This time last year we had just returned from Sri Lanka, and on my first walk around Four Marks was pleased to see Swallows and singing warblers along with plenty of blossom and flowers. Over the course of the last seven days we have been treated to some nice settled weather with plenty of sunshine and warmth, however there is still the feeling that the Spring is about a week to 10 days behind where we were this time last year.
The temperature was 23 degrees when I left work, and I was looking forward to getting out for a late afternoon walk. My patio is always a magnet for the Peacock butterflies at this time of year, and as I stepped outside one was sun bathing on the ground. I inched close to get a photograph and disturbed it, but the resulting picture while blurred helps to accentuate the lovely colours in this stunning butterfly.
As I headed up Brislands in the sunshine I could hear a gull calling from above, looking up a Herring Gull was mobbing a Buzzard as it drifted over. Why a Herring Gull so far inland would be concerned about a Buzzard I have no idea, its just another bird to add to the list of those that have to mob the Buzzards around here.
I stopped by the rhododendrons in the hope I might hear Firecrest but it seems they have just moved on after last year. There was though a pair of Long-tailed Tits and this male Goldcrest.
Skylark were singing on either side of the lane as I headed towards Old Down, and I could also hear Yellowhammer, but there was no sign of activity inth hedgerow, no sign of any Whitethroats yet.
I walked into Old Down where I could hear Chiffchaffs singing. On the field were several Small Tortoiseshells, the dried ground again a magnet for sun bathing.
When I checked the blog from this time last year the Bluebells then were well and truly out. This year there are a few but as you can see from the vignette in this picture in the same location, nowhere near as developed as last year. I would estimate we are about 10 days behind last year.
An Orange-tip butterfly flew along beside me, daring to stop on the celandines and wood anemones but never actually doing so. There were also several Brimstones, but as is always the way at this time of year they would not pause long enough for a suitable photograph, this was the best I could achieve.
I walked down through the paddocks where La I could see were Chaffinches. There was no sign of any Swallows ant Andross Farm, again this time last year there were several flying around the stables.
I scanned the paddocks diligently, there have been reports of several Ring Ouzel moving through, and last year there was a lovely male here. It wasn't to be the case this year but I had a feeling there was going to be something turn up.
In the trees Great Tits called and moved ahead of me in pairs. They seem to be set now on finding a nest site.
A Blackcap appeared at the top of the lane, but almost as quickly disappeared into th bushes. This was my first away from the garden. Peacock butterflies drifted past me as I walked the lane past the sheep and lambs. As I reached the turn onto Lye Way a Chiffchaff sang, and moved secretly through the tree, hiding behind the emerging blossom.
It was now decision time, was I to check the hedges and fields alongside Lye Way, or head back and walk through the wood again? I decided to check the fields, but as came out of the trees and scanned I was disappointed. There were now a few Sheep with lambs, but no birds. I scanned the area below the hedges always a good spot for Ring Ouzel but nothing. I then became fascinated by a lump by the fence in the middle of the field. I thought it a rock but couldn't be sure, so decided to get a little closer. As I looked again a bird appeared, pinkish white belly with an upright stance.
A male Wheatear, and behind it another, as I watched another appeared making three my highest count. I was a fair way off so I walked closer slowly continually taking pictures.
The fence was always going to be the biggest barrier to getting some good pictures, but the birds were moving towards me, and did not seem too concerned by me. Then a car went by, and that upset them and they flew back, but one went up on to the post.
They then post hopped and came closer to me giving me the opportunity for some better views.
Then all three were on the fence, chance to confirm the count.
I had always thought this area was best for Wheatear, and last October was pleased to find two here, it is always nicer though to get the spring birds, and just in the spot where I always felt they should be.
I walked back towards the footpath back to Old Down, but stopped as a male Bullfinch appeared at the top of a bush and started to peck at the buds on the branches. The fact it was in amongst the branches made getting a clear shot very difficult. I managed this before a cyclist came through and flushed it.
I made my way down path, deciding to follow the path next to the fence so that I could keep a check on the fields to the west, still hoping for a Ring Ouzel, in what would be a good site for one.
As I reached the end of the path a Small White flew past me, again never stopping, and a Chiffchaff was singing from a nearby tree. I stopped and waited fr it to sing again and give away its location. It did and it appeared out in the open for once.
And then sang...
Burst of song over it was then time to search for food.
A Chaffinch nearby was not to be out done by the Chiffchaff and delivered its song from a Rose bush.
Rather than go straight into the wood I turned left and walked past the pond. It was quiet here, nothing out of the ordinary. However new was this flowering clump of Cuckoo Flower. The name comes from the fact it appears around the same time as returning Cuckoos, there is an alternative name, Lady's Smock which refers to the apparent resemblance of lady's smocks worn in Tudor times. Not sure about whether or not that is true. Butterflies love the flower, being a favourite in particular of the Orange-tip. The plant is related to Watercress and thrives in damp conditions.
I walked to Kitwood checking the horse paddocks but all I could find were feeding Woodpigeon. I turned and walked through the butterfly meadow. The grass had recently been mowed, and there was the lovely smell of sweet cut grass as I walked towards the stile.
Surprisingly no Skylarks as I crossed the field, but on entering the wood the bugs were hanging around the branches of the larch, highlighted by the sunshine.
A Coal Tit called from the top of the Larches, and then as I watched it, it tumbled down and appeared briefly in front of me. Not the best of photographs of the Coal Tit, but I love the colours of the bokum behind it.
I walked to the main path, and headed towards the Gradwell exit. I had forgotten about the Great Tits and the possible nest as I made my way, then saw a bird fly into the trunk of the tree and realised what it was. I waited and sure enough a Great Tit emerged. It would seem that they are serious about this site.
As I crossed the field past the horse paddocks the lone Swallow was still circling the trees and stables. It has now been there seven days, and has not been joined by any others, in fact at the moment this is my only Swallow, it must be quite sad flying around waiting, if a swallow gets sad that is.
Other than Robins singing and Blackbirds all around me there was nothing else to report as I made my way home. I decided to put the moth trap out over night, but other than a collection of Common Quakers and Hebrew Characters there was nothing about, which I must admit was a surprise.
So to sum up today we are about 10 days behind the spring of 2014, but in the middle of a lovely settled patch of weather that hopefully will continue to deliver birds like today's Wheatears.