Thursday, 31 December 2015

31st December - Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

As the year ends it is time to reflect on what has happened this year as a way of looking forward to the New Year of 2016

January saw the mild wet conditions continue into the New Year, there were some good counts of local resident birds notably, 75 Yellowhammer along Gradwell Lane and 15 Grey Partridges at Plain Farm.  The big surprise of the month though was of a Grey Wagtail at Manor Farm along Brislands Lane, my 100th bird for the patch.  With the mild weather Snowdrops were early flowering on Swelling Hill, while in the woods the green shoots of Blue bells were appearing.

Into February, and a new bird for the patch with two Mute Swans flying over Gradwell Lane on the 1st.  Winter thrush flocks peaked in the fields along Lye Way with 800 Redwing and 500 Fieldfare on the 5th.  At Plain Farm four Red Kite on the 14th was my highest count around the patch.  In the woods the resident birds continued to gather in feeding flocks as they waited for spring to arrive.

In contrast to the mild conditions at the start of the year, March saw cold northerly winds throughout, suppressing any thought of an early spring.  What activity there was restricted to the end of the month as the days lengthened.  The rookeries in Alton merged with one large colony of 52 nests.  A pair of Ravens were regular around Desmond Paddocks, just when the sheep start lambing.

Lesser Celandine and Wood Anemone were flowering from the 22nd when the first butterfly of the year a Small Tortoiseshell was seen.  Common Toads were spawning from the 23rd.  At Plain Farm ten Brown Hare was a notable count.

More weather records were broken with April being the sunniest since records began.  The first Swallow appeared on the 7th, but was alone until the the 17th when others joined it.  Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were singing in the woods with a Garden Warbler present on the 17th, and a Whitethroat arriving on the 25th.  The sightings of the month though were three Wheatear on Lye Way for two days, and a Coot on Swellinghill Pond from the 25th and well into May.

Peacock and Brimstone butterflies were seen from the 7th, and by the end of the month there were Orange Tips, Speckled Woods and Comma.  The end of the month also saw an explosion of flowers in Old Down with the highlight being a wonderful carpet of Bluebells ably supported by Primroses Violets and Ransom's.  In the paddocks around the patch Lambs could be heard bleating as they enjoyed the sunshine.

From the sunshine of April to a cool almost autumnal May.  House Martins finally turned up on the 9th, when the only Cuckoo was seen along Charlwood Lane.  The cool weather suppressed the number of moths caught in the garden.  The cool weather also affected the bird passage with very little of interest, however there were little windows of improved weather, and I was able to find three roding Woodcock in the Maryanne Plantations, and there was Spotted Flycatcher in Old Down Wood on the 30th, 

The Bluebells continued to put on a lovely show in Old Down, the forestry work having open up the canopy, and the flowers thrived.  It was also possible to catch up with several different Roe Deer in the woods too.

The cool weather was maintained into June, conditions that were still not conducive to attracting significant numbers of moths to the trap.  The woods were full of the calls of young birds as they begged for food from their parents.

Of the butterflies about I finally managed to find a Holly Blue, my first for two years, but more significant was a single Painted Lady the first for at least eight years.

Five Mediterranean Gulls were the birding highlight of the month, seen in the Desmond paddocks, a first again for the patch.

I finally managed to catch up with doe Roe Deer and her two kids at the beginning of the month, they spent their time in the long grass in the fields next to Old Down.  In the woods Foxgloves replaced the Bluebells, their long pink red spikes seemingly almost everywhere.

July was a month of extremes with the hottest day recorded on the 3rd, but by the end of the month it was cool enough for the central heating to come on.  A Willow Warbler was the birding highlight of the month with a single present at Plain Farm.  Typically this month sees the attention turn to butterflies and they were all about despite the strange weather, the numerous Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers were joined by Ringlet, Silver-washed Fritillary and Large, Small and Essex Skippers.

The moth trap was still very quiet, but I was rewarded for my persistence with a gorgeous Green Silver Line, a first for the garden.

The contrasting weather continued into August, the summer never really establishing itself. The local Swallows seemed to have a good year with large flocks of young birds being seen around the paddocks and stables.  The end of the month saw the start of the autumn migration with Willow Warblers and Spotted Flycatcher seen at Kitwood.

Butterflies continued to dominate the sightings with my only White Admiral on the 4th, and then a Brown Argus, the first for the patch on the 7th, with also Small Coppers and Common Blues

I had been aware of the presence of Violet Helleborines in the lanes around the village, but only managed to find them this month on Swelling Hill.

The month of September turned out to be one of the best birding months I have had since I started this blog.  It started with my highest counts of six Spotted Flycatchers in Old Down Wood on the 6th and six Firecrests at the Mountain's Plantation on the 17th.  On the same day there was another Grey Wagtail on Lye Way.  The 19th saw two Common Redstarts, a female at the Desmond Paddocks, and a male at Plain Farm, a Peregrine hunting Woodpigeon along Lye Way, and a pair of Stonechats in Charlwood where there was also a Whinchat.  At the end of the month, there was a Hobby and a pair of Cormorants over my garden.

The end of the month saw sunny and warm weather which brought out Southern Hawker, and Common Darter dragonflies at the pond, and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth in the garden.

October was dry and bright, with much lower than average rainfall.  A pair of Stonechats were present at Plain Farm for most of the month, and yet another Grey Wagtail was seen there on the 18th.  The last Swallow left on the 17th, but the Redwing were late with a pair being seen as late as the 22nd.

Last year saw a large count of 65 Mallard on Swelling Hill Pond, this year the maximum count was 20.  A male Siskin was on the garden feeders at home along with an ever increasing flock of Goldfinches

The last dragonfly of the year, a Common Darter was seen at Plain Farm on the 18th.

Wild storms heralded the start of November, putting an end to the dry weather and bringing in some very mild and dull conditions.  The high winds very quickly removed the leaves from the trees ending the autumnal colour.  The mild weather though did suit the Comma butterflies that were present throughout the month.

Getting out and about was not easy, and walks were confined to the roads and lanes.  Large flocks of Yellowhammer were present in the hedges, and Bullfinch flocks seemed to be everywhere.  In the fields along Brislands on the 21st there was a significant count of 94 Skylark, and over the fields of Lye Way was a flock of 186 Golden Plover.  My only Lapwing sighting of the year was this month with just two birds.

Fieldfares finally arrived on the 13th, and numbers of both Fieldfare and Redwing built up through the month.

The very unseasonable weather continued into December.  Temperatures on some days being the same as they were in May.  A Red Admiral was seen on the wing in Old Down Wood on the 5th, my latest ever here, and catkins were appearing on the Hazel trees.  in the gardens around the village daffodils and primroses were flowering in the crazy weather a contrast to the festive lights.

The autumn saw an influx of Goldcrests and large groups could be seen with tits in the woods, and a pair were even on the feeders in the garden.  Lesser Redpoll and Siskin have been absent from Old Down Wood since the forestry work started there two years ago, so it was nice to see both of these delightful small finches there on the 23rd.

Despite the fact that I have not spent as much time out and about the patch as in previous years I have managed my second highest year total for birds seen at 82, and my highest count of butterflies at 25 just one short of the patch total.

I would now like to say a Happy New Year to you all, and for the hope of more wonderful wildlife in 2016, and to leave you with a compilation of all the best bits throughout the year, enjoy both the photographs, and the music.  Every day is truly an Amazing Day in 2015 Around Found Four Marks

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

29th December - Evening Shadows Now Grow Dim

It had been a mixed day of weather, starting with rain, then some lovely winter sunshine.  I had some time late in the afternoon, and decided to head to Newtown Farm to see if there was any sign of either a Barn Owl or maybe a Little Owl.  As I drove up the lane I disturbed a flock of 25 Linnet that came out of the edge of the field.

As I walked down the road towards the barns I noticed a Buzzard sitting on a post in the middle of the field.

There were plenty of Pied Wagtails around the cattle as they lined up to be milked.  I walked towards the open barn, on either side of the path there werer more Linnets, and in the trees and bushes a flock of 12 Chaffinches.

I walked slowly to the end of the path, scanning the fields but all was very quiet.  A single Blackbird appeared on the wires overhead, and rattled out an alarm call, but I could see why, maybe like me it wanted to provide some interest.

I walked up and down twice hoping something might appear, but nothing did.  As I walked back to the cows, the Pied Wagtails were gathering on the roof.  In the gloom I found 13 birds, they seem to be able to hide quite well on the grey roof.  Two though did appear on the corner and I was able to photograph them.

I have had reports of the Barn Owl being seen around the golf course, my thought was it came from Newtown Farm.  But as I drove slowly back I realised that there are plenty of old buildings and barns around it could have come quite easily from anywhere around there.

Nothing today, but always worth a look, I headed home as the evening shadows turned to complete darkness.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

26th December - And I Find It Kind of Funny

Christmas Day was very wet, with high winds once again, but as usual very mild with temperatures more suited to March and April.  Boxing Day dawned dry but overcast, and the strong winds were still there.  After a late breakfast and a lot of goodbyes after a lovely family Christmas Helen and I decided to get some air, and exercise. 

There was definitely plenty of air about as we walked down Brislands, with the wind blowing the trees strongly above us.  As we approached the Gradwell turn I commented on that there might be Celandines out soon, and just as I finished saying it I noticed a yellow flower on the bank, a Lesser Celandine in flower!

This spot is always the first place these little flowers emerge, but I have never seen them as early as this.  Usually they would be in flower early March, not at the end of December.  I am not sure if these can be recorded as early 2016 flowers, or that they are the latest 2015 record.  It is truly becoming a mad world.

We walked on and down the hill towards Gilbert Street.  We flushed three Red-legged Partridges from the side of the road, and watched them fly into the field.  As we reached the barns a Raven flew across the lane, briefly landed on the roof, then flew away from us.

It flew around, then headed out into the middle of the field where it then settled on the ground, but was not happy continually flying up as if being annoyed by something.

The wind was very strong and the noise created as it blew through the trees and hedge made it difficult to hear anything else.  I did though think that I heard a Grey Wagtail around the barns, but I couldn't locate it.

We walked to the bottom of Brislands and then turned back up the hill.  Across the fields away towards the road we could hear the trains on the Watercress Line, then a tower of white steam revealed one of the locomotives as it headed towards us and on its way to Alton.  A busy time for the Watercress Line at this time of year.

I kept checking the fields where three Common Gulls drifted over in the distance.  Then a Buzzard dropped into the middle of the field where it seemed to be interested in something, probably an earthworm.

We walked to the junction where I could hear Bullfinches but I couldn't see them.  As we turned up the hill a large flock of Gulls appeared overhead.  I had hoped the stormy weather might have brought them in, but this was a disappointing return, about twenty birds all Black-headed Gulls, drifting over, and none in the fields.

Swelling Hill is the place to find the earliest Snowdrops of the year, and it did not disappoint, as we came across several clumps in flower.  Again are these early 2016 flowers?  Well they will be on January the first.

As well as the Snowdrops there were also some primroses in flower too.

We walked on, and the top of the hill there was a large flock of Goldfinches and Chaffinches calling from within the hedges near Old Down Cottage.  It was now very gloomy once again, but I was able to pick out a male Chaffinch.

As we walked past the pond at first I thought there was only the one male Mallard I had seen a few days before Christmas.  But slowly two more males appeared from the reeds, and then I could see that there were two females with the original male duck.

More flowers in the grass at the pond, this time Daisies all in flower, this crazy weather is truly playing havoc with the natural order.

From there we made our way home, there had been a brief moment when the skies cleared a little to reveal some feint blue sky, but as we walked along Gradwell it became quite dark once again.  The forecast for the week ahead is mixed, but with no sign of any real seasonal weather.  As I said early its a mad world right now.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

23rd December - Earth Stood Hard as Iron, Water Like a Stone?

More rain and strong winds overnight, but this did not seem to affect the Tawny Owls.  Over the last few nights we have heard a female calling in the early hours of the morning, and last night it would appear that that her calls were answered as a male bird followed up her "keevit" calls, with a lovely "whoo" from a male.  Love is in the air, but where they roost through the day remains a complete mystery.

Despite the wind and rain it is still very mild.  The morning dawned clear with a lovely pale blue sky, and a stillness that was very welcome.  The garden was suddenly invaded by Goldfinches, a huge flock dropped in and occupied all the feeders, while others waited in the trees.  The maximum I could count was 19 but there may have been more

The House Sparrows seem to have arrived in the hedge, in the late afternoon there is cacophony of sound as the Sparrows chatter away to each other.  I am still not sure how many there are, but I had noticed that there was a special male amongst them.  It is partially leucistic meaning it is partially white.  In leucistic birds,the  affected plumage lacks melanin pigment due to the cells responsible for melanin production being absent.  This can be in all the feathers or just partially.  The lack of pigment can make the feathers weaker, which can affect flight.  Also being white they are more conspicuous and open to increased predation.

In the case of this Sparrow it has lost pigment around the head, almost all the underparts and the rump.

As I watched the birds in the garden alarm calls rang out and a Red Kite drifted over, heading west.

With the sun out, and it being relatively calm, I decided to head to Old Down Wood.  I walked from the pond, and as usual I could hear Bullfinches calling from the hedge.  Finally I managed to get a glimpse of a male, and was able to photograph it through the branches as it sat in the sun.

It was not alone there were three females, and at least four males.  Another bird appearing in the Oak tree above the hedge.

And another sitting in the sunshine.

Just beyond the entrance there was a large puddle that would have made a lovely garden pond.  The water was an attraction to the birds, Chaffinches were drinking along side the puddle, and all flew up into the trees as I approached.  A female sat looking down and waiting to see if it was safe to come out into the open.

One Goldfinch had just bathed and was preening it feathers in a sunny spot in amongst the branches.

I heard a familiar call behind me and turned to find that the owner was very close, a quite smart male Siskin.

It did not seem too concerned about me being there, and sat in the tree quite close to me.

I had one in the garden in October, but this is the first one I have seen in the wood since they stopped all the forestry work last winter.  Lets hope the numbers begin to build up once again.

They are a lovely little finch, whilst they are green they are a lot more delicate looking than the larger and bulkier Greenfinch.

Seeing a Siskin made me a little more confident of finding the other small finch that can be found in woods such as these in the winter.  I walked down the main path, and stopped in the open area and stood and listened.  I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker and watched it fly over my head.  Both Great and Blue Tits were calling and from in amongst the Larch cones there was a Coal Tit.

As I stood watching I could hear the familiar calls of Goldfinch, and a huge flock flew over, and took over the top of a Larch Tree.  I roughly estimated 65 birds, then tow more flew in making an estimate of 67.  Then as quickly as they arrived they were off with the tinkling calls and undulating flight.

Then another familiar call, and the bird I was hoping for, a Lesser Redpoll flew over and alighted in the top of a larch tree.  I could see the slightly forked tail, but the bird was against the sun, and was only a silhouette.

A very poor record shot, but the call was conclusive. My first again for some time, the last well before the work started here two years ago.  This takes me to 82 birds for the year.  This is my second highest count, and more remarkable when you think I have not been around the patch as much as previous years this year.

With the clear skies, and the low sun the larches were looking quite impressive.

I walked towards the Gradwell path, and then took the perimeter path towards the Kitwood entrance.  As I came out once again into the open area another Lesser Redpoll called and I picked it up calling as it flew away from me.  Two, its getting better.

At the Kitwood path there were two Goldcrests feeding in the fallen branches, moving quickly and flitting under the branches looking to catch insects or spiders.

I made my way back to the Old Down entrance, more Goldfinches flew over, and these were then followed by the "seep" calls of Redwings, then they appeared, heading out towards the trees that line Swelling Hill.

Back at the pond the Moorhen were feeding in amongst the dying Lily pads.

I walked around the pond moving a single drake Mallard off the bank.  Looking across to the far side, close to the sunny bank, a clump of Daffodils had appeared, not in bloom yet but close.  This weather is really crazy.  What will happen in the real spring, will there be any plants to flower when they should?

I walked out on to the pier, and flushed the Mallard from the reeds, it swam out and was below me, and looked to be moving through silvery water.

It was almost midday, but the sun was very low, the winter solstice being just yesterday.  Looking across the pond the reflections in the water were creating a lovely scene along with the emerald green of the moss and grass.

Back home later in the afternoon the garden became busy once again.  A Goldcrest appeared and crept through the trees close to the feeders, and then dropped on to the lawn, and made its way to the spot on the lawn where the Goldfinches drop the seed.  The Goldcrest picking up the small bits they had dropped.

Away out across the garden a large flock of Jackdaws appeared.  As I watched them I realised that one of them was completely the wrong shape.

It was in fact a Sparrowhawk, and soon attracted the attention of small birds, they flew around it calling.

Then as it came close to the house it attracted the attention of a larger bird, a Crow.

And the Crow was determined to chase it away, pursuing it, and pecking at the tail of the Sparrowhawk.

This crazy weather is turning nature completely on its head.  Bumblebees and Honey Bees can be seen knocking into the windows.  Primroses are in flower, and in places so are Daffodils.  Just around the corner from me there is the bizarre sight of Daffodils in flower with Christmas lights behind them.

They are always early here, but I have never seem them before at this time of year..The Bleak mid winter seems such a long way away this year.

I would just like now to take the chance to wish everyone out there who reads this blog a very Merry Christmas (or is that Easter, I am not really sure!)

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

16th December - Where We Can Live - Live a Good, Good Life!

As I stepped out of the house this morning I could hear a distant Song Thrush in full song, and from the hedge on the other side of the road a Great Tit was singing "Teacher, Teacher".  Last weekend while driving to and from Holybourne, Rooks were carrying twigs to their nests in a rookery.  All this unusual activity and behaviour at this time of yea is a result of the mild conditions we have been experiencing.  November was one of the warmest on record, and it looks like December will follow breaking more temperature records.  The warm air holds more water as the unfortunate residents of Cumbria have experienced, here we have had our fair share, but not with the same consequences.  If the rain does continue in the way that it has, it will be interesting to see if the water table rises once again and floods the A32 in Farringdon.

Early morning there was some sunshine, the clouds thinned and it was possible to see a pale blue sky, and experience the sight of your shadow once again.  This though did not last for long, and by lunchtime we were back to the heavy overcast skies, and a fresh mild breeze.  I decided to walk around Plain Farm.  The woods have been pretty much the same over the last few visits so I decided there may be better luck around open farmland.

As I drove down the road towards the cattle grid to park, a large tractor towing an equally large trailer came past me.  There was mud everywhere and the sound of chain saws in Winchester Wood and I thought at first the tractors were supporting the tree felling, but it turns out that they were moving manure into the fields, and as a result the roads were covered in thick oozing mud or maybe something else.

As I walked up the hill a Buzzard drifted over the tree tops.

It was silent as I walked up the hill, no calls no song, scanning across the fields it was dull and looked very damp.  I walked down to the quarry, glad that I had decided to wear wellington boots as it was very wet, and extremely muddy.  Looking out across the fields a large flock of Woodpigeon suddenly flew out of the trees and circled around over the trees.

I crossed the road and headed up past the barns, again the only sound being that of the tractors working in the yard.  

As I walked up the hill ahead of me was the large Oak tree in the middle of the field, the bare branches standing out against the dark grey sky.  However what struck me more was the green grass in the field.  With the mild temperatures and the persistent rain the grass has continued to grow, and here it was quite long and extremely lush and vibrant.

As I walked past the cattle barns I could hear Pied Wagtail calling.  It was difficult to pick them up at first, because as usual they were on the barn roof, their black and white plumage merging into the grey of the roof.  I finally managed to find one sitting on the roof.

Annoyingly a few more steps and I disturbed a Kestrel on a pole that I was very close to.  It then flew into the tree, and I tried to get a better view.  As I did so it would move, but not very far, almost as if it had a problem.  Finally it flew to another post, where it sat holding the wings low.  Looking at it maybe it had just had become soaked in the rain and was looking to dry the wings, which could explain why it was wanting to fly too far.

I edged closer, and it flew again, this time with more purpose, and settled on yet another post in a more typical pose, looking down into the long grass below the post.

Once again I scanned the field, and recalled four years ago when I picked up a grey bird in the middle of the field that I wasn't able to positively identify, but to this day believe it was a male Hen Harrier.

Today the field was completely empty, but again away in the distance close to the trees there was a huge flock of Woodpigeons, Rooks and Jackdaws.

I walked down the lane, with a few Linnet on the wires to my left but very little else.

As I got closer to the cottages I heard the all too familiar piping call of a Bullfinch, but as usual they were well hidden and would only appear as they flew off.  At one stage a flock of nine birds appeared and flew away across the field.  There were still other birds around after these had left, so I would estimate that there was at least 14 Bullfinch in the area.  This has always been a good spot to see them, but the numbers have increased year on year.

I could still hear Bullfinches as I walked along the footpath, but there was also the call of Yellowhammer.  Several flew out of the bushes and headed out into the middle of the field, but one male remained, trying to hide in the branches, but with its brilliant yellow plumage it was standing out on a dull day.

After the Yellowhammers came Chaffinches, one male sitting out in the open.

Plenty of Chaffinches about, but no sign of their brightly coloured cousins the Brambling.

I negotiated the muddy path, then crossed the field which was quite waterlogged, and out into Charlwood Lane.  Here I walked on while more Woodpigeon flew overhead in the direction of the trees to the west  After the pigeons there was little else until I got to the houses where there was a large flock of tits, but only Great and Blue Tits.  A little further on I came across a Blackbird just sitting in a conifer.  I would not have been surprised to hear it sing, but it didn't, they are not as early as the Song Thrush to sing.

As I came to the junction with Lye Way I noticed yet another large flock of Corvids and Woodpigeon in the field beyond the hedge.  As I tried to get close they were off.  They are very aware of any possible threat and do not stay close to the road.

I walked back towards the car with little to challenge the camera.  However I was taken by the bark of the Silver Birch trees close to the road, with the dying brown bracken, Silver Birch are probably my favourite tree at this time of year.

The last part of the walk was a little bit of a trial, as the tractors had deposited a lot of mud on the roads, and a Post Office van going back and forth had no concerns about splashing mud everywhere.

I finally got back to the car where I once again scanned the field to find nothing.  As I sorted myself out a flock of about 20 Goldfinches flew up into a nearby tree.

This post was my four hundredth since starting this blog back in 2012, I suppose I had hoped for something special to celebrate the fact, but unfortunately the recent mild weather has conspired to keep it very quiet.  Still nothing in nature is guaranteed as I have found out over the last four year, but there is always the chance and that is what keeps me going.  Over the last few weeks with the weather and conditions being what they have I have questioned myself about going out, would there be anything different to what there has been.  The answer has been no, but there may have been, and that is the thing about nature and wildlife, its not about what is there, its about what might and could be.

Four hundred posts in just under four years, means on average a walk around the patch every four days.  When I look back at what I have seen and recorded I can't complain.  I knew when I set out to write this blog there would be significant challenges and there have been.  I don't have the luxury of open water, estuary and sea that is a major attraction for wildlife of all sorts and found on many other blogs I read.  But I feel I have been able to compile a really interesting study of what can be seen in countryside like we have here in Four Marks if you put in the effort.  You just have to get out there and look and listen, and very soon a wealth of interesting things will turn up.  Key moments have been the Autumn migration with Redstarts and Whinchats, the number of birds of prey seen including Osprey, Honey Buzzard and Goshawk, and the excitement a pair of Mute Swans and a single Coot can generate.  Here's to the next four hundred