Monday, 17 March 2014

16th March - Yesterday I Got So Old

The warm and sunny weather had continued through the week so it was even more surprising to see a male Lesser Redpoll on the feeder Friday morning.  The last time I saw Redpolls around the patch was in March 2012, and I had given up hope.  But of course once I had reached the camera it was gone.

It was partially overcast when I set out, but there were signs the sun would come out.  As usual the Starlings were the noisiest birds, and the males now are displaying.  They perch high and sing away and then shake their wings to form a cape.  He has being this for sometime now and can sometimes cut a sad figure as no one seems to take any notice

As I set off down Lymington Bottom All I could hear for once were Dunnocks singing, and every so often a pair would appear and then be joined by another, they would then chase each other through the branches flicking their wings as they went.

Along Brislands I came across this group of four on the lawn.  There was in fact another pair just out of shot, the number of which I have not seen before.

While the Dunnock is thought of as a very plain brown little bird there is nothing plain about the behaviour it exhibits at breeding season.  Dunnocks have an amazing pattern of social and breeding behaviour that has only recently been discovered.  Their breeding behaviour as evolved into many systems with monogamous pairs, pairs with two males and one female, and even pairs with two males and two females, and these males are even found trying to mate with females from other pairing.  It is definitely something the soaps have never dreamed up, and brings a whole new image to this plain little brown bird that skulks around the hedgerows.

A Little further on a repetitive call rang out from the willow trees by the side of the road and I managed to find the owner this quite smart looking Nuthatch.

As Brislands opens up once you get past the houses the Skylarks could be heard singing on either side of the road, once again they were hard to find so high in the sky but I managed to locate at least two.

This time of year the bracken has been cut back on the verges, and the wild flowers have the chance to break through.  There is Lesser Celandines everywhere, and now the Wood Anemones are coming out, although these still needed the sun to reach them to warm them up and allow the petals to open.

I turned into Old Down expecting to hear a Chiffchaff at the entrance, this is always one of the early sights but today it was quiet.  A little further into the wood though and I could hear one singing with its familiar sound.  It was well into the bushes though and I could only glimpse breif snatches of it as it moved amongst the buds looking for insects.

The woods were full of bird song, I could make out Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, and Blue and Great Tits.  Every so often the call of the Long-tailed Tit would also ring out, and a pair would be seen foraging amongst the lichen, probably for nesting material.  Long-tailed Tits are early breeders, and their nest  are a beautiful construction of feathers, moss, lichen and spiders webs, usually tucked away in the middle of a bush, away from easy vision.

The wood look very green now, and the starkness of the winters destruction is mellowing a little, with Bluebell shoots and Dog Mercury carpeting the open spaces on the floor.  I walked down the west path towards the paddocks, and as I came past the gate saw the little clump of wild Daffodils still flowering nicely, this is a very special spot for me, and I am very pleased it survived the winter, I would have been devastated if the large beech had fallen.

A little further on down the path was the clump of Primroses, now in full bloom, yet another reminder.

As I reached the West End I could hear a Raven calling away off in the distance.  I scanned across the tree tops looking back towards Old Down House, and found a dark black blob at the top of one of the remaining Larches.  You have to trust me this is where the call was coming from, and from the very distant picture you can see the typical Raven shape.  This was also the area last year where the battles took place of a nest sight between the Ravens and a pair of Buzzards.

There are sheep in the paddocks, and also a good flock of gulls.  Mostly Common Gulls there were a few Black-headed as well.  Common Gulls normally gather here in April before heading off to breeding grounds wherever they may be.  These were almost all adult birds.  The crows were also in attendance around the sheep an indication that lambing may begin soon.

I walked through the paddocks, and then up Andrews Lane.  yet another Dunnock was singing in the hedge, and so concentrated was it on the song it allowed me to get very close.  I mentioned earlier that they get dismissed as a plain brown bird, but in fact they have a very intricate pattern of grey and brown, and a striking red eye.

The sides of Andrews lane are always the spot for early flowers, and today was no exception, there were clumps of Primroses, and Celandines, and the first Violets of the year.

There were a few birds in the trees at the back of the field, the light was not good but I could make out some streaking on the chest.  The picture here shows them to be Redwing, and pretty soon I was hearing call.

As I stood and watched I estimated about 80 birds come from the fields beyond to the west, and make their way over my head and into the trees to the east.  This area is always a gathering place for both of our winter thrushes at this time of year, and as the Redwing took off again I could hear the clacks of Fieldfare with them.  The numbers build up here until the end of the month, and then they are gone probably back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

I walked along the top of the field towards Lye Way.  This is a south facing path, and I thought there might be some insects here, but all I managed to find was a pair of Grey Partridges that I flushed from the path.  This is the first time I have seen Greys here which is very encouraging.

I walked down the path back towards Swellinghill.  There was a large group of magpies in the field, I counted eleven at one time.  As I got closer to the road I started to fluch Small Tortoiseshells that were settled on the dandelion flowers.  I counted six along here, and finally I managed to get the first photograph of this butterfly this year.  This one looks like a freshly emerged individual.

As well as the butterflies there were plenty of bumblebees.  At this time of year they are normally queens looking for suitable nesting areas.  This one is a Buff-tailed Bumblebee, and she was working her way through the grass and leaves.

I turned onto the road and headed to the pond.  It was now quite warm, and as I reached the flower bank again I expected to see some insects.  It wasn't as busy as I thought it would be, with no expected Bee Flys, but there was this lovely Red-tailed Bumblebee.

As I watched the bumblebee an orange butterfly flew past and dropped on to the bed.  It was a Comma, but a very tatty one, probably one emerging from hibernation.

The Comma was joined by another Tortoiseshell, but again a very tatty one with plenty of wing damage and many of the scales washed off the wings.

Standing watching the bed I heard a Chiffchaff at the the back of the pond.  I searched the trees and found it right at the top, again very difficult to photograph.

I walked around the pond and could hear the frogs calling in the corner.  By the jetty there was also a group of Toads, just beginning to start the annual mating.  There was no sign of any spawn, but plenty of Toads in couples, the smaller males hanging on to their prize female.  As the number of toads increase the males will fight and create large balls of toads as they scramble to mate.

Toads always return to mate in the pond they spawned from, and Swellinghill has a large population, and every year the spawning sees many toads killed as they the road to get to the pond.  Typically this movement takes place under cover of the night.  This year new signs have been put up to warn motorists, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to have made a difference with many dead bodies littering the road already.  To be honest I can't see how it would help, as by the time you see the sign you have probably squashed many, and to be quite frank I can't see any car on a narrow road being able to avoid them.

Leaving the pond I walked towards Kitwood, a female Chaffinch on the road caught my eye, she was carrying a large feather that looked like a Mr Pastry moustache!

I was heading home for a break, and set off across the field.  It has been left fallow all winter but today the farmer has decided to plough, and there was one long furrow all the way around the edge of the field.  Scanning across I picked up a Buzzard sitting on one of the sods of earth, and as I watched it flew up and then pounced down onto the freshly overturned soil.

Ever the opportunist, and probably why they have been so successful recently the Buzzard was probably catching Earthworms.

The walk home found nothing much else, so I took the chance for a break.  The weather has been warm and very spring like, the winds though more from the north and east recently.  The local residents are getting into their breeding ways, with displays and song everywhere, but the migrants are still a long way off, rather than spring it seems very much like in-between days, not quite winter but not quite spring.

Late in the afternoon I drove down to Plain Farm, and walked up to the estate.  Looking back across the plantation a pair of Buzzards were displaying above the trees.

I waited by the yew trees, to see if the Firecrest was about, but I could only find a pair of Goldcrests this time and a pair of Blue Tits.

I walked up the hill to the pond, the water has been clear through out the winter, but with the recent sunshine the pond weed has almost covered the water.  As I looked down into the pond there was movement every so often and a pair of eyes would appear through the pond weed.

In total there were four frogs, but I couldn't see any spawn.

I turned away from pond and walked down to the quarry, in the conifers both Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits were calling, but apart from that it was very quiet.

I crossed the road and headed up towards Plain Farm.  Coming up the hill I could hear Lapwings calling.  In the field beyond there were two performing their acrobatics, wheeling away and calling.

past the cottages there were another three pairs in the field to south who were also engaged in similar acrobatics.

The hedges were full of House Sparrows, and Yellowhammers, and at the end of the lane a pair of Bullfinches were calling but the female was all I could see.  

The last time I had walked along here the path was very wet, but today after almost ten days of sunshine and dry weather it was easy walking here.  Looking back you can see the gorse is just beginning to blossom.

At the top of the path there is a little area that faces south, and it was quite warm.  There were several Tortoiseshells and above in the tree another Chiffchaff was singing.  There were several mole hills in a line crossing the path ending in one with a clean hole.

I would love to see a live mole one day.

The walk around Charlwood and then along Lye Way was quiet, with only the odd Wren rattling out a song from beneath the dead bracken.  As I approached the end of the lane where the trees have been cleared I noticed a large bird away over the Mountains Plantation, as it banked I could see the white flashes in the primaries, Red Kite unmistakeable.

As I watched the kite move along the tops of the tree I noticed another coming up fast behind it.  They came together moving higher into the sky, and then they came together not quite talon grasping.

Red Kites mate for life, and nest sites are selected in early March when aerial displays such as this usually take place at the start of the breeding season. 

The kites drifted off along the ridge, and I made my way to the car, and headed home.  It had been warm and sunny, but as yet spring is still away off.  The signs are there, and the residents are preparing for breeding.  We await though the arrival of those that tell us spring is here


  1. Chris,
    I really enjoy reading your articles. It has made me realise just how much life there is on our doorstep. It's lovely to see Old Down Wood coming back to life now. Have you seen any sign of the deer and Tawny Owl that were resident before all the forestry work?

  2. Thank you for your comments. The deer have been there throughout the winter, however the owl has not been back to the original tree, but there are still plenty in the wood, they can be heard calling at dusk. With all the damaged trees they probably now have many suitable nesting holes

  3. Thanks Chris, I'll have to get up there one evening and have a listen. I'm just getting back into birding and it's interesting to wander round the Four Marks area and see just how much is around. Your blog has been a great find!
    I just wish there were more owls around as they are my favourite birds and now my 6 year old daughter is desperate to see a wild owl, so the pressure is on :)

  4. There were Barn Owls at Plain Farm last year, but I haven't managed to catch up with them this winter. In talking with the Game Conservancy people there one was taken by a Sparrowhawk, but they have been heard. For the Tawny Owls the best way to find them is to listen for Jays or Blackbirds making a racket, they seem to be able to pick them out of the hiding place, which can typically be in amongst the ivy. Gradwell Lane is a good spot just beyond the footpath on the right as you head towards Brislands. There is a pair there and at dusk you may see them


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.