Tuesday, 28 October 2014

28th October - I'll Never Say Never Again

The Tawny Owls were calling again early this morning, it was a clear morning, and it seems they have settled around here.  I have no idea though where they are, it sounds once again as if it is in the trees at the bottom of the hill.

The sun and blue skies were with us all day, but as I came home I could see the bank of cloud away to the west that signaled a change in the weather was coming.  The calling owls this morning had convinced me that I should try and see if there were any owls around Plain Farm, the conditions were perfect, but as I drove up to the farm the skies were completely overcast, and a wind was picking up.  Last week I said that was the last evening walk, but one should never say never.

As I walked up the hill I could hear Goldcrests, and I stopped to see if there was any sign of the Firecrests, but nothing appeared and even the Goldcrests stopped calling.

Woodpigeons streamed across the field, there have been some incredible numbers throughout the county over the last few days, with counts into the tens of thousands.  As I watched the Woodpigeon flying over the tree tops here I reckoned that many must have turned up here.

As well as the Woodpigeon, there was also a large gathering of corvids, mostly Rooks and Jackdaw were again swarming over the tops of the Mountains Plantation.

Last night at this time the clear skies allowed for good light, but today at the same time it was quite gloomy, and it was very difficult to pick out a covey of Red-legged Partridges as they scurried across the tilled field.

I walked down the main trail, with more Rooks swarming above me.  At one point a Kestrel in a tree decided to strike first and I watched it chase the Rooks away.

When I reached the end of the path I looked across towards the house, and in the gloom I picked out a Red Kite circling around the distant trees.

I was hopeful that there would be some winter thrushes about, and sure enough a flock of Redwing announced their arrival with the familiar "seeep" calls above me, and they flew across the trees and field towards the top of a distant oak tree.

I had hoped to find some Fieldfare, but there was no sign or sound of them.  They are late here this year, by now last year there were flocks all around the patch.

Away off towards the west the sun was lighting up a low gap in the cloud as it set, it was just past 16.30, the clocks going back bring darker evenings on us now.

I scanned across the park to the east, and then walked down the beech avenue.  There were one or two old Parasol mushrooms in amongst the grass, but that was about all I did find in amongst the trees.

At the end of the path I turned and headed back along the footpath that goes past the cottages, this was new ground for me, and as I walked through I could hear a flock of Goldcrests, and several calling Wrens.  I disturbed a Pheasant from the long grass, and as I followed its flight I picked up a flock of birds in the distance.

As I tracked them it became clear they were ducks, Mallard looking for somewhere to spend the night.

I walked past the quarry footpath, and then along the path past the plantation.  From the scrub close to the edge of the field several Pheasant broke cover and flew across in front of me, and away into the cover of the trees.

It was now very gloomy, and I decided to walk down the main path again.  I am nothing if not totally optimistic, and I remained hopeful my efforts would be rewarded.  There were calls coming from the field, and all I could make out were light blobs, which on closer look turned into Red-legged Partridges calling.  The camera enhances the light, believe me it was much gloomier than this.

A Kestrel called continuously from a tall conifer, and then flew out and around over the field, the flight very different from normal, it was almost like a display flight, fluttering the wings and calling all the time.  It came down very low passing over my head.  All I could see though was a silhouette in the gloomy light.

It settled into a tree, but was clearly not settled and very soon came out again and flew around with the same flight behaviour and again continuing to call.  Then it became clear the reason for this display, it was joined by another Kestrel.  They flew around together and then both settled into one of the conifers, with no further calling.  It obviously didn't want to go to bed on its own, and was calling for a partner to join it.

The Barn Owl was not going to appear so once again I walked down the hill to the car having failed in my mission to find one yet again.  A Tawny Owl was calling from within the Mountains Plantation, the search for territory seems to be starting with a vengeance.

I drove around the lanes but saw nothing else, I also popped into the pond to see if there were any roosting duck, but even in the now dark conditions it was quite clear there was nothing there.

I am now certain this will be the last mid week late afternoon report for the year.

Monday, 27 October 2014

26th October - Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont

It was one of those mornings when you look outside and think there just isn't going to be much about today, but then you doubt yourself and think, but there might be.  It was cloudy, grey, still and mild, neither autumn or winter, that kind of day that that is really nothing.

But still we decided to set off, and walk an area we haven't been to for some time.  We set off for Weathermore Lane, then out to Lord's Wood, back along the Kitcombe bridleway, and back towards the garden centre.  As we walked towards telegraph Lane, those early morning thoughts were coming true, all we had seen or heard was Woodpigeons flying over and the odd Starling.  Even the Robins had decided it was a day not worth bothering to sing on.

We took the footpath through the wood towards the lane, a few Chaffinches were disturbed from the beech mast on the ground, and in the distance you could hear the contact calls of Goldcrests. As we walked along the lane the only thing of interest was the different colours in the trees, and the moss lining the branches as they stretched out across the path.  The patterns here always impress, and I have taken this shot before, but I thought it needed reminding.

The path here will almost always have fungi growing under the bramble at this time of year, but as has been the way in Old Down, there was very little, and what there was had either been eaten or attacked.

We passed the turn off, and then the open fields, looking down the lane there was still an awful lot of greenery on the trees despite the late time of year.

As we walked with nothing much going on we talked, and I brought up the subject of continuing to work the patch, I enjoy the fact you can just walk out of the house and into the countryside, and the challenge of really having to work to find those special moments, but there are times when I long for the variety that the coastal areas provide.  

We were approaching Lord's Wood as we were discussing this, and I noticed a group of eight birds flying towards me, at first I thought, as you always have to here, "Woodpigeon", but not they were slimmer, then I thought "Golden Plover", as there had been some large flocks around last weekend.  But the beaks were far too long and slightly up turned, the wings were longer and showed a light wing bar, and the feet extended beyond the tail.  I couldn't believe it when I realised what they were, Black-tailed Godwits!  By now they were away from me, and I tried to get the camera up, and focused but for once the auto focus struggled to pick them up, and they were gone.

They headed west, coming from the east, not sure where from, maybe Kingsley.  After all the discussion about variety this was a strong reminder that anything can turn up, you just have to be there, and it was also a reminder that when you do find something special it can lift the day quite dramatically.  The Godwits take my life bird list to 99 birds, can I get the hundred by the end of the year?  I am going to give it a good go.

We walked up into Lord's Wood.  It was nice to walk through mature Scots Pine, and a wood where there has not be any forestry.  It was though no different from anywhere else today, quiet.  The odd Wren would call, and high in the pines the Goldcrest contact calls continued.  Again we checked under the bramble and bracken for fungi, but didn't find any.  

One feature of this wood is how wet and swampy it gets despite being high up, for some reason the paths have lush grass, and in places there are clumps of bulrushes.  We walked down to Kitcombe Lane, and walked up through the corridor of Hazel trees, scanning across the open fields in the hope something would drift by.  All we found in the fields was a lone Meadow Pipit, but on the sides of the lane at last we started to find some fungi.  First up  I thought we found a Blushing Wood Mushroom, or Scaly Wood Mushroom.

These are edible mushrooms, and start off as almost round balls and then open out into the flat cap.  We also found some younger specimens, and you can see the shape of the young cap.

We searched both sides of the path, and Helen's keen eyes proved much more successful than mine.  Next up were these Soft Puffballs at the base of a Hazel Tree

They look like small potatoes.

This one was growing in the leaf litter and I think it is a Common Earthball, another type of puffball, with definite small spikes on the fruiting body.

A lot of what we were finding were very small specimens, indicating that maybe the y were just beginning to emerge.

A purple fungi coming out of the base of a hazel trunk caught the eye, as it was so completely different from the others.

This is I believe the purple sub species of the Oyster mushroom, columbinus, they are sometimes known as the Blue Oyster, and are cultivated.  I could have referred to Blue Oyster Cult, and hoping that they are spared the reaper, but I won't.

There was more fungi along this lane than anywhere else i have been around the patch this year, the next find was this Common Funnel.  There were in fact several of all different sizes, The cap or funnel on this one was about two centimetre across and the largest and best specimen we found.

Another colourful mushroom amongst the greys and browns that seem to dominate was this Plums and Custard, a mushroom that is sometimes listed as edible after boiling, but in most cases is referred to as inedible.  This one is probably a little past its best.

There were several clumps of Wood Mushrooms, and with the hawthorn berries adding some colour it makes for a nice autumnal scene, while the mushroom reminds me of the Disney cartoon Fantasia.

As we reached the end of the lane the side of the path became more grass, and in places the hedge had been completely cut back.  It was hear that we began to see quite a few Parasol Mushrooms, there long stipes with the collar, and scaly effect, the caps not yet flattened out into the characteristic flat parasol that gives them their name.

As we had walked along the lane I could hear Redwing call as they flew over us.  The canopy of Hazel though made it impossible for us to see them.  In the fields a Pheasant called, and every so often we would see a Wren skulking about at the base of the Hazel switches.

We came out onto the main road, and headed down Willis Lane.  This male Blackbird was upset at something as it was scolding away from the Hawthorn bush.  We couldn't find the reason for its alarm calls.

From Willis Lane we took the footpath towards the Garden Centre, on a dead stump Helen found this small clump of black fungi.  These are known as Dead Man's Fingers for pretty obvious reasons.  An interesting fungi it is known as a Sac fungi, and while these fingers are separate sometimes they can be fused together.  A feature of this fungi is the time they take to spore, it can start in the spring, and last for many months.

Our next stop was for coffee at the Tree House, and then back down through the field to Blackberry Lane, and then home.  There were more Goldcrests on the way, and a pair of Pied Wagtail in Blackberry Lane, but that was it.  It had been one of those quiet days, but a quiet day that brought that one moment of something unusal and special.  I just would never have foreseen it, but there you are, it always pays to be on the look out because you never know, and if we hadn't have gone out, then the chances are the Godwits would have passed unnoticed.

Here is a link to what I did yesterday

After dark this evening we could hear a Tawny Owl calling quite close to the garden, it was the "keevit" call so probably a female coming into a territory.

Apologies for the title, I just couldn't resist it!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

22nd October - Blowin' Through My Life

The strong winds of Tuesday gave way to a calmer start, clearer skies and sunshine.  As a result with the sun coming up the Starlings descended into the garden once again, they occupied their usual vantage point in the nearby tree, and one by one would drop into the ground feeder or those hanging.

The process involves flying to the feeders, making the most of it before being turfed off by another who considers the incumbent has had enough, then flying up to the roof of the next door house to take in some sunshine.

The House Sparrows seem to have vacated the hedge for now, and I was wondering why when I noticed movement in the hedge, were they back, well the answer was no as this Starling appeared. 

I am not sure if this was a one off, or they have noticed the convenience, I will have to keep an eye on the developments.

The sky turned hazy towards midday, and the sunshine watery, and away to the west a bank of cloud was developing.  I took the chance to drive around the patch, with the first destination the pond.  I am intrigued by the Mallard that have been turning up, interested to see if there is a particular time of day for them, is it a roost site, or do they make use of it through the day.  When I arrived I couldn't see any, but a walk around the bank revealed a solitary drake at the far end, hardly a suit at all.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the tall trees at the back, and a Chiffchaff was also present but difficult to pin down.  Before I left I decided to take a wide angle picture.  As I did so I could hear Redwing calling as they flew over.

From the pond I drove down Lye Way Road stopping at the gate to scan across the fields.  Small flocks of yellowhammer and Linnet flew past, probably from feeding in the field, I could also hear a Skylark singing from above.

I drove on to Lye Way farm, and as I approached the barns I could see a bird on the roof of one of the barns.  I stopped, checked and saw it was a Kestrel, looking down into the ground beyond the barn.  With the colder weather the Kestrel will use vantage points such as these to watch for possible prey opportunities, and I guess this was what was going on here.

I turned onto Lye Way lane checking the field where on Saturday there were two Wheatear, to day it was completely empty, the grass getting longer as it had not been used for grazing.

On the other side were the fields that a large flock of Golden Plover had been flying around, but they too were empty save for the odd crow and Jackdaw.

Ahead of me I saw a small raptor fly to the top of an oak tree, and as it did so it was immediately chased away by a Crow.  This was another Kestrel, and it flew off toward the Lye Way farm buildings, where I suspect it will not be a welcome visitor.

I wanted to walk up to the estate, and pulled over to park by the cattle grid.  Once again a Kestrel appeared from the tree by the gate, and flew across the field and ended up in a conifer.

Its flight had not gone unnoticed, because as it sat there doing no one any harm it was repeatedly dive bombed by Jackdaws.  Three Kestrels in a relatively small area was a good record these days, and I suspect they may be this years's offspring, there have been at least three nests that have raised young around the patch, which has to be good news.

I walked up the hill, it was quiet but I did notice several Woodpigeon were moving high, heading south.  I then heard a call behind me, and turned to see that the little Kestrel had not learnt to sty put when there are corvids about.  It was heading towards the Mountains Plantation and was being mobbed by at least three Jackdaws.

As well as the Kestrels there were also Buzzards soaring above the trees just along the edge of the fields.  I would imagine with such high winds yesterday it was very difficult to hunt, so today they had to take advantage of the calmer conditions.

I walked to the pond, where there was nothing of interest, and then a little way along the footpath.  I could hear Redwing calling but couldn't see them.  I decided on walking back, and watched several large flocks of Woodpigeons.  I could also see them away in the distance over Winchester and Dogford wood, the first real build up of numbers this autumn.

This is a distance picture but you can make out the flock of Woodpigeons.

When I got home I discovered that all along the south coast there were reports of the first significant flocks of Woodpigeons seen, counts of 2000 plus over the course of several hours moving south.  In my area there were some moving away but for most of the time they were gathering, it must be something to do with the area, or the potential food such as beech mast and acorns that attracts them.  The good thing is that with the large flocks of Woodpigeon come the predators, namely Peregrine, which is always nice to see.

Back home the afternoon saw the cloud build, and there were some spells of drizzle.  It was much colder now, with the sign that the next week or so would be much calmer and cooler. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

21st October - What Were The Skies Like When You Were Young?

The rain lasted until about nine this morning, and pretty soon the blue sky was full of fluffy white clouds racing past the window.  The south appears to have come off lightly with the passing of Hurricane Gonzalo, all we seem to have experienced was some very strong westerly winds and overnight rain.  It was because of the wind that I debated with myself about going out for the last evening walk this year, but because it was just that I decided to go.  Strong winds are not conducive for good wildlife spotting around here, so I was under no elusion as I set off, but I did intend to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.

I walked up Brislands, and then turned into Gradwell taking the path alongside the paddocks into Old Dow.  There would be some shelter there, and it would be interesting to walk a different route.

As I crossed the field the low sunshine was sending shadows, and a golden glow on the hedge that leads down to Brislands.

The wind was very strong as I broke the cover of the paddocks, and it was difficult to hear anything other than the wind, but as I walked towards the wood I heard the "seeep" of Meadow Pipits behind me, and I turned to see two struggling to fly into the wind.

As I walked into the wood I disturbed a Song Thrush feeding in the leaf litter, and I could also hear a Robin singing, the trees sheltering the  noise of  the wind.  This year has not been very good so far for fungi in the wood, but this entrance has been the area where there was always something available if not in great numbers.  I scoured the dead trees and ground beneath the bramble, usually a spot for puffballs but totally bare today.  I did find this fungi on the moss on an old log.

I think this is an Wood Wooly-foot, the long stipe is covered in tiny hairs which are quite dense, which are distinctive of this species, they are also solitary which also fits.

I searched the area where last year I ghad found a Death Cap, but the conditions are much different now.  Where there were trees there is now a large depression, but in one of the holes I found this mushroom growing.  I don't think it is a Death Cap, but consider it to be a type of Bolette, which though is difficult to decide as I think it has gone past its best.

I went to walk along the main path towards the crossroads, and was taken by the sun catching the hanging larch leaves.

I turned off onto the path that leads towards Kitwood, the floor of the wood here is covered in Sweet Chestnuts, and I crunched them up as I walked over them.

This area was heavily thinned out last winter, and as a result many trees were blown down in the winter storms because they did not have sufficient root development to anchor them safely.  This is the first real storm of the autumn this year, and as I looked at the remaining larches I wondered if they have been able to develop that root structure over the summer to save them this year.  The trees look very frail as they blow in the wind this evening, you have to wonder whether more will go down this winter.

I turned on to the southern perimeter path, it was very quiet.  I came across a small clump of very white fungi which ranged in size from about 10 centimetres across to 3.  The smaller fruit bodies appear like tiny balls which makes me think that this may be a form of the Blue Spot Knight.

I walked on and came out into the main north - south path through the wood.  As I walked towards the crossroads, I passed the large Beech trees that is very much a feature of this path, the branches and leaves of the two Beech trees here form a canopy that reaches down to the ground.  I am not sure why but we always consider this to be a special tree, and not just by us as in the summer it is a popular spot for children to picnic under.  You can imagine then my concern to find the trees marked with the dreaded pink marking, which has become a sign the trees are to be removed.  For me this would be a complete disaster, and would take away immediately the essence of this small but beautiful wood.

A little bit down I walked on, and then cut through to the perimeter path on the west side.  Looking out across the paddocks the distant hills and trees looked incredibly beautiful, and helped lift the mood.

I made my way to the West End, having to negotiate more tree branches strewn across the path.  There were small piles of logs laid by the side of the path as well, the size looking more of use for fence poles.

In the conifer plantation I could hear the contact calls of Goldcrests as they prepared to settle down to roost, little sun gets through here and it was feeling quite cold.

As I approached the gap in the trees at the end of the path the way through was lit up by the setting sun.  Interestingly the last time I was here there was a long branch reaching down to the ground where children were playing on it.  Today it has been cut down.

I walked down through the paddocks, past the grazing sheep.  Looking to the west into the sun the sheep appeared to have a glow around there bodies.

There had been little bird activity on the walk so far, so the Rooks in the field were the were an attraction as they flew from the fence posts to the filed where they would follow the cattle and sheep around.

I decided to walk up Swelling Hill, a couple of Robins were singing, and Chaffinches and Woodpigeons could be seen in the tops of the trees, but apart from that it was quiet, and the noise from the wind blowing the trees made it very difficult o hear anything else.

I approached the pond wondering if maybe the ducks had returned.  The first thing I saw were two Moorhens in the amongst the lily pads.  As usual they flew off and made their way through the iris leaves on the far bank.

This is one of this year's fledglings, lacking the bill markings of the adult bird.

I walked slowly around the pond, noticing that the water level was much higher now.  As I reached the picnic tables a pair of Mallard appeared, quickly followed by more.  There was not the high number that were here at the beginning of the month, but I counted 14 which if it had not been for the amazing 60 early in October would have been a cause for celebration.

There were more drakes than ducks, and as they swam around they would be picked out by the little pockets of sunshine that made it through the trees, adding a sheen to the already gorgeous bottle green colour on the heads of the drakes.

I suppose not having the habitat, and the fact that a Mallard here is a rare find, you tend to appreciate the beauty of them more.

There were at least two definite pairs, that would swim together while the others would look to do their own thing. They collected on the far side where I left them wondering if maybe others come in after dark to join them at the roost.

I walked to Kitwood, and then headed down towards the school.  Looking down the road the trees and the low sun produced yet another lovely autumn scene.

The wind was still very strong, and with it I had expected if nothing else to come across some gulls.  When the winds are strong they do seem to fly over, but I had seen none.  As I turned up Gradwell though I picked up a small flock of Black-headed Gulls drifting over the distant paddocks in the orange sky.

I could hear the chattering of Magpies in the field, and I could see that there was quite a few present.  I found a gap in the hedge and was able to photograph them, without disturbing them.  In this view there are 12 Magpies, which means it is safe for me to publish this picture.  There were in fact another eight that flew from the left hand side so in total there were 20, one of the largest flocks I have seen.

This got me thinking, what is the collective noun for Magpies, when I googled I found that there are quite a few.  You can have a Gulp, a Murder, a Congregation, a tiding a tittering or even a charm (which for me is better suited to the Goldfinches).  My favourite though was a Conventicle, which if you look up the definition is defined as a gathering of unofficial lay people, or unlawful people.  Appropriate?

I couldn't stop there and checked the noun for Mallard, and there are several again, a Flush of Mallard, or a suit of Mallard being my favourites.

I turned onto the footpath leading to Lymington Bottom, and flushed yet another two Magpies.  Ahead was a hedge covered in Hawthorn berries, and as I though it might be good for Redwings I heard the familiar call.  They were not feeding on the berries though, they were flying over heading south.  I am sure though the berries will very soon become a source of food for all the thrushes as the weather changes, and maybe a Waxwing?

I turned onto Lymington Bottom and headed home, it was nearly 6.00 pm, and the sun was gone, next week the clocks go back, and the dark winter nights will begin.  For now though I walked home with a blue purple sky, still a very strong wind, and no little fluffy clouds.