There was rain overnight, but the morning dawned with clear blue skies and a weak winter sun. Everywhere was sparkling as the rising sun caught the drops of water left behind in the trees and bushed from the overnight rain.
As I got ready to head out for my first good walk of the year looking out of the kitchen window I could see a male House Sparrow sitting on the honeysuckle at the bottom of the garden chirping away in the sunshine.
I set off into the low sun, and walked along Lymington Bottom. What struck me was the bird song, I could hear Robins, Great Tits, and Blue Tits, a Dunnock would let out some sub song, and every so often I could hear a Wren. The sun had really bought them all out.
I walked up Brislands, wondering if I would hear a Song Thrush but I couldn't hear or see one. A pair of Robins though were engaged in quite a battle chasing around the bushes and finally one was chased away leaving the victor the click in alarm from a wall, looking down on the wood be challenger.
I was stopped by the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker above me. I scanned through the trees but couldn't find it, but did come across this sunbathing Grey Squirrel. They flatten their bodies against the trunk and just hang there enjoying the warmth.
I finally found the woodpecker and it immediately flew off. I considered the drumming to be feeding, but when I relocated the woodpecker it was not alone which led me to believe that maybe it was a display. I then saw that there were in fact three birds, and one was chased off.
Blackbirds were feeding in the leaf litter, and as well as the Robins there were also plenty of Dunnocks. This one though just sat again in the sun, and allowed me to get quite close.
I debated with myself which way to go, and ended up deciding on heading down Gradwell and walking across the field. Looking down the lane the sun was picking out the rain drops, and everywhere still looked very damp and wet.
As I walked across the field a pair of Bullfinches flew out from the hedge, their white rumps very conspicuous in the bright sun. The path was very wet until it actually crossed the field. As I entered the wood I was greeted by the song of at least four Robins in very close proximity. It is always lovely to watch a Robin singing, the beak being thrown wide open as it delivers the notes. But as they sing they are watching and looking to see what is going on, was I coming too close? Did I disturb any potential food?
This was my first visit this year, so I had not seen what damage the New Year storms had done. It became clear all too soon. The forestry work has opened up the wood, and as a result the strong winds have been able to get in. This coupled with the soft wet ground has resulted in more tree fellings. This was a lovely oak tree, We know it because there was a little hole at the base where a mouse or vole would cache its nuts and seeds, I hope it wasn't there when the tree fell.
This is a footpath, the St Swithun's Way, I don't know who is going to clear the path, the team responsible for the forestry work, have taken no interest up to now in clearing the paths.
I walked on, reaching the main path, and looking north saw more devastation caused now by the wind. By the Beech tree a birch had been blown down, and again was completely blocking the path. To the right you can see a pine tree that has been snapped at the base. Fortunately the Beech is OK. I do not believe this would have happened if the wood had not been cleared before the winds struck.
I made my way out of the wood wondering yet again what it will look like in spring. I walked down the lane towards the pond. The water level was very high, but I decided to attempt to walk around the outside. As I came around the flower bank I disturbed the resident Buzzard. It flew across the pond, and up into a tree at the back.
There was bird song around the pond, Great Tits calling the usual "teacher" call. As I came around the back of the pond the reflection of the trees in the water caught my eye. An upside down world.
I checked the reed edges for any lurking birds but there was nothing, I then headed off towards Kitwood. I thought that the horse paddock would be flooded, but was surprised to find no water, there were no birds either. I turned down Lye Way with Nuthatches calling above me in the trees, and Blackbirds and Robins feeding at the edge of the tarmac.
It was quiet along the lane, but a very pleasant walk in the winter sunshine, it made a nicec change from the wet and windy conditions we have been having. I checked the buildings and trees at the farm for any sign of a sunbathing Little Owl, but there was nothing. The fields were absent of sheep, and consequently any corvids or gulls. Blue Tits were calling from the hedge and several flew away from me along the hedge line.
Once I reached the trees there were signs of bird life, Redwngs called from above and there were several Chaffinch calling from the branches.
A little further along there was movement on the tarmac. A Chaffinch bathed in a puddle, and Goldfinch appeared from the leaf litter to settle on the road. More Goldfinches appeared from the trees, and the road in front of me was alive with birds. I stood and watched for awhile, but could see a runner coming so took this picture to record the action, but most of the birds had gone.
Turning up Charlwood there were the usual calls from Goldfinches, and I checked the ivy again to see if there were any early butterflies. This female Chaffinch perched very nicely in a crab apple tree.
I looked into the ploughed field to see if there were any Lapwing, but I couldn't see any at first. However a little further on I found a flock of 23 sitting in amongst the ploughed furrows. Every so often one would stretch its wings, and there would be the off call, but they sat still like everything today enjoying the sunshine.
As usual I turned into Plain Farm, and made my way to the fallen tree trunk where I stopped to have coffee and a bun. After my drink I walked round to the seed feeders, disturbing birds from the ground. I checked as many as i could, but could not find the elusive Brambling. Amongst the many Chaffinch were a Robin, Blue Tits and a pair of Nuthatches.
I walked around the edge of the field to check the bushes and trees that were in the sun. Over my coffee I was surprised to find a honey bee flying and settling on my coat. The tree standing in front of me had a few large holes, which made me think they would be good for an owl. As I looked I noticed movement and was amazed to see more Honey Bees flying around the entrance.
The sun on the south facing trunk must have warmed the nest up, and the bees were quite active. As sign of how mild the recent weather has been, something we forget as we battle the gale force wind, and heavy rain.
I walked along the path, and down the lane, I disturbed a covey of three Grey Partridge, they called and flew off, and a little later came across the hedge and over into the next field.
It wasn't until I reached the cottages that I found some birds, mostly House Sparrows, but there were also a pair of Bullfinches. I had expected to see the Kestrel, but it wasn't in its usual spot. At the bottom of the hill I paused to watch birds in the hedge, they were Chaffinches but suddenly there were alarm calls and I saw the Kestrel fly from a tree, then low over the field and up onto the wires.
Once past the grain dryers I saw a buzzard in front of m, and another Kestrel on a pole, but behind tree branches which hid it from my camera. Suddenly I was aware of birds above me, and looked up to see at first three Buzzards soaring, but then realised there were in fact six.
Two of them seemed to be playing, one gaining height, and then closing the wings and dive bombing the other, pulling up as it reached the other.
However one swoop resulted in them grabbing each other and tumbling down. I am not sure if this was play, or maybe display, the sun has had strange effects on birds today.
I walked up past the quarry, and as I came out at the top, two Buzzards were coming across the field quite low.
These were not additional birds but two of the six, they then caught up with another and drifted away, but still every so often having contact.
I checked the field for the Stonechat, but there was nothing there, so I walked along the road towards Kitcombe Lane. The sun was still quite bright, but over to the east the Moon was up, just above the trees on the Mountains Plantation.
The road goes past Dogford Wood, and the conifers there give it quite a dark and unwelcoming view.
I walked up the hill towards Newton Farm, a Buzzard sat on the wires, and at the wood Tits called all the way up the hill. As I came out of the trees I could see the moon again above the gorse. This is the only place where gorse grows on the patch, and the site where I expect one day to see a Dartford Warbler!
After stopping to give my apple core to the horse, I noticed Meadow Pipits in the hedge, again they seemed to be enjoying the sun.
I walked on, and Yellowhammers and the Meadow Pipits came out of the trees and flew off to the middle of the field. They perched on the wires, and then dropped down into the central strip.
The field by the stables were also full of birds, mostly Pied Wagtails though, this one was feeding amongst the puddles.
I walked to Plash Wood, I wanted to see if the Firecrests were there. I set up in the usal place and waited. Blue Tits seemed to be everywhere, and they were flying into a single Rhododendron bush, there must have been over twenty birds going in, and not coming out.
As I stood there I heard a call from behind me, it was a Raven, and I just managed to catch it as it flew across the ride.
The Firecrests had not appeared but another call caught my attention, this time though it sounded very out of place, it was a duck call, and scanning above me I was amazed to see twelve Mallard, ten of which were males.
Finally I heard the Firecrests calling, and managed to get a brief glimpse but not enough for the camera. I walked back to the farm disturbing two Roe Deer in the process. Back at the farm the birds were looking to roost, the Pied Wagtails grouping on the barn roof.
I headed down towards Weathermore Lane, but decided to check the cleared area. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen in Alton only a few days ago, and this area would be perfect for one. I had to negotiate fallen trees along the path, but there was nothing there. The sun though did light up the birch trees at the bottom of the hill.
I now walked along Telegraph Lane, and then down Alton Lane. I had been out all day, and now the sun was almost set, and it was getting cold. I took the footpath down towards Blackberry Lane, and at the bottom the mist was gathering in the dip.
It was a good day despite the sadness i always seem to get every time I go into Old Down, several year ticks for the birds, and a lovely walk in the sunshine. Will the dry weather last? We shall have to wait and see.