Friday, 24 March 2017

24th March - One Song Among Us All

The weather is behaving as forecast, and following a heavy period of rain on Thursday morning the sun came out in the afternoon, and allowed another walk.  This turned up a Sparrowhawk along Telegraph Lane that diced with death in front of a car that sped down the lane, and a flock of about thirty Fieldfares at the bottom of Alton Lane.

Today we were promised sunshine, but first had to get through some heavy overcast conditions, some drizzle and a raw easterly wind.  While Four Marks waits for the migrants to finally make there way here, my attention was back to the garden, where there was some interesting interaction this morning.  All the resident birds are busy pairing up and as a result there seems to be some tension.  The Siskins seem to fight and bicker with the same sex, so the males fight each other, and so do the females.  This male was squaring up to another in the tree.

 I couldn't manage to capture the females at war, but this single bird did take to feeding on the ground at the bottom of the garden

 One surprise away from the bickering this morning was the presence of two Nuthatches on the feeders.  One preferred the fat balls (which in itself is an indicator of how rarely we get Nuthatches in the garden, all the other birds have rejected these as they are not RSPB products!), while the other was on the seed feeder.

The other bird decided to leave almost as soon as I raised the camera.

Our friendly Blackbird has taken to bringing a female to the mealworm tray, he stands by as she feeds.  The reason for this is that there is also another male about, and they definitely do not get on.  I watched them at the bottom of the garden squaring up to each other, both fanning out their tails and spreading their wings to make themselves look bigger.

Here is Scruffy after one such meeting.

Both the Blackbirds and Robins have been about lately, butthe Long-tailed Tits seem to have gone missing over the last few days.  They are such fun to watch when they do come to the tray.  There is no real fear, they go straight in, take the mealworm and hang in the tree to eat them.

The Robins too are becoming brasher.  One has taken to perching on a prominent branch and looking almost as if it is looking into the kitchen and demanding we feed it.  This is the stance we get.

One little chap who will probably miss out on a mate this year is this Blue Tit.  He looks a little worse for wear already, and lacks a bright yellow belly.  It seems that attractiveness in Blue tits is gauged by the vibrancy of their yellow colouring, apparently having something to do with the caterpillars they can catch.

I tried to get the best view I could as I will be keeping an eye out for this bird.

The sun finally made an appearance in the middle of the afternoon, but still with a fresh easterly wind.  There have already been reports of Swallows and Sand Martins along the south coast, in fact Ian and I saw some last weekend at Testwood.  They have yet to reach here, and don't normally arrive until early April.  As well as the hirundines there have been Wheatears and a few Osprey, so it will be off to the coast for me this weekend in the hope of finding something.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

22nd March - A Stick, A Stone, It's The End of The Road

As was to be expected a change in the weather with the temperature falling this week, but there has also been sunshine so it has not been all bad news.  With the lighter evenings and the fact that it was sunny Helen and I have been out walking around the patch in the late afternoon.  On Tuesday we had the dog along, and we navigated Telegraph and Alton Lne.  The Rookery in Alton Lane is now in full swing and it looks like there are eggs being brooded as the bird not brooding can be seen sitting alongside the nests.

Today we walked around Swelling Hill, and down to Court Lane and then back up Brislands.  The fields have been all seed drilled and apart from a lone Rook the fields are very quiet.  As was the pond with no sign of the Mallard pair, or the Moorhens.  

We walked down the hill, and on reaching the gardens at the bottom were greeted with the sight of blossom being lit up by the evening sunshine.

The sun was a challenge as we headed west, but it was hard to complain as over the last few weeks of the winter it has been very much in short supply.  Where we were directly out of the sun it would catch the sides of the trees and provide a golden edging to the branches which contrasted with the darkness of the hedge itself.

Turning up Court Lane from Swelling Hill we came out of the sunlight, and were able to enjoy the scenery a bit more.  The expected Buzzard was not in its expected tree, but instead we were treated to a superb male Yellowhammer, the setting sun turning him a little more golden as he sang about his bread and cheese.

From Court Lane we headed up Brislands with the sun behind us, and Old Down Wood ahead of us lit up in the sunshine.

The cattle watched us as we passed the barns, and a little way on I noticed a lump on one of the stacks of hay that remained after the majority had been used as feed for the winter.

The lump turned out to be a Red-legged Partridge enjoying the final throws of the sunshine.

As the lane steepened we entered the dark of the enclosed hedges, but as we reached the top the last rays of sunshine were just still getting through.  These were lighting up the trees on the west side of the path that would lead into Old Down Wood.  

At last the path is returning to the way it looked before all the forestry work took place, and the track and surrounds were devastated by the heavy machinery.  Hopefully this summer it will be lined with Cow Parsley and Foxgloves just like it always has been.

Nothing spectacular today, just the chance to get out into the fresh air and to enjoy the end of the day in some beautiful countryside.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

15th March - That I'm Back To Run The Show

After Monday's warm sunny day, Tuesday was mostly overcast, spring returned today though and the temperatures were even higher than those on Monday, with eighteen degrees recorded in the car as I headed home.  Both Peacock and Brimstone were about all day, but never stopping too long to show themselves off.

I took advantage of the weather for another evening walk, I was hoping to have a reunion with some one who has been about for the six years I have been doing this blog.  As I walked up Brislands a clump of daffodils back lit by the sunshine caught my eye.

Once again there were Blackbirds and Robins singing.  Song Thrushes could be heard too, but they have a way of melting into the trees and being almost impossible to find.  As I watched a singing Blackbird I heard then saw a Nuthatch above it, as I raised the camera the Nuthatch flew towards me, and over my head and into the trees behind me.  It went straight to a Squirrel drey, and started to work its way around the leaves.

It was exploring every little aspect of the drey, and I wondered what it's intentions were.

Then it emerged with something to eat, the search was basically about finding food and nothing sinister.

Turning into Gradwell it was lovely to find a Greenfinch singing away at the top of an Oak tree.

I took the footpath into Old Down, fortunately the farmer had deemed to leave a patch of ground that was the footpath, I would not have been surprised to see it ploughed right up to the edge.  The crossing to the wood was also firm as well, so maybe there is a recognition that footpaths do exist.

As I crossed I could see a Buzzard in the tree on the corner of the wood.

A silhouette in the late afternoon light, I took my time and saw a s close as I could get, recognising that at some point I was going to disturb it as I would have to pass underneath it.

It did fly off, and circled above the wood as I entered.  It was then joined by another and they called to each other above the wood.  This area has plenty of substantial conifers that they like to nest in, so maybe this could be their new location this year. 

Walking along the main path the sunlight was coming through the bare trees and sending patches of light across the ground.

The search was now on and the hope was my old friend would be about.  As I looked at the normal tree I was looking for those initial signs.  At first the trunk was clean, then I found a branch with some white, then more white, I moved up the trunk, and there, close to the trunk behind a collection of coniferous branches, he was, "Morris" the Tawny Owl, back for his sixth year running.

I moved slightly to get a better view through the branches and I could see him watching me as I did so.

An adult Tawny Owl's entire universe will be the territory thery have pretty much occupied for all their life.  Woodland territories on average have been found to be around 18 square hectares.  And the boundaries of these territories remain stable even if the owners die.  

At this time of year it is very probable that his mate is sitting on eggs somewhere in a tree cavity.  It is his responsibility to feed the female, and she will only leave the nest for a toilet break, or if real danger threatens.  Interestingly Morris uses the same roost site, which must be close to the nest, but I have never found it.  The female can be extremely aggressive if disturbed so its probably just as well.

Most Tawny Owls are considered to be monogamous from year to year, with studies showing that well over two thirds of females have only bred with one male during their reproductive life.  It is also likely that the remaining percentage were only forced to do so due to the disappearance of the original mate.

Another interesting fact about the Tawny Owl is that there has never been any recovery of British ringed birds  outside of the British Isles, leading to the distinct possibility that the birds could one day become their own distinct sub-species.

I watched him quietly for a little longer, but never approached any closer. The bracken and bramble was quite thick and to try and get closer would definitely spook him.  So I back off, leaving him watching me, and me thinking about the beauty of nature. 

After a triumphant punch of the air I headed along the path.  Away in the field I could hear the drone of a tractor as it tilled and drilled the field with seeds.  In the open spaces of the wood where the light was still getting through midges and flies dances like woodland nymphs.

I came out on to the main footpath, and immediately heard a Chiffchaff singing quite close.  I scrambled over the bracken and puddles to get a good look away from the glare of the now low sun, and found it at the top of a tree.

I had heard one earlier just past the entrance but couldn't locate it.  Both birds must be newly arrived, as Chiffchaffs are not winter stayers here in Four Marks unlike the Blackcaps.

It continued to alternate between singing and exploring for food amongst the buds at the top of the trees. 

In between the song of the Chiffchaff, and the constant calls of the Guinea Fowl in Old Down Hose I heard a different call.  It is one that I liken to that of a Howler Monkey, but probably not so aggressive and it comes from a Stock Dove.  I could see a bird on a wire that I assumed was a Woodpigeon, but as I got closer I could see the call was coming from it, and that this had to be the Stock Dove.  Closer up you cans see the slighter build and more dove like appearance, but unfortunately the sum was only producing a silhouette at best.

Watching through binoculars I could see it was clearly a Stock Dove, as I said it is slighter, and to use it's name more stocky, while the tail is much shorter than that of the Woodpigeon.  Fortunately it decided to fly, and in flight the wings appear more triangular than those of the Woodpigeon, and the head is held horizontal rather than raised.

It flew into the pine trees, and at first I thought I had lost it, then it appeared and gave a good if rather grainy view.

Here you can see the other distinguishing features from a Woodpigeon, the red bill with a whitish tip, and the lack of any white collar, the adult Stock Dove having an iridescent green collar and the eye is dark compared to the white eye of the Woodpigeon.  This was one of the best views of Stock Dove I have had on the patch despite the gloom.

As I made my way back I heard the call of a Raven followed by that of a Crow.  I looked up to see the Crow force the Raven down into a tree so I jumped and ran through the puddles and bracken to try and get a better look.  

Just as I reached a good spot the Raven flew off calling, moving low behind the branches and the only picture I could get was this:

I moved on, heading towards the pond.  There was no sign of either the Mallard or Moorhens on the water.  Above me a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed once again, and behind me a Chiffchaff sang, the third of the evening's walk, and the first this year at the pond.

Another first was the presence of frogspawn in the pond, and the odd call of a frog amongst the Irises.  On Monday I remarked on the fact that there had not been any in the pond for awhile, they must have heard me.

There was no sign though of any Common Toads, or any spawn.

I walked on to Kitwood, and then down the hill.  The skies were completely clear tonight, no cloud to provide some backdrop to the setting sun.  The sky behind Old Down wood though was a bright orange with the silhouetted  Larches standing out in front of it.

Despite the gloom there were still Rooks feeding in the field.  They were probably finding seed not completely drilled into the ground by the the tractor earlier.  I would assume these are birds from the rookery along Alton Lane.  I found a place where I could just capture them standing on the horizon.

The walk home was in collecting darkness, but despite this I could hear Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests calling.  As I walked up Lymington Rise I was faced with a very sad sight.  On the corner there has always been a very large Beech tree, In the winter and spring this was a place to see the Starlings collect at sunset, or to listen to a Blackbird or Song Thrush singing.  In the summer the House Martins would fly around it catching insects for their young in nests in Reads Field.  Today that tree was gone, and in its place is yet another empty space in Four Marks.  The tree was right where the middle house are shown in this photograph, until today I didn't know those houses existed.

A sad day as yet more natural life has to make way for human satisfaction.  The houses have been there for quite some time along side that tree, what has changed that it had to be  got rid of, it appeared perfectly healthy.

A disappointing end to a lovely walk and a reunion wth an old friend, the return of the Morris 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

13th March - But The Winter Will Crave What Is Gone

We spent the weekend in Edinburgh, and arrived home in the drizzly rain that seemed to dominate the weather here at the weekend.  Today though was once again spring like, and there was an overall sense that spring was not too far away and that the seasons were finally beginning to move on, but only with that nagging doubt that winter could grab back its time any day.

The sun had been out most of the day and it was quite frustrating sitting at work looking outside as Brimstone and Peacock flew past my office window.  So when I arrived home Helen and I decided to go for a walk, and hopefully, if the paths were not too mudduy taking in Old Down Wood.

As I waited in the garden I noticed that the honeysuckle at the bottom of the garden had just started to come into leaf, and with the sunshine the leaves took on a golden glow.

Since last Thursday I have noticed that Lesser Celandines were in flower, passing them in the car or seeing them closed as I went for an early evening run.  This afternoon was the first time I had come across them both open and in full bloom, and had a camera available.

The Lesser Celandine is a perennial member of the buttercup family, it is widespread in woods, hedgerows and on the banks of streams at this time of year and is a cheerful sight at the end of winter with its glossy buttercup like yellow flowers that will flower through March.

It was lovely to be outside and not worry too much about the temperature, although with it now late afternoon the sun was losing any strength.  All along Brislands there was bird song.  Blackbirds, Song Thrushes could be heard along with the ever present Robins, and supplemented now with Chaffinches and the wheezing, nasal call of the Greenfinch.

As we passed the Ash trees we heard a snippet of song not heard since September of last year and the earliest I can remember around here for a few years due to several cold March months.  It was that of a Chiffchaff and was clearly high in the tree.  After a short wait and search I located it amongst the tips of the branches.

It flitted about in amongst the branches, alternating between hovering as it searched for insects and delivering a short burst of song.

A hive of activity the head was continually turning in the search for food, but clearly the sunshine was convincing it to sing and it did so every so often, a clear statement of the change in the season.

We carried on along Brislands, passing the bank of conifers with Goldcrests singing away.  The field to the south has been completely ploughed right up to the fence, and looked quite sterile.  I had hoped for Skylark song along the lane but it was silent until I reached the trees where a sing male Blackbird was singing, but paused as we passed by.

As we walked into Old Down a Nuthatch called above us, and along path on either side we could hear Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits singing.  

The bottom of the path just before you enter the wood has always been a spot for a singing Song Thrush, and sure enough there was one there singing above us.  I am certain this has not been the same bird over the last six years, probably the third to sing here, the longevity of life being in short supply for the song birds.

It was lovely to walk through the wood and hear bird song, for some time now the woods have a been sterile and silent place, but now new life was returning, and you could sense once again the turning of the year.

Around us buds were appearing, no more so than on the Willows.

What was a dull and dark floor to the wood was now being lit up by the warm sunshine, reflecting the greens of the moss, and picking out the orange brown of last years beech leaves that still clung to the fallen branches.

The path through the wood was still very muddy, and in places we had to take short detours to get past.  The puddles though must have been quite deep as there was clumps of frogspawn that must have been laid in deep puddles, but now were drying out leaving just a mass of jelly and black pots.

This seems to have been a developing theme for the frogs, over the recent years I have noticed that they prefer to use the puddles in the wood, while hardly any frogspawn can be found at Swellinghill Pond.

As we walked towards the more open path heading towards Old Down Cottage a deep and throaty croak could be heard at the back of the wood.  Then two large black birds appeared heading towards us.  Both were ravens, and as they passed above us they continued to take turns to call to each other with a chuckling type croak, as if answering the other back.  Unfortunately they flew above the trees and were completely obscured from the camera.

 We left the woods and headed to the pond, as we approached a single Moorhen was on the far bank and the drake mallard was apparently on its own by the irises.

The thought that maybe the duck was on a nest somewhere was dispelled when she appeared  and joined up with the drake.  I still live in hope.

As suspected there was no sign of any frogspawn around the pond, but I did manage to find several Common Toads in the water by the jetty.

There was no spawn in the water, but one or two were "getting it on".  The numbers of Toads spawning here has significantly reduced over the last few years, back in 2012 at this time of year the pond was "boiling" with toads, gradually over the years the numbers have decreased and since the warning signs went up, dropped considerably, is that just ironic?

As we left the pond a Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming, and another was heard to call.  I managed to get a brief glimpse of the drummer, high in an oak tree before it flew off.

At this time of year with the trees still bare it is possible tee activity that goes unseen once the leaves appear.  A Squirrel drey was very evident in the trees that line the field.  The old beech leaves used to build the nest glowing a deep golden brown in the evening sunshine.

As we turned at Kitwood to head down towards the school, at least three Blackbirds were singing above us. Away to the west the sun was now setting quickly and the Old Down Wood Larches looked like they were a blaze.

Turning up Gradwell we were greeted with a similar picture, this time the golden sky and the dark clouds gathering behind one of the mature Oak Trees that stands alongside the edge of the field.

As we made the final steps back home with the sun now set the birds continued to sing, Song Thrush and Blackbirds from their high vantage points and the Robins from the side of the lane in the hedges.

As we came down Brislands a lone Lesser Black-baked gull lazily made its way above us, heading west, probably to a roost at Alresford or Avington.

Unfortunately the spring like sunshine is not going to last, although it should remain quite mild.  By the end of the week we are due some unsettled weather which hopefully will not dampen opportunities to get out.  For now though I will enjoy the start of spring, and hope that winter does not make a re-appearance.