Wednesday, 25 May 2016

24th May - Whack! Me Doo-dy Do

Since Sunday the weather has been dry, but a lot fresher with a north westerly wind, some sunshine and large cumulus clouds.  As I made my way home this afternoon the cloud cover was increasing, and the hope for a walk in the late afternoon sunshine was fading, but when I parked at the bottom of the footpath leading up onto the Estate the sun did decide to come out.

I scanned the rough ground close to the road in the hope of maybe finding some Spotted Orchids, but all I could see were the remains of this year's Cowslips, a reminder that we were now well into spring.  I walked up the hill towards the pond with Skylarks singing, and the grass very much longer than when I last visited here.

At the pond I disturbed two drake Mallard, and they flew off spraying me with water as they burst from the pond.  I waited to see if there were any sign of the year's first Damselflies, but apart from a sing Blackbird everything was very quiet.

Leaving the pond I headed down the footpath towards the quarry.  As I reached the gate that leads to the road I came across what I thought at first was a day flying moth, but when it settled it did so just like a butterfly with its wings held closed and upright.  On closer inspection, I could see that it was in fact a moth.

Back home I have been able to identify the moth as a Bordered White.  The male and female are very different, the males having a white or yellow ground colour, bordered with black, and the females a more subdued variation of the pattern, in yellowish and brown.

This looks like a lighter version, and probably a female,  yellow form tends to occur in the south, the white forms further north, but there is some gradation.

Flying in May and June, the species inhabits coniferous woodland, close to where I found it is a substantial copse of Larch and Pine.

I crossed the road and headed up through Plain Farm.  There were House Sparrows in the hedge surrounding the farmhouse, and amongst the barns plenty of Woodpigeon.  It was one of the latter that I thought was sitting on the roof of the cattle shed as I walked up the hill, but a closer look revealed it not to be.

Yet another Red-legged Partridge on a roof, strange behaviour but becoming a lot more common.  Maybe it affords them the opportunity for a better look out, but they seem to like the elevated position.

I carried on past the cattle barns where a couple of Pied Wagtails were chasing flies on the roof, and then up and past the cottages.  A little further along the path I heard a snippet of song that had so far eluded me on the patch, and looking along the hedge I saw the owner of the scratchy notes singing from the wires running above the hedge.

At last a Whitethroat, admittedly I have not been around this area since the 23rd April, but I would have expected to have come across one in some of the other locations I have been to since then.  

It continued to sing and fly up as part of the display as I watched.

Leaving the Whitethroat proudly declaring its territory, I walked on with Yellowhammers on both sides of the path, and also a few Linnets too.  A Bullfinch burst from the hedge as I reached the end of the path, and I watched it fly away from me, its white rump standing out against the distant grey clouds

At the start of the footpath I walked a short way into the field to see whether the path across the fields was there, it was and I decided that I would walk to the end of the footpath at Charlwood, and then come back and cross the field on my way back to the car.  As I turned to walk to the path once again I flushed a single Grey Partridge from the cover close to the path, and I watched it fly across the field and settle in long grass on the far side.

There were plenty of Yellowhammer in the bushes, and several Song Thrush singing in the scrub.  In fact one Song Thrush was singing quite quietly, and at first I thought I was hearing a Sedge Warbler.  As I reached the end of the path a Brown Hare came into view close to the edge of the field, it then settled down in the grass, but raised its head as I approached closer.

It then shot off out of sight, and I walked to the fallen tree, where I found it again on the edge of the field.

It then became clear that there were two, and they chased each other out of this field, and around the corner and out of sight.  I walked to the edge of the field and found them again, one sitting nicely for me just on the edge of the crops.

The first good views of Brown Hare this year,

I left the Hares and walked back down the path.  The Yellowhammers had moved from the bushes up on to the wires and were a little more approachable.

I turned onto the footpath and headed off towards the main road.  On either side of me Skylarks were singing, and I eventually found one of them against the white clouds, and it came closer as it dropped from its lofty position back down to the ground.  All the way it never stopped singing.

The first part of the path goes through rough ground with a substantial amount of weed growth, but on the far side there was a patch that had been cleared and ploughed.  In this area stood a single Lapwing.

Then above me there was the wheezy drawn out whistle of a Lapwing, and I looked up to see another bird flying above me in that lazy but controlled manner, clearly it was not happy I was here.

I stayed on the path, and was about 100 metres from the rough ground where I i had seent he first bird, but  this was it seemed too close for the Lapwings, and both birds were now flying around calling.

The bird is sometimes known by the name that resembles their call, the Peewit, but it is the black and white appearance and the round winged shape of the wings in flight that give it the more familiar name of Lapwing.  In display they give a masterly performance of acrobatics, but these flying skills were also evident as they continued to monitor my position as I walked along the path.

The two Skylarks I had seen earlier were now joined by at least ten other birds, they were rising out of the weeds singing almost in unison.

As I walked across the field the song of the skylark was all around me, along with the now distant calls of the Lapwing that continued to circle the area.

The last time I was here the Gamekeeper assured me that the path would be laid out, and he was true to his word.  A decent wide path stretched out in front of me, the crops having been killed to ensure the walking was easy.

As you can see the path goes through a copse of trees, and in the distance is the Mountains Plantation.  As I came out of the trees into the next field there was another Brown Hare at the side of the field on my right.

While to my left two more sprinted away up the hill and  out of sight.

The clouds were now starting to break up, and there was some evening sunshine to enjoy.  Away to the left just beyond the path that leads up to the Estate and House the greens in the many different trees, shrubs and crops looked quite splendid.

All though despite the idyllic scene it was not all calm and quiet, a Chinook helicopter was flying low over the area beyond the A32, not something unusual as they head away towards Frensham Common for exercises, but this one continued to fly around in almost circles as if looking for something, the noise and vibration being quite intense.

On reaching the car I decided to scan the area once more, checking the distant trees and across the field.  The Chinook was still around and every so often cars would pass me at speed.  But in between these periods of intense noise as it quietened down I could hear a bird song that stood out from the rest.  I took the time to keep listening between the bouts of traffic, and after a few more bursts realised that it was the song of a Tree Pipit, but where was it, and how far away.

I have seen Tree Pipit on the patch once before, it was in July 2014, and in the same place, but that was a fleeting glimpse after hearing the song once again.  I wanted to get a better look, and hopefully some photographs.  It seemed as if the song was coming from above me, there is a Pine tree and Oak by the cattle grid, the Pine tree though seemed the best bet.  Then a bird flew into the hawthorn bush in front of me, and there it was.

It had something on its beak, but I think this was just a result of feeding, I did not think there were young to feed close by.  It stayed in the middle of the bush singing quietly, and looking around.

It looks very similar to the resident Meadow Pipits we have on the patch, but the Tree Pipit is a true summer visitor, with the first birds returning from sub-Saharan Africa in late March and the bulk of passage taking place from mid-April to mid-May. As its name suggests, it is associated much more with trees than is Meadow Pipit, although it must be remembered that the latter can land in the tops of trees and bushes, particularly when flushed. But Tree Pipits habitually use trees for both singing and feeding, when they may walk up and down the branches searching for food, constantly wagging their tails as they do so.  This  one moved through the Hawthorn and came more out into the open.

In fresh summer plumage the Tree Pipit shows rich buff tones to the face and breast, which the Meadow Pipit lacks, having instead a colder buff background colour to the face and underparts. Most significant is that Tree Pipit has only fine streaking on the flanks. This means that it looks as though the underpart streaking is confined to a broad band across the rich orange-buff breast and this contrasts with a whiter belly. Meadow Pipit’s breast streaking extends quite noticeably down the flanks.  

The song as well is distinctively different, while similar to start with the Tree Pipit the final far carrying flourish  may suggest the song of Chaffinch, and this phase of the song is often the first indication of the presence of a distant Tree Pipit, it was indeed this that caught my ear between the drone of the helicopter and the passing cars.

Tree Pipits are characteristically birds of heathland, forest clearings and young forestry plantations, with scattered trees and bushes usually being a requirement.  I have seen them at Noar Hill close to here, and have always suspected that they could be found here, and Gilbert White writing in 1773 knew of these birds around Selborne, but referred to them then as just Titlarks

So I ended up going home quite pleased with myself, I had finally managed to catch up with this year's elusive bird, the Whitethroat, managed some great views of Brown Hare, and found a singing Titlark that very obligingly provided some lovely photographs.

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