I have been away for most of the week, and missed the storms and high winds. Fortunately there was not much damage locally. Over the weekend the temperatures have dropped significantly, and we have even seen the first real snow of the winter. This seems to be the signal for a regular winter visitor to the garden to turn up.
Creeping through the branches of the trees she has taken up guard around the apples I have skewered onto the the branches, and has defended them from even the advances of the Blackbirds. Once upon a time she would have only been with us through the summer, but nowadays over wintering Blackcaps are getting more and more a common feature of the winter garden.
She sat like a sentinel watching for anyone who dare come too close.
There was rain and sleet during the morning, but this cleared through by midday. I had some jobs to do first thing, and by the time these were finished the sun was out, and despite the cold, it was quite pleasant. A Red Kite drifted very close over the garden, the tail working overtime as it twisted and turned while continually looking down.
We set off for an afternoon walk and as we walked towards Lymington Rise there were two Red Kites over the trees in the distance. This though has to be one of my worst Red Kite photographs.
We headed up Brislands, and then out towards Old Down. It was cold, and quiet as you would expect. Looking across to the north the fields looked a beautiful green in the afternoon sunshine.
By contrast looking to the south, the view was a dirty winter brown.
The field may look empty, but just before I took the picture there was a flock of about 20 Skylark flying low over the stubble, and then dropping out of sight, there must surely be many more all over the field.
A little further on movement in the field caught my eye, and I found a pair of Mistle Thrushes feeding. The pair quickly turned into two pairs.
We carried on down the lane, declining to go through the wood as it would have been very wet and muddy. The hazel alongside the lane were already displaying a good show of Catkins.
Looking back up the lane the sunshine was turning the bare trees and lane a golden colour.
We could hear House Sparrows at the cattle barns but they were tucked away in the hedge, and would only chirp every so often. Apart from them there was nothing else, it was very quiet.
As we walked down the lane Robins and Dunnocks flitted from the hedge to the dirt by the side of the road. At the bottom of the hill a couple of weeks ago there were a couple of Meadow Pipits, today I heard the familiar seep call, and there was one again in the same area, but sitting, today on the grass.
Turning up Court Lane, we stopped at the orchards where they were quite a few birds attracted by the trees and a set of feeders in one of the gardens.
As usual there were Goldfinches looking splendid in the sunshine.
This is a good spot for Bullfinch, and as I thought it I heard the soft piping call. Then a male and two females broke from the trees and flew across the lane to the orchard. They are always secretive birds, and it is almost impossible to get close to them in the open. I could see the male, and I was close, but he was sitting in the middle of the tree.
Once again a flash of crimson pink through many branches.
A male Chaffinch was much more confiding, sitting out in the open.
There was also a pair of Dunnocks, this one being the closest.
A feature of this winter has been the number of Blackbirds about. As we left this afternoon there were eight birds in the garden. As we headed down the road towards Andrews Lane you could see the ivy moving as Blackbirds were stripping the berries from the ivy. They get quite animated as they do this, attacking the bush to tear the berries off.
Gilbert Street was proving to be quite good for birds. In the hedges more House Sparrows chirped away giving away their presence, from the volume I would consider this another good sized colony. Robins sang everywhere, and Great and Blue Tits called from the gardens.
A Rook sat in the sunshine on the overhead wires.
A little further on we came to the Desmond Paddocks, the field lit up by the afternoon sun. In the field was a large flock of Fieldfare, I counted a total of 82 birds, one of the largest winter flocks I have seen. In amongst them were a few Redwing as well.
Some came a little closer, and you can see the characteristic way they hold their wings low from the body. They also have this gorgeous maroon plumage on the back and wing contrasting against the grey blue head, neck and rump.
Head on they have the chest and belly spots of a thrush with a lovely orange brown hue.
There was more activity in the laurel and conifer bushes as we walked up Swelling Hill. Robins everywhere again, and Long-tailed Tits calling in the branches. The Snow drops are now out in full, and looked wonderful in the dappled light.
The walk up the hill is always a slog, and today there was nothing to distract us as walked. We paused briefly at the pond, where the water level is very high, but that was about all we observed.
We headed down towards the school, in the trees above were a few Yellowhammers, and in the stubble field, a Song Thrush, and yet another Mistle Thrush.
We decided to walk along Lymington Bottom, and were immediately rewarded when suddenly the alarm calls rang out, and a Kestrel flew in front of us. The calls though were too late for probably a vole, as the Kestrel held one in its talons as it flew low past us, and then away to a convenient post where it would become an evening snack.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker called, and then flew away across the top of the trees, Long-tailed Tits called as they streamed across the road, and the Starlings were beginning to collect at the top of the trees as the sun began to drop away in the west. The Starlings were joined by a lone Redwing, calling as it flew into the top of the tree.
A typical winter walk, cold and mainly quiet but with enough about to make it interesting.