Yesterday brought a shock to the system, high winds and heavy rain for most of the day, but as evening approached the storm drifted away to the east and clear skies appeared. Overnight there were a few more showers, but by dawn the skies were clear once again and it was cold, which again was a bit of a shock.
Things took a little while to warm up in the garden, but as the sun began to pick out the trees the birds started to arrive. I have observed recently that there appears to be a sizeable number of Starlings about this year, the result of a good breeding season with up to three broods being raised in the roof nests around us. These juveniles are now obtaining adult plumage, but still retain the boisterousness of the "teenage" birds. As a result there are frequent squabbles around the feeders, and the noise can be quite loud. They sit in the surrounding trees and drop in when they feel safe.
As well as the trees the next door roof apex provides a good look out too, and give the sun the chance to pick the gorgeous colours out of the new winter plumage. I really love the Starlings, they are all characters and quite clever little birds that learn very quickly.
With the Starlings being so boisterous the other birds tend to creep through the branches and wait to take the chance to jump on the feeders or pick up the fallout from the Starling squabbles on the floor. This Greenfinch was waiting patiently in the sunshine.
And this Goldfinch too was biding its time in the Acer.
First thing in the morning a good vantage point is important. This Collared Dove prefers the TV aerial to the trees to have a good morning preen in the sunshine.
I was concerned to see yet another Blue Tit with feather damage around the eyes, if this had been August I would have pout it down to breeding and the moult, but at this time of year it is probably mites. To be sure it is not my feeders that are giving it the mites they will all get a good clean, something perhaps we should all do a little more frequently than we probably do.
By now the sun had reached the leylandi hedge, and once this begins to warm up some quite amusing behaviour starts. In the holes in the hedge appear the House Sparrows as if looking out of windows or door in an apartment block.
They sit there in the sun, and wait for their turn on the feeders, then when finished fly back into the hedge. It is almost impossible to count how many are there, but there must be at least 20 birds. They all have their little window both males and females, and they almost always return to the same spot.
Later in the morning a Red Kite drifted over the house, the first I have seen since early September, so they must now have completed their moult. The Chiffchaff that has been regular around the garden was still about, mostly calling but every so often there would be the odd snippet of song, just as if it forgot the time of year. During the afternoon there was a short spell of rain, but this moved through quickly to leave still a strong cool wind and sunshine.
It was that cold wind that meant I had to don the winter coat as I set out in the late afternoon, and I was glad of it as it became much cooler towards dusk. I headed out along Brislands, the low sun was changing the colour of the trees around me, and the birds seemed to be looking to find spots where they could sit and catch the warmth. I could hear a couple of jays with their raucous calls (why is it that beautiful birds such as parrots and of course jays have such awful calls, is it to balance them out?) and as I searched I found three juvenile woodpigeons sitting in the sun. There are identifiable from the adults by the lack of white patches on the neck, their size also tells them apart from the smaller but similar plumaged Stock Dove.
A little further on I could hear the alarm calls of a Wren, and unusually immediately found it in the hedge by the side of the road.
My intention was to walk around Old Down in the hope of finding some fungi, we are now into October traditionally the time when the fruiting bodies start to appear, giving away the presence of these strange organisms.
Walking along Brislands and looking away to the north, the sun was casting long shadows over the distant fields, and lighting up the greens and browns that are now a feature of the autumn landscape.
At the entrance to the wood a Chiffchaff was calling but I left it to do so, and walked along the outside past the sun lit trees in the hope the warmth of the sun might attract some birds to catch insects. I heard a calling Blackcap, and a couple more Chiffchaffs but never saw them.
I took the perimeter path, and could hear machinery in the distance. The search for fungi was not going very well, the floor and dead wood showing no signs of any. Away to the north I was surprised to see a large flock of gulls sitting out in a recently drilled field over by the Watercress line.
As I came out at the West End it became much clearer as to the reason for the gulls being in the field, there were two tractors in the field, one ploughing and the other tilling and drilling seeds. There were gulls and corvids everywhere, and I took some time to go through the gulls in the hope of a "snowball" but with no luck. All I could find were Common and Black-headed Gulls, and not a sign of a white winged Mediterranean Gull. They are seen at Alresford so there is always the chance they could turn up, but today they were just not following the plough.
I left the gulls and walked to the paddocks. Jackdaws, Rooks, and Magpies could be seen in the distant field with the cows, and away over by Old Down Cottage there was a Border Collie was being put through its paces with a flock of sheep, it was quite entertaining watching the sheep look to break away from the group, and the dog run after them, herding them back.
There was still some patches of darker cloud about, and in the sunshine this made for a dramatic sky away to the west over the wood, the trees beginning to show signs of colour change in the leaves.
I didn't walk all the way down, I just turned back and walked through the wood to the crossroads. Still looking for the fungi, and still coming up with nothing. Goldcrests called from the conifers, but today this patch of conifers doesn't look so dark and imposing, the thinning out of the trees has let in light which makes the area a part of the wood, something that previously it wasn't.
From the crossroads I walked south down the main path. It was quiet, with just the sound of the wind going through the tops of the larches, but when a Buzzard drifted over the alarm calls started, and you quickly realised that there was life around you. The Buzzard was shadowed across the wood by a single Jackdaw, but it never moved to mob the bird.
I walked out of the wood at the thatched cottage and then towards the pond. As I approached I saw a pair of Mallard on the water, but as I got closer I could see there was quite a few, maybe as many as the number I had seen last month. Rather than risk flushing them I climbed to the picnic area where there was some cover. I thought there was a good number again, but I never expected the sight that I came across as I walked towards the far end of the pond. It was as if there was more duck than water.
I edged closer, and unfortunately flushed a Heron that was standing in the mud by the Iris clump. I started to count the Mallard. At first I counted 57, but later revised that to 60, it was an amazing sight, I have never seen so many here in all my time herein Four Marks. I am not sure what the reason is, obviously there were the large broods at Plain Farm, but they were no where near 60, something has attracted them here. The water level is low, and there is plenty of weed exposed, but would that be the reason? I am not sure, and it will remain a mystery as to why 60 Mallard have decided to come here a small pond at the top of the Hampshire downs. I would be interested if anyone else has any theories.
I walked back around to the road, and as I left all the duck that were by the jetty decided to join the rest of the group.
I find it amusing that I get so excited about Mallard, but hey this is a big event in a land locked waterless patch, what next an overwintering Kingfisher? I wish!
I left the pond and walked to Kitwood, I took a short detour up Lye Way and scanned the fields. On an overhead wire sat Song Thrushes and Starlings, catching the last of the sun's rays and preening before setting off to roost.
I turned back, and then took the small paddock back towards Old Down. The light now was lovely, and was turning the distant field a golden colour.
As I walked across the field Meadow Pipits called above me, dropping down and out of sight amongst the stubble. the odd crow could be seen in the middle of the field, and every so often one would call, echoing across the wood.
I walked in to Old Down, and turned onto the perimeter path again, this is another good sight for fungi, but again there was nothing. I hope it is the weather that has delayed them fruiting,and not last winters forestry work.
One benefit of the work though is the fact that this area is now open, and it is possible to scan through the wood. As I did so I noticed some one staring back at me.
I left the wood and walked to Gradwell Lane. The recent dry weather has made the ground extremely hard, and the rain of Saturday and Monday has not been able to penetrate in places, and there were large puddles to negotiate. As I walked past the paddocks I noticed a raptor flying towards me, the flap and glide behaviour identifying it as a Sparrowhawk. It flew over me, the underside catching the setting sun as it headed into the sunset.
The sun was now going, something that is happening earlier and earlier these days as the long dark nights of winter approach. The hedges alongside the field, and the distant clouds made for another wonderful late evening scene.
I walked along Gradwell, it is finally getting some road surface repairs which will make the winter running a lot less easier, as we will not have to watch out for the pot holes. Turning into Brislands the sun was catching the trees in the foreground and in the distance, and giving them that golden glow I had seen elsewhere today.
A little further on, the harsh call of a Jay caused me to stop and wait, would it put in an appearance. Very quickly the wait was rewarded, as this busy beautiful bird stopped to watch me watching it.
But then it was off again, up to know good.
It was a lovely evening walk, in beautiful light. Unfortunately this may very well be my last evening walk of the year, as work commitments and the advance of winter all conspire to keep me away. Sixty Mallard in Four Marks, amazing!