Sunday, 28 February 2016

28th February - With a Heart Like The Night

At 5.55 this morning I heard a Song Thrush singing, it was still quite dull, but a clear sign that the morning are getting brighter, and the days are getting longer.

As well as the Song Thrush, a little later on when I finally got up and was making tea I noticed three visitors to the feeders that have not been around much this winter, a male and two female Siskins.  The only camera I had access to was that on my phone hence the very poor quality as I tried to zoom in as much as possible, but please believe me they were Siskins.

It was a cold day, with a fresh easterly wind that really got into you.  I was going to walk around Plain Farm for the first time this year, but first I just wanted to check Old Down Wood.  If the Siskins were visiting the garden then maybe there could be some activity in the wood.

I parked at the pond where the female Mallard was sitting on the jetty, there was no sign of the males though.

On the bank behind the jetty were a pair of Moorhen, but as usual they were of at the slightest sign of me.  I walked into the wood, the cold was obviously having an impact on the birds as there was no song from the robins and the only sound was that of the wind in the trees.  I stood and listened and picked up the jingle of Goldfinches high in the larch trees, and the odd call of a Blue Tit, but that was about it.

I walked around to where I had seen the owl a few weeks ago but couldn't find any sign of it today.  I made my way around the perimeter path, and out of the wood and back to the pond.  As I approached the pond there was the call of a crow, and then a Buzzard broke from the trees being pursued by the owner of the call.

I walked around the pond, and found a pair of Mallard in the small pond, and they flew off.  I was interested to see if there was any sign of the Toads arriving but I couldn't see any, the water level was very high, as high as I have seen it for some time.

I set off for Plain Farm driving along Lye Way.  In the field to the north a Buzzard was sat on a post and being rocked by the wind.

When I parked at the bottom of the hill I was told that there was a drag hunt coming through a little later on, hopefully it would not get in my way.  I walked up the hill towards the estate in the bushes on my left there was a small party of Long-tailed Tits making their way through the bramble.  I stopped and waited to see if there was any sign of Firecrests around the yew tree, but there was nothing calling let alone a Firecrest.

I walked up to the pond, and found a drake Mallard sitting in the sun, he stood out amongst the ivy on the bank.  A little to the right of the drake was a t first a brown patch, then I realised it was its mate the duck, showing how effective the brown plumage is at hiding her when it is necessary.

I walked down past the quarry where there were a pair of Bullfinches calling but doing a very good job of being hidden.  As I crossed the road I disturbed a Red-legged Partridge from one of the seed dispensers.  I walked up the hill past the grain dryers where House Sparrows chirped away from the middle of the hedge.

A little further on as I came out into the fields I noticed a small bird fly across the path from the bramble and settle on the fence wire.  I thought at first it was a Meadow Pipit but a closer look revealed a white patch in the wing, I couldn't see the head but thought it could be a Stonechat.  Then from the same patch the bird had come from another flew up on to the overhead wire and I could see immediately that this was a male Stonechat.  It then flew to the fence to join the other bird that I could now see was a female Stonechat.

I must assume these are the same pair that were here late last year and have over wintered here.  Both birds then flew off as I walked up the path and headed into the field where both birds perched on a small sprig of grass, the male being closer than the female.

A Buzzard was flying low along the top of the hedge at the back of the field, then it drifted away only to be mobbed by a pair of Lapwing.  It was nice to catch up with Lapwing early in the year, last year I didn't find one until November.  The buzzard headed away and then one of the Lapwing went into the aerobatic display flight that they perform at this time of year.

A Skylark was singing above the fields, and at the cottages a male Chaffinch was singing from the overhead wires.

I walked on checking both fields for a possible Grey Partridge or Brown Hare, but neither were about.  At the end of the lane by the cottages a Kestrel was hunting.

I walked to the end of the footpath in almost silence, everything concentrating today on keeping warm, not something they have had to do this winter.

As I headed towards Charlwood I noticed this dandelion flower with a small Hover Fly sitting on.  The fly was alive, but only just

A tractor was topping the hedges along Charlwood, it seems such a brutal way to do it, and I wonder if it helps the hedges or is just something to do this time of year.  As I reached the bridleway turn off I saw a Red Kite drifting across the field heading north.

I watched it fly away, and then continued along the road.  As I approached the paddocks I noticed two dark shapes at the back of the field in the distance.  I thought at first they could be Brown Hare, but when I looked closely I could see that they were in fact a Buzzard that was eating something, and Red Kite that seemed very interested in what the Buzzard was eating.

The Kite then walked around the Buzzard, and found something that it could eat.

If I walked around the bridleway I could get closer so I ran back to see if I could get a better view, I did check first to make sure no one else was about!

When I arrived at the best point I used the hedge as cover, and looked across the field, both birds were gone though, and there was no sign of any possible food on the ground.  

Then the Red Kite appeared and drifted past me, what a beautiful bird they are, the rich reddish brown standing out with the dark streaks on the breast and the lovely grey of the head.

It drifted away again with that lazy unhurried style keeping just above the hedge.

Then it was gone, so I decided against continuing along the bridleway, there were deep water filled ruts and a lot of mud, the 4x4's that use this small track have really messed it up this winter.  I went back the way I came, and then back on the road and around to Lye Way.

As I walked towards the car the fields on the left hand side were being ploughed and this was attracting an awful lot of Gulls, once again the dominant bird was the Common Gull, but there were a few Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls.  As you can see here there were also Buzzards looking to pick up an easy meal.

The gulls then suddenly disappeared, but the Buzzards remained, there were four circling around the field, one coming low and hovering holding its legs down to help with keeping it stationary in the wind.

A Mistle Thrush called from the trees, and then two flew across in front of me, strangely a first for the year, usually these are seen all the time during the winter.

As I made my way down the hill I could see riders heading up towards the estate, the drag hunt was making its way through the area.  As I reached the car they had all gone though.  

Not a bad day, two good birds for the patch in Stonechat and Lapwing, and some new Red Kite behaviour.  In two days time the meteorological spring starts, as I mentioned at the start the days are getting longer, it just needs now to warm up, and then hopefully the migrants, insects and flowers will arrive.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

21st February - It's Getting Away From Me

We have been away all week, up on the Isle of Skye in the north west Highlands of Scotland.  There are the first details on the "away blog".  This morning though with it overcast and quite mild we decided to get some air, and to stretch the legs after what was a long journey home yesterday.

As we walked along Brislands there were Robins singing on either side of the lane, and my first singing Chaffinch of the year.  A little further on I picked out a Firecrest singing in a different location to where I have seen them before.  As seems to be the case lately it was difficult to pick the bird out, but we could see it moving through a Holly tree.  Then with one final flourish of sing it flew out of the tree and away from the camera.

A little further on I was again frustrated by a group of Redwing that managed to evade my attempts to get a photograph.  As it was the first photograph I managed to take was of the Lesser Celendines that were now flowering well along the road side.

We carried on down the lane, I could hear in the distance a singing Skylark but was not able to see it.  At Manor Farms sheds there were a few House Sparrows but no sign of either a Pied or Grey Wagtail.

It was extremely quiet, perhaps as quiet as I have known it around here for some time.  Spring is just around the corner, and it can't come quickly enough for me.  It wasn't until we turned up Gilbert Street that we noticed something different, the sky was full of Common Gulls.

It was difficult to count them as they drifted above us, but I estimate it must have been close to 200.  They were gathering in a distant field, then were spooked and came over the lane heading north to the paddocks.

As we started up Swelling Hill there was a constant stream of water coming down the hill.  As we walked on we found the source, the water was coming up out of the ground by the side of the road, this was a good indication of how high the water table is currently around here.

A little further on in a familiar site was a lovely show of Snowdrops in amongst the yellow celandines.

Reaching the top of the hill I noticed a large bird off in the distance, and the day was brightened by the sight of a Red Kite floating over the field in that relaxed motion that is so characteristic of the bird's flight.

At the pond two Moorhen burst from the side of the bank in their normal panic, and on the far side to drake Mallards and a single duck cruised along side the reeds.

We made our way down past the school then turned up Gradwell Lane, again nothing much about, a singing Song Thrush and a couple of Wrens brought us to a wait, but they managed to hide successfully from us.  A singing Robin was too  much of a temptation, and I couldn't resist it.

As we headed along Brislands a couple walking towards us suddenly pointed into the field where a Roe Deer sprinted away from us, and sadly as we passed the village hall, on the other side of the road was a dead Badger, probably killed last night from the condition of the corpse, always a sad sight.

Well we managed to get the needed air, and the chance to stretch our legs but that was about all.  Although Red Kite and Firecrest is not a bad couple of sightings

Friday, 12 February 2016

12th February - I've Got Nothing To Say, But It's Ok

The last few days have been dry with some very welcome sunshine, the temperature though has dropped and as a result the garden saw an increase in visitors to the feeders.  The colder air though doesn't seem to have deterred the Starlings from laying claim to territory, and this bird seems to be having a chat with one of the local Woodpigeon, maybe good morning, good morning.

The mild weather though has had an influence on the local birds, Blackbirds are now singing and I have seen male and female birds tolerating each other in the garden which is a good sign that they may have turned their thoughts to love as we head towards St Valentine's Day.

The male House Sparrows, too. are busy chirping away from the gutters.  The partially leucistic bird seems to have taken up residence on one of the corners of a neighbour's house, I watched it singing at first.

Then it turned and went inside under the tiles, a sure sign that it is thinking about nesting.

Clearly its different plumage colouring is not handicapping it at all.

In the garden the feeders were busy with Goldfinches, but it was also pleasing to see that there were also several Greenfinches turning up, the male birds looking very impressive with their green and yellow plumage.

Slightly larger than the Goldfinches they are prepared to fight off the smaller birds, and other Greenfinches.  Opening beaks and flapping wings as they square up to each, it shows the contrast between the green and the yellow wing bars and outer tail feathers.

The sunshine during the morning did not last that long and soon the dark clouds rolled in and the first rain showers hit the windows at the back of the house.  With the rain the birds seemed to all leave the garden, a Robin hung about picking up the fallen seed, and a large Woodpigeon finished off the seed on the table.

The forecast fro the coming week is for colder weather, and over the weekend the possibility of snow, I doubt it will come to much though.  It always seems to be the way hat the weather turns colder once we start to approach spring, the cold air blocking the advance of the early migrants.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

9th February - Don't Think You Knew You Were In This Song

After the battering that Storm Imogen gave us yesterday, and the continuing rain this morning it was pleasant to see that the the skies cleared mid morning, and then the sun came out.

With the recent appalling weather I haven't been into the woods since the start of the year.  It is at this time of year the Tawny Owls are starting to nest, as I mentioned on Sunday there has been a male calling close to the house for sometime now.  The one consistent bird for the four years that I have been writing this blog has been a Tawny Owl that Helen and I found, courtesy of a Jay, in February 2012, since then probably the same bird has been present in the same tree from February to June, I suspect that it is a male,and that it had a mate and a nest close by, but I have never been able to confirm this.  

It was with the hope of finding this Tawny Owl for its fifth year that I set out late afternoon to walk through the woods.  As I turned into Brislands a flock of Long-tailed Tits called from the large conifer on the corner.

I decided to walk into the wood through the Gradwell entrance.  The walk into the wood was very difficult as the ground was very muddy and in places flooded, and to make matters worse, two small dogs constantly barked at me from the paddocks, they were extremely aggressive rushing the fence, not sure if they would have been so brave had the fence not been there.

As I entered the wood the sun was dropping below the trees and casting a lovely golden glow across the tops of the larches and through the bracken.

I made my way to the area the owl would normally use, and checked the tree it has favoured for the last four years.  The tree though seems to have lost a few large branches, and the area where the owl would normally sit has become a lot more open.  As a result it wasn't there, and there was no sign of any droppings that would normally be about if the owl was using the tree to roost in.

I started to think where it would likely go should it still be with us.  There are several high Spruce and Pine trees and I scanned through them to see if there was anything.  Then for some reason I picked up on a strange colour, and a shape high in one of the Spruces.  This is what I saw.

Zooming in I had found my owl.

I couldn't believe it!  Finding it was like the proverbial needle in a haystack, I have no idea what attracted me to the shape, but I am glad something did.  The colour and patterns on the  wing look very much like Morris, and I was thrilled to find him once again.  Five years and going strong, it was a really good find.

I tried very hard to see if I could get a better view, stumbling through the bracken and bramble.  Every place I tried could not get a clearer view so in the end I had to be satisfied with the one I had managed to take.  There is no doubt what it was, and I hope he and his mate have a successful breeding season.

My next quarry was to find the Roe Deer.  I haven't seen one since November, I knew they were around as I had seen the footprints, and this evening was going to be one of the better chances I have had recently.

I headed to the main path, and stood around listening to the birds calling.  Unfortunately all I could hear were Robins, Wrens and a few Blue and Great Tits.  There was no sign of any birds high in the Larch trees, but I did find a small group of Goldfinches in the evening sunshine.

I made my way around the perimeter path, and looking out to the west, Helen and my favourite view looked splendid with the setting winter sun.

I came off the perimeter path, and headed to the West End of the wood.  There is a group of very mature Beech trees close to the path, and under them wild Daffodils flower in the spring.  The Daffodils were almost in flower, they seem to be about three weeks ahead of where they were last year, they usually flower in the second week of March.  You can also see the advanced shoots of Bluebells as well.

As I approached the field on the edge of the wood a group of twelve Great Tits were calling and moving through the trees.

Dark clouds were gathering away to the north west, but I discounted the thought of rain.  I turned back on to the perimeter path, then headed in towards the middle of the wood.  As I did so two Roe Deer ran across the path in front of me, and then away out of sight.

I walked on a little further, stopping to watch and listen to a group of Goldcrests.  Then a little further on some movement in the bracken revealed a group of four Roe Deer including one buck with antlers covered in velvet.  At last I could get a picture.

Nice to see them after quite a long absence.  They then decided to move away, running and jumping through the bramble.

I carried on, heading back to the perimeter path, and then along a slightly muddy path.  Away to the west the sun was still up, but dropping fast through the clouds casting an orange glow in the sky.  Away in the distance the bare trees on the top of a distant hill broke up the horizon.

Just before I left the wood the sun appeared below the clouds casting yet another duffernat landscape.

As I walked along Brislands towards home the rain did come, although it didn't seem it mount to much, it is as if a day can't go by with out the wet stuff.

My walk home was accompanied by a singing Song Thrush, and as I reached the end of Brislands I could see it in the gloom perched in a small bush.

The spark is back in Four Marks, spring seems a little closer.  It was great to find the Tawny Owl, great that my hunch came off, and great that Morris has now been there for five years.  I would love to find his young owlets this year.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

7th February - Please Turn Me Over

Rain and very strong winds lashed into the windows at the back of the house last night, but with the dawn came blue skies and sunshine.  I imagine the rain and wind eased during the early hours as I did hear the male Tawny Owl calling while it was still dark out there.  The female is probably sitting on eggs or with the young, the Tawny Owl being one of the earliest to nest.  Another early breeder, the Song Thrush was singing through out the morning, competing with local Robins, but always seeming to drown them out with long clear notes that are repeated to ensure you realise it is a Song Thrush singing.

Helen and I set off for a walk around the area after deciding against a trip further a field.  As we passed the village hall the cherry blossom was just coming out.  This year the blossom is about three weeks earlier than it has been for the last four years.

With the recent heavy rain, any thoughts about walking through the woods were quickly dismissed and we headed out along Brislands with the plan to circle around and back along Gilbert Street and Swelling Hill.

At the Cemetery two Great Tits were trying to out do each other with their calls, they have quite a repertoire and the competition was undertaken with different calls.

Both birds were in superb breeding colours, the bright yellow contrasting with the deep shiny black belly stripe.

In the verge the Lesser Celandine were in flower, the petals though not completely open as the sunshine had not reached them.

As we walked along Brislands towards the Old Down entrance I commented on how the clear and open verges we were passing now in two months time will be exploding into a mass of vegetation.  But for now it looks open, and very tidy, if not a little wet.

Goldcrests were calling in the bushes around the mobile stand just by the entrance to the wood, as I stood and waited a bird did move, but it wasn't the hoped for Goldcrest, but a Dunnock.  Close inspection reveals an often overlooked bird of quite lovely markings.

As we walked down the tree lined hill I commented again about the fact that in the past here there would be thrushes, and Chaffinches and even the chance of a Brambling, but today it was very quiet with nothing moving, not even a Wren.

Out in the open once again we stopped to take in the white clouds, and beautiful blue sky, something we have not be able to do many times this winter.

I checked all the pools and puddles around Manor Farm cow sheds but there was no sign of the recent Grey Wagtail, in front of us a flock of about 100 Fieldfare and Redwing flew across and away to the fields to the south, and in the field close to the farm a single male Pheasant was walking slowly through the long grass.

Looking south a large Oak tree on the horizon showed the vulnerability these large trees have against the winter storms.  With all the leaves gone the tree does not form a barrier to the storms, but where ivy grows amongst it then the tree does and can as a result be blown down.

We turned up hill towards Gilbert Street, the last time we were here the rains came, but today it was nice as we walked in the sunshine.  Catkins could be seen in the hedgerows, again very early in this very different winter.

The view over towards Old Down Wood was looking splendid in the sunshine, it made you feel that maybe spring is not that far away.

Walking past the paddocks along Gilbert Street there was a large flock of Common Gulls overhead, and as we passed a field on our right a Buzzard drifted over, being chased by the gulls.

A little further along more Common Gulls flew at us from the other fields.

Coming over quite low.

In the hedgerows and the surrounding trees we could hear the chirps of the house Sparrows and of course singing Robins.  At the top of one trees a male Starling was singing away, the feathers on the throat bristling as it went through the tunes.

With the fields so wet where sheep were grazing the ground has been turned over quite a bit.  When I first started this blog back in 2012, the winter and early spring was very dry, and the Rooks were having difficulty finding food.  Fast forward five years and the Rooks are having a field day.

Pushing their bills into the soft earth, they spread the mandibles to open up the ground in search of insects, worms and leatherjackets.

Not without some sticky problems though.

As well as the Rooks there were plenty of Magpies about, and a single Raven flew over going out of sight before I could get a photograph.

As always we scanned the trees at Andrews Lane in hope of finding a Little Owl in one of the trees, and like every time we do this we found nothing.  There were two Song Thrushes feeding on the grass, one flew off, while the other continued the search for worms.  There is every chance that these two could have young somewhere in a nest in the hedge.

As we walked up Swelling Hill, there seemed to be Robins singing everywhere.  They find a prominent perch and sing away, sometimes with a rival very close by in another tree.

I have often said that Silver Birch are my favourite tree, and it is at this time of year for me they are at their very best.  Here the tree is moving in the wind contrasting against the blue sky with many different colours.

I had hoped to find the Firecrest that sang last time we were here, but it wasn't to be, there were though plenty of Blue Tits about.

As we walked past the pond, having made it up the hill, there were seven Mallard, four males and three females all sitting on the side of the water, all asleep.

All around the pond the daffodils were in flower, again something you would normally see in early March, not four weeks earlier.

As we walked down the hill towards the school a flock of Linnets flew across the field. In the picture there are 29 of them.  They flew across the field in their dipping jaunty flight.

We turned up Gradwell, where there has been a lot of hedge clearing and fencing going on.  Once again the fences are topped with barbed wire, for what I can only assume is to stop people climbing over, something I am sure the majority who walk around here would not attempt even if there wasn't barbed wire.  My concern though is for the deer.  They can move through the fields, but will jump the fences, and I have seen where they don't judge it well, get impaled and must die a horrible death.  It is only recently thatthe farmers and land owners have taken to fencing in the fields around here, I am not sure what has changed to make them want to do this.

Just before the turn into Brislands I watched two Nuthatch fly up into one of the Oak trees.  They then proceeded to forage amongst the lichen on the boughs, giving some great views.

Delightful to watch as they move up and down the branches.

As well as the Nuthatches there were Blue and Great Tits, and a single Coal Tit.

The clouds were now gathering as we headed home down Brislands, the forecast was for the rain to return later this afternoon.  We stopped at the junction with Lymington Bottom to watch a Feral Pigeon that had got in amongst the Dove Cope.  If the Dunnock is overlooked then the Feral Pigeon is probably invisible to many.  The colours in the neck feathers are wonderful reflecting green, blue and pink as they catch the light.

We walked back home after probably the best walk around the patch this year.  It was of course made all the better by the weather, it was really nice to appreciate the sun and blue sky, something that always makes you feel better, the sun has been hiding away for too long!