New Year's Day was completely written off, a storm followed us back from Cardiff, and never looked like stopping, there rain was relentless, and I confess to seeing nothing in the garden when we finally got home. The weather for the next few days seems to be a repeat of what we have had, so I was hopeful that today would be calm and dry. Interestingly back in 1779 Gilbert White entered into his diary for the first of January in Selbourne which is only a few miles from here: "Storm all night. The May Pole is blown down. Thatch & tiles damaged. Great damage is done by both sea and land". So we are not experiencing anything new!
It started positively with a Tawny Owl calling at about four o'clock this morning, it was a male with the "tu-whoo" call, and a sign that the rain must have eased off. With dawn came clear skies, some sunshine, and little wind. I left the house with the intention of walking along the roads, any footpath was likely to be very muddy.
The bottom of Brislands lane was flooded quite badly, the water an ominous muddy colour as the rain washed the mud from the building site down the hill. On the site their were plenty of blackbirds though, enjoying the chance to forage in the open soil.
A little further on I could hear cracking noises above me, and looking into the oak trees by the cemetery there was a male Chaffinch eating a seed on a large branch. Not sure what it was, maybe a sunflower seed.
Everywhere was very wet, and the horse paddock opposite the playing ground was very muddy with the horse now back. As a result there were many Blackbirds, a few Redwing a Robin, and this Song Thrush feeding close to the hedge.
Very soon the Song Thrush will be singing along the lane, they are one of the first birds to sing to establish their breeding territory. The song is very distinctive with the notes being repeated to ensure you don't miss anything.
I walked down the lane towards the wood. Only a couple of days ago I was stating how this was a land locked patch without much water, well today we have a stream.
While yesterday there were probably many waterfalls as the rain washed off the fields and into the roads and lanes.
I paused just to look into the wood. I had no intention of tackling the path in just walking boots, the mud here alone is more than ankle deep.
I turned back to the lane, and headed into the tree covered area. There were quite a few birds calling and also some movement in the leaf litter. I could see flashes of white in wings as they flew up, but scanning through the birds I could find they were all Chaffinches.
A Jay called from high in the tree, and a pair of crows watched my progress along the lane from the lower branches of the trees to the right of me.
I headed down the lane, and into the open. It was quiet, but by the cow sheds I was pleased to find a small group of House Sparrows. Looking back up the lane towards Old Down Wood the winter light on the hedges and road made a nice scene.
At the bottom of the lane I stopped to find a pair of calling Dunnock, then turned towards Ropley. Looking up the field, again towards Old Down, the tracks in the field produced another interesting composition.
I took the decision to cut back along the footpath by the side of the field. I hoped the edge was held well together by the grass, and would therefore be a little easier on the feet. This proved to be the case, and as I walked along side the bushes I could hear Fieldfare, but I couldn't see them. A pair of Skylark flew over calling, they seem to be very abundant this winter, a sign that the farms are leaving plenty of seed. Any bad weather though and they will be off in large flocks away from the snow.
Looking along the path towards Old Down a Buzzard appeared from over the wood, it soared in the sunshine, and was soon joined by another.
When the sun is out, and it is a calm day during the winter a soaring buzzard is a common sight, but once the weather turns bad like all large birds of prey they conserve their energy by staying put for most of the day. This bird was soon joined by the other and they both wheeled away above the wood as I walked to the paddocks, and then down to the lane.
Looking back the wood looked different against the blue sky. You can now see the patches, and the light where many of the more mature trees have been taken out.
The fields were full of Rooks feeding. They are not easy to get close to, and usually fly the moment I raise the camera. I would imagine that around here the rooks are not that welcome and are either shot or scared away as they are the real "crows" the scarecrow is after. They will feed on the seed more than their cousins the crows. This one was quite obliging as it walked through the field. I was though behind the hedge looking through a small gap.
I walked up Swelling Hill, and above me there were Great and Blue Tits, and a party of Long-tailed Tits that would not come down closer. The trees here are extra high due to the cutting the road goes through so it was very frustrating.
I stopped a little further on, and movement on a branch caught my eye, and it turned out to be a Treecreeper.
It moved along the branch quite quickly like a little mouse, probing at the lichen with it's very fine de-curved bill.
I now decided to stand still and "pish" to see what would react. Chaffinches called at me in alarm, and at one time there were four Great Tits closing in on me to see what was going on. The Long-tailed's stayed away, but I did manage to attract to smaller greyer tits, but they were not that obliging with these being to best two shots I could get.
They are of course Marsh Tits, and they called and fed amongst the old seeds and leaves, but never stopped to show themselves properly.
I walked up the hill and then to the pond. The water level is really high, and the path around the pond was flooded so I just made my way to the jetty.
You can make out here how much difference the felling of the trees has made, it has opened up the area, and allowed more light in which must make it more visible from the air.
I walked to one of the smaller ponds disturbing Chaffinches from the leaves, and a Nuthatch. I just managed a glimpse of the bird I thought might be here, the Moorhen, and it scampered off into the cover of the rhododendrons.
I was about to leave when I heard tapping above me, it was quite loud so not the nuthatch, and as I came out from under the bushes I could see a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the trunk of an oak tree.
I am not sure if it was chipping away in search of food, or looking to do some DIY on the hole ahead of spring. It did though stick it's head right into the hole so maybe this is a site to keep an eye on for the spring. This one was a female due to the lack of red on the back of the neck
The puddle that became a pond in the horse paddock is now reaching lake standards, instead of Pied Wagtails today it was surrounded by Redwing. and in the field itself there were at least twenty Redwing feeding in the mud.
At the corner of Kitwood I disturbed feeding birds by the side of the road. I stood and waited knowing that they would be back, and very soon a Robin appeared followed by a Blackbird and then a female Chaffinch. They are probably feeding on a mixture of crushed hazel nuts and any insects and worms they can find in the leaf litter. Not the best of shots, but it does record the scene.
As I stood watching and waiting a pair of Blue Tits flew at me, almost hitting me. They flew past and into the hedge where one just perched watching me.
I turned back to the road, and there on the edge was a Nuthatch, something I did not expect to see, but probably confirms my guess that there are still hazel nuts about.
As I came out from under the trees I looked west towards the wood where they is now a large gap in the trees where once there were larches.
As I walked past the holly trees at the school I stopped as I heard high pitched calls from within the bush. I normally quickly know the difference between the crest calls but this one made me doubt myself. I played back the call of a Firecrest and waited. A bird appeared but it wasn't a Firecrest, it was though its cousin, our smallest bird, the Goldcrest. It flew close to me and performed beautifully above my head.
It was continually inspecting the branches and lichens, the fine bill picking out tiny spiders and insects that hide during the winter amongst the lichen. The crest looked splendin, especially when it would look straight at me.
Tiny, plump and with a plumage of pastel greens and gold it is usually difficult to track them as they move quickly through the foliage. They weigh somewhere around the weight of a twenty pence coin or a single sheet of A4 paper, and have to constantly feed to stay alive.
Small size is bad news in the winter, the smaller you are the higher your surface area to body weight ratio, which means a Goldcrest loses heat very quickly. They are typically found in winter around the evergreen trees, because the trees do not shed their leaves their dense foliage is home to thousands of insects, food for the Goldcrest, and life. Here you can see it delicately picking at the lichen on the branch
As quickly as it appeared it was gone, so I continued along Lymington Bottom. Jackdaws were calling around me, and I found a pair in a tree close by. As I watched them they were joined by others.
They then quickly settled into an organised pattern on the tree to enjoy the sunshine.
At the church a pair of Collared Doves were sitting in the edge attending to their feathers, something that is very important to ensure they can keep warm and dry ahead of the rain that is forecast once again.
As I made my way home I realised that if the forecast is correct it may be sometime before I can get out again, we shall have to see what happens, and there is of course always the garden. Not a bad start to the year, nothing spectacular, but there is still time!