Tuesday, 28 January 2014

28th January - You Think We Look Pretty Good Together

The air is slightly cooler today, and along with the sunshine it felt a little bit more like a proper winter.  The buggy nibbles in the feeders, and on the table are still proving a great attraction, and they are being eaten quickly.  The Robin though is still determined to defend them, and sat close to the covered feeder and and would launch itself at anything that came close.

This though did not deter the Long-tailed Tits, its always lovely when they come into the garden, and I have to stop and watch as they move around the trees and branches.  This morning three ran the gauntlet of the Robin, making a careful and watchful approach to the feeder.

Then once they felt it safe on to the feeder to take the nibble.

There tactic is to swarm onto the feeder, pull out a nibble and then into the middle of the trees to hang from a branch with one foot while holding the nibble in its other foot to allow it to eat.  Once finished they come to the top of the tree.

The forecast was for more heavy showers, but it had been dry during the morning.  The radar was clear for at least 2 hours, so I decided to head on down to Plain Farm for a lunch time walk, hopefully in sunshine.

As I got out of the car I saw a small bird fly across the long grass and into a small tree by the side of the path.  It was a Stonechat, and probably the same bird as I had seen just after Christmas.  I thought it had moved on, which had been a bit of a surprise as the area and habitat was perfect for it.

It perched up nicely for me in the standard Stonechat pose, watching me as I tried to get closer.

I hope it does stick around for the rest of the winter, I would like to get the cahne to photograph it once I get my large lens back.  Its been three weeks now, and I must admit to missing it, the substitute is doing a good job, but its not a L series.

With the Stonechat in the bag I wondered what else I could find today, its always nice to get something special at the start of a walk.  

As I walked up the path, Long-tailed Tits called from the yew trees, and I headed on up to the pond.  The recent rain had filled it up, and in the middle was a pair of Mallard.

With such a scarcity of water it is always nice to find water birds on the patch.  Once again things were going well.  

The Mallard flew off in an explosion of wings from the pond, and as they left I noticed silvery flowers on the trees surrounding the pond.  Pussy Willow is coming out, another sign of the mild weather we have been having.  The flowers are from the Grey Willow tree.  They like wet habitats, and are common across the country.  Here you can see both the silky grey buds, and the yellow catkins that flower from them.

I checked for the owl, but there was no sign, and I walked down the path towards the quarry.  There wasn't the bird song of previous days, but there were Goldcrests calling from trees along side the path.

I walked down the hill, then up the road and past the grain stores.  Robins were the only birds singing and they could be heard almost everywhere.  I walked up the hill, and then past the cottages.  I could hear House Sparrows calling from within the bushes, and looking out over the field I could see a flock of about thirty Skylark, and a flock that seemed to be in excess of a 100 Linnet.

As I walked up the hill I saw some movement on the edge of the road, and as I watched a pair of Grey Partridges walked onto the road, and continued walking ahead of me.

I had scanned the poles for the resident Kestrel, but there was no sign of anything, then I found it on the other side of the path, sitting on the wires looking down into the field.

I adopted the normal tactic, photograph, walk a little closer, take another picture, walk on, but as usual it saw me and flew off.

As I walked past the copse I could see that there was another victim of the recent storms as a large ivy covered tree was lying prostrate amongst the rusty metal.  

The path towards Charlwood was very wet, but a bonus of these conditions is the ability to see the animal tracks, and this path was definitely a favourite of many Roe Deer as their tracks were everywhere.

At the end of the path, I went to see if the seed was attracting any interesting birds.  However what I found was the tree I had seen the brambling in last November had fallen victim to the storm as well.  It really has been an unprecedented winter for trees down.

Looking out over the fields past my "coffee" tree I could see the clouds beginning to build up.  The showers were coming.

I walked on, and crossed the field to Charlwood, once again no raptors.  It was also very quiet along Charlwood, no Lapwings, no Yellowhammers, but at the houses there was plenty of calling Goldfinches from the Sycamore trees, they seemed  to be feeding on the seeds that bundle up at the end of the branches.

At the edge of the road, just under the hedges were small clumps of Snowdrops, always a welcome sight.

A Buzzard flew over at the junction to Lye Way, at first it had the pulse staring up, as it showed signs of possibly a Rough-legged, but as I watched it pass by I had to console myself it was a Common Buzzard.

As I reached the covered part of Lye Way by the wood there was a lot of tit calls.  I stopped to watch, and was able to get some really good views of a pair of Marsh Tits.  I always like to look at these closely because they may well be Willow Tits, but these were Marsh.

Leaving the Marsh Tits I could also hear above me a Nuthatch.  Taking photos against the sky is always a challenge, you have t bracket the amount of light into thelens.  This wasn't bad, but its not the L.

Like the treecreeper the Nuthatches seem to be benefiting from the broken branches which have exposed wood into the bark, this one was finding the break very attractive.

Suddenly it became quite dark, and the rain began to fall quite heavily.  The car wasn't too far away so I covered the camera and headed down the hill.  I wondered if the Stonechat would appear again, and as I approached the car I was looking around the grass, and as a result didn't see at firsyt what was coming over the tree tops.  I began aware when I heard a crow calling and looked up to see my first Red Kite of the year.

It really wasn't bothered by the crow, and continued to drift towards me searching the long grass below, the forked tail working overtime to allow it to hang in the air and turn on a tight circle.

The feathers look in good condition, last year there were primaries damaged.  It didn't come any closer, but drifted off towards the trees on Mountains Plantation.

I got in the car, and headed home feeling satisfied with the walk.  When I got home the garden was full of Long-tailed Tits again, on the nibbles as usual.  I crept close to the feeder, and waited for an opportunity.  It didn't take long as this little fell stuck its head around the feeder to look at me.

Cheeky Chap!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

22nd January - Green Shoots of Recovery?

After two dry days the rain finally returned overnight, but by dawn it was gone and all that was left was a mist.  The garden was busy with the usual suspects, the numbers of Goldfinches beginning to rise once again.  Earlier in the year I found out that the Tits and Robins liked the Buggy Nibbles the RSPB provide, and once they ran out I bought a tub of the Gardman equivalent, it appears I have very fussy birds because they completely ignored the Gardman nibbles, and now having bought more RSPB buggy nibbles they are consuming them as if their lives depend on it.

There has been no sign of any Blackcap this year so far in the garden, and the Garden Birdwatch this weekend looks like it will be quite light compared to previous years.  The weather would have to change significantly and I don't see that happening soon.

By midday the sun had burnt of the cloud and there was patches of blue sky about.  I decided to go and see whether there had been any developments in Old Down Wood, and to check if any other areas had suffered from trees blown down.  To help with the descriptions of the footpaths I have copied from the Hampshire Rights of Way web site the identity of the footpaths, and I will refer to these.

I drove to the pond, parked there then walked to the Old Down Cottage entrance on footpath 15.  The path in was flooded.  This was not due to any work, but it usually floods here, but not quite as deep and full as this.

Birds were singing almost everywhere.  I could hear at least four Robins, a distant Song Thrush and many Great Tits.  The calls of Blue Tits would also puncuate the song from the top of the remaining larches.  

Looking down the path the Silver Birch that I saw down on my last walk into here 10 days ago was still lying across the footpath.

I made my way around it, only to come across an even bigger oak tree that had come down, again blocking the path, and forcing me to find away around it, and even through it.  This is a view looking back towards the entrance and from where I had just come from.  So sad to see this beautiful mature tree lying on the ground like this.

I must admit there was plenty of light, and the birds did seem to be enjoying it.  There was a large flock of Long-tailed Tits in a fallen birch alongside the path, it didn't seem to bother them if the tree was up or down, they still poured over the branches in search of a meal.

The path was very wet and muddy.  Wellingtons are a must if you want to walk through here.  Heading north I looked to the east at a trail that leads off the footpath towards footpath 19.  It has been used as a track by the machinery, and the furrows are deep and full of water.  It is no longer passable but the pools created if they remain could very well be an attraction to the frogs and newts that have laid the eggs in much smaller pools here before.

Just before the cross roads there were more trees blocking the path, but not so drastically.  These were smaller and younger birch trees.

Up to now the footpath 16 heading west has been un touched, and the one area you could walk relatively easy.  However now like the others it is blocked by at least two fallen trees.

The cross roads area is a mess, and just to emphasise that these are official footpaths that are blocked I took this view with the footpath indicators in it for paths 17 and 16 looking south.  You can see how much damage there is.

Looking north is not much better but it is possible to wade through the mud and puddles, but only in wellingtons, the water is quite deep.

I headed north towards Brislands on what is footpath 15 again.  It was clear, probably because this is where the trucks come to take the logs away.  A Song Thrush sang from its usual tree.  Footpath 18 branches off towards the west here, and again you can see it is completely blocked.  This though is not due to storm damage but by the mess left by the contractors.

I turned around and walked back towards the cross roads, then headed to the east along footpath 16.  Footpath 19 branches off this after about 100 metres, and heads south, but getting on means you have to cross large furrows.  The water is deep here and you can't wade through it, so I had to find away through the fallen branches to get onto the path.

I walked on, stopping to look west along the trail towards footpath 15, the position I had looked down earlier.  You can see the mess.  Sweet Chestnuts have been removed here along with Larches, the two species vulnerable to the fungus disease.

As I approached the gate and stile, the two trees I had seen on my last visit were still blocking the path.  Lying prostrate across the path, there were signs of shoots coming from the fallen bases of the trees.

One of the benefits to come from the felling is the opening up of the canopy and the letting in of light that would benefit the flowers.  The mild conditions were probably more the reason for finding the small green shoots of the Bluebells, and I must admit it was nice to see them, maybe they will come through early this year and brighten up a very dismal place.

As well as the Bluebells the leaves of the Wood Sorrel could be found in amongst the leaf litter close to the open areas.

I had decided to walk out towards Kitwood, but before I did I stopped to listen to the bird song, and calls that were all around me.  I didn't take a long lens with me, but this Treecreeper came close enough.  It looks like they are benefiting from the broken trees, as it spent quite a bit of time exploring the broken part of the trunk.

As I walked across the field I could hear two Skylark above me singing, and along the footpath I disturbed several groups of skylarks feeding amongst the stubble.  There was a total of 17 birds that flew away across the field, plus the two above me.

Looking back I decided on a panoramic view of the wood.

As I made my way back to the car I could hear a Blackbird rattling out its scolding alarm call.  This is usually a sign of an owl about, especially at this time of day, and sure enough as I got to the pond the blackbird flushed a Tawny Owl from the ivy on one of the old Oak trees.

A nice walk in very pleasant sunshine.  The mild weather continues and the wildlife behave as if spring is nearly here.  We shall have to see.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

21st January - Elementary My Dear ...

Followers of this blog, and the locals that regularly walk through Old Down Wood will be more than aware of the work there that has been undertaken this winter.  This has subsequently been compounded by the winter storms that have seen trees that escaped the foresters saws blown down as a result of the opening up of the area.

I have reported the blocked footpaths to the Hampshire council right of way department, and they directed me to the East Hants DC, who in turn pointed me to the Forestry Commission, where finally I began to get somewhere.  I spoke with a Forestry Officer who advised me there had been many complaints and that they have been monitoring the situation

As was indicated by the signs that were posted back in October the work being carried out has been to improve the state of the wood, to remove non native tree species, and to work to control possible disease.  The felling licence granted was conditional, meaning that there are conditions regarding how the land is left once the felling is complete, and there is a commitment to replant trees to compliment the wood.

One main concern is disease to the Larch trees, caused by the fungus Phytophthora ramorum which has caused the destruction of many trees in Devon and Cornwall, and more recently in the Forest of Dean.  One of the ways in which the disease spreads is through species being in close proximity in "unnatural" plantations.  By thinning out the trees in Old Down, and planting different species diversity is increased which helps to ward off the possible movement of the disease.  I was also assured that the Forestry Commission recognise the wood is of historic natural value, and that they have an ongoing commitment to ensure a scheme of re-planting and maintenance, and the forestry officer stressed that while it looks bad at the moment in three years the benefits will be there for all to enjoy.

I pointed out that unfortunately the clearing of trees had opened up the area, and allowed the winds in, and with the storms over Christmas many more trees had been felled.  Timing is the issue here, this work can only be carried out during this time of year, and once the areas are thinned out the trees would normally increase their roots, but they didn't get the chance this time, and have suffered as a result.

That is the why the work was conducted, and why so many trees have fallen recently, but the "how" has obviously been an issue too, and there is some explanation for that.  The commercial returns on logging is very small, and unfortunately cannot sustain the use of individuals with chain saws cutting down the trees, the economies of scale call for heavy machinery, and this has definitely been the problem.  There is no commitment though for the land owner or agent to clear up the mess, but they do have a commitment to ensure the footpaths are clear and safe. This took me back to Hampshire County Council, who also told me that there had been a lot of complaints, but as the land is privately owned they have no jurisdiction to make the land owner ensure the paths are clear.  It is for the individual to contact the land owner, but they would not tell me who that was.

Once again I was sent to a government web site, the Land Registry, where for a small fee I was able to find out the name of the owner and get some history on the ownership over the last 50 years.  Originally owned by Winchester College, it was sold on in the 1960's but retaining the right to allow a right of way on the designated footpaths.  In the early part of the new century it was sold again,to the current owner.

I have the contact information, and I will be writing to the owner to ask for their assurance that t the footpaths will be returned to the condition they were in before the work began.  If you are local, and use and enjoy the wood like I do and would want to do the same then may I ask that you contact me through the comments box below, I will then pass the name and address on to you.

Detective work complete, I will be back to the wild life as soon as possible

20th January - A Soundtrack to The Words

Over the course of the last two years I have been writing the blog I have used lyrics from songs as subject titles for my posts, hopefully being able to describe the key events of the day through the lyric.  Spending nights in hotel rooms on my own, I have now compiled a list of the songs I have used, and from that I have put together a playlist of what I consider to be the best.  If you get the chance to compile it, I hope you enjoy it, there will be plenty more in the coming year

The Moon
Cat Power
Snow (Hey Ho)
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Night Owl
Gerry Rafferty
Fleetwood Mac
Jenny Wren
Paul McCartney
Nothing (But Flowers)
Talking Heads
Love Song of the Buzzard
Iron & Wine
The Stranglers
Who’d have Known
Lily Allen
Natalie Imbruglia
My Perfect Cousin
The Undertones
The Beatles
Weather With You
Crowded House
Typically Tropical
Crazy Town
Fleetwood Mac
Harvest Moon
Neil Young
Forever Autumn
Justin Heyward
Sun is Shining
Bob Marley
The Flycatcher
Roy Harper
The Elusive Butterfly
Bob Lind
Bird of Prey
The Doors
Garden Party
Rick Nelson
Dancing In the Dark
Bruce Springsteen
Golden Brown
The Stranglers
Riders On The Storm
The Doors
Van Halen
Kiss From a Rose
A Ghost That We Knew
Mumford & Sons
It’s Raining Again
Funny Little Frog
Belle & Sebastian
Mr Blue Sky
Electric Light Orchestra
The Prodigy
Cum on Feel The Noize
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
Bob Dylan
David Bowie
Little Acorns
The White Stripes
Good Company
California Dreaming
The Mamas and The Papas
Train In The Distance
Paul Simon
Free Fallin
Tom Petty
Like a Hurricane
Neil Young
Here Comes The Sun
The Beatles
Perfect Weather To Fly

Monday, 20 January 2014

19th January - Perfect Weather To Fly...and Sing!

After the surprise of a dry day yesterday allowing the chance to catch up on a new bird of which the details are here there was rain overnight, but by morning the sun was out, and the skies were blue.

We set out around mid morning, with bird song filling the air.  The most dominant was the Robin, the song now definitely about breeding territory, the song has a completely different tone to the one we were hearing during November and December, it is more deliberate and sweeter.  There had even been one singing close to the bedroom window early this morning before the sun came up.

As we walked up Brislands Lane I could also hear the song of a Song Thrush, the repeated notes distinctive of this lovely bird.  They usually like to sing in a prominent position, but I couldn't find this one.  The Song Thrush is one of the earliest birds to start singing, but this year it has been beaten by the Robins and Great Tits.

A little further on and I could hear tits above me, there were Long-tailed and a few Goldcrests, but this Coal Tit posed quite nicely for me.

Great Tits were singing, the "teacher" calls ringing out.  I noticed a prominent hole in the oak tree near the playing field, and I was not the only one, a Blue Tit flew up to it, and looked around.

Then decided to go in to check out the possible accommodation.

Spring was definitely in the air, pairs of birds were everywhere, but this is only 19 days into the new year.  This time last year Helen and I were walking around the patch in snow, everywhere a black and white world, and the start of cold weather that extended into April.  Will the birds get a stark awakening?  We shall have to wait and see, but so far there is no sign of any prolonged cold weather in the forecast.

A little further on and a pair of Great Tits were chasing around a Spruce tree in the sunshine, maybe they should just get a room!

The sky was a deep blue, and the bark of the trees looking up was standing out in the bright sunshine.  Looking down the lane the sun was also picking out the hazel trees with their bunches of long, greenish yellow catkins.  Like the first lambs, catkins are one of the early signs of spring, something you find in the middle of February, and feel spring is just around the corner.  But here they are in the middle of January hanging like thin caterpillars in groups of three or four from the switches of the hazel.

They are in fact flowers, but flowers that do not rely on insect pollination but the wind to carry the pollen.  This is why the catkins appear before the leaves which may block the passage of pollen.  The long showy objects are all male, while the female flowers are hidden.  In the flower is a small reddish tuft: the female flower, and once fertilised will grow into a group of small nuts, which in nine months time will fall to the ground, be crushed by passing cars and provide food for the Mice, Voles, Robins and Chaffinches, the cycle of life!

The lane around the entrance to Old Down is flooded yet again, and I made my way to the entrance to see if there had been any change, but it still looks the same as it did at the start of the year, muddy tracks, piles of logs.  We didn't have the right footwear on to go in, but I will over the next few days to see if any work has been done to clear the paths, I doubt it but you never know.  One sign of encouragement was the footpath on the other side of the lane.  A path has been cleared and it seems like access to the path is being made available, again something to watch.

We walked on down the hill through the corridor of trees, water ran down either side of the the tarmac, and mini waterfalls could be seen at several places where the water had run off the field and down the bank creating splash pools.  Our way ahead was lit up by the winter sun, and its reflection on the wet road surface.

As we walked out of the tree cover I expected to hear a Skylark singing, it was that sort of day, and true to form away in the distance I could just hear one.  I also noticed a Buzzard above us, and it was being mobbed, but not by a Crow this time, but by the Skylark.  The amazing part of this though was as it dive bombed the bird of prey it continued to sing.

A little further on it became clear it was a good day to fly as two more Buzzards appeared and soared around each other I watched to see if they were going to display, but they just drifted away.  The mew calls of at least two more birds were also heard.

We turned up towards Court Lane deciding today that we would stay on the roads and Lanes as it would be just too wet on the footpaths, and walking in those conditions is not enjoyable.  Looking up the hill we got a lovely panoramic view of Old Down Wood.

Surprisingly the Bullfinches were not in their usual place, and it was relatively quiet as we walked past  the farm yards, that is apart from the watch dogs.  There were a few Rooks in the field amongst the sheep, but no gulls, which I found a surprise too.

We walked up Swelling Hill, picking out trees that look vulnerable if we get any more strong winds, and then as we came by Old Down House we were greeted with a bank of beautiful Snow Drops.

last year there were shoots appearing on the 6th January, but the snow we had at this time last year slowed there progress, and finally we found snow drops at this location on the 27th.  This clump looks like it has been in flower for a few days so I would say they are about 14 days earlier this than last, which was 14 days earlier than 2012.

We carried on to the pond which was very full, and there were signs where the rain water has filled it from the road.  It was quiet, a lone Robin singing so we decided not to walk around it, and carried on towards Kitwood.  

Another sign of spring is the plumage of the male Chaffinch, during winter they can look quite drab, but as spring and breeding approaches the plumage starts to brighten up.  This male was showing signs of its breeding plumage, and very soon it will be singing about doritos!

The shape of a bird on a wire at Kitwood caught my eye, the sun was right behind it and colour was almost impossible, but by over exposing the shot I was able to confirm a Kestrel watching the ground for signs of a meal.

The walk around Kitwood did not reveal any thrushes, they seem to have disappeared from the hedgerow on the corner, maybe they have consumed all the berries.  We carried on in what was now quite warm sunshine, and ahead we could see more Buzzards circling over Newtown Plantation, enjoying the thermals being sent up.  There is definitely something about a blue sky with white fluffy clouds, it makes everywhere seem so bright and wonderful.

We headed down the lane towards Hawthorn Lane, another good snow drop spot, and while they were not as advanced as those along Swelling Hill, they were much further on than this time last year, they had though been damaged by cycle tracks, I will never understand why people feel the need to do that.

We turned up Willis lane, and there were more signs of developing snow drops on the banks of the hedge, there were even green shoots of Lords and Ladies appearing.  We took the footpath towards Alton Lane, and up past the garden centre.  I was keen to see if the Rooks had started to work on the nests.  One or two of the trees in the rookery here had been blown down so it would be interesting to see how the rookery fares this year

At first it seemed quiet, there were no Rooks in the field, and no calling around the tops of the trees, normally a behaviour associated with a sunny winter's day.  As we got closer we saw a pair attending to a nest, and interacting with each other, but is was only these two, there were no other birds about.

We walked down through the field towards Blackberry Lane, there was a group of about twenty Rooks alternating between the field and the trees lining it, and a Green Woodpecker flew from the trees by the footpath across to the other side.  As we headed up the path I hoped for a butterfly on the sun lit Ivy, but that seemed just a step too far yet for signs of spring.

We made our way back home in the sunshine, a welcome break for the depressing days of rain we have been getting, lets hope it stays this way, sunny and dry, I am sure we have more than enough water.