Wednesday, 29 April 2015

28th April - Before You Know I'll Be Over The Water

The last few days have seen plenty of sunshine, but the wind has turned through west into a north westerly, and at this time of year this is not a good omen for delivering any new visitors.  The northerly direction is also turning it quite cool.  Still this wasn't going to stop me taking the chance to get out.  However as I stepped out of the house a few drops of rain were falling as dark clouds gathered overhead, but it never amounted to much, and the sun did appear every so often.

As I walked from the house I scanned the skies, now is about the time the House Martins arrive, but over the last few years they have become later and later.  The cool conditions will not bring then in, so I it will probably be well into May this year before we see them in the skies above the houses.

At the recreation ground a Nuthatch was gathering moss from the trunk of one of the oak trees, creeping its way along the branch looking for the most suitable bit.

The Oak trees are finally beginning to leaf, and the newly emerged leaves contrasted well with the dark grey clouds overhead.

Bullfinches were calling at the corner with Gradwell but they never showed, and at the horse paddock there was also no sign of the Swallows.  I set off towards Old Down, and as I walked into the opening I heard the familiar chattering call of a Swallow and one flew low past me quickly followed by another.

So once again the challenge was on, the Swallows swooped low over the field going past me and then turning to come back again.

Its a case of switch the IS on, and then track them as fly past.  The problem is their ability to change direction at the slightest opportunity, meaning you are left with empty sky or the movement changes the focus.  They say practice makes perfect, and slowly I am, I think, getting better as this series of photographs demonstrate.

Not their yet though still a long way to go for the perfect one

It also depends on the Swallow, the cream on the underneath provides the contrast, and helps, so for now this is probably the best.

The new lens is helping, the image stabiliser (IS) provides different movement stabilisation, and I can see the benefit in using it.  I have to admire the Swallows though, incredible agility and speed, a worthy opponent.

Leaving the Swallows to swoop and loop across the field I headed into the wood.  I was greeted by a Chiffchaff singing in the first oak trees.  I decided to take the perimeter path, I haven't been along here for awhile, and was interested to see what if anything the more open, lighter conditions had produced. b I am used to the beautiful blue carpets of bluebells at this time of year, but I do not recall ever seeing a carpet of purple blue violets.  There was an area of about 12 square metres of flowering violets, quite impressive.

A little further on and the bluebells appeared lining the path as I approached the main path to Swelling Hill, still not out in full.

There are though patches in more sheltered spots where the flowers are much further developed, and this creates that lovely hazy blue carpet.

I walked around to the pond, there was little sun so there were no insects, but the Moorhen was feeding over on the other bank.  I checked the area where the nest is, and could see the female sitting tight, her bill visible through the reeds.

There was no sign of the Coot so I decided to walk around the pond.  A Great-spotted Woodpecker called from the trees in the back of the pond.  I wonder if it is nesting here again this year.  If it is it must be using a new hole as the one from last year looks to be empty.

I made my way around the back, and out onto the far bank, the Bogbean is beginning to flower, and I stopped to look closer.  As I did the Coot shot out of the middle, scaring the life out of me.  It is amazing that a large black bird with a white bill and forehead can hide so well, the white must help in camouflaging it.  It flew across the water and settled away from me close to the muddy edge.

It still appeared quite nervous, not a trait I would normally associate with a Coot.

I left both the Coot and Moorhen to it, and headed back into Old Down, I was intending to walk down to the West End and then back across the angled path to the Brislands entrance, but I go a little side tracked by a collection of small birds in one of the fallen, yet still alive beech trees.

One warbler looked quite yellowish, and it made me recall that so far I have not seen or heard any Willow Warblers.  I stood watching the warbler flit through the leaves but never really got a good enough view.  There was though a lot of other activity, a pair of Blackcaps were collecting moss, the male giving them away by its "tack" call.  A Coal Tit was creeping and hanging its way through the leaves.

Its objective was to inspect the new leaves for aphids and caterpillars.

It looked like the Great Tits were doing much the same as they too moved through the fallen tree.

They really are a very handsome bird.

I could not find the warbler I had stopped to watch, but as I turned back to the footpath and headed west I did find another warbler, but unfortunately not the same one, this one was definitely a Chiffchaff.

I decided not to head down to the West End, but turned back up the angled path.  This rea has had some trees moved and is lighter.  The discarded branches though have covered some of the area where the Bluebells would put on a good show, however there are still plenty of patches that now look splendid.

The lime green leaves contrasting wonderfully with the vivid blue.

Overcast days can work really well for Bluebell photography as the lack of direct sunlight reduces the contrast and cloud cover reflects light back enhancing the colour.  It is the same with photographing the blue in a glacier, it is enhanced under cloudy skies.  The clouds were building up now, and you could see the difference when the sun was not out.  Absolutely wonderful

A pair of Jays were busy in the trees and their presence was annoying the smaller birds, there alarm calls ring out, but only when they moved, while still in the trees it was very difficult to see them, which is amazing for such a beautifully marked bird, but at this time of year the colour of the newly emerging leaves seems to hide them.

I made my way out of the wood, walking past an ever increasing stack of wood, I thought that there was no work now until the end of the summer to prevent disturbing nesting birds, but these stacks have definitely increased in volume.

Over to the north the skies looked quite spectacular with large cumulus clouds building up.

There was no sign of any Whitethroat along Brislands, maybe the lower hedge is not of interest to them.  I did come across this Cowslip.  It was nice to be able to get a close shot as up to now all the ones I have seen have been distant and not accessible.

As I approached home I scanned the skies once more but there was no sign of any House Martin.  The cool conditions are set to last until after the weekend, this will block any significant movement, but hopefully May will turn up something special.

27th April - Now There's a Smile Upon My face

Over the last few days the feeders in the garden have suddenly emptied quite quickly.  I have noticed that the numbers of Greenfinches and Goldfinches visiting has increased lately, but at the rate the feeders were empting there must have been huge flocks.  During the early evening today the culprit was revealed in quite an amusing way.  

Looking out of the kitchen window there was a Woodpigeon perched on a branch close to the feeder.  With the sudden spring growth small branches have grown close to the feeder, and the Woodpigeons have ceased the opportunity.  

It would appear though as yet that only one has managed to perfect the trick, albeit with hilarious consequences.  Balancing on the branch it leans forward into the open port to get at the sunflower hearts

It succeeds in reaching the seed, but because the branch is very thin, and the Woodpigeon quite a heavy bird, the branch gives way resulting in the need to balance.  Cue vigorous wing flapping, and tail spreading in an effort to prevent gravity taking over, and stopping the main objective of the exercise, to take as much seed as possible.

In the end its all too much and the wing flapping becomes quite frantic in its efforts to right itself back up on the branch.

Amusing in still photographs really comical in video.

I mentioned that only one has perfected this (if that is what you call it!), but another seems to be trying to emulate the finches by landing on the perches of another feeder, it hasn't managed it, as its weight knocks the feeder away as it tries to land.  The Woodpigeons would always pick up dropped seed under the feeders, and I have recently stopped putting food out on the ground table, so this could account for why they have decided to adopt this behaviour.

The question is do I undertake some selective pruning?

Monday, 27 April 2015

26th April - Calm Down Baby, Calm Down

More overnight rain, and morning mist and it was still cool in what was now a more north westerly.  I managed to get out mid morning, and to ensure I maximised the time I decided to drive to the pond, and then walk from there around Lye Way and Plain Farm.  I did not know at the time that this was going to prove beneficial.

As I got out of the car I checked to see if the Moorhen was still there, and I could make out the red on her bill so I left her and headed off.

I was hopeful that at last the Whitethroats had arrived, and I knew the best place to find them would be in the hedges and rough ground around Lye Way.  I decided  to take the footpath that runs parallel with with Andrew Lane, and follows a line of hedges and trees.

As I walked by the side of the field I noticed what I thought was a ball by the side of the field.  As I got closer I could see it was more like a ball of feathers.

A Red-legged Partridge with its head tucked under its wing, and standing on one leg, it looked quite relaxed.  But then it noticed me, and put its head up before sprinting across the field away from me.

I then disturbed another that flew off (which makes a change!) behind me.  As I watched both birds I heard the chuckle of Fieldfare, and looked up to see three fly over towards the west.  This is a good spot to see these late in the year, and this would be my latest besting last year by one day.  I was surprised though they were heading west.

As I walked between the trees and the fence, I scanned the fences that stretched out across the fields.  There was little about, and the only chat present was a Robin.

When I reached the top of the path I could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing.  I walked a little way down the path to see if I could find either of them.  I could not see the Blackcap, but in between bursts of song the Chiffchaff was busy collecting nesting material.

I set off along Lye Way, checking both the fields and the hedges for any sign of migrants.  There were plenty of Chaffinch and Goldfinch, but nothing else of interest.  The road takes a dip as it heads towards the Cottages, and on the north side there is a copse with a few good sized trees and lots of bramble.  As I approached I disturbed three Hares from the edge of the field, two of which seemed to be youngsters.

As I got closer I suddenly heard a burst of scratchy song from the bramble bushes, and sitting on top in full song was a male Whitethroat.

He performed well, and included a few sorties into the air.  I love the way the whit on the throat is emphasised as they are in full song.

The sky was still very grey, but the mist was lifting.  The yellow rape flowers though were glowing against the sky and the surrounding greens.

A little further on a pair of birds dived into the cover of bramble by the farm buildings on the south side.  Very soon they emerged to identify themselves as a pair of Whitethroat.

Although not a huge movement there had been a steady trickle of Swallows moving north as I walked along the lane.  I turned onto the bridleway past Lye Way Cottages, and in the sheep field there were several Swallows hawking between the Sheep and Lambs.

So once more the challenge is on again for the ultimate Swallow photograph in flight, these are the first two contenders from this year.

The Lambs in the field are a little older than those at the top of Andrew lane, and are a little more adventurous roaming away from their mothers to get up to no good.  I watched these two go through some very good moves.

Quite a spring

A little shake of the head and back kick

And finished off with a full four leg leap.

Leaving the Lambs to their antics I turned onto Charlwood and walked towards Plain Farm.  A couple of weeks ago Helen and I had walked across the fields looking for the footpath.  On that day there were several tracks created which a t the time we thought could damage the crops unnecessarily.  It would seem the farmer thought so too and as a result he has now made the footpath quite clear.

Just before the turn into Plain Farm I checked yet another field with sheep and lambs, there were plenty of Jackdaws following them around, but of interest was a Buzzard that flew up and glided across the field to the trees on the far side.

I was surprised to find the walk through the gorse and broom quiet, there was very little going on not even a Chiffchaff.  Maybe it was the time of day.  As I came out onto the main path I came across the Kestrel sitting as usual on top of one of the poles scanning the ground below.  Clearly today was a little too cool for hovering.

Skylarks sang on both sides of the path, and Linnets were also very visible, they haven't been so for sometime.  The males looking resplendent with their rosy pink chest patches.

Yellowhammers too could be seen and heard from both hedges.  It is interesting how such a bright yellow plumage can hide the birds in the hedges, you would think they would stand out.

As I walked down the path four Mallard were flying around the barns ahead of me.  I still don't know why this is a popular place for them, I can only assume it is to do wit the availability of grain.  As I reached the barn I could just see their heads above the grass watching me walk past.

At the drying barns the House Sparrows were "churping" away, a good sign there are females on nests close by.  A male Blackcap was in song, but as usual it did its best to hide on the trees where the leaves are now just beginning to provide suitable cover.

I walked across the road, and up past the Gamekeeper's Cottages.  I walked along the avenue of Beech trees, and then down towards the gardens and the pond.  An adult Brown Hare broke cover and ran across the open track, and was then followed by a smaller hare, probably a youngster again.  It stopped though and waited giving me the opportunity for a clear photo.

It was now quite quiet.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker called close by as I nervously walked down the hill through a large flock of cows.  I don't no why I feel this way now, it never really bothered me until I was chased and charged last year.

I headed up the hill towards Lye Way.  The leaves on the Beech Trees in Winchester Wood are at their prettiest, lime green and very delicate, they contrast wonderfully with the dark greys of the trunks.

There was little to report bird wise as I made my way back to the pond.  As I passed the Lye Way farm buildings I noticed some shapes in the distant field, and as I got closer I could see these were Brown Hare.  There was one large oner and two smaller so these were probably the three I had seen earlier, it would be quite possible for them to have made their way through the Rape field to this one.  They were quite happy feeding, and I wonder at what point they become a nuisance.

I turned onto Kitwood to walk down to the pond, and a Mistle Thrush flew up to the wires, and gave a really good view.  Again they probably have a second brood close by.

Usually on the walks I will visit the pond and move on.  Today though I was having to go their twice.  As I came up to for some reason a white patch caught my eye, and it looked unusual, a closer look revealed that it was indeed unusual, the white patch was the beak of a Coot, a patch tick number 102!

It was sitting in the water at the edge of horsetails and Irises.  As I tried to get closer to get maybe a better view it slunked back into the cover of the vegetation, and all I could see was the white of the bill.

As I did get a little close it broke from the vegetation and headed into a much thicker area of Iris.  This led me to think that this bird was unsure of where it was. Coot are usually quite brazen, and not that easily spooked so maybe this one was it passing through and was probably exhausted and felt vulnerable, so felt safer hiding.

I suppose Coot was always a possibility as we have Moorhen, but because there has never really been any significant additions to the water birds on the pond since I can remember this was a big surprise.  It also made me go back and check the muddy regions for any hiding Snipe!  Well you never no, and well maybe that dream of a Kingfisher isn't just that, a dream!

So as seems to be the way, April has delivered a new bird, and I drove home quite satisfied.