Wednesday, 23 March 2016

22nd March - They Say There's Always Magic In The Air

The overcast and cold conditions of the weekend lifted at the start of the working week, and we were treated to some sunshine and rising temperatures.  During the morning today this was enough for me to see my first Brimstone butterfly, but unfortunately away from the patch.

It was still sunny and pleasant in the sun by late afternoon and I decided to make the most of it, as the weather was going to revert back to unsettled conditions as we head into the Easter holidays.  This always seems to be the way, but then this year Easter is quite early.

After having covered the woods and the lanes around Lye Way on Sunday I decided this evening it would be worth a walk around the Plain Farm area, I haven't given the area that much attention so far this year, and at this time of year there could be a few surprises.

As I walked up the path towards the cattle grid I could hear the calls of Goldcrests and the occasional burst of song.  I stopped and listened to see if there was any sign of a Firecrest, but couldn't be certain.  I was heading for the small pond, its sheltered there and may be a place to find an early butterfly.  There was no butterfly but I did hear the contact calls of a Chiffchaff, and managed a brief view before it disappeared into the branches at the back of the pond.

Also tucked away under the branches at the back of the pond were a pair of drake Mallard.  They were quite nervous and finally burst from the water only to circle around as I walked away, and then fly straight back down onto the pond.

I walked on along side the Mountains Plantation, and then down the hill past the quarry.  Unfortunately the quarry seems to have had a make over and is now being used to dump waste slurry, I didn't hang about and crossed the road and walked up the hill.  A Brown Rat scurried across the path in front of me and disappeared into the grain dryer.  On either side of the path House Sparrows chirped away, most now settled into breeding pairs, the males responsible for the singing while the females probably sit on a nest.

From the barns the lane opens up, and in the evening sunshine I scanned the fields for Brown Hare with no luck, but what I did hear, and then eventually see were calling and displaying Lapwings.  As they display you can see the unmistakable slow wingbeats and flickering black and white plumage as they twist and turn sometimes in unison

There are a number of theories about how lapwings got their name, but it is thought to be a derivation of "flapwing" or "flopwing." This could refer to their lazy display flight, or to the way they hang their wing, as if broken, to deter predators away from a nest.

Across the field I counted three birds displaying, and a little further on I saw another two pairs displaying in another location.  Last year I found none at this time of the year, so it is a welcome sight to see them displaying and in good numbers over the fields this year.  Not sure why they were not about last year, maybe it was down to the type of crop grown in the fields.

I walked on past the workshops where a Pied Wagtail flew over, and along the lane towards the cottages.  As I reached the line of trees two large raptors appeared, at the time I could only see the long tail, and the wings held out as they soared and my hopes rose that maybe they were Marsh Harriers, but then they turned and I saw the unmistakeable forked tail, and then the lazy wing beats of the Red Kite.

They drifted towards me, and then split up with one deciding to circle above me.

Giving me some lovely views once again and this in the lovely evening sunshine too.

As i watched the Kites I could also see a pair of soaring Buzzards much higher in the sky above the field.  There was then the calls of Grey Partridge as if in alarm and two crashed out of the hedge and flew across the path into next field.  I could still hear others calling so I went to investigate, and as I came through the hedge I disturbed a Brown Hare, and it raced away from me across the field.

This was my first hare of the year, and hopefully there will be better views.  The Partridges continued to call, but I could not find them.  I think they were settled down behind the long grass in the strip that runs across the field.

In the end I gave up, and settled for the fly past I had as I watched the kites.  I carried on down the path, and as I reached the trees and cottages I could hear the "chuckle" of a Fieldfare.  It is normally difficult to find these thrushes in the trees despite their larger size.  This one however was perched at the top of the tree calling in the sunshine.

I walked to the end of the path and then went through the gap to view the field that leads down to Charlwood.  As I walked the path a Green Woodpecker had flown past me calling, and I found it in the middle of the long grass feeding amongst the tussocky grass.

As I watched this bird another called from the line of trees on the edge of the field.

Looking across the field I found another distant Brown Hare, then another three more lying down in the short crops/  At least five individuals, a good count for the day.

I turned around and headed towards the path to Charlwood.  from the bracken and bramble there was a rustling noise, then something burst from the undercover.  At first I thought it was another Hare as it ran from me, but it was very dark, and quite large, and I realised that is was in fact a Fox.

I am quite sure that foxes are not welcome around the estate, especially at this time of year.  While I am convinced there is quite a healthy population of Foxes around the patch, it is not an animal I see that often, I am more likely to hear them at night from the bedroom.  This then was a very welcome sighting, this walk was turning out to be quite eventful.

Things continued in the same vane as I noticed a large bird flying slowly across the field, as I got the binoculars on it I could see it was a Grey Heron.  Again a strange location for an adult bird to be so far from any significant water or marsh.  It headed north in the evening light, and I had another year tick.

Coming out onto Charlwood Lane I could hear the calls of Redwing, and I scanned the field behind the cottage and found a large flock of about 100 Redwing feeding amongst the sheep.

Once again this seems to be, like Andrews Lane and Lye Way a regular spot where the winter thrushes gather as they prepare to make their way north.

I made my way along Charlwood with the sound of a tractor drilling seed in the field to my left, but in the field to my right I could see the sight that lets you know that Spring is definitely here or at least around the corner.  There were lambs in the field, some running around and springing into the air with the joy of new life, others sticking close to the mothers.

i know why the lambs are numbered and matched to the parent, but it is a shame when such lovely new white coats have a large red number sprayed on them.

I made my way to get closer to the lambs, and could see two that were enjoying a game on top of a pile of straw.  The excitement getting to them as every so often they would spring into the air.

It was as if they were fighting for the higher ground, trying to push the other off by head butting.

But it would always end in a spring and a jump as if they play was getting to them.

The first of the year these lambs do not look new born, but maybe up top a week old.

Reluctantly leaving the antics of the lambs I walked on.  The birds now were looking for suitable roost sites and Goldfinches and Greenfinches could be seen flocking together in the tree branches.

I passed one tree that was full of lovely pussy willow buds.

Turning into Lye Way and heading east the sun was behind me and lit the lane and the bark on the Silver Birches giving them a slight golden hue against the silver.

Despite the time of day, I could hear my first Yellowhammer song of the year, two individuals were singing from the wire overhead, but this one preferred to deliver from the branches of this bush.

Once back at the car I decided to drive back along Lye Way and through the farm.  This though did not deliver any new wildlife sightings, but stopping at the gate to the field I had a wonderful view of the setting sun away to the west.

While on the other side, to the east a full moon was rising emerging through the clouds.  This time of year provides the perfect amount of light to enjoy both spectacles by just turning around through 180 degrees.

On the way home I stopped at the pond to look for signs of the Toads but there was nothing showing.  The Mallard pair were in the middle of the pond, I wish they would get on with nesting.

A lovely evening's walk with three bird year ticks, and my first sight of a Fox for a while and the Brown Hares, but the moment that really made me smile and lit everything up was when I saw the year's first lambs.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

20th March - And If You Threw a Party

Well the sunshine of mid week didn't last, it became cloudy and overcast on Friday and this has persisted into the weekend, the upbeat bit though is that it has stayed relatively dry, there was some early morning drizzle yesterday and today.

The weather is following the pattern establish for the last four years, mild and wet winters, then once spring is on the horizon the weather turns cold and dry blocking any possibility of spring becoming established, despite the fact that the media have been making money out of early flowers and insects.

There was a report of a Mute Swan from a reliable source being seen on Saturday morning flying across the Shrave just past Telegraph Lane

It was the opportunity for my first lengthy walk of the year, and I headed along Brislands where a Goldcrest was singing in the holly tree, and a Wren blasted out its song for the power line above the road.

In the first field a Green Woodpecker was feeding amongst the grass but flew as I tried to get a photo.  In the next a Jay was searching through the grass and plastic bags.

I am not sure where the bags have come form, but the whole field is full of them, this though does not seem to distract the Redwing, and once again there was a large flock feeding here.  As I peered through the bushes they flew across to the far side of the field, into the hedge and up into the trees.

As I watched they continued to stream from the field, this was the most I had seen here this year, and estimated there to be at least 200.  They seem to just appear from nowhere, and you could hear their calls everywhere.

From Gradwell, I crossed into Old Down Wood.  The field was being prepared and then drilled with seed and there was a following of gulls behind the tractor.  As I watched an adult Mediterranean Gull appeared, all white and with a shocking black hood, then it dropped down.  I waited but it never re-appeared, there were Black-headed and Common Gulls but they too seemed to hide behind the slope.  This was a good find, and re-energised me as I walked into the wood.

I checked for the owl, but with no luck, but in the tree where it should have been I was entertained by a Goldcrest, singing and at the same time searching for insects in the spruce leaves.

With Siskins still coming to the garden I hoped that maybe there would be some interesting flocks in the larch trees, but I couldn't find anything.  I made my way around to the perimeter, and then down towards the West End of the wood.  Here the Bluebells are very well developed, and I actually found the first Bluebell flowers of the season.

I was also pleased to see the row of Daffodils beneath the big Beech tree.

The path winds through the Hazel trees and the green shoots of more Bluebells.  There were several half opened petals, but this little clump was the most developed.

From the wood I headed down through the paddocks, and by the edge of the field in the shelter and safety of the hedge the Rabbits fed on the grass.

From the paddocks I walked up Andrews Lane.  After scanning the fields and finding nothing I walked on with a Buzzard calling above me as it circled above the trees disturbing the Woodpigeon.

As I walked up the lane several Song Thrush would burst from the hedgerow with that short whistle of alarm.  One perched up in the Oak tree and watched me as I headed up the hill.

Once past the cottage the path has been flattened out making it a little easier to navigate, but once you reach the top the gully returns.

The field was empty, I had hoped for lambs but there was no sign of any sheep at all.  In the small copse another Goldcrest sang from the apple trees while foraging the lichen.  I walked from there to Lye Way Lane, a pair of Bullfinch piped away from the bushes, and I saw the male fly off.  The female though continued to tear apart the leaf shoots of the Hawthorn, but did so from the middle of the bush making it very difficult to see her, let alone photograph her.

As I scanned across the field I could hear Skylarks singing, and managed to find one that was relatively close.  Its always uplifting to hear the song of the Skylark, even if it is a grey overcast day.

At first the fields looked empty, but as I walked to the far end I could see movement on the grass, and it turned out there were many Fieldfare feeding on the close cropped field, and perched in the hedge alongside the field.

As I watched the Fieldfare feeding with Starlings a large gull drifted over, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, it was nice to get some acceptable pictures of what is a regular visitor to the fields around here at this time of year.

The upper parts a slaty grey, and not the dark grey of the larger Great Black-backed Gull, as it flew over i could also see the yellow legs.

This was a adult bird, and was joined by another, and strangely a Herring Gull, that then drifted off while the Lessers seemed to like the barns and flew around them dropping onto the roof and out of sight.

The Fieldfare continued to feed on the grass with the Starlings.

Again it was a large flock, again something that is regular in the fields here at this time of year.  I estimated there to be about 150.

I walked back to Lye Way road, and through the farm.  A Buzzard sat in one of the trees at the edge of the field, and was later seen flying low over the thrushes and scattering them everywhere.

Yet another Goldcrest sang from a Holly hedge alongside the road, and while it never really appeared from within the hedge it did show in some of the gaps.

Such a tiny little gem.

As I passed the farm barns I could see the two Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the roof.

I could still see the Fieldfare, and now there were two Buzzards in the close vicinity.  A familiar "gronk" behind me signaled the arrival of a Raven and it flew away from low across the field.

At the far side of the field a huge ball of birds grouped together appeared above the trees and at first I though I was lucky to find Golden Plover, but then I could see that they were grey, definitely not plover, and definitely the most numerous bird in the area, the Woodpigeon.

I scanned to see what had spooked them, but there was nothing obvious.  I watched as they settled down and dropped into the tops of the surrounding trees.

Heading down Lye Way I continued to scan the fields, it seems that these have been left for fallow this year, and were full of weed which hopefully would flower and leave seeds, but I know not to get too excited about this idea.

A Kestrel was using the over head wires as a perch, looking down into the field.  From the markings it looks like this is the bird I saw on Thursday evening.

I walked down Kitwood road with the field being seeded on my left hand side.  The tractors were still working but at the far side of the field and out of sight.  On the field there was a large flock of Rooks and Woodpigeon picking there way through the soil.  Closer in were a few Meadow Pipits and a pair of Mistle Thrushes.

At the bottom of the road, I turned up Gradwell, and then down Brislands.  The fields now were empty, and there was little else of interest as I made my way home.  The walk had been a case of "Gold and Gulls", so no apologies for the title of this post!!!

Friday, 18 March 2016

17th March - Into The Light Of The Dark Black Night

It has been a strange week for me, ill on Monday while the sun shone all day in a clear blue sky, travel to Munich and experience 5 inches of snow which was gone the following day and replaced by clear skies and warm sunshine.  When I finally got home this evening the sun was still out and there would be enough daylight for an even walk, so Helen and I set off along Lymington Bottom.

For once we continued on past the Brislands turn, and a little further on were rewarded with views of a male Kestrel obviously intently watch the rough grass below him, the sun bringing out the richness in the ruddy brown feathers of his back.

I tried to get a better view, but as I did so he turned away from me, and all I could see was his back as he looked down at the ground, then finally he turned to just keep an eye on me.  What a gorgeous bird!

We carried on to the bottom of the road, and at the school decided to take Hawthorn Road, and then come around by Kitwood.  There were several Redwing feeding on the school playing fields, but as always seems to be the way they sensed immediately my presence and I was left with this familiar view.

There was though a Song Thrush stalking a meal in the grass close by, and it was much more accommodating.

The fields on either side of us were full of Woodpigeons, but occasionally there would be a Fieldfare and Redwing fly over and disappear into the trees.  

The trees on the edge of the plantation where the turn into Kitwood Lane takes place have been thinned out considerably, and the area is quite open.  However there has not been any work further on, and the dense scrub of the hawthorns and hazel remain.

At the edge of the plantation the hazels lining the footpath leading down the hill were a glow from the evening sunshine.

The setting sun was constantly changing the scene and as we approached Kitwood farm the lane was lit up like gold as the sun filtered through the trees.

As we passed through the farm a gas gun went off, and away across the trees a huge flock of Woodpigeon suddenly appeared in the sky and headed our way.

We were walking into the sun, and everywhere you looked it was highlighting the scene.  In this case the power lines appear to be lit up like a string of Christmas lights and the light picks out the edge of the cable.

We walked on to the pond, where I had a quick look to see if there was yet any sign of the toads spawning.  All I could find though was the frog spawn I had seen last Sunday.  The only visible occupants of the pond though were the pair of Mallard that had drifted into the centre when we arrived. 

From the pond we decided to go through the wood, and then head back home along Brislands.  As we walked through the wood there were several Robins singing and a distant Song Thrush.  

As I feared with there not being any rain through the week many of the puddles and muddy patches were now drying out, this meant that the frog spawn that had been laid in them were also drying up.

The woods were still quite cold and lifeless still, with no sign of any leaf development.  Celandines could be seen, and also the shoots of the Bluebells, but it still felt as if the wood was in the grip of winter.

The most dominant feature though was the setting sun, a vast red ball low in the sky.  As we made our way through the wood the scene changes from the sun burning through the dark, cold and grey trees.

As we came out into the open, the sun could be seen across the fields, partially lighting the sky above it but dominating the view itself.

A little further and we came out of the woods and the sun was still the centre of attraction as it made its way down beyond Ropley and Winchester.

And as it sank in the sky the ball became a deeper red.

With the setting sun on our backs we headed down Brislands.  Closer to the houses you could hear the songs of birds as they took one last chance to announce their territories, or to celebrate the fact that they now had a nest. 

The Redwing were also busy, flying around looking for roost sites for the night.  One flew in and gave an unmistakeable pose at the top of one of the Beech trees.

As approached home a Blackbird was singing high at the top of a leylandii.

Helen remarked that the sound of the birds singing late into the evening in early spring is something that makes you feel really good, a sign that maybe spring is here.  We headed home with the Blackbird behind settling in to sing into the dead of night.