and just to show how shy they seem to be, I managed to find the bird singing from the middle of the bush.

As I walked along the path Song Thrush sang from the scrubby area next to the path, there were in fact two birds singing.  At the bottom end of the path a Chiffchaff sang as I looked out over the field, and two Holly Blue butterflies were flitting about around the holly bushes, evading all my efforts to photograph them.

I walked across the field to Charlwood, and then walked towards Lye Way.  As I walked towards one of the horse paddocks appeared as a pink carpet, which as I got closer turned out to be a carpet of Daisies.

A little further on a movement on the side of the road attracted my attention, and this little fella popped it's head up from out of the grass and buttercups.

Goldfinches and swallows sang their tinkling songs around me as I  passed the houses and stables, but as I turned on to Ly Way, it went quiet.  The canopy of Winchester Wood is now complete, and what is a dark place at the best of times is very dark now, with Beech trees in full leaf, and the only flowers to be seen were small pockets of Woodruff by the side of the road.

As I came down the hill towards the car, the view across the rapeseed field was impressive.  The Rapeseed has had an indifferent year, with many of the fields having large areas that have not developed, leaving bald patches on the landscape, some are still to flower, and this produces a scene that is a little bit more pleasing than the broad swathes of yellow we are used to.

On the way home I stopped at the bridleway to check woodpecker hole one, but like three it was quiet with no sign or sound of any woodpeckers about, hopefully another successful fledging.  As I came back to the car, I noticed a buzzard soaring above Newton Wood, and then over the field this one was perched on the wires, they never really look comfortable, as if their feet are too big to grip properly, and have to balance with the tail.

It was a short outing but worthwhile.  The birds of prey being just as interesting as those found in Scotland, details of our trip there at the end of May here