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. 

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