We decided to drive down to Plain Farm, and walk around there. This could be accomplished on mostly paved roads which was another reason. The early morning blue sky and sunshine had gone by the time we parked up, and I looked to see if last week's Stonechat was there, but of course it wasn't. As we headed up the hill, and looked across to the east we could see the last of the clear skies drifting away.
Three squirrels appeared on the path in front of us, and then almost as quickly disappeared. As we came over the cattle grid I noticed a Kestrel over the fields hovering
With weather being as bad as it has been it must be hard for those that rely on hunting voles and mice such as the Kestrel and Barn Owls. I wondered if they are able to sense the weather coming and take the opportunity to hunt when they can. This Kestrel was using the preferred technique of hovering over the rough grassland on the edge of the field. It would hover for a while and then bank away to look somewhere else, a black silhouette against a greying sky.
A Buzzard was also present, but it had decided to sit in the tree and wait and watch to see if anything turns up. Buzzards are notoriously lazy birds at the best of times, but I found it hard to complain about them in these appalling conditions.
Looking over the fields again to the west there was still some sunshine creating a distant glow, and highlighting the trees and pylons as they snaked off into the distance.
By the barn and the cottages we could hear the all too familiar call of the Bullfinch. I quickly found a female who flew across on front of us, and then Helen pointed out a pair of males at the top of a tree. Just as I tried to focus they flew.
The wires and tops of the hedges were covered in Yellowhammers, and I scanned through them in the hope that there might be the Reed Bunting present but I couldn't find it. A little further down the lane a good sized flock of Linnets gathers in the trees and on the bushes. Unfortunately they were perched behind the branches of the hedge, and the camera found the branches instead of the birds, but it is still possible to make them out.
There was quite a bit of activity in the hedges on both sides of the lane, Yellowhammers and Linnets flying over, and more Bullfinches calling from the centre of the bushes.
I walked out into the field to see if I could find the Lapwing and Skylark flocks, but for once the field was empty. With all the flooding I had expected to find at least some Lapwing, Golden Plover would be nice but I wasn't being too greedy yet.
We returned to the road and this Song Thrush had been flying ahead of us all the way along the walk, I wondered if it might be something else, as it was behaving strangely but then finally it sat up at the top of the branches, just to confirm it was a Song Thrush.
We passed the cottages, and made our way along a muddy track. Even more Bullfinches flew ahead of us, three this time. There were Chaffinches in the trees at the end of the path, but as expected there was no sign of the Brambling that had been there last month.
We walked around the edge of the field, I scanned like I always do, and like when I always do it was empty. We crossed into Charlwood and walked along the lane, looking across towards Ropley a ridge of cloud was building indicating impending storms. Little did I know that for me it was to indicate a major disaster. I stopped to photograph along the footpath towards Ropey when Helen called out there were Roe Deer crossing the field behind us. I turned and saw this female with her yearling still with her galloping through the sticky mud of the field. They had probably been spooked by the gunshots that were going off around us.
As I watched them through the lens I heard the calls of Lapwing, and the female stopped to look towards the call too.
The deer had disturbed a small flock of five Lapwing in the field, and they were flying around calling, but very quickly settled back down, and it appeared that when they realised that the deer meant them no harm they were happy to let them gallop past.
The excitement over we returned to the walk, as always I went to collapse the lens on my camera, however it became apparent that there was something wrong and the telescopic action of the lens wasn't working properly. I was stuck at 250 mm, and it would not move. When situations like this occur I panic, and today was no different. I suddenly realised that if the lens was broken what would I do? Totally out of perspective when you think of the poor people flooded with all their belongings ruined, but for me at that particular moment it was a complete disaster. I managed to finally get the lens to collapse, but it was clear something was wrong, fortunately though the focus and lens was fine, and continued to work.
After declaring that everything was a complete disaster, as always it takes Helen to bring me back to my senses and point out the error of my ways, I don't think I will ever totally change this, but at least I recognise it.
We walked on, in silence at first. The horse paddocks were empty, there were no sign of any Fieldfare, but around the houses we could hear and see Goldfinches and Chaffinches.
We walked along Lyeway towards the car. The Beech trees in Winchester Wood were all soaked from the recent rain, and this turns their bark almost black. Looking through the trees the fine branches conjured patterns against the dark trunks. Looking closer at the tips of the branches you could see the beginnings of spring, a long way off yet, but the trees are preparing for the warmer and hopefully dryer times.
If you look across at many of the trees you can still see the remnants of the amazing "mast" crop of the autumn, in particular the sycamores have huge bunches of seeds still attached, and from a distance these can make you believe that there are birds sitting in the tree. As we walked on we could hear the tinkling of many Goldfinches above us, and we found a large flock feeding on these seeds. I am not sure how they actually break the seeds open, but they were obviously able to do so as they were proving a major attraction.
We came down the hill towards the car, I continued to fiddle with the camera lens in the hope all would suddenly become right but it didn't. As we drove home Helen suggested I take it in today. So once home I collected the case and made my way to Winchester. The process is that it is sent to Canon for assessment and estimate of cost to repair if it is possible, that will take one to two weeks, then after that anything between four to six weeks for repair.
So I have to accept it will gone for the best part of two months. I have a substitute arranged and I have other lenses so all is not lost, and of course the knee jerk disaster I initially reacted with, is but small fry to what is going on around the country right now.
Having returned home from Winchester I was in the kitchen watching the garden when a dark shape flew low over the lawn, and perched on the fence, it turned to look at me with those incredible yellow eyes, it was of course a young Sparrowhawk, probably a male by the size, and of course no camera to hand.