Monday, 29 September 2014

28th September - He Played It Left Hand

The Indian Summer continues, and this morning the cloud had lifted, there was a southerly light wind, and plenty of sunshine.  In the tree over the road from the house the Chiffchaff continued to sing, the weather playing with its mind obviously.

We were ready to set out, but were delayed as we attended to our new house pet, a Garden Spider that has taken up residence just outside the back door, we have even taken to feeding it.  We found one of the many Crane Flies about, that was dead in the kitchen, and then placed it in the web, the spider did not take too long finding it.

It then incredibly quickly spun a web around the Crane Fly, and started to feed.  Gruesome but amazingly fascinating.

Just before we set off the Greenfinches were waiting in the nearby trees for us to leave so they would have the garden, and the feeders to their selves.

We headed off to walk along Brislands, and then through Old Down Wood.  It was a lovely morning, and for the time of year it was very warm.  As we passed the site entrance on Brislands, I could hear tapping from the trees.  Finally the owner of the taps flew out of thr tree calling and perched on the overhead wires, a Nuthatch.

The still warm conditions have been perfect for the spiders, and it seemed like there were webs everywhere.  Helen found another by the side of the road.  This is an Orb Web Spider, and it had caught a dung fly in its web, it had pounced on it, and like the garden spider was wrapping it in silk.

It then proceeded to drag the silk wrapped fly along the web, and into the leaves it obviously uses as its cover, amazing again to watch.

We walked along Brislands, with Goldcrests calling on both sides of the road.  As we came out into the open, I noticed a bird perched upright at the top of the hedge.  It was slightly hidden behind the branch it was perching on.

It was a Stonechat, and a migrant bird at last, a rarity this autumn.  I have now seen three birds on the patch, the wintering bird down at the estate at the beginning of the year, and a passage bird in the Desmond paddocks about the same time of year as this bird, two years ago.  Finally it moved to another branch, but this time perched high enough to get a clear view.

Some noise behind us flushed it and it flew off, and did not re-appear.  We decided to walk on so as not to get caught up with what was following us, and then turned into the wood.  The entrance path is very dry, and is not looking like it will become a problem this winter with mud.  The whole area has been cleared top allow the forestry equipment through, and has really opened the area up

We took the new north perimeter path, and were soon surrounded by Tits, the most dominant of which were a pair of Marsh Tits.  They were though more vocal than they were visible, and I only managed brief views and did not get a picture.  This Coal Tit though wanted us to see it.

We made our way to the new path that goes through the centre of the wood heading west.  With the sunshine today the wood had a different feel about it, like a whole new place, the cleared areas adding much needed light and interest.  Lying east to west the new path is flooded with sunshine, and the Speckled Woods were everywhere, although they are beginning to look a little worse for where, there wings loosing the distinctive spots that give them there name.

Fungi in the wood has yet to get going, it is very dry, and I think it will need some rain followed by a dry spell to bring it out.  However we did find these Pleated Inkcap in the grass on the path, they have gone beyond the domed parasol phase and have opened up into a delicate looking parasol.

We left the wood at the west end, and walked down through the Paddocks, Back in the sunshine south easterly wind felt warm, and it was difficult to believe this was the end of September.

With the southerly aspect the hedges that separate the paddocks are always a good spot for autumn butterflies, so it was no surprise to find several Red Admirals flying around the trees and grass here.

We left the paddocks  and started up Andrews Lane.  The horse stables and paddocks always look like they should deliver more birds, but this morning we had to be content with this Robin.  It was concentrating on the prospect of food in the grass below it, and not aware of the opportunity behind it.

As usual we stopped to check all the open areas and sunlit hedges.  The main talking point though was the lack of Swallows and House Martins, only last week the sky above the stables and over the fields had been full of them chattering away, this morning the sky was empty and quiet.

We stood and waited and finally two Chiffchaffs appeared in the hedge, flew after some invisible insects and then disappeared back into the branches.

At the top of the lane and along the footpath there were plenty of Small and Large White butterflies about.  They would stop to nectar on the yellow buttercups and dandelions that were in the grass next to the field.

As we walked through Lye way Farm Helen remarked on the time there had been a lot of small birds in the Hawthorn bushes close to one of the gates.  The small pond and sunshine probably being the attraction that day, but it has never been since as we have never seen a gathering like that after that time.  I checked the bush as we walked by and there was only this male Chaffinch having a preen.

In places the tarmac along Lye way as we walked towards Kitwood was melting, in the warm sunshine, and it was this warmth that was convincing the plants in the hedge that maybe they should flower again.  These Bramble flowers were attracting more Red Admirals

And the Honeysuckle was also interesting the bees.

We took the footpath from Kitwood through Homestead farm, other than a few white butterflies it was really quiet.  This is probably due to the warm weather and time of day now.  

We crossed Hawthorn Road, and started up the footpath past the Shetland paddocks.  I could hear the call of a falcon in the distance, and then scanning across the paddock I picked up a Kestrel.  We were not alone in seeing the falcon, as it quickly became the target of a pair of Jackdaws, and they began to relentlessly mob the Kestrel, that was clearly not very happy about it.

The Jackdaw was attacking with its beak repeatedly diving into the back of the kestrel, while the Kestrel preferred to use its talons to fend off the attacks, in this case rolling onto its back in mid air to show the Jackdaw its intention should it come to close.

One on one the Kestrel was giving a good account of itself, and would turn to chase the jackdaw.  But when the second jackdaw decided to get involved the Kestrel realised it was not on to a good thing and flew off at speed away from the chasing Jackdaws.

Despite this harassment, a kestrel appeared again over the field, and was then joined by another, they gained height and soared high over the fields.  However before too long they again were subjected to more mobbing, and were soon gone from our view.

Mobbing behaviour has many functions. Predators often rely on surprise to succeed. As a predator has been discovered, birds will blow its cover by the loud alarm calls. This will alert other birds to the presence of a predator, and reduce its chances of success. 

This noisy mobbing also serves to impress the appearance of the predator on inexperienced individuals. The constant harassment by the mobbing birds will also drive the predator to a safe distance. The mobbing birds are rarely at risk, provided they keep the predator in sight and do not take too many chances.  The predator you can't see being the biggest danger.

Such attacks are rarely pressed home against really dangerous species, such as goshawks for crows. Mobbing attacks are strongest when the birds have most at stake, such as during the breeding season when young birds are at risk from a wide range of predators. 

In this case the mobbing attack was probably triggered by the shape of the kestrel even though it was a smaller bird and of no danger to the jackdaws.

A little further up the footpath Helen was mobbed by a Common Darter dragonfly.  It seemed to be attracted to here white top, and flew around her shoulder.

Eventually it settled on her shoulder, and seemed quite content to sit there in the sunshine.  We were not sure what the attraction was but it would fly off and then return to her shoulder.  Maybe it was the reflection of warmth from the white fabric.

Finally it decided to take up residence on one of the fence posts.  As we watched I noticed what I first though was an ant climbing the post, but turns out on closer =inspection to be a spider.

What then followed was quite amusing, but incredibly quick.  The spider appeared to touch the Darter on the tip of the abdomen, and the dragonfly reacted by raising the abdomen up into the air.  It did this quickly twice, and then settled back down.

After this manoeuvre I continued to watch the dragonfly and noticed it was now eating the spider.  With lightning fast reactions some how it had reached back and caught the spider.

The rest of the walk was quiet, we made our way to the garden centre, stopping for a coffee in the cafe, and then back across the field to Blackberry lane.  Along the footpath the Ivy was in full bloom attracting more butterflies, we saw a Peacock and Brimstone to add to the day's total.  In the hedges close to the path we could hear the calls of Chiffchaffs, but we were not able to see them. 

Finally back home it was a relaxing afternoon sitting in the garden in the warm sunshine. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

23rd September - Do What I Want Because I Can

Yet another clear still morning but it was cold than of late, the temperature dropping down to four degrees.  All around Four Marks there was fog and mist, but our little bit of elevation helped to keep us clear.  The sky was full of vapour trails a sign of the cold and dry conditions, it also shows how many planes cross us during the early morning.

Today was announced by Google as the first day of autumn, as of today the nights become longer than the days, something the birds seem to have reacted to as they were late to wake up this morning.  This House Sparrow was waiting his turn for the breakfast feeder.

There is something very British (I can still say that now) about a House Sparrow, when you see them abroad they just don't look they are in the right place.  Once upon a time they were everywhere, but have suffered a bit of a decline, however around Reads Field and the farms locally they are doing  very well, roosts in their hundreds are easy to see.

There was a warbler flitting about in my garden, but it didn't stay long.  A little later I found out what it was as a familiar song rang out, albeit at completely the wrong time of year.  In the Silver Birch tree across the road was a singing Chiffchaff.

The song though had an effect and very soon it was joined by another and they chased each other around the branches.

On one of the TV aerials was a strange pairing, a Starling and a Woodpigeon, it looks almost as if they are having a conversation.

Throughout the morning the hazy cloud built up and despite the sun the air remained quite chilled and a lot cooler than we have been used too.  By the late afternoon it was almost overcast but with the sun still having a presence, it had all the makings for a good sunset.

Late afternoon I drove to the estate to walk the loop around Charlwood and Plain Farm, I like to keep the coverage across the patch, and the woods have had some recent attention.  When I parked the car I could see that the field of maize had been recently harvested, and as I walked up the hill I could hear the sound of machinery, and it soon became clear that the field by the main road was also being harvested.  It must take some special equipment to cut though those stems.

It seems early to harvest maize, this usually takes place in October, this year must have been a productive one, with the crops ripening very early, the September weather helping.

The good September weather was not helping the birds though, and again as I walked along the Lye way there was pretty much silence.  It wasn't until I reached the junction with Charlwood and the small pond that I heard the "hueet" calls of Chiffchaffs.  I could see movement in the ivy leaves, and I waited.  First one appeared quickly followed by another, they were catching flies attracted to the ivy flowers. When you watch Chiffchaffs fly catching it seems as if they are chasing small flies, but in this picture it is clear they are adapt at catching the big ones too.

I walked down Charlwood and it became clear that there were in fact quite a few Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers about, there calls and the occasional appearance in the hedges giving them away.  I turned into the field where in the distance there were Rooks, a Pheasant and a Buzzard on the ground.  Along the footpath Linnets were gathering on the wires, and Blackbirds called from within the hedge along with more calls from the warblers.

At the cottages a Great Spotted Woodpecker called, and once again I found it sitting at the top of a tree.  This time a dead branch that was clearly popular with the woodpeckers.

As always I checked the fields, and in doing so I flushed a small group of Grey Partridges, and in the field there was a gathering of Common and Black-headed Gulls.  Further on down the road towards the grain barns young Pheasants scrambled to get away from me as I walked behind them.

In the hedge by the farm houses the House Sparrow flock has built up once again.  At first you see one bird in the hedge, then another appears and before you know you can see many sparrows within the hedge.

Tractors with trailers were coming and going, dropping off cut up maize stems, I am not sure if this included the actual maize or was just the mulched plant stems.  The trailers though were huge and there was a lot of it.

I crossed the road and walked up past the quarry.  I stopped to listen to the Long-tailed Tits, and very quickly these were joined by Chiffchaffs and Nuthatches.  Leaving the flock I walked up the hill, and out into the open.  I am not sure if it was me or the Woodpigeons that crashed out of the surrounding trees, but something upset this buck Roe Deer and it shot across the path in front of me and into the safety of the woods.

The field here had been harvested of maize, and was now looking very sorry for itself with short stumps sticking up.  I walked down the path and watched a Hare run across the field, there is no shelter now and hopefully there will be more sightings to ascertain actual numbers.

I noticed Mistle Thrushes at the top of the oak tree, and they were joined by finches.  They dropped down to the field, and almost immediately a huge flock of mixed finches flew up, joined by at least ten Mistle Thrushes.  The flock consisted of Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Yellowhammers and Linnets, and they were feeding in amongst the stubble probably on the seeds of the plants that were caught up in the harvest and not any fallen maize.  Every so often parts of the flock would fly up and head off to the garden trees.

i picked up a bird flying low over the field and it was a Mistle Thrush, I then noticed a fast flying raptor behind it.  I could only see the silhouette, but it was unmistakeable.

Fast flight, long sickle wings resembling a large hirundine, a Hobby and it was going fast.  I think the Mistle Thrush was probably not the focus of its attention, but I can't blame the bird for taking evasive action, as the Hobby was coming at an amazing speed.  I just kept shooting and managed just to get some defining colour to show the characteristic moustache.

They have been far and few between this year, but are regular and at this time of year they follow the swallows and martins, which is probably what this one was doing.  The Hobby has been a success story recently unlike other birds of prey, and it expanding its presence in the UK, with it now reaching as far as the borders of Scotland.

I walked back down the main path, looking out for any sign of the Barn Owl, but of course there wasn't.  Two Kestrels flew over heading towards Plain Farm.  As I walked down the lane to the car I was serenaded by the calls of yet more Chiffchaffs, today had definitely seen an influx.

As I walked down the path I was taken by the golden sun catching the seed head of a Dandelion, and I gave justice to this by lying down in the grass and capturing the glow on the edge of the seeds, beautiful.

I drove home along Lye Way, and then towards the farm.  The sun was now setting, and I hate to tell you so, but I was right, it was quite a spectacular sunset, the sun breaking through the clouds and creating a glare on the camera.

As I reached the end of Lye Way I saw six Herring Gulls flying across the fields, but other than that there was nothing else.  I arrived home just in time to catch a flock of the "Little Guys" moving through the garden.  When they do this they come in waves, chattering away, flooding the feeders, and are totally unaware I am there.  Consequently I am able to get close to them, and I couldn't resist the opportunity.

The regular visits of Long-tailed Tits is a sign that winter is on the way.  Overnight there was rain, and today (Wednesday) as I write this there has been a small fall of migrants that have included Yellow-browed Warbler.  I will continue to check the warbler flocks that I come across, i think I have now identified a new bogey bird.

Monday, 22 September 2014

21st September - Watch Out, The World's Behind You

The mist of the previous days had gone this morning replaced with blue skies, sunshine , and a brisk, cool north westerly wind.  Yesterday was a big day for me, finally laying the ghost of a bogey bird, for details see here   Today though it was back on the patch and a morning walk around the woods, could I gather the enthusiasm? 

I set off down Lymington Bottom, and was immediately confronted with a large flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees at the junction with Brislands

As I watched the tits I noticed a Jay hopping through the branches with a red berry in its beak, probably looking to hide it somewhere.  With the jay in the tree the Long-tailed Tits moved on.

I decided to walk to the footpath, and then across to Gradwell Lane.  The paddocks here are not currently in use, and the grass was very long, so my hopes of maybe some chats here went quickly out of the window.  The hedges hre had a few calls from Chiffchaffs, but very little else.

It was the same as I walked around the field and past the horse paddocks.  As I walked across the field to Old Down, I could here the calls of Meadow Pipits, and I managed to pick out a few as they flew overhead, I am not sure though whether these were migrating birds, as a small flock will gather here at this time of the year.

In the wood it was much of the same, a lone Robin singing to declare its territory.  I took the south perimeter path in the hope that there might be some fungi about.  There were signs that some had come out, but they had either been trampled on, or eaten in the night.

Movement in the fallen branches caught my eye, and I thought I saw a mouse or vole run along a horizontal branch, however it soon appeared and I could see it was a Dunnock.  The Dunnock is a bird that is very much overlooked, no one ever says "I saw a beautiful Dunnock today".  Its sad in away because in there own special way it has some beautiful plumage, and if it was one of those rare autumn migrants I am sure everyone would enthuse about  this little brown bird.

Over the last few weeks when the clouds have cleared the sky would be a washed out blue, but this morning the sky was that azure blue colour, contrasting vividly with the white fluffy clouds.  From within Old down, the sky is now clearly visible.

i eventually found some fungi that had been damaged or eaten.  This Sulphur Tuft appearing on its usual site, an old tree stump.

While this old dead Birch trunk was riddled with Birch Polypore.

I came off the perimeter path, and onto the main footpath that runs north to south through the wood.  I haven't been here for awhile and so I took my time to look around.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from within the trees, and then sounded clearer and closer.  I looked around and finally found it calling from the top of a lone larch.

A tit flock then appeared with mainly Blue and Great Tits, and a few Long-taileds, but if you stand and wait you will usually find there are other hangers on.  In this case I managed to see a Treecreeper, a single Nuthatch and a pair of very vocal Coal Tits.  The Goldcrest and Wren are considered our smallest bird, but the Coal Tit is not far behind them, and in many cases probably some are as small if not smaller.

The wood may appear quiet and empty, but if you take the time to stand and watch and listen inevitably something will appear.  The small birds were entertaining as they made their way through the trees, but then I heard the caw of a crow above me, clearly not happy about something, and then in the blue sky I saw a Buzzard fly over, quickly followed by a mobbing crow.  There were in fact two crows, but one was a lot more intent on mobbing the Buzzard.  You have to feel sorry for the buzzard, it must be like being attacked by an annoying (large) insect.

I then walked on, debating with myself where to go.  I set off for the west end, but my heart wasn't in a full walk, so when I reached the style for the Desmond Paddocks I stopped and looked out considering where to go.  Once again the calls of Crows brought me back from my thinking, and two were chasing a Sparrowhawk this time that was flying across the field.  I managed to photograph the hawk,  but in being quick all I have are silhouettes, still it is an unmistakeable shape.

Clearly my heart wasn't in a circular walk around Andrew Lane, there had been a few warblers calling on the walk so far, but the lack of movement overhead did not fill me with encouragement.  The weather needs to change to bring in some birds, and while it was drier and fresher the wind was still coming from the same direction, north, not a conducive direction for migrants.

I looked along the hedgerow, a Chiffchaff called as did a Blue Tit.  The ivy was an attraction for bees and a few Hornets.  These are probably from the nest at the bottom of Andrew Lane

I could hear the chatter of Swallows, but it wasn't from birds moving overhead, but from a young bird sitting on the fence wire in the paddock.

The chatter came when the youngster saw its parent come close, it would flutter ist wings and beg, the adult dropping in to feed the young one.

The adult would then sit on the fence wire with they youngster before flying off to catch more insects to deliver back to the young bird.  Very soon this little bird will be independent and then heading off on a incredible journey to Africa, and then hopefully returning here next spring, what an amazing feat.

The paddocks were looking splendid away to the west, fluffy white clouds, rich green grass and the intermittent bleats of sheep, and the calls of Rooks

I finally made up my mind and decided to walk back through the wood.  I took the new path through the middle and very quickly came across three Roe Deer.  They were all young bucks, with varying growth of their small antlers.  This one has managed one prong on his antlers.

While this one has two, and this one was a little braver with me, and clearly able to influence what the other two did.  His bravery rubbed off on the other two, who decided to come back and stay me out with him.

I left the deer and walked down the path.  looking back you can see how this has opened up the wood while providing a nice walk way which allows you to enjoy an area of Old Down that was completely inaccessible before.

The walk home was uneventful apart from a clearly lost little dog at the Brislands entrance, fortunately dog and owner were reunited.  A flock of Goldcrests teased me by the recreation ground, by that aside I saw nothing else of interest.

At home I was fascinated to find this ants nest.  They have pushed the soil out of the ground and it is beginning to form a tower.  A mini ant mound not unlike in shape the termite mounds we have seen in Africa and Australia, if not much, much smaller.

The moth trap overnight had not revealed anything different, it seems to be stuck in an underwing groove.  While a quiet day it was a nice walk in what was quite cool conditions, a big change from yesterday, is autumn finally going to arrive.

Checking the south coast reports in the evening there was a slight increase in grounded migrants, but I assured myself they would not have turned up here, and my malaise this morning would not have meant missing anything.