Sunday, 30 August 2015

30th August - You Can Hear Their Noises At Bedtime

It was overcast and dry when we woke up this morning, and while the weather forecast was not brilliant, it was set to be dry.  However when set off mid morning, the sun was out, and it was quite humid and warm with very little breeze.  It felt like a Spotted Flycatcher day!

We walked along Brislands where there were signs of autumn all around us, acorns growing on the Oak trees.

And the Ivy was beginning to develop flowers that will soon be a major attraction for all the insects.

There were a few large white butterflies about, and this single Speckled Wood.

A little further on we watched two dueling Speckled Woods, they just seemed to spin and knock into each other for quite a time, covering a fair distance too.

We crossed into Old Down from the Gradwell entrance.  On the fence posts around the horse stables was a small dove, a closer look though revealed it to be a very young Woodpigeon.

The woods were very quiet, just the odd call of a Wren and the ticking of a Robin.  The cones on the Larch trees were now turning brown, we have seen them go from a lovely lime green in the spring to this equally lovely colour.

Speckled Woods were in the grass, and there were several Southern Hawker Dragonflies, in fact we saw several on the walk today.  We made our way to the north perimeter, with the objective of seeing if there were any fungi appearing yet.  A little further along the path there was a bright yellow substance appearing in amongst the ivy.  It was a slime that was oozing from what seemed to be a dead branch, but was covering the ivy.

This is Fuligo Septica, a slime mould, and despite their appearance are unrelated to fungi.  They start life as single celled amoeboid organism that spends time ingesting bacteria or fungi.  When the time is right they coalesce into the plasmodium stage seen here.  This is able to move, the mass oozing over the wood.

A little further on we found some fungi, firs some small white bodies on the moss of a derad tree, then this bigger Sheathed Woodtuft.

After that a Brown Puffball on the ground.

Then we came across what we believe was a puffball of sorts that had the top split off to reveal another oozing mass beneath.

We walked down to the West End, then took the main path back into the wood.  A lot more open here we soon came across some butterflies including a male Brimstone.  The bramble was the attraction and there were Speckled Woods and a few Small Whites.  However what caught my attention was a couple of Hornets moving amongst the dead wood.

There were also insects on the path, several Dor Beetles were present and we watched them moving the soil about as if to dig into the ground.

From the crossroads we turned towards Old Down Cottage in the hope of seeing some butterflies in the open area.  There were few butterflies, but there was a group of small birds in the trees above us.  There were Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, the latter standing out in their lovely yellowish green plumage.  As well as the warblers there was also a few tits, Long-tailed and Blue Tits plus a few Goldcrests.  As I watched the birds flitting in the trees I could hear tapping one both sides.  Helen searched for the Woodpecker that was deeper into the trees, but I was able to find a Nuthatch above me.

The alarm calls then rang out, and I expected to see a Buzzard above me, but was pleased to see a Sparrowhawk.

As I followed the Sparrowhawk I picked up on a single Swift moving east over the wood as well, a good late sighting for the patch.

No butterflies on the main path, so at the entrance I walked into the field.  This is a sheltered spot, and proved to be a good place just before we went away.  It didn't fail this time either.  First butterfly I saw was a very nice Brown Argus.

Then after that an equally impressive Common Blue.

Most of the thistles and knapweed have gone to seed, but where a few were still in bloom, there were several bees about, including this one.

Leaving the wood we walked on towards Kitwood choosing to miss the pond out as it was busy with fishermen.  In amongst the ivy by the side of the road was a nice spike of Lords and Ladies berries.

The Violet Helliborines were still in place, but there were only a few flowers out, the others having died back.

I stopped at the meadow at the Kitwood bend, many of the flowers have now died back but there were a few still about.  I managed to find a Common Blue, and disturbed a Silver Y moth from the long grass.

We headed off around Kitwood, and as we reached the farms I noticed a small bird at the top of a dead branch of a tall tree.  My prophecy had been proved correct, a Spotted Flycatcher.

There were in fact two birds present, and they both flew off as I tried to get closer, I was though able to locate it in the trees by the farm.

We carried on and then down the hill towards Beech Farm, where in the trees at the back of the farm there were two more Spotted Flycatchers, again at the top in dead branches.  So on what seemed like a Spotted Flycatcher type of day turned into one with 4 birds, not bad.

As we walked along Willis Lane a another puffball caught the ye, this time a Grassland Puffball.

The footpath to Alton Lane always seems to have fungi in the covered dark part, but today there was nothing, but coming out into the open there were two Blushing Wood Mushrooms, one with the parasol yet to open, but the other in full show.

We stopped off at Garthowen for a drink, and then we headed home without anything else of major interest.  Some nice late butterflies, and some good signs for the autumn, early fungi about, and four Spotted Flycatchers on passage, the next few weeks could be interesting.

Friday, 28 August 2015

28th August - You Get So Dizzy Even Walkin' in a Straight Line

The away blog continues to be updated, we are now up to day three of the Yellowstone adventure, details are here.  Here at home though there has been little change although the sun has come out this morning, only to quickly be shrouded in cloud once again.  While the sun was out, the House Martins were going crazy around the trees, hawking insects, it was as if they were as pleased to see the sun as I was.  

The garden has been busy with juvenile Goldfinches.  It is amazing how quickly they learn to use the feeders, behaving just like the adults and dropping bits everywhere.  A Robin was also singing in the garden, the melancholy song signalling the start of autumn, and the Robin's quest to ensure it keeps its winter territory.  

Despite the threat of showers I did put the moth trap out overnight, and it of course did rain.  However it did manage to produce a new moth for the garden, a Canary-shouldered Thorn, along with a couple of Brimstone moths, many Lesser and Large Yellow Underwings (its that time of year), and the first Spectacle of the year

This aptly named moth due to the canary-yellow thorax, or 'shoulders', and despite the fact I have not seen one here in the garden before is a fairly common species all over Britain.

It has a single generation which flies from July to October, and is regularly attracted to artificial light.  It frequents woodland, gardens and a range of other habitats, and the larvae feed on a variety of deciduous trees.

The Spectacle was the first this year, surprisingly after catching many last year.

It gets its name from the light patches on the raised forehead, these look like a pair of spectacles.  It has one or two generations, flying between May and September.  The larvae feed on nettles and the species passes the winter as a pupa.

There has been no further sign of the Hummingbird Hawkmoth, but I live in hope, the holiday weekend looks indifferent but there may be one or two opportunities to get out.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

26th August - To Read The Signs and Walk Away

As I am sure may have been noticed we have been a way for a few weeks, this time our travels taking us the the USA, starting out in Chicago, but then heading off to Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and then finally Cape Cod.  Full details are being posted on the "Away Blog" here.  It will take some time to complete all the activities we undertook, so please keep checking back, it was an amazing trip!

Since arriving home on Sunday morning I don't think it has stopped raining, it has not been the sort of welcome home I was expecting.  As a result I have not had the opportunity to get out around the patch, and any local observations have been restricted to the garden and from the car.  It has though looked quite quiet out there, very few birds in the garden, as this is the time for moulting, and growing new feathers.  I have heard the calls of Blue Tits and Robins, and every so often a Robin appears near the bird bath.  Overhead the House Martins continue to feed chicks in the nests, but it seems as if my brood that was present when we left a couple of weeks ago have successfully fledged.  

In the high winds there have been movements of gulls, and I have been able to pick out a few Black-headed and Common Gulls flying over, and  This afternoon a good sized group of what  appeared to be Herring Gulls, all immature birds.

The highlight though is something I have yet to see, but was reported to me this morning by Helen.  A Hummingbird Hawk Moth in the garden, trying valiantly to hover around the hydrangea flower heads.  Hopefully if there is any sign of the rain abating I can get the moth trap out as there have been many sightings of Convolvulus Hawk Moth on the south coast.

No pictures just yet, watch this space if the rain holds off.

Hang on, kindly disregard this letter....

Late afternoon the sun breaks through, the clouds move away, and it becomes a different world.  I decided to head to Plain Farm, there have been a few commoner migrants around and maybe the hedgerows there would be a better bet than the woods.  As i drove around the roads in the village there was plenty of evidence of the heavy rain we have been experiencing, gravel and rocks of some considerable size having been washed down the hill, especially at the bottom of Alton Lane.  I parked at the cattle grid and walked up the hill.

A large white butterfly flew past me no doubt pleased to be able to get out, a little further a brown butterfly in the grass was behaving strangely.  As I approached it would zip off then settle with wings snapped shut.

While i suspected Meadow Brown the behaviour was unlike that I had seen this year.  I came upon another doing exactly the same, but this one conveniently opened its wings to confirm my instincts.

i walked around the pond, and then the shed but there was nothing of interest about.  I then headed down the track towards the quarry.  three weeks away and the landscape has changed, the flower heads of the cow parsley all brown and crinkled by the side of the track.

Ahead of me there were two duelling butterflies, the sun waking these insects up, one flew off, the other settled back down to show itself as a Speckled Wood.  The brown butterflies are usually the ones to become active first.

It was quiet as I walked past the quarry, no bird calls of any sort, I crossed the road and headed up past the barns.  A grain truck was in the final stages of filling up, and the dryer was on, yet another sign of the changing seasons.

heading up the hill I scanned the field to my left, and quickly found what I was hoping for.  There were in fact three Hares in the field, but this was the only one sitting up.  The others were lying flat down in the sunshine.

To my right there were Swallows flying around the cow shed, keeping themselves close to the hedges and trees.

I scanned the fields at the cottages and found yet another hare, and out in the middle Woodpigeon and Rooks were feeding in the stubble fields.  Along the hedgerow were several flowering brambles and this was an attraction to a Green-veined White butterfly.

Linnets and Goldfinches lined the wires over the hedge, and from within the hedge I could hear every so often the tack call of a Blackcap.  The wind was still fresh, and this was keeping the birds low, the finches on the wire also not staying long up there, but preferring the cover of the hedge.

The footpath away from the cottages was flooded but it was passable.  Ahead of me I could see three dark shapes, at first I thought they were ducks but on getting closer I could see the y were pheasants, either females or young birds.

Once again I could hear the alarm, or contact calls of birds in the hedge, this time though it was of Willow Warblers, there was even a snatch of sub song, but try as I might I could not get to see them.  I reckon there was at least three birds present maybe more.  A Buzzard also flew over, and later I could hear the plaintive cries of a young buzzard begging for attention, its that time of year.

I followed the path to Charlwood, and headed back towards Lye Way.  A male yellowhammer appeared on the wires above me with a large beetle in its beak.  It must have yet another brood nearby.  Yellowhammers are one of our farmland birds that nationally are in decline, thankfully around Four Marks they appear to be doing very well, and from the sightings I have had I would consider this to be yet again another good year for them.

The barley fields have all been harvested but the wheat is still place, which is unusual as by now over the last few years all the fields have been harvested  I would expect these now to be harvested any day, but I would suspect the weather will play an important part in that decision.

The hedgerow is high on both sides of the lane, and the swallows seemed to be using the lift generate to hold in the wind above me as I walked along the road.  Their chatter a continual accompaniment to my walk.

There were plenty of swallows by the houses and around the barns, both adult and young birds flying around.  Nearby a field full of broad beans was an attraction to the swallows and and also quite a few finches.  I could see Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Greenfinches coming and going from the field.

I headed back towards the car along Lye Way.  The hedgerow in the sunshine was an attraction to many insects pleased at last to have some warmth.  There were plenty of bees on the bramble flowers, and a Southern Hawker dragonfly flew up and down in front of me.  Also on the brambles were several Small White butterflies.

Back at the car I decided to drive back along Lye Way to check the fields and the fences, as I came to the field just before the turn off there were several young swallows on the fence wire.  I stopped, hoping nothing would come along to cause me to move, and used the car as a hide.

The adults were flying around feeding these young birds and as they came close the begging would begin.

Unfortunately it wasn't his turn.

A change of position reveals the lovely blues in the young feathers, feathers that will very soon see this youngster under take a considerable journey.

But for now it can sit, and enjoy the evening sunshine while waiting to be fed.

This was a bonus, this morning I didn't think there would be the chance to get out.  There was not that much about, but enough to keep the interest there, with the forecast not looking to get much better as we head into the holiday weekend it is necessary to take every opportunity.  

Don't forget the "Away Blog".....It's Raining Again!

Friday, 7 August 2015

7th August - See The Word of The Prophet

The sun is out, there is little wind and it is warm, the next question to be answered is would there be butterflies?  I took the chance at lunch to walk around Old Down and through the meadow in the hope I could relocate the White Admiral, and catch up with Small Copper.

I parked at the pond, and stopped to watch four Emperor Dragonflies chasing each other low over the water.  I could also see several damselflies about too,  I waited to see if the dragonflies would settle but they didn't and with not much time available to me I decided to head off.

In the grass verge there was a clump of fungi, these are some form of fibrecap I think.

I walked towards Kitwood rather than going into the wood.  I wanted to check the Violet Helleborines to see if they were in flower.  And they were, not all, but a few petals at the base of the stem.

Looking closer you can see the pinkish purple markings on the petals, nothing brash, just subtle, delicate and beautiful.

I turned into the meadow at Kitwood and was greeted by a lot of flying butterflies, but unfortunately not the ones I was hoping to find.  Once again the majority were Meadow Browns followed by a few Gatekeepers.

There was a single Peacock on the knapweed heads

And a very nice male Brimstone.

And this Small White on the Ragwort.

But there was no sign of any Blues or more importantly the Small Copper.

Again pressed for time I left the meadow and quickly across the field towards Old Down.  The path leading in from the field has been a good spot for White Admiral before, but today there was nothing.  I did though find a cousin sitting in amongst the Sweet Chestnut leaves.

A little further on a Red Admiral appeared and posed well in the open for me.

The Meadow Browns were about again, flying up from the grass as I walked by, but as I turned on to the main path there was a collection of small birds in the small bushes one of which was a male Blackcap.

I think it must have had a bath somewhere, probably in a puddle.

The bramble on the path towards Old Down Cottage was now in full sunlight and the butterflies continued to appear, this Speckled Wood.

A Green-veined White.

And several Large Whites

There was also a Southern Hawker in the same spot as I had seen it last month, and once again I watched it springing the grass stems.  I could not find any sign of the White Admiral though.  As I walked out of the wood I noticed a Comma by the thistles, which then flew into the field.  As I hadn't seem a Comma here for awhile I decided to walk through the gap into the field to try and find.  I am really glad that I did that.

I found the Comma but it wouldn't settle for a photograph, but I did mange to find this Essex Skipper.

The skipper flew off away from the thistles and over the small Mayweed that was thick atthe end of the barley in the field.  As it did I noticed an orange butterfly on the ground, closer look revealed the one I was looking for a Small Copper.

There were in fact three present, and they all looked pristine as if they had just emerged.  They flew to the flower heads but didn't stay long preferring to settle on the dry earth in the sunshine.

There was a lot of activity over the Mayweed, and in amongst the skippers and Gatekeepers I picked out a blue, it was a Common Blue and was nectaring on the flower head.

There were two Common Blues and they were flying around dueling every so often.  As they were flying about a darker butterfly but slightly smaller joined them.  I followed it about willing it to settle.  Finally it stopped on a Mayweed, and my hopes were confirmed, a Brown Argus.

Slightly opening the wings

Then finally showing the underside.

Brown Argus is my 27th butterfly for the patch, and with Small Copper making 26 for the year.

I left the field, and thanked the Comma for leading me in and then headed back to the car at the pond where a Moorhen was feeding in amongst the lilies, and the dragonflies continued to circle the pond.

Only a short visit, but a very successful one.