Wednesday, 30 September 2015

30th September - Eyesight To The Blind

The clear and sunny conditions continue, but if anything the breeze that was with us on Tuesday is even stronger today, and also quite fresh as it is blowing from a north easterly direction.  Unfortunately the clear star lit nights have probably induced any of the migrants around to leave, and are definitely not conducive to anything new dropping in.  With this in mind following and yesterdays walks around the patch I decided I would go back up to Swelling Hill Pond, and see if the dragonflies were about once again, and concentrate some quality time in securing some photographs of them.

As I pulled up I could see one Southern Hawker buzzing around close to the edge of the pond, as it did so it was attacked by a small red dragonfly that was definitely a darter.  I watched the darter fly off and settle on the back of one of the park benches in the sunshine.  This allowed me to get closer, and I was able to identify it as a Common Darter from the creamy yellow stripes on the thorax

The Common Darter is a small restless dragonfly that perches regularly on the bank side vegetation of pools (unlike other darters), but in this case a bench was preferable.  These dragonflies can emerge as early as April, and as late as October and can be seen on the wing as late as November.

There were at least three individuals present, and unlike yesterday I did not see any females.  Here you can clearly see the two bold stripes down the side of the thorax.

The wood by the side of the bank providing a warm surface in the sunshine from which to warm up.

From these resting places the darters would sit quite content until the larger Southern Hawker approached, as the came close the darter would fly up, and despite its significantly smaller size would chase off the much larger dragonfly, and then return to its place of rest.

There were at least three Southern Hawkers present, all flying close to the bank inspecting the vegetation and the holes in the bank

The Southern Hawker is is a large Hawker dragonfly, which is usually solitary which may account for the frequent attacks and attempts to chase the other away.  I was watching males and their flight could be described as purposeful, and regular in as much as it continued to cover the same area at the same height from the ground.  As well as looking for possible prey it searches the inlets and holes in the banks in search of a receptive female.

The strong breeze was blowing the leaves from the trees, and as the leaves fell into the pond the dragonfly would turn and investigate to see if it was a female.

The Periwinkle bank was in the full sun and there were several Speckled Wood butterflies about.  These too seemed to attract the Hawkers and they would chase the butterflies around the trees.  One, though, did settle for a while.

The Hawkers seemed to have their own territories but every so often there would be a raid by an individual, and they would speed off around the pond only for them to split up and one return to the side of the bank.  It was almost impossible to say if this was the original dragonfly or the attacker.  I have since learnt that apparently the males will time share territory of a favourable site with other males, each using the spot from 10 to 40 minutes, however the more males there are the shorter the stint.  

The males clash when they encounter each other, and the outcome is determined by how long their duration has been at the site.  If the male is attacked too early in its stay, the territory is defended vigorously, I saw a pair come together in a fight and you could hear the clash of their wings, the victor returned to the site, while the loser dipped into the water, then flew up into a tree to rest.

The dragonflies seemed to be quite inquisitive of me, coming really close, sometimes far too close for the camera.

I find it quite amazing to look at these incredibly well engineered insects, the wings moving in different directions to control the flight up down, left, right and forwards and backwards, but most fascinating are the way the legs are retracted alongside the thorax keeping them from producing any drag.

Something else I have learnt is that on the face of the Southern Hawker, the arrangement f spots are unique allowing them to be used to identify individuals. You can see the spots here on the front of thehead

If I had known while watching them it could have helped to see if they actually did change over territory duty.

It has been fascinating watching these incredible insects, and I am pleased with the images I have captured too. It was a very nice way to spend a good 45 minutes, in the sunshine.  Just before I left though I noticed the shapes and light that was being produced by the dark water and the lily pads in the middle of the pond.

Turning the dull green lily pad leaves into a mass of silvery plates, gorgeous.

The weather is due to hold until the weekend, but with the chance of cloud later on, this would help with bringing in some birds, especially if the easterly wind continues, and maybe shifts around the south east, we shall have to see

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

29th September - When Time Lost It's Certainty

The good weather continues, although early morning it is pretty cold.  On Sunday night I thought I had the right time for the eclipse, but as I looked out into the garden
 the moon was still bright, with no sign of any colouration.  I waited for awhile but sleep got the better of me, so I went to bed.  When I got up Monday I found out that I was about an hour too soon.  Never mind I was able to get a lovely picture of a dimmed "Super Moon".

I had the chamce to pop out at lunchtime, and headed up to the pond.  It was going to be a quick walk around Old Down, but first I checked the Periwinkle Bank where there was a single Speckled Wood sitting on a bracken frond.

As I headed into Old Down, a Comma flew up from the brambles, some of the berries are now rotting away, making them a big attraction for the butterflies.

A little further on another insect was interested in the bramble bushes, and was inspecting the leaves under the fruit in search of small insects.  This was a Hornet, and it settled on one of the leaves.

Then turned to face me as it wiped its eyes.

The walk around the wood was uneventful, very little bird song, just distant Goldcrests calling and every so often the song of a Robin punctuated wth the call of a Wren.  There were at least six Speckled Wood butterflies, and a Large White.  

I came out of the wood, and instead of crossing the field walked around the outside, and made my way back to the Old Down Cottage entrance.  From there it was back to the pond, where I was pleased to see several dragonflies cruising over the lily pads.  There were at least two Southern Hawkers.

They were cruising close to the bank of the pond, and hovering over the water.

Giving the chance to get some very close views.

Every so often a small red dragonfly would fly close, probably a Common Darter, and the Hawker would chase it off.

Out over the lily pads there were at least three pairs of Common Darters that were coupled and ovipositing over the water.

Just before I left, a male Brimstone flew into the bank and sat in the sun.

I then made my way back home, and decided that late in the afternoon I would walk around the estate and farm.

The wind had been increasing all day, and by the late afternoon it was a brisk breeze from the north east, it was though still sunny, but with a lot of high cirrus cloud.  I parked at the bottom of the Mountains Plantation and walked up the hill.  I could hear Firecrests calling from the yew trees, but I didn't stop to try and see them.  As I came out into the open there was a steady trickle of Swallows moving east.

I walked up to the pond, there has been an influx of Yellow-browed Warblers over the last few days, and they can be found associating with the commoner warblers.  The pond is an excellent autumn spot for both Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, and as I walked up I could hear the calls of Chiffchaffs.

I could see them moving through the ivy that was now in full flower, and attracting the insects that the warblers were feeding on.

As well as the warblers there were also a few Blue Tits and Chaffinches.

There were plenty of berries on the Elderberry bushes, and these were also an attraction to the Chiffchaffs.

Showing well as they came out into the open.

Not actually taking the berries put picking off the insects below them.

I headed down to the quarry where there were at least another two Chiffchaffs.  Blackbirds were also busy gorging on the sloe berries.  I headed across the road, and then up the hill past the barns and up towards the workshops.  A sand mound in the middle of the field turned into a Brown Hare lying close to the ground in the grass.

I could hear the calls of Chiffchaffs all around me, and on the roof of the barns were two Pied Wagtails.  I stopped at the cottages to watch the ivy for awhile, but nothing appeared, although there were plenty of warblers calling.

I decided to walk close the hedge instead of the road, the area has been cut with high vegetation on either side.  The Orb spiders had strung webs across the path, in the same way that mist nets are hung to catch birds for ringing.  This Spider was on show as I walked past.

I checked the fields, and flushed another Brown Hare that ran away from me as I raised the camera.

I then walked to Charlwood, and then along the lane, the only bird of note was a Kestrel that flew off one of the telegraph poles.  It was now very windy, and the only birds flying were Woodpigeons.  As I reached the wooded area I could hear Long-tailed Tits.  I stopped and listened and found Great and Blue Tits and a pair of Nuthatches as well as the Long-tailed Tits.

Back at the car I stood and watched the fields, the sun was now dropping, and you could sense it getting cold.  A Buzzard flew across the fields, and then across the tree tops aginstr the glowing sky.

I took a hopeful drive back, but with nothing being found.  The wind was clearly playing a part in the lack of birds today.  Lets hope that over the next few days the wind eases and the movement occurring on the east coasts makes its way south east and through the southern counties.  Indian summers are wonderful, but sometimes too nice for the wildlife.

Monday, 28 September 2015

27th September - His Goal In Life Was To Be An Echo

Family commitments meant I was not able to get out around the patch this weekend, but events in the garden proved to be just as rewarding.

First thing in the morning the House Sparrows were gathering around the House Martin nest on the house opposite.  The nest is now empty, and it was n't clear if the sparrows were just curiously investigating the nest, or just enjoying the morning sunshine.

They were also pecking at the brick, as if they were getting something from the surface.

I put the moth trap out both days over the weekend, but I think the almost full moon, combined with the crystal clear skies meant the influence of the light was very low.  Consequently the quantity and quality of the catch was very low.  However when I was out looking through the egg boxes first thing in the morning , I heard a Jay call from the trees beyond the garden.  I turned to see if I could see the owner, and as I did I noticed two large dark birds flying from the south, and heading north towards the house.  As they came closer I could easily see that they were Cormorants, but unfortunately there would not be time to get the camera as they were moving away north quickly.

This was a big surprise, but not a new bird for the patch as I had seen another pair before flying over the house, but heading in a westerly direction back in March 2012.  I can only assume today's birds were commuting between Alresford Pond, and Kings Pond in Alton, as I suspect the birds in 2012 were probably doing as well.  There have been reports of Cormorant at both these sites recently.

Back to the moth trap, and the only moths caught were eight Lunar Underwings, all showing different degrees of colouring and pattern, and a single different species.  This individual had the best defined pattern of the Lunar Underwings.

Then lurking at the bottom of the box hidden away in the small egg boxes was a new moth, a Black Rustic.  A long-winged species, with little variation from the blackish-brown ground colour and whitish stigmata. The males have white hindwings, the females are a little more dusky.

The adults fly in September and October, occupying heathland and downland, and the larvae feed on low plants such as dock, as well as various grasses.

The air was still quite fresh, but as the morning passed into the early afternoon the sun became quite pleasant.  Standing in the garden talking Louise nonchalantly asked "is that a Hummingbird Hawk Moth?"  Which of course it was and caused an immediate dash for the camera.  Fortunately it was still there when I came back with it, but it wasn't going to behave of perform for me, and the best shot I could get was this one before., like a Hummingbird it was up and away, pausing just to check the Honeysuckle before it disappeared into the road.

It is an immigrant species which can sometimes occur in large numbers.  It flies in the sunshine and hovers in front of flowers, sipping the nectar with its long proboscis, very much like the hummingbird which gives it its name.

The larvae feed on bedstraw, and some of these may hatch and give rise to autumn adults in an influx year.

So I might not have gone too far, but I managed to get two species that while they were not new to the patch are not that common, and one new moth for the garden.  All that remains in this weather id to find the Clouded Yellow that will give me my best butterfly year around Four Marks, lets keep hoping.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

22nd September - All Quiet, All Quiet

The rain returned yesterday with a vengeance, and then today there were heavy showers along with overcast skies.  However late afternoon the skies began to clear, and the radar showed a nice quiet patch around Four Marks so I decided to give it a go, but at the same time prepared for any sudden down pour.

I also decided to stick to the roads and lanes as they would be dryer, so I headed down Lymington Bottom, and up past the school.  As I looked across towards Old Down Wood I could see two birds soaring above the Larch Trees around the area of the Gradwell entrance.  At first I thought they were Buzzards, but a closer look showed them to be Sparrowhawks.

As I watched them, both birds went through a semi display flight, soaring up, and then dropping and then looping back up.

And they even engaged in some close contact, at one point it even looked like they had locked talons.

After two persons were kind enough to say how much they liked the blog, I carried on in the direction of the pond.  My intention this evening to was to walk the loop that takes in the western side of the patch, it follows fields and paddocks and of course plenty of hedgerow.

I stopped at the pond, and walked around the outside.  As usual a Moorhen scurried across the lily pads and away into the reeds, while above in the Oak trees a Jay was calling.

It seems to have suddenly come upon us, but its that time of year once again when the Jays are busy caching for the window.  As it put its head up it had a nice large acorn in its bill.

I was walking down Swelling Hill for once, and above the canopy of the trees I could hear a Buzzard calling.  As I came down into the open area of the paddocks, I could see Swallows hawking low over the grass, weaving in and out of the sheep, and there were also a lot of young birds settled on the wires.  In the field on the other side a flock of at least 30 Pied Wagtail flew up, circled around and then headed into the trees.

By Andrews Lane a Great Spotted Woodpecker called, and was immediately answered by a Green Woodpecker in the bushes on the other side.  I could get to see the Green Woodpecker, but found the Great Spotted at the top of a conifer.

I have seen them at a distance as I have walked through the paddocks, but today I was able to get a little closer to the Goats that were using one of the paddocks.  This is the first time I have seen goats in the field, and they also seemed interested to see me.

As I walked down past the farm and then up the road back towards Brislands, apart from a few Magpies in the field, and a crow flying over I saw nothing.  Coming up past the farmhouse there were one or two House Martins over the trees, and at the cow sheds there was very little also, no sign of any House Sparrows or indeed any expected Wagtails.

In the field there were several groups of Rooks feeding on the freshly turned over soil, but no sign of any gulls.

As I came out of the trees by the Brislands entrance to Old Down, a Buzzard called, and briefly showed as it flew over.  Away to the west the sun was almost set, and the sky had that autumnal look about it.

There must be a waiting period after harvesting the crop, until the stubble is turned over.  The field to the north was the first to be cut this year, and now it looks like it is first to be ploughed.  Once again the only birds present were Rooks.

Looking across the field to where I had come from earlier by the school the setting sun was just catching the tops of the trees.

My instincts had let me down today, the walk around the western area was proving to be very quiet, and I was resorting to landscapes.  It was then a relief when another Great Spotted Woodpecker by the Gradwell turn, and once again it was at the top of a conifer, the sun just catching it.

They also seem to like Leylandii for some reason, but I suspect it must be the height.

As I came down Brislands there was movement in one of the hawthorn trees, then a flash of pink and white.  Normally Jays are off at the slightest encounter, but this one seemed mesmerised by what I was doing and allowed me to get quite close.

For once the sound of the camera shutter did not seem to phase it, but just make it even more curious.

I am assuming it was the hawthorn berries it was after, but I tried to get just too close and it then flew off.

As I walked along Lymington Bottom towards home, I was mulling over how quiet it had been.  It was now getting a little dull as the sun had now set, but the sky was brighter away to the west.  As I reached the turn for Lymington Rise I noticed what I thought was a swallow heading west, but it seemed a little too big, and wasn't flying like a Swallow.  With long wings and a prominent tail it definitely wasn't  hirundine, and I could make out a moustache, I realised it was a Hobby, and as seems to be the way with Four Marks Hobbys I managed only a record of it as it zipped away across the houses and out of view.

I had resigned myself to have had a quiet walk, the title of this blog refers to a quiet walk, and here just at the end was a first for the year, and a bird I had been on the look out for recently as the Swallows and House Martins stream through.  Hobbys have been regular for many years now, either at this time of year or mid summer.  I was beginning to get concerned but here was one, in the gloom and a stones throw from my house.

As I walked up Lymington Rise the local Starlings were gathering pre roost in the Larch Trees.

They would fly around in little groups returning to the trees or onto the television aerials.

We don't seem to get the influx of continental birds that build up around the coasts, but over the last few years the numbers have grown during the winter.  It will be interesting to see what they are like this winter.

So what was a quiet walk, had a surprise right at the end.  With several of the commoner species to be still seen this year, there is the potential to get close or maybe even beat my year total of 85, which would be a good achievement considering I have not put the concerted effort in this year.