We have been away for the week after Easter, our travels taking us this time to the south west of Portugal and seven days walking between from the south to north west coast through some wonderful scenery and villages. as always there will be details later on my other blog as I process the images.
While the weather was not as conducive to that which we have been used to over the past week, this afternoon saw the showers drift away and the end of the evening was bathed in sunshine despite a fresh breeze. With the longer evening light now it was the perfect opportunity to get out around the patch in the hope of finding some early arrivals. Spring does not suddenly arrive here in Four Marks, while areas south of here can enjoy sightings on hirundines, leaf warblers and wheatears it takes a while for them to settle in to their breeding areas, or just move through. As I walked along Brislands Lane though I could hear at least three Chiffchaffs singing in the surrounding bare trees, but could not locate them at all. Another bird singing was not so elusive,
This male Chaffinch out in the opening delivering its familiar song, it has been described as similar to a bowler in cricket approaching the wicket and then in a flash a quick delivery. If you get the chance listen to it and you may see exactly what is meant.
I turned into Gradwell and then took the footpath out towards Old Down. Just before we left for our holiday the fields were being tilled and then seeded, and as I came out onto the field they looked neat, but I also noticed that the footpath was a little narrower. As the path crosses the field to the wood I looked towards Brislands and could see that the farmer has now decided to do away with leaving ground along the edge of the field, ploughing and seeding right up to the edge of the hedge. This was the case all the way around the field.
Here is another part of the village eroding away, not only do we have the meadows being lost to housing developments, the fields are becoming fortresses with gates and barbed wire surrounding them, hedgerows ripped out, and the valuable wildlife areas around the edge being ploughed under, removing the chance for flowers and seeds to grow to feed farmland birds and animals. While we were walking in Portugal we passed fields with cereal crops with wild flowers growing amongst them, the hedgerows were full of flowers, and Corn and Cirl Buntings were singing everywhere. A scene now lost to the British countryside, and most definitely here in Four Marks, it is very sad, slowly the area around the patch is becoming very sterile, I have seen the changes in the short amount of time I have been writing this blog. In five years we have lost many fields and plots to more housing, and now the wildlife strips around the fields are going too.
As I crossed the field I heard the call of a Buzzard and saw two drifting towards the wood. Coming up very fast behind them was a Rook that had probably been feeding in the field, it chased off the first bird then turned on the second.
The mobbing activity of the corvids can be very agressive, and I always find it amazing that the bird of prey takes no chances with the aggressor, making no attempt to truly fight back but looks to avoid any contact. The risk is very high that they may become injured, and as a result unable to hunt and survive. This Buzzard twisted away and then finally managed sufficient speed to escape to its partner in the wood.
I walked into the wood with the sound of more Chiffchaffs singing, in total I counted eleven birds singing within the wood. I managed to find at least three of these songsters, but failed to photograph any.
I took the main path towards the west through the wood, in places the path was wet and muddy, but the recent rain was not enough to save a lot of the frog spawn.
In the area around the beech trees with the ring of wild Daffodils my feelings of concern about how the countryside is being abused rose once again. It looks as if a trial bike has used the area to do stunts with all the Bluebell shoots cut up and mashed up, and worst of all, the Daffodil flowers all cut down and lying broken up.
I walked on, and the mood brightened a little as I came across the first significant clump of Bluebells of the season.
No doubt this will be the first of many photographs as the season progresses.
As well as the Bluebells there was also the first flowering Wood Anemones, a delicate flower that can be seen from late march until May, when the canopy becomes to dense to allow the light they thrive on. The flower heads turn to towards the sun, and are almost translucent with feint pink veins.
I came out of the wood and then made my way down through the Desmond Paddocks. In the field to my left the sheep had a few lambs, but they were a long way off. Ahead of me before I crossed the style the small rabbit warren that is under the hedge was busy as the young Rabbit kittens were out enjoying the evening sunshine while feeding on the grass.
There was an adult nearby, and as I approached I heard it thump its leg on the ground, and the little ones reacted almost immediately dashing back to the safety of the burrow under the hedge.
I waited knowing that the young rabbits would probably want to return, and sure enough they began to appear above ground once again.
I scattered them again as I walked past the warren, heading for Andrews Lane. The hedge was starting to flower, the Blackthorn blossom showing well in the sunshine.
As I walked up Andrews Lane I hoped to find a stray Swallow around the paddocks but there was nothing about. I checked the paddocks in the hope of maybe a Ring Ouzel or Wheatear but could only find Woodpigeons and Magpies. Around me two more Chiffchaffs were singing and there was also the nasal song of the Greenfinch, and every so often a burst of song from a Wren.
At the top of the lane it opens up as the path goes along side a large field, once again this was full of sheep, and lots of lambs. Some dozing in the evening sunshine.
While others were just up to no good.
As I walked past the small copse another Chiffchaff put in a brief appearance after announcing its presence through the medium of song. Lower down the Periwinkle was in flower, and with them this one Field Mouse-ear.
I walked around to the large fields on the other side of the farm, scanning them for signs of Wheatear, but there was nothing. Away in the distance a large flock of Rooks were making the most of what looked like a freshly seeded field, but that was about it. As I walked back a Raven flew over the familiar "gronk" confirming my identification.
The Horse Chestnuts around Lye Way farm are in various stages of growth, with the most advanced being this tree with the newly emerging leaves looking immaculate, but unfortunately by the time the conkers appear in September these leaves will have been ravaged once again by the leaf miner moth.
I could hear Yellowhammer singing from either side of the road, and away to the south the distant trees were lit by the low sun, and behind them the large cumulus clouds so typical of this time of year provided a lovely back drop.
In the field to my right as i headed back to the village there were signs of the yellow Rapeseed flowers emerging, not a good sign for those that suffer from hay fever. The field looked empty but when a gas gun went off in the distance Woodpigeon burst from beneath the Rapeseed.
While in Portugal I saw two Woodpigeon, and was quite excited to find them. Clearly the farming techniques there do not support the huge numbers we have here in the UK. I would much rather we had the sounds and sights of the birds that enjoy the agriculture there in Portugal.
I headed down Kitwood towards the school, on my left there were more Rooks feeding in the seeded field, and also two pairs of Red-legged Partridges. This is becoming a regular spot for them.
As I headed home I thought about the walk, as I said at the start of this post, Spring doesn't really heat up here in Four Marks until we get past the middle of the month. Today there were definitely signs, plenty of bird song from the residents (apart from the newly arrived Chiffchaffs), and lots of fresh colour as the leaves start to appear, but nothing that convinces you of the change over yet. After today we are in for some cooler and breezier weather once again. This will surely block any progress so lets hope it doesn't stick around for too long.