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.