Wednesday, 18 June 2014

17th June - Where's Your Mama Gone?

Over the last few days you could never be sure what weather you would get.  Yesterday it was cool and overcast, Tuesday started very much the same but by the mid morning the cloud was burning away to reveal some blue sky and warm sunshine.  By the late afternoon the skies were clear, but there was still a quite fresh north-easterly breeze that if you were caught out in it could be quite cool.  

I decided to gamble on their being some shelter that would attract some butterflies.  The "June Gap" as it is known, where the flying season of the early butterflies ends and the later ones does not fully start is coming to an end.  I was pleased to see that my observation of very few butterflies around was not just confined to Four Marks, I have seen this reference on all the local butterfly web sites.  I was also intrigued to see a Swallowtail reported in Four Marks last week.  Springwatch ran a piece on Continental Swallowtails in Sussex last week, and it appears that they are being seen on the south coast following arrivals last year.  Now that would be nice.

I opted to walk to Blackberry lane, and then across the meadow to Alton Lane.  I also wanted to catch up with the Buzzards, hopeful that leaving them until a little later would see a little more activity.  Walking down the narrow footpath towards the meadow I could hear an adult Buzzard mewing above.



Most adult birds would be breeding at the moment and I would not expect them to be calling like this, adult birds I have seen are hunting silently.  Maybe this is an immature bird from last year's nest close by, and it is missing the attention of the parents.

As I watched the buzzard I could hear young Blue Tits, and looking across to the Hawthorn tree I found at least three begging for food from their parents.



Last year the paddock next to the meadow had a good show of Spotted Orchids, I was hopeful there would be a similar show this year.  As I looked into the field I saw one just coming into bloom.



A scan around the paddock revealed that there were plenty more in full bloom, so I stepped in for a closer look.



The Common Spotted Orchid is widely variable in colour and height, the flower spike produced in June to August at first looks like a cone, but then becomes more cylindrical.  The flower colour varies from white to pale purple with purple spots to a pattern of dark purple loops or dots and dashes.  Looking around the paddock there were plenty of flower spikes showing this variation in colour and pattern.

As I walked amongst the orchids I disturbed a few Meadow Brown butterflies that were keeping low in the grass out of the wind.  As they flew up they would be attacked by feisty little Common Blues.  Unfortunately the Blues never settled so I am still waiting for the opportunity to photograph one.

From the ground you could see the grasses blowing in the breeze, and they would sway out of the way to reveal the orchid spikes, standing out in the buff surroundings.



I returned to the meadow, and my search for insects.  The breeze though was not helpful, and scanning across the daisies and grasses I could not see much moving.  As I walked I flushed out a few Small Tortoiseshells and the rapidly increasing Meadow Browns.  One did sit long enough in the breeze to allow me to get a picture.



I cross Alton lane to walk down past the garden centre.  Looking down the lane summer is definitely here, the deep and full greens of the leaves framing the lane all the way to the bottom.



The plan was to walk past the garden centre, and then take the footpath down by the Shetland Pony paddocks.  In the first field the cattle feeding has kept the grass down, but there was enough to hide a pair of Red-legged Partridges.  They seem to be turning up everywhere just lately, and once again they refused to fly away, and sped through the grass.



I climbed the style and walked down the track alongside the horse paddocks.  In the distance I could see a large groups of Rooks getting agitated, and then from behind the trees I saw the reason for their concern, a Grey Heron.

I knew this would only turn out as a silhouette, but I love the picture.  Herons have a certain prehistoric look about them in flight, but for me this reminds me of Wile E Coyote from the Looney Tunes cartoons.  In particular the one where he puts on a pair of wings to chase the Roadrunner.  It takes some time to get the flying right but he eventually does and then cruises with long high wing beats, turns to smile smugly and immediately flies into a mountain, priceless.  I hope you can see what I mean.



The paddocks weren't empty, and one of the Shetlands had another foal.  It wanted to come over to me as it would inch slowly, but always seemed wary of its mother so never moved too far from her side.



the path was sheltered from the wind, and bees could be seen low in the grass at the base of the hedge.  The only butterflies though were Small Tortoiseshells, I saw at least a dozen walking down the path.



As I walked down the path I could hear the begging calls of young Blue and Great Tits and the sound of birds wings as I disturbed them in the hedge.  The whole length of the path was alive with birds busily looking after their newly fledged families.

Crossing the road, two Buzzards flew over, these were silent, and were intently scanning the ground in search of a meal.



I walked up the footpath through Homestead farm.  The track was sheltered and the sun quite warm, but the only butterflies I saw were more Tortoiseshells.  The hedge though was also busy with bird calls.

I stopped to look back down the hill, across Hawthorn Lane and back up the hill from where I had come.  Summer is truly here now.



I walked from the footpath towards the pond.  There is a plot of land opposite the pond with a few nissen huts.  The lawn is kept immaculately, and I always check it the vain hope there will be a Hoopoe or Wryneck there.  Usually there is nothing, but tonight there were a few Woodpigeon, and this Carrion Crow, goose stepping across the grass.



I stopped atthe pond, and scanned for dragonflies.  I could only see a few Azure Damsels though.  The water was now almost in the shade from the trees, but one patch remained in sunlight and the reflections of the grass and marigolds in the water was lovely.



In the field over from the entrance to the wood the brambles are coming into flower.  These plants are a magnet for the insects.  The leaves provide a safe and warm platform to sunbathe on, the flowers are clearly a source of nectar, and in the autumn the berries as they ripen provide a further source of sugar.  Today I could only find bees and a few more Small Tortoiseshells



I walked through the wood, a red Dragonfly buzzing me, but not stopping to allow identification let alone a photograph.  I made my way to the nest and struggled at first to find it.  The wind had picked up, and the trees were swaying, but I finally found it and settled to see if I could get a glimpse of the inhabitants.

As I watched my mind played tricks, is that the chick?  I could see a shape and wasn't sure, but gradually it became clearer, and I had my first real sighting.



You can just make out the ye and the yellow on the top of the bill as it was sheltered from behind one of the branches.

Every so often another wing would flap up, but this was the only chick I could clearly see, these wing flaps though did confirm there are two chicks in the nest.  I moved around, the wind moved the branches around, and the chick moved around, giving a better view as it seemed to peer over the branch.



The wind was blowing the trees, and this was producing sounds as if something was coming.  It made me turn around to check, and the chick clearly heard them to as it seemed to turn and try to get a look at what was going on.



You can see the brown feathers appearing underneath the white downy feathers on the head, but when the other bird flapped its wings they were all down, with no sign of any pin feathers.  Ageing them is difficult but I would say they will not be fledging until well into July.

One of the adults would circle above the nest, but did not appear to have any prey.  The male is likely to do the lion share of the hunting, the female making sure they are safe, and breaking up their meals the male delivers.  The chick was aware of the adult being close so I took one more shot.



And then made my way back to the main path.  I will keep a check on them as they grow, but will not be too frequent, I want to see them fledge.

Walked back along the main path and out at the Gradwell end.  Both Swallows and House Martins were flying close to the trees and hedges, their insect prey easier to catch close to the leaves than in the open due to the breeze.  The rest of the walk back along Brislands was uneventful, and I made my way back to the World Cup.

I have just heard that one of my photographs taken in Iceland has been awarded "Photo of the Week" on the Bird Guides site.  I am extremely pleased with this, and if you haven't seen the post you can go to it here the picture in question is the third Fulmar photograph taken at Skogafoss.

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