Wednesday, 10 September 2014

9th September - From a Distance We All have Enough

So far this week there have been misty still mornings, that have led to bright blue sunny days.  The days are shortening as we head towards the Autumnal equinox, with the sun rising as I drive to work.  The evenings are still hanging on though, still allowing the late afternoon evening walk in the week.

The migration reports have been positive with the light winds and clear skies, and as I set off I was optimistic, as always, of finding something of interest.  For some though love was still in the air.


Woodpigeons have an incredibly long breeding season, typically from April to October although they have been recorded breeding in every month of the year.  This productivity, and the fact that recent changes in arable farming practice, notably the increased production of oil seed rape, has seen there numbers increase significantly.

Once again i wanted to stick to the hedgerows, and sheltered spots, but I was intending to walk through Old Down Wood.  I headed down Brislands, stopping to try and photograph calling Chiffchaffs, but they stayed at a distance, and only gave brief views which were impossible to focus on.

Looking out across the fields the misty conditions were beginning to return as the late summer heat of the day began to reduce with the sun sinking lower in the sky.


I headed into the wood, and decided to take the diagonal footpath to the west end.  The area was cleared of many trees last winter, and the old tree stumps have attracted the fungi already.  This stump was covered with what I think to be either a bracket or bolette, but I have not been able to identify it properly from the books I have.


Rather than continue along the footpath, i turned onto a wide track that has recently been established by the foresters.  The path goes through another newly opened area of the wood, and just as I thought there should be a Roe Deer here, one appeared.  A young male it watched as I walked past it.


The track cut its way through the centre of the wood, and I realised it was going through a recently familiar part, this was where the Buzzard nest had been in the summer, fortunately they fledged before this opened the area up.  At the end of the path it is possible to pick up one of the old smaller trails that winds round to the west end entrance.  I was surprised to find a car here, and watched as it turned around on the field and drove away from me.

I walked down through the paddocks disturbing Blackbirds and several Chaffinches from the hedge as I made my way.  There were a few Swallows flying around, but nothing like the numbers there have been, but as I watched them above me, I became aware of insects buzzing around the roof of the first cottage.

Amazingly, after finding my first Hornet nest on Saturday, here was another.  The Hornets were going in and out of a hole between the roof tiles, something I am sure the house owner is not aware of.


Hornets appear very similar to common wasps, but are larger and coloured chestnut-brown (rather than black) and yellow. The largest of the British social wasps, they build papery nests in hollow trees, although hornet nests have been discovered in wall cavities and chimneys. 


The hornet's life cycle is similar to that of the common wasp. Newly-mated queens hibernate during the winter, and emerge in spring to begin building a nest. They lay eggs that hatch into sterile female workers who take over nest building and collecting food for the developing larvae. Later in the summer males and fertile females hatch. These mate and the females become next year’s queens. The males, old queen and workers die in the autumn.  This could be the reason I am seeing them now, as new Hornets are emerging.

I continued up the Lane, stopping at the usual spots.  Looking across into the paddocks there was a lot of activity, but distant.  This Green Woodpecker appeared on the fence.


A few swallows flew low over the grass, and in the trees I counted 15 Chaffinches, quite a significant number, as there have hardly been any sizeable flocks for sometime.

Starlings too were making an appearance gathering in flocks to feed and just generally chatter before roosting.


Jays are becoming a regular sight, mainly as they fly across from tree to tree carrying or in search of acorns, that they are now starting to cache for the winter.  many are forgotten and go onto germinate.  This one flew past me, the white rump flashing in the late evening sunshine.


next stop was the flycatcher corner.  There was a little bit of activity, but all very distant.  This small bird sat still on a far bush, and though maybe it was a flycatcher, but on close inspection it is in fact a female Blackcap.


Apologies for the quality of the photographs, but the birds seemed intent on remaining distant today, still they capture the scene.

I made my way to the top of the lane, in the trees above me I could hear several Goldcrests calling as they made their way through leaves feeding, and with them were Blue and Long-tailed Tits.  I then walked along the path at the top.  This bank faces south, and is always a warm sheltered spot even in the winter.  Butterflies had been conspicuous by their absence this evening, but here they suddenly appeared with at least a dozen Speckled Woods and a couple of Large Whites.

I walked down Lye Way, in the evening sunshine which always manages to turn the fields at this time of year into a golden yellow scene contrasting with the tired green of the tree's leaves.


A series of "zitting" calls from behind the hedge revealed the presence of Yellowhammers.  at first they flirted with me, appearing briefly on the top of the hedge then dropping down and out of sight.  Then one decided to be brave and flew up to the wires.


A little further along the lane there was another small gathering of first year Starlings, their winter plumage beginning to replace the juvenile feathers.


I had timed it so the final section of the walk would take me across the field towards Old Down.  At the weekend the recent muck spreading had attracted a large gathering of hirundines.  In the past the evening sunset time was a good time to see spectacular numbers feeding on the insects that have been attracted to the muck.  

I crossed the small meadow, and climbed over the style into the field.  In doing so I disturbed several groups of Woodpigeon, and a good flock of Rooks and Jackdaws, but there were no hirundines.

I have wondered why we get these gatherings, and where do they come from, I thought maybe it is the weataher conditions.  Overcast conditions keeping the insects low as it was at the weekend, but then two years ago when there were thousands it was clear and sunny like today.  I am now convinced it must be associated with a significant passage of hirundines, and the fact that they stumble across the opportunity.  The weekend saw reports of large numbers gathering on the south coast, this extending into Monday as well.  maybe for now the passage has eased, and I will have to wait for the next major movement.

As I walked across the field I noticed a small raptor flying towards me.  The light and aspect made initial identification difficult.


But as the light and angle changed it was clear it was a Kestrel.  It would have been interesting to see how it was greeted if there was a large flock of hirundines about.


I headed towards Gradwell Lane, checking the trees and bushes, but a part from a single Willow Warbler it was quiet.  A calling Great Spotted Woodpecker had me searching the tree tops, and sure enough there it was at the top of a Leylandi, one of their favourite spots, why I don't know, but it is surely good somebody likes Leylandi.


As I approached the lane, I could see a fair bit of movement in the bushes.  As I got closer I could see this was a large flock of mixed finches, predominantly Greenfinches.


They were so joined by a flock of Goldfinches and a few Chaffinches.


Over the last few days there has been evidence of migrant birds passing through, but also the resident local birds beginning to behave in preparation for the colder and challenging days of autumn and winter.  A Goldcrest and Tit flock drifting through the trees together.  Finches in trees together ahead of a mixed roost, and of course the Starling flocks chattering and flying about, a true sign winter isn't far away

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