Despite my New Year resolution to stretch my boundaries in 2015, the first outing was always going to have to be around the patch. Over the last few days, commitments or the weather has kept us away, so today was the first opportunity. Over the course of the last few days though we have seen Red Kite on both the Basingstoke and Odiham roads, and the garden has continued to be busy with the Starlings and Goldfinches competing to see who can eat me out of house and home first, the Goldfinch flock now reaching about 20 to 30 birds.
The morning was foggy, and there didn't seem to be any point in going out as it would have been impossible to see anything, so we took the time to bring Christmas to an end once again, and have a good breakfast. We finally set off at around midday, it was still foggy but there were signs that the sun may put in an appearance.
After yesterday's rain we decided to stick as much as possible to the roads. As we came down Lymington Rise we were informed that there had been a Roe Deer in the gardens, I have seen them on our front lawn in the snow at night, but never seen them in daylight so close to the houses, a sign that the building work is affecting their routes?
We headed up Brislands, all around us we could hear the songs of Robins, the mist has the effect of amplifying sound, but they seemed to be singing everywhere.
The horse paddock just past the recreation ground is now a little more open. As well as the Woodpigeons, and the Blackbirds feeding there was a small group of Goldfinches feeding on the seed heads of the grasses.
These Goldfinches have obviously not heard about the food on offer in my garden.
A little further on there was the call of a Jay, and I quickly found it in the small field just beyond the pink house. This is a regular spot, and during the autumn I had seem a pair here too, probably caching nuts and acorns. This one was searching in amongst the grass hillocks, so I can only assume it was looking for the autumn cache.
As we watched the Jays, as there were now two present, movement in the next field caught my eye, it was a Green Woodpecker feeding in amongst the grass.
The second Jay then came into the open and posed for me, please believe me, I know this looks just like the other one. Jays mate for life so I assume this to be a pair, both sexes are impossible to tell apart in the field, only a Jay is able to do that.
Jays have increased in numbers since I started my blog, and they have also become more prepared to use garden as a source for food. Today we counted at least four pairs as we walked.
As we came out into the open the mist was beginning to burn off, and there were patches of brighter, and in some places even blue sky. The mist though still hung around in the sheltered colder areas the sun could not penetrate.
We headed down the hill, with the songs of more Robins, and now as if spurred on by the brightening skies the calls and song of numerous Great Tits.
As we reached the cattle sheds we looked out for the resident House Sparrows, there was no chirping but we could see movement in the hedge. As I made my way to get a little closer a sharp high pitched call caught my attention and a flash of yellow flew past in an exaggerated undulating flight. I knew immediately what it was, and as a result I had reached the magic One Hundred!
A Grey Wagtail, but now it had gone around the cattle barns, and I couldn't find it. Helen called my attention to a flock of birds flying over, and in my haste to see them, I nearly fell over. I never did see them, and possibly missed a flock of Golden Plover, but I was intent on photographing the wagtail. I went to the far barn, and flushed it again from a puddle, it flew around the back of the barn, and I followed, but there was no way round, so I came back. I slowly peered around the gap between the first and second barn, and found it on the mud, characteristically pumping the tail, an action that is so strong that its whole rear end rocks.
It bobbed and moved around the puddles pecking at the edge of the water.
In winter the black throat markings are rep[laced with white. Adult birds tend to have a yellower breast, so as a result I would consider this bird to be a first winter, that has maybe gotten a little lost, we are a long way away from a fast flowing stream.
It moved around and was joined by a Pied Wagtail before flying off and disappearing for good. As I searched a male Pheasant appeared from nowhere and proceeded to slowly walk along the back of the hedge.
Grey Wagtail was one of the birds on my potential list, but not one I expected to find in a farmyard puddle, that said I am grateful to it, and it has the honour of being my One Hundredth Four Marks bird.
Buoyant once again, as is always the case when I find something new, we headed down the lane. In the field by the farm buildings Helen found a Meadow Pipit sitting preening on a small sapling. It had probably just had a wash, and was taking the chance to preen in the sunshine.
Another joined it, and flushed it from the perch, and as a result it came closer to the lane.
As we watched the two Meadow Pipits a Robin came very close to watch us, the objective no doubt was to see what meal we may disturb in the mud and leaf litter. I just know it wanted me to take its photograph really.
Looking back up towards Old Down, the sky was now a clear blue, and the sun was casting those characteristic long winter shadows.
We headed south along Court Lane, the sun now quite warm on our faces. If there were a lot of singing Robins about, then they were almost matched by the number of foraging Blackbirds. The local Blackbirds have been joined over the winter by migrants arriving from Europe. These birds can have a duller yellow bill, this though can be difficult to distinguish from the first winter birds that also have a duller bill, and dark eye ring. This one seems to me to be somewhere in between, could this be a continental visitor?
We walked up Swelling Hill, with a flock of 16 Common Gulls in amongst the sheep. The more normal wagtail around here, the Pied Wagtail was preening on the apex of the roof of the old post office by Andrew Lane.
Just after Christmas there were signs of the Snowdrops coming out, today they were well on the way, and joined by a small group of primroses (all though I don't consider those wild).
Silver birches are one of my favourite trees, and in winter the silver birch trees look amazing, the silvery bark never looking better than when it is lit by the golden sun against a blue winter sky. The only thing that can improve that though is a Great Spotted Woodpecker perched on that silver bark.
Swelling Hill lives up to its name, it is a tough walk, and it is always a relief when you can see the footpath sign to Old Down Wood by the cottage there.
At this time of year the sun is at its strongest between twelve and two o'clock in the afternoon, and it was no surprise then as we came out into the open to see the mist returning.
it was nearly two o'clock, and the sun was losing the battle with the mist as it rolled back pushing thin clouds back to start to shut out the weak sunshine.
At the pond the water was producing mirror like reflections, creating that surreal upside down world.
As we left the pond, a Sparrowhawk zipped past us and over the garden hedges causing a chorus of alarm calls and scattering a sizeable flock of small finches, probably Goldfinches. As usual the hawk kept going, say what you like a kestrel is a confiding bird when compared to a Sparrowhawk.
It was now getting cold, and as a result the bird calls had pretty much died away. At the farm buildings a Wren scurried around on the wall of a small border, its scolding call piercing the mist.
As we walked towards Hawthorn Lane Great Tits flew in amongst the hedges, and above us a Nuthatch called as it moved though the branches searching the lichen and moss on the branches for any meal before bed time.
Our next destination was a cup of coffee at the Tree House, after that we headed home across the field. Nothing else of interest appeared on the last leg of the walk, but that was not a surprise as the mist had rolled back fully by now, and it was quite cold, if not yet freezing.
The decision to wait for the mist to lift had been the right one, and as a result it had produced a big surprise, and that all important nudge through the covers, and that quick single to put up the hundred. What will be next, you just never know.