Wednesday, 5 August 2015

4th August - Why Wait Until The Middle of a Cold Dark Night

Well once again the forecast turned out to be partially right, yes we did get the strong gusty winds, but we were promised quite a bit of sunshine, and unfortunately that never happened and the majority of the day it was cloudy, and with even the odd shower.  As a result I abandoned the idea of looking for butterflies at lunch time, and instead Helen and I set out in the late afternoon, when there was at least some sunshine about which warmed things up a bit but that wind was still very fresh.

The House Martins are busy feeding and the sky around Reads Field is full of them zooming about.  The walk along Brislands though was quiet, but as we came out into the open we could hear the calls of Swallows as they passed overhead, even above the noise of distant farm machinery.  The Swallows were mostly juvenile birds identifiable from the lack of tail streamers, and they were feeding over the harvested field.  The machinery in use were balers collecting the straw left over from the combines.

There were round bales and these rectangular bales that were also collected together in haystacks, and providing the Crows with a vantage point to look for possible food kicked up by the tractors.

We walked into Old Down in silence, there was not even the song of a Robin to greet us.  We turned onto the north perimeter path, and made our way to the middle where a track had been created by last year's forestry work.  Everywhere was dark and quiet, the height of summer having kicked in, completely shutting off the wood floor of any light.  As we came out on to the track we disturbed a white moth, probably a White Wave, but difficult to be sure from the brief views we had.

This time last year the track was open, and cleared of any plants, this year it had quickly become grown over, but there was light, and when the sun shown on the bracken the Speckled Woods appeared.

A little further on Helen pointed out a Buzzard that had flown from a nearby tree.  It flew low and then up into a tree in the distance, but not that far from us.  The area was where this year's nest had been, and I managed to get myself to a position where I could photograph the bird.  It looks like this was one of the juvenile birds.

As we tried to get a little closer it flew once again, and this time out of the wood, it came over the trees mewing constantly which further reinforced the opinion that this was one of this year's youngsters.

We carried on down to the West End where there was a group of tits calling but very little else.  Turning back up the main path the sun came out, and once again this brought out the butterflies.  Mainly Meadow Browns there were also Small and large Whites and a few Gatekeepers.  There was also a single Azure Damselfly close to the footpath.

We stopped at the junction with the south perimeter path to search for a group of Coal Tits that were calling.  As we looked a Buzzard flew over and the calls went quiet, and several flew from the tree.  Helen though found one Coal Tit, and eventually I managed to see it too!

We followed the path around towards old Down Cottage, pausing to check the bramble.  Once again there were plenty of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers, but I was pleased to find this Large Skipper.

The area along this path is quite open, and the bramble is still in flower.  As we walked i saw a dark butterfly fly up, and settle on a hazel leaf.  I could see the white markings on the wings and knew immediately that it was a White Admiral, unfortunately though as I raised the camera it was off, through the leaves and away out of sight into the darkness.  Never mind though, I was pleased to find one, I had given up hope after last week, and this was very welcome, there is still a small population in the wood.

We decided to give it a chance to return, and as we stood looking into the trees a Seven Spot Ladybird climbing a very slight grass stem caught the eye.

Needless to say the white Admiral did not return so we headed out of the wood, and off towards Swellinghill Pond.  The water level was very low exposing quite a bit of mud, but the area is enclosed by trees and I can't see this attracting any passage waders in like the Wood Sandpiper currently at Alresford, I can but dream though.

As we walked around the pond we flushed two Moorhen from the Iris bed, and they flew and scurried off to the other side past the jetty.

The pond looked lovely in the late afternoon sunshine, the water lilies and reflections adding to the scene.  As we stood taking in the scene I was drawn to the pond skaters on the surface of the water.  At the beginning of the year at a Chris Packham talk he showed a series of photographs he had taken of pond skaters, and I was reminded of these as I watched them scurrying across the surface of the water.  The ripples on the surface create a surreal environment to capture these insects in.

The butterflies around the pond were mainly Small whites but there was one Green-veined White nectaring on the bramble flowers.

We headed on towards Kitwood, however I noticed some yellow markers in the verge on the side of the road, and as I got closer I realised why they were there.  They were identifying a rare orchid that seems to have decided to call the village home.  This is the Violet Helleborine, first found in Alton Lane in 2008, but have also been found in Blackberry Lane, The Shrave, Telegraph Lane and along Swellinghill.

The orchid is dependent on a mycorrhizal fungi symbiosis to germinate, and this also allows some Orchid species to have reduced leaves and need little chlorophyll. In the case of the Violet Helleborine it can even do without chlorophyll, and is found in very shaded dark areas.

They normally flower in August and September, so I am hopeful that I will be able to return later to photograph the flowers when they open.

The Violet Helleborines in Four Marks have survived thanks to the work of the local Wildlife Support and Conversation Team and more information on these flowers in the area can be found here

At the Kitwood Turn we walked through the meadow, where despite the strong wind there were still a few Meadow browns on the wing.  The search though was for Small Copper, now the one local butterfly to have eluded me so far this year.  Unfortunately there was no sign of them, but encouragingly the trefoil and kidney vetch seems to be growing through.  Helen did see a blue butterfly but we were not able to re-locate it it.

We crossed the field and walked through Old Down once again, heading out towards the Gradwell entrance.  It was still quiet but as we passed to open area of larches there were several Chiffchaffs calling.

Crossing the open field once more there was quite a few Swallows and House martins flying low over the barley.  We carried on along Gradwell, and then down Brislands towards home.

As we came down the hill towards Lymington Bottom there were two Wood Pigeon on the wire, and one was making that purposeful walk along the wire towards the other, obviously with intentions.  We stopped to watch as the one bird snuck up close.

It moved in close and nuzzled the bird on the right's neck, and then seemed to pass food which the right hand bird took, there then followed some more neck nuzzling.

It was what happened next that really surprised us.  We have watched amorous Wood Pigeons on the roofs, and observed the hop skip and jump approach as one moves in an attempt to woo the other and we have always thought the pigeon doing the approaching was the male, so we rightly assumed in this case the one feeding and doing the neck kissing here was the male.  This did not turn out to be the case, the right hand bird jumped up onto the back of the other, and well, consummated the relationship!

After which the (supposed) female returned to her cuddling and kissing.

What seems strange here was that the female was making the advances here when usually in the bird world the male has to do all the work to impress the ladies.  We could, of course have got this wrong, and maybe they were just good mates.  Any way this could also be one of the reasons why the Woodpigeons are so successful around here, not only do they breed all the year round, but both sexes are as promiscuous!

Both birds then decided to go their own way, and we walked on.  As we came along Lymington Rise a Red Kite was heading towards the house.  He or she is becoming a very regular sight now, it is definitely the same bird, it can be identified by the feather damage in the tail, I would imagine though very soon it will disappear to moult.

A quiet but nevertheless interesting walk, that at last found a White Admiral, and observed some interesting Woodpigeon behaviour where one pigeon took the chance to hold her baby tight!

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