Monday, 30 September 2013

29th September - Some More Pretty Pictures!

Again a promise of sunshine this weekend, but the reality was much different.  There was though an east wind, which I hoped might turn up something.  There had been reports of thousands of Swallows and House Martins along the south coast, but as we set off, there was no sign of wither, even around the house.

Along Lymington Bottom I found this dead dragonfly.  Looking closely the body looks red, and I think this was a Common Darter.  

We left the body on a leaf on the grass, and headed off up Brislands towards the wood.  A Chiffchaff was in full song as we walked past the development land.  We could see it at the top of the bush, but ant effort to photograph it was made impossible as it darted about, finally ending up iside the bush calling instead of singing.

The east wind was quite strong as we walked along the lane in the open, there was no sign of any swallows, but in the field on the south side I could hear meadow pipits, I am not sure if they were passing through, or had taken up residence in the rough ground.

We turned into the wood, and immediately were confronted with calling birds.  There were Blue and Great Tits, but there were also quite a few warblers calling, and with the area now well cleared of the bushes and bracken, it was possible to get close, and be able to see them.  Once again though they were zipping about in the branches catching insects.  I saw at least one lemon yellow Willow Warbler, but the majority were Chiffchaffs like these.

As we walked further down the footpath, a Robin sang from the oaks, it does seem strange with the path now completely clear, but at the same time, tidy, and providing the opportunity to see something.

We turned off the main path, and headed around the north perimeter, the sun was now trying to come through the clouds, and again we came across a large flock of tits.  I could hear blue, great and a marsh, but the dominant calls were from the Long-tailed Tits, there was a large flock calling constantly above us as they moved through the canopy.

The floor of the wood is still very barren, and we were looking for fungi in the leaf litter and on the dead wood.  We passed several old branches with bracket fungus and King Alfred Cakes on them, but Helen found this Beefsteak bracket emerging above a little hole in the ground at the base of an Oak tree.  It looks like a porch roof.

The Beefsteak Fungus is so called because at times it has secretions of red fluid on the cap that looks like little pricks of blood, you can see them here on the edge.

They are a faitly common fungus, typically found on oak trees.

A little further on we found a clump of dead wood, and these little bonnets growing all over them. These are Burgundydrop Bonnets, so called because of the colour of the stipe and cap.  The sun picked them out quite nicely.

We were searching now the leaf litter, and the old stumps, and as you looked closely you began to find more.  These are Angel's Bonnets, not sure why they have inherited that name, it must be to do with their colour, they are are quite small about a centimetre across on the cap.

The main challenge to photographing these lovely organisms is they are almost always in the dark, and as a result I have to increase the ISO to a very grainy high speed.  I suppose I could use flash, but sometimes that produces an over bright image, that doesn't appear natural.  The grainy appearance of these pictures I think preserves the dull conditions the fungi live in.

I wandered off, and was called back as Helen had found some more.  These are tiny Saffrondrop Bonnets.  The stipes look red, but they apparently lighten with age to an orange colour, once again they were very tiny, about the size of a fingernail

We were now exploring an area close to the edge of the wood and the sun was getting through the trees.  On a pile of old birch and beech trees we found these clumps of white fungi in various stages of growth.  The sun was catching the cap and gills, creating a delicate image.

They are Porcelain Fungi, so called because of their appearance looking like fine smooth shiny porcelain.  Getting in closer with the dappled sunlight the porcelain look is very evident

Another find was these Snapping Bonnets, they have long thin winding stipes, finished with a very delicate cap.

Instead of sticking to the path we wandered through the area close to the edge of the wood.  This is an area of hazel and beech trees, and the ground is covered in dead leaves.  I found these very white and round mushrooms at the base of several beech trees, and there were also some just emerging, they being more conical and oval in shape.  On this one the cap has broken away from the stipe to leave a collar.  It was extremely white and smooth on the cap

Fungi this plain are very hard to identify, but reading at home the only conclusion I can reach is that this is a Death Cap, but possibly the variant Alba, which is pure white.  They come in shades of light green and yellow, and white.  It is the most dangerous mushroom in the UK, and is quite commonly found in Beech Woods ion the south.  It is the white form that can confuse people, and they think it an edible mushroom, you can see why, if this is in fact a Death Cap.

I walked out at the West End and scanned the fields.  I did pick up a few Swallows moving, but not that many, we decided to head back into the woods.  The clearing of the main paths had also reached this side of the wood, and what had been quite a dark area was now very open and light.

As we walked along the path we found more bracket fungi on the old tree branches, but there was nothing new.  We also noticed the red marks on the trees, indicating these were the ones to go.  There is a large plantation of Spruce in the middle of the wood, and I was pleased to see that these and some of the trees around them had the red mark.  This will open up a large area in the centre of the wood, and who knows what that will attract next spring

We carried on to the crossroads, noticingthat some of the quite mature Beech Trees were also "marked".  When they are gone it should let in a considerable amount of light, allowing the smaller trees to develop, and also the flowers on the floor of the wood.  As you may recall once the bluebells die back in the spring the floor resembles a war zone with nothing growing.

We turned down towards Old Down Cottage, and again the ride had been cleared.  We found a group of four Speckled Woods around the edge using the sunny patch to duel  and also soak up the warm rays.

The butterflies look a little tatty now, it must have been a hard late summer.  We came out of the wood, and walked past the pond.  The only item of interest there was an Emperor Dragonfly, hawking for insects by the reeds.

At Kitwood we crossed the small paddock, and headed across the field back into Old Down.  At the style we turned right and walked towards Gradwell.  As we reached the exit, the open area was bathed in sunlight.  Looking back you could see the spiders webs drifting in the wind, the silk being lit up by the sunshine

A few Chiffchaffs called as we walked towards Gradwell, but I couldn't find them.  At the end of Gradwell there was a clump of Ivy in full sun.  I stopped to watch a few bees on the flowers, then noticed these two Commas enjoying the sticky nectar too.

As we walked down Brislands towards home, we noticed the huge amount of chestnuts on the Sweet Chestnut trees.  There is bumper harvest this year, and they look quite spectacular. 

 I have noticed that the oak trees too, are also full of acorns, and many of the branches look like they are struggling with the weight.  In fact along Gradwell lane a branch had come down, and the lane is covered in acorns, which were thought to have contributed to the break.  Here are some of the acorns in one of the oaks, but believe me there are loads.

Where the sun was catching the bushes, there were insects, its that time of year as they make the most of the warmth.  It was nice to find a Red Admiral on a bush along Lymington Rise, they are always a lovely find.

I had course today to consider why I write this blog, and what benefit it brings.  Initially we set out to see how many birds I could record in a calendar year around the village, and very quickly that transformed itself into recording all aspects of the natural history around the village, as you can see by today's collection of impressive fungi.  Once the year was completed we decided to keep going, and it has turned into a study of the natural world.  When do the first Swallows arrive, the first bluebells open, are they late this year, what impact does the way the fields are farmed have on the wild life, I am beginning to to put together a record very much in the same way Gilbert White did all those years ago down the road in Selbourne.  

I am fortunate I have the ability to record these events in pictures, and these allow me to confirm what I see, but also for people to share in the finds and beauty.  I know conservation is important, but we all have a role to play, if you don't know its there, then how do you know you have to conserve it?

Finally I wanted to show what is likely to be the last "green" view down Brislands, it won't be long before the sides of the lane turn orange and brown from the leaves, and the trees their dark sleeping state.

Posting this on the 30th, I can record my first Redwings of the autumn, as I left the house this morning I could hear the calls overhead in the cloud.  Earlier than my first last year by eight days, winter is definitely close.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

24th September - Time May Change Me

The last two days have seen the low cloud develop into morning mist and fog, but at the same time demonstrate the different weather we get here in Four Marks.  Once the sun broke through on Monday the clear skies remained over night and into Tuesday, with blues skies and sunshine all around, but just a couple of miles down the hill to either Alton or Winchester you were into mist and fog.  Even though we are just over 200 metres above sea level here, the aspect creates a completely different weather at times.

The House Martins were still buzzing around the houses through out the day, but unlike over the weekend there was not a noticeable movement of Swallows or House Martins overhead as I set off late afternoon to walk around the fields.  I had decided because of the wethaer to concentrate on the open areas, and the hedgerows that were still in the sun.  As a result I continued on down Lymington Bottom, and took the footpath across the fields to Gradwell Lane. 

The first part takes you down a corridor created by the bushes on either side, and the setting sun turned it into quite an impressive scene, with the misty light away in the distance.

There was no activity around the horse paddocks, and the only indication there were birds about was a singing Robin hidden in the conifers.  The footpath comes out into a field, and the hedgerow was in full sunshine.  I could see insects all around the trees, while white butterflies drifted by.  I decided to just stand and wait to see if there was movement.  There were a few Sparrows about, but they flew off.  A flash of yellow around the blackberries was encouraging  but it turned out to be a small flock of Greenfinches.  

Deciding that there was nothing more of interest about I carried on, crossed the road, and walked around the field to the next hedgerow in sunshine.  This was a bit more promising, I could hear a calling Chiffchaff, but never saw it.  I could also hear what sounded like Blackcap sub song, but despite my best efforts to get it to show, I failed miserably.  There was the odd Swallow above me, and scanning across the field, I saw a flock of about 30 Linnets, and a steady movement of calling Meadow Pipits.

There has been good numbers of Swallows and House Martins all around the south moving through.  This time last year there were huge flocks over these fields, but this year the difference is that the fields have not been spread with muck, and those that have been are now ploughed and drilled with seed.  The result is the swallows are carrying on through, and maybe the movement I saw last Friday was going to be the high point this year.  Looking out along the hedge, it was pretty devoid of birds.

Rather than walk through Old Down, I decided to head up Gradwell, and then along Brislands to enter the wood there.  As I came down on to Gradwell, a Robin was singing from a wire under the conifers.

I wanted to stay in the open, as that would be my best chance of finding something.  As I came past the houses and into the open, I could see movement in the bracken and hedges.  As i got closer I could hear Long-tailed Tits, and with them were what looked like Chiffchaffs.  They were very mobile, and again despite best efforts I could only manage to parting glimpse of a Long-tailed Tit, the Chiffchaffs were impossible!

The sun had brought out lots of butterflies, as well as the whites at lunchtime a Brimstone had flown through the garden at home, and here along the lane there were several Speckled Woods.

I walked out into the field on the non-existent footpath again, scanning over the newly drill soil. There were plenty of Wood Pigeons as usual, and I full expect a gas gun here soon, but nothing else, so I turned back and then into the wood.  By the entrance there were signs asking that the gate be kept clear at all times, something I had not seen before, and they were definitely no there on Friday.  At first I suspected the farmer, but once I climbed over the style, I saw another sign that explained what was going on.

The signs have been there that this was coming, tree trunks have red lines on them.  It can only be a good thing, and previously when this type of clearance was done before, there was an incredible show from the bluebells and foxgloves.  However I don't think that work included the wholesale removal of trees, so this could be quite interesting, and hopefully beneficial for the butterflies as well, the opening of the paths will give them the sort of habitat that they thrive in.  My only concern is the reference to removal of non-native conifers, does this mean the larches?  If it does then the chance of Crossbill in the future will diminish.  We shall have to just wait and see, we have to trust in the Forestry Commission, and look to change as beneficial to the habitat.

As a result of this all the main paths have been cut, and opened up, all the nettles and bracken now gone.

I walked down the main path to the crossroads, that now has a round-a-bout as a result of the cutting back!  I headed towards the Old Down Cottage, and by the large beech tree stopped to listen and watch a good sized tit flock.  There were Coal tits calling, along with Goldcrests and a few Blue Tits.

The sun was now only getting to the tops of the trees, and I found some warblers fly catching from the tops of the pine trees.  They were Chiffchaffs and they were very busy making the most of the insects that were attracted by the sunshine.

They were not the only ones to take advantage of the warmth, as I watched the Chiffchaffs I picked up this Emperor Dragonfly, probably hunting the same insects.

Rather than come out of the wood, I turned down the south perimeter track, hoping that I could find some more interesting fungi.  This side is definitely the best for them, as there is a mixture of habitat, pine, needles amongst both beech and birch trees.  I wonder for how long?

I came across this very fresh collection of Milk Cap, I believe them to be Mild Milk Cap, a common fungus at his time of year, but easy to overlook.

I found this one near the exit at Gradwell, at first I thought it might be a Death Cap, but I am now not sure.  Any suggestions out there?

In the area by the exit there are a lot of fallen trees which are covered in moss, and at this time of year fungi.  This is, again I think, a Beech Milk Cap, it was on a piece of old Beech tree

Another by product of the tree felling to take place, will hopefully be more fungi as a result of the stumps and old branches that get left behind, a change is coming.

As I came out of the wood I stopped to watch the skies, but there was nothing moving.  Back in the wood i heard a Tawny Owl call, about the same time as last Friday, its up early.  I walked back home, with the sun setting and the air turning cool.

This morning the moth trap had a couple of new moths present.  The first was this Little Emerald.  They emerge a very light green, but very quickly the colour fades and they appear white.

This one is another challenge, it is I think a Common Marbled Carpet, but there are so many variations for these moths in the books I can't be 100% certain, but I do know I have not caught one before.

Finally I have caught this one, but identified it as a Dun-bar, after more research I think it is a Least Yellow Underwing.

If the mist and warm air continues there may be others.

Monday, 23 September 2013

22nd September - Grey Skies, No Rain In My Eyes

On Friday they were predicting a barbecue weekend, and with Friday's weather you could believe it, but by Saturday morning the doubts were creeping in, as grey cloud covered the sky, never mind Sunday will be better, but once again the morning dawned grey, and there was even drizzle.  

After clearing the moth trap (more of which later), we decided to head down to Plain Farm, and to walk the circuit there, I hadn't been here for awhile, and despite the fact that last time it was so quiet, I still feel that it has the potential to turn up a surprise in the autumn.  We walked up the hill towards the estate, and on either side of the path were large white Field Mushrooms.

These are supposed to be edible, but I would not trust myself to try.

We continued over the cattle grid, and then up to the pond, I wondered if the water would be an attraction for birds, but when we got there, it was clear to see it wasn't.  The pond was covered in green pond weed, and there was no sign of any birds!

We turned around, and headed down the footpath towards the quarry.  Looking across the field Helen pointed out a Roe Deer.  It was a female, and she just stood and watched us as we walked towards here.

It wasn't until a group of cyclists came out of the estate buildings that she was spooked, and ran off with a bounding, jumping stride.

The grass on the path, and either side was long and damp from the dew overnight, the perfect conditions for fungi.  We walked into the quarry, in the hope that there would be some birds, there wasn't, but as we turned to walk out we found ourselves almost stepping on small patches of fungi.  These are Snapping Bonnets.

They can be so small and delicate as they emerge.

We headed across the road, and up the lane towards Plain Farm.  A Kestrel, probably a young male sat on the pole as we walked up the hill.  Normally they are very flighty, but this time we seemed to be able to use the slop to ensure we didn't break the sky line, and it allowed us to get quite close.

They are quite a sweet looking falcon, but I am sure the mice and voles don't feel that way!

As we came to the barn and the cottages I noticed a large gathering of birds on the wires.  A closer look showed them to be Goldfinches, both young and old collected together.  In total I counted 47 here, the most I have seen together.

As we watched the Goldfinches, I noticed some movement below them, and was amazed to find this little group.

I am not sure how wild they are, but I did see a pair of Mallard around here in the spring, and there is a pond  by the cottages, so I can only assume these are there offspring.  While they seemed nervous they didn't hide, they just kept watching us.

The hedges alongside the lane, and the field were alive with birds.  The Goldfinches could be heard tinkling over head, suddenly there were Swallows and House Martins flying through, with at least one Sand Martin, and both Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs could be heard and seen in the elderberry bushes.  The warblers were electric quick, and it was difficult to get on them with the camera.

They would chase each other about in between fly catching from the bushes.  Sometimes they would fly up to the wires, but would not stay long enough for me to change the exposure on the camera to compensate for the background light.

As we walked along the lane the activity tailed off, even the swallows stopped moving as well.  we walked past the cottages, and then along the footpath.  We could hear the odd "seep" from the bushes, and the sound of Blackbirds in the bramble bushes eating the blackberries, but nothing showed.  Along side the path though there was this interesting fungus.  The cap was almost furry, with a lacy edge.  I think it is a Fibre Cap of some sort, maybe Fruity Fibre cap, but I am not sure.

We checked the fields at the end of the path, but it was quiet, we could hear gun shots, but were not sure if it was the gas guns, or the real thing, I suppose only the pheasants will know that.

We crossed the field to Charlwood, and walked along the road.  Once again the wires were an attraction to the birds, this time to about eight Yellowhammers.  There were adult and juvenile birds, the latter being most obvious with the shorter tails and more drab plumage.

Whilst it was still overcast it was quite humid, and you sensed that if the sun did come out it was going to be warm, however it never did.  It was also very still, with hardly any wind, and this made it very quiet, with only the melancholy song of the Robin.  The song is the same as that sung in the spring, it's just that at this time of year it is the only song, and it punctuates the silence and sounds quite sad.

We turned on to Lye way and headed down the road back towards the car.  It takes us past Winchester wood which is a mixture of sandy soil with bracken and the dark beech woods.  Consequently there were some interesting fungi, these being the best.  

A Trooping Funnel

and a quite spectacular Magpie Ink Cap.

We could see Swallows and Martins over the tree tops as we returned to the car, and of course the ever present Wood Pigeons, but that was it.  Not a disaster like last time, but something about to keep us interested.

As I mentioned at the start, I had the moth trap out this weekend.  The conditions were ideal especially on Saturday night, and I was able to catch some very good numbers, the most being the Large yellow Under-wing.  Here are some of the more interesting new species caught, and it was nice to share them with Simon and his family

Common Wainscott


Barred Sallow

large Yellow Under-wing

Common Carpet

Turnip Moth

Dusky Thorn

Beaded Chestnut

Marbled Beauty

Least Yellow Underwing

Identifying the moths is not easy, so if anyone out there feels I have got these wrong, please let me know as I am just starting out on this wonderful discovery of these beautiful creatures!