Wednesday, 18 February 2015

17th February - One More Day Is Not Enough

Monday was wet and dreary, but once the cloud was gone in the early evening the skies cleared and Tuesday was a beautiful day after a cold start.  Wall to wall sunshine, and again that feel of Spring in the air.  The days have lengthened quite a lot recently, and with the sunshine and clear skies thee was probably going to be enough light to see up to about 18.00.  It was with this in mind i set off for a walk late afternoon, with the sun still quite high and bright.

For the time of day I was surprised to hear quite a bit of bird song.  Song Thrushes could be heard in the distance, and of course the Robins, but Blue Tits were chasing each other in the branches, and even a pair of Coal Tits were engaged in some flirting in a Leylandii.  The activity and calls also was an attraction to a Sparrowhawk that was using the distraction to hunt.  The first I knew of it was when I saw this shape come over the hedge, drop low into a garden and over the fence, and then speed through the village hall car park.  For once the alarm calls were late, and I saw as it flew in amongst the Blue Tits, but I could not see if the hunt was successful.

I walked along Brislands, and could hear the calls of Redwing overhead, and a few settled in a tree in the full sunshine.

I decided to walk around the lanes, the rain of yesterday probably ensuring that the woods were very muddy.  As I headed out along Brislands into the open fields Skylarks were singing high up in the sky on either side of me.  As I approached the entrance to the woods I saw some shapes in the field on my right.  I guessed they must be partridges, but it wasn't until I took the photograph that I realised that they were Red-legged and not the hoped for Greys.

There were quite a few Great Tits in the trees as I headed down the hill.  They like the hedge alongside the road, just beneath the Beech Trees.  At a recent meeting we we informed that Great Tits "lek", i.e., they will perform in certain locations to attract a mate, the display attracting several females that then select the male.

I have researched this and can't find any real evidence or record specifically, but Great Tits do display, and it seems that the females tend to select a mate based on the song, and the size of the malar stripe, broad and bold being a very good indicator of the prowess of the bird.  So a form of "lekking", but not necessarily in the true sense of the word, the birds remaining monogamous once selecting a mate

In the late afternoon sunshine this Great Tit looked extremely splendid, witha lovely yelllow and contrasting bold black stripe.

I headed down the hill, and as I approached the barns I could hear the House Sparrows.  The majority of calls were coming from within the barns, but a few males were sitting in the brambles in the sunshine.

Walking into the sun it was difficult to see, but I could hear Yellowhammer calling around me, and every so often a Blackbird would burst from the hedge ringing out an alarm call

I finally managed to turn out of the sun, and headed up hill towards Gilbert Street.  As I walked past the winery there was more bird song, and I stopped to watch a Coal Tit in the branches of a Hawthorn tree in the full sunshine.

Alarm calls once again rang out and a Kestrel flew up to the top of one of the conifers, however as I started to raise the camera it flew off, collecting more alarm calls as ot sped away down the hill.

I turned back up towards Swelling Hill.  The ground around the horse paddocks was quiet, and empty, but at the top of a nearby tree a pair of Mistle Thrushes were calling with the dry rattle that they make.

During the day this is a busy area with gulls and corvids feeding in the fields and smaller birds such as the thrushes and maybe Pied Wagtails, but this evening they were now all gone.  I could see small flocks of maybe Chaffinches and Goldfinches gathering and heading off to the bushes and hedgerows, and was not surprised to see the second Sparrowhawk of the evening.  It came from the direction of Andrews Lane, and was obviously in survey mode, as you can see from this poor photograph that it is actively looking around from the angle position of the head.

Looking up the paddocks towards Old Down's west end the light had transformed the scene, casting it with a golden glow.

I had been hearing Bullfinch's piping call all evening but had only managed a few fleeting glimpses.  As I walked up the hill a pair were chasing each other around the trees, the male finally settling at the top in the sunshine.

There was plenty of activity now, Nuthatches calling, Wren and Dunnocks in the bushes and Chaffinches in the trees.  Above all this was the "kick" of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and once again one was sitting at the top of a small conifer.  The moment I found it though a small bird mobbed it, and it flew down, but as I waited it began to climb the conifer once again before finally fly away to the west.

The pond was quiet, and there was no sign of any frog activity, perhaps still a little early, and too cold.  As I walked along Kitwood Lane the sunshine finally disappeared.  I could hear Goldcrests in the Laurels, and as I reached the turn a flock of Long-tailed Tits came alongside me, working their way through the branches as they started to look for a warm roosting site.  With the sunshine gone the temperature had dropped quite quickly and it was going to be a cold night.

At Kitwwod I scanned the posts and tree tops for the resident Kestrel, and found it on a conifer.  Once again though as I tried to get a little close it decided it was time to go.

I headed down the hill, towards the school, looking back the thinned out Larches in Old Down looked like they had a fire burning behind them as the sun lit the sky from beneath the horizon.

Looking across in the direction of the north, the sky was decorated with the remains of vapour trails the weakening sunlight picking them out with a golden tinge in an ever changing sky.  You can just see the tops of the Four Trees.

I walked up Gradwell in the hope I could find a Tawny Owl, but other than the rattling calls of Blackbirds there was nothing showing.  A pleasant evening walk, but by now it was getting cold.  It was though encouraging, spring is not that far away now, we will probably though have one or more cold spells to encounter before it is finally here.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

14th February - For You, The Sun Will Be Shining

At 4.00 am this morning a pair of Tawny Owls were calling, probably from the trees around the grass area at the top of Lymington Bottom.  There was a clear Keevit, and a Tuwhoo, a little later as it started to get light I also heard a Greenfinch singing, my first of the year, an early start to Valentine's day.

When dawn arrived it was quite Foggy in Four Marks, not unusual after heavy overnight rain.  It was fog that is only found in Four Marks, as once in Alton, the sun was out.  The Sun did start to appear around 9.00 am, and I had decided to take the opportunity to walk around most of the patch today.  As I got ready to leave the male Blackcap was feeding on the apples in the garden.

As well as the Blackcap a very smart plumaged Greenfinch arrived, probably the bird singing early this morning.

As I set off I could hear a Song Thrush singing in Lymington Rise, but as I walked up Brislands, you could hear several birds all in full song.  They seem to sing from a position high up in the middle of a tree, which means to photograph them in song you have to be able to focus through a maze of branches.

Brislands Lane is about half a mile long to the junction with Gradwell, and in the whole length there were seven Song Thrushes singing.

As well as the Song Thrushes there were Chaffinches in song.  Last week there was the odd bird, today they were singing all over the place.  I counted six in song, and there were others just calling.

Dunnock were singing, as were more Greenfinches, and of course Robins were in song.  I watched three Robins engaging in some handbags in the tree, each trying to get the higher branch, to dominate the other two.  They push out there breasts and throw the head back to present a crimson banner.

I walked on past Old Down, deciding not to go in, the rain last night had probably made the paths very muddy, but more so, at this time of year the woods are very quiet, there would be more opportunity to see birds around the hedges, farm buildings and houses.  The view down Brislands looks so typically winter.

It was quiet around the cattle barns, there was no sign of the House Sparrows.  As I walked on I watched birds zipping about in front of me on the top of the hedge.  Blue and Great Tits, Blackbirds and Dunnocks.  As I reached the trees several Yellowhammers came out of the field and up into the tree, lit up by the sunshine.

They are still in quite large flocks, I counted 32 birds here, but off in the distance I could hear one in full song.

There was no sign of the Meadow Pipits in the grass at the bottom of the lane, so I turned up towards North Street.  A lump in the field caught my eye, and a closer look revealed a cock pheasant in the middle of the field.

The sun was out and it felt a lot warmer, and this was probably the reason why all the birds were singing.  More Chaffinches and Greenfinches could be heard, and of course the Song Thrush, they seemed to be singing everywhere.  In the horse paddocks I flushed a single Fieldfare, and then a Mistle Thrush.  A wagtail flew over, it didn't call, and I wasn't sure what type it was.  This was confirmed for me as I looked across the field on the other side, as it was covered in Pied Wagtails.  I counted 23 feeding on the wet grass.

The damp grass was also an attraction to the Rooks, they would move from the wires alongside the field to the field to feed.  As they perched on the wires it was as if they were trying to carry on a conversation with the feeding birds.

The sheep had been given a selection of root vegetables to eat, and in amongst them more Pied Wagtail could be seen.  The sheep were also accompanied by about 50 Common Gull.

I stopped at the bottom of Andrews Lane to check the trees, but apart from a pair of Collared Doves it was quiet.  As I walked up the lane I could hear Goldcrest calling, so I stopped to wait and see what they would do.

There was just one bird, a male I think that was feeding amongst the ivy and lichen.

At first it was difficult to pin down, but then it came closer.  It was quite dark and I had to use an ISO 3200, but I was pleased with the detail in the bird.

As it made its way amongst the leaves it would stop to call, it seems this must be an involuntary action or it was trying to attract another to join it.

Once the Goldcrest had moved away out of sight I left it and walked on.  The sun was still out, and I could hear the mew of a Buzzard.  I scanned the sky, but eventually found the own sitting, preening in a Larch tree.

From the top of the lane to the end of the footpath at Lye Way there was nothing, but turning on to the road I heard the piping call of a Bullfinch.  There were two pairs in the hedge, and the males were chasing each other as were the females.  This male succeeded in chasing the other away, then sat nicely in the open sunshine.

I headed off towards the estate.  Stopping once again to scan the fields for Hare.  There is always a a Hare in this field, but last Sunday the Hare was not there, today it was back.

It was a pleasant walk in the sun, and the weather was also conducive for the Buzzards too.  More mews above me, but it took a while to locate the birds.  I first found one, very high up in the sky.  As I watched this one it was joined by another, then another, and three birds were soaring around above me.

More birds then seemed to appear, and at one time there were six birds circling above me.  This then caused the behaviour to change, and they started to fly close, and look to clash talons.

Then it seemed they became bored with this and all headed off on their own in different directions.

I turned into Charlwood where there were more singing Song Thrushes and Yellowhammers.  A Fieldfare "chuckled" above me, and I finally found them all feeding in the main field.  It was not a flock as large as a few weeks ago, but I estimated it to be around 100 birds.

Walking along the road, Yellowhammers were in the hedge, and Chaffinches were feeding on the edge of the road.  They all flew ahead of me, never doubling back behind me.

The sun was still with me, but the cloud was beginning to build up, and the light was making the sky look quite dramatic.  I saw a buzzard over the distant trees, then a few minutes later it didn't look quite right.  That would be because I was now looking at a Red Kite.

It drifted away to the south, and out of view.  I walked on, and then climbed the stile into Plain Farm.  The field was quite muddy, and as I carefully made my way there were Jays fighting in the scrubby area by the footpath.

I stopped at the fallen tree to have a coffee and lunch, the sun had now all but gone, and the clouds began to look quit ominous.  As I set off again I heard alarm calls from the Blue Tits.  I looked across the field and there was a distant Sparrowhawk.

It was a long way from the Blue Tits, and I had to be impressed at how they managed to see it, or did they just hear somebody else's call,and joined in?

I walked down the lane towards the farm buildings.  All the hdeges have been trimmed and they no longer seem to offer the protection to the birds, as a result it was quiet.  A ren zipped across in front of me, and on the hedge on the other side a pair of Dunnocks werre flirting.

I stopped to scan the fields, above me Skylark were sing, but at the far end of the field was a huge flock of Woodpigeon that were spooked and flew up into the sky.

As I walked down the past the workshops the sky away to the east looked very threatening, the sun, somewhere catching and highlighting the white clouds against the black ones.

The walk past the farm buildings was quiet, all there was to report was a Kestrel that flew across the field and away out of sight.  I crossed the road, and then up past the quarry.  From there I negotiated the hill and muddy path, and stopped to look at the Pussy Willow that was out on the trees at the pond.

I did the obligatory check of the shed, but there was nothing there, then I walked to the estate park.  As I walked along the path I saw a Red Kite over the house, then as I crossed the stile one flew past me.  But as I came down through the park towards the road I suddenly realised that there were two circling above me.  Then the two quickly became three.

I watched them as they circled, and came close to each other but never actually clashing, then two broke away, and the other headed off in the opposite direct.  This made me think the pair were the adult birds and the single last year's youngster.  However with the single bird that disappeared off to the south from Charlwood this was now four birds on the patch, my highest count.  

This was even more amazing considering the weather now was not suitable at all for soaring raptors.  It was drizzling, and quite dull, away on the A£" the car headlights looked very bright.

As I walked up the hill I could hear the calls of Redwing, and eventually found a small group in the top of the trees.

I could hear gun fire so decided against walking through Plash Wood, and took the path around it.  Both Redwing and Fieldfare called as they flew over, and Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests could be hear on the edge of the wood.

A single Red Kite came from the direction of Newtown Farm, and flew over me.

I am assuming this was one of the three I had seen earlier.

As I walked towards the farm Meadow Pipits flew out of the field, you could never see them until they broke up into the air.  I counted 24 birds as I walked past.

At the cow sheds I heard waht could have been a Green Sandpiper, but I couldn't find anything, and I was not sure.  The area around the shed though could be good for them, with water and plenty of cow manure.  This was though quite an attraction for the Pied Wagtail, once again there was a large flock here of 18 birds.

I walked towards the barns, and a white shape at the top of one got me quite excited, then I as I got closer it became quite clear it wasn't what I thought it was.

Alarm calls once again alerted me to a Kestrel that flew up to a nearby tree.  I used the cows as cover to get closer, but it was finally flushed out when a distant gun shot rang out.

It was drizzling again, but this Pied Wagtail didn't seem to mind, and posed really nicely so that I could get its reflection in the puddle in the mud.

I walked on, down to Kitwood, and along the bridleway before heading up to Kitwood Lane.  By now the drizzle had turned to quite heavy rain, and I covered everything up, and headed for home.  Up until I stopped for lunch it was a lovely day, the sunshine was bringing out the songbirds.  Then after my break a completely different day turned up, and this one was more typical with the time of year.  Still it was good to get a long walk in, and to visit some of the areas I haven't been to for a while.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

8th February - Like Never Before Are Tired Of Being Actionless.

The cold spell seems now to be coming to an end, yesterday was a little warmer but still with the cold easterly wind.  There was also a fair bit of cloud around inland.  Today the skies were clear, and the wind had eased, and despite the fact that the temperature early in the morning was only several degrees above freezing it felt warmer in the sunshine.  As we drank our morning tea in bed this morning, a Red Kite drifted past the window, and later on a male Blackcap joined the female in the garden, it has been around since Tuesday.

Yesterday we were down at Farlington Marshes and it was all about the ducks and geese.  Today we off around the village in the sunshine, and all the birds seemed to welcome the change in the weather.  As we walked down Lymington Rise a Chaffinch was singing, the first time I have heard one this year.  As well as the Chaffinch there were Robins, Wren, Dunnock and a Song Thrush singing away as if spring was already here.

Today though was all about Great Tits, they were very vocal, and seemed to be everywhere.  They were also very busy, not settling as I walked along Brislands, and it was impossible to get a photograph.  Their teacher song was ringing out and all the other permutations of calls they mange to produce.

The first bird to behave was a Chaffinch, but this one was not singing, it had just had a bath in a puddle.

A little further on a strange shape in one of the trees turned out to be a Song Thrush.

We turned down Gradwell, and then across the field and into Old Down.  After a little incident with a dog walker, we entered the wood.  I love dogs, but I do object to dogs that jump up at you.  This dog jumped up at Helen with muddy paws, and the owner said nothing and had to be told to call the dog off.  

Bird song had been everywhere as we walked along the lanes past the houses, but as we came into the wood it all went quiet.  We walked around the perimeter path where it is still quite dry.  Four Roe Deer ran through the wood, probably spooked by other walkers who were talking quite loudly.

Today was quickly becoming one of those days when you ear things more than see them.  We stopped on the main path and listened and watched.  There were Goldfinch calling, Nuthatch flying around in pairs, a coal Tit, and of course plenty of Great Tits.

Leaving the wood we set off across the field towards Lye Way, the same route I took last week.  As we walked along the hedge, the Great Tits called and flitted about.  Finally I managed to pin one down, only because it had stopped to open an nut it had found.

Looking back down the footpath you can see what a beautiful day it was.

In amongst the Oak trees that line the edge of the field are quite a few Hazel, and the catkins looked quite special against the blue sky.

A small flock of Redwing flew out of the trees and settled in the field a long way off.  I could also hear the chuckle of a Fieldfare but could not find the bird.  A seep call caught my attention, and I was convinced that this was  the call of a Chiffchaff, I have yet to find a winter one here.  As I waited and listened the call became closer, and then I found that the owner was in fact a Great Tit!

As we stood there the birds seemed to appear, a Nuthatch searching the lichen and moss on the branches.

Blue Tits were also busy chasing each other through the trees, then stooping to call out.

We walked to Lye Way to check the fields, but where there were hundreds of thrushes last week there was nothing, and the fields to the south were also missing any sign of Hare.  We turned back and walked around to Lye Way farm.  At last a Great Tit posed in the open long enough.

This one though looked a little pale.  The breast and belly stripe is also quite narrow which is the way you can tell male from female, the narrower stripe belonging to the female.

As we came past the farm buildings a flock of Long-tailed Tits came through.  We watched as they inspected the lichen that covered the branches of the trees.

As always they are on the move all the time, only stopping when they have to inspect the lichen to see if there is a food in the shape of insects or spiders about.

We walked, the sheep still feeding in the fields, but today without there companions the gulls, although I did see two Common Gulls fly over. 

It really was a beautiful day, and the sun felt warm on the back.  As we walked we scanned the fields, all was quiet until suddenly a huge flock appeared above the trees.  It was a massive flock of Wood Pigeon that had be spooked by gun fire.  The sky was full of them, and a quick estimate had to be into the thousands.

While the sky was full, the trees too were full of them, birds that weren't scared of the gun.  We have so many for some reason.  Peregrine do come through, but are not really regular, with so many you would think this would be ideal for them.  A female Sparrowhawk would take one, but what we really need are a few Goshawks, that would sort them out.

As you walk along Lye Way towards Kitwood the skyline is dominated by an orange tree.

The orange is the colour of the bark, and I think it must be from the size and shape an Acer, probably Acer Palmatum, which has this stem colour.  In the sunshine it really stands out amongst the dull grey trees around it.

When we reached the horse paddocks there were several Chaffinch about, one was even singing.  It was not quite full song like the bird down Lymington Rise, it seemed to be trying out its song, and wasn't yet quite confident enough.

In the sunshine you can see the beautiful colours in the male Chaffinch, the green rump, reddish brown back, and the grey blue cap.

We took the footpath across the field back into Old Down, and as we walked through the stubble field, we flushed several Skylark.  They would fly up and circle around us, calling as they flew past.

Then one or two gained height, and started to sing, a real tonic after the recent bitterly cold days.

We walked through the wood, and then out through the Brislands entrance.  There is a lot of timber to be moved away, and hopefully this will be the last of the work in the wood, if they take any more there will not be a wood!

As we walked along Brislands I commented on the fact that this seemed like the perfect day for Buzzards to soar, but we hadn't seen one.  Then on cue one appeared over Old Down, circling around with no wing flaps.

Just before the junction with Gradwell there are several large Spruce trees, and they are a haven for quite a few Goldcrests.  We watched as they moved through the branches pushing their way in between the needles in search of insects.

Like the Long-tailed Tits they rely on small insects and spiders to feed on, they have found a niche in the conifers, while the Long-tailed Tits seem to prefer the lichen, I can't recall seeing Long-tailed Tits in conifers.

We walked on, and as we reached the horse paddock, I noticed yet another large bird soaring away to the south.  It was a Red Kite, and there was another soaring bird with it, that at first I thought was another Kite but turned out to be a Buzzard.  By now they had become quite distant.

The bird song continued still, and as we walked up Lymington Rise, we could hear a Song Thrush in full song.  It was singing from a small bush, enjoying the afternoon sun, and telling everybody in triplicate this was his place.

An interesting day, in contrast to our walk yesterday.  The weather had been superb, one of those days where you want to stay outside to make the most of it, and one of those days where you feel that spring is not that far away now, well Parus Major definitely thought that!