Saturday, 31 December 2016

31st December - 2016 Another Year Around Four Marks

Once again another year comes to a close, my fifth recording the natural world around Four Marks.  There have been further challenges this year, more houses going up, the completion of the estate behind Brislands, and more worrying the disappearance of the field edge strips, and constant cutting of meadows and grass.

Through the year I managed 82 species of bird this year, but with no new additions to the lifetime list.  I did though manage a new butterfly, a Green Hairstreak, and a record number of Painted Lady sightings.  These are the highlights:

The mild weather was responsible for the Song Thrushes being in song from the start of the year.  A Grey Wagtail turned up along Brislands, while there was a singing Firecrest in Swellinghill.  In the fields along Brislands there were large gatherings of winter thrushes, with 500 Fieldfare and 100 Redwing.  A new garden visitor was a Red Kite that was seen frequently drifting over the houses in search of a snack or two.  

The month continued with stormy and mild weather, as a result many of the resident birds were in song.  A pair of Stonechat were at Plain Farm late in the month, and Lapwings could be seen displaying over the fields.  Tawny Owls were calling during the early jours a sign that they had started breeding.  And the for the fifth year "Morris" the Tawny Owl was in the same tree in Old Down

With Spring not far away the weather turned to winter.  As a result both the early spring migrant birds and the butterflies were late arriving, the first Chiffchaff not until the 22nd.  The rookeries were very busy, with a record number of nests in Alton Lane.  Brown Hares were about late in the month too, with young leverets being seen at the end of the month.  Frog spawn was seen on the 13th, but with the dry cold weather all the pools dried up

The start of the month saw snow showers and overnight frost, spring definitely on hold.  Chiffchaffs finally started to sing on the 10th, and there was a small influx of Willow Warblers on the 19th not a usual occurrence here.  Butterflies were also difficult to find, there had been some sightings of Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone, but the first Orange Tip was not until the 23rd.  The bluebells once again put on a wonderful show in Old Down at the end of the month.

Cow Parsley and Bracken started to dominate the village lanes.  I finally managed to find a Whitethroat, late this year, on the 19th.  The stand out bird of the year was a Tree Pipit found around the Mountains Plantation on the 24th.  Two Firecrests were singing in Old Down, where the bluebells lasted until the middle of the month.  the butterfly highlight of the month was a Holly Blue the first for a few years.

Highlight of the month was a new butterfly for the patch, a Green Hairstreak in Old Down Wood on the 5th.  I could find any Roe Deer kids this year, and in fact Roe Deer sightings have been very low this year.  Juvenile Siskins were on the feeders in my garden, the first I have seen here.  In Old Down Wood the bluebells were replaced by towering spires of pink foxgloves.  Spotted Flycatchers were seen at the pond with a juvenile, the first recorded breeding here.

The weather performed like summer this month with high temperatures and plenty of sunshine.  However a lot of the grassland and meadows flowers had been cut, the result of this being that I couldn't find either Common Blue or Small Copper butterflies.  On the 2nd two Swifts were over the garden, a rare bird around here.  The first of this year's record Painted Lady sightings was at Plain Farm on the 7th.

Swallows and House Martins gathered over the fields towards the end of the month.  My garden feeders were constantly occupied by Goldfinches, Greenfinches, and Siskins, however there was to be a dark side to this later in the year.  At Swelling Hill Pond Southern Hawker and Red-eyed Damselfies were present.

The month started hot and dry and produced two Wheatear at Plain Farm, and more Spotted Flycatchers in Old Down.  At the pond there were plenty of Common Darters, and Southern Hawkers, while in the gardens migrant Red Admiral and Painted Ladies were to be seen on the buddleia.

It was a dry and bright month, and once again Painted Ladies and Red Admiral could be seen taking advantage of the buddleia flowers in the gardens.  The last House Martins and Swallows were about mid month, while Chiffchaffs stayed throughout the month.  A Peregrine was along Lye Way, following the Woodpigeons on the 12th. Unfortunately in a year when Yellow-browed Warblers were everywhere, there were no sightings around Four Marks.  Unfortunately an outbreak of Trichomonosis in my garden persisted through the month, and I was forced to take in all the feeders, I had found several dead Goldfinches and Greenfinches.

My walks were much reduced in November.  The highlight though was a Red Admiral, my latest record in the garden on the 11th, ending an excellent year for this butterfly.  Tawny Owls were regularly calling in Lymington Bottom, and with the feeders back in the garden Goldfinch numbers increased significantly.

Again dry and cold weather dominated, the highlight was at the end of the month with record numbers of Fieldfare with in excess of 1000 being in the fields along Lye WAy.  With them were over 500 Redwing.  Golden Plover were also present, again with over 300 birds about.

I hope you can all enjoy this year's collection of photographs put to music.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

28th December - Don't Let Me Here You Say Life's Taking You Nowhere

Everything has come together, the House is all finished, its between Christmas and the New Year, no work!  And of course the weather, today it was clear cold and frosty, the threatened fog never materialising.  As I set off along Lymington Bottom there were Rooks around the tops of the trees and the Robins were singing on either side of the road.  Walking Up brislands I was faced with a familiar winter sight.

Coming out into the open fields a large mixed flock of Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Yellowhammers flew across the road, and continued to loop around me all calling as they bobbed up and down.

As well as the small birds the stubble in the field was a big attraction to the corvids, and there was the sound of Jackdaws calling consistently.

At the entrance to Old Down there was a large pile of cattle muck, and enjoying it were several Blackbirds and a few Song Thrushes, one of which flew up to the tree above my head.

I had expected to hear a Song Thrush singing, they have been early over the last few years, but this year it seems to cooler weather has kept them quiet.  I expect though to hear them singing very soon.

There was still frost on the stubble as I looked out across the open field.

As I walked into Old Down it was very quiet, away in the distance there was the song of a Robin, and every so often the contact calls of Blue Tits as they foraged in the trees above.  This one was working its way through the lichen.

The lichen hides tiny insects and spiders, and the Blue Tit eases them out with its bill.

I walked through the wood and checked the conifer for any signs of the Tawny Owl, but it was empty, probably just a little bit too early yet.

Coming out onto the main path I could hear birds in the tree tops, there was a large flock of Goldfinches.  I searched through them in hope of something a little more rare, but could see anything.

There were calling Dunnocks and Wrens from the bracken, and away in the middle of the wood I could hear the raucous call of a Jay.  Coming out of the wood I disturbed a male Bulfinch that flew up into one of the bushes.  A little bit distant, but unmistakable with the cherry red breast.

At the pond the water was frozen, two Mallard were walking around the outside on the bank, and the low sun was reflecting off the ice.

In the surrounding trees two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were quarrelling, then one started drumming, this was quite early and it must have been enjoying the sunshine despite the frost and frozen lake

From the pond I headed off towards Lye Way.  In the hedge was another Robin, watching for any morsel of food that could appear in the mud and leaves by the side of the road.  Here the sunlight was just catching the feathers.

A Buzzard was in the field and it flew up to the surrounding trees.  Scanning further I noticed many small birds in the field, looking closer I could see that these were Fieldfare and Redwings.  I estimated 750 Fieldfare, and at least 250 Redwing.

Here is a small shot of the thrushes spread out across a huge field.

As well as the thrushes there were three more Buzzards, probably catching earthworms something that were also attracting the thrushes.

We walked through the farm, and around towards Lyeway Lane.  In the field to the west there were at least 54 Common Gulls of varying ages.

There were more Redwing also with the sheep and this little first winter female Pied Wagtail making the most of some sheep deposits.

As I was watching the thrushes I thought I had heard the call of a Golden Plover, as I walked along the lane towards Charlwood I definitely heard them and a huge flock appeared above, the numbers of birds meaning that I could hear the rush of their wings above me.

They flew off and dropped down into the field beyond the sheep field.  A little further on I came across another Buzzard feeding around several Mole hills.

I relocated a small flock of Golden Plover in the next field, and as I watched them they were joined but what seemed the rest of the flock.

Although they didn't settle for long and were off again, their calls and the sound of their wings very clear as they flew over me once again.

It was difficult to count them, I estimated at least 300 which would be the largest flock I have seen around here.  This time they settled back into the field, and immediately merged into the ground.

I was intending to walk down Charlwood and through Plain Farm, the first time I have been here for quite a while.  As I turned down into Charlwood another Robin posed by the side of the road.

In the field behind the horse paddocks in Charlwood was once again full of Thrushes, this time the dominant species was the Redwing with 400 against the 300 Fieldfare.  These could not have been the same birds seen in Lyeway as they would have had to fly over me.  These then were additional meaning there were over a thousand Fieldfare and nearly a thousand Redwing, record numbers for me here.

The walk though Plain Farm was uneventful, Yellowhammers, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits once again flying over and in the bushes, while Woodpigeons were all in the fields.  One contributor to the lack of birds could be the constant sound of gun fire as many Pheasants and Partridge faced the barrage.

I walked along the Ropley Road, and then up the hill to retrace my earlier walk.  Passing the open area of bracken there was still frost about despite the sunshine.

Looking along Lyeway there were large patches of frost.

Where there was puddles I disturbed several Chaffinches from a drink, and then came across this very confiding Nuthatch.

As I approached the open fields the Buzzard I had seen earlier around the mole hills flew from the hedge across the field.

I scanned the fields but couldn't see the Golden Plover, then I heard their calls and flock appeared from the field on the other side of the lane.

Flying around again and out over the fields and then back over my head.

The flock gathered together, but I was unable to get them all in the frame.  Here there are about two thirds of the flock, and I can count 220, which means my estimate of 300 may have been a little under.

I walked back done Lye Way where the field was empty, no thrushes no buzzards, and then along the hedgerow scouring the ground like a bird of prey came this single Common Gull.

At the junction with Kitwood a Blue Tit was busy searching the branches on an Oak tree, it was so occupied with feeding it paid no attention to me.  We forget how pretty these little birds are, with their stunning plumage.  If one of these turned up on the east coast of America the North American Birds would be enthralled, but we just pass them by.  So now is the time to enjoy them.

Coming past the school a female Bullfinch flew up above me, not as stunning as the male, but at the same time quite a handsome finch.

As I reached Lymington Rise, the Rooks were still about, and one was perched on the wires above me, and stayed there which is very unusual, as they normally fly off at the slightest approach with a camera.  Instead I was able to get this lovely portrait of yet another overlooked bird.  You can see the bare skin at the base of the bill which helps identify it from the Crow.

This has been my longest walk around the patch for sometime, and it was very enjoyable delivering a year tick in the Golden Plover, and some record numbers of Fieldfare and Redwings.  Winter is always a difficult and frustrating time around here.  It may very well be that I need to get a different perspective on the countryside here, we shall have to wait and see.

Friday, 23 December 2016

23rd December - The Beds Were Small, But We Felt So Young

It has been a while, I must admit, and I can only apologise, however events such as an almost complete house refurbishment (if you live local you may have noticed), extensive work commitments, and some appalling weather at the times when I was available to get out.  I must admit though to not having the enthusiasm at this time of year, and when I could get out, I ventured further afield with some great results which you can find out about here.

Even now as I sit here writing this it is dreary day, the temperature getting warmer, it isn't like Christmas at all, and this has a profound affect on the wildlife around Four Marks.  Basically the countryside goes to sleep.  The woods are quiet, all for maybe the song of a Robin, or the alarm call of a Wren.  If you are really lucky then there may be  the call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, but for most of the time everything is on hold, put away for the winter.

The most productive areas for birds at this time of year is around the houses and gardens.  The popularity of feeding birds has increased the number coming to the gardens, while at the same time we have seen significant changes in the fortunes of the these birds.  Goldfinches now outnumber all, in my garden I have had flocks of over 20 birds recently gorging on the sunflower seeds. 

We still have signs of the disease Trichomonosis in the garden, recently I found a dead Chaffinch, with all the signs of dying from this disease, and the feeders were covered with some blood, another sign.  Fortunately there doesn't seem to be any sign of the disease in the Goldfinches, and they look superb with their deep red face and bright yellow wing bars.  

So down came the feeders yet again, and the bird bath was drained.  However even if I do this, there is the chance that nearby other garden feeders still carry the disease, and the birds catch it there.  Unfortunately there is little I can do about this.

The Tits though seem to be alright, we get a consistent number of Blue and Great Tits and early morning, and late at night a flock of about a dozen Long-tailed Tits come through, calling constantly as the flit from suet balls to seed feeders, then down to the waterfall in the pond for a drink.

The local flock of starlings has increased this year, at dusk they circle around the trees at the top of Reads Field, while in the morning they gather on the TV aerials, but not in huge numbers.

One of our newest "garden" bird is the Red Kite, there are regular sightings of this wonderful bird of prey as it lazily drifts over the gardens constantly scanning for any sign of scraps to eat.

This year's success story though has to be about Scruffy the Blackbird.  In the summer this male blackbird appeared in the garden with a totally bedraggled set of feathers, at times in rain he looked a terrible mess hence the name.  He did though manage to raise three broods through the summer, but by the time the summer was over you could see flesh where the feathers had dropped out around the neck and belly.

The moult came and went, and he returned to the garden in a better condition, but we still feared for him.  It was at this time that Helen started to feed him mealworms.  These had been intended for the Robins in the garden, but Scruffy was more adventurous and started to come to take them on a regular basis.

Gradually his plumage got better, to the point where today he looks superb.  We still feed him every day on the mealworms, just before dawn Helen calls him and he comes to the tree, clucks at her as she puts the meal worms out, then drops to the basket to feed.  On cold frosty morning he is very impatient coming immediately to the basket.  He never eats thema ll, returning to the tree to guard them, he allows a Robin to feed, but woe betide another Blackbird should approach.  He can though be scared off if more than one Starling arrives, but Helen usually scares them away!

Here is this morning coming to feed from the basket.

And here he is being chased by the starlings. 

From well before dawn, and well after sunset there is the song of the two garden Robins singing out, they constantly sing all day long.  We have two Robin territories in the garden, one at either end, Scruffy quite happily allows the Robin on the right hand side near the shed feed on the mealworms, but the Robin will not allow the hedge Robin anywhere near them.

So to end here is the Hedge Robin singing away once more in the tree across the road.

Hopefully the weather will behave and I will be able to get out over the Christmas period, I am quite excited about seeing what might be about, we shall have to see if that feeling is warranted.

In the meantime I wish you all a very Merry Christmas