Sunday, 27 April 2014

26th April - I Drew a Line For You

The forecast for the weekend was quite daunting, but I had decided well before getting up this morning that there could not be any gain without any pain, or soaking, so I set off early morning to see if the overnight rain had left any more prizes.

As I came out of the drive I could hear a Song Thrush singing, but was amazed to see it sitting on the top of a roof, they rarely make their presence so obvious.

The flooded roads and fields had returned after a day yesterday of unrelenting rain.  I decided to walk the roads and to check the hedgerows again.  As I approached the Brislands turn I was amused by the events that had occurred by the new road workings.  The area has had work on the drainage to ensure when the new houses go up the road is not flooded.  As a result a new junction and pavement has been created, with an expanse of what I must assume will be grass.  The builders have put up their signs to direct the traffic, and the truck drivers have followed the directions impeccably!

I wonder how long it will stay like this?

I walked up Brislands, and as on Thursday there were plenty of Blackcaps singing.  I managed to find one male close to the road.

In the fields the rabbits were taking advantage of the break in the weather, of was it the fact that there was water on the lush grass.

Rabbits were everywhere, I turned down Gradwell, and stopped at the horse stables where there were a lot of young rabbits feeding in the open.  I walked to the cross roads, and then up past the school.  A Goldcrest sang from the trees, and I stopped to see both a male and female in the trees.  I would love to find a Goldcrest's nest it must be amazing to see this tiny bird with young.

I walked up the hill to Kitwood, and from the other side of the hedge I could hear Skylarks very close.  I peered over the hedge and found two engaging in what seemed to be some form of conflict, they would fly at each other and then drop to the ground, after a moment they would be up again, but all the time singing.  I assume these were two males as they were singing, but I am not sure.

Leaving the Skylarks a Mistle Thrush flew up from the field into a nearby Oak tree.  In the tree I could see it and another.  In the photograph you can see the chest and belly spots are a lot different to the Song Thrush, the latter having more of an arrow shape.

I headed along Lye Way, the scene of the Cuckoo chase on Thursday, but today it was quiet.  Looking across the fields the emerging leaves on the trees in the distance contrasting with the watery sunshine and grey clouds produced a lovely scene.

I had hoped that today I could get some pictures of Yellowhammers.  There have been a lot during the winter, but just recently they have been conspicuous by there absence.  This morning I could hear them singing, and on popped its head up on the hedge to create a lovely portrait.

Walking through Lye Way Farm Chaffinches sang along with a Chiffchaff and a pair of Blackcaps.  Turning past the cottages a male Bullfinch appeared in the trees in front of me.

At the gate looking across the field I could hear Lapwings calling, and I watched two displaying over the field.  On the ground there was another, so again I assume these were two males looking to win the affection of a female on the ground.

As I watched them I noticed a distant Hare sitting in the field, the hares are becoming a little more visible after hiding away through the winter.

To my left I could hear crows calling, and I looked across and found two of them mobbing a Buzzard as it flew across the field.  

I never understand why a bird the size of a crow mobs these birds of prey, and the Buzzard is rightly annoyed, but while it does react it never fights back as I am sure it could.

Returning to the field, the Lapwings continued their displays in the hope of winning the affection of the lone Lapwing on the ground.

More movement away to my left, and I turned to see a Roe Deer hurtling across the field towards the road.  I noticed a couple walking a dog along the road, and wondered if they were about to get a big surprise.

This time last year I found a Redstart on the hedge, but today there was nothing.  I paused at the copse, and listened to see if there was any migrants, but apart from Linnet and Great Tits there was nothing of any interest. 

I turned off the lane and took the bye way past Lye Way cottage.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the tree at the turn in the path.  A female, another called from the other side of the field, which I assume was the male.

Coming around the turn I flushed a pair of partridges, last year there had been Grey's here but today they were Red-legged Partridge.

I checked the paddocks where there were Goldfinches, Robins and Chaffinches feeding on the grass but nothing out of the ordinary, so I turned and made my way along Charlwood towards Plain Farm.

Stepping into the field a Hare was walking across the field in the same place we had seen it last week.  A Blackcap sang from the trees by the side of the field, and I could hear both a Green Woodpecker and a Chiffchaff away in the distance.  The first spots of rain made me pause by the fallen tree to see if it would get any heavier, it didn't so I set off slowly down the main path.  The sun came back out and lit up the rape field away in the distance.

There were more Yellowhammers about, calling and singing from the wires overhead.  This one was happy to let me get quite close, but others were a little bit flighty.

Despite hoping and also looking there was nothing else in the broom and gorse bushes.  I could hear Bullfinch but wasn't able to see them.  Walking down the lane towards the barns there were plenty of Linnets about flying in pairs, and Skylarks sang from either side of the lane.  A Whitethroat sang in the same location we had heard it last week, but this time it appeared on the overhead wires.  It didn't though allow a close approach.

A Kestrel flew across the field as I walked past the barn, and looking back I could see another hovering over the open grass.  I headed down the hill and noticed movement by the hedge in the field to my right.  It was a group of four Hares.  They looked young, and were probably this years leveretts.  They played as they made their way through the grass, and seemed to be quite unconcerned about being in the open.

I watched them for a while, then carried on down the hill only to stop when I heard a Lapwing calling in alarm.  Looking back across the field I saw the Lapwing dive bombing a very low flying Buzzard, and my immediate thought was where were the hares?  It seems strangely as if the Lapwing thought this too, as it broke away from the Buzzard and started to dive bomb the hares.  The hares seemed totally oblivious to the possible danger and carried on playing despite the Lapwing calling.

The Buzzard flew off away to the tree, but I waited to see if it would come back.  The hares seemed to change their behaviour, as if they finally had noticed the Buzzard and sunk low into the grass.  As I watched them I saw the Buzzard return, but it was flying without any intent or purpose, and passed over their heads and away into the next field and up into the trees.

Happy there was no further threat I carried on down the hill past the grain dryers.  I was debating to myself which way to walk next and I didn't notice a pair of Grey Partridges by the machinery until they flew off.  I decided to head past the quarry and up to the estate.  Along the edge of the sloping field there were more clumps of Cow Slips, and I was able to get closer to get some detail pictures.

As I walked the path next to the conifers I could hear a Firecrest singing, but I didn't go to find it, happy to leave it in peace today.

One reason for heading this way was the ploughed but unseeded field, maybe something feeding in it.  I scanned it a few times but could only find a single Pied Wagtail.  I walked down through the park, past a very feisty cow, that seemed to be annoyed with me as I walked past it.  You can never be sure with a cow, usually they are quite timid, but this one was up for it, and it is a big animal.  I stood my ground and shouted at it and it backed off.  The other cows were happy to either stay lying down, or just walked away.

I came back up along the road, which always annoys me as it seems a waste of time.  However it is easier to walk down though the field than up it.  There are small groups of trees that could be attractive to birds, but all I found was a single Blue Tit.  I turned off and took the main ride through Plash Wood.  A Buzzard was being harried by a pair of Ravens above me, both the Ravens calling as if to impose on the buzzard.

I was hopeful maybe the Firecrests would be here, the last time I had seen them here was in January, but as I approached I could see since my last visit they have cleared out all the rhododendrons, which was the place they would appear from.  I waited and listened but the only crest I saw or heard was a Goldcrest.

There are Bluebells in Plash Wood, they are not as dense as Old Down, but still quite impressive.

I walked towards Newtown Farm, stopping to check if a Blackcap sing was indeed a Garden Warbler, it wasn't!  Looking across the fields they were full of Rooks and Jackdaws, and every so often they would fly up from the grass and fill the sky around the trees.

I flushed a male pheasant and surprisingly two male Mallards from the field as I walked by, but apart from that it was quiet, no pipits or wagtails as there had been during the winter.

Again I had a decision to make, carry on and walk to Kitwood, or head off to Weathermore Lane.  I decided on the other, and walked past the Maryanne plantation listening to more singing Blackcaps.  The sun was making occasional appearances, and on one of these I saw a white butterfly in the verge.  As I got close I could see it wasn't a white, but a female Orange Tip.  A lovely butterfly too, the under wing patterns of grey and green are really striking.

Another find in the verge was my first Red Campion of the year, yet another sign of how early everything seems this year.

Thinking about early arrivals, I was suddenly awar that I have yet to fid the first House Martin of the year.  I always expect them to turn up about the 23rd, but so far this year there has not been any sign.  It looks like this year my first bird will be in May, and that hasn't been the case before as far as I can remember.

I walked down Hawthorne Lane  Loud calls of Magpie and Blackbirds stopped me to see what they had found.  As I watched I could see the tails of the magpies in the tree, but not what was annoying them.  Finally they both flew out chasing a Crow.  It would seem they had a nest, and the crow was paying too close attention to it.  What goes around comes around.

I took the footpath to Willis walking past another singing Chiffchaff, and then up towards the garden centre on Alton Lane.  In the shady places the Lords and Ladies were in flower, and I was able to capture this splendid specimen.

It started to rain again, this time much heavier, and everything had to be covered up.  I walked on down through the field, and then up to Blackberry Lane.  In the field there was at least 20 Starling in a flock, the majority of which looked like fledglings, again that seemed early.

I walked home at pace as the rain was quite heavy, and there was never much to see on thios last part along Blackberry Lane.  However coming down Reads Field I noticed some strange shapes on the lawn in a garden.  A closer look revealed the shapes to be Common Morrels, a very prized edible mushroom.  They are not that common, and even more rarer in gardens like this.  I wonder if the owners are aware?

Not the success of recent walks but enjoyable once again, and not without incident, there seemed to be a yellow theme today though.

Friday, 25 April 2014

24th April - April, Come He Will

Thursday looked like the best day of the week for an evening walk, and I had planned to take the chance to walk the circuit at Plain Farm.  However on checking the Hampshire Go Birding site, I decided to change that plan, and headed off towards Old Down and then up over Andrew lane.

As I walked down Lymington Rise I could hear the alarm calls of a Robin and Blue Tit.  Mindful of the Robin last Saturday I scanned the sky.  After a couple of false alarms involving a Jackdaw and Wood Pigeon, I finally found a Sparrowhawk, and I wasn't the only one, two Jackdaws were also in hot pursuit, and dive bombed the hawk until it flew off and out of sight.

I headed up Brislands, the sun was quite warm, and there were birds singing on both sides.  Blackcaps are now quite abundant, and their lovely song could be heard above all the others.  The Firecrest was singing at the usual site, and I managed a brief view of the male in amongst the rhododendrons.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the Ash trees above us, and checking the hole I discovered last week seems to be a little lafger.

After missing a photograph of the Whitethroat on Saturday I was keen to find one today, I had considered walking back down Lye Way, a good spot for them, but as I approached Old Down I heard the familiar scratchy song from the hedge.  I stopped, and it stopped, then I heard it a little way off.  I waited, and soon it came closer and I watched it fly across in front of me, and then it appeared on the edge of the hedge singing.

In some areas they are known as the "Nettle Creeper" due to the way it stays tucked in amongst the foliage and hedgerows.  It is a slender, clean -lined bird with a grey head and distinctive white throat.  You can see in these photographs how well it can merge into its habitat, and the only way you know it is there is when you hear its scratchy little warble or you catch a glimpse of movement, or if you are lucky you see it burst into the air in full song, only to drop again out of sight.

I walked along the outside of Old Down in the hope of finding some butterflies.  An Orange Tip flew past me, and I disturbed my first Red Admiral of the year from the soil, neither gave me a chance of a photograph.

Into the wood, and the sun went behind a cloud.  The colour blue is a lovely colour, but seems to come into it's own under overcast skies.  I remember being told the best time to observe the ice of a glacier is when the sky is overcast, and it is the same with the bluebells.  The last few visits there has been plenty of sun, but today with the sun momentarily behind a cloud the colour burst out in front of me.

This tree provided a lovely centre piece for this panoramic view.

In amongst the blue you can see the odd white flowers, these are probably due to an ingress of the Spanish variety of Bluebell introduced through horticultural events.  The Spanish variety is more prone to white albino forms.  English Bluebells do exhibit a white form but they are extremely rare.  Apparently every species of Bluebell will produce white flowered forms lacking the purplish pigment, the colouration being under genetic control.  These forms are very uncommon in truly wild populations, they have often been collected and turn up in gardens.  This means that our Bluebell wood at some stage has been invaded, probably through wind borne pollen, and the cultivated specimens have managed to mix in with the wild forms.

Again the woods were full of bird song and activity, and I flushed some Blackbirds, and then a Song thrush, which was quickly followed by a couple of tail less birds that turned out to be fledgling Song Thrushes.

Where the trees have blown down and blocked the original paths new paths have been created by the many walkers that go through here.  As I walked one new path I realised that it was going very close to where there have been Early Purple Orchids over the last few years.  I stopped and checked and found them about half a metre from the new path, but luckily untouched.

There were in fact two present, and they contrasted well with the surrounding Bluebells.

This year it seems the flowers have just raced out.  The Celandines and anemones are now past there best and have been replaced by the Bluebells.  You can still see Wood Sorrel, but now the Lords and Ladies are getting bigger, the Solomon's Seal are just starting to flower, and with the recent rain the smell of Wild Garlic fills the woods from the Ransome's that too are just beginning to flower.

I came out of the wood and headed down through the Desmond Paddocks.  The sheep and lambs have moved to the top field, and the lambs a little older were a lot more active.  Number 16 here was clearly in the mood to play, running around hopping and skipping about and generally annoying all the others.

As I watched and photographed the lambs I was concious of a sound I haven't heard here for a long time.  Away over by Old down House I could hear a Cuckoo calling.  I haven't heard one for at least 5 years here, maybe more as I was not keeping records then, and when I heard them previously it would be from the garden a way off in the distance.

This was the reason I had changed the walk plans, a Cuckoo had been reported in Ropley during the afternoon and I was hoping it may move through the patch,and the hunch was spot on.  It was there but could I now find it to see it, something I have never been able to do here.  I debated going up Swellinghill, to try and find it, but changed my mind and decided to stick to the plan of Andrew Lane.

As I walked up the lane I could hear it calling, and it seemed to be moving in parallel with me, maybe we would meet at the top?

The Swallows were flying around the stables, and I checked the paddocks as usual.  Today though only a group of five Magpies, one then flew off.

Next stop was the Larches, the cuckoo was still calling.  A couple of Great Tits here, but above me I heard the chuckle of what could only be a Fieldfare.  I waited to see if it called again, and it did and flew from the tree above me across the field to the next big tree.

It was a fair way off, but you can see it is a Fieldfare, and my latest by a long way.  Again they seem to congregate in this area as they make their way back to their breeding grounds.

I walked around the top of the path and headed back down the footpath towards Swellinghill.  The cuckoo had been quiet for awhile, but as I came out from under the trees I heard it again, this time though a long way off, it had headed towards Lye Way.  I had taken the wrong path.

As I walked on I could hear Blackbirds scolding something in the Oak trees, a little closer and they burst from the tree chasing a Sparrowhawk.  It looked like the hawk had something but I couldn't be sure.  As I walked on the hawk broke cover again, and flew up into the large oak in front of me.  This time its talons were empty.  I inched forward trying to get a good view, but this was all i could get before it flew off again.

Resigned to the fact that the Cuckoo had gone and I would have to make do yet again with just hearing it I walked to the pond.  As I approached I was confronted with the sight of not one, but two different water birds on the patch.  A Moorhen feeding quite happily for once in the open.

And two drake Mallards, not sure what they have done with the duck.

Blackcap and Chiffchaff sang from the surrounding trees and a little further down the lane I came across a singing Song Thrush, and for once it was quite happy to let me take its picture as it sat in the tree declaring its presence.

As I was debating in my mind whether to cross the field back to Old Down Wood I heard the Cuckoo again, but this time it was close.  It was coming from the line of trees along the Bridleway.  There are also wires there so maybe it was sitting on these?  I stopped at the opening in the hedge and scanned across the field.  I could hear it, but couldn't see it.  More than likely it was in the middle of the large oaks, hidden by the emerging leaves.

I ran to the bridleway, and walked along it, stopping when the Cuckoo called.  As I walked I disturbed plenty of Wood Pigeon, but the Cuckoo was still there.  By the volume of the call I knew I was close when suddenly I saw movement in the large oak ahead of me, and out of the branches came the Cuckoo, flying straight at me.  I lifted the camera and fired.

not the best, but unmistakeably a Cuckoo.  It flew over my head and then away sticking close to the tree line, and calling.  I turned back in the hope I could relocate it as it was still calling.  As I reached the end of the bridleway I could see a distant shape in a tree on the other side of the field.  It was the Cuckoo.

I walked along Lye Way to get a better view, and this is  a cropped view.

If you look to about 7 o'clock in the picture you can see a small bird.  There were in fact two, and they were repeatedly mobbing the Cuckoo as it sat calling.  I am not sure what they were.

After a while the cuckoo decided to move to the next tree, and I caught it as it flew across the gap.

It was there I decided to leave it still calling.  This was a bird I have wanted to find and see on the patch above many others.  The fact that they have become so rare here is probably due to the lack of the normal birds they use to nest with.  We do not have a large Willow Warbler population, and the Meadow Pipits only seem to be present in the winter, although I am sure they are about, but again in low numbers.  The Cuckoo has a legendary status in British folklore, letters being written to the Times on first hearing the call, but in many places today the Cuckoo is never if seldom heard, and the traditional sound so much associated with the coming of spring and summer goes unheard.

The swallows continued to fly around me as I left, as if to say don't forget me, so I photographed one on a wire.

I then turned for home, and when I reached the turn for Kitwood I heard the Cuckoo again, but close.  I looked back and there it was sitting in the same spot I had just photographed the swallow on.  I crept closer once again, and managed to get probably the best photograph of the lot, but it isn't fantastic, but it does record the event, my first Cuckoo here.

I walked down the lane and stopped when I thought I heard a Garden Warbler singing.  However it turned out to be a male Blackcap.  Garden Warblers will be about, and once I hear it I will know it is one, but there will probably be a few more of these mistakes.  The Blackcap made sure I could see it to confirm my error.

A little further on, and two brown blobs in the field got my pulse racing again, they couldn't be Dotterel could they, but no they weren't they were just a brace of Red-legged Partridges.

I headed past the school on my way back home pleased once again with an evening walk.  Why Cuckoos have declined is a mystery, it may be due to problems in the wintering grounds, it may also be due to the drop in the numbers of caterpillars the young need to feed on, and as with other late migrants such as the Turtle Dove or Spotted Flycatcher, a shift forward in spring may be putting the birds "out of sync" with their food supply.  The BTO has a current project where a selection of Cuckoos are tracked as they migrate back to Africa, this is increasing our understanding of what these birds face as they leave the UK, but fixing these problems remains a huge, if nye on impossible task.

As a youngster I remember hearing Cuckoos all the time, so much a part of my walks across South Oxford.  As I walked past Four Marks School I doubted if any of the pupils there had even heard a Cuckoo let alone seen one.  The cuckoos place as the quintessential sign of the coming of spring is at risk, even I have referred to other species being the sign for me.  All we will be left with soon will be a set of old rural stories and sayings growing less and less relevant every year.