With it being a Bank Holiday weekend we were away, and details can be found here on the "Away Blog". Over the weekend the weather was dry and sunny but cold, Monday saw a band of rain cross the country, and that seems to have changed the weather into a slightly warmer phase. As I came home today the temperature was up, there were sunny periods, and I took the opportunity for an evening walk around Old Down Wood.
As I walked up Brislands past the recreation ground, I heard the calls of a young Blackbird, and found this recently fledged youngster begging for food from its mother.
There is a large muddy patch in the field alongside Gradwell opposite the horse stables, and this was providing an ideal place for Pied Wagtails to feed, there were four, all males incidentally around the edge of the puddle.
I took the footpath into the wood, and looked across the stables and the field for any sign of Swallows, but they could not be seen at all. In the paddocks several Blackbirds searched for food, while rabbits were lounging around in the sunshine.
As i walked into Old Down Wood I was greeted by a singing Blackcap. The leaves are still to force their way out so it is still quite easy to spot the birds as they sing from a prominent spot in the trees. Here the Blackcap was singing in a Hazel bush.
As I walked along the path towards the centre of the wood Wrens were singing on both sides of the path. I counted six singing birds in the course of about 100 metres. if the same is said for the rest of the wood there must be a huge number of these birds in the wood. It seems the felling of trees, and leaving the broken branches has been ideal for these lovely, tiny birds.
I had received reports that the Tawny Owl was now back in it's usual tree, but there was no sign of him when I looked. There was though signs that he had been there, and I will come back to try again.
Taking the perimeter towards the west I was pleased to see the variety of flowers alongside the path. Bluebells of course were everywhere, there were still Lesser Celandines in flower amongst the Wood Anemones, and every so often there would be a clump of the lovely delicate Wood Sorrel. Both the leaves and the petals of this flower look so fine, the petals with thin purple veins, the petals closing up after dark.
I came out onto the main path, as I walked on, there was a loud set of shrieking calls, that could only be from the kestrel pair nearby. As i was wondering what could be the problem, a set of alarm calls rang out from Robin and Blue Tit, and a Sparrowhawk came from the trees where the Kestrels were, and glided away over the top of the wood.
There were plenty more Blackcaps singing, i counted at least six birds, every so often there would be a burst from a Chiffchaff, followed by the contact calls. I found two making their way through the blossom of a willow tree, hovering under the leaves and jumping from branch to branch.
The only real time that they would stay still was when they were searching through the blossom which seemed to be a source of insects.
the beech leaves are beginning to appear, and as they freshly emerge they are a lovely lime green colour which is accentuated when the sunshine catches them. In this case contrasting well with the dark of the wood and the trunks of the trees.
the Bluebells are really putting on a show now, almost completely out they seem to be everywhere.
i reached the West End, and looked out over the field away to the west. The Rapeseed in the distant fields was now in full bloom, and this contrasted well with the bare branches of the trees that have yet to have their leaves come out.
A little late in appearing this year due probably to the recent cold weather, the Ransom's are now just beginning to flower.
i followed the northern perimeter, hoping to find signs of the early Purple Orchid. The cold weather once again though seems to have slowed them up as there was no sign whatsoever in any of the usual places.
What did catch my eye was this Wood Spurge being highlighted by the sun amongst a patch of Bluebells.
As I walked around to the main path along the edge of the wood the Bluebells were mixed with the white Field Mouse Ear. What i was attempting here was to get the flowers to sit out against a background of the yellow rapeseed, it kind of works.
leaving the wood I walked along Brislands hoping for a Whitethroat in the hedgerow. I wasn't fortunate in finding one, but there was a single singing Yellowhammer and a very confiding Blue Tit, always a joy to watch. I wonder how many would admit to it being their favourite bird, I met someone recently who did.
As I reached the junction with Gradwell I noticed Swallows flying around the conifers. I heard them first, their chattering so distinctive. I had to stop and attempt the challenge once again. This shows how much these birds can twist and turn in pursuit of their prey.
As I made my way home I reflected on the walk, interesting and typical of this time of year, but nothing to shout about. As I turned up Lymington Rise I heard the chatter of another hirundine, and immediately saw that they were back! The House martins were back, not sure from where, maybe outer space. They had returned about a week earlier than last year, and there were eight flying around the area.
I always find it up lifting to see them once again, 23 years living here with these birds that have meant so much to me through my life. My earliest recollection being of them around my Primary School playground in Oxford.
As I watched trying to focus on them they all gathered together and their calls changed to those of alarm, and above them appeared a Sparrowhawk.
Somebody else had realised that they were back. It flew around the area gaining height, having realised that it had been rumbled.
But then started to drift back, closer to me, and as it circled it banked and caught the evening sunshine.
Finally it started to gain height once again, and drifted away surprisingly quickly and out of sight. With the hawk gone the House martins resumed their aerial display above me, and I continued with my hirundine challenge.
Getting better (check out the Sand Martin pictures from Suffolk to be posted later this week)
So once again, a walk that seems like it wasn't going to deliver comes up with some magic right at the end. I should never doubt myself, there is always something out there, you just have to look and keep alert.