Friday, 27 March 2015

27th March - A Stranger and an Old Friend

As March slowly slips away we are still waiting for some weather that will kick start the migration.  Through the week there have been clear spells with sunshine, but the wind has been in completely the wrong direction both here and on the continent.

This morning the skies are clear, and there is sunshine but the wind is north westerly,. and the forecast for the rest of the weekend does not hold had much more hope.

At the start of the week a Red Kite was seen once again over the garden, and while I was away on Tuesday there was a very unusual visitor to the garden.  Katie fortunately saw this visitor and managed to get a photograph with her phone through the window.  It is not the best picture but clearly identifies the stranger sitting between the bird bath and a decorative tree stump, in the middle of the picture

A Red-legged Partridge, what it is doing here I do not know?  The attraction can only have been the seed on the ground table, but why it would come here I am completely baffled.

However this is not the first time I have seen one in this area, going back to the first days of the blog, a single bird flew past me as I walked up Reads Field, see here

So maybe its not just the Woodpigeon that are devouring all the seed.

The weather didn't follow the forecast today, and the sun stayed with us allowing me the chance to get out in the afternoon.  As I walked along Lymington Bottom I noticed the Cherry Blossom was out, however  this year it was not covered in Bees as it normally is when I take this picture.

As I turned up Brislands I heard what I had hoped for, at last a migrant, the first singing Chiffchaff.  It was in a Leylandi conifer, and was mixing singing with a search for insects.

I managed to get a little closer.

I heard four singing Chiffchaff on the walk, two in Old Down, and one at the pond.  Spring is here at last.

As I walked to Old Down along Brislands a couple of Skylark were singing over the fields.  In Old Down though once again it was quiet to start.  I walked the diagonal path and stopped at the gate to overlook the field.  There had not been any addition to the Lambs, and those that were with us were growing fast, pestering their mother for milk.

I turned back along the perimeter path, a rustling in the leaves and then movement behind a tree.  I waited and eventually a head popped out.

A Group of three Roe Deer watched me from the new plantation area.  There were two females and a young buck with a set of small antlers.

A Kestrel was calling from the Pines, and as I stood trying to get a good view a Nuthatch called above me.  The Nuthatch proved to be an easy model than the Kestrel, that refused to show.

At this time of year Nuthatch are very visible in the leafless trees, they give themselves away by calling or just the tapping as they search the lichen

I love the way they look twisting the head and pointing their bill skywards.

I walked around the pond, but there was nothing in the water, no sign of any toads or even spawn.  In the trees a Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker called.

I walked down towards Kitwood, and then out across the field and back towards Old Down.  Rooks were feeding together in the middle of the field, but a grey shape caught my eye, and looking closer I could see it was a Stock Dove.  I usually find them about this time of year, this is a first in this field though.

As I approached the wood I changed my mind, I was going to walk the perimeter, but decided instead to take the path to the middle of the wood.  As always when I walk this way I check the conifer in the hope that maybe Morris has returned.  I looked and at first I couldn't see anything, but then I noticed a dumpy shape.  No surely not after all this time, after all the upheaval?

I made my way to get a better look and sure enough there he was, the Tawny Owl.

Great to have him back, and I am convinced its the same bird, lets hope he stays

I made my way back to the path, and round towards the Gradwell entrance.  The Moon was out, and in its first quarter.  At one point it appeared just above the Larch trees

Robins were singing along Brislands, but I was startled by a sudden loud song.  I turned to see the owner in the tree, any guesses?

As I approached home, I could see the Woodpigeons gathering on the wires.  At this time of year love is in the air once more, and little groups of three develop, with two suitors looking to impress the female.

The female was the middle bird, and she flew off leaving the other two to enjoy the sunshine.

That was it, a little more successful today,  Things are beginning to look up, plus an old friend was a welcome find too, he has been with us now for four years.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

22nd March - She Got Me Going Wild

Early cloud broke slowly through the early part of the morning to give some lovely periods of sunshine.  The wind though was still quite cool coming as it did yesterday from the north east.  After a good breakfast Helen and I set off along Lymington Bottom and up Brislands.  

There were Robins and Greenfinch singing as we walked along the lane, but I was surprised not to hear any Skylarks as we came out into the open.  The sun was warming, but the breeze very fresh.  In the south facing side of the lane the first Wood Anemones were out in full bloom in the sunshine.  These have flowered since Tuesday as there was none around then.

We walked into Old Down and I was hopeful of a singing Chiffchaff, but there was nothing but Robins again, they seemed to be singing everywhere.  Any vantage point by the side of the path had a singing Robin.

We walked around to the gate that over looks the fields.  We could see the lambs in the distance, and four more lambs had appeared since I was here on Tuesday.  The field was again full of Pied Wagtails, I counted at least 20.  I scanned through them in hope of a White Wagtail, but I was satisfied these were all Pied.

We walked past the Daffodils, and headed to the West End of the wood.  Looking out across the fields and away to the distant wood there were six Buzzards circling.  As we walked down through the Desmond Paddocks there was a single Buzzard perched in a tree.

As usual there were plenty of Magpies at Andross Farm.  Most of them were sitting in this tree.

We walked up Andrew Lane, and stopped at the gate to scan across the paddocks.  I am always hopeful of something here at migration time, and was rewarded in April last year with a fine male Ring Ouzel.  Today there was a single large thrush too, but this time a Fieldfare.

Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits were in the trees as we walked up the lane.  Ahead of us there was a large crow on the top of the pylon, the bill though looked very heavy and a closer look revealed it to be a Raven.

As we watched it we could hear it tapping on something at the top of the pylon, not sure what is was looking to achieve, maybe it just liked the sound it made.

We walked to the top of the lane, and then along the footpath in the sunshine.  It faces south here, and is sheltered, and I was hoping for a butterfly or other insect.  As we walked a loud "gronk" call came from above us, and the Raven appeared and flew away from us.

As it flew it continued to call.

As I said this is a south facing bank, and there was a lot of Periwinkle out, but also a lot of Celandine.  It was the yellow flower that was attracting the Honey Bees, while the Buff-tailed Bumble Bees were happier with the purple Periwinkle.

The trees too seemed a lot more advanced along the bank, this Horse Chestnut beginning to leaf while others are not showing any signs.  The buds before the leaves burst out are extremely sticky, the leaves as they unfold a pinkish orange.

We walked down the footpath towards Swelling Hill, the Great Tits were again very active chasing each other through the branches.

The chasing stopped and alarm calls rang out as a Kestrel flew over and out over the field where it settled on a wire.  We were back in the sun, and sheltered from the wind and it again felt warm.   Stopping at the stile to look out towards the west, you could see Ropley railway station, and Thomas the Tank Engine, and his friends being prepared for their Easter duties.

As we started along Swelling Hill towards the pond a Small Tortoiseshell flew past and over the hedge and out of sight, the first of the year here in Four Marks.  At the pond there were the first signs of the annual Toad spawning, a single toad just on the surface.

The Mallard pair were still present, the drake looking splendid in the sunshine, it's bottle green head shining.

We walked around the pond while the Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed above us.  On the other side there were quite a few Toads, their heads sticking up above the water.

It was clearly early days, and the mad panic had not yet started and there was no sign of any spawn.  One or two male Toads had found a mate and were hanging on to make sure they did not lose her.

Over the course of the next few days more and more Toads will arrive and there will be balls of Toads as males fight each other to mate with the females.  Then as quickly as they arrive they will be gone, and all that will be left will be the long strings of spawn amongst the pond weed.

The Woodpecker continued to drum, and as we stood and tried to find it a Treecreeper appeared on the side of a nearby tree.  As it climbed the bark it stopped to look at me.

There was no sign of any Frogs, the area they used last year is not under water, and I wonder if this has kept them away.

We left the pond and walked along the road to Kitwood Lane, from there we headed down towards Hawthorn Lane.  A male Blackbird was feeding in one of the recently tilled fields, and in the sunshine looked really good against the brown soil.

As we approached Kitwood farm, there was some movement by the side of the barn.  As we waited and watched a Brown Rat appeared and walked over to the grass under the hedge.

Eventually it crept from the grass to a muddy pond where it stopped to drink from the water hole.  It was quite a large rat, and was clearly a male.

We walked on, down to Hawthorn Lane, and then over to Willis Lane.  In the paddock alongside the lane a Mistle Thrush was feeding in the middle. I would imagine this one has a nest somewhere, and the partner is either sitting on eggs, or maybe nestlings.

The rest of the walk was uneventful, we stopped off for a coffee, and then crossed the field to Blackberry Lane.  Yesterday we had seen carpets of Sweet Violets alongside the roads at Pennington and Normandy.  There were a few Violets about today, but these were the Dog Violet, and lot paler and white than the Sweet variety.

The sunshine was very welcome, but the cold north easterly wind is holding back migration., and spring. I am surprised though that there has not been any singing Chiffchaffs, they are normally about by now.  Back home in the garden another Small Tortoiseshell flew through, again teasing you.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

17th March - When The Child Like View Of The World Went...

The weather has taken a turn once again for winter, and it has not been conducive to early migrants, flowers and insects.  Everywhere still looks tired and dull, with winter retaining its grip on the land.  Don't get me wrong, there are still some signs, the mornings are a lot brighter, the Blackbirds are in full song as the dawn breaks, blossom is out on the Blackthorn, and buds are appearing on the trees, but the cold north easterly winds remind you that winter is still here.

The Starlings still flock together at dusk, during the day they are more inclined to pair and investigate the roof top and tiles for any sign of weakness, but come the evening they gather in the tall Beech trees along Lymington Rise. The male Blackcap is still coming to the fat feeders in the garden, while the Goldfinches are still in small flocks.  The only bird showing signs of possible pairing are the Long-tailed Tits, a pair being seen regularly on the feeders at the time when the large flocks would have come through.

The forecast for Tuesday was for sunshine and the temperature to warm up, but early morning it was misty, gradually through the morning the mist lifted and the skies brightened, it also began to feel warmer.  There was plenty of bird song about, and in the garden a pair of Robins were squaring up to each other.  It could be they were two males, disputing territory, or maybe a male and female a bit confused.

I decided to pop out at lunch time.  The sun was still trying to break through, and it was still rather misty over the fields.  I parked at the pond, and as I got out of the car the Mallard pair were still on their honeymoon, together in the reeds.

I walked around the pond looking for any sign of mating frogs, but there were none at all.  In the trees surrounding the pond a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers called, and then I saw two chasing each other through the branches.  I walked to an open spot to get a better look, but all I could find was this Grey Squirrel.  It was ripping the budding leaves apart and eating them.  Something I have now seen Bullfinches House Sparrows and Woodpigeons doing but never a squirrel.

Having decided that the woodpeckers were not going to show I walked into Old Down.  As I approached the gate a Goldcrest perched close to me, and then was off and a Mistle Thrush called from the line of trees.  The field has been ploughed and all along the edge Chaffinches were feeding.  As I walked by they flew up into the trees and hedgerow.

As I came into the wood a tit flew up in front of me.  This spot was the last location I saw Willow Tit, and at this time of year I always look closely at anything.  This though was a Marsh Tit, feeding on the Lichen on the branch.

Every so often it would stop and look around in the way that small birds always do, concious of the threat of a Sparrowhawk.  This gave me the chance to see the key distinguishing features of a Marsh Tit from the Willow Tit.  The bib is just visible and you can see the defined edge to it rather than the blended bib of the Willow.  At the base of the upper mandible there is a lighter patch that shows like a spot.  The ear coverts are whiter and the neck a lot slimmer, the Willow Tit appearing more thicker necked.  The light was not good to show the shiny black cap, but it is possible to see that it is not a full cap, that stands out on the Willow.  Finally the Tertials and secondaries appear lighter in a Willow Tit, here they are a uniform brown.

Leaving the Marsh Tit, I followed another calling Great Spotted Woodpecker, I couldn't find it though but did come across this calling Great Tit.  From the colour and fullness of the Black stripe I would think this is a male.

I walked around the main path, and headed to the Kitwood exit.  There were more calls from Great Spotted Woodpeckers and at last I managed to find one at the top of a larch tree.  

As mentioned the field that has been left to stubble through the winter has finally been ploughed, and probably only recently.  The freshly turned soil was a big attraction to a large flock of gulls.  It consisted mainly of Black-headed Gulls but there were a few Common in amongst them.  I scanned through them all hopefully looking for a Med, but could find one.

The Black-headed gulls were of different ages.  This individual is still in first winter plumage a grey mantle and brown carpal bar, plus a black bar on the secondaries and the tail.

This is retained to a degree into the first summer plumage, but with a varying amount of brown on the hood.

The adult are now showing a full hood, and note the all white tail, and just black tips to the primaries.

I didn't quite realise just how many gulls there were in the field, and quite how misty it still was.

I headed back along Kitwood to the pond, stopping to check the horse paddocks for thrushes.  At first I thought it was empty then I found two Fieldfare camouflaged amongst the mud and grass (there is only one here, the other is a Starling).

Driving back, I stopped off to check the rookery.  IT was still noisy, and the rooks were still circling around the nests.  It may be that there are females on the nest, and the birds circling were just males.  The female taking sole responsibility for brooding the eggs.

There was one nest though where I could see the shape of a bird by the nest.  But closer inspection shows that all is not well.

I wonder how it died, was it attacked in a squabble over the nest?  A mystery.  Leaving the rooks I headed home.  

During the afternoon the sun seemed to win its battle with the mist, and as i set off in the late afternoon their was a warmth in the air if you could avoid the wind.  The change in weather was further highlighted by my first Bumble bee of the year, a Buff-tailed, it flew past me and started to explore the grass on Lymington Rise.

Blackbirds have been singing for a while now, with the males perched at the top of trees.  The females seem to have disappeared which probably indicates they have nests and are sitting on the first eggs.  This male looks splendid with his bright orange bill and eye ring, but they are also very territorial right now, chasing off other males, flying up and cocking the tail almost to a vertical position in an act of aggression.

In sheltered spots the Lesser Celandines are flowering, the sun has brought them out this afternoon.  In fact I saw quite a few along the lanes in south facing sheltered spots.  The yellow flowering period has now just started.

Plenty of bird song along Brislands Lane.  Robins dominated but Song Thrush, Blackbird, Greenfinch and Chaffinch could also be heard.  This male Chaffinch hadn't quite perfected his song yet, the final flourish being truncated and producing a strange sound that had me guessing for a while.

As I walked out into the open fields I could hear Skylark singing on both sides of the lane from high above the fields.  As I approach Old Down I could also hear Yellowhammer singing, however this male was just calling from the top of the oak tree.

I was hoping for a singing Chiffchaff in Old Down, but it wasn't to be, again plenty of Robins, and the odd Wren and Dunnock though were singing.  I took the perimeter path, it was probably the driest, and then cut through the middle.  The whole area is littered with hazel branches that have been cut and left on the ground.  I stumbled on one, and the noise disturbed three Roe Deer.  They ran off, but not too far and as usual stopped to watch me as I made my way through the dead cut  branches.

Two had no antlers at all, but this one was sporting quite a good set, butthey are still covered in velvet.

I made my way to the west path, as I wanted to see if the wild Daffodils were flowering yet.  To my delight they were, and putting on a lovely show.  I would be devastated if this little patch disappeared, it holds bitter sweet memories.  they look so much nicer in their natural location than in a vase.

I could hear tapping above me, and turned to find a Nuthatch hammering away at a dead branch.  I am not sure if it had position a seed or nut, or was just chiselling away at the dead wood looking for grubs.

Rather than take the main path to the west end I took the small trail througgh the emerging Bluebells.  The shoots are now very well developed, and once again it looks like Old Down will put on a spectacular show.

Sheltered beneath some old logs were little clumps of Primroses.  Here they are away from any possibility of being cultivated plants, so they must count as the first wild ones of the year.

I came out at the West End, and despite the fact that the sky was clear and the sun was out there was still a good amount of mist about as I looked west.

I walked down through the paddocks, the sheep in the field looked huge, and it clearly wouldn't be long until they were lambing.  However it wasn't until I reached the fence that I realised several had already.  They were being kept in a separate paddock away from the footpath, but were already running around and up top no good!

As I crossed the stile I heard a call that I thought at first could be a Swallow, which would have been exceptionally early for the patch.  It turned out though to be a Pied Wagtail, and as I scanned the field I could see a distant large flock of 34 Pied Wagtails.  Closer though was a flock of Meadow Pipits.  They were harder to count as they seem to just continually appear from the long grass.  I estimated around 50, which for this area is a significant count, and I would think these were birds moving through, and taking the opportunity to feed before setting off again overnight.

The call of Fieldfare caught my attention, this was one of the main reasons for coming this way as every year the winter thrushes gather in the fields here in good numbers.  However this evening I only managed to find this small flock, and later on two Redwings at Lyeway Farm.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling as I walked up Andrews Lane.  I could see it at the top of a tree close to the farm buildings.  It was a male and continued to call as it swayed in the breeze.

As I walked around the Lyeway farm buildings I noticed a Buzzard on the ground walking amongst the sheep.  It was probably staling earthworms, an easy supper snack.  As I watched it flew low over the grass and up on to a fence post, a good look out position.

As I headed down Lye Way Yellowhammers were both calling and singing.  They could be seen on the overhead wires, and in the recently trimmed hedgerows.  The males are now looking gorgeous in their breeding plumage, the yellow being enhanced but the late evening light.

The formal Spring Solstice is on Friday, but if you check the sunrise and sunset times for this area you will see that we are now almost at equal day and light.  Today the skies were clear at sunset, but with the mist around it was allowing the sun to become an orange ball in the sky as it sunk away for the night.  This produced some wonderful images with the silhouetted trees, the lack of leaves only enhancing the effect.

As the sun dropped below the trees the branches looked like veins running over the bright orange ball

Its not often you get the chance to see the sun safely like this, and I took every opportunity.

The aspect changed as I walked along the lane, and I would get different views.  lets hope it is as clear as this on Friday for the eclipse, but somehow I think we will be disappointed

It was the perfect end to a very enjoyable evening walk.  the signs of life are there, we just need a little increase in temperature, and a southerly direction for the winds.