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.