Once finally home there was time for a late afternoon walk around the patch, the big question being had the Swallows we had watched streaming north in Majorca made it to Four Marks, or were they to be victims of the French Air Traffic strike? I set out in the warm sunshine and immediately there was a couple of Brimstone flitting about along Lymington Rise, and two Peacocks duelling above me. Queen bumble bees zipped past me, and as I headed along Brislands it was like I was suddenly in a different place.
Along the lane the air was full of birdsong, Blackbird, Dunnock, Wren, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and of course Robins were all singing, proclaiming their territories and in some case probably celebrating a partner sitting on the nest. Every so often there was the short burst of a distant Chiffchaff, but they were very secretive today, not showing at all.
As I turned into Gradwell the bank of Celandines were all in full bloom, and on them at last was a sitting peacock butterfly. Recently emerged it was in pristine condition, and like all common creatures overlooked for the detail of the markings, if you were to see markings like this on an insect in the jungles, you would be bowled over by the beauty of this lovely butterfly. It takes the first ones in Spring to bring that home every year.
From Gradwell i took the path towards Old Down. There was no sign of any Swallows around the horse paddocks, and the only birds about were a pair of Jackdaws that were showing an interest in a patch of horse hair.
The field had also changed, the last time I was here it was a dull earthy brown colour, today the browns have been transformed into a lovely emerald green, as the shoots start to emerge.
Four marks is on the flight path between Odiham and the MOD land around Bordon and Thursley, and I am used to the heavy thump of Chinook helicopters as they make there way at low height, however today there was a different sound and looking up it belonged to what I think is a Longbow Apache, but I am sure there is someone out there who will advise me if I have got the identification wrong. Interestingly when i took the photograph I was trying to get a Buzzard in the frame, the Buzzard did not comply, but it seems I have managed to capture a micro-lite plane.
As I walked into the wood a Chiffchaff was singing, and more Brimstones and Peacock were flying around the open rides, the dead and fallen branches being a source of heat now, and a major attraction.
Just like the surrounding fields the Larch trees have suddenly burst into life, transformed from dull brown empty branches into vibrant green leafed branches.
As i walked through the wood I realised that I quite like the space that has now been created, it has brought life into the wood where it was quite dull.
I walked around to the owl tree, and from a distance looked to see if Morris was there. I could make out the shape and a flash of brown and white, and satisfied he was there left him in peace and walked down the path towards the main footpath by Old Down cottage. I disturbed a Buck Roe Deer and he jogged off, only to stop with that air of defiance to look back at me. The antlers are now without the velvet covering.
The track I was walking always had a large scrape that filled with water, and at this time of year was a temporary pond to frogs and newts. With the recent forestry work, the scrape has become larger, and is of course filled with water and pond weed. I could not find any frog spawn, but did manage to find one frog with its head just above the water. Although I have been informed that the eyes look like those of a toad and not a frog which may be why there is no frog spawn.
I turned onto the perimeter path which winds through hazel trees. The hazel leaves are also just beginning to emerge. The lovely lime green colour, and the delicate hairs on the leaves at its best as they unfold from the buds.
There is still a wait for the beauty of the Bluebells to appear, but if the warm weather keeps up, there progress will be accelerated. I had hoped to find some beginning to flower, but only managed to find this one.
With the dry weather, and the recent warm spell the wood is once again a joy to walk. The bird song was everywhere, however the only migrant was the Chiffchaff singing, the rest the local residents.
Just as with the path from the Gradwell entrance the path that leads out to the West end has been completely changed. Once a very dark and lifeless area it is now open and full of light. Primroses could be found here, but it was if they were struggling to find some light to show off their beauty, but today the clumps are all out in the open, and in full sun, and giving the Wood Anemones a good run for their money!
I walked down through the Paddocks. This had been the first area to have lambs, but surprisingly they have not been added too. Rabbits fed in the field, scattering as they saw me back into their burrows, and a Green Woodpecker called from the distant trees. I though I heard the jangle of a Swallow, but after some extensive searching I had to admit to myself that I probably imagined it.
As I approached the gate and style to the road I remembered how the bushes and trees were always a spot for a pair Long-tailed Tits at this time of year, and as I did so I heard them calling above me. Nature is a creature of habit.
They probably nest close to here, but despite a good search I could not find anything.
I headed up Andrew Lane, scanning the fields for any sign of migrants, last year around now a Ring Ouzel turned up, and I have not given up the chance of a Wheatear here either. The paddocks and stables are also Swallow territory, but they have not arrived yet.
A singing Robin sat in the early evening sunshine.
Both Great Tits and Blue Tits were calling from the oak trees, probably searching for suitable holes, both species were in pairs and did not stray to far from each other. I stopped to watch this Blue Tit
It searched both the main trunk for holes, and the branches for any likely insect that it could find.
And then it decided to look at me.
At the top of the lane I came out into the open to find the field now full of lambs, some of which were not that old. Some were taking the chance to enjoy the April sunshine.
While another just wanted to dance to show how much it enjoyed being here.
Another Chiffchaff sang from the Horse Chestnut trees and a Peacock flew past me. I headed back down the footpath towards Swelling Hill. This area is where the late winter Redwing and Fieldfare flocks have gathered in past years, but this year they have not arrived. I wonder if I have seen the last of these two winter thrushes until next October?
The sun was dropping, and it felt a little cooler, away to the north a hot air balloon was drifting over the trees. As I watched it I considered that it would be something I would love to do over the area, it would be great to look down on the area i walk, but I also thought it must be difficult to guarantee that the balloon would go where you would want it to go, and I would end up disappointed.
The sun was low, and the hedgerows were in the shade so there was not a lot of opportunity for more butterflies, however a gap in the hedge allowed me to get around to the other side where the sun was still lighting up the base of the hedges, and as i walked along I put up a Small Tortoiseshell. Of course it didn't stop, but you can't have it all.
I headed off to the pond where Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the back, and the pair of mallard were still on the pond together, so as yet they have not consummated the marriage.
I walked around checking the edge of the water for spawn. There was no sign of any Toad spawn, but I did manage to find a small blob of Frog spawn, the first this year.
I wonder if the Toads we saw last month was just a small gathering and the big one is yet to begin, we shall have to see, but it is now quite late.
Another first for me this year at the pond was the sight of Pond Skaters on the water, jousting with others as they scour the top of the water for likely prey.
From the pond I walked off towards Kitwood. male Blackbirds were singing still, that lovely song that always seems to fill the evening air at this time of year, and is so much better on a sunny day such as this one.
The yellow Celandines and Daffodils have been out for sometime now, but I don't recall seeing that many Dandelions, so I was surprised to see this full Dandelion seed head in the evening sunshine, delicate yet compact.
In the bushes around the school was a large flock of House Sparrows. The males were all trying to out do each other in song, their "chirupps" ringing out as they competed for the higher ground in the ivy. A bit like the Peacock butterfly the males are overlooked for being just "sparrows". Their plumage though is more than just a little brown job, it has a beauty all of its own, the rich browns and reds, and of course the flat cap
I walked along Lymington Bottom listening to Goldcrests singing in the many conifers. In the field a Mistle Thrush was stalking food, and a little further on it appeared in the tree as I passed under it.
I headed home, a lovely walk in the warmth at last. I didn't find any Swallows, but I do know they are on the way, at last.
Stop Press: Wednesday 8th April as I was running along Gradwell late afternoon a Swallow flew out of the horse paddocks, They're back, and Spring is here!