Saturday, 21 November 2015

21st November - And I've Never Felt The Sun

The crazy weather took another interesting turn this morning, at dawn it was snowing in Four Marks, wet snow mixed with rain, but it was snow and it was settling on the grass.  It didn't last for too long though, and the clouds blew through and just after nine o'clock there was blue sky, but a very strong northerly wind.  It was the wind that made the day very difficult with some very strong gusts, it was also the dominate noise over everything, even the cars.

I set off along Brislands, as I reached the turn to Gradwell, you could see how the lanes had been transformed by the strong winds we have had all week, all the leaves were almost gone.

I turned down Gradwell, and I debated a walk through the wood but decided that it would be better in the open, it was going to be very difficult to hear and see small song birds in the woods.

I headed down the lane, pausing to look along the line of the hedge towards Old Down.  Again the trees now look quite bare.

There was movement in the hedge and I could hear both Redwing and Blackbirds, but as soon as I found them they were off, and it was impossible to get on to them long enough to get a suitable photograph.  This Robin though was quite happy to sit in the sunshine, sheltered from the cold wind.

While the Redwings were calling from the hedges, I could also hear Skylarks calling from the field.  I scanned across the field, and was amazed as a huge flock of Skylarks flew up from the ground.  I managed to capture a part of the flock, and here there are 38 birds, away to the right more flew in, and I counted another 56, making a total of 94 birds, and there was probably more in the field.

I walked up past the school with even more Redwing streaming over my head.  At the top of the hill I turned into Kitwood to check the hedges around the bend there.  Again there were Redwing, and they just seemed to pour out of the trees and then head out across the fields.  They may have been late arriving this year but they are now here in large numbers.

The trees were busy with Blue and Coal Tits, and on the style to the footpath a Dunnock sat for quite a while.

I headed down Lye Way, the hedges on either side giving a little shelter from the wind, but it was all you could hear, there was no chance of hearing any bird calls.  Looking out across the field it looked cold, which it was, something that has been a long time coming this autumn.

I walked through the farm area, the trees billowing in the wind, past the barns and then the small paddocks where once again Redwing kept appearing out of the trees.  A bit of variety was provided by a pair of Bullfinches, their piping call just audible above the sound of the trees in the wind.  They too though were very elusive, only giving very brief views before dropping out of sight.

At the junction I walked to the field gate and scanned across the field.  There were several pairs of Crows scattered across the field, but over by the left hand side, there was a single Lapwing, the first of the year, an amazing fact considering the amount of farmland around here.  It was though much to far away for a photograph, so I walked on. 

A familiar chuckling call alerted me to Fieldfare flying up from the other side of the hedge and into the tree by the side of the road.  There were about a dozen birds finally in the tree.

The gap in the hedge allowed me to be able to scan the field once again, and I re-found the Lapwing and it had been joined by another, and this time they were closer.

With the wind and the bright conditions visibility was excellent, and as I walked along the road I noticed a flock of birds fly up from the field to the north.  I watched as they wheeled around, then headed towards me, they could only be Golden Plover, and as they came closer it was clear that was whet they were.  The flock flew past me, and headed into the field on the other side.

Counting the birds in the photograph there are 91, but as they dropped down into the field, I noticed another flock coming from the same direction, this time I counted 95 birds.

This made a total of 186, the highest count I have had on the patch.  I did think there was a chance today, they are usually around this time of year, and they didn't let me down.  Two patch year ticks in the space of a few minutes.

I walked on then finally heard a Golden Plover call, and a small group came out of the field where the large flocks had dropped down, and flew overhead.

The intention was to head towards the Estate, so I continued along The Lye Way.  The road was in the shade, but the fields were in full sunshine, and over towards Dogwood Wood there was a large flock of Woodpigeon.

I wondered if the wind would stop me seeing any raptors today, but my question was answered as two Buzzards appeared from over the trees heading out towards the field where they were immediately mobbed by Rooks.

I walked up the hill to the Estate, stopping for awhile to see if I could hear any birds in the Mountains Plantation.  Needless to say the wind blocked any chance of hearing anything, so I gave up and headed to the barn for the chance to sit and have a coffee and reflect on where to go next.

Rather than walk around the outside of the estate I headed straight to the quarry, I heard a Fieldfare call, and looked up to see a Red Kite drift across in front of me.  It floated up over the trees and then just disappeared behind the Mountains Plantation.  I walked down the hill and crossed the road.  As I walked past the drying barns a pair of Pied Wagtails were busy around the roof and sheltered sunny areas of the barns.

It turned out that Pied Wagtails were the main birds around Plain Farm. The wind seemed to keep everything within the hedges, usually there would be birds on the wire but they were all empty.  A Kestrel flew past, and hovered in the middle of the field, then banked away and out of sight.

I walked to the end of the lane, and then out towards Charlwood.  There was nothing of any interest along Charlwood, so I took the bridleway in the hope of finding something in the hedges but I couldn't find a thing.  I came out onto Lye Way, and as I past the Bramble bushes I was amazed to see a butterfly fly past me.  It settled on the Bramble leaves and I could identify it as a Comma.

As I said the other week a Comma in November was not unusual, but I didn't expect to find one with the temperature about 3 or 4 degrees and the windchill taking it below freezing.

At the sheep paddocks a Fieldfare flew across the road in front of me, and settled in the field.  I walked closer and it didn't seem to bothered.

It was concentrating on searching the grass so I edged closer.

They really are impressive looking birds, again they probably are over looked because they do appear in such large numbers.

I headed back down the footpath towards Swelling Hill.  Woodpigeons flew over, and Crows and Rooks were in the field, but that was it.  Looking West I could see an awful long way, being able to make out the Science Centre just out side Winchester, and the copse around Cheesefoot Head.

The wind seemed to have dropped so I decided to walk through Old Down, but as soon as I entered the wood it picked up again, I did though manage to see and hear a pair of distant Marsh Tits and there were also a few Goldfinches about in the Larches, but that was it.  

I walked through the wood, and then down Brislands towards home.  As I approached the house I could see a Rook mobbing something, it turned out to be a Sparrowhawk above my house.

It is always nice to get four raptors in the day, this Sparrowhawk probably the bird that terrorises the birds on my feeders.

It has been a long while since I have walked as far around the patch, and today was probably not as productive as other times I have put in the miles.  But there were two year ticks today, and some lovely views of a stunning Fieldfare.  The wind played a large part in restricting any further sightings, with many birds keeping out of it and bedding down in the hedgerows.  Still it was nice to get out in the fresh air, and to experience a temperature that was more in keeping with the time of year.  

When the wind blows like that though it does make it very difficult.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

18th November - If You Just Make-Believe Him!

There was a kind of lull behind the Saturday storm Abigail, but it has remained grey and overcast.  Yesterday evening saw yet another severe low pass across the UK, this storm being known as "Barney".  Unfortunately it didn't turn everything purple but it did have an impact on the colour of the local trees.  As you can see where normally at this time of year my Acers in the garden would be sporting some really lovely golds and rich red leaves, the branches are all bare, the leaves all gone.

Looking back at the same time over the last four years of this blog in November there is a photograph of the beautifully coloured leaves that appear on these trees.  This morning though as Barney died away the leaves were there, but all scattered on the lawn.

The wind may still have been with us, but the skies were clear and there was sunshine first thing in the morning.  The Starlings were flying around in sizeable flocks, and in the tree outside my office window a group of four Blue Tits arrived, at first to check out the lichen on the branches.

But they were also quite interested in the nest box, with two flying in and out when they didn't think I was looking.  I am not sure if this was because they could find food inside, maybe a few insects and spiders sheltering, or because the unseasonably warm weather had them thinking of spring, but they did spend quite a bit of time in and around the box.

One also became quite interested in a shoot that seemed to be sprouting from the moss growing in a fork from the main branch.

Eventually it pinned the little shoot down with its leg, and started to peck at the small leaves that were beginning to sprout.

I am not sure what it was after, it could be their were greenfly or aphids on the shoot, or maybe it just fancied the nice new plant growth, but it definitely found something to its liking, and swallowed it.

As well as the Blue Tits the tree became host to a pair of Great Tits that were foraging on the branch tips, once again the lichen being the focus of attention.

And then once the Great Tits decided to leave a pair of Coal Tits appeared.  Much smaller than the other two tits they can always be identified by the white patch on the back of the neck.

The British Coal Tit Periparus ater britannicus is the default form in this country, though it rarely moves more than 50 miles from its birthplace. Is a much smaller bird with a duller olive mantle and back, white nape patch, double white wing-bars on grey-brown wings, white tips to its tertials, a grey-brown tail, and sullied dull buff underparts with darker flanks. The bare parts are dark grey. It is this overall ‘dirty’ impression that gives the species its English name.

There have been reports of "Continental" Coal Tits turning up along the south coast, these birds having arrived here from Europe.  Typically the continental birds subspecies Periparus ater ater differ largely in the back, mantle and scapular colour. In the Continental subspecies the olive-tinged brown of British is replaced by a cold lead-grey, which can stand out well and from some distance in good light. 

My Coal Tits have been very regular this autumn with up to four turning up in the garden the highest number for some years.

In the back garden the feeders were once again totally monopolised by the Goldfinches, with all the available ports taken by these lovely colourful, but very greedy birds.

A feature of the patio and the paths around the house at this time of year is the amount of fallen moss on the ground, this usually appears after a good amount of rainfall.  However it isn't the rain that washes the moss down, it is pushed off by Jackdaws as they search for food in and under the moss.  I watched a pair on my neighbour's roof doing exactly this.

Recently there have been a few piles of feathers at the bottom of the garden, the result of maybe a Sparrowhawk or one of the local cats.  The victims have been mostly Woodpigeons that when surprised struggle to make it up into the air making it easy for a hawk or cat to take them.  This though does not seem to be having an undue impact on the Woodpigeons in the garden as there are always young birds arriving to replace those we lose.  

This young bird has learnt very quickly that Goldfinches are messy eaters and was picking up the fallen seed from below the feeders.  As you can see it lacks the colour seen in the adult birds, and it also does not have the white neck stripes seen in the adults.

It was a little window once again, I had hoped for a lunchtime walk, but by then the winds seemed to pick up, and there was moisture in the air so I decided it would not be very productive.

The forecast through to the weekend is for more rain, but with the prospective of calmer, sunnier days at the weekend, but with a cold icy blast, bring it on.

Friday, 13 November 2015

13th November - For Every Heart That Cries

November has been a very strange month so far, with the weather behaving as if it was spring.  But while the temperatures have been high it has either been wet, windy or misty, not very conducive to getting out and about in the open.  It is not just the UK where thios strange weather has been evident, I was in Bavaria this week, and there afternoon temperatures were around twenty degrees, but with the added bonus of blue skies and a lovely warm sun.

This morning saw clear blue skis and quite a breeze, the tail end of The Storm Abigail, our first named storm that has hit the north west of the country, but as the morning drew on the clouds rolled in and we had some quite fierce showers.  Checking the weather radar I decided I had about an hours window of opportunity at lunchtime so I decided to head up to the pond, and have a brisk walk around Old Down.

First though a walk around the pond where there were no Mallard, or Moorhen, but on the sunny bank the Periwinkle were in flower, something that you only see here in the spring.

The pond water was calm, providing reflections of the surrounding trees with a scattering of fallen leaves.

As I walked into the wood something fluttered past me, at first I thought it was just yet another leaf, but as I watched the leaf flew under control and settled in the sun on a large dried leaf.  It was a Comma butterfly, not my latest sighting, they are seen in November, but my first for a while, and yet another indicator of the unusually mild weather were are having.

The wind was now quite strong, and was blowing the trees about as I entered the wood.  I quickly realised that it was going to be nigh on impossible to see or hear any small birds in the trees, so I decided to focus on the lovely colours once more.

The Beech trees at the crossroads look wonderful.

I walked around the main paths, hearing a Green Woodpecker above the wind, and flushing from the path a Buzzard.  In more sheltered spots I could hear Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests but never managed to find them.

I walked around the south perimeter in the hope of maybe finding some fungi, but these also seem to be in short supply this year.

Back at the crossroads I was struck by how lovely the golden Beech leaves look in the sunshine, true Gold Leaf.

I walked along the Kitwood path, and then the north perimeter.  In times when it is so quiet I look for little bits of inspiration, and came across this image of the moss on the trunk of a fallen birch tree, lit up by the sunshine and highlighted by the darkness of the area..

As I came out of the wood I could hear Mistle Thrushes calling from the trees around Old Down Cottage.  I watched them as they flew away across the field, then decided to try and get a better look at some finches that were also in the field.  The finches flew off, but as they did some larger birds flew out of the trees as well.  One or two settled a short distance away, and I was pleased to see that they were my first Four Marks Fieldfares of the season.

It is amazing how these large and quite brightly coloured thrushes can completely disappear into the leafless trees and as I watched they just seemed to appear, I counted about 30 birds in the trees, some though did show well.

Finally coming out into the sun lit areas to show what a handsome bird they are.

As well as the Fieldfare I could also hear Pied Wagtails calling, and I finally managed to find two birds on the thatched roof of the cottage.

The window was closing, and the skies were darkening from the west so I decided to head back to the car.  As I walked towards the pond, the red berries that have now ripened on the Holly trees was a reminder of the season we are now in despite the mild conditions, Christmas is just around the corner, as we near the end of yet another fascinating year.

Monday, 2 November 2015

1st November - The Smell of Leaf Mould and The Sweetness of Decay

October seems to have passed me by, one minute it was there and now it is gone!  The last week of the month we were away in Suffolk, the details of which you can read about here.  The weather was kind to us while we were away, although it changed when we returned and this weekend it has been still and quite mild for the time of year with Saturday a lovely sunny day.  This morning I expected to look out and see fog as this was the forecast, but instead it was clear and sunny, and was still like that as I went to pick up the Sunday papers, but as i came back down the hill I could see the fog away to the south below us.  This is typical Four Marks weather, when there is fog everywhere else Four Marks seems to rise above it.  The mist though did eventually role in as we were having breakfast and was still about when I headed out for my first walk around the patch for a couple of weeks.

Once again I decided to start at the farm, but as I walked up the hill, and looked out across the fields at the bottom of the Mountains Plantation I wondered what I was going to see in the mist.

Once at the top I walked along the footpath in wet dew grass, the mist seemed as if it was closing in even more, I could make out birds in the tree tops but it turned out they were only Woodpigeons.

In conditions such as these everything gets accentuated, things look larger and the sounds travel further.  This Pheasant perched on the fence behind the gate looked huge, but it was just a common old pheasant.

I walked down the beech avenue, and Long-tailed Tits seemed to be everywhere their calls highlighted in the misty conditions.  I could see them hanging from the thinnest branches.

Coming back down the path that leads past the Gamekeeper's Cottages I could hear Goldcrests.  I stopped and watched as a large flock moved through a conifer, and then into the surrounding Oaks, calling as they went.

Both the conifers and the branches of the oaks were covered in cob webs made by the small spiders the Goldcrests were hunting for.

I carried on across the road and up the hill towards Plain Farm.  By the dryers I saw a raptor fly up into the tall Ash tree.  It settled in the branches at the top and at first I thought it was a Kestrel as this is a usual spot for one, but the tail did not look long enough.  I walked forward and managed to get a photograph but the mist has washed it out.  However it is good enough to show that this was in fact a Sparrowhawk.

Typical, I don't get many chances to photograph a Sparrowhawk perched and today it decides to be misty!

The hawk though did not stay too long, and flew off towards the barns and trees on the other side of the lane, scattering a large flock of Jackdaws that were sitting at the top of one of the trees.

walking up the hill towards the workshops the large black bull in the field watched me closely, I think it was hoping that I would admire his new head gear.

The sun was by now trying to make an impression on the mist, and in places was breaking through creating a very creepy scene over the single tree in the field.

I could hear Pied Wagtails calling and managed to find six sitting on the barn roof, and another on the wire singing.

As I walked past the barn I could hear "peeping" calls coming from the field, but all I could see were chickens from the cottages, then I saw movement in the grass and realised that one of the hens actually had a brood of chicks with her.

Around the cottages there were a lot of Chaffinches about, and several Yellowhammers, one sitting in the open at the top of the hedge.

I walked down the lane accompanied by the piping call of a Bullfinch.  Every so often one would fly out across the path in front of me, and then dive into the cover of the bushes on the other side of the path, never showing once.  However as i reached the end of the lane I could just make out a smart male in the top branches.

It didn't stay long flying off as I tried to get closer.

I made my way down the path to the wood, and decided to check the area around the pheasant feeders.  With an increased number of Chaffinch about I was looking for a Brambling, but unfortunately there was no sign of one, or for that matter any Chaffinches.  The Beech trees looked wonderful even in the overcast and misty conditions.

I decided to walk through Winchester Wood attracted in by the fantastic golden colours of the beech and birch trees.

The colours of the trees were complimented by the dark reddish brown of the damp Bracken, everything was wet and damp and the smell was quite distinct.  Spiders webs were also highlighted by the moisture in the air.

I would make my way under the trees and as I came out into the open rides I would be greeted by some wonderful colour.

I probably say it every year, but this year the co;ours do seem to appear to be a lot more vibrant, especially in the beech trees.

I followed the path around the outside of the wood, coming out close to where I had left the car.  Early the distant tree had been shrouded by the mist, but now when the sun managed to peep through the mist blanket there was some colour.

Both in the fields and in the trees.

I decided to head to the pond, I would leave the car there and then walk around Old Down Wood.  As I pulled up in the car park I could see Mallard and at least two Moorhen.

There were in fact three Moorhen, two adults and a juvenile bird.  There was also quite a few mallard, I counted 17 both on the water and lounging around on the bank.

Once again the trees were looking splendid cast a dark golden brown reflection in the black water.

In the trees at the back of the wood Nuthatch were calling, and I watched two male Great Spotted Woodpeckers chasing each other through the trees.  I suspect one of them was a young bird from this year's brood and the older bird wanted it gone.  It settled briefly on the bough of an Oak before the other found it again and chased it off.

As I walked to the wood I noticed a large number of Woodpigeon feeding at the edge of the field.  I wondered what they could be eating when I noticed a Jay in amongst them, and assumed then that it must be acorns that had fallen from the oak trees.

As I walked into the wood I was pleasantly surprised.  The main path has been cleared and the whole area has been opened up.  It looked really great, and was a pleasure to walk through.

I stopped just past the Beech tree and listened to the birds around me.  I could hear and see Goldfinches at the top of the Ash trees and Wrens calling from the bracken.  Slightly higher up were Great, Blue and Coal Tits, then they were joined by the calls of another large flock of Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits.

It was lovely just standing there listening to the birds wings as they flew from tree to tree.  Deeper into the trees I watched a Great Spotted Woodpecker climb the trunk of a tree, and then a little closer a Treecreeper was crawling up a pine like a little mouse.

The Wrens seemed to be everywhere, and every so often you would get brief glimpse as they crawled through the brown bracken leaves.

At the crossroads the Beech trees were covered in lovely golden browns and yellows, accentuated by the dark damp trunks.

I walked around the main path towards the Kitwood entrance.  here the Larch trees could be seen to be changing colour, and I thought back to the spring when the leaves start to emerge and they are that lovely sage green, now they are turning orange as their season comes to an end.

Strangely this area, while being as open as that on the main path, was without any bird life.  The larch are dominant here, so maybe its the diverse nature of the trees and bushes in the area on the main path that is the attraction, another benefit in the forestry work of the last two years.

The other dominate tree colour in the wood is that of the Sweet Chestnut.  The floor of the wood is carpeted with the fallen orange leaves, and in amongst them you can see the open cases of the sweet chestnuts.  However for me the leaves look at their best when backlit by the sun which was still trying to beat the lingering mist.

I made my way back to the car reflecting on the day.  I had hoped for blues sky and sunshine and the opportunity for some photographs but all I got was a misty grey damp day, however it didn't take anything from the scenery, and maybe it put it into its right context.  Autumn is all about oranges and yellows and grey and misty conditions, and that is exactly what I found today.  The trees were definitely the stars today, but were ably supported by the resident birds.