Monday, 24 April 2017

22nd April - See How The Sun Shines Brightly

It seems the focus is on the cold Arctic blast that is due early next week, and this weekend has just been overlooked.  The forecast was not brilliant for Saturday, so it was a surprise to wake up to lovely puffy white clouds, blue sky and sunshine.  At this time of year I like to take the opportunity to walk as much of the patch as possible, and as I set out walking along Brislands it was with a fair bit of optimism.

It wasn't until I was walking past the horse paddocks and out across the field towards Old Down that I found something of interest.  There were at least four Swallows by the stables, and they were flying out over the field.

Looking across towards Old Down, the leaves on the trees in the wood were now well on the way.

On entering the wood the silver birch trees, as you come out of the hazel corridor, were covered in lovely lime green leaves that contrasted against the distant blue sky.

Along the edge of the footpath are scattered clumps of Bluebells that were attracting the Bumblebees.

I could hear a Buzzard calling in front of me, but all I could see was a crow at the top of a tree.  The Crow clearly knew where the Buzzard was and chased it out, and the Buzzard flew over my head and away out towards the field.

Once again the Wren's were the most vocal of the birds, and singing birds would declare their territory which can be quite small with birds singing away at each other not too far apart.  

They like the dead bracken, and can be seen creeping through the brown leaves like a mouse and then appearing at the top to shout out their song.

Turning off the main track the first butterfly of the day, a Speckled Wood, passed me, and then settled to take in the morning sunshine.  A first for the year here.

I stopped to check the Tawny Owl, and he was sitting in the usual tree.  At first he kept a good eye on me, but turned away as if recognising me, to go back to sleep

I would imagine the owlets, if there are any, should now be starting to leave the nest site.  Where this is I have no idea, I have searched, and looked for the young owls but have never found them.

I listened for the Firecrest once again, but there was only Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing.  I walked along the perimeter path, and came across a pair of Marsh Tits who were very vocal moving above me in the hazel trees

The wood is still covered with dead brown bracken leaves, but everywhere there are signs of new leaves beginning to appear.  The fronds of the bracken uncurling with fresh new green leaves.

Rather than walk through the wood I decided to come out at the cottage and walk to the pond.  At the entrance to the wood a male Chaffinch called relentlessly in the tree above me.

The main purpose for visiting the pond was to check the flower bed of periwinkles that faces south, and good site to find early butterflies and maybe the first damselflies of the year.  The flower bed was empty and as I turned to check the irises for damselflies I heard a shrill whistle and my first thought was Kingfisher, then I saw a dark bird with a white rump fly off the mud and across the water continuing to call.  It wasn't a Kingfisher, but it was just as mega, a Green Sandpiper.  Unfortunately it was gone far too quickly and I couldn't get a picture.  It also flew back low across the water, calling still and I hoped it would return to the mud, but it it kept going and flew through the back of the pond and out of sight.

I sat down and waited hoping it would return, while at the same time watching the flower bed.  It never returned and nothing appeared on the bed, so I reluctantly decided to walk on.  A great patch tick, and very much unexpected.  They are quite frequent around the watercress beds in Alresford and Bighton, but with our lack of water I never expected to find one here.  Just goes to show that you never know what will turn up.  This takes the Four Marks list to 104, and my first new bird for sometime.

Leaving the pond I walked along the side of the field on the south facing side.  A single Orange Tip flew past me, but as I turned to walk towards Lye Way along the footpath, I found a Holly Blue around a large Holly tree.  It finally settled on a leaf in the hedge.

Holly Blue seem to have good years and bad year.  Since 2012 they have been hide to find.  They fall victim to a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in the larvae and this affects their numbers year over year.  This year I have now seen three this month, which is more than I have previously.

Unlike the other blues the Holly Blue can be seen flying high around the trees as opposed to the other blues that normally fly low over the grass.

A little further on another butterfly, this time a Small White that finally settled in the grass.

As I walked along the side of the field I heard a short snatch of Willow Warbler, but never managed to find the owner.  As I reached the end of the footpath alarm calls rang out, and I looked across the field to see a Sparrowhawk skimming over the tops of the trees.

Once the hawk had gone out of sight, the song returned, and above me there was a Chiffchaff singing.

The Lambs in the fields were calling, and several groups could be seen running around while others stayed quietly by their mothers.

I scanned the fields for possibly a Wheatear, but all I could find was a Skylark, this one in the field, while another sang high above me.

Walking along Lye Way, the clouds in the sky looked wonderful against the blue sky, and even better with the vivid yellow of the rapeseed flowers.

A bed of nettles in full sun was a big attraction to the butterflies.  More Orange Tips flew past, along with a very fast Small Tortoiseshell.  Then this Red Admiral appeared, which did stop for me.

I turned off Lye Way and followed the bridleway past lye Way cottage.  On the overhead wire at least three Swallows were chattering away, as if to each other.

As the path comes out into the open along side another field full of Sheep, you could see Swallows flying around the lambs and their mothers.  As well as the Swallows there was also a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, they were walking about the field looking for any opportunity for food.  Both were adults in full breeding plumage.

Forty years ago these gulls were considered to be just coastal birds but as with all gulls they have become opportunistic in finding food and have moved inland as a result to exploit rubbish tips and farms.  Now 25% of the recorded breeding is from inland sites where all they need is a supply of food, a sloping roof and little predation.

As I walked alongside the fence of the field I was the subject of considerable curiosity from the occupants of the field.

i turned on to Charlwood Lane and headed into what was now a very warm and bright sun.  Along the verge were more Orange Tips, that still would not stop for me.  As the males move up and down the verge they are looking for females, so any similar sized white butterfly is inspected.  One male Orange Tip flushed this white butterfly, but quickly moved on when it obviously realised that it was a Green-veined White.

I stopped at the entrance to the footpath that leads away to the west.  The path itself is just there, it would seem one or two hardy souls have made their way through the Rapeseed, and probably ended up covered in yellow pollen.  The view though was wonderful.

Along the verge there are patches of Wood Anemone and Bluebells, all wild flowers associated with woodlands.  Another woodland plant present was a large clump of Solomon's Seal.  The scientific name of this plant is Polygonatum, the derivation of the common name Solomon's seal is thought to have come about due to the resemblence of shapes on the roots looking like royal seals.  The plant has been used to treat fevers and pain, and is another sign that once upon a time these fields were once covered by ancient woodland.

I could hear gulls calling above me and looked up to see Lesser Black-backed Gulls once again.  This time not the two I had seen in the field but four birds spiraling on the warm thermals.

From Charlwood Lane I was heading into Plain Farm, and as I crossed the stile I found yet another Holly Blue.  Again inthe presence of Holly when it settled it did so on one of the bramble leaves in full sun.

My raptor field was a wash with yellow, as for the first time in five years it has been planted with rapeseed.  Looking over the top of the yellow flowers a distant Oak tree was showing a very vibrant lime green colour in the sunshine.

The Rape was covered by small black flies, obviously attracted to the Rape flowers.  More Orange Tips were about, but this time the presence of the rape flowers was too much, and finally I managed to find a male that was prepared to stop.  I struggle between chosing between the Orange Tip and the Marbled White as my favourite UK butterfly, at this time of the year, the Orange Tip is my favourite though

A little further on, unbeknown to the male who was too busy refueling, there was a female doing very much the same, sometimes confused with a white butterfly (I was told by someone that they had a Bath White in their garden that I suspect was a female Orange Tip), once settled it is possible to see the big difference, the wonderful dark green patterns on the underside of the hind wings.

It wasn't jsu the Rape flowers that were the attraction, this Field Mouse-ear was very welcome too.

I turned onto the footpath leading towards the cottages.  Ahead of me I could hear a Willow Warbler singing in the thicket by the side of the path, but again deep in and not visible.  A Holly Blue flew past me once again, they really have become quite common

I stopped to talk to two cyclists and as we spoke I noticed a small bird behind, apologising to the cyclists I just managed to get a good view, and some shots of the Willow Warbler that seemed to have appeared to see what was going on.  Here you can see the diagnostic longer primary projection in the wings that help distinguish it from the Chiffchaff.

Willow Warblers are not a common bird around the patch, and the two I had heard and seen today must have been new in this morning.  This seems to have coincided with a good movement along the south coast where 1000 were reported at Portland!  Oh it must be terrible counting that many.

Moving on I heard a very distant Cuckoo, knowing it would be impossible to find I just noted it as being present.  At the cottages a Kestrel flew above my head, setting off all the alarm calls once again.

Then a little further on I found the fourth raptor of the day way over the distant fields, a Red Kite.

I walked down the lane towards the farm buildings, the hedges here are always reliable for Whitethroat, but last year it took me well into may to catch up with one.  At first it was quiet, then from behind me I heard a familiar snatch of song.  I turned and walked back to find a Whitethroat singing from the Elderberry bush.

As a final flourish to the song they burst up into the sky, as this one did so it settled back on the wires, to continue once again.

I walked through the farm, with little else about, there was the obligatory Pied Wagtail on one of the barn roofs, and Woodpigeons doing there display flights as I walked down the hill.  Rather than walk up past the quarry I continued along the road.  As I approached the cattle grid I could hear song coming from the hedge, as I got closer I knew that it was a Tree Pipit singing.  Walking up the side of the field I found it in a bush.

This is exactly the same spot I had found one last year, albeit a little later in the year.  That bird did not stay too long, and I wondered if this might just be the same bird from last year.  The song finishes with the Pipit flying up into the sky still singing, then parachuting down to another perch where it can repeat the display all over again.

Fortunately on one of the acrobatic flights it settled in a bush where I could get a little closer.  

They are very similar to meadow pipits that are commonly seen around the patch, but on close inspection, may be distinguished by their more heavier bill, shorter hind claw and fine streaking on the flanks.  Their song is also quite distinctive from that of the Meadow Pipit when heard.

I decided to follow the road back.  Looking across to the Mountains Plantation I could see patches of yellow that had to be clumps of Cowslips.  As I reached the junction at the top of the hill there was a gap in the hedge and just below were more Cowslips, and these were much closer.

As the road approaches Dogford Wood there is a group of cherry trees that were jst past there best in terms of blossom.  Some was still present and they must have looked spaectacular about a week ago.

I turned up the bridleway, and walked alongside the Kitwood Plantation.  This path runs east to west, and so faces south which warms it up considerably.  There were plenty of Orange Tips about, but none stopped, just whizzed back and forth past me

I turned up a track to join Kitwood Lane that took me through the farm.  As I passed yet another Holly tree I found my fourth Holly Blue of the day, more than I think I have seen in total in the last five years.  A Small Tortoiseshell also appeared and settled on a nettle leaf in the sun.

It was still a lovely day with blue sky, and lovely white clouds emphasising the season.

As I reached the bend in the lane, the verge is very sheltered, and ahead of me there was ye another male Orange Tip flying around.  This one did stop though, but not as a result of the flowers, this time he had found a female.

The Orange-tip is a true sign of spring, being one of the first species to emerge that has not overwintered as an adult.

There was some flirting, and the female presented herself, but they never came together.  Clearly many more opportunities for this male along the verges and hedgerows.

As I made my way home a male Brimstone flew past me along Lymington Bottom, but failed to stop.

Back home in the afternoon yet another Holly Blue flew through the garden, making it five for the day.  It is days like these that really energise my enthusiasm for the patch, a  new bird,and so unexpected and plenty of new arrivals. The weather too played a part, it too was unexpected, and I must confess to being a little sunburnt.  The Arctic blast is still going to arrive by all accounts, and this will be a big shock to all the newly arrived summer visitors, the nestlings, and of course the little lambs, lets hope it doesn't last too long.

As a further postscript on Sunday I had yet another Holly Blue in the garden, and most welcome a fly through Painted Lady, the first of many I hope this year