Friday, 28 February 2014

28th February - Cause You Ain't Usen The Right Bait Man

There was rain overnight, but the colder and wintry weather didn't seem to have arrived as dawn gave way to a sunny morning.  I have noticed that the evenings stay lighter longer for some time now, but it is only in the last week that I can say the mornings are getting lighter. 

With the sunshine came the birds in the garden, as is always the case first thing in the morning the Starlings lead the way, they start high in the tree next door, usually taking in the sunshine while singing away.

It only takes one to lead the way then they all drop into the garden, and hit the feeders.  The buggy nibbles have been a major hit this year, and the starlings are probably responsible for emptying the feeders so quickly.  This globe feeder is designed for the smaller lighter bird such as a tit, but once worked out it is no match for the Starling.

After awhile I noticed a small grey bird creeping through the branches of the tree close to the fat feeders.  As it came into the open I could see the chestnut red cap, the female Blackcap.

It was too busy for her and she was off.  By now the starlings had moved to the Acer tree in the sunshine.  The light was catching their feathers and showing the purples and greens in them as they turned and caught the sunshine at different angles, and couples with the brown fringes on the feathers they looked beautiful.

The Blackbirds had joined the starlings in clearing the nibbles from the food tray, so I decided on a little experiment.  A little while back I wrote about the mistake I made in buying a different make of nibble, and that the birds would not eat them.  I decided to mix the Gardman with the RSPB ones that were going like hot cakes to see if they really were selective.  Here is the food tray with the mixture, lets see what happens later in the day.

The next to arrive were the Long-tailed Tits, they are now going around in pairs, and not the large flocks that would fly in calling and move through the garden.  They still can not resist the nibbles and go straight to the feeder.

Having taken a nibble they would then fly off into the tree, and perform some amazing acrobatics to eat the nibble.  Hanging by one leg, the nibble would be held with the other leg, and then pecked at like so...

In contrast the Blue Tit would take the nibble to safety of the tree.

But would then hold the nibble with its claws against the branch and peck at it.

There had been two Robins singing all morning on either side of the garden, suddenly they both decided to come to the food tray and trouble broke out.  It was mostly posturing, and there wasn't actually a fight.  Capturing this action has always been something I have wanted to do, and while this isn't the best, and I will still want to do better it shows how the Robin uses its red breast as a threat to any potential suitor for his territory.

This was ment to be a cold day, but the sunshine and lack of the forecast cold wind saw the birds continue to sing.  Blackbirds have been singing at first light, and they are probably thinking of their first broods, however this male that was picking up the bits of sunflower kernels dropped by the finches...

Was chased away by this large female.

He tried several times to get back but the female stood her ground and protected the source of food, maybe she is eating for five or six!

A male Greenfinch sang from the nearby trees, the song is that of a twittering and wheezing sound.  At the moment it is being sung from the tops of trees, but soon it will be accompanied by a fluttering flight, that sometimes I confuse with that of a House Martin.

As always the Woodpigeons were not far away.  This one sat on the roof nearby, taking in the sunshine.

Chaffinches and Goldfinches were also about, although the Chaffinches are not so keen to use the feeders, preferring to pick up the pieces that fall to the lawn.  The Goldfinches though fly into the tree, and then make their way quickly to the feeder, checking always for other Goldfinches that may beat them to it.

Having gorged themselves on nibbles the Starlings returned to the tree to chatter away and sunbathe.

With the Starlings gone the Blackcap returned to feed on the fat feeder.  This seems always to be the attraction to the Blackcap, both her and when there is one about, the male like to feed on this.

The House Sparrows were chattering away in the honey suckle on the pergola, and every so often a male would come out to sit in the sunshine.

Another singing bird was the Hedge Sparrow, it would perch in amongst the conifers and rattle out its song, which is similar to that of a Wren, but no where near as loud.

As is always the case as we get to mid morning the activity dies away.  A Buzzard flew over and the alarm calls rang out, and seemed to signal the end of the morning feed..

Well what about the nibbles?  After lunch a look at the food tray revealed that the RSPB nibbles are definitely the preferred nibbles, and that the Gardman are not liked at all.  All the RSPB nibbles have been taken.  Over the same period with only RSPB the tray would be empty.

Definitely not the best bait man!

Monday, 24 February 2014

23rd February - How Many Seas Must a White Dove Sail?

The female Blackcap that I saw in the garden earlier in the week appeared again on Friday.  As seems to be the way this winter the attraction was the buggy nibbles, but she did also pay some attention to the apples in the basket feeder.  Her approach is always cautious though, looking around and creeping slowly through the branches. 

The Long-tailed Tits are completely unnerved and zip around her as she just waits and looks until she feels it is safe to feed.

We went away for the weekend to see the rugby at Twickenham.  On Friday we stopped of at the London Wetland Centre, I didn't take the camera, but we were lucky to see two bitterns, one well out in the open preening.  An amazing sight when you consider how close you are to the centre of London.

We returned at midday, and as it was dry but overcast I decided to take a short walk around the woods.  What I didn't realise was how windy it had become, and I am sure this had a bearing on what was about.

Heading off down Lymington Bottom it was very quiet.  The two days in London had been in quite mild conditions, with sunshine and a light breeze.  As a result birds were singing everywhere.  Today though you were lucky to hear a Robin, as most of the birds were keeping there heads down in the trees and bushes.

At the corner with Gradwell I heard the familiar piping call of the Bullfinch, but all I managed to find was a male Greenfinch, the owner of the call keeping itself well hidden.  i found a Great Tit in the branches of a conifer, recently they have been calling monotonously but today this one was silent as it moved amongst the lichen, probably looking for food.

I walked along Brislands and out into the open, the wind was blowing strongly across the hedges, but I could hear a Skylark away in the distance, as always scanning the sky revealed nothing, but then I saw movement in the field and found it about a metre off the ground singing away.

It finally stopped and dropped to the ground and out of view in the stubble, the wind being too much for the songster.

The lane is slowly drying out, the huge flood just before the entrance to Old Down Wood has finally gone, and as a result you can now see the large potholes that have probably been caused by the contractors vehicles that have been taking the lumber away.  

I intended to walk through the wood because I wanted to see what the north western part was like, however the only way I was able to get to it was by walking around the outside of the field, and picking up the path by the old pheasant pens.  There was still a path here, and on either side you can see the bluebells shoots coming through quite nicely.  This area once you get by the mess on the main path is relatively untouched by the contractors, and should still put on a good show.

While the contractors haven't been here the wind has, and several trees on the outside of the wood have succumbed to the storms, and in places you still have to negotiate your way around fallen trees and broken branches.  Out of the wind you could hear the contact calls of Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits as they foraged in the trees and fallen branches.

This part of the wood is predominantly Hazel, probably the reason why the contractors have left it alone.  As well as the Bluebell shoots you could see the leaves of the Lesser Celandine, and emerging Dog's Mercury.

Dog's mercury is a member of the Spurge family, and is found typically on calcareous soils usually in Oak and Beech woodland.  The name "dog" is said to refer to the fact that it is not a striking flower.  It prefers semi to full shade, and general spreads very quickly at the expense of other flowers such as orchids and anemone.  It is a poisonous plant, but unlike other spurges does not have the milky juice in the stem.  By March the area here is generally carpeted with the plant, we shall have to see if the clearing work lets in more light than the plant likes.

I came out of the the wood at the west end, and headed down towards Gilbert Street through the paddocks.  A Buzzard flew away from me, the only one I was to see today, and gulls circled above the field in the strong wind.  Mostly Common Gulls there were also a few Black-headed, and two first winter Herring Gulls.

The gulls dropped to the field with a larger flock of corvids.  These were mostly rooks but there were also several crows and a few Jackdaws.  Despite searching I could not find a raven.  They are usually about here as they wait for the sheep to Lamb.

I walked up Swellinghill, it never gets easier, and I wondered why I never walk down it!  Out of the wind, the temperature increased and a s a result I removed my hat.   It seems that there were more trees and bushes gone from the southern ridge, there was much more light coming through as a result.  

At the pond I walked around the outside.  Nuthatch called from the trees at the back, and a lone Chaffinch attempted a song.  The water level is still high, but the around around the outside was surprisingly dry.  

As I walked along the road towards Kitwood I noticed some activity around a puddle.  A Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Blue Tit were either drinking.

Or taking a bath...  

With all the water there is about this behaviour is quite common, the birds seem to like the puddles in the road, maybe they see the water as being cleaner.  The birds were feeding in amongst the leaf litter, and then would fly across to the puddle.  They were not in the least aggressive to each other, and quite happily shared the puddle.

As well as these three a Great Tit was busy throwing leaves about as it searched the grass on the side of the road.

And this male Chaffinch was very busy digging into the mud and grass.  After this picture was taken it even tried to move the twig.

The other side of the road was the horse field, and the birds would fly into this, and feed in a similar way amongst the soil.  There were more Goldfinches, plus a couple of Robins and a Dunnock all taking advantage of the soil that had been overturned  by the horses.

Out in the open again I could feel the wind, so I went to put my hat back on, only to realise it wasn't in my pocket.  I retraced my steps to see if I could find but I couldn't.  I don't know whwere it went in that short time.  Fortunately the wind wasn't too bad now and managed to survive the walk home.

The bushes around the bike cage at the school are becoming a good site for parties of tits and crests.  As I passed today I could hear a Goldcrest, and I stopped to see if it would show.  It didn't at first but this Nuthatch appeared quite close, but in a dark place.

It was searching all over the trunks of the trees and eventually came into a much better area of light.  This time of year is the best time to see them with there not being any leaves to hide behind, they are also very vocal, and their call of "twoi, twoi, twoi" carries quite a distance, alerting you to the fact that this busy little bird is close by, and always worth a look.

It was still grey, and it was still windy, but more importantly it was dry, almost three days without rain.  In some places with the wind and the sunshine the ground looked quite dry.  I headed back down Lymington Bottom to home.  Spring is hopefully just around the corner.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

19th February - Shows Fear As He Turns To Hide

The mornings are getting lighter now, and with the light comes the bird song.  This morning as I lay there contemplating having to get up and face the day I could make out at least three singing Song Thrushes, and even a Blackbird intermittently between them.

The bird feeders were also busy this morning, a dry start after more overnight rain.  There were at least six Goldfinches on the seed, and the Starlings were defying their size by managing to hang from the ball feeder to get to the buggy nibbles.  This miracle food has proved very popular this winter with all the visitors unable to resist it.  As I watched a Blackbird and Robin pick up the fallen pieces I noticed a small, slight bird in the tree, the chestnut cap sealed the identification of the year's first Blackcap, a female, and she went straight to the buggy nibbles.

It was grey when i got up, and despite a small gap in the clouds mid morning it remained grey up to midday.  I had hoped for some sunshine, and I did manage to set off in some as I walked towards Brislands.  The roadworks are making an awful mess of the lane, and I squeezed past the diggers and headed towards Old Down.  A couple of weeks ago I photographed a clump of Snowdrops on the development site.  At the time I commented on how long they may be there.  On Sunday when we walked past I was pleased to see that they were still there, flowering nicely.  Unfortunately today I was greeted with this:

All gone, they haven't had time to die and fall back, they have been cleared away, why?

Goldfinches were calling in the trees and I even managed to hear my first singing Greenfinch of the year.  The Goldfinch has this sort of chest marking that makes it look like it has a well developed pair of pecs.

Snowdrops are notthe only flower about at the moment.  I have seen daisies and dandelions out when the sun shines, and was also able to find this White Flowering Dead Nettle along the side of the road.

I walked along Brislands and into the open fields.  Skylarks sang on either side of me despite the heavy overcast grey skies that had now returned.

One success story has been the fact that the land owner of the field to the north has finally cleared the footpath entrance heading down across the field towards the A31.  I would imagine the field is a bit of a trek at the moment with the mud, but its a start.  The sign now needs to be cleared of ivy so you can see it is a footpath

I stood at the entrance to the wood an looked down the path.  There is still quite a bit of clearing up to do here, the mud is quite deep and deceptive.  As I stood looking several Great Tits called from the bushes to my left, they are very active at the moment and can be heard everywhere.

I made my way carefully along the path.  It was muddy but at least it was clear.  The track that goes around the north side, and is one of the best places to see Bluebells is blocked by a fallen tree, and deep tyre tracks that have filled with water.  I know this is not an official footpath, but it is a popular track that did no harm, and I hope that access is returned, I don't think there is any argument to say walked cause damage.

The footpath that branches off towards the west is still blocked, and I would imagine it is the case all the way along it.

 As I reached the crossroads there was quite a bit of bird activity.  Chaffinches were flying up from the leaves and puddles and with them were the Great Tits and Blue Tits, and also a pair of Marsh Tits.  They would fly down to the puddles drink and then return to the trees for cover.

Nuthatch calls were ringing out, and at one time there were three flying around my head.  Looking up all I could make out was the unmistakable silhouette of this quite feisty little bird

Punctuating the calls of the song birds were the mews of Buzzards high above.  At one time they came low over the tree tops, but soon returned up high to circle together.  The Buzzard love fest continues in the grey skies.

I headed towards Old Down Cottage, and quickly found that the path still remains blocked there.  You can get past as a way has been made, but it still takes you off the original path.  

These pictures give you some idea of what has happened.  Large trees that did not have fully developed root systems have gone down in the wind, and older trees have just been snapped

The winds have come from the south west, and if you turn around and look that way you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand why!

You can see form here all the way down towards Winchester and Gander Down.  The protection has been removed and the big trees have just toppled like cards.

Despite all this destruction there are signs that the plants are majking their way up.  The little shoots I saw a few weeks ago have turned into substantial clumps of green.  The bluebells are coming lest hope we can get to the wood to enjoy them.

I am happy to say there has been some work to clear the fallen trees, in this case you can see the cut logs by the side of the path, but the huge trunk still remains blocking the way.  There is a lot still to do and I hope the contractors honour their commitments.

With the mild weather I had expected the Rooks to start nesting, but when I checked back two years ago when we had a very mild winter and early spring I found that they hadn't started nesting until early March, so the fact that they haven't started yet is not a big issue, they still have time.  There was a large group of Rooks feeding in the fallow field, and as usual as I tried to get close they were off.

I came out of the wood and headed towards Gradwell.  As well as the crows and rooks about there was a large flock of Magpies.  They seem to like collecting in this area for some reason, I am not sure why, maybe it is due to the horses and feed that must be about.

In all I counted nine with this group of six sitting on top of the hedge cackling at each other.

I walked back over the field to Lymington Bottom.  It was now quite grey and threatening rain once again.